As the large round orb rose out of the clouds in the southern sky I couldn’t help but think about all the unusual events that have recently taken place throughout the world. I recalled the increase in the occurrence of earthquakes, both in frequency and intensity from Haiti to Chile, China to New Zealand, and Japan to Thailand. All have happened within a year’s time and some with devastating tsunamis that accompanied them. I considered the global climatic changes, the massive floods and hurricanes that ravaged the west coast of Australia and the drought that disrupted the eastern regions of that country. I thought about the record cold temperatures with substantial snowfall and flooding in parts of the United States. And in the midst of this, the U.S. Government is promising to bring military troops home from the Middle East while entering yet a third conflict there.
I pondered the unrest throughout the Middle East and how it might ultimately impact growing demands for remaining global energy sources. Being in this state of mind I couldn’t help but consider how fragile our planet has become as it struggles to feed and provide fresh water to a growing human population of 1.8 billion people, especially considering that over half of them now exist on less than two dollars day.
Reflecting on the words Jesus spoke as he foretold of the events that would accompany the last days I couldn’t help but wonder if these escalations of world crises weren’t in fact the very birth pangs he told us to look for. For Christians who are familiar with the Bible, these words of Jesus are not foreign. He told us to us to keep our eyes open for things like “Nation rising against nation and an increase of wars and rumors of wars. He said, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven…. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” (It is significant to note that these statements are recorded in three out of four of the Gospel accounts: Matt. 24, Mark 13 & Luke 21.) The Bible warned that many would ignore these things just like they did in the days of Noah before the flood came. Seeing the world in such a state of chaos with so many people suffering, brings many to a place of deep concern – especially those who see validity in Christ’s own prophecy.
Even people without faith in scripture are asking questions and becoming concerned about the future condition of our nation and the world. I personally noted the warning signs of harder times to come as far back as the year 2000. I began then to take steps of preparation in my own life and our church as well. It was during this time that we built our benevolence complex (the Barnabas Center) which now feeds hundreds of families a month through the Food Pantry. It also provides a free medical clinic that serves those without health insurance; and a community garden that produces over thirty-thousand pounds of fresh produce for the poor in our community each year. From personal experience with a perspective of world history, I believe people who looked ahead and saw what could potentially be coming did better than those who ignored the winds of change and lived without any serious thought to their future existence. There is a passage recorded in 2 Peter 3 that reflects this short-sighted perspective where Peter said, “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
I never want to seem presumptuous and perhaps ignorant in assuming that the American lifestyle that I have always enjoyed will last forever. Rather than being a scoffer about this though, I’ve always wanted to be a leader that isn’t afraid to take the risk of ending up with egg on my face. I have exhorted people to take a position of faith and proactive action when I see the warning of change so clearly. I would much rather prepare in advance for the possibility of crises. Then I am in the position to serve others in times of trouble rather than being in a state of panic and at the mercy of a broken system.
The following is a brief summary of four major areas many of us at Vineyard Boise have proactively pursued and encouraged others to do so as well. These principles are not about becoming survivalists, but rather a people of peace and functionality. (For those who want to hear more on this, the principles can be found in much greater detail in my book, Small Footprint / Big Handprint – How to live simply and love extravagantly.)
1. Simplify your life – Physically, emotionally and spiritually. Most of our lives have become cluttered with material things, out of control emotions and wrong choices which have not only complicated our lives but caused a form of paralyzing dysfunction. These things have inhibited us to a point that we feel confined, stuck and unable to make real and lasting change. For many when this reality hits, it seems too late as they have settled for a life of status quo. They have dug themselves in so deep that the idea of making significant changes is too overwhelming to begin trying. Of course this is a lie. Once, when Jesus was speaking about the transformed life he said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
When it comes to God we are given a free will to make new choices. He always provides us with a way out and a second chance if we dare to break free of the confines of our sinful condition and pursue a new life with him in control. This pursuit of a more simplified life can only start after we make the decisive choice to take the first step. It takes courage and initiative to reprioritize, downsize and go after a new vision. But, it can be done if we are willing to take an initial first step towards freedom. That first step requires dealing with the present condition that has bound us from change rather than focusing on the change itself. We have become paralyzed not only with financial indebtedness but with the emotional debt that comes from such things as broken relationships and the spiritual deficit of not walking with God as closely as we might. This holistic approach to simplicity is the only thing that will lead us to tranquility in times of global turmoil. True peace begins when we decide what is really valuable and then initiate a ruthless housecleaning in every part of our lives.
