Monday, August 28, 2017

The Good Foundation - Matthew 7: 24-27

My house has a problem.

It was built as part of a planned development of eight-six homes. The developers were in a rush to build, so they skimped on preparing the foundation. The ground should have been pounded solid before the concrete blocks were put in place. 

This wasn’t done, so now cracks have appeared in the wall, and the doors and windows stick all the time. The longer it goes without me fixing the foundation, the worse these cracks become.

Foundations don't sell houses. Vinyl siding, pretty landscaping, fancy front doors and hardwood floors sell houses. People tend to look at flash and elegance. They usually don't see the problems with a foundation until they have bought the house—I know I didn’t. 

What the developer did with our house, most of us do with our lives. We focus on the "showy" parts, but neglect the foundation. We want to impress the world with our beauty, strength and creativity. As time goes by, the faults in our foundation become apparent.

This is what Jesus means at the end of Matthew 7 24-27:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

When we build our lives on a good foundation, we can last. When we build a show cover over a bad foundation, it will eventually collapse. It isn't the floors or the doors or the windows, but the foundation that makes or breaks a life.

Mother Theresa once said that if you want to change the world, go home and attend to your family. Jesus said that if we are faithful in a few things, we may be rulers over many. It's not the big projects we undertake in the world, but the little things we do in our tiny sphere of influence that makes the difference. 

The church in America institutionally has chosen to focus on the big things--evangelism, social reform, building megachurches, and world missions. All that is great, if the foundation is in place, but if it isn't then everything we do will eventually collapse. 

 There is a deep groaning today in the church, an awareness that something is seriously wrong with the way we do church. Cracks are showing in the walls. People visit the church get involved, then go away with a queasy feeling of vague disappointment. The music may be good, the preaching may be great, but something isn't there. 

This is even truer in church leadership as in the rank-and-file believers. Something is missing. We have become more professional Christians than professing Christians. We feel like employees of Christ, not friends of Christ. We are busy working and doing, but the foundation of our faith is shaky.

We tell ourselves that neglecting our inner relationship to God is perfectly normal. Someone recently told me of a pastor saying, “I’m too busy to pray.”  I may not have said it, but I have felt it in my heart. We can even argue that this neglect is a moral necessity. Why take time from a busy schedule of serving God to pray to Him? Why struggle with our inner thoughts, when there is so much need in others? Our distance from God is the natural result of being so publicly active in His work. We resemble those builders who failed to look after the foundation, because they were in a hurry to finish.  We succeed in building the Kingdom, but fail to be Christians.

Now we see the results. Institutional churches are collapsing, as the veneer of faith crumbles. Christianity in America has great looking walls, but a weak foundation. We don't really believe what we say we believe, and do not seek what we say we seek. We want to impress others, not express what is true inside. Our neglect always comes back to bite us.

 The true foundation of our lives is faith. Faith is more than just belief—it’s the basis of all our thoughts, feelings, and habits. If we neglect to make our relationship with Jesus our first and ultimate concern, then what we build on it will not survive the struggles of life. We have to build on a commitment to be like Christ in all things, to make Him our model for behavior, thought, and feeling.

If you want your family to follow your family to follow you to church, then go to church yourself. But don’t go there, just to show them what to do. Go there to learn, to grow, and to struggle with your own stuff. Christianity is based on God’s love and forgiveness, and our commitment to be like Him in all things. Don’t let other concerns dissuade you from that purpose. It is the foundation of all we are.  Build your life on the foundation of a relationship with Jesus.

What does it mean to build on God as a foundation? It doesn't mean to just to follow the Ten Commandments. Just having the Ten Commandments is like a house with crossbeams and braces, but built on sand. A house with a well-built frame will probably keep together longer in a flood, but it still can be washed away. The Ten Commandments are not the foundation. God Himself is the foundation that keeps us together. It is building on an awareness of Him being alive and real.

Smith and Lundquist in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers coined a phrase that describes the commonly held view of God among many Christians--Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This is the idea that God gave us moral principles to follow that will help us with our lives, but has little to do with us personally. The Bible is the instruction book which gives the best advice, but if you follow it without a relationship to Christ, it will be meaningless. We need to know the writer, not just the rules.

Modern religion has been reduced to "click bait"--"Six principles God wants you to know about marriage." "Five principles that will make you happy." or "Six habits of an effective leader."  The principles are real, but they don’t necessarily lead us to know an eternal, transcendent Deity. There is nothing uniquely Christian about them, and they do not answer the basic question--what am I here for?

There is a three-step process of building a house.

Foundation comes first. That is our ultimate purpose in life. For a Christian this is God, revealed in Christ. It isn’t family or patriotism, or health, or happiness. It isn’t American culture or European culture. It isn’t even just belief in Christ. Our true foundation is to practice the faith of Jesus, who has declared that His purpose was, "To do the will of My Father."  (John 8:28) His purpose was to stay in a daily listening relationship with God, and to do whatever He commanded.

How do we stay connected with Jesus? We can reflect daily on when and where did we felt close to God. If it has been weeks or months without some sense of the Divine presence, then we need to find out why. Our foundation may be shifting. We should not flippantly dismiss this lack of feeling by saying feelings don't matter. If we do not feel His Presence, we need to find out why. God wants to have a personal relationship with us. If we have no sense or desire for Him, something is seriously wrong.

We build on the foundation of faith with the habits of the heart. Our spiritual habits are the pillars and side joists which frame to the house, connecting that eternal purpose with everyday life.

The pillars which connect us to Christ include worship, prayer, fasting, meditation, Scripture reading and intercession. The joists—the horizontal planks—connect us with the world. They include soul-conversations, fellowship, forgiveness, tolerance, and love. These join us with other believers in mutual faith.

Outreach, evangelism, church building, social justice, and concern for the poor are like the walls, floors, windows, and roof of the house. They are all important, and are also part of who we are as Christians. They grow out of our inner life, but they cannot substitute for it. As important as our outreach and service is, it can also be a way of hiding the truth that we can't get along with our churches or families.

In the early seventies, I had a conversation with a college student who was an outspoken anti-war protestor. He said he protested because he loved the world and hated the war. But he also disclosed that he hated his parents and his family. His protest was not an act of love at all, but a way of escaping the obligation of caring for his parents. By loving the world in general, he felt free not to love his family.

Many churches and social movements get started this way. Instead of investing our love in the imperfect world where we live daily, we invest in a theoretical perfect world that doesn't exist and may never exist. We are like that contractor who can't build a straight wall, so he hides his mistakes under the best vinyl siding.

Don't try to change the rest of the world before you make your part of the world livable. Invest time and effort into building a good foundation. Build your personal relationship to God, and you will have something to give.

Goodness grows outward, like rings on a tree. First, we love God, then we love ourselves, our family, our fellow Christian, and finally our neighbor. Each level depends on the strength of what the one beneath it is.

As we get grounded in the foundation of Christ, we also discover the ways we can reveal Him to the world.

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