“Rock, Sand, and Storms”

Rock, Sand, and Storms

Oftentimes what lies beneath is fundamental, for it determines the final outcome of the visible structure standing on top of  it.  I think of the roots that support the life of plants and trees; I think of the foundation that undergirds the construction of houses and buildings.

Jesus tells a story of two men who built two houses, one upon the rock, and the other upon the sand. One man was wise, the other was foolish. If the teaching we draw from this story is that the difference between these two men and two houses is revealed when the storms of trials come, the lesson would have little value, for it would have been too late to do anything about it.

But Christ’s purpose in telling the story is to enable us to detect the fundamental differences between two principles of living, so that we may be able to safeguard ourselves against the consequences of a false grounding, while there is still time. Hence, the decisions and actions enacted at the very beginning are crucial to eventual outcomes.  It is said that at the outset, the wise man dug deep before building his house, whereas the foolish man did not take the trouble to lay a foundation.

Let us consider the particular outlook of the man who built his house upon the sand:  (1)

First, he was impatient, in a hurry, compelled to take short cuts to achieve quick results.

Second, because he was impatient, he did not take time to listen to instruction, in this case, to the principles involved in constructing a house. He considered it unnecessary, and deemed his ideas better than established methods.

Third, he possessed a mentality of not thinking things through, of not considering possibilities and eventualities.  He wanted a beautiful house in a particular location, and put it up quickly on the sand, without considering the environmental hazards that could topple the house down.

Indeed when the winds and the rains and the floods came, the house built upon the rock stood firm, but the house upon the sand fell, and great was its fall.

Note that this story does not stand by itself:  it is sobering to recognize that Christ relates it to how people handle his teachings.  A house can be thought of as one’s life structure, and all of its related external outgrowths.  Christ claims that putting his teachings into practice is like digging deep and building a sure foundation to enable us to withstand the storms of life.

And Christ likens one who simply hears his words and does not do them, to the man who built his house upon the sand, with a stern prediction of a great fall, when the storms of life arrive.

Scripture Reference:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27, New King James Version

***(1) Reference on the characteristics of the foolish man:  Martyn Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Connecticut, Martino Publishing, 2011, pp. 298-299

***Photography by Dmitri Moronov

Steps to Increasing Faith

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Matthew 6:33

My previous post was on the nature and causes of “little faith” as expounded upon by Dr. Martynn Lloyd-Jones.  I continue on this topic of faith to present Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ prescription on how to make one’s inadequate faith grow.

The three-step process for increasing faith can be found in the verses of Matthew 6:31-33.

Jesus exhorted the multitude to “take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, how shall we be clothed?”.  The Lord gave two distinct reasons:  First of all, food, drink and clothing are the very things that occupy the minds of Gentiles, and second, the Heavenly Father already knows we have need of these things.

The first key to increasing faith is understanding what type of people the “Gentiles” are,  as described by Jesus. The word “Gentile” is synonymous with the heathen.  Jesus was preaching to the Jews, God’s chosen people, who had the oracles of God, and had special knowledge of Who God is.  As Christians, we can lay hold of and apply this teaching to our lives because we have become privy to the revelation of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ. The heathen, on the other hand, have no knowledge of God, and live their lives limited in their own thoughts and “without God in the world”.  (p. 136)

Jesus asserts that the Christian view of life is to be different from the heathen’s mindset.  What are the world views of the heathen?  At one end of the spectrum, there is the belief that everything that happens is accidental: the theory of contingency.  Dr. Julian Huxley and others who hold this viewpoint allege that there is no purpose whatsoever in life, there is no design or order, and that everything happens by chance.  The other end of the spectrum is the fatalistic view that a person can do nothing about life because everything has already been predetermined by some higher power. Both contingency and fatalism lead to worry because one is never certain what is going to happen next. (p. 137)

The Christian view can be described as the “doctrine of certainty”.  Life is not controlled by “blind necessity”, but certain things are definite and well-grounded because we are in the hands of the living God.  So as Christians, we are to put this certainty over against the pagan doctrines of contingency and fatalism.  A person’s beliefs are evident by the way one behaves when the crises of life come.  According to Jesus, we are to be different in our thinking, not to adapt the heathen philosophy of worry over food, drink and clothing.  If we think that way, then we are but spiritual worldlings.  One way to increase our faith, therefore, is to see that children of God are to live the life of faith, not to face the difficulties of life as the heathen do, but live in the light of that faith that they profess. (pp. 137-138)

The next key lies in the second reason put forth by Jesus about not worrying about material necessities: “For your heavenly Father knows you have need of these things”. Hence the second principle by which one can increase and enlarge one’s faith is implicit faith in and reliance upon God as our heavenly Father. We are not alone, God is always with us.  Earthly fathers care about their children: multiply that by infinity and that is how God cares and thinks about us, whatever our circumstance. (pp. 141-142)

