THE PERFECT STORM
August 20, 2000
Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. The first pig went out and built himself a house of straw. He was kind of the quick-fix guy, just threw it up. He wanted a house. His brother built one pretty rapidly too. He built one made of sticks. The little pigs who had built their houses out of straw and sticks were happy. Everything was done in a rapid-fire way.
Rumor had it there was a big bad wolf in the area, but these two little pigs were just skipping around saying, “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf, the big, bad wolf, the big, bad wolf. Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf, tra-la-la-la-la.” They looked over at the third little pig, their oldest brother, and this guy was building his house out of bricks. He was really working. He was toiling in the hot, boiling sun. And I’m sure they said to themselves, “What’s he doing? What’s wrong with him? He’s still working, and we’re playing. Tra-la-la-la-la.”
Push the clock forward several months. Mister big, bad wolf arrives on the scene, and he knocks on the door of this straw structure. He says, and I’ll quote, “Little pig, little pig, let me in.”
And the little pig said, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin, chin.”
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” So, the big bad wolf huffed, and he puffed, and the straw house was toast.
The first little pig ran to his brother’s house, the one who had his house made of sticks. The big bad wolf shows up at the stick house and does the same drill. He blows the stick house away.
Then the two little pigs run to the brother’s house who had the solid brick structure. Guess who shows up? You got it. B. Bad Wolf knocks on the door, “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in.”
The little pigs said, “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin, chin.”
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow your house in!”
And they said, “Bring it on, big boy.”
The wolf tried to blow the house down, but he couldn’t do it. So, this resourceful animal jumped onto the roof and shimmied down the chimney into a pot of hot, boiling water. And these three brothers literally “pigged out” on wolf fajitas that night.
I don’t know if you realize it or not, but that famous story illustrates one of the most profound teachings of Jesus Christ. At the conclusion of the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount—recorded in Matthew Chapters 5 and 6, and concluding in Matthew Chapter 7—Jesus talked about building. Several months ago, we led a group from this church to Israel. And there on a hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem, Jesus taught and delivered this Sermon on the Mount. It’s where He talked about building.
Jesus brought up something at the end of His message, something that His culture could connect with and our culture can connect with as well: new home construction. Houses are going up everywhere in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Let me give you the Cliff Notes of what Jesus told his listeners. He said that a couple of builders were throwing up a couple of houses in a master-planned community. One of the builders was a pretty intelligent guy. He called him the wise builder, and Christ said that he dug deep. He built his foundation on rock. It took him a long time to do it, but he did it.
The foolish builder, Jesus said, just kind of picked a lot in this community, and he didn’t worry about the foundation. He said to himself, “Man, what’s my building buddy thinking? Who needs a foundation?” This foolish builder built his house on sand. And this foolish builder was probably done with his house, maybe sipping an adult beverage, as he watched his building buddy still work on the foundation.
Well, finally, both of the homes were done. On the surface, they looked the same—same price range, same community, same kind of lot. Everything looked good in good weather. But Jesus tells us that rain pelts the houses, winds rise, the water floods, and storms strike. The one built on rock, the one with the deep foundation, survives and thrives. But the one built on sand is blown away. It’s obliterated.
Why did Jesus bring up home building? What was He driving at? Why this whole thing about hammers and nails? Well, obviously, Jesus knew a lot about construction. Most of His life, He was a carpenter. It meant he took up the trade from the foundation work to the finish out. Yet Jesus explains this illustration in two verses of Scripture. Matthew 7:24 and 26 say, “Therefore, anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Conversely, he says, “Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
We’re all in the building business, aren’t we? We’re all building. We’re building something. I talked to a builder several days ago over a cup of coffee. He said, “Ed, the most important part of a building is the foundation.” It’s true in building a house. It’s also true in building a life. Wouldn’t you agree?
Today, we’re going to get up close and personal, and really check out some builders in this story. We’re going to see what it takes to build a true and lasting foundation in this life, and I think it might surprise you. I think you’re probably like me and will see yourself in a lot of these areas.
Well, let’s look at this foolish builder, the guy who had the quick fix mentality, the guy who was like the first pig and the second pig—the hay pig and the stick pig. This guy was a poor planner. Wouldn’t you agree? I doubt this builder that Christ was describing consulted with an engineer or an architect. I think this guy said, “Well, I know what I’m doing. This lot looks fine. Everything’s okay. I don’t have to worry about floods or winds or rains or storms. I’ll just build my house rapidly. He didn’t really plan.
