I’ve embraced my share of fads. Most notably sporting multiple WWJD bracelets in the 90s, shaving a Nike Swoosh in my hair in junior high, and currently buttoning the top button of my collard shirts (sans a tie). Generally speaking a fad is a widely shared enthusiasm—person, place, or thing—that is usually short-lived and has little consideration for quality. In other words few fads aim for endurance but are simply pleased to be popular. And as I hope you will tell from my own admission (and yours!) fads are not merely an issue with prevailing pop-culture but more alarmingly within religious Church culture.
Jesus said near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). This was a call for Jesus’ followers to make Jesus himself and his words the foundation of their lives. In other words, Jesus invited the crowd to embrace him as the sustainer of their joy, the guiding light of their understanding of truth, and the love which would drive out fear and shame. Following the person and ethic of Jesus would lead to a life that would not fall no matter what inclement elements of life were hurled our way.
Amazingly Jesus' call was not without a caution. I think it’s amazing because Jesus has just preached what is perhaps the greatest sermon of all time and he still knew many would be tempted to ignore his words and not obey. (SIDE NOTE: this gives me great hope as a preacher; if Jesus knew people wouldn’t listen and obey his message how much more should I find comfort when my imperfect sermons fall flat or on deaf ears.) And with this in mind he warned them, “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it felt, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:26-27). Jesus’ warning was that failing to obey his word and build their lives on him would inevitably lead to their demise.
Please notice something very interesting. Jesus is not saying they won’t build a house—metaphorical for building a life. We all are building our lives. Therefore we are all building our lives on something … some reality, some ideology, some vision of truth and hope. To be human is to “build” a life. By our nature we order our worlds and make decision based upon an agreed upon or believed greater reality. Perhaps we understand happiness as the purpose of life. Or we could believe merely surviving is the aim of our existence. Or making money could be our foundation. So what Jesus is saying is that the temptation his first century audience would be facing after his message and what we face today is to build our life on something or someone other than Jesus himself. In our brokenness we are prone to build our lives on something that will ultimately kill us.
I think we—especially within the Church—are most tempted to build our lives on fads rather than Jesus. And our religious fads are tricky because they speak, smell, and act “Christian”. However these spiritual enthusiasms can often lead us to neglect Christ as our true foundation. Now please hear me, fads are fine if they are merely enjoyed then released. However fads become fatal when we love them, feed them, and make them our foundation. Because fads cannot fulfill. Fads don’t love us back. You see, if faith is anchored in WWJD bracelets, the latest and greatest and coolest author/teacher/preacher/leader (SIDE NOTE: I am daily tempted to just be the next Christian fad; in my sin I just want to be famous with little regard for quality or clarity or Christ), the newest Christian-Hipster Instagram account, the hot new church in your city … then when the rains fall and the floods come and the wind blows and beat against your life you will fall—because all you have is a bracelet or book or building that has momentarily modified your behavior. You haven’t built your life on a Savior who loved you first and by grace gives you a new heart. That’s why Jesus is the only foundation able to withstand the darkest elements of this world, because only Jesus has defeated every dark element of this world and the next.
And the good news is that if and when we have placed our hope and trust in a fad and our world has crumbled, Jesus has overcome that darkness and invites and empowers us by grace to build our house upon the rock.
So shave swooshes in your hair.
Wear bracelets on your wrist.
Read tons of great books.
Join a Jesus-loving church.
Follow faithful voices on social media.
And yes, button the top button of your collared shirts like a boss!
But only hope in Jesus.
… only hide yourself in Christ.
… only give your ultimate affection to God.
… only trust in the God of the Bible.
… only surrender to the Spirit.
… only build your life on the Rock.
A few suggestions to that end:
Be skeptical of anything popular—even within (if not especially!) within the Church. Jesus said, wide is the road that leads to destruction and narrow is the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).
In times of loss and pain, cling to the promises of God, not the commodities of Christian culture. Jesus said, all authority has been given to me, I will be with you always even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
When questions of identity are heavy upon your shoulders and compel you to hustle after joy, take on the burden of Jesus and reject the burden of your pride and shame. Jesus said, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, my yolk is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Be skeptical of anything that promises over-night habit changes with no heart renovation (i.e. three steps or one idea or 30 days plans). Embrace the long road of rehabilitation and restoration and war with evil, Jesus said, I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but keep them from the evil one … sanctify them in the truth your word is truth (John 17:1-26).