The third key is found in verse 33: to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  In other words, “we are to concentrate upon perfecting our relationship to God as our heavenly Father”.  Jesus implicitly says, “if you want to seek anything, if you want to be anxious about anything, be anxious about your spiritual condition, your nearness to God, and your relationship to Him.” The Gentiles are seeking the worldly things. Seek ye rather, seek ye first and foremost and above everything else, the Kingdom of God.  This should be top priority. Jesus added that we also need to seek God’s righteousness.  This essentially means we are to seek righteousness and holiness.  Hence this is the way to increase faith: “The more holy we are, the nearer we shall be to God. The more holy we are, the greater will be our faith and our assurance and therefore our claims and our reliance upon God.” And this comes with a promise that if we truly seek God first, then “all the other things will be thrown in the bargain”.  (p. 145)

In conclusion, these are the ways to increase faith:  Do not be like the heathen in their views about life, remember that God is your heavenly Father and knows everything about you, and seek to be more like your Father, and live your life to be closer to Him each day. (p. 145)

*** Reference: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, Martino Publishing, CT, 2011, pp. 135-145.

*** Photograph by Artemis 

The Nature and Causes of Little Faith

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Matthew 6:30

I have often wondered what Jesus meant by “little faith”.  One of my favorite authors, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, dissects this concept with precision, and I would like to share his thoughts.

Upon a mountain, before multitudes, Jesus addressed a universal ailment of mankind: that of worry, of anxious care about the material things in life: food, drink and clothing.  In a sense, this care can be expanded to all that we human beings are concerned about while we live in this world.  But Jesus warned against this mindset, and urged the people not to worry.  He expounded upon this argument by pointing to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air: transitory creatures which our Heavenly Father cares for; but then consider again that human beings are of far greater value because humans are eternal beings, loved by the Father so much more than the ephemeral flowers and birds.  Failure to see this logic is one of the causes of the trouble with anxious care.

The other cause of the trouble of worry is little faith.  Notice that it is not the absence of faith, but the small and inadequate amount of it.  What does Jesus mean by “little faith”, what is its nature, and what are its pitfalls?

In general, this type of faith confines itself only to the rudimentary concept of “salvation of souls”, but does not go beyond that; it is not extended to the everyday affairs of life.  But the Bible presents faith as something to be applied to the whole of life;  hence, little faith is a faith which does not lay hold of all the promises of God. Put another way, a person with little faith believes in the salvation of his soul through Jesus Christ, but does not believe that God will supply his material needs in this world, like food and clothing.  (p. 129)

In particular, little faith means that “we are mastered by our circumstances instead of mastering them”.  What is the cause of this, and why does a person of little faith allow things to overwhelm him?  “The real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think”.  Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching, is primarily thinking, and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think, allowing circumstances to clobber him.    The way to avoid this, according to Jesus, is to think.  The Bible is full of logic; Christian faith is essentially thinking:  Look at the birds, think about them, consider the lilies of the field, draw your deductions.  Most people, however, are overwhelmed and ask the questions, “What is going to happen?  What am I to do?”  This type of reflection is the absence of sensical thought, it is surrender, leading to defeat.  But an adequate Faith is defined by Dr. Lloyd Jones as this:  “It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense.”  Little faith, on the other hand, is a failure to think, one that allows the vicissitudes of life to master one’s thoughts instead of deliberating clearly about circumstances, seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. (p. 130)

An inadequate faith can also be described as a “failure to take scriptural statements at their face value and to believe them utterly”.   It would be the inability to see that everything written in God’s Word pertains to us, neglecting to comprehend that we can lay hold of the promises of God, because they belong to us.

It  is also the failure to realize the implications of salvation, and the position of a Christian as a result of that salvation: that of being a child of our heavenly Father.   As children of God, we ought to “know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us who believe” (Ephesians 1,18-19) .  Recall how Jesus depicted the contrast between the children of God and the grass of the field, which flourish today, but tomorrow are thrown into the oven for baking bread.  “All the purposes and the promises of God are meant for us and designed with respect to us; and the one thing we have to do, in a sense, is just to realize what God has told us about ourselves as His children.” (p.132)

Lastly, “little faith is ultimately due to a failure of applying what we know, and claim to believe, to the circumstances and details of life”.  Jesus once asked his disciples where their faith was when they panicked during a storm at sea.  They had faith, but they did not apply it, and so they worried that they might perish, even though Jesus was with them, though asleep at the stern of the boat.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones concludes by saying:  “to be worried is an utter contradiction of our position as children of God: there is no circumstance or condition in this life which should lead a Christian to worry”.  The directive by Jesus  to “take no thought” implies exercising faith, understanding the truth of God’s word, and applying it to every detail of our lives. (p. 134)

* Reference: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, Martino Publishing, CT, 2011, pp. 125-134.

