The Firm Foundation

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Today, I asked my friend Liz to share about how a building in downtown Seattle taught her something about God’s love. I hope you enjoy her story!


“It is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge; to be studying Jesus Christ, what is it but to be digging among all the veins and springs of comfort? And the deeper you dig, the more do these springs flow upon you.

~John Flavel~

Located in downtown Seattle, Space Needle’s height taunts the very essence of gravity. The tower’s delicate construction elicits from thousands of observers both the elation of Anne Shirley as she balanced upon a ridge pole and the terror of Diana Barry as she witnessed such a precarious victory.

Shaped like a flying saucer, the Space Needle’s observation deck pokes into the clouds on a thin base 520 feet above the ground. Visitors brave enough to ascend the 848 steps from the tower basement to the rotating deck enjoy a panoramic view of Seattle from high above her stores, waterfronts, and busy highways. This dizzying perch atop the building allows tourists to glimpse the far-off peaks of Mount Rainier, the sparkling night lights of downtown Seattle, and tiny blood vessels of cars as they snake silently through vein-thin streets.

When darkness falls, a looming night sky envelopes visitors who feel close enough to stroke the cheek of the man on the moon. Hovering high above the earth on the thin, single stilt of the Space Needle, they marvel at a view provided only by such height.

But the Space Needle Tower does not begin on the observation deck. Its foundation is buried thirty feet below Seattle’s streets. Weighing 5,850 pounds, the tower’s foundation contains 250 tons of reinforced steel, ensuring that the tower is neither shaken by wind or shifted by rain. Seventy-two bolts, each thirty feet in length, stretch from the base of the foundation to the tall needle perched atop the observation deck. Majestically, the 605 foot tower soars high above the city by sinking deep below the city, all the while connecting its deepest place to its highest height.

The Space Needle reminds me of myself.

Have I ever felt that a giant drill, removing dirt deep down in my heart, will be the only way for me to stand tall? Have I welcomed that possibility into the building of my character?

Not really.

In fact, I often find myself cringing when the faintest hint of a challenge, an ache, or a sandpaper circumstance threatens to create ground zero in my day. No, I do not practice the spirit of the Space Needle tower. I do not often linger over my choices, praying for lessons of self-sacrifice or solitude to make way for my faith’s firm foundation.

But God does.

With a hard hat larger than the Milky Way, God leans over the cordoned off areas of my life, His finger pressing surely over the place where the drills will land. He nods to Himself, His face filled with the fixed attention of a meticulous engineer. His finger hovers, His hand dips, His palm lands. And the digging begins in my soul.

Squirming in discomfort, I embody the words of author Thomas a Kempis.

All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.”

Am I willing to let the roar of a hefty backhoe break into the comfortable spaces my unbelief creates? All too often, I let my desire for false security and momentary  tranquility to distract me from the shovels of God. When I ask God to follow my blueprint rather than His, my own ideas of peace utterly miss the mark.

I ask to meet Him on the observation deck. He asks to meet me at the foundation.  

I want to see Him in the 360 degree panorama. He wants to see my eyes just one degree away from His.

I ask for the unconditional guarantee of paved streets. He plans to guide me where excavation and salvation meet.

I tend to want a disconnected life, one which isolates my fragile heart from a harsh city and a hard world. Christ wants to connect my foundations to my pinnacles. He wants to strengthen me with steel beams that have been reinforced, planted in concrete, and laid to rest at His feet.

I may wish to see Him at the highest peak of a mountain range, the cheeriest part of a cheery day, or the happiest laughter in a spring-laden May. I wish He wouldn’t dig so deep, wouldn’t scratch away at the rocks in my thoughts. But He does.

For He says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine (Isaiah 55:88-9, NLT).”

And I’m so glad.

Author Emily Freeman writes, “Let’s dig deep, not to create meaning where there isn’t any, but to see Christ, our companion, where he actually is, not where we wish he was.”

Though my dreamy heart wishes for spiritual heights, my adoring and thirsty soul longs for Him.

Him in the heartache; Him in the mistake; Him in the earthquake; Him in the stomach ache; Him in my soul…Him…even when He digs a hole.

He digs a hole to make me whole.

He wants to dig deep into my heart, pour Himself into my character, and build my faith on the bedrock of His Son’s ever-present, unmovable Gospel of Love.  

“That’s why growth in Christ is never going beyond the gospel, but going deeper into the gospel. The purest waters from the spring of life are found by digging deeper into the gospel well.”

~ J.D. Greear~

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When God Digs a Hole

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You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.

– Gordon B. Hinckley –

What is God up to?

This past week, full of thoughts and struggles, I heard a story called “Skyscraper.” Part of a collection of thoughts about God, this story, in a few short paragraphs, taught me to hope.

In this story, author Sally Lloyd Jones tells about the building of a high-rise building. First, long before the steel skeleton of a structure goes up, the foundation is dug.

“They are digging down to go up,” she writes.

