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God is our Rock and Foundation!

The Believer’s Foundation & Fortress 
Originally Presented Nov 29. 2020

The enduring legacy of lighthouses

This week’s message was filmed at the picturesque Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine—one of the most frequently visited attractions along the Maine coast, with about 100,000 visitors each year. The name “Pemaquid” is said to have had its origins in an Abenaki Indian word for “situated far out.” And that it is, situated on a dramatic rock outcropping that rises from the cold Atlantic on a spit of land that juts out between Muscongus Bay to the East and Johns Bay to the West.

It was 1827 when President John Quincy Adams approved the construction of a lighthouse on the rock head here at Pemaquid Point in Maine. This is the lighthouse you find featured on Maine’s U.S. quarter.

We love lighthouses for their beauty and timelessness. But in the romance of it all, we lose sight of why they are necessary. This spot has been the scene of many shipwrecks through the centuries. In September of 1903, for example, the captain of the fishing schooner George F. Edmunds tried to reach the harbor in a gale, meaning in winds gusting from 32 to more than 60 miles per hour. His ship was driven onto the rocks and dashed to pieces. The captain and 13 crew members died in the ocean; only two were saved. The captain of another schooner, the Sadie and Lillie, also died near this spot in the same storm.

For almost 200 years now, this lighthouse has stood and shone immovable in the face of fierce North Atlantic storms. It has saved innumerable lives, and it has been a refuge to its families. And what lighthouses are to those at sea, the LORD is to those who trust him today.

How God describes himself

When you survey the Scriptures for how God describes himself, what you find more than anything else are images: God is the believer’s Shield. He invites us to experience him as our Shepherd. He has the authority and ability to lead us as King. And there’s another image found again and again: the LORD is, to believers, a Rock. More than 40 times from Genesis to 1 Corinthians, God reveals himself as a Rock to those who trust him.

That’s what I want to speak with you about today. Before we lean into what God’s Word says about God being our Rock, let’s call on him in prayer. Lord God, we thank you for another day of life. This is the day that you have made; we rejoice and are glad in it! We set aside this time now and ask you to us to fill us with your Holy Spirit. Enable us to draw near to you, to find refuge in you, and to build from here on you. Teach us the wealth of what it means that you are our Rock. Amen!

Alright, are you ready for some holy geology? God as our Rock conveys two powerful truths to take to heart and put into practice. I encourage you to jot them down. Here’s the first:

God our Rock is a sure foundation to anchor to.

There are a lot of things people try to build their lives on: only one will never fail you. The LORD is the Rock you want to anchor yourself to.

That is the message old man Moses wanted to impart to God’s people in his day. As the time for his departure drew near, Moses recounted all that the LORD had done for his people, and he repeated the laws and commandments which the LORD had uniquely given the people of Israel, a way of life that would cause them to shine, revealing the LORD’s holiness and mercy to surrounding nations who watched Israel. That final recitation and repetition of God’s ways is the book of Deuteronomy.

A new generation stands ready to cross the Jordan and begin taking the Promised Land. Joshua, not Moses, will be the one to lead them in. But before they take a step forward, Moses calls them to look back at how the LORD has demonstrated that to those who trust and obey him, he is a Rock. He is the sure foundation to anchor yourself to.

Open your Bible or Bible app to Deuteronomy chapter 32. Moses reviews the Ten Commandments. He reviews God’s laws by which they must live in order to prosper. Then Moses has this book of the Law ceremoniously placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, that gold-covered box which represented God’s holy and merciful presence with his people. Moses’ final act as their leader is to recite a song. Deuteronomy chapter 32 is that song. Look with me at what, in this song, Moses emphasizes about who God is and what that has to do with us. Verses 3-4 sing…

“I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.”

Deuteronomy 32:3-4

This song celebrates that the LORD—Yahweh, the Great I Am, is great, He is just, He does only what is right, and He is faithful. The LORD our God is powerful, equitable, good, and keeps his promises. Wow!

You know the power of music! On one of our recent after-worship fellowship calls which we offer at 11 a.m. each Sunday, we talked about favorite songs from when you were in high school or college. And everyone could readily name the tunes, the band or artists, and the memories they have associated with hearing that song.

So it was here. For the rest of their lives, everyone who gathered to hear their great leader Moses passing the torch of leadership to Joshua by way of a song—for the rest of their lives, they would remember this! Music takes lyrics and reinforces them, drives them deep into our minds and emotions. And what Moses wanted to impart as he prepared to pass from the scene, is that the most important thing in life is who you anchor yourself to.

