How Can We Survive – Part 1
How would you describe people who, when told perilous conditions are imminent, choose to continue their present course and activity as if nothing had been said? You would probably say these were in deed very foolish people. In April 1912, the luxury liner RMS Titanic, a ship that had been labeled as virtually unsinkable, struck an iceberg in the icy waters of the North Atlantic and within less than three hours broke in half and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Initially following the encounter with the iceberg, although many persons began to board the lifeboats, many others ignored the warnings and remained committed to their present activities. Some who were awakened out of sleep simply rolled over and went back to sleep. Many others were eating, drinking, and dancing to the music of a live band. It was reported that the band continued to play right up to the end. Survivors reported hearing the band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” as they escaped in the lifeboats.
The unthinkable happened to the unsinkable. So much confidence had been placed in the indestructible nature of the Titanic, the ship that “Not even God could sink,” that only 16 of the required 32 lifeboats were outfitted on the ship. So confident was Captain Edward Smith that he utterly ignored warnings of dangerous icebergs in the shipping lane he traveled.
America is the Titanic of nations steaming headlong into its peril. Although some are heading for the lifeboats, making preparation for survival, many others are willfully ignoring the signs that abound and are continuing to live as if things will always be as they have always been. Nearly two and a half millennia ago, after having ignored the prophetic warnings of their day, the Israelites in Babylon cried out, “How can we survive?”
The title for this article was borrowed from the prophet Ezekiel. To be more accurate, these words were spoken by the Lord as he related to Ezekiel how the people of Israel were responding to their circumstances. The question wasn’t rhetorical or reflective. It wasn’t an effort to find a meaningful answer to some very desperate conditions. Rather the question was sarcastic in nature reflecting that the children of Israel believed that God’s punishment was not commensurate with their sins. God had put them in an unrecoverable situation. The NLT version of our question is translated as “How can we survive?” This probably more accurately conveys the desperate sense of the question.
Ezekiel ministered to the children of Israel during the Babylonian captivity. These people had experienced the destruction of their nation, their way of life, their religious system, their freedom and were transported as captives to a foreign land where, barring their remembrance of Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy, they were to live without hope of return to their homeland. They weren’t just inquiring about a new way to live for the mean time while they got through some disagreeable circumstances. They were concerned about their very survival as a people.
God’s solution for his people was that they repent and turn back to him with all their hearts. Israel’s greatest temptation and sin was in adopting the life and ways of the other nations. It was called idolatry. The purpose of the captivity was to cleanse their hearts and restore authentic worship of God. As you follow the story, God was true to his word in that after 70 years in Babylon he arranged for the miraculous release of his people.
One would think that when the release was announced, there would have been a mass exodus from Babylon leading back to Judah and to the restoration of all that had been taken from them. The truth is, only a small fraction of the Jews chose to pull up stakes and return to their land. By far the majority of the captives had become so acclimated and accustomed to their new homes and way of life that they chose to remain in Babylon.
Flash forward from our story about 2400 years and we can see something similar taking place in America today. The ominous signs abound which so incredulously point to the dismantling of the way of life our nation has known and enjoyed for nearly 250 years. We watch the erosion of our freedoms as Congress continues to pass laws ostensibly to protect us, but these very laws serve rather to remove personal responsibility while ever increasing government regulation over our lives. We witness the dismantling of our Constitution and the usurpation of our national sovereignty as our President, State Department and Congress work to bring our nation under international treaties and laws. We watch as our leaders stage the obvious pursuit of a one world government and one world economy as they spend our nation into oblivion racking up a national debt that exceeds even the annual GNP of the United States. In addition to probable financial bankruptcy, it is without strain or exaggeration that we can say that American is also utterly morally bankrupt.
The United States of America is on a collision course with disaster while the average person walks around in a cloud of denial. For those who still believe that things will continue just as they always have, I pray that you will awaken from your dream before it is too late to prepare for the inevitable. Life as we have known it is going to change. That is a given. The real question is, what Christians are doing in order to remain faithful to Christ and be a witness to his resurrection as all of America goes through a lifestyle transformation in anticipation of the soon return of Christ.
Many believers still hold on to their hope that political solutions are still viable. I am all for exercising our Constitutional franchise and fulfilling the responsibilities of our citizenship. However, my hope for our nation is not in political solutions. Even in Jesus’ day the Jews seemed to hold on to the hope that he would somehow restore the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus response to this was to tell them they would become or be witnesses from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth. If you pursue a study of this through Acts you will discover that we are called specifically to become witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. This means that our very lives, how we live day to day, must witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
This has always been an easy issue about which to be confused. If I were to ask you what Jesus came preaching, most would respond that Jesus came preaching the gospel. This would in fact be an incomplete answer. The word for “gospel” simple means “good news.” This is a fairly generic term and thus requires context or modifiers in order to more fully define it. When we check the various texts regarding Jesus’ ministry, we discover that he came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It is not just good news but rather it is the good news of God’s Kingdom.
