Built To Last
I read to you from the seventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew, beginning to read at the twenty-fourth verse. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell. And great was the fall of it.” When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, not as their scribes.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen
The parables of Jesus are simple stories containing timeless truths. The parable we study today is just such a story. Very simple, just a handful of words, really, but, oh, the tremendous truth that it holds. When they build automobiles in Detroit, they claim that they are building them so that they will be able to last. Built to last, that’s the slogan. And because that is their intention, before they release a new automobile that’s been developed to the marketplace, they always subject that automobile to a rigid series of tests. Now, the most severe test is not the one where the automobile is driven across a rough and broken road. No, quite the contrary. The most intensive and demanding test is the one where the automobile is driven at high speeds on smooth pavement for many, many, many miles. You see, what happens in driving under those conditions is that high speed for an extended period of time sets up a series of what are called force vibrations in the automobile. And if anything can break an automobile down, it is not the isolated shocks and jolts that a car receives on rough highways. Rather, it is the subtle, never-ending chain of force vibrations that result from high speed for long periods of time. Now you know, to that degree at least, human beings are like automobiles. What gets us, or at least, what gets many of us, is the high-speed way we live with all of the constant vibrations, all of the constant forces pulling at us, shaking us, as it were, until so many times, under the strain of it all, we begin to fall apart.
It’s happening with greater frequency in our society. Not very long ago, there was an article in the New York Times which suggested that last year alone, American business lost nearly $20 billion because of employees who sustained either physical or emotional difficulties from living under continual stress and pressure. The article went on to state that many large corporations and organizations, everything from Exxon to the Dallas Cowboys football team, all of these are spending millions and millions of dollars on things like fitness centers or meditation rooms or biofeedback laboratories or floatation tanks, all of which are attempts to try to combat the stress, the tension, the pressure which their employees live under in our 20th century. How strange to be spending millions searching for answers when some answers are just as near as the nearest Bible. Let me lift up just three thoughts from the pages of Scripture to show you what I mean.
The first thing that I would suggest by way of a hopefully helpful thought is this. We need to realize that all of us, without exception, all of us are going to experience bad weather in life.
In the parable that Jesus tells, the one I just read for you, Jesus is referring to two men who are in the process of building their lives. Now, Jesus, with His background in carpentry, simply translates that around so that He represents their lives in terms of their houses. And He says that one of the men built his house on the rock, and the other built his house on the sand. And then at that point, the Greek gets very interesting. The Greek says that there then came storm. And as a matter of fact, the way the Greek reads, the implication is that there was a series of unending shocks or jolts. There was first the rain and then the floods and then the wind, each following in rapid succession upon the other and each hitting with equal force. It’s interesting to note – Jesus makes it quite plain – that the same storm hit both houses. That is to say the man who was wise enough to build his house on the rock did not, by so doing, gain for himself some kind of special exemption from the storm. The Greek is very specific. The rain, the floods, the wind hit both houses with equal force. What Jesus wants us to understand is simply this, that no matter what commitments we may make to Jesus Christ in our lives, we are going to know the same stresses, the same tensions, the same pressures that other people know. That’s a fact.
It’s confirmed for us by Dr. Hans Selye. He’s the director of the Institute of Stress at the University of Montreal. Dr. Selye says that every human life experiences stress. The absence of stress means death. And so he says we know stress, and we need to know stress. But then he goes on to say that there are three stages to stress. First, there is our sense of alarm when stress initially hits us. And then secondly, there is our adjustment to the stress when it comes, that point where our bodies and our minds begin to try to combat the effects of that stress. Dr. Selye goes on to say that if that second step is not handled correctly, if we do not adjust to the stress that we encounter in life, then we are going to move inevitably into the third step, which is destructive exhaustion. We, like the house built on the sand, will simply not have the strength to stand the strain.
And so it’s not surprising then that we encounter stress in our human experience. As a matter of fact, Jesus wants us to understand that we should expect it. The question is how do we adjust to it? Do we adjust in a healthy fashion, or do we not? And are we then going to surrender ourselves to this destructive exhaustion which breaks us down? And make no mistake. Stress can break us down. It can strangle the joy out of our lives and, consequently, the joy out of the people whose lives lived around us. It can slay our spirit of optimism. It can rip our relationships to shreds. Stress can flatten us just as surely as a storm can flatten a poorly constructed house. Make no mistake about that.
