How To Tell A Mountain From A Molehill, Week 3 — The “Rock People & Sand People” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message led to this immediate response from a Good Shepherd friend:

I love how once again you were talking to me (because it’s about me lol) this morning and pulling be back in.  As if you are reaching out for my hand and saying “get back here”.  I heard you. 

I am the sand.  I have been the sand.  I want to be the rock.  

I live cyclicly.  I repeat the same mistakes and I pull myself back up over and over. 

So after the sermon, I downloaded the push pay app and sent in my offering. The I filled out my application to volunteer during the week at Levines Children’s hospital and also expressed interest in helping with Room at the Inn again.  

Thank you for kicking my behind and reminding me of what is important. 

I do spend part of every day talking to God.  I pray. I’m grateful for all that has been given to me and how much I am blessed.  But tomorrow I restart my morning structured devotionals.  


It was one of those moments that remind you yet again that ministry is worth it.

The bottom line was inspired by John Ortberg:  Wise people build their lives on what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.  Not the reverse.






I have noticed a couple of interesting trends in reading obituaries recently.  Now: I’m mostly talking about those obits you find in the daily newspaper, which I know for a lot of you is like a relic from a distant archaeological past.  But it’s still part of my routine and part of the reason I check obits is to make sure I’m still alive and also to see if any of my preacher friends have a funeral that day & might need some prayer support. 

            Anyway, the two trends are these:  1) more and more people and their survivors hold the celebrations / remembrances not in funeral homes or churches but in bars and restaurants.  A lot of Hickory Taverns; and 2) more and more people define their lives by and wish to be remembered by … their teams.  The Panthers, the Steelers, the Cowboys, the Tar Heels, Team Earnhardt, the Tar Heels, the Hornets, and did I mention some Tar Heel fans?  On the one hand, I suppose those are nice memories … I might well be remembered with some lines about “he loved to watch Roger Federer play tennis and listen to Don Henley sing songs.”  Yet on the other hand I suspect that that’s not all it will say and it will be a bit more comprehensive for many of you as well.  The obits getting my attention these days … that’s all.  That’s it.  Lives built on and remembered for fandom.  Interesting that in the one thing in daily life that looks headlong into what is eternal – life after death – so many obit are chock full of what is temporary.

            It seems to be that way with a lot of life, doesn’t it?  We pile on so much of what is here and what is now – jobs, family, sports, travel, entertainment – that we squeeze out there and then.  And most of the time church people don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing.  I sense that so many people – including in here – are distracted, controlled by what is urgent, lured by what is convenient, and so build our lives on that.  For some of you it’s that relationship.  It may be toxic, it may be destructive, you may even be trapped in an endless loop of abuse, but you feel incomplete without it.  And even against your better judgment, you’re building your life on it.  Someone else here, it’s more the job … it defines you, it makes you, you are what you do.  If you ever lose that job or retire from it, you won’t be anymore. 

            Then more than a few of you, it’s kids.  Yeah, kids!  You subtly believe you’re the only people who’ve ever had children; no one could ever love their kids like you love yours.  You’re helicoptering and their successes and their happiness has become your obsession.  You’re making sure they are getting all the experiences they can possibly fit in.  Right schools, right scholarship, sports, band, all of it.  Listen:  a lot of that is good.  But.  However.  And then a few of you it’s the constant quest for nicer stuff.  You’ve built your life around acquisition.  The more and the better stuff you acquire, the more and the better you’ll.  And if you doubt me that a WHOLE LOTTA PEOPLE build their lives this way, why is the #1, the most recession proof segment of the construction industry … mini warehouses?  Because we squeeze stuff and acquisitions and activities and NOW in our lives til we literally run out of room and then we’ve got to get some more squeezable space.

            And … we’re not the first and probably won’t be the last.  We’re probably the BEST, but likely not the last!  Jesus knew all too well about the lure of building your life and defining yourself on the visible and the current.  And that’s why he tells a story that’s REALLY about mountains and molehills but we’ll let him keep it about sand and rock and storms.  Now:  we are going to work out way backward through these verse.  But that makes sense because these words themselves come at the END of a sermon, called the SM, which takes up all of Mt. 5-7.  That sermon includes many of Jesus’ most famous sayings, including the eye rollers we look at earlier this year like love you enemy and pray for those who persecute you and turn the other cheek and be holy.  Even if you don’t believe this stuff or follow Jesus very closely or open your bible, you’ve heard those kinds of words along with the meek shall inherit the earth and let your light shine before men. 

            And after all that rhetorical flourish, Jesus FINISHES the sermon on sort of a Debbie Downer note: 

26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Now: I know a thing or two about FINISHING SERMONS and if Jesus ever asks me, I’ll have a few suggestions for improvement.  But anyway, here’s the things about the sand: in the Israeli summer, that sand is packed hard and baked dry and LOOKS solid, substantial, and comparatively easy to build on.  So the home builder’s choice here is not beyond the realm of possibility – it looks, good, takes less effort, and there will be a quick building cycle.

            But the sand is ultimately deceptive.  It looks nice now but in reality can hardly stand up to nature’s elements.  And the crash that comes in the wake of the inevitable storms of life is louder than any construction cranes ever would have been.  What had been nicely decorated becomes utterly collapsed.  And Jesus is like:  “for those who HEAR but don’t DO, who READ but don’t EMBRACE, that’s what it’s like.  When you build your life on what is visible and popular and easy and only occasionally squeeze in what is eternal, that’s what happens to you.  It collapses from the inside out. 