* Photography: Swan on the Waves by Kaur Lass

How Hungry? Tests of Spiritual Appetite

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst after righteousness”?  In his book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”,  Dr.David Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives a few tests to determine the presence of spiritual appetite.

“The first test is this:  Do we see through all our own false righteousness?”  This would be the first indication of such appetite.  That  is, unless one recognizes his righteousness as nothing but “filthy rags”, there would be no hunger for something better.

Another test is discipline.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “This subject of discipline is of vital importance.  I am suggesting that unless we day by day voluntarily and deliberately remind ourselves of this righteousness which we need, we are not very likely to be hungering and thirsting after it. The man who truly hungers and thirsts makes himself look at it every day.”  Discipline is finding the time to satisfy the hunger pangs that one feels.

The next test according to Dr. Lloyd-Jones is this:  “The man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness always puts himself in the way of getting it”.   The blind man, Bartimaeus, could not heal himself, so he put himself in the way where Jesus was passing through and made such a commotion that Jesus could not help but notice him.   In modern life, this implies going to Church and being involved in the Church, reading the Bible, and making time for prayer.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones mentions the need for reading the biographies of saints and all literature one can lay hold on the matter of righteousness and the Kingdom of God.  He continues, “The people who hunger and thirst after righteousness are frantic.  They do all these things; they are seeking righteousness everywhere; and yet they know their efforts are never going to lead to it.  … It does not matter whom you look at.  It seems to work out like this: it is only as you seek this righteousness with the whole of your being that you can truly discover it. You can never find it yourself.  Yet the people who sit back and do nothing never seem to get it.  That is God’s method.  … We have done everything, and having done all we are still miserable sinners: and then we see that, as little children, we are to receive it as the free gift of God.”

These then are the tests for spiritual appetite.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones concludes by asking: “Is it(hungering after righteousness) the greatest desire of our life?  Is it the deepest longing of our being? Can we say quite honestly and truly that we desire above everything else in this world truly to know God and to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, to be rid of self in every shape and form, and to live only, always and entirely to His glory and to His honor?”

If so, then as we keep on asking, seeking and knocking, indeed we shall be filled — ‘with all the fullness of God’.


*** Photo by Sifu Renka

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House Upon the Sand

 26And 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:

 27And 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.
 Matthew 6:26-27

The imagery of the “house upon a rock” has dominated my mindset every time I read passages of the Sermon on the Mount. It seemed as if the following two verses in Matthew 7 just faded silently into the background. What a victorious and happy outcome for a house to go through the beating winds, floods and rains, and still be standing, unscathed after the onslaught of attacking storms.

But as I read on again, this time, beyond glossing over, the enormity of the remaining words of the chapter sweeps me away in a giant tidal wave as I vicariously feel the tremors of the house upon the sand.

Consider the concluding remarks of the Sermon on the Mount.  According to Jesus, there are only two types of people: the wise and the foolish.  One either belongs to one group or the other. There are no “in-betweens”. The wise are those who hear the sayings of Jesus and put them into practice.  But wait, there are those who also hear His sayings, but Jesus calls them foolish. What makes them foolish? They simply hear the words of Jesus, but do not act upon them. They may be those who agree with the truth of His sayings and listen wholeheartedly.  But they may also be those who have heard of Jesus and His words, but dismiss them outright, so of course they would not apply His teachings to their very own lives.

“These sayings of Mine”, what are they?  In particular, and in the current context, they can immediately be linked to the Beatitudes and what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.  In general, since Jesus is “The Word” (John 1:1), “These sayings of Mine” can be associated with God’s Word, the Bible.

The wise have a fortunate result after digging hard into the rock, a difficult place as it requires tremendous effort to construct a house upon it, but storms leave the house standing.

The foolish have a devastating outcome after building their house upon the sand.  Consider the looseness of this ground, the ease with which construction materials can be quickly set upon it.  A house is one’s  structure, a dwelling place, a place of belonging.

The shifting sand has no foundation.  There is no anchor of Truth found in it, unlike the solid Rock.  The sayings of Jesus were heard, but not put into practice. How profound that it is not enough to listen to God’s Word. How fearful it is to dismiss, reject, or neglect His Words.  Jesus says that when the storms of life come, and they will come, anything built on top of this unreliable ground will be beaten severely by the winds and the rains and the floods. And the last words carry a stern warning: “And great was the fall of it.”

The great fall of one’s structure, one’s dwelling place, one’s place of belonging.  Think of it.  But here’s the good news:  being wise or being foolish is a choice.


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