(click the link to hear my song for the year)
Jesus told a story – Christians call Jesus’ stories parables – about two home builders. One built his house on a rock, the other on sand. Certainly the men represent each one of us, the houses are our lives, and the foundations are our reasons for the things we do. Most Christians today interpret that story only in terms of salvation. But what if the application goes way beyond that? What if even a Christian can build on sandy soil and one day find they were doing good works (decent-looking house) for all the wrong reasons (crummy foundation)?
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
I spent a lot of years doing what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I rarely missed a church service, had a quiet time everyday, and made sure I was raising my children ‘in the fear of the Lord.’ From the looks of it you would think that I was building on a solid foundation. It wasn’t until my life blew up that the foundation was tested. Although I still believe we reap what we sow, I have discovered that we should not sow in order to reap. That is a weak foundation.
Without the onset of dementia, I’m not likely to forget the day I learned that my daughter was walking away from everything I ever taught her. By far, the most agonizing question I had for God was what all those years of home school, Sunday school and Bible study had been for. The question He asked me I’m not likely to forget either: ‘Is that why you did it, to get a result?’ Funny how the storm reveals the foundation. In that moment I realized I was no different than Simon the magician. Maybe you remember him? He was a character in the book of Acts who became a follower of Christ and sought to possess the miraculous powers the disciples had.
9Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.
12But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
14Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.
18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21“You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22“Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.”
Peter rebuked Simon for trying to use money to buy spiritual power. But are we that much different?
How many of us ‘do the right thing’ in order to receive a blessing from God (even putting money in the plate in order to be financially blessed)? Do we use our spiritual currency (good works) to buy a particular destiny for ourselves? I found that horrible day that I had spent many years doing just that. In fact, in the 2 1/2 years that have transpired since that day, I have begun to see that the problem goes much deeper than I ever imagined. Not only was I using God – performing good works in order to be blessed – but I had been using my kids – seeking to make them into spiritual giants that would impress both God and the people who knew them. More and more I begin to see the insidiousness of sin … more and more I long to escape it. Unfortunately, wherever you go, there you are.
Judging Right from Wrong
Many of us find it so easy to condemn others. We look around at the decisions and lifestyles of our family members, neighbors, and political leaders and then use our energy to attack and judge them for their ‘bad’ works. But all the while we are doing our ‘good’ works to control and manipulate God – to get Him to bless us. God is calling us to a higher task: love. Love requires something infinitely more difficult than getting your 5 kids ready for church on a Sunday morning 10 months after your husband was deployed … more challenging than singing a worship song when you have just been diagnosed with terminal cancer … harder even than putting your 10% in the plate the day after you got fired. Love – the kind of love Jesus displayed and taught – requires an act of self-sacrifice. By that I mean a stepping outside of yourself – forgetting yourself – refusing to do what’s right in order to benefit your self. Love means doing what’s right to your own hurt. For the disciples (almost to a man) real love literally meant death.
As I mentioned in my last blog, my son and I have been studying the Proverbs this year. I’ll be honest, I’m finding it a difficult book at this juncture in my life. There are a whole bunch of ‘if you do this, thus-and-so will happen’ verses. And yet, in my experience, things rarely work out the way they ‘should.’ Many times I find myself feeling the need to ‘explain’ to my son that life doesn’t work that way. After all, bad people win – often; evil can triumph for decades; and living right doesn’t always (ever?) make life easier.
So maybe Jesus wasn’t saying that putting His words into practice would make life work out for you – after all, the storm came and beat on both of the houses. For a long time I mistakenly thought that building on the right foundation would mean avoiding the storm altogether, or maybe that even though storms would come, I wouldn’t necessarily feel the effects of them. What I was certain of was that if I did enough of the ‘right’ things I wouldn’t have to worry about storms at all. What I have learned is the real meaning behind the story – solidity. The storm comes, it beats hard, things may even blow up around you, the weaker parts of the foundation will be exposed and, thankfully, washed away, but the house built on Christ remains. And so my house remains. Battered, bruised, and shaken, even missing some pieces, but still standing. Certainly not because I ever did anything right or good – after all, I didn’t lay that foundation. Jesus said to build on His words – He is the very Word of God, so ultimately faith in Him is the answer, not our works. In the end, it will only be grace that signifies.
Laying A New Foundation
In the meantime my foundations have shifted a bit. When I find myself seeking to ‘do the right thing’ I ask myself a question: ‘Why am I doing this?’ I have learned that the right thing for the wrong reasons is the wrong thing. And sometimes what other people think is the right thing for me to do is absolutely wrong. As a result I no longer feel guilty when I fail to meet the expectations of what other Christians think is right. I’ve also come to see the reality of the mixture of my flesh on a new level. Everything I do is a mixture because ultimately no act of mine can be separated from me. Because His Spirit lives in me, every act – good or bad – is a mixture of my flesh and the Spirit of God. Because every act of mine is tainted with the sinful nature of my flesh, I no longer have a sense that I am ever doing what is ‘right’, only that I’m doing all that I can do, and I depend on grace for what’s missing in me. As a result, the words failure and success hold little meaning to me anymore.
Rather than right and wrong or certain circumstances and outcomes being my focus, His presence has become all my hope and expectation … instead of seeking God’s approval or blessings for the things I do, I would just like to hear His quiet voice every once-in-awhile. I have come to realize there is nothing I can do to deserve God’s love (why seek to earn what you already have by grace?); and there is nothing God particularly wants from me, except me.
What will you do the day it all blows up? Trust me, a storm’s coming. My prayer for you is that on that day you will mourn and rail, ask Him all of your gut-wrenching questions and listen to His gut-wrenching answers, take a good look at your foundations, repent of your self-centered-ness, and stand on hope.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:2-3