There’s a process to building, plans you must follow—priorities, if you will. I’ll say it again. The most important part of a home or a building or a structure or a life is the foundation
How many golfers do we have in the house today? Let’s go ahead and confess, “I like golf. I’m a man, a woman, or a student, and I like golf.” Why do you hear so many moans, groans, and curse words on golf courses? You know why? Sand traps. We hate sand traps. We hit this shot that looks promising and then, “Oh, no, in the sand!” Sand traps are difficult. Why? The golf ball has a poor foundation. It’s hard to strike a golf ball in a sand trap. If you’re on the fairway, that’s another deal. You’ve got a solid support. But sand doesn’t really work.
I think large blocks of us right now are building our lives in sand traps. We don’t really realize it. We haven’t really thought about it, but we’re in sand traps. We’re playing in this superfluous sand. We’re building sand castles and sand structures only so the waves and storms of life can wash them away. A foundation is a priority. We must plan when we build.
If we focus on sand and not on the rock, we’re in severe trouble. A lot of us say we want to build our lives on a solid foundation, but we don’t really live that way. Do we? A lot of us get so involved in some sand stuff that we miss out on the major stuff.
I was talking to a guy several months ago, a Christian man, husband, and father with two teenagers. On one hand, he was telling me that he wanted to grow in his relationship with Christ, that he wanted his family to stand for God. But on the other hand, he was telling me about his insane involvement in sports, recreational pursuits, and extracurricular activities—that he, his wife, and his students were involved in. I was thinking to myself, “Man, on one hand, you’re saying I want to do the “rock” thing, but you’re living in a sand trap. You’re just living.”
I’m all for sports, activities, and recreational pursuits. I think they’re great. But too many of us overdose on these things, and extracurricular activities become extraterrestrial activities. We get so immersed in them that we’re like from another planet. We leave the earth and orbit a planet called Exhaustion. The planet Exhaustion has not been discovered. It’s three hundred miles from Saturn. It’s people who just say, “Oh, yeah, I want to build on a solid foundation.” You say it, but you live your life in this extraterrestrial deal—exhausted, burned out, building on sand.
Jesus said, “When the storms strike,” not if. The storms are on the Doppler radar. When the storms strike, what do you have? Where are your priorities? Where are my priorities? Where are your plans? Where are my plans? Have you consulted the architect, the engineer? Or are you saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m like the foolish builder. I know what I’m doing.”
This guy also was a poor listener. You know, back in ancient times, when he began to build his structure without a proper foundation—on that part of the subdivision—other builders and friends said, “Don’t build it there. You are going to mess up. Do you realize that you’re right in a river bed, and when winter rolls around, the floods hit and torrents strike, you’re going to be messed up? Don’t do it. You’re going to waste money.” But this foolish builder just said, “Hey, I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me what to do. I’m a quick-fix guy.” There’s a difference, wouldn’t you say, between hearing and listening. Hearing is passive. Listening is active.
Speaking of hearing, my eight-year-old son, EJ, always goes to bed at night while he listens to cassette tapes. His favorite series is one we sell in the bookstore: The “Adventures in Odyssey” tape series. Several nights ago, I walked into his room and heard something that shocked me. I heard one of my sermons blaring on his little tape player. I turned the light on and said, “EJ, what are you doing?”
He said, “Dad, I’m listening to one of your sermon tapes.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “They put me to sleep.”
I said, “Thanks a lot, EJ That really helps your daddy’s self-esteem. I really feel good about that.”
That’s hearing, isn’t it? I said, “EJ, you’re just like forty or fifty other people I see every weekend nodding off.” But we’ve all done that. We’ve just heard. We’ve just kind of slept. We’ve just put it on auto pilot and floated through life.
Lisa and I got invited to a party several weeks ago, and I was cornered by a lady in her fifties. This lady was one of these world-class talkers. You know, the person you cannot get away from. And I have to confess to you, I was not listening to her. I was just hearing her. My mind was thinking about bass fishing, the upcoming season of the Dallas Cowboys—things like that. I was not really listening to her. And I’m sure I have A.D.D. They didn’t check it back when I was a kid. Lisa calls it E.D.D. Get it? Ed. A.D.D. E.D.D. I have a short attention span. I know I should have listened, but I didn’t.
There’s a difference between hearing and listening, and the half-brother of Jesus really nut-shelled this point when he penned these words in James 1:22, “Prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” If we’re just hearers, we delude ourselves. The word “delude” means to mislead or deceive. We deceive ourselves if we think that hearing the word of God is enough. We’ve got to put into practice what we hear.
The half-brother of Jesus, James, was saying “Just do it.” I wore this Nike shirt today to remind myself of the big idea of this text. Jesus was saying, “Just do it.” Nike’s made billions off of that phrase. They stole it from the half-brother of Jesus 2000 years ago. He said it, “Prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers….”
