How Can We Survive – Part 2
How Can We Survive? Part 2
I am amazed! I am astounded! I have just been following some of the news coming out of our Capital regarding Congress’ decision to continue the Bush era tax breaks. After the thunderous and clarion message sent to Congress in this November election about irresponsible spending, they are still playing political games and staying the same course that has sunk this nation into a debt that our great-grandchildren will still be paying. When you look closely at the proposed bill, it is filled with earmarks and pork concerning projects that have nothing to do with extending the tax breaks and adds billions of dollars once again to our national debt. Senator Jim DeMint (Republican S.C.) is already being portrayed as someone wanting to deny tax breaks to middle class citizens because he doesn’t want this bill. What Sen. DeMint doesn’t want is to violate the trust and will of the American people who have made it clear they are fed up with business as usual in D.C.
We need to be clear about this one thing…what ails our nation is not going to be rectified through our political process. You can’t solve moral problems by passing more laws or throwing more money at them. I believe the political system in our nation’s capital is so corrupted and broken that it is not going to be remedied through the electoral process. Congress’ dereliction following this past election should convince most of this truth. I cannot predict what will soon come upon our land but all the signs tell me it is not going to be pretty. The only way Christians are going to be able to position themselves as true witnesses in these coming times is to be committed to living as true disciples of Jesus Christ. This means ensuring the foundational disciplines are thoroughly ensconced in our lives.
Last month I introduced this article on surviving what will inevitably come to America by looking into some parallels found in ancient Israel’s history and experience with God. We specifically looked at Ezekiel’s prophecy to Israel in that period that began the Babylonian captivity. We saw that despite prophetic warnings, Israel failed to repent and change its course. In essence they rejected their God ordained calling and purpose of reflecting to the nations the true nature of God and instead chose to adopt many of the ways (idols) of the heathen nations around them thus diluting their faith in God. In our study we saw that the church today has a responsibility to witness through its lifestyle to the resurrection of Christ. The church is in fact able to do this only when believers accept the transformational work of Christ in their lives day by day. I suggested that there are three foundational disciplines that must become part of every believer’s life in Christ. To help us remember these spiritual disciplines, I used the letter abbreviation of CIA—Consecration, Incarnation, and Authentication. In part two of this article we will look into the particulars of each of these disciplines.
The first foundational discipline we will call Consecration.
There are many outward ways in which someone might be said to be consecrated. In The Old Testament there was an established ritual by which Aaron and his sons were set apart (consecrated) unto the Lord. I’m sure there is spiritual significance in all that is described in this process of consecration. In the New Testament we see that Jewish sects such as the Pharisees and Sadducees practiced very precise traditions allegedly serving to set them apart in the service of God. Today many denominations and churches practice various forms of ordination or consecration of individuals as a means of setting persons apart unto ministry.
The inherent danger in trusting the outward evidences of consecration is that they tend to be more form than substance or reality. Although I am grateful for the formal setting apart unto ministry provided by a denomination and for the confidence and trust conveyed through that action, the greatest and truest reality of consecration in my life has first and foremost to do with what is happening toward God in my heart. Jesus confronted the Jewish spiritual leaders of his day precisely because they trusted in outward forms and observances while ignoring the weightier matters of the heart. The end result of such behavior then as well as today is hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
In many ways Consecration is the principal discipline since a failure to arrive at true honesty in the heart would negatively impact every other discipline. Consecration is a discipline of prayer. This is about discovering God in our hearts. It is practicing the presence of God. It is learning to hear the voice of God in our hearts and to our hearts. Reflecting on our previous discussion concerning outward forms versus inner reality, even prayer can be exercised as an outward tradition. This is precisely why Consecration as prayer is a discipline. We don’t come into it naturally but deliberately focus on building intimacy with God.
The challenge in this discipline is in coming into a gut level honesty with ourselves and with God. It is having the courage to open all of who we really are before the Lord. This means having the willingness to bring our hurts, fears, failures, doubts, and even unbelief’s before the throne. Richard Foster wrote in his introduction to de Caussade’s classic work, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, the following truth—“And once we can face, before God, who we truly are, we have stepped onto the path of grace that leads to conformity to the image of Christ.”
