I've wanted to write about the topic of surrender and sacrifice for a while now, and what better time than now, in the solitude of my room, on the eve of my commissioning service to move to the squatter communities of Manila, Philippines.
In January I'll be joining hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters in the Lord who have gone before me and currently stand in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the power and authority given to them by the promised Holy Spirit who became accessible to all people and nations at the Pentecost, shortly after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and King. They go to proclaim victory in the land, and set the captives free!
"Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore my beloved brothers, , be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
The victory has been won! The freedom has been won for the whole world - rich and poor, weak and strong, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. And yet the battle rages on, as my friend so passionately reminded me the other night. It rages on in the rising death rates from poverty and oppression. It rages on in the form of slavery and injustice, both of which are greater today than they have ever been throughout history. And in the great disparity between the haves and the have nots. Not to mention the wars and rumors of wars, the whoring out of our earth's resources, and the blatant neglect of peace and justice due to the greed, selfishness, and exploitation by the people in power (and admittedly ourselves so often) who have "much to lose," though not nearly as much as the lives of the common people who's blood continues to be spilled, who's children wail and cry, and who's dignities are stripped and beaten. How long, O world, will we remain silent? How long, O church, will you wait before joining forces, each and every one of you, to bring justice to our land? And to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (as in Luke 4), instituting justice and salvation across the land.
We have been given a mission from our King...a call to preach the good news of the Kingdom to all the nations of the earth! And to a large extent we have been faithful in carrying out that mission, though often floundering and committing atrocities too disturbing to talk about along the way, as did the Israelites who were to be a blessing to the nations yet failed more often than they succeeded. (Because of this, we, especially as the church in the West, must go in humility, apologizing as we go for our sins, yet trying to make right both the wrongs brought about by the sins of the church and the sins of the world. But not apologizing or ashamed of the gospel of Jesus which, in its unadulterated form, IS good news to the poor and oppressed, slaves and persecuted, and sinful and repentant, though a message requiring great sacrifice in the lives of the rich and poor alike (the rich giving up or turning over their possessions (and luxurious lifestyles) to the church for redistribution, and the poor giving up their addictions and vices).
I wish it were not so...that is, this battle still raging on. I wish the restoration would have come with the first coming of Christ, like the disciples and people thought. Though the victory has been won, and the price for the forgiveness of sin and freedom from eternal death paid in full, our earthly bodies and this earth still remain under the curse of the first sin, our land still groans out in eager expectation, and our nations still cry out for peace and restitution and deliverance. So we await the second coming, the judgment, and the return of our King, with whom will come a New Heaven and a New Earth, the old heavens and old earth passing away, and the New without crying or suffering. One does not have to look far to see that the signs of this second coming seem to be upon us more and more every day, as well as the destruction of much of this earth.
So where do we stand? And how? Are we steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord? Knowing that our labor is not in vain? Or are we simply hoping in our spiritual salvation, forgetting that this was a mere invitation into the Kingdom of God on earth as it is heaven, and to be co-laborers with the Lord and the Spirit and the Father to reconcile all things back to Himself. No, we must not rejoice in the fact that the demons submit to us, but that our names are written in the book of life. But if our names are written in the book of life, and if we have been baptized with a baptism of repentance and the Spirit, which I believe many of us have experienced, whether when we first believed or somewhere along the way (others maybe not yet), then we WOULD recognize that even the demons submit to us! That we don't any longer have to be enslaved by the things of this world or our flesh, the appeal of riches or the curses of addiction. We don't have to live enslaved to the desires of our flesh, but can be freed to live in the joys and freedom of the Spirit of God living in and through us and pouring into the lives of others. And we can partner with Christ in working toward freeing other people, systems, and nations from these same sinful behaviors and cravings...rather than fueling the fire which rages out of control.
Again, where and how do you stand? On the side of peace and justice? Or war and destruction? On your security or an unyielding surrender to risk your lives on behalf of the poor, the lost, and the least. Standing on the sidelines is not an option. You're either in, or you're out. We mustn't wait any longer!
This is a call for martyrs in the faith. Yes, martyr's. Those willing to take up their cross and follow Him. To lose their life to gain it. To give up all to gain the whole world! It is not a call to become a martyr for martyrdom sake - so as to attain a greater reward in heaven - that has been attempted in our church history and come to no avail. But it is a call to be martyr's for the sake of the Name, so that at the Name of Jesus ever knee will bow from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Everyone who is a Christian MUST take up this call. Everyone!
For some, it will be a call to the front lines, the first order if you will (not because it is better than the others, but on the forefront of missions and ministry, where the Kingdoms collide the most and the cost is the greatest). It is a call to the places around the world (even in our own country) where the gospel is yet to penetrate, or if it has, in a minimum capacity at great cost. It is no longer a call simply for those of us in the US to go to the other parts of the world, but rather a call that the nations have heard and are heeding, to which those in the US can continue to join with and even invite others to join us here. This call is to those who will sell all they have and give to the poor, and go follow Him. To this I am being called for the next two years at least. Yet MANY more are needed. (If interested, check out Servant Partners, Servants for Asia's Poor, Word Made Flesh, or MATUL).
