Did you like playing in the dirt or a sandbox when you were a kid? I loved it.
My family always lived in places where we could be outside. One place we lived when I was a very young kid had a big cornfield behind it. We were allowed to play in the dirt along the edges of the field.
My neighborhood friends and I would play in that dirt all the time. We would bring our Tonka trucks, bulldozers, Hot Wheels, GI Joes, little green army men, and all sorts of toys – dinosaurs and barbies sometimes made the mix, too!
We would build roads, tunnels, cities, and forts, complete with stick lampposts and road signs, rock sculptures, and flags made from corn leaves and tassels. We would even build ponds and lakes filled with water from the outside garden hose, which doubled as our drinking fountain! It was so much fun.
We spent hours building our dirt universes! For those hours, those dirt worlds consumed our imaginations and energy. No outside world mattered, at least until we heard someone’s mom yelling that it was time to come home. As an aside, everyone’s mom had a distinct way of calling! I can still remember the various kid calls!
But I loved playing in the dirt. I feel nostalgic even as I write this!
That may be why I love archaeology so much. I began playing in archaeological dirt during the summer of 1994 when I was in seminary. Through a series of God’s actions, I ended up being able to go to Israel for four weeks by working for a generous professor. He allowed me to work for him and to organize the trip. In return, I was given a free trip to an archaeological dig at Hazor, Israel.
While training and digging in the ancient dirt of the biblical city of Hazor, God spoke to me. It was distinct and clear. I remember all the little details of that moment.
It was a normal, hot day on the tel (the mound of ancient ruins). I was on my knees digging, as normal. I remember sweat dripping off my head as it had soaked through the drenched bandanna wrapped around my head. As I was pounding the dirt with my small handpick, I began quietly singing. That day, I was singing church songs and hymns. It helped pass the time in those trying conditions.
As I sang and pounded the dirt, my mind wandered toward the church. Then, God spoke to me. It wasn’t audible, I don’t think. But it was a distinct realization that God wanted me to know something. It was an incredible instant. Within my being, I knew what God was saying to me just as clearly as I know my name.
God’s message to me was this: “If you don’t take your learning back to the church and share it with them, you are just playing in the dirt.”
Listen – I have loved playing in the dirt my whole life, but in that instant, I knew I needed to teach people what I was learning.
In one quick and solitary moment, God told me that if I didn’t share my education with the church, all the education, learning, and training would be like those dirt cities I built as a kid – easily washed away, amounting to nothing.
There on my knees, I cried some. I praised the Lord. I stopped digging and was focused on God. I wanted to understand God’s message fully. I recommitted myself to the Lord that day – something I’ve done over and over in my life. I promised the Lord I would play in the dirt for his kingdom. I would strive to teach all I could.
Now, 28+ years later, I have stopped once again to reconsider whether I have quit playing in the dirt kingdoms built by my own hands. I imagine I’ll always have to reevaluate this in my life. I don’t want to be consumed with building and living in a self-built world of dirt, but maybe it is just a sinful tendency of mine. Sometimes I am like Paul who said, “I do not understand what I am doing; for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom 7:15)
Every time I realize it is happening, I think back to God’s message to me that day in the dirt of Hazor: “If you don’t take your learning back to the church and share it with them, you are just playing in the dirt.”