Friday, May 5, 2017

Shifting Sands ...

Perhaps one of the best known Biblical analogies, or perhaps most often quoted, is the notion of shifting sands.  It is applicable across so many disciplines.  In business, to build a product or service set, upon the shifting sands of customer desires one must have equal flexibility in the product or service to be able to shift as customer desires shift.  To assume customer desires are fixed, are stagnant, is to insure bankruptcy down the road, even if at present everything looks wonderful.  In crime prevention, the same biblical analogy holds true.  Those who commit fraud for example, find methods that today are successful, they exploit them, but as law enforcement catches up, the criminals shift, they move, and they continue shifting trends to avoid being caught.  The constant shifting is required, or a jail cell awaits them.  This is not just a tacit recognition that change is inevitable.  It is about the nature of change.  We do not radically readjust our thinking very often, but we are comfortable with moving it just a little at a time.  When measured in longer increments the movements seem substantial, but when measured at any given moment they look like minor shifts from where we were, only a subtle shift in direction or thought.
Since this truism applies in our secular lives, it only seems natural that it would apply in our spiritual lives as well.  And it does.  But this may not be as wonderful a thing as you might first expect.  Subtle change to adapt to the times is only surface behavior.  Subtle change to improve the nature of your spiritual life could be devastating.  Shouldn’t I be improving over time, wouldn’t those improvements be small and appear only as shifts in my behavior as it gets better over time?  You would think so, but do they come from shifting sands underneath, or radical alterations inside?  Consider for a moment what Matthew recorded as the final thoughts of Jesus as He ended His Sermon on the Mount.  Note that Jesus could have ended His Sermon with any of the previous content He relayed, but instead He chose the analogy of shifting sands and the alternative He offers.
Jesus picks up in chapter seven of Matthews Gospel in verse 24 He starts His closing section saying … “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:”  The interesting piece of this analogy for me begins in the very first verse of it.  It begins with the rock.  If the rock is our foundation we will find that what we build can withstand what comes next.  This would seem counter-culture to our truism of embracing change slowly and steadily over time.  Rocks tend to be immoveable objects.  You can count on a rock to be there.  In this case, you can count on our heavenly “Rock” or foundation not to move.  Jesus does not change.  Jesus has not changed.  He does not shift to embrace the times, but He remains relevant in all of the times.  His message of the gospel, of salvation, of reconciliation with the Father and a way to live without enduring pain and death that sin cause, is relevant to everyone.  The methods of achieving them remain the same.  Through Jesus Christ. 
The homebuilder who bases his life, and builds it on the teachings, the love, the example, the witness, and the Lord Jesus Christ, finds he has built his structure on something that can be counted on.  Jesus continues the analogy in verse 25 saying … “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”  Look carefully here for the words Jesus uses are important to our understanding of how it works.  The rains come.  Not just rain, but floods in fact, with wind that is destined to beat upon that house.  Just because we build our spiritual structures and understandings upon Jesus Christ, just because we love others selflessly, does not mean we are destined for a cushy life.  It does not mean that we become immune to the pain and death that come from the choices of others.  Sometimes that pain and death is inflicted upon our spiritual house.  For our enemy is not destroyed as yet.
But notice too the words of Jesus, our spiritual house, the structures of our lives do not stand because of our elegant building materials, superior architectural understandings, and dedication to good construction practices.  None of that matters.  We could have built a shanty with mud and sticks, or a mansion of marble; the building materials do not matter.  The house stands because it is built upon the Rock of our salvation, upon the unmovable thing, upon Jesus Christ.  And if Jesus Christ does not change or shift; if He is the same then as He was at Adam, at Noah, at Moses, and at you and me – then perhaps it is our understanding of scriptures that requires a new lens, the new lens of Jesus Christ.  If love was the thing Jesus bore witness to in how He lived for others, then that same motive was alive and well at Adam, at Noah, at Moses, and at you and me.  The love of Jesus that has the power to transform us has been alive since Adam chose to break trust with God, and until you and I find the perfection of restoration Jesus has in mind for each of us.  A rock.  A constant we can build upon.  If we are founded properly, the deviance in our structures, in our understandings, can be overcome, not by us, but by our foundation.
It is the arrogance of common sense that wars against our salvation.  Jesus continues in verse 26 saying … “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:”  Those who reject the teachings, the love, the witness, and the pathway of Jesus Christ to attempt to reconcile themselves to God – often use common sense as their guidelines.  It is common sense that if I fail to perfect myself, then perfection is just impossible.  It cannot be done by some invisible God simply because I surrender to Him.  I sin as little as I do, because I keep my own sin in check.  If I let go of that restraint, I will be sinning like a monkey where no one can stop me.  If I let go, I will surely be lost completely.  At least now, I am partially good, and trying to be better.  Surrender of my bad habits to some invisible Jesus Christ just does not make common sense.  After all, no one can tell me “how” it would work.  No one seems to understand it.  Not many others seem to have done it, so why should I be the first?  It just does not make common sense.
