This week we continue the series of messages titled I Love the Church Because… This week’s message is I Love the Church Because…It Provides Me With A Foundation. Listen to how one person completed the statement I Love the Church Because…
As a girl, my mother sang in a quartet with women from the Wesleyan Church. I went to their church often. And I was often dragged, I mean got to go along when they sang at other places. By the time I was 10, I had been in Baptist, Methodist, Wesleyan, Church of God, Assembly, Pentecostal, Nazarene – basically any protestant church that allowed musical instruments! That included African American congregations. I had seen people speak in tongues, be slain in the spirit, cry at the altar, dance and sing, share their testimonies and heard many, many different messages. The one thing that I loved the most were the testimonies – both the formal ones given from the pulpit and the ones in conversation and songs. And as an adult, that hasn't changed. I have known many people with whom I disagree about doctrine, scripture, etc. But still – when I hear them speak from their hearts about their experiences with God as they have known him, I feel unity with them. Those stories and experiences they've shared have given me insight into myself and my relationship with God.
When I read that story, I thought about that combination of experiences and the way in which they helped to form a foundation to that person’s faith, and foundation is what we are talking about today. Our Scripture text for the day comes from a familiar portion of the Sermon On the Mount, Matthew 7:24-29, where Jesus speaks about the importance of providing a foundation of faith to our lives –
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,
29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
We need a spiritual foundation in life.
From the time we are young we are taught about certain elements that make for a solid foundation in life – a good education, a good career, buying a home, investing and saving for the future, raising a family, etc. These are all good pieces of advice, there is no doubt about that reality, but they are only a part of what provides a good foundation in life, because life is more than work, career, and possessions. Jesus, in fact, says in Luke 12:15 that we must remember a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. A good, solid foundation to life is far more than just a good education, a career, buying a house, and all those matters we are taught to do. They are important, and add much to life, but we are more than creatures of flesh and blood; we are spiritual beings as well.
Life is also, according to the teachings of Jesus, about matters of the spirit. Many of the teachings of Jesus are centered upon the idea that we are not just physical beings but spiritual beings as well, and he often reminds us of the importance of maintaining a healthy spiritual life. This truth was confirmed early in the ministry of Jesus when, after his baptism, he was led into the desert where he was tempted. Matthew tells us, in 4:3-4, that the tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” The particular temptation that was leveled at Jesus is the same that is presented to us, and that is to ignore – or forget – the reality that we are spiritual beings and we must give attention to our spiritual needs. Jesus confirmed this again in Matthew 6:19-20, where he says, do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
It is so easy, in the rush of life, the physical part of life, the making a living, the operating a taxi service for our kids and grandkids, the taking care of a home, the participation in community responsibilities; all those things that fill our lives with so much activity – that we can forget or overlook the truth we must also care for the spiritual component of ourselves. In this overscheduled, overbooked, frantic world in which we live, I fear that we can very easily starve ourselves spiritually.
It is also often overlooked, I believe, that the ills of the world are mostly spiritual in nature. Whether it is war, economic issues, climate and environmental issues, racism – or just about any other issue – at their roots we find questions and concerns of a spiritual nature, which means that the political and economic and social approaches to solving major problems will never fully confront those problems in a way that can bring true, lasting and transformative answers until the spiritual component of those issues are recognized. For instance, we pour into landfills the leftover residue of our consumer and disposal culture and that is a spiritual issue about the way we treat God’s creation; our entertainment glorifies violence, which makes the use and abuse of humanity into little more than the means of entertainment; and while government and social policies are important in guiding how we interact as people, it takes confronting the spiritual issues at the root to effect the deep change that our world needs.
Spiritual practices build a strong foundation to our lives.
Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self? I would love to be able to travel back in time to speak to my 20, my 25, or 30-year-old self. I don’t know if that younger self would listen, and that younger self might be a bit alarmed at the amount of gray hair I have, but I would love to go back and offer some advice to my younger self. Some if it might be advice to study harder and be a more serious student and to be more responsible about life in general, to which my younger self would probably reply, dude, what have you done with me? You’re scaring me! I might also offer advice such as this – right now you don’t know what the names Google and Starbucks and Amazon mean as business names, but trust me, when they come on the market, buy every bit of their stock that you can!
But I would also remind my younger self of this important truth – the patterns and practices that you follow when you are young are the patterns and practices that you will follow for the rest of your life, so choose those patterns and practices wisely and nurture them, because many times we don’t even see the patterns and practices we are establishing. Our relationship to money is established at a young age. Our relationship to church is established at a young age. Our basic way of relating to people is established at a young age. Our relationship to work is established at a young age.
