Our ongoing Southern California drought is teaching me some facts of life that I should have already known. Or, to be more accurate, I am becoming aware of some realities that I previously did not have to understand—realities such as the fact that a well-watered lawn is arguably the best ground cover. Not only does lawn invite bare feet and summer sitting, but it looks well-groomed with little work.
Yes, I knew that broad-leafed weeds can infest a lawn, but with proper treatment and regular mowing, even those intruders can be managed. What I didn’t know was that when lawn dies because water is withheld, stubborn desert weeds suddenly thrive. In fact, these obnoxious plants prefer dry, hot soil to irrigated earth. They do not germinate in the middle of lawns; rather, desert weeds emerge from parched soil when their latent roots or hardy seeds are encouraged by a random summer storm. These intruders do not want regular watering. They are opportunists which make the most of scarce moisture, flaunting their victory over the cultivated grass that suppressed them for years—but now they threaten to overtake the abandoned space where lush green used to offer respite in the parched southwestern summers. Even mowing does not deter them.
Drought conditions, I am realizing, demand creative new approaches to landscaping. In fact, as water has become more precious, we have realized two new effects. On the one hand, we now have to ration our water; on the other hand, we have to resist the surge of native weeds that would destroy our yard.
The drought that is changing Southern California landscaping and demanding a new kind of vigilance seems to mirror a drought that I see threatening the life of the church in the first world. In spite of the fact that we Americans have more Bibles than we can use and easy access to books, studies, and videos in which biblical truth is taught, people who call themselves Christians seem increasingly unaware of what Scripture actually teaches. Biblical knowledge is thin, and even the gospel is being misrepresented as social justice or good works. To be sure, Christians are commanded to care for the poor and to honor all men, but these things are the fruit, not the definition, of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has paid for our sin and bought us eternal life, and we are brought into this miracle of new life when we believe in the Lord Jesus and repent of our sin.
Becoming a Christian, however, does not mean we can join a new community and become caught up in social justice with our friends. We have to stay committed to the water of the word—the word with which Christ washed us to become His bride (Eph. 5:26); the living word by which we were born again (1 Pet. 1:23).
Paul knew that the great danger for Christians throughout the life of the church would be a creeping neglect of the word of God. In his last book, 2 Timothy, which he wrote from prison to his protégé Timothy to whom he was handing the baton of ministry, Paul wrote:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
It is the word that will protect us from the weeds of our own desires and twisted thoughts. It is Scripture that grounds us in reality and keeps us believing and practicing truth. It is the Bible that protects us from false teaching and seductive ideas that almost sound right but are not based in Scripture. It is only Scripture that has the truth that we need to “grow in respect to salvation” if we “have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Pet. 2:2-3).
In short, it is the word of Scripture that is the water that grows righteousness in us. Without a commitment to submit to God’s word in our lives, we will be completely vulnerable to deceptive teaching and to morality apart from truth. Without God’s word watering our hearts and minds regularly, we will become overrun by stubborn weeds that fill our lives with a form of religion but without the protective power of the gospel.
Without the word being hidden in our hearts, we will not grow in the Lord—and we may find ourselves confronted one day by habits and beliefs that crept in unexamined to take up space in our lives. A drought of water is a serious thing that changes the way we live. A drought of the water of the word of God, however, threatens our life’s fruitfulness and our ability to cope with what comes.
My prayer is that all of us who once were bound in Adventism but now have been freed in Christ Jesus will find ourselves planted deeply in truth and reality as it is revealed in God’s word. I pray our lives will be protected by Living Water so our hearts have no place for desert weeds to grow.