August 21, 2016
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
You may not have noticed, but the football season has already started. NFL pre-season games having been going head-to-head with the Olympics. The Hall of Fame Game was cancelled due to a bizarre situation with the field, but I don’t think many people even cared. College and high school don’t play pre-season games, but their real games are starting soon, and of course they have been practicing for some time now. As I think I’ve told you before, I don’t pay much attention to football until after the World Series is over, but I know most of you don’t wait that long, so I thought I’d start with a football story.
A college team was playing a crucial game with both of their quarterbacks injured. All they had was a freshman who did their punting and who had some high school experience at quarterback but had never even taken a snap in practice at the college level. The coach had no choice. He had to use him.
It was first down on their own three-yard-line. A lot of bad things can happen when you are pinned that deep in your own territory, so the coach told the quarterback who was also the punter his plan: “I want you to hand off to our biggest running back two times. We’ll just have him run up the middle to get us out of danger. Then on third down, I want you to surprise them with a punt.”
The quarterback did exactly as he was told. On the first play, the linemen managed to open a big hole and the running back scampered for fifty yards before he was brought down. On the next play, the same thing happened. This time he got all the way to the two-yard-line.
The fans were going crazy. Ninety-five yards in two plays. One more burst up the middle for the touchdown. So the quarterback took the snap, took a step back, and punted the ball high into the stands. That’s a touchback, by the way, not a touchdown.
The coach was furious. He grabbed that young quarterback by the face guard and yelled at him, “What were you thinking on that last play??” He said, “I was thinking what a dumb coach we have.”
It’s not allowed yet in college, but in the pros, quarterbacks have wireless communication with their coaches. It’s a rare quarterback who is allowed to call his own plays. It’s a rare coach who would trust his quarterback that much.
God trusts you and me that much! God allows us to call our own plays. God allows us to make our own decisions. It all started in the Garden of Eden. And I wonder if God had some second thoughts.
It was all set up so beautifully for the man and the woman. A garden paradise. Everything they needed. It was just perfect. All they had to do was stay away from that one tree. And they couldn’t do it. God had given them a choice — life or death — and they chose death.
Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone choose death instead of life? It happens all the time.
We have known for some time now the health risks of tobacco. It’s not news that smokers die younger and while they live they are less healthy. So why would anyone choose to smoke? And yet millions of teenagers will make that choice this year. And millions of adults will choose not to stop. And because of these choices 480,000 Americans will die this year.
There are other highly addictive substances that kill lives. Alcoholism kills 88,000 Americans every year. Drug abuse kills 49,000. We have a budding epidemic of opioid abuse. It’s already being called the worst drug crisis in American history. It often starts with prescription pain drugs that end up being gateway drugs to heroin.
One in every five American deaths is associated with obesity. We all know it’s not healthy to eat too much and exercise too little. We have better knowledge than has ever been available about the health risks and health benefits of certain foods. We can choose life. But we often choose death.
Moses spoke to the Hebrew nation on their way to the Promised Land. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Just three points for today. The first one is this: God has given us freedom to choose our own destinies.
A social worker knocked on the door of an old, dilapidated house. A woman opened the door just a crack and said through that narrow opening. “You needn’t come in here. Me and my husband don’t take no interest in nothin’.” That’s not a bad description of a lot of people who choose not to take control of their lives.
There was a movie a few years ago in which one of the leading characters lived a very hard life. He faced one tragedy after another. He was never able to hold onto a job or a marriage or a friendship. He died in a fight in a tavern. Here was his eulogy:
Joe died almost like he was born. He came into this world kicking and screaming and fighting and understanding nothing. He went out of this world fighting, without the slightest notion of what he was put here for or where he was going.
Another description of a life out of control.
God has given us the ability to take control of our lives. We can choose our destinies. Choosing not to choose is a choice. Deciding not to decide is a decision. Our destiny may end up being far from what we ever would have chosen, but we did choose it by the small and seemingly unimportant choices we made along the way.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it:
Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.
Brer Rabbit was invited to dinner on the same evening at the same time at Brer Terrapin’s and Brer Possum’s. So he had a decision to make. He was very hungry, but he was frozen at the crossroads between those two houses. “Do I eat with Brer Terrapin or do I eat with Brer Possum?” He ran toward Brer Possum’s. Then he stopped in his tracks and turned around. He was running now toward Brer Terrapin’s. He stopped again. No, he would go to Brer Possum’s.
