Flights of Faith

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Death to Life: Christian Regeneration in the areas of Evangelism, Justice for the Poor and Oppressed, and the Navigation of Privilege

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For 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. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken."[b]With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So 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 4:7-18)

Boldness. It’s what I need. Recently, I’ve been thinking about evangelism. A member of the body, a Yalie’s brother, went on a trip last year to preach the Gospel across America on some cash from his Mom and faith alone. Always waiting for Christians to extend offers of hospitality, he ventured into a biblical reality of radical welcomings or consequence-inducing dismissals. Whether sleeping in a home or outside (something that only happened to him around five times in six months, thank God!), his work remained the same. On buses, in malls, through outdoor campuses, and on the street, he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For whatever reason, I had locked and sealed the definition of street preaching to only apply to the loud and judgmental representatives of our faith or someone with such wild fervor that their devotion is lost in translation in an apathetic world. However, this guy, also named Joshua, would either stand up passionately in a bus or approach people individually asking questions like, “Do you know God?”, “Do you have a relationship with Christ”, and sometimes, “Do you know where you’re going to go when you die?” At first thought, you might think these questions were an affront to many people. Yet, he discovered what a lot of us are discovering at Yale and at home: people want to be awakened from an uneventful life into freedom from Christ. I’ve said this before but what does it mean that we walk around with the meaning of Life, the Truth of God in our hearts, and are often silent? Looking at the second half of the greatest commandment, how can we not admit that loving thy neighbor as yourself, for Christians, would mean we’d want a whole lot of people to tell us about Christ if we did not know Him? Are we just afraid?

(Joshua’s appeal to all of us:

An amazing testimony from his trip:

General site:

Disclaimer: Joshua is a pretty bold guy, in general. And this is not a blind endorsement of his every comment in the blog. That said, I’ve read the entire blog and it’s clear he did a lot of God’s work on this trip).

I wonder if I’m more afraid to approach people or more afraid that this is so obviously what Christians should do, thus, how far are we from Christ’s heart? I have been praying for God to clarify his mission for me, in this respect. I am sure there is not simply one way to evangelize. While I have grown fond of being open and, in many cases, forward and frank with secular friends and talking publicly about my faith at events, I still think there’s something special about breaking down the barrier of stranger with a question or two that can create a lasting impression, a seed that God will water. There is something powerful in being "that person when I was traveling that awoke me to my ability to choose and to believe."

I should not be afraid of an opportunity from God, especially the part where I talk to God about whether or not this is what He’s calling me to do or in what ways He’d have me do it differently. I need to look in the mirror and see the security Paul talks about in our being jars of clay.

Paul gives us a challenge in this passage that seems in contradiction with the angels’ rebuke to the women looking for Jesus at the tomb in Luke 24:5, “why do you look for the living among the dead?” Unlike Luke’s account, Paul does not make “life” and “death” geographic sites that have consequences for our faith (Jesus said he’d be resurrected on the third day so looking for Jesus’ dead body on the third day is not exactly believing his words). Instead, Paul talks about a process of “giving ourselves over to death” since Life is at work in us. What a beautiful image. In effect, Paul is saying Jesus Christ will be revealed to all through our lives full of struggle AND success on behalf of him. And we have to do some honest reflection on this verse. As much as it might be interpreted as a passage of Christian resistance in an age of secularism (that allows us to just to relax Christian-style in Babylon...), I really think it’s just about spreading the Gospel with Christ as center. It is about us doing the labor of Christ.

In addition to bold and prayerful evangelism that considers individual strengths and weaknesses, all Christians also have a strong command to care for the poor, marginalized, and the oppressed. We have contemporary Christian rhetoric filled with pleas to “find God,” “hear from Him,” “see Him,” etc. Those things are important; yet, in Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus gives us a crystal clear long-lasting answer for where he is in our world: the person who is hungry, the person who is sick, the person without clothes, and the person who is jailed. If we desire Jesus, cry out for Him even, then how can we ignore the faces that Jesus so clearly stands with? There’s also another connection to evangelism and discipleship in this moment. Another moment where the work of death produces life because of Christ. Christ is invested in these stories of marginalization because of His compassion for those who are suffering; in addition, Christ knows their humble hearts are full of joy at a message of salvation and redemption in a world that offers them neither, not even common metaphors of grace. Indeed, the process of their acceptance of God sometimes differs from those privileged by God w/ able bodies, financial security, and healthy living situations. Part of navigating that earthly privilege (that we often think comes from God) is to give it up, to share it, to create a wide wake. We need to serve with the passion and humility of John the Baptist who was willing to be a forerunner for Jesus and take joy in the promise of His accomplishments that, of course, became actualized. In the same way, we need to be facilitators of making sure the poor and the marginalized do not feel poor or marginalized with us or in our churches. This is a commitment that requires more than just a hearty welcome. Instead, it might specifically mean providing ways that tangible needs can be met. Most importantly though, we need to secure and create platforms and spaces from which they can speak since in their stories, there is potential for death to be turned into Life and for us to come alongside them in that effort, as much as we are needed.

In the same way, we need to continue to confess our brokenness collectively in order to use our own transformation to glorify God. Through this, we identify our own poverty of Spirit and self-oppression and marginalization of the true Light that catches even the darkest corner. Additionally, we can also use our own needs and trials (health, financial, injustices, etc.) to testify to God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9-10, “But [the Lord] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Through our imperfections and the labor we do to reach the poor and the oppressed, we can begin to preach in such a way that our death will become Life.

This is not to say that God does not meet us wherever we are dependant on our class or privileged status. As we know, nothing is required of us before Christ offers His grace. We must simply accept it with a sincere love. The moments after, though, are a road to grow closer to Him. And while it is a spectacular thing to give thanks to God for the security and comfort He provides, it is, my understanding from scripture, that it is an even better thing to ask God what of our security and comfort can we give thanks for in heaven when this world passes away. Maybe this will lead us to see earthly privilege as a path to do God’s work in this life while not secretly clinging to a treasure of this world alone.

For Yale students and others who attend other schools people consider "elite", this is a tremendous task for all of us. As soon as we signed our acceptance card and, most completely, when we receive our diplomas, we have been bestowed with an earthly privilege that will never leave us in most settings in this world no matter the riches it produces. A remedy is not found in service driven from guilt; instead, solutions look like a Solomon like prayer to simply surrender our undeserved privilege to God and to ask for Him to make this influence meaningful in the lives of others knowing that does not always (or ever) mean God using us as a “face of the movement” but simply as a tool that does the work of God. Additionally, we need to ask sincere prayers that question any additional privileges that we seek.

We can often get caught up in living an elite lifestyle that requires a certain amount of privilege, busyness, respect, and quantifiable results. We might desire to live it for ourselves or others. Let us not be afraid to submit our futures to God fully without any borders or barriers that we are holding onto for reasons that our outside of God’s will.

Oh God, let us take that into our hearts fully and to spread that word to our similarly situated friends set to inherit the world and, in the process, lose their souls. Jesus, we ask that you be the only Treasure that we seek. Let our hearts reside in You alone. Show us the path You want us to walk and give us the courage to follow it knowing the ultimate cost and consequence has already been paid by You. Thank you for letting us live and gain freedom in that sacrifice. Let Your blood be a reminder of the willful sacrifices You call us to in this life and for the sin and evil that can now be forgiven and vanquished by humbly calling out Your name.

Thank you God. We pray this in Your name, Jesus Christ.



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