In the years after being freed, Corrie ten Boom shared about her experience with her sister Betsie in a Nazi concentration camp. In one of her famous quotes, she spoke of their suffering as a deep pit–but it was a pit that could not go down deeper than the love of her God. With every painful shovelful that sank her deeper into that pit, God was making a solid, spacious place for her life to grow out of. One day, she walked out of that concentration camp. She lived to tell about the fantastic love of Christ that not only saw fit to place her in a pit for a time, but the love that raised her up triumphant to new heights.

This is the parable of the skyscraper.

In the middle of an amazing life, I keep feeling the scrape of rocks as my foundation is dug. Only, foundation-digging does not feel like progress. It feels like falling. It feels like the solid things in your life are being removed. It can feel like fear.

When our neighbors built a basement beneath their house, they hoped that the dirt beneath would not contain too many rocks. Unfortunately, we live in a county full of rocks, some of which run in thick layers beneath the surface. We do live in the Ozark Mountains, after all. So when the neighbors hired builders to dig beneath the house, they were dismayed when they hit a slab of stone only 18 inches beneath the dirt.

This happens in my life. God is digging deep into me, and even though it hurts sometimes, I am thankful. Then He hits rock.

“Great, Lord!” I grin. “That means you don’t have to dig anymore, right?”

Maybe our neighbors thought the same thing–maybe a deeper basement was impossible. Maybe the digging was over.

Then the digging crew brought out the dynamite.

Have you ever felt God pull out the dynamite? Have you ever thought the painful digging was done, only to feel your roots shake with blast after blast?

Using dynamite beneath a house takes great care and skill. Do you think our heavenly Father uses any less skill and precision and concern when He lays the explosive charges all around us?

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

– Isaiah 43:2, NLT –

What does digging look like in your life? In mine, it looks like normal days at home that are anything but routine. It looks like deeper pains and joys than I have ever experienced. It is harder decisions and more impactful words. Digging looks like long talks and many tears. Digging means grabbing onto something solid when the soil is crumbling out from under me. It means feeling overwhelmed–and maybe that’s the point. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, ASV).

O taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). 

I never realized that this tasting might be with a dry mouth, and this seeing might be with teary eyes. And that His goodness would taste so incredibly sweet.

I have many days of delight, when the digging is not frightening, when I trust the Architect. And you know…in a way, they are not any sweeter than the days when I am utterly unmoored, but Jesus carries me. Do I wish for the hardest days? No. But when they come, they are the bitter that makes the sweet all the sweeter.

And so the digging goes on. Some days, I don’t understand. Some days, I want to hide all the shovels and run from the growth. Sometimes, I forget what He is making me into.

But today, I choose to be grateful for the dynamite, and thankful for the chipping away.

Today, I will believe the Builder. He is laying the groundwork for something amazing.

I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well-built.” 

 – Luke 6:47-48, HCSB –

I step back to consider the wall that I have built,
A section of my castle where I laid my dreams in stone
Though the wall is new and short, the cracks already show,
And when the storm begins to wash it away, I fall on my knees and say

Lord, my Architect, come build me.
Lay my dreams’ foundation on the Rock of Christ.
Those words that broke off the stones around me
Can’t shake the castle You will build for me.
And one day I’ll wake up and see
The plan You’ve laid for me is the castle of my dreams.

I bring you dream stones glimmering with starlight from my eyes,
But stone by stone You clear away the best of the plans I have.
In Your strength I sweep the ashes, in the wind they fly away.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” You say.
I stretch out my empty hands.

The first floor is finished, the Builder’s strength undiminished
As the first golden plans begin to take place
New walls rise above me, my eyes shine with trust,
And my Architect keeps pressing on to build the life He has for me.


Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones (foreword by Timothy Keller), is an amazingly-profound book with gorgeous illustrations. Today’s blog concept of skyscrapers came from this collection of one-paged lessons on Scriptural themes, teaching poignant truths of the beauty of our God. Written especially for children, this book has encouraged me again and again. The wonders of God are for all ages! I highly recommend this breathtaking book–and the only reward I get for recommending it is the pleasure of seeing my friends love something I love. 

Welcoming the Old with the New

 

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“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.”

 – Deb Caletti –

Bare branches in the trees are diamond crusted this morning. Hanging low and happily yellow, the sun smiles at its reflection in the powdered sugar snow.

As my favorite fictional redhead says, it is “a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

That’s what I need, for sure.

Welcome is my word of the year, as I explained in my last post.

But I didn’t anticipate how far into me it would reverberate. I especially didn’t anticipate how much I would need to change.

But, now I see…Welcome can’t come into my life if I stay the same.

To grow a heart of welcome in me, God has to do some furniture rearranging. A dear friend of mine is currently living with my family. Today, she reminded me that welcoming in means we have to move some things out of the house. It means a bit of winter cleaning. It means we might bump into the furniture a little, because it’s in a place it has never been before.

But I learned something today about welcome—it is not just for the new people.

Sometimes, doors in your heart get partly shut. Sometimes, the hinges get a little rusty. And sometimes we avoid some halls in our hearts. They’re a part of us…but we cease to welcome them.

Maybe it is more tragic to be an insider who is not welcomed than it is to be an unwelcome newcomer.

I realized that, in my pursuit of welcome, my family was losing me. Somehow, my most favorite people were getting shut out.