The answer to America’s dismal condition then is not in tweaking the economy, or in finding more jobs, or in getting more conservatives elected to Congress, or in reducing the national debt, or in reducing the cumbersome, oversized, ineffectual, intrusive federal government. The answer is in the church of Jesus Christ rising up and becoming in reality what Jesus died for it to be.
Israel’s idolatry in Ezekiel’s day wasn’t just that they worshipped the gods of other nations along with the God of Israel. Their greatest failure was in not representing the only true God to the other nations through lifestyle living that reflected His true nature. The church today is failing miserable in the exact same manner. Most Christians’ lives are so enmeshed in and adopting of the ways of the world that it is nearly impossible to see where the church ends and the world begins. If my life as a follower of Jesus cannot be distinguished from the life of a non-believer, then I will not be a witness to the resurrection of Christ nor be able to reflect and make attractive the life of God to others.
I fear for the eternal life of so many confessing Christians whose lives are not being lived out from a Kingdom of God or eternal perspective. If America experiences a crash similar to the 1920’s, will there be a great falling away from the faith? Many students of history today are predicting something far worse and more global than anything previously experienced or known. It is very possible that when, not if, the crash comes, many Christians will be dejectedly asking the same question that was on the lips of the Israelites so many years ago—“How should we then live?” It is one thing to live in captivity without hope and in despair and another thing to have that experience while living in the Kingdom out of an intimate relationship with God. Please bare in mind the parable of the foolish virgins; you cannot buy oil for your lamp in the final hour.
Remember that it is with much tribulation that we enter the Kingdom. Unless we choose to have an intentional, purposeful, disciplined pursuit of God in our daily lives, we are apt to be victimized by the coming global crash. This does not need to be true if we are willing to put basic spiritual disciplines into our lives and build upon them a relationship with Christ that cannot be destroyed. I would like to now recommend three fundamental disciplines which can become the foundation upon which we build an unshakeable and intimate relationship with Christ (I would like to credit Henri Nouwen’s work, Spiritual Direction, for my inspiration).
In outlining these foundational disciplines, I find it helpful to abbreviate them with the letters “CIA.” Of course these particular letters are commonly known to stand for Central Intelligence Agency. For our purposes here, I am reassigning their meaning as Consecration, Incarnation, and Authentication.
Spiritual disciplines have been part of Christian life from the beginning of the faith. The church fathers spoke and wrote of them often. There has been a wonderful resurgence of interest in spiritual disciplines these past few years accompanied by many new fine resources for our edification. For our purposes here, almost anything that we would intentionally impose in our lives that would draw us out of our self-centered and selfish interests and reposition and center our hearts and minds in God so as to receive the momentary grace he has for us could be labeled a spiritual discipline.
Imbedded in our definition of spiritual discipline are the concepts of intentionality, self-imposition, self-denial, and the refocusing of our hearts and minds. In another sense, this same idea could just as easily describe what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple. When we think about these characteristics of spiritual disciplines, we are reminded of what it means to take personal responsibility for our transformational journey in Christ.
We cannot embrace the delusion that someone else is going to do this for us. I am the only one God will hold accountable for what goes on spiritually in my life. I am not going to wait or rely on my pastor, a church program, a TV teacher or anyone else. The bottom line is this—Jesus died to share his inheritance with us which means we are called, ordained and empowered to grow up into the full stature of his life. If that is not my intentional pursuit, I will ultimately forfeit the fullness of all God meant for my life eternally. Additionally, I will be found guilty of rejecting The Father’s sacrificial provision in Christ by denying his ultimate intention from eternity past. I cannot satisfy the Father’s desire for himself through Christ without incorporating spiritual disciplines in my life.
The idea of intentionally imposing spiritual disciplines in one’s life has its roots in the teacher/disciple relationship that Jesus formed with those he called to follow him. To become a disciple means to place or subject yourself under the “discipline” of a teacher. Webster defines discipline as “training that develops…character.” Clearly the significance of Jesus’ “discipline” (teaching, training) with those he called to follow him was that he might impart his life to them. Being conformed to the image of Christ is what we are called to. Therefore, becoming Jesus’ disciples is an absolute, a given in the Christian life. Adopting spiritual disciplines in our lives is an important, nonnegotiable aspect of fulfilling our call to follow Christ.
It is important to understand that following Christ, being discipled by him, adopting spiritual disciplines in our lives, is not about simply gaining more knowledge. It is expressly about being conformed to his image. Jesus explained it this way—“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” It is also important to realize that God does not follow the “one size fits all” principle. Rather, he purposefully, precisely brings spiritual disciplines to each disciple in a timely manner designed to further the formation of Christ in and perfect his relationship with that disciple. Although we should allow the Holy Spirit to prescribe particular disciplines for our lives, it is still imperative that we preposition ourselves with God by laying down the foundational disciplines being written of in this article.
Next month we will delve into the particulars of these foundational disciplines and discover their relevance for our Christian journey in these last days.