How Firm A Foundation

Background Passages: Matthew 7: 24-27; Luke 6:46-49

In 2008, Hurricane Ike crashed into the Texas Coast as a strong Category 2 storm, inundating Galveston and the inland counties with 19 inches of rain across a two-day period, winds sustained at 110 miles per hour and a storm surge of about 17 feet. The devastation, particularly along the eastern shore of Galveston Island, was almost total. A single home on Bolivar Peninsula survived the storm. Ike had been a devastating storm.

As we have done for the past 35 years or so, my wife’s family gathers in a rented beach house on Galveston Island to enjoy time together. We began this journey with my wife’s parents and her siblings and a couple of our children. This year, my wife’s siblings and all our children and grandchildren came together…25 of us at one point, including 12 grandchildren, all but one under the age of seven. I can only describe the week as heavenly chaos.

The beach house that is our home this year, sits in a single line of similar houses just yards from the beach. One can sit on the deck of any of these homes as the high tide reaches within 60 feet of their foundations. Ideal in times of calm, I can only imagine the threat a storm like Ike would pose to these beach-front properties.

Strict building codes require thick foundations and deep-set pilings elevating the first livable floor to a height of between 12-15 feet. The key to surviving a storm, according to the architects, is the strength of the foundation. It is a lesson driven home again by the tide surge during Ike.

A carpenter by trade, Jesus taught a similar lesson to all who would listen. He questioned why anyone would call him Lord, the boss of his or her life, and not do as he says. He taught that those who hear and obey are like the wise builder.

“They are like the man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation (or the man who builds his house upon the sand alone.) The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

In such a simple illustration, Jesus gives us powerful lessons on what it means to commit ourselves fully to him. First, both houses faced the same storm. Jesus never suggested that the home that withstood the torrent faced a lesser storm than the one that was destroyed. The winds came. The rains fell. The streams flooded. The houses both faced the same dangers. It is not a matter of if the storms will blow. Jesus’ story tells us the storm will come to all of us. Our task is to prepare ourselves for that eventuality. That knowledge takes us to the second point.

Nothing in Jesus’ words leads us believe that the men constructed their houses differently. Unlike the three little pigs in the fairy tale who used different construction materials and methods, we can assume each man built a well-constructed house for his family. Quality materials. Quality workmanship. Yet one man’s house weathered the storm while the other crumbled beneath its strength.

All of us seek to build a quality life. Some focus on philosophy. Some on positive thinking. Some on good works. Yet none of these concepts, in and of themselves, are strong enough to weather the storm.

Jesus identifies only one difference in the homes as they were built. The foundation. The home built on a firm foundation survived the storm when the one built without that solid foundation failed.

It is a simple illustration. It’s not a question of if the storms or troubles will enter our lives. It is a matter of when. Storms are a given. It’s not a question of how strong we are personally. How well we feel our lives are put together. Our strength alone, our philosophy of life, is insufficient in the face of the even the most ordinary pressures of life.

We see the impact of trouble on the lives of friends and family. How does one person survive calamity while another crumbles beneath its weight?

Jesus tells us the answer rests with the foundation upon which each life is built. We make choices. We choose to live life our own way, in our own strength, failing to drive the piling of our faith to the bedrock. Far too many people lay a superficial foundation in something other than Jesus Christ that is insufficient to weather the storms, yet they move in anyway. Living life that way is a risky proposition.

Jesus teaches us that kingdom living requires a solid foundation, based both on listening to his word and acting upon it. Putting his teachings into the practice of daily life. Being obedient. When we set our foundation on his strength rather than our own, when we act upon the knowledge we gain through our experiences with him, when we immerse ourselves in his teaching, the rain, wind and flood cannot shake the foundation of our lives.

Finally, contractors pour the foundation, giving it time to cure before they start erecting the building upon it. There is a measure of truth in letting the foundation of our faith cure. Allowing it to grow in our hearts. Giving it time to cure. Such is the lesson of a lifetime of living in his grace. Jesus spent 30 years preparing his foundation before he began his ministry. God granted him time to drive the pilings deeply so he would be ready for the challenge of the cross.

The real joy of life is taking the time to let Jesus teach us his will and way throughout the years. To sink our foundation pilings deep into the bedrock of his word and resting in the knowledge that nothing can destroy our lives when planted firmly in his grace.

The old hymn, “How Firm Our Foundation” closes with these words:

The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

My prayer is that it our foundation would be that secure all the days of our lives.

 

What Would Our Lives Be

Background Passage: I Samuel 16:7

Dallan Forgaill, a sixth century Christian poet from Ireland, penned the words to Rob Tú Mo Baile in Old Irish. The poem proclaims a message that has endured for more than a millennium. Legend says that Dallan, a nickname which literally means “little blind one,” lost his sight as a young man because he studied so long and so intensely.

Through the years, monks used his poem as part of the liturgy of the church, it’s words deeply meaningful. More than 1,100 years later in 1905, the poem was finally translated for the first time into English by noted linguist Mary Elizabeth Byrne and adapted as a hymn seven years later by Eleanor Hull. We know the song as Be Thou My Vision.

I came across this version of a song I’ve heard all my life and was reminded again of how often deep spiritual truth is conveyed through words and melody. Too often we see those around us…value them…based upon how they live and what they look like. The lyrics of this song speak to the way Christ sees past the outward circumstances and external appearance straight into the heart. I Samuel 16:7 spells it out with supreme clarity.

Samuel stood confused as God rejected all the brothers of David as king and instructed the priest to anoint David instead, the youngest and smallest among them. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

This rendition of Be Thou My Vision, performed by Eden’s Bridge, a Christian band whose harmonies align well with elements of Celtic music, expresses the profound faith of one whose heart’s desire longs to life unfold through the eyes of Christ. As you listen to the melody, take note also of the lyrics:

“Be thou my vision.” What would it mean to our lives if we looked at the world around us with the eyes of Christ? How would it change the way we treat each other? The love of Christ is unconditional. Love that looks beneath a sometimes ugly surface and sees the heart’s deepest need. A love that sees the deepest need of our fellow man and acts redemptively in that person’s life. The song reminds us when the Lord of our hearts opens our eyes and becomes our best thought of the day his presence can light up the dark places that hide the inner hearts of those around us. Imagine how differently we might think and act.

“Be thou my wisdom.” What would it mean to our lives if we let our thoughts be God’s thoughts? His wisdom our wisdom? How would it change our actions and deeds if we allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell with us every hour of every day? Imagine the struggle we could avoid and the hurt we might no longer cause ourselves and others if we relied on his wisdom instead of our own.

“Be thou my armor.” Amid the onslaught of the world’s temptations, what would it mean to our lives if we stood in the strength of God, allowing his presence in our lives to shield us from the traps into which we stumble and fall? To protect us from the evil we too readily accept in our lives? Imagine what it would mean to us and those we love if we rested daily in the power of Christ?

“Be thou my treasure.” What would it mean to our lives if we spent less time worried about gathering the riches of the world or the praise of others and banked instead on the heavenly inheritance of grace that comes when we accepted Christ as savior? How different would our lives be if we stored up the treasures of heaven rather than the riches of the world? Imagine the freedom that comes from the absence of worry about material things that really don’t matter.

“Be thou my victory.” If we saw the world through the eyes of Christ, victory in life is ours. The joy and contentment only he provides is ours. The eternity he promises is ours. And, nothing that happens in this world, nothing anyone does to you, changes any of that.

“Be thou my vision.” I know. Allowing Christ the kind of access into our hearts to enable us to see the world through his eyes is easier said than done. We fight it so. But, what would our lives be and how would our lives change if we made this song our prayer as we wake each morning?

“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.”

