Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Finding Stability: What Are You Building Your Life On?

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a recurring theme in the worship songs I’ve listened to, the Bible verses I’ve read, and the sermons I’ve listened to: what is the foundation you are building your life on? 

Recently, I’ve been pondering the section from Luke 6:46-49, when Jesus is preaching to the crowds, sharing the beatitudes and guidance for our lives. At the end of Luke 6, Jesus shares about the man who built his house upon the rock:

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49 ESV)
If you grew up in the church like I did, you have heard this set of verses numerous times. You’ve probably sang the song, “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the house upon the rock, and the rains came tumbling down.” But over the last few months, as I’ve begun to evaluate how I spend my time and energy, these verses have taken on more depth for me.

At any given point in my day, if you ask me what foundation I have built my life on, I would easily say, “Jesus.” In my heart, I believe that everything – my ministry, blessings, gifts, and faith – are all from God.

However, when I am really honest with myself, I realize that I'm so quick to forget this in the face of adversity. Yes, my faith and belief in Jesus are an ongoing part of my life, but what is the foundation I am building my sense of security and hope on? Is it in Jesus’ promises? The hope of eternal life with Him? Am I half-heartedly building a foundation on the identity of being a Christian, but not actually doing what He calls me to do?  

When I have (yet another) unexpected car repair, is my foundation rooted in a strong sense that God will provide for my family?

When I am passed over for some opportunity through the church, is my foundation built on the knowledge that my identity is in God, not the success of my ministry?

I do often find a sense of peace in God's provision and sovereignty eventually, but it takes a while. My initial reaction is often one of panic. Of stress. Of worrying about our finances and the future. Of hurt or frustration. Of feeling like I’m not good enough. Of feeling that God is absent or uninvolved.

When Jesus was sharing the parable of the men who built their houses on the rock and sand, he shared that both houses were covered with flood waters.  It wasn't that one man's life was easier than the other man's life. Both men knew that the floods would come and they had to make a choice about where they would build their homes. The man on the rock had to “dig deep," but it was worth it. When the flood waters came, they “could not shake [his house], because it had been well built.”

There will be flood waters in this life. Jesus said that, “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45 ESV).  The question can’t be “what if something bad happens?” It has to be, “when adversity comes and I'm rocked to the core by life, what is my foundation built on?”

Do you find that when the flood waters come, is your foundation built on prayer? A deep sense of peace in God's plan?

Or is your foundation built on your own success, your own financial security? Is it built on what others can do for you or what they think of you? Is it built on fear? Worry?

Are you living a life built on the all-encompassing, gracious love that Jesus calls us to? Or is it built on bitterness? A sense of injustice or resentment?

Intellectually, I can tell you that I want my life to be built on Jesus, but when I'm too distracted or lazy, and digging deep into the Word and prayer seems like too much work, it is easy to shift to more "worldly" foundations. And as I am getting older, I realize how dangerous and unstable those foundations are.  I’ve seen too many people around me build their lives on weak and shaky foundations, and ultimately fall “to ruin” as Jesus warns us will happen.

Over the past few months, I’ve become more aware that I want to have a secure foundation in Him. Not in myself, not in my successes, not in how good my marriage/children/house looks. Those are the things that the world tells us will make us happy and secure, but they aren’t long-lasting. They are unstable and weak. You will be secure until you lose your job or your marriage, or you gain fifty pounds, or your church falls apart.

Life is too unpredictable and difficult to have a weak foundation.

Instead, I want a foundation where I am unshakable in the face of persecution, instability and fear.

One of my favorite worship songs (“Build My Life”) has a bridge that says, “I will build my life upon your love, it is a firm foundation. And I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.”

Do you feel that way? Or does your life feel wobbly these days? Do you find yourself defining yourself by the size of your savings account or the number of social media followers you have?  Do you find your emotions constantly shifting when the foundations you’ve built your house on start to shift and shake?

I hope that you find comfort and direction in Galatians 2:19-21 (ESV):

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
I want that - to have my life be built on the firm foundation of Jesus, where I am joined together with the body of Christ.

So let’s dig deep, my friends, and build our lives on the only foundation that can withstand the crazy, torrential rains of this life - Jesus Christ. 