2. Be prepared for short term crises – Having the experience of working in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina it became evident to me that people who took basic steps of preparedness recovered much quicker than those who became dependent on government help. Not only that, but many of those with the mindset to be prepared also became the workforce that served others in the aftermath of the crisis. Those who practiced preparedness had actually purchased and cut sheets of plywood to custom fit and protect their windows, had tarps to seal damaged roofs from days of rain that followed the initial high winds, and had generators to run their refrigerators and shop vacs. They were able to get the water out of their homes before extensive damage destroyed carpets and drywall. When it was announced that Katrina would directly hit New Orleans, these supplies ran out in a matter of hours. Those who thought ahead and stored water and nonperishable food supplies had enough to sustain them for several weeks when everything around them was in a total state of chaos.
I’ve heard much pushback, even from Christians, on the idea of preparedness. Many have felt that it is eccentric and lacks faith. In reality, preparedness has biblical precedence. Two of the most common examples are Joseph, who exhorted the Egyptian Pharaoh to store seven years of wheat against a great famine, and King Hezekiah, who called the people of Jerusalem to build a concealed fresh water supply and store food against the potential of a Babylonian siege against their city. Being prepared is only a short term insurance against unexpected disaster. Even if emergency stores are never used, it gives a person peace of mind and takes away the potential of a frantic effort for survival during a time of crisis when we might otherwise be in a position to help others out.
3. Work towards long term sustainability – Storing food and water will never take the place of a sustainable lifestyle. Understandably, not everyone can do what Nancy and I have done on our Timber Butte farmstead, but they can take steps towards sustainability at one level or another. Both our grown children live in the city but still have a few chickens and small functional greenhouses and vegetable gardens. More and more people in cities across the country are gathering together to establish community gardens and co-ops not just for survival sake, but so they can live healthier lives with better food choices all the time.
Sustainability takes foresight and long term planning. It requires a plan to become debt-free and a new lifestyle which doesn’t demand a huge salary or a consumer mentality. Those who best survived the Great Depression of the ‘30s lived in places where they could sustain the basics of life without dependency on government hand outs. A sustainable lifestyle takes a commitment and a willingness to sacrifice the pursuit of what is known as the “great American dream”. Ever since the early warnings that we began hearing in the late 1990’s concerning globalization, Nancy and I made the decision to move onto a piece of land where we would have an independent source of fresh water and a little space to grow our own food. We considered ways to develop alternative energy sources and have enough land to grow a small orchard and a full producing garden. We included in our plan raising chickens, hives of bees and a few cows.
Our idea of retirement changed from the traditional plan of putting all our eggs in one basket by building an IRA account to the concept of creating a lifestyle that wouldn’t require a lot of financial resources. We knew that in the next ten years we must find good land close enough to the city to stay connected daily to our church community while as debt-free as possible. To that end we spent most of our vacations and days off buying, fixing up and selling homes. In ten years we moved four different times. It was an exhausting season of our lives but we did it because we felt an urgency to not procrastinate knowing how quickly the American economy could change without warning. As a pastor and leader, I encouraged others to simplify as well and provided financial planning classes and other training through the ministries of the church. I also encouraged this simplified lifestyle by writing the book, Small Footprint / Big Handprint, and producing a small group video series to encourage others to consider the changes they could make. Many began to make plans towards living a more simple life; some stayed with it while others lost interest when the economy didn’t change right away. It wasn’t until seven years later that the economy began to reflect the reality of difficult times ahead.