One of our greatest temptations is to set forth before others that person whom we believe will be most loved and accepted…who will be honored and appreciated. Henri Nouwen put it this way, “We tend to present to God and to others only those parts of ourselves with which we feel relatively comfortable and which we think will evoke a positive response.” That kind of dishonesty, of cover up, is ultimately damaging to our relationship with ourselves, with others and with God. The spiritual discipline of Consecration is a discipline of prayer. However, it is a prayer that is bathed in gut wrenching transparency. If we are going to commune with God in our hearts, we must be willing to risk the fear of rejection that so often paralyses us and dissuades open, honest relationships.
Next we will look at the spiritual discipline of Incarnation. Just as the discipline of Consecration was a discipline of the heart so Incarnation is a discipline of the Word. Remember that “discipline” means that we are setting forth some kind of effort and self-denial that our character might be formed after the nature of Jesus himself. It is important to realize that we cannot of ourselves make something happen in this regard, but rather we are positioning ourselves with God that his grace and workmanship might work demonstratively in our lives.
When we exercise spiritual disciplines we are in essence increasing our capacity for God in our lives. We are making room for God. One of Paul’s apostolic prayers for the believers in Ephesus was that Christ would be “…more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him.” What I want to address through this particular discipline is more than just our relationship to the written Word of God. I am particularly interested in how we understand and respond to God’s spoken word to us out of his written Word. God is still speaking to man and the words he speaks are powerful, shaping words designed to form our lives in Christ.
When we think about incarnation, we usually think about John’s message, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” or Matthew’s nativity story where it is said, “And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Jesus was God in the flesh, God with a human body. Incarnation simply means to be enfleshed, to take on a human body. The spiritual discipline we call Incarnation is in essence the enfleshing of God’s spoken or written word. It is another way of explaining Romans 8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” It is all about growing up into “…the full stature of the fullness of Christ.”
God is at work forming Christ in us as we learn to make obedient and faithful responses to the living words he speaks into our lives. As God speaks his word to us, that word has the opportunity to be enfleshed in us. Paul wrote to the believers in the region known as Galatia saying, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Without question, the most important activity taking place in the lives of believers today is the formation of Christ in them. This is the incarnational reality much of the church is dismissing or overlooking today.
Let’s examine more closely how this spiritual discipline of Incarnation really works. Most believers accept the Bible as the authoritative, inspired word of God and attempt to faithfully follow its precepts in their daily lives. This is precisely what the children of Israel were instructed to do all those years ago prior to the advent of Christ. However, since the coming of Jesus and given the reality of his life, death, resurrection and ascension, there is a whole new spiritual dynamic in force for believers today. This new dynamic could simply be summarized in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
With the Spirit’s coming, our entire relationship with the written word was changed forever. It is no longer simply a matter of learning, knowing, and following the written word. If this were all that mattered, our relationship with God wouldn’t differ that much from the Jews of the Old Testament. In fact, it is possible to work at keeping faith with the word of God while at the same time failing to cultivate and enjoy intimacy with him. But that’s not what the Christian faith is all about. Christianity is really about God dwelling with his people. It is all about having an ongoing, present and intimate relationship with God where he is very personally speaking forming and shaping words into our lives. When you add the dimension and dynamic of the Holy Spirit to the written word of God, we have God’s spoken word out of his written word being delivered right to our hearts. When God speaks from the Bible right to our hearts, he is addressing life issues in a perfect, purposeful, and timely manner that serves to conform our lives to the image of Christ.
This discipline of Incarnation is all about our personal relationship with the Lord and about developing a hearing heart towards God. I find it interesting in recent years that so much emphasis has been placed on each church developing and writing its own vision. Vision, of course, is all about seeing. However, the Bible appears to place a greater emphasis on hearing. The first command God gave Israel was in what is referred to as the “schema.” “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” Isaiah prophesied about those who did not have ears to hear. In Revelation, the Spirit said to the churches, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” This is one of the reasons that we are emphatically warned in Scripture to “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springthe issues of life.” We tend to “hear” through our hearts. When our hearts are pure, we are free to hear God speaking those shaping words to us.
I believe King David knew this discipline. The Bible very honestly portrays David as one whose life embraced some pretty serious sins. He was chastised by God for numbering the people of Israel. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then subsequently arranged to have her husband killed. Psychologically, David was well acquainted with fears, despair, and brokenness. All of these and other sins and indiscretions notwithstanding, David’s highest epitaph was spoken by the Lord himself when he said, “’I have found David…a man after My ownheart.” Above all, David had a heart to hear and obey God.
