Build Your Life

Ever thought about what kind of house you’re building with your life? Are you building with gold or with straw? Join us this Sunday as we explore how every choice we make shapes our character and destiny. Discover how to build a life that stands the test of time, with Jesus as your foundation.

There’s a story that’s been around for a long time now. I don’t know where it’s from.


A long time ago, there was a carpenter, a master carpenter. He went into the house-building business, and he built great houses.

After many years of working for the same employer, he decided he was kind of tired. He wanted out of his contract, and he wanted to retire.

His boss said, “Okay, but there’s one more house on the contract.”

It was on a beautiful lot with a magnificent view, and the boss wants it to be a dream house and insisted that the master carpenter build it.

The carpenter agreed. He needed the money to build a little cottage for his retirement, but his heart was not in it.

He resented having to do the work, so he cut corners. He got sloppy.

He substituted particle board for good wood.
He used plastic pipes where copper pipes were called for.
Walls got put up that were not built to plumb.
He did things that would make Chip and Joanna Gaines sick to their stomachs.

When he finished, his boss shook his hand and thanked him for the many years of their work together. Then, his boss handed him an envelope.

When he opened it, he found it contained the deed to the house he had just built.

He didn’t know the house he had been building with so much resentment and such a grudging spirit and so much dishonesty was the place where he would get to spend the rest of his years.

Day after day he had been given the opportunity to create something unique and magnificent. He could have done that. But he threw away the chance of a lifetime, and he didn’t even know.


This all happened in a long ago time in a far away place.

If it had happened today in the Bay Area, he would have sold that miserable hovel for $5 million and built a mansion in Sacramento.

Maybe you’re watching online in Sacramento right now.

You used to be here, and you cashed out your little house and are living in a mansion in Sacramento, and those of us who are scrapping to find a way to live here and build a church for Jesus are happy for you, but not super happy.


The carpenter in this story was deeply sad because he had done this to himself.

He would spend the rest of his life living in a place that he built carelessly and resentfully and grudgingly and joylessly and without integrity.


Our character is the house we live in, the house that matters, and we build it, every one of us, one day at a time, one choice at a time.

We build it, every one of us, on purpose or by accident, for better or for worse.

We build it, every one of us, every day —

By how we spend our time.
By the words we speak and the words we hear.
By the people we love or the people we ignore.
And especially the thoughts we allow to occupy our minds.

I am building my life, and when I cut corners, when I compromise my integrity, when I build, as I do sometimes, with resentment or ego or pettiness or self, I am creating a future that will become my destiny.

You are building your house.

How is your house going?


The writers of Scripture were keenly interested in what a well-lived life looks like. How do human beings flourish?

That’s what Paul is interested in when he writes this letter to the church at Corinth that we’re studying these days.


In Corinth, everyone was building their lives — “Designing their lives.”

It’s the most popular course at Stanford. It became a New York Times best seller — Designing Your Life.

Everyone was designing their lives around the pursuit of status or wealth or reputation or honor.


But there’s another pattern for designing a human life, oddly around humility and self-giving love and death to ego.

It’s a cross-shaped life.

That’s why the word cross and the pattern of the cross occur over and over and over in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.


In this message, we’re going to look at how Paul talks about how we ought to design our lives in a way where the goodness of it will last, because you have this one chance.

And sometimes we just throw it away.


Alight, here we go.

This is from the third chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Paul writes:

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.

But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:9-17)

Now, Paul’s primary concern here is about the church. We together are the church, the place where God’s Spirit dwells, but, of course, the church is made of people, so this involves every one of us and our lives.

Everyone is constructing a life.


Paul makes this amazing statement — “You are God’s building.”


Has anyone here ever heard of House Hunters International?

It will feature someone or some couple who wants to relocate from Odessa, Texas, to Switzerland or something like that.

They’ll struggle over what kind of home or apartment they want to live in.


Well, in this passage, it’s almost like God is house hunting and he wants to move from up there to down here, and oddly enough, his dream house is you.


Of course, we’re not fit to be God’s dream house yet.

You’re a fixer upper… and so am I. We’re under construction.


And you will choose the materials that will be used to build your life. You will do this. Not your circumstances, but you.


Paul lists six different materials in this passage, but they can really be divided essentially into two groups:

Gold, silver, or precious stones. Those are materials that will stand up to the fire.

The fire in the Bible very often is an image to talk about God’s judgment, God’s penetrating and discerning ability to decide what is good and what is not.

Gold, silver, and precious stones are materials that have qualities that will stand up to his judgment.


Wood, hay, or straw are materials or qualities that will not.


Building your life, which you and I will inevitably do, is not mostly a matter of our outer circumstances.