Spiritual practices are among the best ways to build a strong foundation to our spiritual lives. Spiritual practices are things such as prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditating. I’ve not always been as consistent as I should with some spiritual practices, but one that has always been a consistent practice to me is attending church. Now, I know what you are thinking. You might be thinking well isn’t that kind of obvious Dave? You are a minister, after all. Going to church is what ministers do, and telling people they ought to go to church is what they also do. And you would be correct in saying that. But church has always been a central part of my life, and I am very grateful that it has been, that it is, and that it always will be. Church has not always been easy, as we all know it can sometimes be a bit adventurous and a bit contentious. But so can everything else! In fact, tell me what isn’t challenging at times. Even the beautiful, precious, wonderful things of life can be challenging. Isn’t family life challenging at time? Does that take away from its beauty? Of course not! Is it challenging to be a parent? Of course it is, but do the challenges detract from its beauty and wonder? Of course not! Is marriage challenging at times? Of course it is, but do those challenges take away from its value and beauty? Of course not! In fact, I would argue that the challenges and adventures that come in life, in family, in marriage – in all the important parts of life – actually serve to enrich those facets of life.
But, to speak to my younger self again, I would tell myself that it’s hard to rebuild a foundation once the house is already constructed. You can remodel the inside of a house, you can redo the outside, you can change the landscaping, but it is near impossible to change the foundation, so make sure the proper foundation is built while you are young.
The answer to the ills of our world are found in God’s Spirit.
I think there are several fallacies that our culture seeks to ingrain in our minds. I don’t know how conscious that effort is, as culture is not some monolithic beast that makes those choices in a conscious way, but there are fallacies presented to us nonetheless, such as the idea that science and technology will be our savior. They will not. Science and technology have offered some very helpful changes and advances to us, but there is a great irony in both, as they aggravate many of the problems we now face, such as climate change. The technology that many believe will save our environment is precisely the tool we have used to damage our environment. I read an article this weekend that spoke to that point. The article was about a survey conducted of Nobel laureates, who were asked what they considered to be the most pressing issued confronting humanity. Near the top of the list was this concern – the unintended consequences of technology. I am not a Luddite; I enjoy using technology, but I am not blind to its problems, one of which is the effect that technology has had on our environment. The question of our environment, which I believe is one of the most fundamental questions and issues of our time – and of all human history – is really a spiritual issue, because it speaks to the reality that we must change how we live. Buying a few organic vegetables is not going to make the kind of difference that needs to be made. The difference that needs to be made will only come when we confront our rampant consumerism and excessive use and abuse of resources. In our scientific, materialistic world (and I mean materialistic in the sense of only seeing the material nature of life, while failing to recognize the spiritual aspect of life) I become ever more skeptical about humanity’s ability to deal with spiritual questions as we push further and further into our infatuation with technology and science as the be all and end all to everything. Nevertheless, I hold out hope that humanity will heed the words of Jesus to turn more fully to matters of the Spirit, and thus find the needed answers.
Another fallacy is that we always have time. It’s very easy to believe we always have time, for instance, to make right a relationship, or always have time to take care of our spiritual lives. But we do not always have time. I don’t say that to be discouraging or depressing, but to remind us all of the importance of taking care of matters that need to be confronted.
Another fallacy is that the goal of life is success and accumulation. It is not. We are taught, from a young age, to work hard in order to be successful, but we seldom pause to ask what is the definition of success? Is success attaining a particular income level? Is it living in a particular neighborhood? Is it having a corner office? If we do not define success, we will most likely spend a good deal of life trying to achieve someone else’s definition of success.
Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is someone who lives according to God’s Spirit. He was kicking himself the morning after Hurricane Harvey made landfall for closing his furniture stores while some people could still shop. But then he changed his perspective as his faith, he said, moved him to help. My faith defines me. It’s who I am, he said. How am I going to let my people drown? It’s as simple as that. I’m not going to let my people drown. McIngvale dispatched Gallery Furniture trucks to pick up victims. He opened his stores as emergency shelters, offering food, mattresses and clean restrooms to hundreds of evacuees and Texas Army National Guard troops. He turned his stores into collection sites for disaster relief items, posted a “Pray for Texas” video on his Facebook page that received nearly 3.9 million views, and garnered heartfelt thanks and lifelong customers. Dave Gibbs, an elder of Grace Crossing Church in Conroe, Texas, north of Houston, said McIngvale’s response to Harvey was just a day in the life of Mattress Mack — nothing out of the ordinary. McIngvale’s stores prominently display inspirational messages such as You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips and What you are is God’s gift to you, what you make of yourself is your gift to God. A framed article behind the counter where he greets customers has the headline To pray, to preach, to bless. That’s the motto, he explains, of the Dominican Order priests and nuns who taught him at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, where his family moved after he was born in Mississippi.
That’s what a good foundation will do. Remember, a good foundation in life is not always what we think it is. As important as it is to have a good education and a good job, life is much more than education and work. We are spiritual beings, and must tend to matters of the Spirit.