11.12.12

Life to the Full

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." 
- Jesus, John 10:10

Many times have I reflected on these words. Many times have I heard them, and their theme, expounded upon. It seems you can't read a "christian living" book (what a term for a sub-genre... oh, how I could rant here...), or one of its modern cognates, without at least a word, more likely a chapter, to say nothing of entire books, on this subject. I suppose this reflects the fact that we all desire 'life to the full.' We mostly don't know what it is we are asking for, but we are very sure we want it. 

Where I begin to despair is when these authors, or speakers (let us not forget the faults of preachers and pastors, of which I am one, in this same subject!), having spoken of the promise, and our desire for it, turn to what we should do. I picture that lonely pilgrim Christian, standing in the fields, looking this way and that yet not moving, for he knew not which way to go. And for him, in his story, Evangelist comes along and sets him on the right way.  Yet how many readers and hearers, in recent times, having been brought to the point of longing are then misled?

For what I have found singularly lacking in many Christian prescriptions for fullness of life is the necessity of death. Jesus tells us why he came: to give life. He has also told us how this is achieved: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." 

You wish to find life to the full? There is your road. Death. And I hear these words in the background: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14

Recently a friend asked me how, having accepted God's call to ministry (that is a story for another time), I was able to continue and overcome such distractions as the desire for wealth, romance, security, and their ilk. I hasten to say that I am often overcome rather than overcoming. However, in asking this question he didn't mean the momentary weaknesses and lapses to sin which we all experience. He meant in general, as a trend and pattern. 

I thought for a moment, and then I said "You're not going to like my answer." 

Allow me to share with you that answer. 

Before responding to God's call I chased my own dreams. Part of the process of me coming back to God was the death of those dreams. I wrote that I would follow God even if I ended up destitute and alone on the street (or, I suppose, dead in a gutter). Part of this, the mode of expression at least, was the naive bravado of youth; yet it did express my heart. And so my dreams were crucified. It is too light to say that I gave up on them; I did not simply turn in another direction, or find new dreams. I died. A part of me was gone, and not nicely. Do not imagine that this was as if I had chosen to let go of them as one might let go a balloon. Rather, I suddenly found myself holding on to rotting meat, these dreams of mine, for the Lord had opened my eyes, and that rotting meat had been part of me.

It was after that when I began to receive life from Jesus. 

And so, friend, I ask: Do you wish to find life to the full? Do you wish to pursue God through hardship and distraction and defeat? Then die. Don't just fail. Don't just let go or lighten up or learn to have no fear (all four of which I have heard earnestly pushed upon eager Christians). For here is the truth: You cannot recover from your failure. It took, and takes, the resurrection to lift you up. You cannot release yourself from your bondage. It took, and takes, the blood of Christ to loose your chains. You cannot lighten your own load. Yet there is one, gentle and humble in heart, who has offered you his yoke and rest. And you cannot conquer fear. But perfect love can, and perfect love came, and continues to come, to each one of us if we will only receive Him. His name is Jesus Christ - He is the way, the truth, and the life.  

Take up your cross and follow him.  

4.12.12

"Blaze Like the Stars..."

"This doctrine of equality is essential to conversation; so much may be admitted by anyone who knows what conversation is. Once arguing at a table in a tavern the most famous man on earth would wish to be obscure, so that his brilliant remarks might blaze like the stars on the background of his obscurity. To anything worth calling a man nothing can be conceived more cold or cheerless than to be king of your company."
- G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World

I am not the most famous, nor brilliant, of men, but I have to say that I completely agree with Chesterton. It is an occasion for utmost satisfaction when, in the company of those who do not know me (read: most people), that very fact makes the truth shine all the brighter. 

I think about this in terms of ministry and am put in mind of John the Baptist's words: "He must become greater; I must become less." I desire for people to take note of my sermons because they are true and good and point towards Christ, not because I am the one speaking. I also want to be a shepherd as Jesus spoke of, whose sheep follow because they know my voice. Yet, even here I do not want anyone following my voice specifically, but only my voice insofar as they recognize in it the voice of Christ. I believe we can only say "Follow me" if we can also say, in all sincerity and truthfulness, "as I follow Christ." We are never trailblazers, only followers, and if others follow us (making us "leaders" in modern parlance) then may they do so only because they recognize that we are on the narrow path of life. 

As I think through this, I realize that here we can see a great danger in modern life. The danger of being followed and heard because of our name rather than the name of Christ, for our rhetoric rather than the Spirit speaking through us. It is this danger which makes me increasingly and ever wary of Christian celebrities. We live in a world where some are famous for being famous, and nothing stops this from happening to those in church. It is too easy to accept a counterfeit, it is too easy to be one. 

May whatever light I shine be the light of the truth of Christ. May whatever life I give be the life of Jesus our Lord.