Yesterday, I found myself thinking about what we base our lives on. I am writing this in the week between Christmas and New Year and, with the Christmas festivities now over and having had a wonderful time with family and friends, opening our lovely presents on Christmas Day with our children (two of whom are now grown up but always come to our house early on Christmas morning to open their stockings and presents!), and eating too much chocolate, my thoughts yesterday turned to where our hopes lie and what we make the focus of our lives. This morning, as usual on a Sunday, I attended our church and two ladies shared in turn their experiences of working with different charities our church supports, one in a deprived area of Tanzania and the other in an orphanage in India. As I listened to both stories, both ladies sharing how amazed they were at the poverty in the communities they visited, but also the smiles on the faces of the people they met, smiles of genuine happiness and joy, and the incredible generosity of those people in such poor communities who had next to nothing, I found myself feeling sad at the materialism in our country, so many people building their lives on things that are not going to last.
After our friends had shared their memorable stories, our Pastor got up to speak. His sermon was on the subject of hope. Where does our hope lie? Are we hoping that, because we haven’t done anything particularly bad, that we will somehow get to heaven on our own merit? Or are we just not thinking that far ahead and enjoying the trappings this world has to offer? Both are foolish. Like the man who built his house on the sand, relying on our own ‘goodness’ or focusing on material things, are very precarious foundations for our lives. When storms come, or tragedy, or illness, we realize how shallow and unstable they are. We can never be good enough for heaven. God demands perfection, and none of us are perfect. Material things will rot away, they can not last for ever and we can’t take them with us when we die.
That is the bad news. As Romans Chapter 3 says, ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one, there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away….’ On our own we would never turn to God. The world, combined with our natural self-centeredness, blind us to the truth. Later in that chapter we read, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….’ but these words are followed by amazing good news! ‘…and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood……He did this to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.’
Jesus is the Rock on who we must build our lives. One day we will all die, and all the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated in our lives will be worth nothing. We must focus now on what will last forever. The Bible says, ‘These three remain…faith, hope and love…but the greatest of these is love.’ Jesus, God’s son, came down from heaven as a baby, which we have just celebrated at Christmas, and demonstrated His love for us by living a perfect life because He knew we couldn’t, then died on the cross to take the punishment we deserve, then rising from the dead, so we can have eternal life. If we trust Jesus as our Saviour, and if He is the foundation of our lives, then, as Romans 5 says, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’ Grace is undeserved merit and is absolutely amazing. It is God’s free gift to us through His son Jesus.
So, are we going to build our lives on sand? Or on rock? Jesus Himself said, in Luke Chapter 12, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He went on to tell the parable of a rich man whose land produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” ‘
Harsh words? But Jesus said those words because He loves us, not to condemn us! I have noticed when I read about the rich and famous, how dysfunctional their lives often are and how having a lot of money, big houses, fleets of cars, expensive holidays, and everything else this world has to offer doesn’t seem to make them happy! Doesn’t it seem sensible to build our hope on things that will last forever? Faith, hope and love….the greatest commandment, and the one thing that will satisfy and fulfill us is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ This can be found in Matthew chapter 22 verses 38 and 39. And we cannot outgive God…the more we give out, the more we receive from Him!
So….where does our hope lie?