And so it went, back and forth. He would have had a delicious meal at either the two houses but he ended up at neither because he couldn’t make up his mind.
Have you ever had a Brer Rabbit moment? You have two good choices but since you can’t choose you end up with a bad choice? We’ve all done that. But some people live their whole lives that way. Keeping all options open. Unable to decide. Unable to commit.
The prophet Elijah said, “How long will you limp between two opinions” (I Kings 18:21). Joshua said, “If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). We’ll never get far in life if we cannot seize the freedom God has given us to choose our own destinies.
Second, we have to live with the consequences of our choices.
Another social worker story. There was a young boy with severe birth defects. This caring social worker arranged for the medical help that was needed. Surgeons worked on his face, to make him look better. Speech therapists taught him how to speak. Physical therapists taught him how to walk. By his teens, his life was really quite good. With all this help, he had a full life and it sure looked like a great future.
Except the story isn’t over. As a young man, he was involved in a botched robbery. He hadn’t planned to use his weapon except to scare people, but he panicked. He ended up murdering someone. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.
The social worker who took such an interest in him at the beginning put it like this: “We taught him how to walk, but not where to walk.” The social worker and the surgeons and the therapists could open up a new world of opportunity for this young man, but they could not protect him from the consequences of his own decisions.
So it is with us. We are free to make our own calls in life, but we are not free to escape the consequences.
A man was driving 45 miles per hour in a school zone. He got caught. The fine was $200. Let this be a warning to you, by the way. School is in session. Slow down. Anyway, this man paid his fine in person at city hall. The clerk handed him a receipt. The man growled, “Why would I want a receipt for a parking ticket?” The clerk politely smiled at him and said, “With four of these you get a bicycle to ride.”
There was a father who was trying to teach his son this lesson about consequences. He had a disobedient son. So every time this boy did something that was wrong, the dad had him drive a nail into a post. And every time he did something right, he was allowed to remove one nail. Soon there were a lot of nails in that post. But then the boy had a change of heart. His good deeds were starting to outnumber his bad deeds. Finally, the last of the nails in that post was removed.
But he could still see the holes. The nails were gone but the holes those nails had made were still there. They were reminders that God forgives us but even God cannot erase the damage our sins have caused.
Finally, there is one choice that matters more than any other. Jesus said that if we choose to save our lives, we will lose our lives. We think we’re choosing life, but really when we live for ourselves alone, we are choosing death. And Jesus also said that if we choose Jesus, if we are willing to lose our lives for the sake of Jesus and all that Jesus stands for, then we will find our lives. When our own lives are no longer our highest priority in life, then and only then have we truly chosen life. To choose Jesus is to choose life.
I don’t know if anyone here has heard of John “The Bull” Bramlett. He was a professional football player. He was very good. They called him “the meanest man in football”. But the problem was that he was a mean, nasty, out of control person whether he was on the football field or not. His life was a mess.
John Bramlett’s family never knew when he left home if he would come home drunk, or call from jail, or wouldn’t come home at all. He could control the outcome of a football game. But he could not control his own life.
Until he met Jesus. Jesus completely changed this man’s life. Here is a letter his son, Don wrote in grade school. The assignment was “All I Want for Christmas.”
All I want for Christmas is for my family and me to have a very merry Christmas like the other two Christmases we have had. My dad was out drinking and fighting three years ago and we were all worrying about him and wondering when he would come back. While opening presents we were so miserable through those years. Now we have a happy and merry Christmas after my daddy accepted Jesus in his heart and we have a lot to be thankful for. This is all I want for Christmas, and I’ve got it.
They made a movie about the life of John “The Bull” Bramlett. It was called “Taming the Bull”. It was about his conversion. It was about how this man who for much of his life had chosen death met Jesus. And from that moment on, he chose life.
(YouTube: The Trailer for “Taming the Bull: The John Bramlett Story”)
Dear God, we thank you that you let us call our own plays. Freedom is a precious thing. But God, we confess to you that we have not done the best job with our play calling. We have chosen what looks good to us, and in our foolishness we have chosen death, not life. Forgive us, God. We know the nail holes remain. We can do our best to make reparations, but the damage we have caused is done. Thank you God that something else is done. Jesus died for our sins, and because of the nail holes in his hands and feet, our salvation is a done deal. Our delivery from death, our free gift of life in Jesus, if only we will accept it. We accept it. In Jesus’ name, we accept the free gift of our salvation. Amen.