Some years ago, a ministry colleague of mine told me a story about a builder he knew when he lived in Canada and this story serves as a brilliant illustration of our lives. This builder was constructing a large, luxurious two-storey house overlooking a golf course. It was towards the end of winter and the temperature had been well below freezing for many weeks. The builders over there are accustomed to the cold weather and this builder couldn’t afford any down-time so his team put on their woollen beanies and their working gloves and pushed on through the freezing temperatures. Now in that part of the world, to build such a house they usually dig this massive hole which they can finish into a liveable basement if they like or just keep as a storage area. But beneath that hole they drill down and construct some reinforced concrete piers deep enough below the ground to find some bedrock. Then they pour the reinforced concrete floor and walls to form the basement and the foundation for the two levels of house above. They put centre pier supports on top of the basement floor and then pour a reinforced suspended concrete sub-floor on top. Only then, when that strong foundation is complete, can they commence building the main house which everyone will see.
So this builder and his team laid the foundations as they had done so many times before with projects like this one. Then they began building this very impressive house. After a couple of months of hard work, they were actually running a little ahead of schedule and were now constructing the roof. The weather was warmer too. The gloves and beanies were off and the whole team were up on the roof in the glorious spring sunshine nailing down the last sheets of plywood, upon which the shingles would be laid. Then it happened … everything changed in the blink of an eye.
As they had all climbed to the top of the house and began to work that morning, something happened which had never happened before to this builder or his team in their whole careers and it was frightening, to say the least. As the combined weight of these four tradesmen shifted to one side of the roof, the entire house lurched forward and off to one side. Just imagine it. You’re on top of this huge two storey house, working away, when in a matter of seconds, the whole structure decides to become the next Leaning Tower of Pisa! The crew went flying, ladders toppled over, tools fell to the floor below or the ground and the builder himself just hung on and laid there on the piece of plywood he had been nailing. As he looked around at his now broken masterpiece, this incredibly astute builder said, “Something is wrong here.” As he clung to the only rafter left exposed, this discerning tradesman thought: “I doubt this is what the owners had in mind when they contracted me to build their dream home. This house has got to be fixed. But first of all, I need to find out what the real problem is here.”
So he pulled up one of the pieces of plywood and carefully dropped down to the top floor bedroom. He looked up and saw that every rafter was now twisted – some of them were actually splintered and broken. He said, “Well, that’s got to be fixed – but that’s not the problem.” So he went to his wonderful spiral staircase connecting the two floors and noticed it had totally torn away from the top floor. He said, ”Well that’s obviously got to be fixed – but that’s not the problem.” Then he shimmied over and hung and let himself down onto the ground floor and he looked at the windows on the east side and they had all popped out of their frames and one of them had shattered in the process and the door jamb was now a parallelogram instead of a rectangle. Once again he said, “That’s got to be fixed – but that’s not the problem.”
So he went into the kitchen and opened the now twisted door that led down into the basement. He grabbed his torch and sat down on the stairs and looked into the basement and shone his torch on the far eastern corner of the house, which was now the lowest point of this tilted, twisted mess. There he saw this massive crack in the concrete slab at the very base of the whole structure. That’s when he finally said, “Now that’s the problem and that is where we have to start.” They had laid the concrete foundation in sub-zero temperatures which is not a problem – as long as you leave considerably more time than normal for the concrete to cure. Even though concrete generates its own heat – it needs a lot more time in cold temperatures to cure properly. So the builder concluded that he must have started building too soon and the concrete eventually cracked and gave way under the weight of the building. But it still didn’t make sense to him. Such an extreme amount of movement and damage should not have occurred from a cracked slab. So he would need to go even deeper.
His suspicions were confirmed a week later after they had demolished the whole house and excavated below the basement. The concrete slab was not even the real problem. The underlying cause of this disaster was much deeper and completely invisible. It was actually the piers beneath the foundation which were the problem. One of the piers below the bottom slab was not resting on bedrock, but clay. They had not drilled down far enough on the east side. The bedrock was another three feet below and some lazy tradesman had stopped short when he thought he had hit rock. Perhaps he believed the design of the house with its massive all concrete basement was more than enough support. So when he hit some pretty hard clay, he decided to pour the concrete pier on that side and the clay turned out to be pretty soft after a bit of rain, combined with the weight of a concrete basement and a two storey house.
It doesn’t matter how great the building is – a weak foundation will eventually bring it down. They had to demolish absolutely everything and start with a rock-solid foundation. The second house they built looked exactly like the first one, but the difference was massive, you just couldn’t see it. The strength, stability and long-term viability of that home was now very high, thanks to its really strong, appropriately supported foundation – a foundation which would now last a lifetime.
Many people inside and outside the Church experience what that house did at some point in their life. Just as it took months of building before the weight of the house was sufficient to challenge the weakness in the foundation, so too it can take years of living before our foundations are challenged and found wanting. When that happens – the result can be just as devastating, as our outwardly-strong house; our carefully constructed life, starts to tumble. At such a time, we need our qualified Master Builder, Jesus, to take us on a tour down through the various levels of our life until we find our foundational problem.
Now from my experience over many years, having been called in as a ‘building consultant’ as people’s lives lurch to one side and threaten to collapse entirely, I have found that in the vast majority of cases the foundational flaw in all those people’s lives is exactly the same. The bedrock beneath every secure, stable, strong, enduring Christian life, must be God’s love. The starting point, the foundation beneath this complex and magnificent life we have spent years constructing, must be God and God is love. The unconditional, never-ending love of God has to be our point of reference; the cornerstone; the bedrock we drill down to and upon which we build the piers, the basement, the floor, the walls and the entire ‘dwelling’ of our life.