I’ve had a chorus stuck in my mind for several weeks. You may know it from Sunday School:
Don’t build your house on the sandy land Don’t build it too near the shore. Well it might look kind of nice but you’ll have to build it twice; Oh you’ll have to build your house once more! You’ve got to build your house upon the rock; Make a good foundation on a solid spot. The rains may come and go, but the peace of God you will know!
Don’t build it too near the shore. Well it might look kind of nice but you’ll have to build it twice; Oh you’ll have to build your house once more! You’ve got to build your house upon the rock; Make a good foundation on a solid spot. The rains may come and go, but the peace of God you will know!
Well it might look kind of nice but you’ll have to build it twice;
Oh you’ll have to build your house once more!
You’ve got to build your house upon the rock;
Make a good foundation on a solid spot.
The rains may come and go, but the peace of God you will know!
This posting isn’t about Haiti. I suppose some of the images of the destruction in Haiti have subconsciously called this little chorus up from my memory banks. And along with the song, there are images of La Paz in Bolivia - a city of over a million inhabitants living at 3660m above sea level - the highest capital city in the world. La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia. But the first impression - and pretty amazing geographic reality - is that La Paz is literally built in a crater. As you drive down into the downtown section of La Paz from the airport, you literally wind down and around from the top of the crater to the bottom. There are houses everywhere, precariously perched on bits of land that must surely be hugely unstable. Apparently the poorer you are, the more likely it is that you will have to build your home in the most precarious areas. Areas that are almost sure to give way in the event of a mud slide or earthquake, or even a tremor. Even a good rainstorm could wash away the earth on which your home is perched.
Why do people build there, you might ask? Don’t they realize the danger? Why don’t they build on solid ground? Well – the stark reality is that there’s only so much solid ground to be had and many people – the majority in a place like La Paz – are simply priced out of the market for safety and security. It doesn’t really matter what they’d LIKE to do – that’s not an option. They build where they can. They do what they can. They take risks, not because they want to, but because they must. The winds come – the rain falls – they get knocked down – washed out – and, if they survive, they pick themselves up and start again.
The other image in my mind is of construction projects in countries where I’ve traveled - Bolivia and Kenya and El Salvador and Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Places where cement is often made in small mixers, transported by wheel barrel and poured, small batch by small batch, into crude forms. And the rebar (that's short for reinforcing bar) – the pieces of steel or, in their case, wood – whose purpose is to give the structure strength… Well, let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to place too much confidence in some of those buildings!
But what I really want to talk about in this posting is the metaphorical meaning behind this little Sunday School chorus. It’s not so much about our physical houses, but about our spiritual health and resilience. “Don’t build your house on the sandy land; don’t build it too near the shore…” The message is that we are to build our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. I totally agree. But here’s the thing. What does this mean? What does it look like? See – we talk a lot about spiritual growth and discipleship, but much of what we DO seems to focus on just helping people find the lot where they can put their foundation. It's not so much about the building that takes place once the foundation is established. We want to “reach people for Christ”, bring people into the family of God, grow our churches. We encourage our youth to reach their friends – and it turns out that, in many cases, they’re way ahead of us. And they are passionate about DOING SOMETHING real with their faith.
How do we know if we’re growing spiritually? What’s our scorecard? Is it how many people we bring into the kingdom? There’s got to be more to spiritual growth than that. What’s our spiritual rebar? How do we BUILD on the foundation that Christ has provided? Are we preaching and teaching people into the kingdom, but then leaving them standing – exposed to the elements of the “isms” of our modern world – consumerism, individualism, materialism, narcissism…
I believe that the people of God are to BE a counter cultural movement. As I've said in previous postings, not counter cultural in the sense of criticizing culture, but rather, creating culture. Not counter cultural in the sense of being dogmatic and legalistic about the forms and doctrines and worship styles and appearance of our faith. These things, I think should be held fairly loosely so that they help us to grow up into our calling as Christians. A calling, by the way, to be the incarnational presence of the servant Christ in a world that often ignores or even despises him.
A Jesus broke down walls and erased lines of division. Sometimes it seems that we're so set on making sure that only the people who think and act like us "get in" - to our churches, our lives, our "mission" - that we stop growing ourselves and spend all of our time tending and mending fences of exclusion.
For me, it's pretty simple. The foundation is our relationship with Christ, who describes himself as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). The spiritual rebar is the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control. But the other thing is that the life that we build and LIVE is a communal life - a life of relationship and fellowship, of koininia. We're not on our own in this. We are part of a family, a movement, a wonderfully diverse and eclectic group of people who want to live according to the principles and norms and values of the kingdom. No need for lines or walls or gatekeepers. We are a people on the way.
And the way is marked by simplicity and faith and justice and generosity and vulnerability and hope and transparency and genuine love, one for another. It is, as the bible says, a narrow way (Matthew 7:14), but by no means an exclusive way.
Is this what our society sees in us? Is this the kind of reputation that our churches have in our communities? We may be despised and persecuted for our faith, but it shouldn't be because we are drawing lines of exclusion or defending our rights or criticizing public policy and public officials. God calls us to trust in Him and to live our lives the way Jesus taught us to - as servants. In the end, people turned on Jesus, not because he criticized or condemned them, but because he loved them and they did not understand his love.
These are exciting days to BE the people of God!