For a change, I am not going (for the most part) to quote from the Bible. Instead I'm going to quote from the book, It's Not Just A Job, by Kenneth Lynch (a "friend" of Al Penwasser's). Is this a highly-technical, inspired spiritual tome? No, it's actually a fairly bawdy look at a soon-to-be sailor's start in that man's navy back in the day. But one of the things you experience in the book is the discipline, the iron routine that gets drilled into the young servicemen. And one of the amusing things was how that broke down when no longer so life and death:
"Once formed and ordered to march by Blakeley, the twenty of us stepped off like a drunk caterpillar. You'd think that, with most of us fresh out of boot camp, we'd look better than an accordion in Winter Blues."
And I think that this boils down to your attitude towards the training. Are you seeing it AS life and death, as an extension of training that will keep you alive in a crisis, or as, "Geez, you don't march on a ship anyway"? And this has a lot to do with our challenges as a Christian.
This problem has had an enormous effect on the Church today. The Telegraph quoted from a recent study that showed the declining "discipline" of faith:
The findings also suggest that Muslims have by far the strongest faith in modern Britain, with Christians from smaller evangelical churches the only group coming close to the same levels of certainty.
By contrast only one in six members of the Church of England or the other main protestant denominations say they believe without doubt in God.
Just a third of Roman Catholics in the study said the same compared to 88 per cent of Muslims and 71 per cent of those categorised as evangelical Christians.
But the findings also point to major confusion among the population about beliefs and what even constitutes religion – with a quarter of those involved in the study changing their minds over time on the basic question of whether they would say they had a “religious” upbringing.
More than a quarter of those sampled fell into a middle category of so-called “fuzzy believers” who either said they believe in a vague “higher power” but not a specific deity or that they believed in God or a god “some of the time”.
This week I have heard several sermons that converged, it seemed, on the topic of whether one was really saved or just "dating Christ"- like the seeds that landed on the rocky path in the parable, springing up with joy at first hearing, then withering away in times of trouble because there was "no root" to the faith. But what constituted a challenge?
One set of sermons dealt with Esther, who was safe in the palace but had to challenge herself to stand up against Haman's hateful politics for her people. Another marks what I was finding in my own walk, that when I focused on a particular sin, the temptation to it jacked into the stratosphere. I'm not saying the sin didn't need to be addressed, but by putting your battle in such a narrow area, you allow Satan to concentrate his forces, as it were. A lot easier to defeat the ministry of a Christian when you only have to defeat him in ONE thing.
But the thing that made it clear to me what God was driving at was a dream I had Saturday morning. All I clearly remember was being pinned down by a knife (BIG knife) wielding terrorist, point stuck at the top of my abdomen. For a moment, I begged for mercy, but then realized he was going to do it anyway, and said, "Just do it." I remember the slash down the belly, which- being a dream- I didn't feel; but then, a savage stroke down my right temple that I DID feel. And then I woke up. And I said to myself, "Why did I ever beg? Why did I not just say, I'm safe in Jesus' arms, and laugh at him?"
And as I woke up (2:30 AM, not exactly my favorite time to wake up), I was listening to a pastor who was speaking to the subject of knowing your salvation. And he made the point that our salvation isn't based on our ability, but on God's nature- that His character says "I promise and don't relent," and once your are saved, YOU ARE SAVED. Unless you have been "dating Christ", and have that "fuzzy belief."
Which took me back to the dream, and what it was a symptom of. Because my focus had been on the battle, the specific, the "boot camp", it had not spread out to APPLY TO EVERYDAY LIFE. And this is the point. Actually it is one I am getting better at. "Boot camp" for a Christian is more than just buffing your boots, inspecting your "winter blues", and having yourself ready for inspection on Sunday. It's the morning time in prayer, the stopping before you start your workday to give it to God, the watching the Super Bowl as if Jesus was next to you on the couch. AKA everyday life. If I discipline myself to normal everyday life, rather than throwing all my weight into fighting one sin I'll never beat for all that effort, I'll wake up saying, "Isn't it great I told that terrorist in my dream, he can only hurt my body..."
And the net result of that effort... well, let's let Mr. Lynch finish this...
"As we pivoted, seemingly on a dime, I realized what all those countless hours spent on the grinder had been about. Sure, it was to instill discipline and a sense of order into us. But it was primarily to prepare us for the moment we became more than a group of guys from Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Kansas, and wherever the hell Otero was from...We became sailors that very day, prepared for whatever the next couple, or more, years would throw at us. We were ready to serve in our nation's defense... Hell, if we could handle "Counter March", the Russians would be a piece of cake."
(PS: It bears noting that the above quote came upon graduating boot camp and the first one came several weeks later. Discipline takes constant work.)