Today's sermon is going to be brief and a bit short on scriptural references. That's because I think the testimony it includes from a friend of mine is so powerful it's best to let it almost entirely stand on its own.
First, about my friend. I can't say he and I were close…but he was more than just an acquaintance. We worked together at CVS/Pharmacy in West Lebanon, New Hampshire…and if you have ever have had a similar experience…you'll know that you develop a type of bond with anyone you've regularly worked at 3:00 in the morning with…especially if you, he, and another person always shared an "on the edge of freezing" two liter Mountain Dew when you really should have been sleeping.
Don't worry…we used separate cups. 🙂
His name is Mike (as was the name of my other 3AM compadre)…and he was close enough to my wife and me to help Michelle out when I left two months ahead of her for a job in Atlanta with ProTix (working on the Olympics). Michelle was pregnant with Mikey…hard to believe such a grown man ever was just an embryo, eh?
Michelle was pregnant with Mikey…and we had two Siamese cats, Simon and Garfunkle. Pregnant women aren't supposed to get near kitty litter, so Mike came over to our apartment in West Lebanon and changed it as needed.
No, he wasn't a very close friend…but as I said…he was a good friend…as shown by that repeated act of kindness.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
At this point some of you know who Mike is because I've shared part of his story before. However, I wanted everyone to have this much in mind as I share a portion of one of his letters with you:
Back to that free will thing. Where God does see and know all, and we, with our limited insights are allowed to either follow God or run amok, is it so much God changes his mind, or just sees fit to let us feel the pain of our poor choices before He then says, “Okay, now you see why that way won't work, now follow me and see that this way is better?” For my part, despite feeling that tugging to come to Jesus, I persisted in my arrogance and sin, so since I wouldn't allow God to intercept me before my “indiscretion”, He called to me, but at a time where I was broken down and more receptive to His call. I do believe that He tries to get our attention before we drive off a cliff, as it were, but when we ignore Him and blunder into things, He will call to us again when we might be more receptive.
I suspect most or all of us can relate to this. I suppose there are some sitting here who may have been Christians from get-go…growing up in a Christian family and always having their eyes on Jesus…and if that is true, than you have that much more to thank God for. But, for almost everyone, even most that had Christian parents, in all likelihood there was a time that you "ran amok" and had to experience the consequences of your sinful choices…oddly enough, something else you should thank for. However, it was the next part of Mike's testimony that stood out to me:
Think of riding a bus, and while you think you're taking it where you want to go, you aren't the one driving. The devil is. And this bus goes with the flow, the typical “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13), hitting potholes, running into cars & over pedestrians, all sorts of havok [sic]. But you're sitting right there hanging on, because that's the way to where you want to go. But what you don't notice is that at every bus stop there is a limo, and its driver is holding up a sign with your name on it, waving and yelling to you, but the bus's windows are closed, and you're looking ahead at where you're going, because that's your plan and you're sticking with it, no matter how many troubles the bus has. Again & again, at each bus stop, that limo & driver are there, holding up the sign with your name on it & calling out to you, but you don't hear or see because the bus just ran down some celebrity or stopped by the crack dealer, and that's what all the bus people are doing, so that's what you're doing, because that's the way to where you are going. Then the bus is swerving toward a group of people, some are strangers, some are your own family … but wait! That's not supposed to happen! True, this bus is going the way I want to go, I think, but it's not suppose to hit ! Too late … and now the bus has steel mesh over it windows, I'm in shackles, and the driver has a gun & a badge, what the…!?! How did this happen, I was just going with the flow, just like everyone else, now I have to look through this steel mesh … hey, is that limo driver waving to me?!?
Notice how by the end of his testimony it changes from a second person pronoun (you) to a first person one (I). This isn't just a stuffy theological discussion between two Christians here, this is a personal experience put to words.
This is Mike's story.
But Mike's story isn't complete without "her story"…her being a 45 year-old jogger whose life intersected with Mike's about 8 years ago:
DENVER — A construction worker kidnapped a jogger and raped her five times during a span of 24 hours in his pornography-littered trailer, videotaping one of the assaults and happily watching it before letting her go, authorities said. Police say the 45-year-old woman was set free after she agreed to make the video and pretend she enjoyed it. The woman had memorized the man's name and address from a magazine label in the trailer, helping authorities track him down Thursday. Michael ______, 29, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and false imprisonment.
Yes, my friend…the one who was there over-and-over when a pregnant woman needed kitty litter cleaned is now serving consecutive sentences of 40 years for a kidnapping and 25-to-life for sexual assault.
Does the bus analogy in his testimony mean more to you now?
Are you on the bus, or in the limo?
I told you that this sermon would be brief…and be a bit short on scriptures…but there are two that come to mind when I read Mike's story…especially when it is completed by "her story." The first is back in Genesis…more specifically Genesis 4:1-7:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
Cain was on the bus…one driven by Satan…one whose first human passengers were his parents. It is assumed Adam and Eve eventually left the bus and climbed on the limo…and here the limo driver, showing His love for their firstborn, cautions Cain:
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
Sadly, we know that Cain chose to stay on the bus and that the "pedestrian" the bus ran over was Abel.
We don't know if Cain ever got in the limo…but biblically it looks like he stayed on the bus and is now spending eternity with the bus driver instead of the limo driver.
The second Scripture is the one in the bulletin today, James 1:15…although we'll start with verse 13:
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).
James 15:15 was actually the first verse that came to mind when I pondered Mike's words…and it seemed especially apropos when I read this snippet from another news article:
[Mike] allegedly told the woman “this was the first time he had ever done this, but he had been thinking about it for years,” according to the arrest warrant. The man said he “was a nice guy but a pervert,” the affidavit said.
"I've been thinking about it for years…"
"Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
"And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
Missing the Bus
Normally, if someone told you they missed the bus it wouldn't be a good thing.
In this case, I pray to the Most High that you miss the bus.
No, climbing in the limo doesn't mean your life will be like a great party with a fully stocked bar and a sunroof for you to stand up in so you can shout to the world how great things are. If anything, the limo driver has promised you trouble in this world…because if they persecuted Him, your master, they will also persecute you (see John 15:20).
But the longer you stay on the bus the more likely that it will run over a jogger, or a spouse, or a child…
And the more likely that there will suddenly be steel mesh over the windows and you won't just be serving 65 to life…
You'll be serving eternity with the bus driver…a bus driver who hates you so much that he is "[prowling] around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
And that someone will be you.
You are at a bus stop.
"The limo driver is holding up a sign with your name on it, waving and yelling to you."
Get in the limo.
Miss the bus.
And pray for Mike…first praising God that he finally climbed in the limo…and that he was willing to share his experience with you so that you can be smart enough to…
So that you can be smart enough to…
Miss the bus!