Now how would the original listeners have understood that the LORD is the Rock? That’s always the first goal in interpreting the Bible and really anything you read: figure out the original intent, how the first audience would have understood it. What did it mean to them to hear that the LORD our God is the Rock?

This is actually easy and wonderful to unpack. Picture yourself in the scene, around 1,400 B.C. You’re not on the Maine coast. You’re in the Middle Eastern desert. You’ve spent the past 40 years wandering the wilderness between Egypt and Israel. Every day, the LORD has miraculously provided food and drink for you and your fellow journeyers.

And for as long as you can remember, you can picture the rock shelves and hills that rise out of the Middle Eastern sands, huge and immovable.

When you and the people with you came to rock formations, you had to go around: there were no blasting materials like we use to lay interstate highways through rocky hills and mountains. The rocks stay, we move. That’s what they knew.

They would have come across villages and cities that were built on rock, never to be dislodged or swept away in storms, or covered up in sandstorms. The sands constantly shifted. But the rocks didn’t budge.

It’s the same reason the 80 lighthouses of Maine are all built on rock. However long ago they were constructed, they still stand firm, constant, immovable, dependable. Such is the LORD to those who anchor themselves to him. Perhaps Jesus had this description of God as the Rock in mind when he taught…

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27

No one would ever build a lighthouse on the beach near here. They knew to anchor this lighthouse on solid rock. So are the wise, Jesus says, who build our lives on hearing and doing what Jesus says. It’s foolish not to—because he is the LORD, the believer’s Rock.

It was rush hour in Minneapolis several years back when the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed, killing more than a dozen people and injuring almost 150 others.

The ensuing investigation exposed that the bridge wasn’t anchored strongly enough. Steel plates that connected girders together in the bridge’s truss system were too weak to support the structure. And over the 40 years that the bridge was in use, as it gradually gained weight as workers added heavy concrete structures to separate eastbound and westbound lanes. Its weakness was exposed only after it collapsed.

To explain what happened in another way, the bridge lacked integrity. A bridge or house or skyscraper has integrity when it does what it was designed to do. Cars, trains, or people can travel across a bridge that has integrity without it collapsing. Integrity is the ability to function according to the intended design.

Our intended design, Jesus says, is to anchor ourselves to his teaching. Jesus is the only foundation worth anchoring to and building upon.

Matthew L. Wald, “Faulty Design Led to Minnesota Bridge Collapse, Inquiry Finds,” The New York Times (1-15-08)

So I have to ask: in a time when everyone has strong opinions about everything, are you anchoring yourself to Jesus’ teachings? Are his teachings the ones you’re building your choices on? One of the most sobering cautions of our day is Christian leaders pointing out that often, Christians are being disciplined more by cable TV and talk radio than by the clear teachings of Jesus! To do is to build on sand.

The photo you see here is real. The only house in its vicinity to survive Hurricane Ike in Gilchrist, Texas, was built by Warren and Pat Adams. And the only reason they knew to anchor that house so well…was that in that same spot just three years before, their home was destroyed by Hurricane Rita. They rebuilt anchoring the home for the storms that would inevitably come. Their home—and theirs alone—survived the next hurricane.

It’s all about what you anchor to and build upon. In what you listen to each day and week, are you building your opinions and values and choices on the advice of those who themselves have set up on the sand, whose opinions won’t stand the test of eternity? Or are you consciously, daily taking in the teachings of Jesus as Lord, and building your life on them?

Get into the gospels. Sink your soul into spiritual bedrock. Let’s anchor ourselves to God our Rock.

There’s the first powerful truth to take to heart and put into practice. Here’s the second:

God our Rock is a secure fortress to find refuge in.

God our Rock is a sure foundation to anchor to. And he is also a secure fortress to take refuge in. This lighthouse stands firm some 200 years later because of what it is anchored to, solid rock. And it has for almost 200 years served as a secure refuge for the families who tended it.

The first keeper of Pemaquid Point lighthouse was Isaac Dunham from the famous ship-building city of Bath, Maine. Isaac and his wife Abigail raised six children in the keeper’s quarters you see attached to the light tower. They were fine whatever the weather, because the quarters, anchored to solid rock, served as a fortress for refuge when storms blew ashore.

Psalm 31 is one of several that refer to God as our Rock who is a refuge to those who run to him. Look with me at a select few verses from Psalm 31. This prayer sings…

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.”

Psalm 31:1-5

Three times it sings of God as refuge, twice of the LORD as fortress. David wrote this—David who spent many a day in Israel’s wilderness, first as a shepherd, then on the run from murderous Saul, and later leading military expeditions against Israel’s enemies. He knew the rocks in those hills. They saved him from detection and assassination at Saul’s hand. They sheltered him and his men from the brutal midday sun. They provided security to rest safely at night, secure from enemies and wild animals. Clambering up on top of rocky hills gave him better vantage point for tracking enemy forces. So it’s easy to see how naturally David would call on the LORD as ROCK, refuge, and fortress.

When Moses thought about the LORD as a Rock, he had in mind how a rock mountain is immovable and firm. When David thought of the LORD as a Rock, he thought of his experiences with rock serving as a fortress, impregnable and invincible. For those who trust the LORD—Yahweh, the great I Am—he is a refuge for your soul, a fortress to run to and be saved.

Bryan Wilkerson points out how many times characters in Scripture turn to this Psalm, Psalm 31, for help and protection in times of trouble.

  • When Jonah found himself in the belly of the whale, repenting of his disobedience, he clung to words from this very Psalm. “I will trust in the Lord,” Jonah said.
  • When Jeremiah the prophet was thrown into the stocks for preaching God’s truth, he took courage in words that came from this very Psalm, a Psalm of protection, with God as a rock.
  • When Jesus hung on the cross, looking death squarely in the eye, he turned to this Psalm and prayed from it, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” They could kill his body but he knew his soul was safe with God. God the Father was, to Jesus in his greatest time of need, a secure fortress to find refuge in. May we do the same, as our regular, go-to practice.

When I was picking up a rental car upon landing in Maine, I heard an accent from the employee who was helping me, so with a smile I asked where he’s from originally. Iraq. It turns out he was in Baghdad when the bombs rained down at the start of the second Gulf War. He and his family were still there when competing factions within Iraq made life violent and frightening, and all too often brief. It became no longer safe to stay where he had been all his life. So they fled.

He’s so grateful today to be in a place where he and his family are safe. They can face their days without fear. And he sees a future. What he experienced politically, the LORD holds out to you and me and all who will come spiritually. He is the Rock worth anchoring yourself to and building upon. He is the secure Rock in whom you can take refuge when fear grabs you and won’t let go.

Times of trouble come to everyone. As Wilkerson points out, you only need a fortress if you’re under attack. You only need a hiding place if someone’s chasing you. You only need a refuge when the place you’ve been is no longer safe. For all such times—whether pandemic or economic uncertainty, job loss or family stress, sickness or doubts, whatever—for all such times, God is the Rock for all who run to him.

Everyone you know is longing for stability right now. Whether they recognize it or not, the LORD who is the Rock is calling us and them to draw near to him. You and I have the unspeakable privilege of being spiritual signposts to help others see and run to God the Rock who alone is worth anchoring to, building on, and fleeing to for refuge.

You are looking at one of the most famous lighthouse photos. This isn’t altered. It’s the real deal. Here’s the story. The La Jumet lighthouse off the coast of France is located one of the most dangerous seas in Europe—one marked by frequent violent storms, huge waves and strong currents. It experiences violent weather throughout much of the year.

One of those infamous storms whipped up in December of 1989, bringing gale-force winds and huge waves of 65 to 98 feet crashing against the lighthouse. The waves smashed through the lower windows, ripped the front door, flooded the tower and washed away the furniture.

If you look closely, you see in the doorway the lighthouse’s keeper, Theodore Malgorne. He peeked outside looking to see if it was a rescue helicopter, felt the massive wave sweeping around the lighthouse, and rushed back inside just in time. The La Jumet lighthouse withstood that storm, and kept Malgorne safe inside.

My prayer—for you and for those you interact with at home, work, and neighborhood—is that as you anchor yourself to the Rock, you and I and all who know him will serve like this lighthouse in beckoning others in to find refuge for their souls, that they would say with Psalm 31…

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
You are my rock and my fortress,
    now lead and guide me.”

Would you pray with me toward that end right now? Let’s pray. Oh Lord our Rock, along with Moses we proclaim your greatness! You are the Rock. Your works are perfect. Your ways are just. You do no wrong, upright and just are you.

Help us today to anchor ourselves anew to you, and most clearly to the teachings of Jesus—to hearing them and putting them into practice. Together we praise you that you are the sure foundation to anchor to. And we praise you as well that you are a secure fortress to find refuge in. We run to you, Lord, asking and trusting you to carry us through this time of sickness and distancing.

We trust you in this storm. Be our ever-present Rock and fortress, just as secure for us as that lighthouse was for Mr. Malgorne. And we will give you praise for bringing us through. We commit ourselves and our loved ones to you now, spirit, mind, and body, in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen!