Living to Die Well

Matt Chandler’s story is not yet complete. Only time will tell the ending to a very tragic, yet endearing story. Approximately seven months ago, this pastor of a large congregation in Dallas, found himself on his living room floor thanksgiving morning after experiencing a violent seizure. After MRI’s, CT scans and blood tests, it was determined that Matt was facing a very large mass on the frontal lobe of his brain. After aggressive surgery, the pathology report was not good. The type of cancer in Matt’s head leads to an average life expectancy of two to three years.

Matt Chandler is a 35 year old married father of three kids under 7 years of age. He also is leading my two small groups through the book of Philippians. The name of the DVD curriculum?; “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. Both of my small groups began the material before Matt’s tragic November seizure. It has been nothing short of surreal as we watch and listen to this man talk about contentment in the face of difficulties, hope in disappointment and devotion outside our circumstances. All the while realizing he had no idea what was in store for him.

Each week we are updated on Chandler through his blog as we prepare to hear our next DVD session. It is hard to describe how clearly Paul’s words resonate through the experiences of this weary pastor. For example, when Matt was asked to pick a book to teach via video he lists the following 10 reasons why he chose Philippians:

1. We learn how the church began. Acts 16: Lydia is a wealthy Asian (Thyatira); the slave girl is an oppressed Greek, and the jailer was a middle class Roman. All were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love the diversity of that cast.
2. The book teaches that the gospel advances regardless of circumstance (Phil. 1:12-18). In an age where it is not uncommon to hear that you can put God into your debt by behaving, I thought this was extremely important.
3. Paul’s cry “To live is Christ and die is gain!” How could he not say that! Lydia was wealthy, religious, and empty; the slave girl was bitter, oppressed, and angry; and the Roman jailer was indifferent and cruel. All were lost in their lives. What else would you live for?
4. The book clearly teaches humility in the life of a believer. We can’t hear that topic enough (Philippians 2).
5. Paul ferociously outlines the reasons to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:1-11).
6. Then, he follows it up by teaching how to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12-21).
7. Chapter 4 talks about what the heart and mind of a man of God looks like. This is invaluable information as there seems to be some confusion on this matter.
8. Contentment is a gift more precious than jewels (Phil. 4:10-19).
9. It gave me a chance to remind everyone that Philippians 4:13 isn’t about playing sports, making the team, or being successful in business.
10. Because if I can help us be “the lights of this world holding fast to the word of life” I would humbly and gladly spend my life doing so.

The list makes sense. Now filter that list through Chandler’s circumstances and you can literally feel your heart breaking over it. The reality is Paul’s original circumstances while writing Philippians were not any less dire. We read in scripture that Paul was actually being hunted down by over 40 men who swore to not eat or drink until he was dead! Paul was not sitting in some barcalounger sipping on a cup of joe writing memoirs. He was facing circumstances we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy.

The part of Matt’s journey that stirs me most is how consistent his message holds before and after that Thanksgiving morning. When I watch Matt’s blog and compare it to his Philippians video there are for sure some observable differences. Matt now has no hair. He looks with tired eyes. His voice is sometimes week. However, there are also similarities. For example, I don’t hear even an ounce of hesitation in his shaky voice as he continue’s to proclaim; “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.

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