And so I think that’s why this parable is so important to us. For in this parable, Jesus does not so much question our sin as our sanity. Jesus is saying to us here: This frantic rush to live beyond our means, to get what we can get while we can get it, to be with the right people, to be in the right clubs, to be reading what everybody else is reading, to be doing the things that everybody else is doing to climb higher and higher and higher on the ladder no matter who gets hurt in the process, Jesus says that’s no good. That’s crazy. But the plain and simple truth of the matter is that at the first stab of pain, the first shift in plans, the first gust of wind, the whole thing will come crashing down like a house of cards or a house built on the sand in a storm.
The question then is what is the foundation for your life and for mine? David Redding writes, “The ultimate question that life asks is not, ‘How well do you play bridge or baseball or the stock market?” but rather, ‘How well did you build your life?'” That’s true. And that means that no matter how high we climb, no matter how far we get, if we have built upon sand, if God is not under us, then all of our fragile treasures will ultimately come crashing down, and we will be smashed to pieces in the storm. Oh, the storm? Yes. Remember Jesus’ word. The storm hits everyone sooner or later. We need to realize that all of us will experience bad weather in life.
Ah, but the second thing that I would suggest is this. We need to realize that when the bad weather comes, we can turn to Jesus for help.
I love the story in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is sailing across the Sea of Galilee with some of His disciples. They’re caught in a storm. And at that point, the Scriptures note that Jesus was fast asleep in the stern of the boat. What a beautiful touch. Think about that for a moment. I mean, here was one who was so founded upon the rock in His own experience, one who was so secure and so serene, one who so knew who He was and whose He was that He could sleep in the middle of a storm. The disciples, confronted with the storm and the possibility of capsizing, were panicked with fear. They immediately turned to Jesus for help. And at that point, Jesus did an amazing thing. You ought to read it sometime. The Bible says that Jesus stood up in the boat. Now, think about that. I mean, here was this little boat out on the storm-tossed waves pitching about in the sea. You know what that’s like. And Jesus stands up in the middle of a pitching boat, and standing there, He looks out at the waves, and in the flash of the lightning overhead, you could see that the rain has soaked down His clothes so that they’re sticking to His lean, muscular body, and His dark-brown Middle-Eastern skin is glistening like carved, polished olive wood, and His dark Jewish hair is all tossed and mangled about by the wind. And he’s standing there, staring at the waves. And suddenly, He cries, “Peace, be still.” Be muzzled, that’s what the Greek really means. Be muzzled. It’s as if He were addressing some great enraged beast. “Be still.” The Bible says, “There was calm.” Jesus is the Lord of storms.
Someone said to me not very long ago, a young man, very lovingly and very gently, that he felt that my sermons were theologically unsophisticated. He said that they’re practically on a child’s level. And he said that sometimes they seem unrealistically definite. And I’ve been thinking about that. And I suppose that I could change my approach to preaching, but I shall not do it because you see, the truth of the matter is that my faith is simple. I believe in Jesus. And I believe that we ought to trust Jesus. And I believe that when we take Jesus at His word, then our lives are transformed. It’s as simple as that.
And that’s why I think it’s so important for us, as Christians, to practice the presence of Jesus in our lives. You see, let’s admit it. It’s easy for us, in the course of our daily living, and especially when we’re caught in the storms of strain and stress, it’s easy for us to forget how close Jesus really is. We have to work at it. I find that in my own experience. I have to concentrate and remember that Jesus is close. He’s right at hand. I have to work at it. I have to practice the presence of Jesus in my life. And what does that mean? Well. Well, it means things like this. If I happen to be eating a meal alone, I imagine that Jesus is sharing the table with me. Up in my office, there are three chairs. And when someone comes in to see me, and we take two chairs, I always imagine that Jesus takes the third. And when I walk down the corridors of a hospital, I always visualize Jesus walking right at my side. I listen for the sound of His footfalls, and I sense His shoulder brushing against mine. I talk to Him frequently, and not just at regular prayer times but any time, absolutely any time. And when I’m sitting in my car at a stoplight, waiting for the thing to change, I speak to Him, or when I take the dogs out at night for their last walk before bedtime. I don’t talk to Him all the time, maybe not even as frequently as I ought. But you know how it is with best friends. When you’re in one another’s company, you don’t always have to be talking. Sometimes the deepest communion comes when never a word is spoken. Practice the presence of Jesus in your life. For when you go to Him, when you give yourself to Him, He will teach you to tame the pressures that are there. Make no mistake about it. He’s the Lord of the storms. The Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you,” the Jesus who said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” the Jesus who said, “Lo, I am with you always,” practice His presence in your life.
