Thursday, January 26, 2017

Parable: The Disciple and the Tourist

In the early 1990’s as the Gulf War had pretty much wrapped up—Saddam still had a couple of incursions left in him that took me and a couple of battalions of Marines to the brink of flying back over to that place of sun and sand in the last century—but on this day, I found myself moving my family from South Carolina to Camp Pendleton, California.  It was an interesting trip, especially transiting the western United States, places the rest of my family had not seen at that time.

The trip took a little longer that planned as my daughter of 14 years of age decided that she wasn’t going to go any farther.  We had stopped at a souvenir place in Arizona and apparently, the stress of moving cross country reached its peak on the front steps of the place where you can buy rose rocks, headdresses, and rattlesnake eggs.  She declared that she was not going any farther.

She still sends us a post card every now and then.  She gets a discount at the souvenir place.  No!  After about 45 minutes of discussing how California was not the end of the world, we are all on our way once again.

When we finally arrived at Camp Pendleton, we checked into the hostess house—sort of a military motel for those in transit. As we prepared to go house hunting the next day, we turned the television on just in time for the local news which led off with footage of a couple of houses sliding down the side of a hill somewhere in the San Diego area.  Apparently, it does rain in southern California, and when you build your house to close to the edge of the hill, your foundation finds out that it is not anchored very well.

I expected to see some surfers in southern California.  I did not expect to see a house surfing down the side of a hill.  It looked cool until it hit bottom.  That part was not so good.

Welcome to sunny southern California.  In my time there, there were a few periods of heavy rain which caused flooding and in one case washed away a bridge, making my commute from home to office an hour and a half instead of thirty minutes.

The scripture talks about building houses but the message is about building lives.  Jesus delivered this parable at the end of what today we call the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus began with a series of blessings that we call the Beatitudes. 

Those were followed by the first parable that we explored, a lamp on a stand.  Then came a series of very direct teachings on the fulfillment of the law, murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and of course, lex talionis from which he would speak about an eye for an eye.  Jesus continued with teachings on love for our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasures in heaven, worry, judging, and confidently asking our Father in heaven for what we need. 

He spoke in stern terms of a narrow and a wide gate and only the narrow gate leads to life.  He talked about knowing the true believer from the false prophets by their fruit.  The people who had gathered to listen to Jesus surely got some rock-solid teaching.  There is no warm fuzzy stuff here.  This is core discipleship.

I have to wonder if Jesus was reading minds as he was wrapping up.  Perhaps he heard people thinking:

Wow!  That was a good seminar.  Something to think on for sure.

Man, that was some good stuff.  We will be talking about this at the water cooler at work all next week.

This Jesus is a cool dude.  What a philosopher.

I have to wonder if Jesus was thinking, I need to stress that this is not an academic gatheringThis is how you are to live.

In any case, the Sermon on the Mount wrapped up with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. 

Who was the wise builder?  The one who took what Jesus had taught and put it into practice.  Remember, that Jesus was teaching some tough stuff.  Love your enemies.  Don’t judge others.  Don’t even think about doing evil things in your heart.  Forgive.  Really, forgive. 

In the middle of your messy lives, forgive each other.  Love each other, even those who don’t love you back.  Don’t give worry any place in your heart or your mind.  Trust in God.  Seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness before anything else.  Stop wasting time worrying about the things that God has already made provision for.

If you want to live wisely, put these things into practice.  You will be like the builder that anchored his foundation in solid rock. 

A strong foundation does not mean that the storms will pass you by.  It means that you are prepared to weather the storms.  God wants to bless you and for you to have good things and for your children’s children to live in his protection, but you will have storms in your life. 

The people of this time had seen storms.  They had seen rivers rise to flood stage.  Whatever was not anchored firmly was crushed and swept away.  Even if the superstructure appeared solid, a flimsy foundation condemned the entire building. 

The houses that I watched slide down the side of the hill in California were not shacks.  These were houses that priced about half a million or more.  They were a good solid house as evidenced by them sliding down the hill mostly intact, at least until the impact at the bottom. 

But the foundation was not anchored into anything that would withstand the storm.

The apostle Paul talks about building upon the one foundation that is Christ.  No other foundation is suitable.  He goes on to say that we need to build wisely upon this single foundation.  James as he writes to his fellow Hebrew believers scattered around the world reminds them—and us—that the words of Jesus must be put into action.  We can’t just listen to them and go on with business as usual if we are his disciple.

Jesus completed the second half of this parable saying that if you heard his words and then did not put them into practice, you were like the person who build his house upon the sand.
It probably went up quicker.  The ground was probably already smooth from the last flood.  The superstructure could look great, but if the foundation was only in sand it would wash away with the first big storm.

It is quite amazing at how the finest looking structure disintegrates when it has no foundation.  Drive around the countryside some time and look for old houses and barns that were not built upon much of a foundation.  They begin to twist and lean and contort into all sorts of shapes.  If you have ever seen a building of any size swept away by water, you witnessed these same contortions accelerated by the flood.

Jesus said if you heard his words—in our time we read his words—and did not put them into practice, we are just living a life of deceit that will not survive the storm.  Things seem great when the river stays within its normal boundaries but we are ill prepared for the storms that life brings, and there will be storms.

