Have you ever considered death as a victorious beginning rather than a final ending?
by Audra Jennings Tuesday, December 14, 2010
An interview with Rick James:
Q: Why the title, A Million Ways To Die?
When we hear of self-sacrifice, giving our life away, carrying the cross, dying to self, etc. etc. we tend to think of horrific suffering or persecuted third-world believers giving their last ounce of devotion. But we miss the fact that in its theology of death, the Scripture’s primary focus is on the far-from-fatal daily deaths of the Christian life: the little deaths, the domesticated house-cat variety. Humbling ourselves, for example, is a little death. The apostle Paul refers to his trials as a series of little deaths. Repentance is a form of death. Any time we say ‘no’ to our flesh or love sacrificially we are dying to self. Letting someone else have the last word, refusing to do image management or defend our reputation—this is the subject of Scripture, and the fabric of daily life.
The death envisioned in Scripture is not a tombstone but more like Arlington cemetery: row upon row of grave upon grave—a lifestyle of dying, a string of little deaths.
With the best of intentions, we preachers have attempted to inspire our churches to pick up their cross through moving stories of persecuted brothers and sisters and tales of missionary heroics and sacrifice. What we are doing, in effect, is inflating the concept of death, blowing it up as big and bold as possible in hopes that people will embrace it. But we accomplish the opposite: making cross-bearing discipleship ever more foreign and irrelevant.
The goal of this book is not to inflate the biblical concept of death but to shrink it, make it bite size. Show its relevance to our daily lives and spiritual growth. This is what the New Testament does.
Q: Why do you say death is the spiritual dynamic of the Christian life?
The Christian life is first and foremost “Christ in us,” that is, the resurrected Christ living in and through the believer. That makes you and I piñatas—all the good stuff being on the inside. How do you get the candy out of a piñata? You beat the stuffing out of it. That’s precisely what Paul means when he says, “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.”
The supernatural dynamic of the Christian life (Christ in us) is accessed, experienced and unleashed through our daily deaths. The Christian life is the resurrected life.
Q: What are these daily deaths? Can you give some examples?
I’m pretty sure if you put a gun to my head, I’d be willing to die for Christ, I’m not so sure I’d be willing to do the dishes. Do you know what I mean? This requires a death to my agenda, my plans, my schedule, which are all extensions of me—my appendages.
Here is an example of a daily death: abstaining from gossip. When someone tells you all the glorious dirt and details of someone in, among, or outside of your social click, there is the experience or sensation of life—an infusion of energy. When we recognize that our umbilical cord is tied to the gossip, providing a stead flow of life to our Flesh, well then, we have a choice to make. To choose not to gossip is cutting the umbilical cord. A small but significant death.
Or what about when we attempt to share the gospel? No, we won’t be martyred but our reputation and pride can certainly be pilloried.
Q: Would you say that “dying to self” the main message of the book?
Jesus’ summation of discipleship is that it’s a path of death not a path to death. The path itself is one of death, but where the path leads is to life, and it’s life that we want, not death,
Death has exactly zero intrinsic value. It’s just that death is the only road that travels to these destinations: resurrection, transformation, and transfiguration. By definition, resurrection can only be experienced by something that’s dead, and this is what inflates the value of death.
The book is about the joy, peace, power and victory of the Christian life—the subject matter that lines the Christian bookshelves. It’s just an honest, biblical accounting of what it looks like and how to get it—the blueprint that Jesus lays out:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23,24)
If the Christian life is a string of little deaths—and it is—it is more importantly a string of little resurrections.
Someday, we will physically die and be resurrected. But it’s important to observe that each day is filled with dress rehearsals: little overtures or echoes of death and resurrection that will ultimately crescendo in our actual death and resurrection.
Q: Does embracing the deaths of the Christian life always yield life or “resurrection”? Are there times when a death is just a death?
If we run from our trials, challenges and struggles, there is little guarantee of redemptive value.
Any trial or “death” embraced by faith, however, will always yield life. Always. But cause-and-effect is never simple to chart or predict—this is true in the physical world and it’s also true in the spiritual world.
Death, embraced by faith, is converted, by God’s power, into life. This is the physics of the kingdom, and the equation is always true, but where and how life will emerge is not a simple correlation. Life could appear in the form of encouragement, blessing, personal transformation, deliverance from our circumstances, eternal rewards, conversion of others, repentance, and on an on and on. We embrace the little deaths of the Christian life with expectancy, confident that God will bring life out of it—the grass will sprout up through the pavement somewhere—even if we don’t know how, where, or even if we never witness it this side of heaven.
It is this perspective of trials (little deaths) that is responsible for Paul’s “bring it on” attitude toward his hardships. He recognized trials as the dead wood needed to fuel the fire of kingdom growth and expansion. Paul recognized the proportionality in the equation: the more death incurred, the more life emerging on the other side of the trial.
Q: What do you want people to come away with from the book?
A fundamentally different perspective of the Christian life and of the struggles and trials that come with it.
In Scripture it says that, “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54); “swallowed up in life” (2 Cor. 5:4). Death is something for eternal life to consume, digest, metabolize, and transform into life.
What’s true of all food chains, is that hawks and people and lions don’t really occupy the top rung. Death in fact is at the top of the food chain: death devours everything but is itself devoured by nothing. The resurrection changed this. In Jesus’ rising from the dead, death was “swallowed up in victory,” “swallowed up by life.” Resurrection is now the vulture picking at the carcass of death.
Death has been tamed. Christians can embrace death in whatever form it takes, knowing that God can and will transform it into life.
A Million Ways to Die: The Only Way to Live by Rick James
David C Cook/October 1, 2010/ISBN: 978-1-4347-0204-3/335 pages/trade paperback/$14.99
Audra Jennings is Senior Media Specialist at The B & B Media Group. Since 1987, The B & B Media Group, Inc. has used its broadcasting, marketing and advertising experience to provide the specialized and strategic publicity necessary to achieve the public relations goals of each client. The Barnabas Agency, a division of The B & B Media Group, Inc., is a proven provider of exceptional public relations and personal management services for authors, speakers, ministries and organizations.
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