Also, this foolish guy didn’t really dig very deep. He didn’t dig deep. He just put the structure up. He was worried more about the drive-by, the external, what people saw, than the internal, the depth, and the stuff in the stockroom.
What a word to those of us who live in Dallas/Ft. Worth, the land of the buff and beautiful, of plastic surgery, cars, clothes, and tans. So many of us spend so much time and so much energy on the external, on the drive-by, on what people see. We don’t spend time on the foundation. We don’t spend time digging deep. We don’t spend time on the rock.
I ask you, what would happen if your looks were taken from you? What would happen if you were hit with a disfiguring disease? What would happen if you didn’t have any more cars, or the right outfit, or that corner office, or that position, or that portfolio? What would happen? Yeah, it would be tough for us all. We’d say, “Yeah, that’s a storm,” but would your life be obliterated? Would it be huffed and puffed and blown away? Or would you say, “I’ve been hit. The rains have pelted me. The winds are strong. The flood’s rising. But I have built my life on the rock.”
How much time, how much energy, how much money, how much thought are you putting into the external compared to the internal? How much—above ground or below ground? How much—in the showcase or in the stock room? It’s a hard saying of Jesus, penetrating words.
The wise builder definitely planned, didn’t he? He talked to architects. He talked to engineers. He had it going on. He listened. Jesus said that he heard, and put it into practice. He dug deep, all the way to the rock. That’s good.
What was Jesus driving at, though? Let’s take it a step deeper. We’re talking about foundations. What was he driving at? He was driving at hearing and practicing, but there’s one word that summarizes both hearing and practicing. There’s one word that captures it all. Here’s what Jesus was going after: Obedience. Obedience. He was talking about obedience—the litmus test of a Christian.
Obedience separates the true Christ-follower from the pseudo-follower. It separates spiritual depth from spiritual shallowness. It separates people who build stuff on the external from those who build stuff on the internal. Now listen to me very carefully. You do not become a Christian by obedience. You cannot obey your way into the faith.
The Bible says that we’re saved by faith. That’s it. It’s a faith step. It’s a trust. Once we make that decision, we’re Christians. But our faith is seen by our obedience, and true obedience is revealed through the storms of life. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” He also said something else. He said, “Many will say to me on that last day…”, “Lord, Lord, I did this. Lord, Lord, I jumped through this hoop and that hoop. Lord, Lord, I was a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Bible-Churcher, a Pentecostal, a Catholic, an Episcopalian.”
And He will say, “Depart from me. I never really knew you.” “I never really knew you.” A lot of people are walking around these days thinking they are Christian, and they really aren’t. All you have to do is look at their obedience. All you have to do is look at their disobedience, and you can tell. We can’t tell for sure because we’re not God, but you can see it. That’s what Jesus was talking about.
I ask you this question—to really put it to where we live—”What are you practicing from the Bible?” Let me talk to many of you who are regular attenders or members of Fellowship. What are you practicing? I asked myself this same question this past week. For example, you can hear about marriage and the centrality of the husband and wife relationship—that it should take precedence over every other relationship in the family, that a house should be spouse-centric and not kid-centric. You can hear about the fact that we should spend quality time with our spouse, that we’re to be committed to our spouse, to love our spouse. But if we just hear it and don’t put it into practice, we’re building our lives in a sand trap.
We can hear about the importance of the local church. We can hear that it’s the most important thing in the life of Christ. It’s what He’s about. We can hear about the importance of showing up here regularly to worship together in a large community. We can hear about the importance of being hooked up in a small group. We can hear about what the Bible says about giving ten percent of our resources to the local church. We can hear all that stuff, but if we don’t put it into practice, we’re living in a sand trap.
We can hear about sexuality, that God thought up sex. It’s a gift from Him. It’s to be practiced between one man and one woman within the context of marriage. We can hear about that. We can hear that premarital sex is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Pornography is wrong. We can hear all that stuff, but if we don’t put it into practice, we’re living our lives in a sand trap.
We can hear about forgiveness, about processing anger, and so many wonderful things the Bible talks about. But if we don’t put it into practice, we’re living our lives in a sand trap. It’s about obedience. It’s about “Just Do It.”
Well, maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Ed, I hear you and understand what you’re communicating from the Bible. How do I really do this “rock” thing? How do I make a call between the sand and the rock? How do I discover God’s best for me? How do I become like the wise builder? How?”
I’m glad you asked. The first suggestion: Take a soil sample. Measure the sand in your life against the rock in your life. Ask yourself, “What is the sand stuff, the sand trap stuff, the superfluous stuff? And what is the sold stuff, the rock stuff, the stuff that helps me grow and develop my relationship with Christ?”
