I have never been much of a swimmer. Actually, the real story is, I can’t swim. Once on vacation in Grenada, I was splashing around in the beautiful turquoise water, attempting to swim. I suspect my attempt must have looked like a comedy routine because some local boys said to me in an epic accent, “Look at you, man! You can’t even swim with all those big muscles!” I looked at them and said in what I was hoping to be a Grenadian accent, “No man! I can’t swim! I never learned how!” Even now, all these years later, it brings a smile to my face.
I am not really a beach or ocean kind of guy either, but my wife and children love being on the sand. My daughter, Presley, loves it so much that she chose to go to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, a beach community not too far from Oak Island. Oak Island is a place my daughter and I treasure. It is our own Narnia, a mystical, mysterious meeting place where our hearts bonded. From ages seven to eighteen, Presley would accompany me as my “wing- woman” to Oak Island where I would preach at a summer youth camp. I watched her grow from an elementary student, through the awkward middle school years, into a beautiful senior in high school, on these weeklong summer adventures. We made so many beautiful memories over the years, from chasing each other through the old military forts to eating sushi every night for dinner, and having lunch at Provisions, where we would order the famous “1 Pound Shrimp Special.”
God uses places and spaces to connect us to his heart and to each other. The beach is one of those places for the House of Gray. My family loves the beach and ocean, but, me, not so much. It’s not where I would choose to go by myself, but out of love for my people and the smiles it brings to their faces, I go and go often.
Here is my beach routine: I marinate on the beach, chillaxing in a beach chair under a canopy that blocks the sun. Then I cover myself with a large beach towel that blocks the sunrays that escaped the canopy. I get my Bible, a good theology book, a cold, fruity drink, and I enjoy myself in the shade.
Why, you ask? First, as I already said, I can’t swim. Second, there are creatures in the ocean that can eat me. In my mind, I believe a tiger shark would find me appealing to eat. At 5’11”, 260 pounds of pure dark muscularity, I’d be like a gourmet meal. No thanks! Derwin is not getting in the water. Third, the Lord has blessed me with an incredible tan, so there is no need for me to cook myself like a rotisserie chicken in the sun.
Rising Tides, Roaring Wind, and Crashing Waves
Do you ever watch kids build sandcastles on the beach? When I’m sitting under my umbrella, I enjoy watching them, because they are so patient and meticulous about building something that they know will be soon wiped away by the rising tide and crashing waves. As I marinate on this thought, it reminds me that we do the same thing with our lives. We fervently work with meticulous skill, intentionally trying to build The Good Life, which typically means amassing wealth, power, and status through our jobs. Often, we find ourselves racked with anxiety, exhaustion, bitterness, and frustration because the sandcastles we have worked so hard to build are wiped away by the rising tides and cruel waves that crash on our lives.
Two thousand years ago, a poor traveling Jewish preacher from the trailer park town of Nazareth dropped some timeless wisdom on humanity about just this topic. It’s timely for you and me:
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, because he was teaching them like one who had authority, and not like their scribes. (Matt. 7:24–29)
If we will allow the Spirit of God to speak afresh to us, his life-giving words can transform us. We, too, can be “astonished” at Jesus’ teaching. When we build our lives on sand, we will not have the ability to overcome the rising tides and crashing waves. Jesus wants to give us a collapse-proof life.
Paul, one of Jesus’ earliest and most loyal Jewish followers, wrote these hope-intoxicated words:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37–39)
The word conqueror in Greek is hypernikōmen. It means to “keep on winning a glorious victory.”1 Jesus resoundingly won the battle against humanity’s great enemy, the dark powers of sin and death. Sin and death are invasive species that do not belong in God’s good creation. Messiah Jesus triumphed over and disarmed these dark powers with his death and resurrection.
But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57 nlt)
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. (Col. 2:13–15 nlt)
The One who is “grace upon grace” fights our battles (John 1:16). His weapon of victory was his sinless life, his sacrificial atoning death on the cross, his glorious resurrection, his sending of the Spirit, and his future glorious return. King Jesus’ victorious life, which we participate in, makes us overcomers. We are strengthened by the sound of the stone being rolled away from his tomb. Jesus’ tomb is empty, and because his tomb is empty, we can be filled by the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” himself (Phil. 1:19; Gal. 5:22–24). The One who walked out of the tomb now wants to walk into our lives and live in and through us. We are coheirs of a kingdom that is unshakable, irreplaceable, and eternally durable. When the rising tides and crashing waves come:
We may be afflicted, but in Christ, we are not crushed.
We may be perplexed, but in Jesus, we will not lose hope.
We may be persecuted, but in Immanuel, the God who is with us, we will never be abandoned.
We may be struck down, but in Christ Jesus, the King of kings, we will never be destroyed.
What the enemy means for evil, Jesus trans- forms for our good.
Our lives in Christ are not built on a temporary foundation like sand. In Jesus, our lives are built on the Eternal Rock: “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken” (Ps. 62:2). We can never be shaken loose from the grip of his grace. In Christ, we are not a sandcastle-kind-of-people because Jesus is our firm foundation.
1 J. A. Witmer, Romans, in J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 475.
Dr. Derwin L. Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. He has written several books including God, Do You Hear Me? Gray and his wife Vicki have been married since 1992 and have two adult children.
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Excerpted with permission from God, Do You Hear Me? by Dr. Derwin L. Gray. Copyright 2021, B&H Publishing Group.