Fixing The Lean

A few years ago, I was in a strategy meeting for a project I was working on, and the question was asked - which of these two buildings are we building?  I barely remember what the project was about, but I remember the question. It stuck in my mind because it made me think about the way we put together the lives we build.  

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The other day I was reminded of this as I was thinking about how grateful I am that, despite our best efforts to mess things up, God so often holds us up even when we are ready to collapse under the weight of our own brokenness.

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The difference is pretty clear. On the left - the leaning tower of Pisa. It is a beautiful work of art, sure enough, but it's famous for one reason alone - it’s leaning. Or more precisely, it’s falling over. If it wasn't, it would just be some unknown, pretty tower. Sure, through technology, we're slowing down the inevitable, but because of it's poor foundation, it's falling over after just a few hundred years.

On the right, the Pyramid of Giza. For most of modern history, this was the tallest man-made structure on earth.  It has lasted THOUSANDS of years, and has withstood earthquakes. We don't know know exactly who built it, or how, but yet it stands firm. It's foundation is solid - even as it rests in the sand of the desert. 

The Pyramids aren't nearly as sexy as the tower. They are boring. Italian architecture is far more appealing, and "artistic" than the granite monument — which were built mostly as tombs. The tower was built as a work of art.  It is made of marble and took over 177 years to construct. Yes, the tower took 177 years. 

There were several reasons the tower took so long, including even a few wars, but one of them is because from the time they started construction, it began to sink. It was a painstaking labor, yet all that work is in jeopardy because it's foundation is too shallow, and too soft. Today, over 800 tons of lead counterweights are used to stabilize the tower, and the best estimate is that it “should” be stable for about 200 years. 

The Pyramid, in comparison, was built in 20 years. It's foundation goes deep into the desert floor.  It's base is wide, and it's purpose clear - to stand the test of time. To stand against whatever might come against it. It has stood for some 3,000 years, and will likely be there long after any of us are around.

The pyramid was build to last.  Forever.

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Sometimes I think our lives are a lot like a leaning tower. We focus on building something that looks good on the outside, yet our foundation is too shallow. I guess the question is - what are you really trying to build? 

There's a passage of scripture, where Jesus is talking to His followers about people who know what they're supposed to be doing, but don't do. He tells them, "why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?" 

He goes on to describe two different types of people. Both have heard what Jesus has said, but it's their response that matters. It's what they do with it in their life that is really the point here. In Jesus' words:

"As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”     

(Luke 6:47-49)

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So, again, what kind of foundation are you building on? Are you building something that will last?  Is my foundation deep and wide, or is it shallow and soft? As a result, will my life be a blessing to my family for generations to come? What about to those around me? To my church? To the kingdom of God?

For a long time, I had been building a life a lot like that tower. On the outside, at least, things looked good. I had a great facade, and I worked hard to keep it propped up. At the same time, my foundation was shallow, and built on too many things of this world - like pride, fear, selfishness, and shame. I spent a lot of time trying to “prop” up this life, and the results were devastating. I literally spent years of my life trying to “fix the lean,” but I never focused on the foundation.

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If the builders of the Tower of Pisa had paid a few meters attention to the foundation during construction, they could have saved 1,000 years of propping the tower up. Amazingly, the same thing is true for us. A little more attention paid to where we plant the foundation of our lives could save a lot of repair work later - a lot of fixing the lean.  

I speak from personal experience here, and if I can help anyone avoid the pain of trying to rebuild a life on the edge of falling over, then let me encourage you to think about the life you’re building. 

It's easy to deceive ourselves, because just a little lean is barely noticeable at the foundation. The tower of Pisa leans roughly 4 degrees. You wouldn't even know at ground level - but by the time it reaches the top, it's off center by 5 meters.

But let's get real for a minute. Every time we find ourselves absorbed in how many likes or retweets or social media followers we have, we're leaning just a little more. When we base our decisions on what our neighbors or co-workers or people we don't even really know, or like, might think about us, we're leaning.

Every time we trade in our values or our integrity for the thing that makes us "look good" now, we're leaning. When we shade the truth, or leave things out, we're leaning. When we fail to model the type of people we want our children to become, we're leaning. When we lash out in anger, instead of grace, we're leaning. Eventually, we end up leaning so far, we fall over.

As a general rule, when things fall over, they often break.  And when things break, someone often gets hurt. I don’t want my life to be the reason someone gets hurt. Not me, not my kids, not my wife, not anyone.

