When I was fourteen, my parents packed up the Wilkerson family Suburban and moved my brothers and me from Tacoma, Washington, our beloved hometown, to Miami, Florida, a place as foreign to us as Mars. West Coast to East Coast. Cold to hot. Rain to sun. English to everything but English. 2,729 miles. It might as well have been two million. Everything was foreign. Everything, that is, except the beach. Even in dreary, rainy Tacoma, the Wilkerson clan shared beautiful days together at the local beaches. And Miami has one of the best beaches in the world. I loved everything about it. The waves, the sand, the sounds. But I especially loved building sandcastles.
Remember sandcastles? Remember how great it felt to dig your hands into that cool sand and fill your bucket with just the right type of sand—wet enough that it would stick together, but not so wet that you couldn’t shape it? Remember packing the walls and bridges into place and filling the moat with enough sea water to drown any enemy foolish enough to attack your castle? My brothers and I spent hours on our sandcastles. One shovel-full at a time, we sculpted beautiful and imposing white-sand structures, painstakingly smoothing the edges and carving out windows and doors. We dug rivers and ponds, built towers and bridges, and carefully placed seashells all over (because, you know, that’s what the princess would have wanted). We created the castles; we were the kings.
But then near the end of the day, when the sun began to set and the tide began to rise, we would remember what all sandcastle builders know and wish wasn’t true. The ocean was going to destroy our sandcastle. It wouldn’t be there in the morning. We would head home knowing that we would never see that castle again. The next day, as surely as the sun rises in the east, our castle would be gone. There would not be a trace of it—just flat, sandy beach as far as our eyes could see—as if we had never been there, as if all our hard work had never taken place. For all of our efforts, we were left only with the stinging sunburn earned the day before.
Here’s something I’ve learned from reading the Bible: Children aren’t the only ones building from sand and becoming sandcastle kings. Jesus explained it like this in Matthew’s gospel:
Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 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. 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. Matthew 7:24–27
Unfortunately, when it comes to the way we build our lives, far too often we build on sand instead of on solid rock. For some people, their lives are based on money. For others, it’s a relationship, or physical health, or fame, or knowledge, or even family. There may be as many faulty ways to build a life as there are grains of sand on the beach.
The problem is not that any of these things are bad. Most are good things, in and of themselves. That’s why we can be so tempted to build our lives on them. Who doesn’t want to do well at work, to have a strong marriage, to be healthy and educated and have great kids? These things are good. We should want them.
The problem comes when we make any of these good things our foundational thing.
When we make a good thing a foundational thing, we set up ourselves for frustration, sorrow, and despair. However pretty the sandcastle looks, however strong you make its walls, however deep the moat, however high the towers, the waves will eventually knock it down, and the sandcastle kingdom will be washed away.
Scan the headlines of your favorite news website and you’ll see this truth illustrated in the lives of the rich and famous. How many young pop stars had a meteoric rise, phenomenal success almost overnight, followed by erratic behavior, drug abuse, an unsuccessful stint in rehab, and then virtual anonymity? How many celebrity marriages ended in divorce before the honeymoon was over? How many business tycoons scraped and scammed their way to the top only to see their marriages unravel, their children grow up to hate them, and their companies embroiled in a corporate scandal? Sandcastle lives are everywhere. We read about them every day.
But it’s not just in Hollywood or on Wall Street, is it? We all know people in our own circles who have similar stories. The workaholic neighbor whose twenty-year marriage is teetering on the verge of collapse. The alcoholic cousin who can’t hold a job. The twice-divorced friend who keeps inviting you to meet her new boyfriend, enthusiastically insisting that “he’s the one.” The triathlete brother just diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Although we don’t like to admit it or think about it for too long, there’s probably a longing deep inside that makes us anxious, uneasy, discontent. It makes us wish for something else, some other place, some other person, or job, or identity. We have little or no peace or rest. We yearn for more, or less, or just something different. We run frantically from one pleasure to the next, hoping desperately to find some sort of lasting contentment, eventually concluding that we “can’t get no satisfaction.”
Here’s where we can learn from certain experiences faced by biblical people. In the midst of their bankruptcies, at just the right time, they crossed paths with Jesus. Each person’s story is different, but in each case, as the storm raged and the water rose, Jesus rushed into the collapsing castle, rescued the person, and put him or her on solid ground. It’s heroic. It’s beautiful.
These amazing stories are found in Luke chapter 7. “Chapter 7,” you may know, is the name of one of the most common types of bankruptcy in the United States. Every year, nearly a million people file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. When a person files under Chapter 7, the goal is to eliminate as many debts as possible. The process usually requires the debtor to sell the majority of his assets, and in many cases all of his debts are satisfied or dismissed and the debtor walks away with a fresh financial start. Creditors hate Chapter 7. Most of them don’t get repaid. Instead, after verifying that the debtor is unable to repay his debts, the judge orders the debts to be dismissed, and the creditors’ claims become unenforceable.
Luke chapter 7 carries stories that look similar to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. The people are ruined, unable to meet the demands of their circumstances, unable to pay their debts—especially their biggest debt of all: their debt to God. Then Jesus enters their lives and they experience mercy and grace. Their debts are forgiven. They get a fresh start. Jesus restores the hope they feared was lost. Near the end of Luke 7, Jesus teaches his disciples through the following story:
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Luke 7:41–43
God has forgiven the substantial debts in my life. I want you to experience the same freedom and peace that comes when Jesus dismisses your debts and gives you a fresh start. I want you to come to know that God, through Jesus, desires to rescue you from spiritual bankruptcy by forgiving the greatest debt you owe. Jesus wants you to stop building sandcastles and pretending that you are the king. He is the king, and he wants to help you build your life on the only foundation strong enough to withstand the storms of this life: himself.