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Sometimes You Don't Have Enough Rocks

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Genesis 28:18-19

Sometimes You Don't Have Enough Rocks[1]

Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.[2]

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n the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest and Ginny are walking down a dirt road.  Childhood friends, both of them are now grown.  Ginny has lived a hard life which was marked by sex, drugs, and living as a rock-and-roll groupie.  Now, she is beginning to retreat from her self-destructive lifestyle.  As they are walking down this road they come to the shack where Ginny lived as a little girl.  As Ginny walks closer to the shack her face is distorted with hatred and anger.  She reaches down, picks up a rock and zings it toward the house.  It hits and flecks off some already peeling paint.  So she picks up another rock and fires again.  This time the rock crashes through an already broken window.  Suddenly, she begins to throw with abandon.  She throws so much that she finally exhausts herself and falls to the ground.  Forrest walks up and as he is gazing down at her he says, “I guess sometimes you just don't have enough rocks.”

What he meant, I think, is that Ginny could have thrown rocks all day and never taken that house to the ground.  Those rocks were not going to demolish that old shack.  But I think he also meant that she could have thrown rocks all day and she would never demolish the abuse she had known as a child … or demolish the effects of that abuse in her life.  She could have thrown rocks all day and never, never brought her torment, her agony, her misery, her anguish to the ground.

It is true for Ginny, and it is true for us.  You and I can throw rocks and stones at situations and relationships in the past and present, and it will never relieve our agony.  It will never assuage our misery.  It will never lessen our anguish.  It will never ease our torment.  The rocks represent words and hurts experienced now and in the past.

For some sharing our worship or reading the message, the source of misery is rooted in the present as well as the past.  We are each aware of marriages and relationships where the primary means of communication is rock throwing; and these people have real good aim.  They know just what to say to cause misery; they know just what to do to cause torment.  At the extreme the rock becomes a knife or a bullet.

You and I know of growing and grown children who know just what to say and just what to do to cause pain and misery for their fathers and mothers.  Accusations and actions are rocks that are aimed at parents in order to cause the most pain and misery.  The message is, “I'm going to do just what I want to do and I am going to live just like I want to live.”  Because of these rocks thrown without regard to the impact they will have, both parties are bloodied and bruised.

Just as we know children who are good at throwing rocks, you and I also know parents who are adept with words calculated to cause the most harm in their children.  Neglect is one of the worst rocks—with long-lasting consequences.  Favouritism can be another effective rock to injure and destroy.

Unfortunately, I suppose that we each know employees and employers that know just what to say or to do to cause pain and misery.  Tragically, we are all too familiar with churches and pastors who have gotten into this rock-throwing contest.

There is a story which you will find in the Bible that presents a family which is remarkably similar to a modern-day dysfunctional family.  Perhaps we should realise that dysfunction is not a product of this age, but that it has marked families since the introduction of sin into the world.  The proud and joyful parents in this particular dysfunctional family were named Isaac and Rebekah.  Study the story with me and together let’s discover something about what pleases God.  Study the story so that we may see ourselves reflected, both in our relationship in the home and in our relationship to one another as a people of God within the Body of Christ.

The Natural Use of Rocks — There are plenty of rocks, many of which we bring, consciously or unconsciously, into the Body of Christ, which are available to any life.  Among the rocks which are prominent for our use or misuse are such stones as Competition, Conspiracy, Favouritism and Greed.

A couple of chapters prior to the one from which our text is taken is found the account of the birth of the twin boys—Esau and Jacob.  Their father, Isaac, had married late in life.  In fact, he was forty years of age when he at last married.  The marriage was arranged through the intervention of his father, Abraham.  After marriage, Isaac was grieved to discover that Rebekah, his wife, was barren.  Today, we might consult an obstetrician or a fertility specialist, and having determined who was at fault, we would endeavour to correct God’s error.

It was quite different in that less enlightened age, however.  There were no specialists, nor was there knowledge of reproductive biology such as we enjoy today.  Because Isaac and Rebekah were so ignorant, they went to God.  The Word of God says that Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren [Genesis 25:21a].  Childlessness was a serious enough issue that Isaac sought the Lord’s intervention, and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived [Genesis 25:21b].  These simple people consulted the Creator first.  Perhaps we could learn something from their humble response.  I am not disparaging consulting medical experts in this day, but I cannot help but wonder if we would not be better served were we to first consult the Great Physician?  I wonder if we are the poorer for our failure to call first on God?