There is a second call to those who have attempted this full on invasion of enemy territory, but are unable to remain due to health, family, or other reasons. These will work and pray and equip/heal on the fringes and boardering areas of those difficult battle fields, often working on teams and in prayer circles with those on the front lines. These might sell half of what they have, and sacrifice their own lands or towns to more directly support those on the inside.
Finally, there must be those that continue to occupy the homelands of plenty (both spiritually and materially), yet recognizing the devil's strategies to keep this abundance of resources (again spiritually and materially) from ever reaching the front lines, where supplies are needed most. (Despite the downturn in the economy, financial resources must continue to be distributed to those working tirelessly around the world, even at the expense of bigger buildings and bigger programs in places of plenty; there must also be an increase in the prayers of the church for these areas of exorbitant spiritual and material and political need around the world, again, even at the expense of prayers for anything above our daily bread here in the West - trust me, the Lord will continue to provide for our daily needs - you won't be found wanting nor is it a call to absolute poverty - just to absolute simplicity and to justice.)
All three of these calls are needed, and just as important, and I feel sitting on the bleachers or stradling the bar (see this video from Francis Chan - http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=LA_uwWPE6lQ), is not an option. Yes, ministry to the rich is needed, and may be the toughest and least responsive calling. But so is a call to the poor, one that has been seldom preached from the pulpits of US churches, yet must be! While we in the West, most of us being in the 10% materially, are spending most of our spare time sitting back, relaxing, and taking life easy (sports games, bars, TV dinners, vacations, shopping sprees) the rest of the world suffers from poverty, disease, wars, natural disasters, etc. And more than simply because we don't care and don't act. Often times our decisions of how we bank, shop, eat, etc. have direct influence on the suffering, wars, and oppressions of the rest of the world. We must stand on the side of Justice! The standard is Christ, to which we will never fully arrive, but through sanctification we can move closer. (a sanctification that comes through our receiving His love and grace and being transformed from the inside out and sometimes even outside in) The "have nots" are showing us up, forging more ground, winning more souls, and bringing more justice than we will ever accomplish at this rate. The great thing is that we CAN and are INVITED to join this battle daily - wherever we are at and from whatever starting point. To fight on behalf of the King who has already won the war! And to fight as victors now and stand as victors in the end.
So again, where do you stand?
[I realize I have inadvertently talked of surrender, or at least the results of it in the Christian life and church, but the act act itself is much more painful and agonizing, bring high cost. Trust me. To die daily is not easy. Relationships must be forfeited. Habits broken. Goals given up. And this-worldly hopes shattered. I'm reminded of a quote in Braveheart where William Wallace says he dreams of having a wife (who died earlier in the movie), a family, and a home. But who said none of that would mean anything without freedom. How many of us (those who are single, without kids, and non-homeowners in particular - one or all three), are willing to sacrifice those things, even for a time, to fight for the freedom of others? We must. But it requires daily surrender to those basic and good desires, as well as the evil desires of our flesh - which we should also be putting to death daily. I have wept and mourned over the encouraged delay of relationships, the forfeiting of my love for running, and the post-poning of degrees and status, only to find that as we are going after giving these things up, He will at times bring some of these things back into our lives (as he has me with all three in a matter of weeks). Our main concern and passion and desire must be for the gospel, a gospel of salvation which results in the salving of people (spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, economically, politically, etc.), systems, and even countries, and when we do, all the other things will be given to us eventually as well - in this life or in the next.]
Finally, a word to pastors. It is NOT simply your job to care for the flock within your four walls. That, or the discipling of 10-12 should be your primary goal, as it was Jesus', but it must not be your only goal. You are to also be equipping your flock (including the 12), for works of ministry in the community and around the world. Train them (men and women alike) to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, shepherds, and deacons. The first five are pretty well understood here in the States (apart from maybe Apostle and Prophet - both lacking in leadership training and development; and evangelists being outsourced to para-church organizations). But the Deacon(ness) office must be re-understood here in the States. These must be trained not simply in church housekeeing functions, but also in community development, community organizing, etc., each church (my suggestion here) sending a delegation each year to the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) conference to learn strategies in community development. This office of the deacon(ness) has also been outsourced to NGO's and para-church organizations (like World Vision, Compassion International, schools, government services, etc.), all of which are great and must not be neglected, but all of which should once again come back into their rightful place in the church, and whose leaders must be under the teaching and support of the churches elders. Pastors, let us stop getting fat and fattening the sheep of our pastures, but rather equipping our flock to feed the nations with all of our excess spiritual and material resources!
May the Lord add his blessing to these words, a reflection if you will on a semester studying under Dr. Viv Grigg in the Azusa Pacific University MA in Transformational Urban Leadership program, worshiping and fellowshipping at New City Church in LA with Pastor Kevin Haah, and learning from those on the streets here in LA.