In I Corinthians 3:11 it says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our Rock, and everything must revolve around The Rock. If it doesn’t, it’s simply sand. Take a soil sample. I mean take your laptop out, and hammer out what is sand and what is rock. Say “God, here’s my list. I need some help. Tweak me. Help me. Show me what to do. Do I need to do some foundation work, some remodeling, maybe some demolition work?” Take a soil sample.
Another suggestion: Build on the right lot. Don’t just say, “I’ll just build here. I’ll just build there.” You could be pointing to a bunch of sand. Build on the right lot. Jesus said these words as He locked eyes with Simon Peter in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” He did not say, “Simon Peter, you’re the rock and I’ll build the church on you.” No, he didn’t say that. He said, “Upon this Rock,” with a capital ‘R.’ “I am The Rock. I will build my church.”
Let me push the pause button quickly. Do you know Jesus Christ personally? I said earlier that to know Christ, you have to make a faith decision. Have you made that decision? Have you taken that step? What you need to do—you can make it today, and it’s the best step you’ll ever take—is to simply say, “God, I’ve messed up. I’ve been in this sand trap. I’m building this sand castle. I admit that to you. I admit my sinfulness and turn from that, and I ask you, Jesus Christ, to infiltrate my life. I want you, Lord, to come into my life, and I want to build the foundation on you.”
That is how you become a Christ-follower. If you’ve already made that decision, you have laid a foundation on the rock. Maybe you need to keep building that foundation, supporting that structure. Jesus gave us a hint, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” What are you doing with the local church? It’s the hottest thing going. It’s Christ’s major focus. What are you doing with the Bride of Christ? What are you doing with her, the local church? You say it’s important. You say you’re on the rock, but do you build your schedule around it? Do you build your social life around it? Do you?
The storm will strike. It’s on the Doppler radar. The storm will strike. Now’s the time to do the work. It’s going to hit. Don’t wait until the storm strikes. Don’t wait until the wind and the rain and all this stuff hits. Don’t wait until that. Do it now.
Another suggestion—third, if you’re keeping score: Have your home inspected. Have your home, your house, your life inspected. The best inspection verses would be Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Make that your prayer this week. “See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Did you know that three times in the Bible, the word of God, the Scriptures are compared to a mirror. What does a mirror do? The mirror really shows us who we are. We examine ourselves: the blemishes, the pimples, the bed head, whatever it is. It shows us who we are. And that’s Christianity. Christianity is not about you. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me. It’s about God. We don’t examine God, “Well, let me check You out, God.” We say, “God, You examine us. You examine us.”
I hear this all the time. I hear this line, and it hurts my heart deeply. You’ve probably heard it too. People say this these days to excuse all sorts of sinful behavior, “You know, God just wants me to be happy.” That statement is just a bunch of sand. You probably thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you? It’s a bunch of sand.
“God just wants me to be happy.” No, he doesn’t. Hey balcony people, God does not want you to be happy! Those on the floor, God does not want you to be happy! God would say to me, “Ed, I do not want you to be happy.”
Do you know what God wants? He wants our obedience. That’s what He wants. Because when we’re obedient, then the joy, then the tranquility of the soul, will follow. We don’t “happiness” our way into obedience. We “obedience” our way into happiness. We don’t say, “I’ll just feel my way into this Christianity thing, and if it feels good—ooh, a quiver in my liver, a spring in my step—then it must be all right.” No, it’s not about happiness. It’s about obedience.
And obedience is not always fun, is it? It’s not. Sometimes it takes discipline and vision and just plain guts to make it work. But many times, we feel those great feelings because of our obedience. Once we say, “God, it’s about You, not me. God, it’s not about my happiness; it’s about Your will. God, I lay my life before You.” When we do that, he will pick us up and show us the way to live. Then our lives will click, and they’ll be solid. They’ll be strong because they’re built on the true foundation of The Rock.
Do you remember “The Three Little Pigs?” Remember the little pig who did the straw hut and the little pig who did the stick hut? And remember B. Bad Wolf who—puff—blew them down? What did those brothers do? I’ll tell you what they did. They turned, and they ran to their oldest brother’s house. They ran to the brick house. They ran to the brick house. And they felt the shelter, the warmth, and the strength in that structure. When the winds came, when the big, bad wolf began to do his thing, they were safe. They were tranquil. They had it made.
That speaks to me. For the last several days, I’ve seen some stuff in my life that was kind of like hay, sticks, and sand. I said, “God, I don’t want that stuff. I want to run and live my life on The Rock of Jesus Christ, in Your structure. God, I want to dig down deep.” And that is my word of challenge and prayer for you, too. It’s “Just Do It.” It’s the brick house. It’s The Rock. It’s obedience…obedience…obedience.