I am compelled to take a moment to note an important issue which is neglected, perhaps even resented, by many modern couples.  The Bible makes abundantly clear that children are a gift from the gracious hand of God.  Barrenness was considered a mark of divine displeasure among people of the Bible.  We cannot begin to imagine the sorrow Rebekah felt at being childless.  Compounding the natural sense of emptiness in the home was this thought of lack of fulfilment as a woman.  Rebekah understood that her role was to be a mother; her career was to be the happy mother of children.  Not so in this day.  The more wealth we accumulate, the greater our acquisition of “stuff”, the less encouragement to be parents and to discover the true wealth which God offers.

The children were born, and Isaac and Rebekah were doubly joyous because Rebekah birthed twins.  The first son to breech the womb was carefully noted, for he would receive the birthright of a firstborn son.  At some point, the boys were observed to be exceptionally different, and the parents began to show favouritism.  The first boy and the heir to the family fortune was Esau.  The second boy born was Jacob.  They were not identical twins.  In fact they were very, very different.  Esau was the athlete.  He liked to hunt, fish, and play sports.  In elementary school he brought home all the first place ribbons.  He was the fastest runner, the best at all the sports.  Isaac was proud of that Esau.  Isaac would turn to the other parents and say, “That's my boy.”  Esau was the type of man that other men liked and with whom they could relate.

Jacob was different.  Esau ran; Jacob read.  Esau won ribbons; Jacob designed them.  Esau was first on the track; Jacob was first on the test.  Esau would bring animals home for food.  Jacob would bring animals home for pets.  Esau was Sylvester Stallone; and Jacob was Woody Allen.  But Rebekah was so proud of Jacob.  He was the star in all the church plays, and Rebekah would be heard to say, “That's my boy.”

In this dysfunctional family the rocks flew.

There was Competition of an unhealthy sort between these two brothers.  Throughout life, they struggle with one another for supremacy.  Esau assumes the right of primogeniture and exudes a sort of paternalistic aura.  Jacob, on the other hand, received his name because of his actions from the womb.  When he was born, his hand was grasping his brother’s heel.  Jacob means he grasps the heel, which would be understood as he deceives.  Jacob is characterised throughout his life as devious, as cunning and subtle.  There was an air about him which would cause others to distrust him.  This competition between brothers served to divide instead of strengthen.

There is a healthy competition which pushes one to excel.  This is that sense of following the example of a stronger individual.  This speaks of that striving for excellence for the sake of the greater body.  This is that competition which motivates excellence because of love for the family or because of love for the assembly.  Those who are competitive for the sake of family name or for the sake of the Name of Christ are engaged in healthy competition.  Those who are competitive as a means of urging others on to greater heights for their own good are engaged in healthy competition.  That competition which seeks to injure another or which endeavours to destroy another, is unhealthy in the extreme.  Such a rock may be thrown, but it will destroy and hurt.

 Conspiracy, also, was a rock which was flung about within this family.  Instead of openness, the boys were motivated to win at any cost … even at the cost of destroying relationships.  Rebekah and Jacob conspired together to deny Esau the inheritance.  Rebekah suggested that Jacob, the actor, play the part of Esau on that pivotal day when Isaac was going to make the decision about the inheritance.  They both thought that they would get little or nothing because Isaac loved Esau.  The talented actor gave an Oscar-winning performance in his role as “Esau, The Hunter.”  The blessing and inheritance were his.  Despite God’s promise delivered as a prophecy [Genesis 25:23], Rebekah and Jacob sought to ensure the inheritance by taking matters into their own hands.

Within the Church of Christ the Lord are pastors, appointed by God to oversee the flock and charged with the responsibility to give an accounting of their ministry before Him.  Not all pastors are willing to oppose illicit power mongering, and with the passage of time, it is altogether too common to witness a leadership vacuum.

That leadership vacuum will most often be filled by individuals without spiritual credentials for the task.  They assume the role of oversight of the church more by default than by design.  The majority of Christians are not in the least interested in assuming responsibility for the health of the congregation, much less to direct that congregation into growth.  Thus, the unappointed power broker gradually assumes authority which is unrelated to appointment and unrecognised by the Lord.  Once they have ascended to a position of power, these illicit church bosses see their function as maintaining what is in place.  Seldom do they have a vision for the future.  “If it worked forty years ago, it’s good enough for today” is the creed for their ardent opposition to all change or to divine leadership.  Come weal or come woe, our status is quo seems to be their motto.