We often think our lives are about —

What kind of income we have
Or what kind of vocational opportunities we have
Or how high our IQ is
Or what our body shape is
Or if our face is attractive
Or our hair is stylish
Or our resume is impressive
Or our GPA is impressive

It’s not about that. It’s my character. It’s the quality of my inner life that matters.

It’s the kind of thoughts and desires and intentions and habits that come to govern my minutes and my hours and my days and my years. That’s what matters most about me.


You see, we live in a place that is so deluded about this.

Money, title, office, reputation are dust or ashes in comparison. They’re going to be gone like a snap.


Some people, with great-looking outer lives, are living in spiritual hovels.

Some people who appear very unimpressive in worldly terms are actually even now beginning to inhabit an eternal masterpiece.


We think even what matters to God are the things we do for God (our accomplishments or achievements).

No, they’re not.


As Dallas Willard said:

The main thing God gets out of your life is the person you become.

The main thing God gets out of your life is not your resume and not your accomplishments.

It’s the person you become, and that also is the main thing you get out of your life. That’s what you will take with you into eternity.


This text poses two questions I want to invite all of us to use as we examine our lives in light of the cross, this pattern of self-giving and others-serving love.

There are two questions for this message. They’re really simple.

The first one is:

1. What will I build my life with?

What are the qualities of spirit that a wise carpenter would choose?


For gold, silver, and precious gems, we might think about what Paul talks about as the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace).


For wood, hay, and stubble, we might think about their opposing qualities.

Instead of love, ego.
Instead of joy, envy.
Instead of peace, hurry and chronic anxiety.


The reason we need to examine our lives in light of the cross is that the true nature of my inner life and of my character is actually known only to God.

One day, it will be revealed in high definition, and Paul says, by way of talking about this, “the Day will bring it to light.”


When he talks about that, the idea is an old phrase from the Bible — the day of the Lord, the day of God’s judgment when God will make everything clear, and all mysteries will get solved, and there will be no moral ambiguity left, and no wrongs that are not made right.


I want to tell you about two different people, two leaders, who are part of the ministry world that I inhabit.

But this is the kind of choice we all face.


From the outside, the lives of these two people looked remarkably similar.

They led many people.
They designed programs.
They were involved in organizational leadership.
They would often speak at the same conferences, teach on the same subjects, run in the same circles, and have similar levels of recognition and success.

Yet, a striking difference would emerge as you got to know each of them up close, and when you’d get to know the inner circle of people who knew them well, or watched how they responded in hidden moments of daily life.

With one of them, the better people got to know him the more they loved him.

He was kind and gentle and humble.
He cared about people.
When he was wrong, he would admit it quite easily.
He was unhurried.
It was life-giving to work for him.
He just naturally treated people well. His peers, his subordinates, or someone on the wait staff of a restaurant — everyone was naturally interesting to him, not because he was trying to look like a Christian or something. He was just that way.

He had what the writer David Brooks calls “eulogy virtues” — those virtues people talk about at a memorial service when someone dies and they’re giving a eulogy.


At the end of this man’s life, although there was great pain, he was able to let go of his life with enormous gratitude.

His body aged.

He didn’t have the same title or office anymore, but his spirit was filled with hope.

When he died, the circle of love and the stories that got told about him and the lives that were touched by him and the joy he produced just rippled and rippled and rippled and rippled.


With the second person, in a lot of ways it was almost the exact opposite.

He had what David Brooks called resume virtues, qualities that make for a successful career, but the closer you got to this person’s life and inner circle, the more troubling the truth was and the worse the house looked.

He treated people badly, often using a combination of fear or intimidation along with flattery or manipulation.

It was clear in a hundred ways that his ego was running the show even though this was in God’s name.

His life was full of secrets. No one really knew him.

If you asked people who worked under him, “Was it a life-giving, joy-producing relationship?” they would literally laugh.

People would be impressed from a distance, but up close this was a life that was empty and lonely, and when his power and title were gone, there were no people who were bound to him by love.

At the end of his life, you could feel him trying desperately to grasp onto a little kingdom that no longer belonged to him, because that little kingdom that was his little kingdom was all he ever really had.


They were two lives that from a distance would look so similar, but when you got close up — gold, silver, precious gems; and wood, hay, and straw.


What am I building my life with?


Sometimes it’s the story of two families —

From the outside, both sets of kids look like really high achievers, and everyone admires that family, but if you get close, one of them is filled with coldness and pressure to perform and the other one is filled with just love and joy.


Two different coaches…

They both have the same record, but one coach operates on anger, fear, and intimidation, and the other one builds his team with teaching, inspiration, courage and love.


There’s a psychologist named Erik Erikson. He wrote about the stages of life that adults pass through.

It’s so interesting. He said the final stage of life before you die was either integrity or despair.


Integrity is when you’ve built a life, a character, or a soul that’s made up of those qualities of the Spirit that will stand up to the fire when it is revealed on the Day.


Despair is when you’ve built with wood, hay, and stubble, no matter how big and impressive your house looks and no matter what your resume is.


What am I building my life with?


Is there a relationship where you need to pour in some love?
Is there someone who you need to encourage or listen to or play with or serve or give a gift to?
Is there any place where God is calling you to be grateful, to stop comparing your house to someone else’s house?

Maybe you are building the house of hurry and you’re just rushing through it day after day after day —

You don’t think about God or your relationship with him.
You don’t make time for prayer.
You don’t make space for your soul.

Because you don’t have the time. You’re hurrying through life and missing what’s most important.

The main thing God gets out of your life is the person you become.

He’s not going to be terribly interested in your resume.


We’re going to continue this topic next week.

I’m going to teach from another passage in Corinthians about the four selves each of us have.

There is a public you.
There is a private you.
There is a real you.
And there is a fourth you that will take your breath away.


Alright, I want to talk about the second question this passage of Scripture poses.

The first question is — What will I build my life with?

The second question is —

What foundation will I build my life on?

Paul has this very intriguing, mysterious statement. This is a real fascinating passage.

He says, “Even someone who builds with the wrong materials, even someone where there’s a lot of wood and a lot of hay and a lot of stubble and they’re making a lot of mistakes and they’re getting a lot of stuff in their life wrong… Even if they do that, they’ll lose some of their rewards…”

In other words, I take that to mean some of the goodness God has made for them that God would build into them — they’ll lose some of that, but they will still be saved.

Paul says they’ll still be the kind of person who will be able to be with God through eternity if they have the right foundation.


Your foundation is what you count on more than anything else.

Your foundation is what your heart depends on to make you secure when your world gets shaken up.

My foundation is my ultimate commitment. Not just what I say is my ultimate commitment but what really is my ultimate commitment.


It might be money. For a lot of people it is.
It might be health. For a lot of people it is.
It might be looks. For a fair amount of people it is. Then, aging is real painful.
It might be intelligence.
It might be having my kids turn out just right.


Paul said:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

He laid that foundation, of course, supremely on the cross.

Through his whole life and his teaching and his acts of servanthood, but then in his self-giving death on a cross which then ended up in his resurrection starting this new building God is building, the church. That’s you and me.

And we can make Jesus the foundation of our lives.

Not my circumstances. Not my emotions.

I can trust him.
I can depend on him.
I can hand over my dreams to him.
I can take my direction from him.
I can confess my sins to him.


Church, I will tell you when you make Jesus the foundation of your life, whatever storm comes, and the storm will come, it might rock your world but it will not end your world.

When you make Jesus your foundation, sometimes God takes materials you thought you did not want, that you thought were so painful, and he makes them, in a strange, redemptive twist, the most beautiful part of your house where love and joy and peace shine through brightest of all.

I’ve seen God do this.

And I want you to hear just one story of one such life, so would you help me welcome Ashley to the stage.

Ashley — Story of Presley


God is that way. That birth that looked like it was a heartache can bring joy like nothing else. It all depends on — what is the foundation of our lives?

Let’s make it personal. For every one of us, what foundation are you building your life on?


I grew up in the Midwest in Chicago, where tornadoes were quite common when I was a little kid, so I didn’t mind them very much.

When I moved to California, does anyone want to guess what I was afraid of?



My favorite structure in the Bay Area by far is the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s quite bold because its great south pier rests directly on the fault zone of the San Andreas Fault.

Why would any sane person ever go onto that bridge?


Earl Palmer writes that, by design, every part of the bridge (the roadway, its railings, its great crossbeams) is related to the vast cable systems to two great towers that are deeply embedded into the rock foundation underneath the sea.


If an earthquake comes, it can sway 22 feet at the center of the roadway and not fall down.

In other words, the bridge is totally preoccupied with its foundation. That’s its secret strength. That’s what makes it strong and endure when the world shakes.


Last week I was talking to someone about baptism. He’s a basketball coach in Germany, but he wants to be baptized here at Blue Oaks while he’s home.

So I want to know if there’s anyone who wants to get baptized next Sunday. Can we pull this off on such a short notice? I think so.

If you’re interested in getting baptized next Sunday, talk to me after the service today, or send me an email this week.

If you’ve made the decision to make Jesus Christ the foundation of your life, the next step would be to get baptized as a symbol of that commitment.


If you’ve not done that yet, you can make him the foundation of your life today.

In light of the cross, you can confess your sin and die to the house of ego and envy and hurry and ask him to become the leader and the bedrock of your life.


And then, next week, you can get baptized and have a whole church cheering you on.

Because a long time ago there was a carpenter, a master carpenter, and he went into the house-building business, and he’s still in it. If you let him, he’ll build yours.


Would you pray with me?

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