I love the story about the fellow who, because of the stresses and strains of his life, was just unable to sleep at night. And he was talking to one of his friends who was able to sleep quite well. And he said to him, “How is it that you can sleep so well at night? Do you count sheep?” And the friend replied, “No. I talk to the Shepherd.” Don’t you like that? I talk to the Shepherd. He knows the one who is the Lord of the storms. Practice. Practice the presence of Jesus in your life.
But then thirdly, I want to suggest this. We need to realize that when the bad weather comes, Jesus not only gives us a sense of calm in the midst of the storm, but Jesus lands us safely on the other side.
Oh, that’s so important. You see, Jesus is not only the Lord of the storms. He’s the Lord of our lives. You see it in John’s Gospel over there in the 6th chapter. It’s a great story. The disciples and Jesus were in a storm. Once again, Jesus did not happen to be in the boat. He was on the shore still. The disciples were caught in the storm. And suddenly, Jesus came walking to them across the water.
And then I want you to read an absolutely amazing verse. Listen to what it says. “They were glad to take Him on board the boat. And immediately, the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Do you hear that? The disciples were caught in the middle of a storm. They couldn’t see anything else. And the terrible weather around them. They didn’t even realize in the midst of those circumstances that they were actually relatively close to the shore. But they couldn’t see that. They were so afraid, so caught up in the midst of their own storm they couldn’t see it. And suddenly, Jesus comes, and they take Him on board the boat. And then immediately, it says, immediately, they were at the land where they were going. Jesus brought them safely to the other side. You see, when they took Jesus on board, they discovered that they were a lot closer to the end of their problems than they realized. What I’m trying to say to you is that this Jesus who is the Lord of the storms is also the Lord of your life and of mine. And if we give ourselves to Him, if we practice His presence in our lives, if we look to Him as the foundation for our living, then He will not only give us a sense of calmness and serenity in the midst of a storm, but He will land us safely on the other side.
I know. You may be thinking to yourself right now, “That’s what I expected to hear him say. I mean, after all, he’s paid to say that.” Yes. But you cannot so easily dismiss the words of a friend of mine. Her name is Mrs. Chip Chapman. She’s a member of this congregation. Some of you know her. I wish all of you did. She is caught right now in the midst of as terrible a storm as you could ever imagine. Just a few weeks ago now, because she was having some minor arthritis pain, she took some prescribed medication. She had a catastrophic reaction to it. What happened was that her body, in essence, began to literally destroy itself. The doctors said there was no hope. It couldn’t be stopped. She would die. Then suddenly, miraculously, it did stop. But now there were other problems. The doctors said that the only hope Chip Chapman had for surviving was to undergo surgery to sacrifice both of her arms and both of her legs. This past Monday morning, she and her husband and I wrestled through all of the terrible, terrifying implications of that decision. For as long as I live, I shall never forget what she said. I can stand here and preach about faith from now on, but, my friends, she is living it. I asked her at one point, “Chip, are you afraid to die?” She said, “No, I’m not because I know when it comes, The Lord will be with me.” So then I said, “Well, all right. Can you face a life without limbs and all of the terrible pain and struggle involved in that and all of the uncertainty surrounding it? Can you face that, and is it worth it? The doctors have said that you probably will not survive the surgery. Is it worth it?” You know what she said? She said, “The doctors said I should have died two weeks ago, and for some reason, I didn’t. Apparently, The Lord is not yet ready. That means that I can’t give up. That means I’ve got to keep living and do whatever’s necessary to keep on living. I don’t know what life will be like beyond, but whatever it is, I offer it to the Lord.” And then she said, “The doctors have said the chances are I will not make it through the surgery. I want you to know that I will make it.” She had that surgery last Wednesday, and she made it. It’s not over with. Oh, dear God, no. The storm rages. She is at this moment fighting for all she is worth to fight off the ravages of infection and a variety of other complications. I don’t know what the future holds for her. I ask you only to pray for her.
And I want you to understand that she has taught me more about faith than all of the books I’ve ever read or all of the sermons I’ve ever heard preached. Put as simply as I know how, she has taught me what this parable of Jesus really means, that if we build our lives upon the Rock, if we build our lives upon a deep, unswerving commitment to Him, then He will not only give to us a sense of calm in the midst of a storm, but ultimately, He will land us safely on the other side. God bless you, Chip.
Let us pray. Most gracious Heavenly Father, teach us that if we will but take Jesus on board, then we, by His power and by His grace, shall be able to weather any storm. Amen.