A foundation built on rock

My son and I are building a porch at the back of our home, anticipating the coming summer and our need for more shade. My wife likes to sit out back with the dogs, but the heat starts to get pretty oppressive come May. By June it can be intolerable.

The first step in a project like this is to dig down into the rocky earth and create concrete footings that will support the weight of the thing. These have to be carefully measured and placed so they are straight and true, deep enough so they won’t be affected by rain or freezing weather, and wide enough to handle the weight of whatever we finally build.

Leaning tower of Pisa, Italy

Strong foundations are not pretty. Most massive concrete and steel constructions hidden deep underground where they’ll never be seen. And if you don’t get them right, your building won’t stand.

The 58-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco—a luxury condo high-rise—is progressively leaning because its foundation was poorly designed, or perhaps under-designed to save money. Living in a very high and expensive building that tilts to one side is disconcerting, to say the least. The building owners are spending millions of additional dollars to drill new foundations down to bedrock in an attempt to halt the sinking. Only time will tell if their plan will work or not.

The “Leaning Tower of Pisa” is likely the most famous example of the failure of a foundation to do what it’s supposed to do, but the problem is actually pretty common. The ancient cathedral in the center of Mexico City has been sinking for hundreds of years.

We have foundations in life, too. We build our lives on beliefs (true and mistaken) and presuppositions (true and faulty) and principles (wise and foolish) and folk wisdom and prejudices and… The question is, will these hold up under the pressures of life or will they buckle? Jesus talked about this in a parable, colorfully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
“But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” —Matthew 7:24-27 (The Message)

The Millennium Tower was built by some very smart and experienced people, architects and engineers. They made very careful calculations and worked with tested assumptions, and despite all of their experience, something went very wrong. I doubt that they got their calculations wrong. I think their assumptions about the firmness of the earth were over-optimistic.

We can build our lives on faulty assumptions, too. We might assume the world works one way when it actually doesn’t. We might assume that life has a particular purpose and set of meanings when it’s really quite different than we supposed.

Fundamentally, the question of God (does he exist?) and Jesus (does his life represent something true?) and the Bible (are its claims trustworthy?) are foundational. If true, they represent bedrock, a sure place on which to build a life, rather than shifting and unreliable clay and sand.

What foundations have you staked your life on? Why? Have you considered the possibility that your assumptions about everything might be completely wrong? And if you will consider that possibility for just a fraction of a moment, consider Jesus Christ, the man who claimed to be God, the architect and builder of all of creation, all of life, and all of eternity… of you and me.

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