Building for eternity

Antonio Stradivari who died in December 1737 is widely regarded as the greatest ever builder of string instruments such as violins. During his life he built around 1,100 instruments of which 650 are believed to survive to this day, including an estimated 500 or so violins. In December 2013 a Stradivarius violin, which was made in 1696, was sold at auction for £1.38 million. It seems incredible; firstly that this instrument should have survived for over 325 years; and secondly that someone was prepared to pay such a vast sum for it. Of course, Stradivarius violins are renowned for their musical qualities making them highly prized possessions; the record amount paid for one is a staggering £10 million.

I wonder what legacy your life will leave. How much of what you have invested your time and energy in will survive and be remembered in 10 or 50 years time, let alone 300 years like Stradivari? Paul saw his life’s work as being like constructing a building, working like a master craftsman on the foundation of Jesus Christ. He encouraged the Corinthians to build upon the same foundation and to consider the longevity of what they built. He illustrated the durability of their work by comparing it to building with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw, which he warned would be tested with fire on the Day of Christ’s return. Paul tells us the outcome of this testing: If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1 Corinthians 3:14 (ESV).

Few of us will achieve the long lasting reputation of Stradivari, and even if we did it is of no use to us once, like him, we have died. Yet these verses in Corinthians indicate that there are eternal rewards to be had for those who build wisely. How can we earn these rewards? The key seems to be the foundation we choose to build on. Civil engineers take great care to ensure that the foundation is right for the building that is to be erected upon it. Likewise the wise spiritual builder builds everything on the foundation of Christ. Paul wrote: For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (ESV). Only those who build on the foundation of Christ will receive a reward. And only what is built on the foundation of Christ will be rewarded. At the start of the New Year why not take time to evaluate every area of your life – work, family, leisure, church – and ask yourself: ‘To what extent is Christ the foundation of this in my life at the moment?’ There is a line in a song that we used to sing that said: ‘I want to give my life, for something that will last forever.’ Why choose to build with wood, hay and straw when you can build for eternity?

This blog post featured in the January 2014 edition of Lifelines

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New Year’s Revolution

After the excesses of the Christmas Festival, many of us will be looking at our waistlines and making New Year’s resolutions, committing ourselves to a diet or a fitness regime in order to improve our health. Perhaps it will be a decision to break a habit like smoking or to reduce consumption of alcohol. These are worthwhile lifestyle changes that doctors recommend as having significant benefit on our health and wellbeing. However if your experience is anything like mine, all too often these well meaning New Year’s resolutions quickly get broken and we slip back into our former habits and excesses. Every year thousands of people sign up to gyms and health clubs but find that after only a few months, the only pounds they are losing are from their bank balance when they can’t get out of the contract!

Many people view Christianity in the same way; they experience an inner conviction in their heart that something needs to change and so they look to religion, imagining that by attending church, reading their bibles, praying and being good (whatever that means) they will become acceptable to God. The shocking truth of Jesus’ teaching is that you can do all those things and actually be further from God than you were before. Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus said this in response to proud religious people who thought that by doing certain things they were made righteous; in actual fact they were self righteous which made them offensive to God. This is revolutionary! Jesus says that he didn’t come to call those who can live by the rules, those who can turn over a new leaf and maintain resolutions. In fact he came to call those who know that they can’t.

By all means make New Year resolutions if you want to improve your health and fitness. However if you want to improve your standing before God, what you need is a New Year’s Revolution. Admit that you can never earn his favour by anything you do. Acknowledge that you will never be good enough to deserve anything other than condemnation, that, to use Jesus’ word, you are a sinner. Once you have reached that place then you are ready to receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness that he has promised. Look at what John, Jesus’ closest friend, wrote: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. (1 John 1:8-9) I pray that this New Year will be the start of a lifelong revolution for you and everyone else who reads this message.

This blog post featured in the January 2014 edition of Hook Focus