And in our quest to make sense of it all, we become foolish.  We reject the simplicity of a gift we cannot understand, and in its place, we build our salvation, our spiritual structures upon ourselves.  At least we are capable of shifting with the times, of being flexible to adopt what society dictates is normal whenever they dictate normal or change what it is.  The sand of our foundation is our own ego.  We realize we are flexible and tout that as an attribute, as an advantage.  But Jesus ends His sermon with one of the most ominous warnings He will ever utter.  He continues in verse 27 saying … “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”  Once again rains will come.  Common sense or not, we will not be immune from the troubles of life, from the choices of others, from the sin and pain and death that remain a part of this world. 
And when trouble comes, our building materials will be no defense either.  Our architectural understanding, and excellent construction methods, are no defense.  For we are not rooted on something that works, we are built upon the foundation of self, on something we know can and will shift as needed.  And our spiritual structures collapse.  And our salvation falls to the earth with a tremendous thud.  And as we fall, our pitiful attempts at restraining our sins are no match for the despair, and the reality of how low we have sunk.  For our foundation, simply mixed earth with water, our ideas with the pain of sin that will inevitably be foisted upon us, and our entire structure collapses.  Jesus says and “great” was the fall of it.  Sodom comes to mind.  The mixed multitude that chose the golden calf over the God of Moses comes to mind.  The wicked kings of Israel who disobeyed the commands of God offered through the voice of His prophets come to mind.  And the guy in the mirror, who only this morning promised once again not to sin that sin again comes to mind.  We all share the shifting sands of a foundation based upon ourselves.  And we are all fools, destined to see our structures collapse entirely.
 The footnote of Matthew is worth considering in the light of this.  Matthew completes this sermon picking up in verse 28 saying … “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: [verse 29] For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  The people were astonished.  Are you?  Are you ready to consider that your common sense is worth nothing, as is your judgment?  Your salvation will be based on neither of these things.  You cannot doctrine your way into heaven.  No set amount of reading will ever be enough.  No set amount of praying, or rituals of when you pray, or what you say will ever be enough.  You must build upon Jesus alone.  You must submit your wisdom to His, trust His judgment not your own.  You must be transformed completely from who you are, to who He wants you to be.  You will love others, not judge them, nor condemn them.  You will instead lure them to Jesus, as Jesus lured you to Him, not with threats of punishment but with the wonder of living without the pain of sin, and the death sin brings.
Not just an eternal life, but a life worth living every moment from now till eternity.  This is what Jesus offers you.  Not just at the end of the rainbow, but in the here and now.  He offers you admittance into the Kingdom of God as a toddler bound to play with our Daddy, until Daddy brings us home with Him.  Jesus offers you to take the burdens from you, that you were never supposed to be carrying.  The burdens of survival, the burdens of removing sins, the burdens of thinking you had to do it all, or at least some portion of it.  You don’t.  Jesus will.  All Jesus needs, is for you to begin letting Him.  That is a promise you can test, and find He is faithful behind it.  For this Sermon was not just some random set of words by a random preacher.  It was taught by one having authority.  He was teaching subjects He knew about, for He is God and was God, and ever will be our God.
Common sense would deny us what faith alone can bring.  Common sense would keep us bound to sin, and living half-lives that are barely worth getting up in the mornings to face.  We are bound for radical transformation, that can happen in the here and now, as we learn to base our lives upon a Rock that does not change, yet remains perfectly relevant every day of our lives.  Faith in things that do not make sense, Faith in things that have no upper limit, Faith would see us live an infinite life with infinite possibilities, that is what Jesus offers.  Only a fool would reject it.  Only a fool would choose the failure of themselves, over the perfection Jesus can instill.  Our ability to change does not have to be confined with what we have seen in ourselves.  For the reason behind what we can change to become is not grounded in us, but rooted and grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ.  That is the difference.  A radical change.  A radical transformation brought about within us, by something that is outside of us.
It does not matter if others have not done it.  It does not matter if we will be the first.  It does not matter if we cannot truly understand the how of how it works.  It only matters that we do allow Jesus to do what Jesus wants to do within each of us.  And we are given the freedom to love others, and let Jesus save them too.  In His own way, in His own time, Jesus will, Jesus must save them too, or they like us, will never be saved.  There is only one way to find this kind of transformation, this kind of path to perfection, it only comes through Jesus Christ.  It is not a threatening statement, it is a statement of cause and effect.  It is a statement of truth.  There is only one gift of salvation on the table from one God.  All others are counterfeits founded in the sand of self.  Let us not be foolish, but wise.  Let us pick up the gift, and cherish it.
And this Sermon had reached its end.

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