I can’t over emphasize the imperativeness of our developing an open and honest relationship with the Lord that we might hear his precise and timely words to our hearts. This discipline of Incarnation is all about God’s specific, seasonal words becoming flesh in us. Remember Foster’s statement from Part One of this article, “And once we can face, before God, who we truly are, we have stepped onto the path of grace that leads to conformity to the image of Christ.”
The third foundational discipline we will consider is the spiritual discipline of Authentication. We first saw how Consecration was a discipline of the heart. Then we examined Incarnation as a discipline of the Word. Now we will see that Authentication is a discipline of the body (the real church).
Like all spiritual disciplines, Authentication requires that we invest ourselves in a manner that fosters preferred results in our lives. In this case, it means configuring ourselves relationally in the body of Christ in a way that allows the Lord to pour himself into us. Being authentic in who we are as persons in general and as Christians in particular is absolutely critical to our personal formation in Christ and corporately to the church’s mission in the world. Being authentic in our personhood is all about being genuine in our relationships with others… being the real thing. It is about intentionally developing honest, open, sharing and caring relationships in the body of Christ.
Too much of what passes for fellowship in the body today is superficial and dishonest. Deep, meaningful and significant relationships require effort and investment. It takes far more than simply attending the same fellowship each week with the same people. True relationships are not simply a function of time but rather are established through mutual commitment dedicated to seeing Christ formed in one another. Not only must I, as a follower of Jesus, be committed to rising up into the full stature of Christ, but I must also hold the same passion and commitment for my siblings in Christ. God has so ordered our spiritual maturation that we cannot progress apart from a legitimate integration in the body of Christ. We need one another. We need the life of Christ that can only be imparted by another brother or sister in Christ.
Much of what passes for church these days is nothing short of Christian consumerism. Too many believers are floating around from church to church shopping for what they think is the right situation for them. Churches can easily fall into the trap of constantly creating a better three dog and pony show in the hopes of attracting more persons to their particular fellowship. When a church is in this attractional mode, it is very easy to substitute entertainment for worship. The result of this kind of activity is shallow Christians without roots or fruits and superficial relationships that serve no one.
The most common Greek word used for fellowship in the New Testament is koinonia. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as—fellowship, community, communion, sharing, participation, intercourse, intimacy. In the context of the body, it is the sharing and participation that we experience in one another’s lives. If our relationships in the body fail to embrace mutual participation in one another’s lives, we are not in biblical fellowship, and we will be forfeiting the transformational lives Christ call us to and died to make possible for us. Biblical fellowship requires a lot of sacrifice and effort. It cannot be easily offended and survive. It cannot tolerate a “backdoor” policy. This means running off to find the next better church once I’m offended or something doesn’t please me.
True fellowship, authentic relationships, suffer much and love much. True fellowship sees problems as opportunities and looks for the redemption God wants to work through difficult circumstances. True fellowship sees offences as opportunities to be more conformed to the image of Christ. True fellowship is a choice to deepen relationships so that persons will mutually encourage and build up one another’s lives in Christ.
The discipline of Authentication is probably the most risky discipline since it necessarily involves interaction with others. Wherever relationships exist, there will inevitably be problems, offences, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. This discipline is all about discovering God’s redemptive process through relational problems. It means being so committed to seeing Christ formed in one’s brother or sister that you choose to stay in a relationship until you see God’s redemption come. This discipline is all about being real persons to one another and allowing each other the time and space to grow into all God has meant us to be. It means abandoning my ideas of what someone else should be and encouraging everything in them that God is calling into existence. Without being meaningfully connected and integrated in the body of Christ, I will forfeit all opportunity for the transformational life in Christ.
CIA—Consecration, Incarnation, Authentication. Three foundational spiritual disciplines upon which to build one’s transformational life in Christ. Disciplines of the Heart, Word, and Body. Remember, no one else can do this for you. Spiritual disciplines require personal and intentional investment in all Christ died for us to be.
Father, I pray your encouragement for all those reading these words, that they would be challenged to take the plunge and ensure these foundational disciplines are working in their lives. I pray they would discover the joy of knowing your life being formed in them. I pray this in the name of him who chose to share his inheritance with us, even Jesus, name above all names. Amen.