Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dying to live

Some years ago, I read a book called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.  In it, he speaks about how many saints of the Bible had to face a "crisis of belief" at some point in their life.  He posits that this same principle is true for each and every child of God: that God leads us to the point in our lives where we face an intense trial or a monumentally difficult choice.  At that moment this "crisis of belief" reveals our true character.  It exposes our heart for God.

I have to agree with Blackaby's observation.  Over and over again in my life I have been faced with a "crisis of belief".  Will I trust in the Lord and allow Him to lead, or will I trust in my own wisdom and strength?  As I have matured in Christ, I have found the "crises" to become more intense; more difficult.  Paradoxically, however, I have found my decision increasingly easy to make.  Not that I don't struggle in my spirit at all or that I never trip and fall, but in general I have found it easier to make the faith decision for the Lord rather than choose my own way.

As a pastor, I am faced with these crises of belief all the time.  It is difficult to relate to someone who isn't in the role of pastor what kind of spiritual weight accompanies this calling.  It isn't to say that I am above anyone else by any means, but it does mean that I am exposed to some things that the average church goer might not think about.  The spiritual warfare is intense.  Satan comes at me because of the role that I have in the Lord's work.  I am on the "front lines" so-to-speak.  And in the midst of these attacks I have a choice to make: am I willing to trust in the Lord, or do I fight in my own strength (or run and hide)?  The prospect of failure is very real.  More churches are on the downward slope than on the upward rise.  Challenging a church to change in a fundamental way is daunting.  I have no guarantee that the church I lead will be willing to see transition through.

The pastor has to be willing to lead by example.  And I take this maxim very seriously.  I am FAR from perfect and I make mistakes all the time, but I strongly believe that despite my shortcomings, that the Lord is leading me to lead our church to a crisis of belief.  What is it?  Precisely this: are you willing to die in order to live?

In John 12:24 Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."  He said this alluding to His crucifixion, for without His death, none of His disciples would ever experience the life that He  promised.  The same holds true for us today: unless we are willing to die, we can never truly live.  This is true of our salvation, but it is also true of our sanctification.  Too many Christians are willing to go right up to the point of a major faith decision, but when the call is "die" we run away from this crisis of belief.  As a husband and father I can give into the insecurities that come with the fear of failure.  But such thinking is not godly.  The only question I need to concern myself is: "What does God want me to do?"  And if I have that straight in my mind and heart, everything else will fall into place.  I have no guarantees of things "working out" as I plan in ministry, but I do have the guarantee that God will take care of my family and I.

And as seek to I lead by example in this regard, I pray that others will take the same challenge to heart.  Are you willing to "die in order to live"?  Sometimes we get into a spiritual "rut" where we fail to follow God in the hard things.  We come up to a "crisis of belief" and say "Whoa!"  "No way Jose!"  We talk a good game about trusting God, but when the decision is before us, we run away.  And then we wonder why God's presence is so far from us.  The same holds true for churches as well.  There comes a point in the life of every church where God moves us to a major faith decision.  I believe that EKBC is at such a point.  The time for mere talk about being a church that is more open to others and is on mission is past.  The time for deciding to fundamentally change--to be broken--is now.  Do we want to hold on to our notion of life, or do we want to follow Christ's path to Calvary?  Are we willing to give up our comfort and preferences, our sense of ownership, our pride in past or present service?  Are we willing to die?  Unless we are willing to give up everything, we cannot have the renewed sense of the manifest presence of God in our midst.  We will be relegated to a church that does a few good things but never experiences the abundant life that God intends for us.

Are you willing to die in order to live?  Don't answer this question rashly, because saying "yes" will likely mean great pain and suffering in the immediate.  Don't say "yes" without counting the cost, for it would be better off if you had never said "yes" than to say "yes" and change your mind halfway through (Luke 14:25-33).  But don't expect that you can be an effective disciple of Jesus Christ if you aren't willing to die either, for Jesus said "you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own." (Luke 14:33)  Words to consider for our lives and for His church.