Just about everybody devotes time thinking about a dream house. Boys and girls, long before they reach school age start to build houses using Lego blocks or old cardboard boxes. Most kids on rainy days make playhouses in the lounge room with rugs and pillows strung between the furniture. You might remember playing mothers and fathers as a child or have watched your children and grandchildren pretending to be in their dream home.
And what young person, and even not so young person, hasn't driven by a particular house and thought to themselves or even said it out loud, "Now that's the kind of house I'm going to have!"
Jesus was never concerned about building or owning a house. We know that he warned potential disciples that even though foxes have holes and birds have nests, he and his followers had nowhere to call home (Luke 9:58). However, I’m sure that as a boy he would have learnt a great deal about house construction from his carpenter father.
Jesus tells a story about two men who built houses and describes how they went about it (Matthew 7:24-29). He didn’t tell this story to give a lesson on good house building. He wanted to highlight the kind of foundation on which a person should build his/her life. Just as there are right ways and wrong ways to build a house, so there are right and wrong ways to build a life!
You may recall from a few years back the announcement on the news that the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" was finally reopened to the public, after having been closed for several years. During that time, engineers completed a 25 million dollar renovation project designed to stabilise the tower. They removed 110 tons of dirt and reduced its famous lean by about sixteen inches.
Why was this necessary? Because the tower has been tilting further and further for hundreds of years, to the point that the top of the 185-foot tower was seventeen feet further south than the bottom. The Italian authorities were concerned that if nothing were done, it would soon collapse.
What was the problem? Bad design? Poor workmanship? An inferior grade of marble? No. The problem was what was underneath. The tower was built on the shifting sands of a former estuary. The soil was not stable enough to support a monument of this size. The tower had no firm foundation. The Tower of Pisa is actually a bell tower for a cathedral. This story of Jesus is a fitting reminder to the worshippers at that cathedral and to us about building our life on a solid foundation.
A tower or a house is only as good as its foundations. How foolish it would be, Jesus implies, for a man to put thousands of dollars into building a magnificent house, with beautiful interior decor and forget the simplest pre-requisite. The view might be breath-taking, the floor covered with ankle deep carpeting, air conditioning, luxurious furniture, elegant curtains around the big windows, original paintings on the walls, and all the latest electronic gadgetry. But if the builder hasn't paid adequate attention to what is buried under the building, namely that the foundations, he is heading for disaster. It might look like a grand house; it might appear as solid as any other, but the first storm could reduce it to a pile of rubble.
It follows from what Jesus says in the parable that a person is a fool if he allows himself to be buried in his own house. A person is a fool if he throws away his money on those parts of his house that have no function except to build up his own glory, while at the same time economises on the most important and very functional part of the house, the foundations.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed thousands of homes in South Florida. Yet in an area where the wreckage looked like a war zone, one house remained standing, still firmly anchored to its foundation.
When a reporter asked the homeowner why his house had not been blown away, he replied, "I built this house myself. I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2 x 6 inch roof trusses, I used 2 x 6 inch roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane – and it did."
What does Jesus consider to be solid foundation material on which to build our lives? He says, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock." That’s the solid foundation on which Jesus wants everyone to build. This is one of the most important pieces of advice that we are given. Note again Jesus’ word, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them" is building his or her life on a safe and secure foundation. If you really want to know where true wisdom is to be found, here it is – those who hear what Jesus has to say and obey are like the wise person who builds his house on rock.
It’s foolish to hear God's Word but not believe it, to not put it into practice, and to not "build" one's life on it. Jesus said, "The people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God's message!" (Luke 11:28). James says something similar when he wrote, "Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it. (James 1:22).
There are those who love going to church; they enjoy meeting with fellow Christians; they sing the hymns with great gusto; they listen to Christian music; they love reading Christian books. But there is one problem – they don’t associate what they are hearing with what is happening in everyday life. The words of Jesus don’t penetrate to the point of making any change in the way they live. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand."
It is Satan’s delight when we hear what God has to say and let it go in one ear and right out the other side. We hear it but it makes no impact on our lives. When we allow this to happen, it might be just the moment God is telling us something really important that will sustain us in a future storm.
Remember, Jesus isn’t telling us to build houses in storm free areas. He is telling us how to build in order to withstand the storms that will come. This is a story about foundations, not finding storm free areas. It’s about building storm proof houses – a storm proof life.
And without a doubt there will be storms. To the observer those two houses looked the same, but when the storm came with fury and the river flooded over, only one house was left standing – the one with the solid foundations.
As one person said to me when she was facing one of those storms that life can throw at us and in her case, it was terminal cancer,"I was prepared for this years ago. Throughout life I have enjoyed lots of blessings but the best blessing of all was the foundation my mother gave me – every night she read from a Bible storybook and talked to me about Jesus. She has passed on, but her words about the love of Jesus still ring in my ears, especially now that things aren’t going so well. Others have built on what my mother told me but I’m ever so grateful for the preparation she gave me to face my sickness 50 years later." Can you see that through her mother, God had had built a strong foundation for her life when she was child? Now in old age she was able to endure the storm.
This example highlights how important it is for us to pass on to our children and grandchildren the same kind of firm foundation. If we don’t, how will future generations cope with even the simple things of life, let alone the storms that come their way? Someone once said, "An embittered person is one who doesn’t have the resources to deal with life’s difficulties and disappointments."
I’m sure it’s been your experience, just as it has been mine, that when the chips are down, that when one of life’s storms hits, you are ever so grateful for the foundation that you have, built on the Word God. You can recall with joy even in the darkest moments the promises of Jesus to care for you, to walk with you, to guide you and if it should happen that it’s time for you to leave this life then you know that Jesus has prepared a place for you in your eternal home in heaven.
One of the key foundational truths is this - when the storms of life threaten it isn’t a matter of us holding on to Christ. It’s not a matter of our strength at all. It’s a matter of Christ holding on to us. And he has promised that he will hold on to us, no matter what happens, both now and throughout eternity.
Jesus makes quite a point of how mighty the crash was when the house with no foundation collapsed. I can’t help but think that this might be a reference to death or to the final judgement. Without the foundation that God has built in our lives, making us his own loved children at our baptism, assuring us of the forgiveness of all of our sin through the death of Jesus, comforting us with the knowledge that God will always stand by us as he has promised, his love will never give up on us. Without that kind of foundation then death and the final judgement would be something to fear, and our crash would be mighty if it weren’t for the grace and mercy of our God.
Once the wind starts to howl and the waters are lapping at the front door, it’s too late to think about the foundations. Now is the time to build your life on the foundation that God gives us through his Word.
Now is the time to get to know God, his love for you and the promises he makes. Now is the time to hear God speak to you and let him make some changes to your way of thinking, your values, your hopes, and your way of living. Now is the time to pass on your faith to someone else. You never know how God will use what you say to keep that person strong and firm in some future storm.
In the face of the worst storms may our prayer be that of the hymn writer, On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
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