It began when I decided not to tell a family member about certain thoughts or feelings, because I didn’t think they would understand. So gradually, I bumped that door, closing it more and more…

Until this morning, they came face-to-face with me, and I confessed that I feared telling them my true thoughts, because I didn’t want my feelings to be dismissed. They were shocked and saddened that I had not opened my heart-door and told them before.

I had been wrapping myself in silence–in a lack of welcome–in this relationship. And it took a toll. In my reluctance to bring them into my inner self, I pushed them away. I shut my door. I was slowly eroding a priceless relationship, by my own self-focus.

So I took a risk, when I confessed my hiding today.

And the sun came out, glistening on the snow.

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Are relationships hard? Absolutely. Are they messy? Sure. Sometimes it seems better to hold certain thoughts inside…it seems safer. Definitely less complicated.

But love often means sharing anyway, making your feelings vulnerable to criticism…and also open to understanding. Love means you welcome the other person into your heart anyway. It means you risk getting hurt..but it also means you open yourself up to grace.

Don’t stuff it all in and walk away from conversations frustrated that, once again, they do not understand you. How could they? You never told them. 

I think we can hide from our families, even while rubbing shoulders with them every day. We can put walls up to keep ourselves safe, exhausting ourselves with needless protectiveness.

So I am posting a new welcome sign on my heart:

Welcome, family. You, too, are welcome in my heart. In fact, I’ll make you duplicates of my key, okay? Then you can come in whenever you like.

In fact, could you come right away? I’ve been missing you.


If you are joining me on the journey to Welcome this year, how are you doing in your family? Have you shut a door in your heart? Is there a hallway barricaded? What old relationship needs a little oil and polish?

Don’t shut out your biggest fans. God gave you to them for a reason. He can give you the grace to open the door again. 

Why don’t you ask Him right now?

“He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy!”

 – Psalm 68:6, TLB –

 

 

 

Grace upon Grace

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 “The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace.”

– John Owen, from The Holy Spirit, p. 108-109 –


My mom and I drove by a ramshackle house a few days ago, with littered yards and patched-together exteriors. Scrap metal of all kinds dotted the yard. Faded flags and neon orange plastic netting decorated clotheslines and posts.

“Do they think that’s attractive?” I wondered. Honestly, it looked like a dump.

On the bedraggled porch sat a little terra cotta pot. This pot held tiny, pitiful green things, supposed to be a flourishing miniature garden…but, like the rest of the place, had never gotten past an attempt at beauty.

And then I caught my breath, realizing that I decorate the same way.

This must be how my efforts at cleaning up my own mess look from the outside. Just like that homeowner trying to make a cultivated, beautiful spot with her sad little plant, I tidy up a little corner inside of me and say, “There! Now I’m all fixed!” Meanwhile, the rest of me may be in shambles–ripped mattress in the front yard, bare engine sitting in the driveway, rusting-away lawnmower gathering weeds around it in the middle of the grass.

Seeing that poor little dwelling reminded me of just how useless it is to try to make myself beautiful or acceptable before God. Our most diligent efforts are like that dried-up little terra cotta planting: dead, lifeless, useless.

 I will never outgrow my need for grace.

This past weekend, I stood singing these words: “And needing more each day Thy grace to know…” (from “We Rest on Thee,” by Edith Cherry)

I realized that, however subtle, the idea had crept inside me that, as I grew in the faith, I would get stronger and need less grace. Somehow, I thought that I’d outgrow it.

“But you, my friends whom I love, are forewarned, and should therefore be very careful not to be carried away by the errors of wicked men and so lose your proper foothold. On the contrary, you should grow in grace and in your knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—to him be glory now and until the dawning of the day of eternity!”

 – 2 Peter 3:17-18, Phillips Version –

I don’t know where I got the notion that grace was merely a good starting place. I guess that is why we are warned to beware the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

In reality, grace is the air we breathe as Christians. I can outgrow grace about as easily as I can outgrow my need for air by running faster. Actually, the opposite is true, isn’t it? The faster I run, the more air my body needs. The more mature my faith is, the more grace I need to live it out.

Spiritual growth doesn’t plateau into an easy ride to the finish line. As long as we live, it is an uphill climb, plunging us stronger and deeper into Christ with each step.

It is far too easy to coast as a Christian. Those few words of that song reminded me of my built-in need for God. He is not trying to grow me into an isolated, self-sustaining being. He knows that my best future lies in Him, seeking His glory. As John Piper puts it, “…God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”

So I can be like that little gardener, trying to coax life into my one attempt at beautifying myself, or I can see the futility of cleaning up my own mess and turn to the One who can actually make ashes into beauty, my only True Satisfaction.

Happily, grace doesn’t get old. Like God’s mercy, grace doesn’t run out, grow stale, or fall short.

Toss out the terra cotta plantings in your life and cling to the grace of the Master Gardener. He alone can breathe life into our dried-out souls and make us grow, grace upon grace, into a well-watered garden that He alone has planted.


“How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!”

– Psalm 92:10b-15 (TLB paraphrase) –

Acorns, Caverns, and Me

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A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.


“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –