Don't build your life on sand

October 25th, 2022

Standing on shores of the Caribbean Sea on the Island of Barbados, I realized: This is where people wreck their lives. I don't mean Barbados. What a beautiful people! What a beautiful island! What passionate and generous pastors and leaders!

And I don’t mean the Caribbean Sea. The glorious ripple of its waves, the unending beauty of the blue water, the shimmer of light at just the right time.

I mean “the sea.” That place that Scripture uses to describe danger, uncontrollability, chaos. The metaphor of the sea is profound. Staring out into the physical beauty of the Caribbean Sea, I realized that chaos, uncontrollability, and danger has a kind of allure. In Revelation 13, the sea provides the context for a kind of political allure. The dragon stands on the shore of the sea and the beast emerges from it, a beast that is so powerful that the people marvel, "Who can wage war against it?" (Rev. 13:4). Even today, we place hopes in people who seem to be able to ride the “waves” of the sea, mastering its forces, harnessing its power for their joy, purpose, and benefit. We marvel at and place hope in those who delight the eyes as celebrities; who tease our desires with their business acumen and wealth; who stir us to action as they acquire and wield power. 

Money, sex, and power. But as nouns they are too tame. The ancients were wise when they named their gods—Mammon, Venus, Aphrodite, Jupiter, Mars, Kratos, and so on. The gods were rightly conceived as having personality and adeptly named because they held something that mere humans don't have but want: They seem able to ride the waves of the sea. We still speak names with reverence—or scorn—of those who have something that we wish we could have—of those surfers who ride the waves of the sea, if only for a time. Names like Bezos, Musk, Gates Gore, Winfrey, Swift, The Rock, Clooney, and countless politicians come to mind:  Impressive figures who have ridden the waves of the sea. This kind of combination of money, sex, and power reminds me of the word "pandemonium," a kind of chaotic party—literally, demons everywhere. John Milton made it the capital of hell in Paradise Lost. Human beings fear and are drawn by the sea. We are drawn by the chaos. We are attracted to what we cannot, or should not, have.

I spoke recently with a man who blew up his life because of the sea. He was drawn by the allure of sex, money, or power. It doesn't matter which of these surfers he had admired. The man blew up his life for the sea. He leaped into the sea, seeking the gods of money, sex, or power and, of course, he lost them all: he was fired from his job, his family was ruptured for a season, and instead of gaining in influence, he became an object of ridicule. His actions were the definition of folly.

All of this reminds me of Jesus' words that sparked my imagination while standing on the shore of the Caribbean Sea: It is foolish to build your house on the sand. Luke's Gospel records Jesus' warning to be about building our houses without foundation (Luke 6:46-49). Luke has a fairly generic description of what comes at us in life—a flood. Houses built without foundation crash when there's a storm, says Luke. But Matthew's gospel is a bit different. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus warns of building a house upon the sand (Matthew 7:26). Both Luke and Matthew record the wisdom of having a foundation of “rock,” but it is Matthew who goes into the detail of folly. It is foolish to build your house on the sand. Why? Because the sand is right next to the sea. Building your house on the sand is saying, "I can handle the allure of chaos; I can handle myself at the party of pandemonium. I can build my life next to the sea without being swept away. And if I leap into the sea, I can ride the waves.” But we can't. We are not as strong as the gods. The downfall of the most godlike human beings is consistent and predictable. And when we try to harness the gods’ support in our own sea journeys, they don't do our will for long. 

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A few weeks ago I was describing this difference—the difference between wisdom and folly—to a group of teens using a wonderful Proverb that I want them all to know: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20). Of course! If you spend your time around those whose minds are centered on God and fearing and loving and serving him, then you will grow wise. Your life will be marked by their wisdom—even the wisdom of God. But if you spend your time with the foolish, then you will be hurt. The man I mentioned above, the one who gave up his life for the sea, would say he hurt many around him. His folly didn't simply damage his own life. It hurt many. It's a Proverb. It's going to come true in our lives. It’s just a matter of time.

But the teens—as teens often do!—pointed out the limit of the Proverb. Have you noticed that? That teens can find the limits and weak points of even the best of wisdom?! They asked, “What about evangelism? What about those friends who don’t spend their time thinking about and fearing and loving and serving God? Aren’t they the ones we’re supposed to be reaching out to and influencing?” 

Indeed! The distinction between wisdom and folly, between the wise and the foolish, doesn't mean that we always can avoid the foolish or that we should always avoid the foolish. Christ came into the world of folly and his cross took on the folly of the world. His cross, as Fleming Rutledge described, takes on the godlessness of the world. Recall what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1: The cross is a scandal, a stumbling block to the Jews; it's nonsense and folly to the Greeks. But to those being saved, it is the wisdom of God. God used the folly of the world to overcome the folly of the world. If we, too, are to pick up our crosses, then we will encounter folly. But, we must do so humbly: not as masters the sea, but as companions of the one who walks on water. Just as the Spirit was over the deep at creation, so Christ descended to the deep and emerged victorious. We will, we must, encounter folly, but we must always do so firmly attached to the cross of Christ. Yes, the proverb holds true: He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. You will be harmed as you encounter the folly of the world; as you engage with people who have tried to master the sea. But do not do so on your own; only do so in and with Christ—including the people of Christ.

And you will encounter people who have wrecked their lives on the sea. They will have made choices that cost them employment and friends and influence. And they will show up before you, wondering if the Gospel is for them, too. The man who told me about the wreckage of his life said he learned to present nothing to God but his misery and pain. If that’s all that someone has when they come to you, tell them boldly that they can give that to God, too. God accepts the humblest, the most broken of offerings that come from a contrite heart. When the sea has broken a spirit, God accepts that broken spirit.

God is not overcome with our folly. God is not overcome by the sea. God is not overcome by the flood. Whereas Luke warned of a flood, Matthew is more specific, describing the rain coming down and the streams rising. That's reminiscent not just of a generic flood, but of the Flood, the Great Flood of Genesis where the waters beneath the earth burst forth and the waters of the sky fell. Who brought that flood? God. Yes, the sea is alluring and the sea is chaotic, but it is under God's reign and rule. When we build houses on sand, it’s is God’s grace that tears them down. And it is God’s grace to provide a foundation, a Rock on whom to build our lives in the meantime, before the sea is removed from creation (Rev. 21:1). We are invited to build our lives on the Rock, the one whose will does not bend to ours but whose strength holds us secure.

As we engage in the ministry of Jesus Christ in a world of folly, may our lives be built on Rock. May we not be drawn by the allure of the sea—even seas of ministry, like recognition, and success, and approval, and honor. Instead, may we be attached to the cross of Christ, our lives built on the Rock: On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 

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