Today's guest is Rick James.
Rick currently serves as Publisher of Crupress and is responsible for writing and producing ministry resources for the Campus Ministry. Rick is also a traveling speaker for Campus Crusade, speaking on campuses and at conferences across the U.S. His books include Flesh: An Unbreakable Habit of Purity in a Pornographic World, Jesus Without Religion (IVP, 2007), and A Million Ways to Die (Cook, 2010).
He and his family live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Now, without further delay, my interview with Rick James:
1. In a nutshell, can you explain what your new book, "A Million Ways To Die" is about?
The goal of this book is not to inflate the biblical concept of death but to shrink it, make it bite size: to show its relevance to our daily lives and spiritual growth. The Bible focuses on the concept, the practice, and the process - the small "d" of death - far more than on the capitol D of death.
The small "d" of death relates to every Christian. While we may never die in our attempts to witness, our reputation certainly can. As everyone has an ego, the death of pride is a martyrdom to be shared by all, just as everyone can experience the death of a dream, a job, a hope, a relationship. our ego, our reputation, etc. Everyone gets a chance to die.
What I hope to show in the book is that the principle of death is operant in just about everything of spiritual value, and that it's something we can and should experience every single day in some way, shape or form, even within our unique cultural context.
That is half the point of the book: recognizing the daily deaths of the Christian life - seeing them for what they are - and there are at least a million ways to die.
The second point of the book is to illuminate the reason, motivation, and value of dying, because dying to self is not the goal of the Christian life, it is only the means. The goal, the point, and the dynamic of the Christian life is experiencing the resurrected Christ living in and through us.
This 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 reason or value of dying to self is to experience the resurrected Christ living in and through us, then that makes you and I pinatas - all the good stuff being on the inside. How do you get the candy out of a pinata? 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.
2. You mention in your book about "daily deaths". Can you explain that?
When we hear of self-sacrifice, giving our life away, carrying he cross, dying to self, etc. etc., we tend to think of horrific suffering or persecuted third-world believers. 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.
Let me give a couple practical examples: I would say abstaining from gossip is a little death. 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 steady 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.
Here's another example: "I looked at porn on my computer last night." I mean, I didn't really; I'm just giving an example. In the humility of confessing our sin to one another, there is a death. To make such an admission is tantamount to putting our ego in front of a firing squad.
3. What is so great about dying?
Absolutely nothing...except it's the only way to experience resurrection life and living.
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.
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.
4. In your book, you also talk about "The passion of love." What part does love play in the process of death?
What embraces both the idea of love and the idea of death is the concept of passion. Passion is not the willingness to die for something you love; it's the desire to. Passion is a paradox: finding joy in pain, pleasure in sacrifice. The only way to satisfy the burning desire of passion is to give, spend, or pour out our life in some measure.
I think this is an important point and distinction. The Scriptures view sacrifice as an opportunity to express love: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil. 1:29); "Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2). Only love sees sacrifice as an opportunity, and I feel that much of what we do "in love" is done grudgingly or perhaps willingly but not excitedly.
A love that desires to sacrifice is one that has been fanned to flame through worship, and that is our responsibility: to pursue God, to cultivate our affections toward Him. He is turn "sheds His love abroad in our hearts" and we in turn brim with a love that seeks to sacrifice - a dance around a flame.
5. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A fundamentally different perspective of the Christian life and of he 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. The Genesis principle - out of death, life.
I can not emphasize enough that this book is a must read. Make sure to pick up a copy of A Million Ways To Die today and while you are at it you should also check out Rick's blog.
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