Storms, foundations, rebuilding….

The Wise man Built His House upon the Rock… 

It’s the end of a bad day and I’m driving to the writing cabin.  Stresses, demands, uncertainties, broken appointments, and hurtful words followed by icy withdrawal – all of these were wrapped up in a single sunny day.  A word that might describe my reaction to these trials:  pathetic.  I withdrew into self-pity, and wallowed in my pain.

Ironically, it was the day that I studying about how those who have a strong foundation in Christ can weather storms, while those with a weak foundation won’t, with the result that the whole edifice will wash away.  The words of have special meaning while I’m studying this week, because Irene’s been blowing up the east coast and she’s no metaphor.  She’ll reveal the quality of countless foundations, and no matter the beauty of the above ground structure, both humble and magnificent beach houses will be swept away if the foundation is sub-par.

As I drive to writing cabin this evening, I’m humbled by the realization that the words I preach are, on this day at least, more words than reality – easily swept away because the trials of the day have revealed an insufficient foundation.  I’m solid when I’m able to do the work I love and people respond positively.  When my stomach’s full, my joints don’t ache, and I’m loved by everyone I care about, then I’m a spiritual superstar.  But what about the other days?

When storms come and lash at the edifice of spirituality that I’ve created, what’s left after the storm is the realization that some of my “god talk” is easily swept away when I become disillusioned, or stressed, or sometimes even just hungry?  What’s left is the revelation that beneath that veneer, there’s still some stuff that needs to be dealt with.  Seeing that this is true is painful, but let me hasten to add that it’s also good.  I’d rather learn about my “stuff” because of a misunderstanding with my wife, or stresses over having too much to do, than via some far greater storms of either a personal or global nature.

All this has me thinking about better foundations than mine.  I think of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Sophie Scholl, Elizabeth Elliot, John Perkins, Pastor Gahigi, and so many others scattered across the globe, and across the ages.  They weathered real storms: genocide, war, imprisonment, persecution, deep loss.  In spite of everything, they were somehow able to continue on as people of blessing and hope, even though their worlds crumbled.  I ponder this and wonder what lessons can be learned by looking at people whose foundations are strong.

The common threads that runs through the “firm foundation” crowds include a willingness to go in a direction completely different than every one else.  They’re usually thinkers, but not just thinkers; they’re people who would never be content to talk about ideas without living into them.  This is perhaps what Jesus meant when he said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  Yes, the writing cabin is built on a rock foundation because if the logs were soaked in the 45 inches of rain that come to the cabin each year, the cabin would be gone.  Extending the life of the cabin by, say 100 years, is worth the hassle of doing a little foundation work at the beginning.

The cabin welcomes me.  The calendar tells me its May, because that’s the last time I sat here.  And now, after Europe and Los Angeles, vision meetings and strategic planning, New Hampshire and a book release, a new budget and the return of my daughter from Rwanda… I’m back.  I thought I’d changed more than I have this summer, thought I’d nearly fully matured.  Maybe it’s just the circumstances that changed.  It’s easy to feel pretty spiritual when you’re hiking in the Alps with your best friend wife and it’s sunny, or when you’re teaching the Bible and the people who are listening have gathered precisely because they love listening to people teach the Bible.  It looks like a really solid building.

But 24 hours of weary administration, personal challenges, relational stresses and misunderstandings, and all that holiness goes flying out the window, or to stick with the metaphor, those stained glass windows come crashing down as the storm of the day batters my surprisingly fragile soul.  Turns out I can’t even take a little neglect without getting bitter.

I open the door, and light a candle.  The cabin is more than just a cabin for me – it’s a place of intimacy with Jesus.  No internet.  No phone.  No TV.  Tonight, no wife either, as she’s in an intensive class this week.  Tonight the cabin is a listening place.  I love being here because I’m forced to listen.  Tonight I’m not at my best, and Jesus meets me here to remind me that He’s well able to guide me away from the shifting sands of my emotions and circumstances, my pride, my fear of rejection.  He reminds me that He’s a rock – solid and unshakeable.  Having shown me the areas where I’m vulnerable, He invites me to find Him as my rock; invites me to move off the shifting sands of “human approval” and onto the rock of “complete in Christ” to share but one example.

Like a master builder, He’s showing me the damage done by today’s storm, but there’s a smile on His face“We’ll rebuild – you and me.  Let’s get started.”  Yes.  This is the Jesus I love.

God of the broken pieces

Thanks be to you that, again and again you offer to guide us more fully to union with we so that we, being yoked to your Life, will find the firm foundation.  Grant that in the midst of whatever storms may come, we will display your hope, mercy, love, peace, and blessing to all in our world.  Amen

NOTE: (I wrote this Saturday, and part of it found a way into my sermon yesterday.  An internet friend, Jason Fowler, has thoughts on the same passage from the perspective of collective cultural shakings – it’s a good read)

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Alison Buren

    Hi Richard, very much enjoyed reading this! It’s helpful to hear how someone else processes this struggle. I just prayed for you and I hope you have an awesome Monday!

  • JenB

    Thanks for keepin it real, Richard. Too many spiritual leaders either pretend they have it all together, or show their failings without reflecting God’s redeeming work. May every story we tell point again to our patient,unshakable, amazing God.

  • Lee

    Richard,

    Thank you for this today! I am encouraged that I am not alone with what I struggle with. Your honesty and your love of Jesus inspires and challenges me to examine my foundation. May He bless you today!

  • Cat

    How did you know I needed to hear exactly this message at exactly this time?

  • Renee Sproull

    Thank you-I needed to hear this today as I start my week of work and week 2 of heart break. My Jesus rebuilds with me, hand in hand.

    • Renee Sproull

      Thank you Richard-your honesty and true words about Jesus remind me to walk in hand with Jesus-its week #2 dating came to an end. Oh it’s these times that I see the jello in my foundation and how easy Jesus can bolster me up and re-dig the broken areas and build them up stronger.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    I love the authenticity of this post. Too often us “pee-ons” have a hard time believing that you spiritual “giants” struggle sometimes. The longer I am Christian, I am beginning to think the only way that we grow is through tough life circumstances. I am trying to learn to always appreciate the struggles. As I said, “trying”…

  • http://notsoyellowbrickroad.wordpress.com Carly Rickabaugh

    my fav part: “Tonight I’m not at my best, and Jesus meets me here to remind me that He’s well able to guide me away from the shifting sands of my emotions and circumstances, my pride, my fear of rejection. He reminds me that He’s a rock – solid and unshakeable. Having shown me the areas where I’m vulnerable, He invites me to find Him as my rock; invites me to move off the shifting sands of “human approval” and onto the rock of “complete in Christ” to share but one example.”
    love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Helen Doty

    Thank you!

  • Ben Scholten

    O2: In; out.


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