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I used to be pretty focused on constantly trying to fix the lean, to prop up the facade.  Now, I’m much more interested in building life on a deep and wide foundation.  At times, it may not look as exciting, but there are too many people counting on me to build a life that lasts. 

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re doing to build a life on a foundation that lasts.


This was first posted back in 2010, but I think it's just as relevant today.  I've updated it, and adjusted the focus, but the idea is the same.  It's also been shared in a few other places, but sometimes a reminder is just as helpful as hearing something for the first time!  

ONE STEP CLOSER TO THE CROSS

It was always about this. From the very beginning, every moment, every journey, every sermon, every miracle was about this.

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There's a verse I stumbled across the other day as I was reflecting on these squares on the calendar that we call "holy week," and what that really means. When I say stumbled, it's because I found something I wasn't looking for, and I've been sort of stuck there ever since. 

The Message version of John 12:27-28 says:

"Right now I am storm-tossed.  And what am I going to say? 'Father, get me out of this'? No this is why I came in the first place.  I'll say, 'Father put your glory on display.' "  MSG

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I'm stuck because I can't get past what it must have been like. Surely He knew. Surely He knew what was about to happen. 

Of course He knew. He knew exactly what this week would bring.  Of course He was aware that with every step He took, He was one step closer to the reason He came. 

One step closer to the cross.

It's really interesting to watch closely to see what Jesus did during that week. To watch how He spent His time. To watch each step He took. The way He spent His time, the people He was with, the places He went. 

He came to Jerusalem knowing that He was a marked man. He came to Jerusalem knowing that the religious leaders were plotting to put Him on the cross. He had dinner with His closest friends, knowing that one of them would not only abandon Him, but betray Him, and another would deny - in His darkest of moments - that he never even knew Him.

And yet He kept moving one step closer to the cross.

I honestly can't imagine how you take that step, knowing it would bring you closer to what can only be described as perhaps the most agonizing way to die.

Paul says in Philippians 2 that "he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!"(v8)  It wasn't just that He submitted himself to death, He submitted himself to the most humiliating, shameful, painful death imaginable.

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A cross wasn't the easiest way to execute someone, and it wasn't the most efficient. It wasn't meant to kill - though it almost always did - it was meant to shame. It was meant to make an example. 

That it certainly did. Though maybe not the one they thought it would.

See, Jesus knew that this was what it was all about. This was the purpose that His entire life had pointed towards. The cross was why He came, and now - only days away - He was intimately aware of what was about to happen. He knew because it was always about this. 

I can't think of a greater example of the glory of God on display than when, "for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning it's shame." (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).  You are that joy.  You are the reason He endured. 

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And as I wrestled with it this week, something occurred to be.  I used to think that He kept moving, taking step after step, despite the cross. As if, He knew what was coming, and kept moving forward even though it would lead to His death. But I don't think that's right. I think He took those steps BECAUSE of the cross. I think He moved closer to the cross BECAUSE of what it meant, not despite it.

You see, the cross wasn't a consequence of His mission.  The cross WAS His mission.

Nothing about the cross caught Jesus off guard. Nothing about it was a surprise. Nothing about it was beyond His control. He knew. 

And yet He kept moving one step closer to the cross. Who does that? Who but Jesus?

I think He moved closer to the cross because of you. And I think He moved closer to the cross because of the glory of God.  By the way, it wasn't the cross that declared the glory of God. Don't get me wrong, the cross is important. In fact, our theology tells us it's probably the most important moment in the history of the world, but I don't think that the glory of God is fully realized in the cross.

It's in the empty tomb. 

If it weren't for the empty tomb, the cross would simply be a tragedy. But because of that empty tomb, the cross is everything. He bore our shame on the cross, and defeated it with the empty tomb.

So, I think Jesus invites each of us to take one step closer to the cross - one step closer to Him. Because it's through the cross that we come to the empty tomb. It's through death on the cross that we experience the life that results from coming out of the tomb.

In every area of our lives, He invites us to take one more step closer to Himself, and one step further out of the tomb we've been trapped in by our shame and our sin and our brokenness.

It's starting to make more sense, how He could take each step closer to the cross. I still don't fully understand the magnitude of His willingness to endure, but I am beginning to understand His invitation this week.  To take one step closer to the cross, with Jesus.

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