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Living a Life of Graciousness

This morning, as I was driving my daughter to school, I was reflecting on the idea of grace. I've recently started a Bible Study by Beth Moore called, Entrusted - Bible Study Book: A Study of 2 Timothy It is a powerful look at ministry and discipleship, and she is focusing on Paul and Timothy.

Last night, as I was going through 1 Timothy 1 as part of the homework, I was moved by verses 12-14:

"I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (~1 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV)

I think many of us have people in the Bible that we can relate to, and I've always related to Paul. Not because I am some great orator, but because he had a shady past, just like I do. Before his conversion, Paul was not a good dude. In Acts 9, right before the Bible talks about Paul's conversion, it says that,

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2). 

God didn't forgive Paul over say a few nasty things Paul had said here and there. He literally persecuted Christian, threw them in jail, all while breathing "murderous threats."

Paul knew about God's incredible grace. He had devoted his life to persecuting and imprisoning Christians, and yet, once he had an encounter with God, his life was transformed. It wasn't an easy life (he ended up imprisoned numerous times), but Paul knew that God's grace had transformed him and he devoted the rest of his life to witnessing and sharing the gospel.

Paul knew how powerful God's grace was. He watched it in his own life, and made sure that he continually praised God for it. In Ephesians 2, he reminds us that: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

It is so funny how God's grace and love means we are saved and forgiven of all of our nastiness - our less-than-pretty pasts, our unkind words, our road rage - and yet, in the day-to-day, we are often so ungracious to others.

Sure, we might feel loving and kind at church on Sunday, and prayerfully tell God we want to be kind and loving this week. But by Thursday, we are short-tempered, burned out, or ungrateful. We are critical to our spouses, frustrated with our children, resentful of our job or finances.

How easy it is to take God's gracious forgiveness of our sins (and I have many) for granted. To praise him for forgiving us, yet do the exact opposite to others during the rest of the week.

When I teach my marriage class through my church, I often share that if God can forgive our sins (addiction, anger, jealousy, gossip), the least we can do is be gracious to our spouses. If God can forgive all of our sins, we can forgive our spouses when they are occasionally short-tempered or snippy after a long day. We can forgive them after a tense "discussion" about money or parenting or finances or any of the things that we bicker about in marriage.

As I was reflecting on grace, something awful happened. I dropped off my daughter at school, with the words "grace wins every time" (I love that song by Matthew West) going through my head, and I witnessed a car accident.

Not a little one either. One where the bumper was ripped off, the woman wasn't moving, and police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance all showed up.

It was literally breathtaking.

Life is incredibly short, y'all.

One moment, you are driving your child to school, the next, you are in a potentially life-changing (or ending) accident.

A routine mammogram shows breast cancer.

A spouse decides to take their life.

As a therapist, my office is full of people whose lives were changed in an instant.

And it got me thinking, if I died tomorrow, would people at my funeral say, "Hilary was such a gracious person. She knew how to let things go, she was giving and kind"?

Or would they say, "Well, Hilary was pretty intense, she was definitely not a kind mom to her kids, and we had some intense run-ins over the years."

Whew. It literally made me teary.

This year, my husband and I have chosen words to represent our goals. I've waffled from "prioritize" to "focus," but after seeing that car accident, I think it needs to be "gracious."

After all of the sins I've done over the years, the people I've hurt, the ungracious, unkind, unholy things I've said, I am forgiven because of grace.

So I need to forgive others and be gracious to those who bug me, anger me or cut me off in traffic. It is literally the least I can do.

2 Peter 1 describes several powerful qualities we need to have as Christians, "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love" (2 Peter 1:5-7, ESV)

Ouch. I struggle with all of these sometimes. My words and actions are not always virtuous, full of self-control, steadfast, or loving.

It goes on to warn us, "For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." (1 Peter 1:9, ESV)

I don't want to ever forget that I am cleansed from my former sins.

I don't want to forget that God's grace has covered all of me.

I don't want people to one day remember me as awesome and successful in public, but testy and ungracious behind closed doors.

I want my year to reflect a constant striving towards graciousness.

With God's help and unending mercy, and the loving accountability of those around me, I know that I can.

In His name,
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