Resurrection Power

"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering." Phillipians 3:10

I remember where I was when this verse was brought to my attention for the very first time. It was January 1975, and I was on Christmas break in Kings Park, New York. I was seated at the kitchen table with my father, Don Miller, and he shared this passage of scripture with me as his verse for the year. I didn't give it a great deal of thought. This was something that he did every year. I have to admit that I always enjoyed finding out his sense of direction for the year, but it was not a priority to me that morning.

I was making final prep for my return drive from Long Island to Fort Worth, Texas. I had just completed my first semester in seminary and was excited about beginning my new ministry as Minister of Outreach at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church. I had a lot on my mind and the future looked bright even if the road ahead was long. I couldn't wait to get back to Texas. Long story short, Dana was there. I was not going to be able to convince her I was the right man for her, if I had to do it over the phone. No texting available in those days. A guy had to just man up and go get to know a gal face to face. It is still the best way to build a relationship, just in case any metro-sexuals ever happen to read this.

Dad's choice of this verse came to be more important to me after I returned to seminary. One evening I received a call from the Chairman of Deacons of North Shore Baptist Church. He told me that Dad had been taken into the local hospital for emergency surgery to repair a ruptured colon. He assured me that all was well, and he was resting comfortably. The crisis had passed. Less than 72 hours later he called, and informed me that Dad was in the emergency room and was not given much hope to pull through. Severe and intense infection had set in due to a leak in the connections that had been quickly made in the colon. In the swift efforts to save Dad's life from all the blood loss, there had been a mistake. Now they had to go back in and remove the infection and leave him with three colostomies in order to drain the poison from his body. The Chairman told me to wait by the phone, and he would keep me posted.

What took place in 1975 was a long ordeal of physical, spiritual and emotional suffering for Dad, and Mom, their church, and the four of us children. Dad survived the second surgery, but it was a mess. He was left with three bags on his abdomen, and forced to carry around an open sewer for the better part of a year. He dropped in weight to less than 100 pounds. He was unable to preach for almost a year. I made plans to leave my new position at Sagamore and drop out of seminary to go home and help. Dad was too weak to talk to me, but he told Mom to tell me to stay in school and come home for Easter and preach for him.

I will never forget Gene Brooks, a layman at Sagamore, paid for my flight to New York. Dad's church did not have the money to get me there for Easter, and I didn't make enough at the church to afford the cost of the ticket. Gene and Dad became great friends over the years that followed. Gene went home to Heaven recently, and when I think of him my heart is warmed. God bless Gene Brooks.

When I saw Dad for the first time in four months, he was seated in a chair in the living room of his home in New York. I was stunned. The smell and the scene was overwhelming. He was a shell of the man I had seen in early January. His color was ashen, and his robe sagged over his emaciated frame. This vibrant, active 53 year old man looked like he was over 90 and near death. Words cannot describe the shock. Physically, it was a jolt because it was like seeing it all happen to him over night. Spiritually it was a struggle because I could not believe God would allow this to happen to someone who just wanted to know Him better. I swore then and there that I would never claim that portion of scripture as a sense of direction for my life. This became a bone in my throat and a rock in my shoe for some time. I can see now that this was just fear at work trying to rob me of my faith in God's capacity to give us grace when we need it, but never ahead of time.

Easter 1975 I preached for Dad at North Shore Baptist Church. He surprised everyone and came to church in his wheelchair for the first time in four months. When he was rolled down the aisle to take a place near the front row, there was not a dry eye in the house. It was the first time many of the people had seen him in this condition. I struggled through the message, and couldn't tell you what I said. I do remember the look on Dad's face. He was serene. His countenance was placid, peaceful, and almost other worldly. He was there, and he was engaged in what I was saying, but he was in the presence of Someone else. He was with us, but not of us. When the invitation was given, Dad struggled out of his wheel chair and walked with a cane towards me to thank me for preaching and to ask me to pray for him. I was done in by that time. I can't recall how we ended the service. I think we all must have just melted in tears and flowed out the door into the parking lot. Unforgettable!

Mom and Dad came to Texas for surgery at Baylor Hospital in Dallas in December of 1975. He stayed in the home of Gene Brooks until the day of surgery. We spent Christmas Day in the ICU Waiting Room of the hospital and waited for Dad as he underwent 12 hours of surgery to repair the work done in New York. Throughout the day, I couldn't stop thinking about his verse for the year. "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering." When I saw him for the first time in ICU, he was bloated and his head was twice the normal size. They had been filling his body with fluids because of the nature of the surgery. He was weak, but able to reach out his hand and hold mine. Again, he was at peace in the middle of the chaos. I remember the look on his face more than any words that we exchanged. There was pain, but there was no panic. Again, there was the unmistakable sense of Someone else in the room.

Over the years, I have heard a lot a my colleagues claim this verse of scripture. I have to admit that instinctively, I step back a ways just in case I get hit with what is coming their way. I have grown in my understanding of God in the past 35 years, but I still recall the price Dad paid to be introduced to a new level of intimacy with the Jesus he already loved. To know Jesus more intimately means to have a more personal fellowship with Him. There is a path that must be shared with Jesus if His fellowship with us is going to be more authentic than our casual once a week greeting given to Him on Sunday morning.

I have learned that the path of this fellowship is different for everyone. Paul went to prison. Dad went to surgery. Others experience the loss of a child, a mate, a job, or experience any number of life threatening encounters. It is not the way of suffering, but it is the destination of the journey that remains the same. "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering" leads to "being conformed to His death that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead." Phil. 3:10

Dead men have no rights. A corpse can be mocked, but it cannot take offense. It has no power to do so. There is no life left in it to make a reaction. "Being conformed to His death" was something that Paul said that he did daily. It was not enough for him to know that Jesus died on the cross. Paul needed to be reminded every day that the old Paul died there too. His rights, pride, plans, purposes, pedigree, and perspective were nailed to the cross. When Paul placed his hands upon Jesus to identify with His death for him, he learned that he too was a dead man in Christ. Paul would learn to say, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ." Gal. 2:20

Personal offenses and intimidating circumstances have a way of resurrecting a dead man's rights in the heart of a Christ follower. "The power of His resurrection and fellowship of His suffering" go hand in hand with preparing a believer to be "conformed to His death." Taking offense, living in fear, reacting in the flesh, responding in kind give evidence that there is a level of fellowship with Jesus that has yet to be reached in the life of the believer. Paul saw his relationship with Jesus as permanent, but his intimacy with Jesus as a process. The more time he spent cultivating the his fellowship with the Risen Christ, the more power of the Resurrection was released through him.

The conforming of our lives to the life of Jesus begins by being close enough to Him to see and hear how he responds to crisis, chaos, criticism, or confusion. We should always just follow His lead. If Christ panics, then it is time to panic. When He is praying, it is time to pray. The last word we have from Jesus is that He is praying. Take a guess at what a person who wants to have fellowship with Him should be doing. You guessed it. Pray! The power of the resurrection is found by learning to lean into the yoke of the Risen Christ. He is not on the cross suffering for our sins, but we are His companion on a journey that will involve suffering through the death of self. There is no power of His resurrection without the fellowship of His suffering and being conformed to His death.

This not a short trip, but a long journey. You never really know someone until you take a trip with them. The longer the trip, the better you are able to see the real person. It is hard to hide who you really are for very long. "To know the power of His resurrection" Jesus invites us to bring our suffering to Him, and He will make sense out of it. The fellowship of the resurrection begins at the foot of the cross, but this initial encounter continues as we "die daily." (I Cor. 15:31) Look into the face of the Risen Christ. He walks right beside us. He invites us to lean on Him and He will give us His power to overcome suffering, and be conformed to His death. On the cross, Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." His death preceded the power of His resurrection. Our death to self must precede the power of His resurrection in us.