When confronted by a man of God operating legitimately in his divinely appointed role of pastor, these power brokers are frequently revealed to be cowards.  They cannot bring themselves to openly oppose what they see to be a threat to the status quo.  Thus, they resort to intrigue and conspiracy.  Garnering support through secret meetings and criticisms piously delivered behind the mask of vague complaints they attack the man of God.  They foment distrust and destruction by attacking God’s appointed leaders.  They accomplish their nefarious ends through statements prefaced by phrases such as “Some people say…” or “I heard…”  Cowards that they are, they deserve a cowards fate [cf. Revelation 21:8].

Favouritism is a third stone used to destroy and hurt.  Clearly each parent had a favourite child: Isaac loved Esau; Rebekah loved Jacob.  Such favouritism served to divide instead of unite the boys.  Children learn quickly to live up to the expectations of others; and the lessons learned in childhood too often mark us throughout life.  The child labelled by a teacher as “dumb” enters a lifelong struggle to overcome the past.  The child labelled as “lazy” or “stupid” by a parent will ever after face a mountain to overcome that thoughtless label.  The child promoted as “brilliant” or as “athletic” obtains an advantage before ever a test is administered.

Within the church such favouritism contaminates and injures the people of God.  We would do well to recall the words of James, the brother of our Lord in this context.  My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor man.  Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?  Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.”  If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.  For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgement [James 2:1-13]!

We can show favouritism toward people, toward the commands of God, toward the practise of the Faith; but we do so at peril to our spiritual health as a people of God.  We need to be certain that should we show such favouritism that our actions are of God.  Clearly we ought to love one another deeply from the heart.  This means that some, whom we think less desirable to be called our friends must be esteemed.  Those we deem less desirable as colleagues or less desirable as members of the Body of Christ, must be shown the same courtesy and respect as those we esteem on economic, occupational or physical bases.  At stake is nothing less than the health of the Body of Christ.  We must esteem others on the basis of relationship to Christ instead of valuing one another by artificial criteria.  Indeed, we must learn that God shows no partiality [Romans 2:11].

Greed is yet another rock which Jacob used to destroy family relationships.  Greed is a rock which modern Christians yet employ to great hurt.  Clearly, the blessing of his father was of great worth to Jacob.  In fact, it was so valued that it became the most important goal of his life.  It would cost him his family, his relationship to his brother, esteem in the eyes of his father—but he must have that blessing.  You see, among other benefits, the blessing meant that he would inherit the majority of his father’s possessions.  Thus motivated by greed, he rejected confidence in God with the result that he would be compelled to flee to a foreign land where he would remain for decades.

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted.  And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”  (Therefore his name was called Edom.)  Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.”  Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”  Jacob said, “Swear to me now.”  So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way.  Thus Esau despised his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34].

It is true that Esau despised his birthright, but Jacob, motivated by greed, stole the birthright.  Don’t let the obvious sin blind you to the obscure.  God does not include this story to somehow pardon Jacob, but instead He seeks to fully inform us of events.  Certainly, I do not wish to exonerate Esau for rejection of that which was promised.  He despised his spiritual blessing, just as he despised his material blessing.  However, we must not neglect the fact that Jacob did not trust God to fulfil His Word.  Moreover, he was motivated by greed.

Isaac grew old and his eyesight failed.  The day approached when he would give Esau his blessing, the blessing which was his birthright.  Sending his favoured son to hunt some game which was to be prepared in the way the old man loved to eat it, he promised that upon eating the stew he would bless his son.

Rebekah overheard the conversation and together with Jacob conspired to steal the blessing.  She prepared a stew out of goat, the spices masking the fact that it was domestic and not wild, and Jacob acted the part of Esau.  He dressed the part, wearing his brother’s clothing and cloaking his arm with goat hair so his father would be deceived.  Jacob was deceived and delivered his blessing to Jacob.

Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.”  So he came near and kissed him.  And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,

“See, the smell of my son

is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!

May God give you of the dew of heaven

and of the fatness of the earth

and plenty of grain and wine.

Let peoples serve you,

and nations bow down to you.

Be lord over your brothers,

and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.

Cursed be everyone who curses you,

and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

[Genesis 27:26-29]

When Esau found out about this deception, however, he let it be known that he and his boys were going to take Jacob out.  So Rebekah and Isaac decided that Jacob had better leave the country and go live with his uncle.  Even this decision was the result of manipulation on the part of Rebekah with collusion on the part of Jacob.  Conspiracy and competition still mark his life after he had obtained what he thought he wanted.

