Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dig for Rock.

There's a story in the Bible of a young king named Josiah, who lived about 640 years before Christ. I think Josiah could have related to me--being religious but ignorant of God. Josiah's generation had lost God's Word. And I don't mean that figuratively. They literally lost God's Word. It sounds ridiculous, but they essentially misplaced the Bible.

If you think about it, this was a pretty big deal. We're not talking about a pair of sunglasses or a set of keys. The Creator of the universe had communicated with mankind through the prophet Moses. He gave his law. He revealed what he was like and what he wanted. He told his people what it meant for them to be his people and how they were to live. All this was dutifully recorded on a scroll. Then this scroll, which was precious beyond measure, was stored in the holy temple. But later it was misplaced. No one knows how. Maybe a clumsy priest dropped it and it rolled into the dark corner.

But here's the really sad thing: nobody noticed it was missing. No search was made. Nobody checked under the couch. It was gone and no one cared. For decades those who wore the label "God's people" actually had no communication with him.

They wore their priestly robes, they carried on their traditions in their beautiful temple, and they taught their messages that were so wise, so insightful, so inspirational.

But it was all a bunch of hot air--nothing but their own opinions. Empty ritual. Their robes were costumes, and their temple was an empty shell.

This story scares me because it shows that it's possible for a whole generation to go happily about the business of religion, all the while having lost a true knowledge of God.

When we talk about knowledge of God, we're talking about theology. Simply put, theology is the study of the nature of God--who he is and how he thinks and acts.

Theology isn't for a certain group of people. In fact, it's impossible for anyone to escape theology. It's everywhere. All of us constantly "doing" theology. In other words, all of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like. Oprah does theology. The person who says, "I can't believe in a God who sends people to hell" is doing theology.

We all have some level of knowledge. This knowledge can be much or little, informed or uninformed, true or false, but we all have some concept of God (even if it's that he doesn't exist.) And we all base our lives on what we think God is like.

I've come to learn that theology matters. And it matters not because we want a good grade on a test but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God's nature--what he is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him--affects every part of your life.

Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.

Do you remember the story Jesus told about the wise and foolish builders? Simple story. The wise man dug in the ground and built his house on the rock. When storms came, his house stood firm. The foolish man built his house on the sand. When the wind and waves arrived, the house was swept away. As children we used to sing the story in Sunday school, complete with hand motions. Now that I think of it, this is really quite a traumatic concept for children to sing about--houses toppling and all. But it never really scared me because I went to church, and of course I was a "rock person."

At least that's what I thought.

Recently I reread the parable of the two builders in Luke 6:46-49. I've read the story about the two builders countless times. I've read it so many times that I almost don't read it anymore when I come across it in the Gospels. I skim it. I gulp down three sentences at a time because I already know what they say. I don't want to read my Bible like that, but, honestly, sometimes I do.

Jesus started his story with a piercing question. He asked, "Why do you call me Lord but don't do what I say?" That question makes me uncomfortable because I can't pretend I don't understand it. And I feel that he's talking to me, that he's talking to religious people--people who claim to belong to God, people who say that Jesus is Lord. This is interesting because it clues us in to the fact that Jesus isn't just contrasting religious and nonreligious people. He's not just saying that atheists get their houses knocked down. He's talking to people who claim to believe in God.

Jesus is calling the bluff of the religious. He says, Why play this game? Why call me Lord as if you care about who I am or what I want when you don't bother really knowing me or doing what I say? And when Jesus tells the story about the builders and their two houses. The home they build represents their lives--their beliefs, convictions, aspirations, and choices.

Jesus is telling us that there are stable and unstable foundations on which to construct our lives. Regardless of our intentions, it's possible to base our confidence and trust--the very footing of our lives--on what is insecure and faulty. On shifting sand.

It's easy to write off the man who built on sand as a know-nothing. But that's just because we see the bad outcome of his choice. The foolish builder didn't know he was foolish. At the time, building his house where he did probably made a lot of sense. An oceanfront view. Lots of sand for his kids to play in. And without the backbreaking work of digging, his construction time was cut in half.

I wonder how many years the foolish man lived in his beautiful house on the sand before the storm came. Should any of us assume we're above making his mistake? Would Jesus warn us of something obvious?

The wise builder chose a different approach. Jesus said he built his house on the rock. That involved work and strenuous effort. It took more time.

But listen to how Jesus describes what building on the rock symbolizes. This is what I had always missed. The wise builder is the one who comes to Jesus, listens to his words, and then puts them into practice. This activity--this faith-filled approach to Jesus, the acceptance of truth and then the application of the truth--is what Jesus said is like a man who dug down deep and built on a solid foundation. When problems and trails and the storms of life came, the "house" of his life kept standing.

Digging down and building on the rock isn't a picture of being nominally religious or knowing Jesus from a distance. Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dream, his choice, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished--a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine.

Doctrine is just a chunky word for truths to build our lives on--truths we'd all doubt or simply wouldn't know about without the Bible. Christian doctrine is Christian teaching about any number of subjects addressed in Scripture: God, sin, Jesus, heaven, hell, the resurrection...and on and on.

Maybe you've never thought about it in these terms, but coming to Jesus and listening to his words involve doctrine. It involves knowing and understanding what the Bible teaches about who Jesus is, why we need him, how he saves us and changes us. In other words, it involves knowing theological truth.

When Jesus talks about the person who listens to his words, he's referring to more than just the red letters in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All scripture is the Word of God. It's all Jesus speaking to us.

Studying these words and understanding what they mean involves effort. The wise builder digs. It is sweaty, salt-in-eyes work. Digging that involves studying. Digging that requires thinking and reading and grappling with sometimes challenging truths.

But the hardest work of all is putting the truth into practice. That's what Jesus pinpointed in his story (and it's the focus of the preceding verses in Luke 6). Truth requires action. Coming to him, calling him Lord, and knowing his words can never be enough. Church affiliation and a list of beliefs are never enough. Doctrine and theology are always meant to be applied to our lives--to shape and reshape not only a statement of faith but also the practical decisions of how we think and act. Book knowledge about building on rock has no value if we're still resting on shifting sand.

Once when my little brother Isaac was four years old, he grabbed a shovel and headed toward the woods. My mom asked what he was doing. He answered, "I'm going to dig for holes." The story has become a family favorite, and Isaac is tired of having it repeated. But it's a good description of what we do when we study and argue over beliefs without putting them into practice. We're digging for holes.

We need to dig for rock.


Because when I read his words I was joy filled to see the words in my head on paper.

[DUG DOWN DEEP] By Joshua Harris

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