The changes in our lifestyle that Nancy and I made a few years ago would be a bit more difficult in the current economy. But, for those willing to sacrifice a status quo lifestyle to build a sustainable and functional future, it is still possible. Downsizing and living below our means is still achievable but will require much thoughtful planning, sacrifice and determined effort. For many with the loss of income this is becoming a forced reality in today’s economy. It is not too late to consider a sustainable lifestyle but I do believe it will be more difficult to achieve in the economically lean years ahead.
4. Live in community – Being a part of a functional community of faith is crucial today. Historically we know that people who worked together holding onto what the Bible refers to as “having one heart and one mind” have always done better than those who tried to go it alone during difficult times. This was true in the founding of our nation and in the settlements that became established throughout the period of the westward movement. Every established western town had a community church that not only provided spiritual edification, but became the center of community social activity and support. Churches in those days were the welfare agencies. They took on the responsibility of reaching out to those who needed a helping hand long before the government endeavored to take over this task. When times get rough, the church is at its best. In the case of natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, the church provided thousands of volunteers to do the jobs that saved the overwhelmed residents untold amounts of money. Being there in those first days after the disaster hit, I was blessed to observe firsthand the church mobilizing such things as feeding programs quicker and more efficiently than even organizations such as the Red Cross or FEMA.
We live in a time where people are very independent. At one time, Nancy and I lived for a year in an apartment complex in the heart of the city. We were amazed how sad and lonely so many who inhabited that place seemed, not even knowing the people who lived next door. Where there is a trusting community of likeminded people there is constant sharing, encouraging, trading and even bartering. People work together using their personal skills and knowledge for the good of everyone. Not only is this helpful for others, but it has a way of bringing greater value and purpose to the participants’ lives – those giving and receiving. Building a trusting community doesn’t happen overnight and because of it, genuine relationships need to be pursued and cultivated before a crisis actually occurs.
5. Maintain an eternal perspective – I find that many folks live day to day with minimal long range vision. They live from paycheck to paycheck, paying bills as best they can and looking only as far as the coming weekend or a scheduled vacation to break their daily routine. Observing the unraveling world through a shortsighted lens is not only frustrating but downright depressing. Listening to current interactions on popular talk radio programming reveals the cynicism and anger of people who have difficulty seeing the bigger picture of God’s greater plan. When the world erupts with a new catastrophe or social uprising there is a tendency to become unsettled and insecure about an uncertain future. Some mistakenly react to this new state of uncertainty with self-preservation and blame, which is generally focused at governmental leadership or those who hold different ideological views.
In the bigger picture however, the crises we face can be categorized in one of two ways: acts of God or nature and acts of man. We have no control over earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts or floods – those classified as acts of God. On the other hand, global economy, fossil fuel depletion, environmental abuse and the atrocities of human injustice such as ethnic cleansing and human trafficking can only be attributed to the selfishness, greed and sinfulness of mankind. As hard as we try to control destructive human behavior through lawmaking, legislation and aggressive police action, it too seems hopelessly uncontrollable in the end. When man’s heart is corrupt and selfish he somehow always seems to discover new ways of sinning against society. Ultimately the only real justice is that which will one day come from God himself. Isaiah 61:8 tells us that God loves justice and hates wrongdoing. Isaiah, along with the gospels and the epistles, tells us that in the end God will judge all mankind and reward those who are faithful to his covenant. This is the big picture – this is the eternal picture. In the end God will make everything right and at his second coming he will separate those who have followed him and those who have selfishly rebelled against him.
God is in control. The natural life that we are presently experiencing is only temporary, a mere breath compared to what is yet to come. We as God’s people are called to trust in his greater plan of eternity and participate with him in a world that desperately needs people who aren’t responding to global crises in fear but rather offering strength to those caught in the confusion and the suffering. In doing this we supernaturally gain an eternal perspective that grants us a peace and tranquility that passes all understanding when everything else seems to be falling apart around us.