Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Gospel of Life and Death

I heard a quote the other day from my friend Jackie Pullinger. She said, "The Gospel is always life for the hearer and death for the giver. It was death for Jesus to bring us the Gospel, but it was life to us who received it. If this is how it was for Jesus, why do we think it will be any different for us? For us to bring the Gospel it will mean our death, but for those who receive the Gospel, they will have life."

This phrase has rocked me since the day I first heard it. Mainly because it makes me realize that lately I’ve not been experiencing much death. If anything, I am more alive now than ever before. By this I mean that my main thought these days is largely preoccupied with my own comfort and entertainment rather than focused on serving others, giving up my rights or suffering for the Gospel of Christ.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” – (Philippians 1:29)

I do actually believe that the New Testament teaches – as Jackie suggests in her quote – that suffering is part of the Gospel. Jesus was quite clear that anyone who made up their mind to follow him must begin by taking up their cross (the instrument of their death) and die to themselves daily. In fact, there is no other way to follow Jesus than this way. The Way of the Cross is the only path to discipleship with Christ.

This means that my death is part of the equation, and according to Jesus the death must be a daily practice:

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." – (Luke 9:23-26)

My confession is that lately I have been eager to advance the Kingdom of God and to pursue Jesus passionately, but I’ve sort of misplaced my cross.

About the same time as I heard this quote from Jackie Pullinger, I also watched a documentary on DVD about missionary Heidi Baker who gave up everything to rescue orphans in war-torn Mozambique several years ago. She and her husband left Orange County (where I now live) and travelled to a foreign land in response to God’s calling on their life to serve the poor and bring the Gospel to the least and the lost.

What struck me as I watched this family surrender everything was this, “There’s a difference between being willing to surrender all to Christ and actually surrendering all to follow Jesus.”

Most of my journey with Jesus so far has been marked by a “willingness” to give up everything for Christ, but I have stopped short of “actually” surrendering everything to Jesus. Granted, I have not heard God’s call to abandon everything and travel to a foreign nation to minister to orphans. My calling, so far, seems to be centered here in Orange County. My ministry has been to love the poor here in the OC where over 40,000 homeless live in motels with their children, or in their car. Still, my ministry lately hasn’t involved very much dying if I’m honest.

In my spiritual life there should always be a constant exchange of energy, like an internal nuclear reactor inside of me. On one end it is burning up my flesh and bringing death to my flesh, but at the same time it is converting that death into the life of Christ within me. The exchange in me is constant death for eternal life. And what’s more, the catalyst of this nuclear reaction is the resurrection power of Christ at work within me.

Paul says it this way:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – (Philippians 3:10-11)

As I submit to the command of Jesus to carry my cross, and as I allow Him to crucify my flesh daily, I experience the death that comes from the Gospel. At the same time, I also experience the life of the Gospel within me as Jesus is formed in me. The power of His resurrection is what is released in me when my flesh is crucified.

The quote from Jackie I referenced talks about this exchange in a slightly different way. She speaks of the death we experience as we bring the Gospel to others, suggesting that we must suffer and die to ourselves in order to proclaim – or more accurately to demonstrate – the Gospel of the Kingdom. Those who receive the Gospel experience the new life in Christ, however, once they are disciples themselves, they will also begin to experience this same death of the flesh as they repeat the process in their own spiritual obedience.

My problem is figuring out how to follow Jesus in so radical a way when I live in the relative comfort, freedom and excess of America, and Orange County, California.

The New Testament writers had a lot to say about suffering and how it relates to our identity in Christ and to the mission of the Church:

"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." – (2 Cor 4:10-12)

“Therefore we do not lose, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” - (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” – (Romans 5:3)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – (Romans 8:18)

“Woe to you who are comfortable” – (Amos 6:1)

The more I ponder these things, the more I realize that I have failed to resist the constant pull of my flesh away from suffering and towards pleasure and comfort. Where can I die to myself? How can I embrace the death of my flesh and serve others more sacrificially? For me to have more of Christ, I need to have less of me. This can only happen if I allow the Great Physician to cut away the dead flesh of my heart and breathe life into me.

My prayer lately has been simply this: Please Jesus come live and breathe in me today. Help me to embrace the death that the Gospel brings to my flesh so that I can experience the life of Christ that springs up from within by your Spirit.



1 comment:

Marc said...

Ken, you sound like you're ready willing and able. Why not sell or give away all you have and move into the motel with these folk and do ministry full time? Or do you have a family? In which case, how do you balance ministry and family?