Most of your Bibles title this parable the wise and foolish builders.  I suggest an alternate title for today’s Christians:  The disciple and the tourist.

The disciple believes that Jesus is not only Savior but Lord and Master as well.  As such, the disciple follows where he leads.  For the most part, that means we study the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus, and do our best to put them into practice. 

We know that we don’t always get it right, but our foundation is Christ and we are taking what he taught us and doing the best that we can with it.  Remember that he is our great high Priest who knows what it is like to be human so he understands when we stumble, but we do take what he taught and put it into practice.

Think about the word practice for a moment.  It means to apply a concept or a theory or an idea as opposed to just thinking about it.  Practice involves repetition.  Think of the baseball player than only swings his bat a couple of times between games—he has a name, it’s easy out

Practice involves repetition. But what are we repeating?

When teaching thinking skills, there is a short antiphonal—ask and answer—mantra that is often used. 

Does practice make perfect?  No!  Perfect practice makes perfect.

The disciple repeatedly practices the things that Jesus taught.  Even if we don’t get it quite right the first time or the twenty-first time, we don’t give up.  For things like loving your enemy, it might be the one hundred and twenty-first time before we get the hang of it, but we don’t give up.

The tourist hears what Jesus has to say, thinks about it, and then makes a commentary about it.  His or her entire response to the grace of God that we know in Jesus and the teachings of our Savior remains in the theoretical arena.

The tourist will listen and assess, make a commentary, and sometimes even advise others, but won’t step onto the playing field of discipleship.  The tourist remains in the false safety of the sidelines. 

I share something that is not from the Bible put which illustrates the difference between being one who puts what they believe into practice from those who sit on the sidelines.  It will sound familiar to many.  It is from Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizens In A Republic speech.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I have been to many places as a tourist.  I wasn’t going to live there.  I wanted to enjoy the sites and the culture and the food.  I bought some souvenirs and some postcards.  I took plenty of pictures.

When I went to Mexico, I didn’t become a Mexican.  In Rome, I did not become a Roman.  I ate their food and bought their tee shirts but I was not going to become one of them.

So too are many who say they are Christians.  I am sure that many have professed Jesus as Lord and are saved from death, but have not taken steps to fully live.  They miss out on life.  They have the fire insurance and probably some Christian tee shirts, but they are missing out on life and what we might call blessed assurance.  It is more than a song.

Many read what Jesus teaches but do not want to put it into practice.  Their own understanding is a comfort zone that is so hard to abandon.  Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding seems to be a bridge too far.

For those who made the journey through Proverbs with me over the course of a year, one theme prevailed.  I can word it differently:

There is the path of the righteous and that of the wicked.
The wise follow God’s precepts but the fools hate them.
There are those who seek God and his ways and those trying to hide from him.

My modern-day summation is that there is God’s way and there is everything else. 

So often people who know what God has to say—they even can quote of the words of Jesus—want to live by their own understanding and expect God to bless them when they won’t live his way.

Here is an example used many times before.  God tells you to plant cucumbers but you think the ground is better suited for tomatoes, so you plant tomatoes.  You pray and ask God to bless your tomato crop and then you complain to everyone you know that God doesn’t listen to your prayers when your tomatoes don’t make.

Wise and foolish builders.
Disciples and tourists.
Crops of cucumbers and crops of tomatoes.

Simple dichotomies that we make complicated.  Jesus said put his words into practice.  His teachings do not end with a letter grade on a multiple-choice test.  There is a lab.  It is called life.

In life, the better choice is always God’s way.  A couple decades ago, the big thing was WWJD.  What would Jesus do?

The actual question should be:  What did Jesus tell us to do?

The follow up is:  Are we doing it?  Are we taking his words and putting them into practice?

We have been told that not to do so is futility.  Whatever gains that we perceive that we make in this life are easily washed away, much like the comparison he made with treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. 

What we have invested in heaven is safe and secure.  What we have here may have the illusion of security but it can rust and corrode or be eaten by vermin and insects.  

Jesus told all who were listening that security in this life comes from knowing him and following him, and that means what Jesus says is gold to us.  It is the firmest foundation around.  Not to build upon this rock-solid foundation by doing what he says is foolishness.

What we build upon a foundation of sand—of foolishness—will not survive the storm.

We are going to have storms.  Some we may get to rebuke as our Master did.  Some we are to weather in the rock-solid foundation of his teachings. 

Are we wise or foolish builders?
Are we disciples or tourists?

Next month’s memory verse should be a good reminder that following Jesus is more than an academic exercise.

Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.

The words on the side of our building say, God’s Love in Action.  Life is about taking what Jesus taught us and putting it into practice.  This is how we reach fullness and abundance and enrich the relationship with our Father in heaven that we know in Christ Jesus.

We have a Helper that is with us every step of the way.  Why would we not want to put the words of Jesus into practice in everything that we do?

Listen to the parable once more, this time in the Good News Translation.

So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.

 But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!

We are disciples, not tourists.  We are wise builders, not foolish ones.  We are not listening to God’s word and the teachings of Jesus just so we can comment on them at some later date.

We are people who put the words of our Master into practice.  We put his words into practice.


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