            And I wish it wasn’t all still true but it is.  My gosh, when people build their relationships and define their lives on what is temporary, homes & the people who live in them sometimes go through the swiftest devastation.  Some of you are living this right now.  You’ve gotten so many last words in and won so many arguments, turns out you won the LAST ARGUMENT.  And it was a hollow victory indeed because now you’re alone.  Or others of you avoid the difficult issues because it’s easier to shop or watch the game and those difficulties suddenly became painfully unavoidable.  And then others of you – get this – you yell at all the wrong things.  Things like the Panthers or politicians or kids coaches because you haven’t developed the godly discipline of expressing healthy anger.  All around you it’s about to teeter and collapse because the foundation by definition can’t last.  It’s what happens with SAND PEOPLE.  You’ve built your home & defined your lives by  that which overpromises and underdelivers.  I don’t want a bunch of SAND PPL at GS because, frankly, it’s dumb.  Everybody does it, everybody squeezes God and godliness in only when convenient but it’s dumb.

            Because there’s another house and another builder in the story.  It’s actually how the little vignette opens. Look at 7:24:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Hears & does.  Meaning:  Oh!  Jesus is speaking?  He is the King, the King is talking, the King is laying out what it means to follow him.  And how does Jesus describe such a person?  Wise.  Not dumb.  And what does this wise listener and embracer do?  Matthew 7:25 tells us:

25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

 Ah, those who build their lives, define themselves, decide on parenting not on the here and the now but on the there and the then.  On that which will last.  On that which is eternal because it comes from the mouth and the life of the one who is forever.  And get this:  the same storms come to both SAND PEOPLE AND ROCK PEOPLE.  It just turns out that WHAT you do in the calm decides HOW you do in the storm.  A life of faith doesn’t protect you from the storms; it just is completely different in how you weather it.

            Here’s what this marvelous little couplet means, as a pastor in CA says, Wise people build their lives on what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.  Not the reverse.  Yes!  Jesus – and me – is not talking about religion when it’s convenient in the middle of everything else, it’s putting first things first, priorities in order, not succumbing to the lure of the easy but instead surrendering to the call of the eternal.  I’m building my life and defining myself by my faith and by my Savior not by my address or by my awards.  My possessions are much less important than my possessOR.  And along the way, I’ll spend a lot less on mini-storage and a lot more on ministries that invite people to life with the King.  I have been eager to give this message for a long time because I want all the SAND PEOPLE of GS, in a moment of terrifying but liberating awareness, to realize:  There is still time!  I can stop chasing vanity!  I can’t stop spending time and money and emotional energy on the trivial and can build on what’s eternal!  I can get off the sand and onto the rock.

            It’s like one of my good friends here who has a simple rule with his teenage kids.  They can get on tech once they spend 10 minutes on the Bible Project YouTube (AV) which is an incredibly compelling, theologically accurate bible teaching source.  So those kids exposed every day not to what is juvenile but to what is deep – and then write down five things they didn’t know or found interesting.   Seeing what so many of us discover in here: close reading of the bible is fascinating.  They do that FIRST in that house … & I see results.  Wise people build their lives on what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.  Not the reverse

            And it starts even earlier.  As a lot of you know our 29 year old daughter is getting married in Nashville on 11.4.18.  And so recently we were reminiscing about the house in Monroe where she spent her first nine years.   What’d we go to in the memories?  The church yard where, one day after school, she accepted Jesus as Lord.  At age five.  We’ve done a lot wrong but in that biggest of pictures and most significant of questions, we had that order right.  Wise people build their lives on what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.  Not the reverse

            This is so vital to me because I don’t want you to go through life distracted.  Impatient.  So many people are dyin’ to get out of school then they’re dyin’ to start work and then dyin’ to get married and then dyin’ to have kids and then dyin’ to have season tickets and finally they’re just dyin.  The one subject to which they have given no thought.  It’s like the time Ann Landers got asked, “What do you think about heaven & hell?” and she answered, “It is a question to which I have given almost no thought.”  She’s full of advice.  But that’s dumb.  Why?  Wise people build their lives on what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.  Not the reverse

            How are you a SAND PERSON today?  What do you need to remove from life and replace it with things of faith and eternity and value?  And when I talk about faith and eternity and value, I’m not talking about new inventions.  I’m talking about daily time away and alone. I’m talking about commitment to corporate worship and LifeGroup life. I’m talking about ServeTeams.  I’m talking about the joy of generosity rather than the misery of hoarding.  What takes first priority in my time, my money, my attention, and my love?  REF.  See, so many people want the benefits OF Jesus without surrender TO Jesus and it just doesn’t work that way.  Hallelujah!  REF.

            Because here’s some differences between SAND PEOPLE and ROCK PEOPLE.  (AV, dissolve)

            Sand People … manage crise.  Rock People … prevent them.

            SP .. live cyclically.  RP … live on trajectory.

            SP … repeat the same mistakes.  RP … learn from them.

            SP … are influenced by fads.  RP … are informed by faith.

            SP … I need to buy!  RP … I am bought!

            SP … I’m pulling myself up!  RP … I am resurrected!

            SP … It’s my life.  RP … That’s my king.

            SP … An obit about THEM.  RP … An obit about HIM. 

Which one will you be?