These four rocks are abundantly evident in the life of Jacob, but I have said nothing about rocks such as rage, mistrust, complacency, nonchalance, bitterness and a myriad of other emotions which mark the life of Esau.  No doubt these same emotions marred the life of Jacob to greater or lesser extent, but time precludes focusing further on the various rocks we can identify for throwing.  It is enough to say that our emotions can mar and scar our lives as we submit to them and as we permit them to rule over us.  Families are destroyed, relationships are distorted, and even churches are ruined through operating in the realm of emotion instead of ruling over those same emotions.

The Godly Use of Rocks — Just as rocks can hurt and destroy, when used in the appropriate manner, rocks can be used to build.  Jacob was a deceiver.  He was a charlatan.  He was a liar.  He was a thief.  He had been raised by a father who thought he was less than a man and by a mother who was a manipulator.  His brother wanted to kill him.  There was no neutrality in this family.  This was one rock-throwing family.  Father against mother.  Brother against brother.

On his way to his uncle's home, Jacob stopped one night to rest.  The trip would take many days, but the events of one night are worthy of our careful study.  Jacob made himself as comfortable as possible and fell asleep, a rock for his pillow.  That night he had a dream.  A recitation of the dream is unnecessary, but the message delivered in this dream is of utmost importance.  In this dream the Lord said, “I will not leave you.”  What a promise!  The Lord said, “I will not leave you.”  Though Jacob wasn’t perfect, he made a beginning toward becoming a builder instead of being a destroyer.

And what a great lesson for those of us who are great rock throwers.  No matter how much we are hurt and no matter how much we hurt others, the Lord tells us that He can help us—He can help us to stop throwing rocks and to begin building with those same rocks.  Let me tell you how.

Jacob decided that this was a very special place.  Having little money and no one else to help, he did all he could do—he gathered stones and rocks and erected an altar.  He called the place Bethel—house of God.  Instead of throwing rocks, he built an altar.  Instead of destruction, he constructed a house of God.  He had much to learn about God and living life, but this was a first step in the right direction.  He decided that God would be a player in his life.  He decided that God would have some influence in his life and in his work, in his family and in his relationships.

The competition, the conspiracy, the favouritism, the greed and whatever other rocks which have been flung about within our lives heretofore can either destroy us or they can become the means by which we begin to worship.  The competitive spirit surrendered to Christ can spur others on toward love and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:24].  The conspiracies can be transformed into thoughtful planning which unites and builds when given to the Lord.  The favouritism can encourage the weak when focused on them for the glory of the Son of God.  Our greed can be transformed into generosity through His glorious power.

The rocks you have used to protect yourself can continue to hurt and destroy.  Surrendered to the use of the Living God, those same rocks can build and strengthen.  Pick any individual sharing this service this morning, and I can guarantee that within the life of that individual, there is enough hurt and pain, enough grief and sorrow, enough cause for bitterness and malice, to destroy a thousand lives.  As we give in to our anger, our wrath, our suffering and our rage, we will try to protect ourselves through flinging rocks.  Or we can use those same rocks to glorify Christ as Lord.

A Plea for the People of God to Use Their Rocks Wisely — This is a great lesson.  Take the emotion, take the anguish, take the misery, take the hatred and build an altar with them and give it to God.  Let God deal with those situations and relationships which have stung you so deeply.  Which would you rather marked your life … a field of rocks, or a series of altars?

At home, instead of throwing rocks, I would build an altar, and every time I wanted to throw rocks I would take that emotion to the Lord and add it to my altar.  At work, instead of throwing rocks, I would build an altar; every time I wanted to throw rocks at a co-worker or a boss, I would take those rocks to the altar.  In my mind I would just take the rock, place it on the altar, and give it to God.  At church, instead of throwing rocks at a parishioner or the pastor, I would build an altar.  Soon all the places where we live would have altars.

But you may ask, “What about the abuse from the past?”  Instead of throwing rocks I would just give it to God.  I would take it to an altar and place the stone there.  Soon the rock-throwing stops and the relationship with God begins.

When we do this, the places in our lives become devoid of abuse.  This may look like an office to you but it is not.  I have built an altar here.  Now it is the house of God, and in the house of God we don't throw stones, we build altars.  This may look like a house to you, but it is not.  It has become the house of God, and in the house of God we don't throw stones, we build altars.  This may look like a workbench to you, but it is not.  It has become the house of God, and in the house of God we don’t throw stones, we build altars.  This may look like a church building to you, but it is not.  It is the house of God, and in the house of God we don't throw stones, we build altars.

You can throw that rock or you can build an altar.  Which will it be?


[1] I am indebted to David N. Clay, Pastor of Ocean View Baptist Church of Norfolk, Virginia for the title and the subject matter of this message.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.  Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2001.

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