The Tower or the Towel

Background Passages: Genesis 11:1-9; Luke 9:46-48; Matthew 20:20-28 and John 13:1-17

LeBron James, the star of the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently signed an endorsement contract with Nike estimated to be worth a staggering $1 billion. Samsung, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Kia pay serious money to the NBA star just for tweeting his fascination with big screen televisions, his love for Diet Coke and a Big Mac. Each time James tweets an endorsement for products produced by any of these firms, he earns $185,000. He has made quite a name for himself.

That companies value his name so much is a witness that ours is a culture obsessed with celebrity. The proliferation of entertainment or sports magazines reflects our interest in the lives of the rich and famous. The world buys what these celebrities sell and gives credence to what they say simply by virtue of their fame.

Celebrities are not the only ones who desire name recognition. Many of us drive ourselves long and hard to achieve great things, motivated by the desire to become famous…to make ourselves a name. It’s not a recent phenomenon. In fact, a look at ancient biblical history takes the concept to absurd heights.

In Genesis, God’s blessing and commission to Noah and his family after the flood was abundantly clear, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” They were to take on the responsibility of raising families and spreading out across the earth to fill it again with people obedient to God the Creator.

Just a few generations later, his descendants thought they had a better idea as they migrated eastward. Genesis 11 tells the intriguing story we know as “The Tower of Babel.” The people made a deliberate choice to stop spreading out across creation as God ordained and instead agreed to come together and “build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Focusing the story on the tower misses the point. It was never about the tall tower. It was never about joining God in the heavens. It was always a story of the self-centeredness of a rebellious creation that deemed themselves more capable than God of determining their future. Note the statements of hubris evident in the scripture, “Let us make bricks…” “Let us build ourselves a city…” Not a word of honor to God. Not a thought to his will for their lives. Rather, a deep-seated desire to master their own fate and build their own celebrity. “Let us make a name for ourselves.”

In its broader context, we see two opposite views of man’s existence. The people of Babel built a city and a tower to make them great among the people of the world. A chapter later, their egotism is countered when God calls Abram, promising that he (God) would make Abram’s name great. Author David Atkinson writes a central truth that “the prerogative of making a name great belongs to God.”

The story itself points out the futility of our efforts to make ourselves great as understood by our culture. In the story, the people build a tower “to the heavens,” yet God must descend to assess the situation. God’s actions within the story stress the eternal insignificance of anything man might accomplish as he seeks to exalt himself.

It happened all too often among Jesus’ disciples. Their position or status within the group of 12 believers remained a constant source of debate and argument throughout Jesus’ ministry. One day as they walked along the road, Jesus overheard the same tired argument erupt among the 12 about whom among them would be the greatest. Luke tells us that Jesus wrapped a little child in his arms…one whom society deemed of less value. He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me…For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Later, the mother of James and John petitioned Jesus to elevate her sons to positions of honor within his kingdom. She wanted to help make a name for her sons. He chastised the brothers for not fully understanding the implications of their requests. It didn’t take long for the rest of the disciples to discover the end run they had made to put themselves in positions of authority. They were incensed and a divisive argument ensued.

The Master called one of his famous “come to Jesus” meetings. As he gathered them around, he taught them what it meant to be great. It is a powerful message for us in our celebrity-driven culture.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He later personified that message. Somewhere in an upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus shed his cloak and draped it across his chair. He wrapped a towel around his waist. Poured water into a bowl. As he knelt silently before each disciple, he washed their dusty feet, drying them with his towel.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

There it is. Laid out as plainly as possible. Making a name for oneself does not come from exalting oneself or lording one’s authority over another. Making a name for oneself does not come in ignoring the will of God and doing what you desire. Making a name for oneself doesn’t mean building towers or monuments to your hyper-inflated ego. Making a name for oneself does not mean seeking celebrity and name recognition.

Jesus teaches us that greatness in the eyes of God stems from our obedience to his will and acting with a servant’s heart to minister to those in need. Humility, service and love rest as the foundation for godly living. God marks the greatness within us by the sincerity of our humility, the strength of our service to others in need and the depth of our love to those the world deems unlovable.

It seems to me we have a choice each day we live. We make a name for ourselves by serving the Name above all Names. So, do we choose the tower or the towel?