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Commit to Excellence

11-13-2022 - John Scott | John 10:10

Life is full of circumstances and challenges. Things can range from the urgent such as, ‘The house is on fire and you better call 911, to the mundane such as ‘I need to get off my sorry behind and do those dishes.’

Although the urgent circumstances tend to get our immediate, undivided, attention and spring us into action, it is often the daily mundane situations of life, that tend to have a greater long-term impact on our lives.

Before we get into the meat of the message, I must tell you that today we are going to discuss Satan, which is a topic seldom discussed in today’s Church. Perhaps, Satan is not often discussed because the idea of ‘Satan’ can be controversial. There are believers who think the whole idea of Satan is hogwash and a way to avoid responsibility for one’s behaviors, while other believers organize much of their thinking around the idea found in1Peter 5:8 which says, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.’

Irrespective of what we as individuals may, or may not think of Satan, the fact is Jesus, Himself, talked about Satan. Jesus says to us in John 10:10 ‘The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. But I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly.’ Since Jesus discussed Satan, I am going to make references to Satan in our message this morning.

I mentioned the range of life’s circumstances from the urgent being ‘The house is on fire, and you better call the fire company, to the mundane being ‘I need to get up and do those dishes.’ I chose those two extremes because I’ve had personal experiences with both of them.

Let me tell you a true story, as I throw the good Deacon under the bus this morning. Dee and I were married for about three weeks, and we had a major fire in our home. The fire was pretty bad, and we were out of the house for about six months. At that time, we had a nine – month old Cocker Spaniel named Taffy, and Taffy was clearly Dee’s baby.

The fire breaks out, Dee scoops up Taffy, and the three of us run out the front door onto the porch. Dee looks at me and says ‘Wallace, you have to go back in the house and call 911; Taffy and I are going to stay outside… That’s a true story.

I learned a very important lesson that day. I learned I was clearly second dog on the totem pole. I was dog #2.

On a serious note, the point is, the urgency of the house on fire forced me to spring into immediate decisive action, as opposed to the mundane issue of doing dishes, which allows me to procrastinate.

Although I may procrastinate washing the dishes, there is still some discomfort because I know the dishes need to be done, I have not done them, and they are on my mind. Finally, at some point, I will get up, take a few minutes to do the dishes, and relieve myself of all of the anxiety caused by procrastination.

The reason I am belaboring the point regarding dishes is, as mentioned earlier, Jesus tells us that the thief comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. You see, the problem with me doing the dishes is not the task of doing dishes, that only takes a few minutes. The problem with me doing dishes is I am comfortably sitting in my recliner, with TV remote in hand, the beverage and snacks of my choice nearby, and I don’t feel like moving.

Although there is some underlying anxiety because the dishes need to be done, I would much rather deal with the underlying anxiety, in the comfort of my recliner, as opposed to leaving the recliner for a few minutes, doing the dishes, and avoiding the anxiety.

You see, things such as doing the dishes, making our beds, and taking care of routine mundane affairs are all things we can choose to put off, or even ignore all together. However, those sloppy habits we develop in our daily mundane affairs, often carry over into other areas of our lives.

We find ourselves cutting corners at work, not being as careful with our health or finances, and sometimes neglecting important relationships. Finally, we find ourselves comfortably ignoring the really important things such as spending time with God and spending time with our families.

We must understand that one of the ways Satan steals God’s best from us is by getting us comfortable in our discomfort. Getting us to accept daily sloppiness regarding the mundane things of life such as doing the dishes and making the bed.

The urgency of the house being on fire will force us to immediately call 911; Satan can’t mess with that. Instead, Satan sabotages our lives by helping us to rationalize our sloppiness & procrastination in our daily mundane chores and then helps us to become comfortable with any subsequent discomfort.

It gets worse; Satan not only keeps us comfortable in our daily discomfort, but whenever we decide to improve our lives by changing our daily habits, Satan goes into overdrive in his attempts to sabotage and discourage us.

Have you ever noticed how obstacles seem to spring up from nowhere when we begin to make improvements in our lives? Often, those obstacles are generated by Satan in his attempts to derail our progress.

In our first reading this morning, we find the Israelites in the wilderness complaining. Starting at Exodus 16:1 the Bible says
“They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Let’s talk about this for a moment: the Israelites had been in Egyptian bondage for four hundred thirty years. Although they may have had plenty of food, they were still slaves, under the authority of Pharaoh, and under the whip of Pharaoh’s task masters.
We know the Israelites were distressed because God said to Moses in Exodus 3:7 “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, & have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land, to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk & honey.”

Many of us know the story of God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. God sent Moses to Pharaoh with the request to release the Israelites. God hardens Pharoah’s heart, Pharaoh repeatedly refused, God sent ten plagues upon Egypt, the tenth plague being the death of the firstborn of every living thing, & Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Israelites leave Egypt.

Then God hardens Pharaoh’s heart again, Pharaoh and his army pursued the Israelites into the wilderness, God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to cross over safely, God then drowned the Egyptians who were in pursuit by allowing the sea to go back to its normal depth. The Israelites were safe on land, bringing us to today`s reading, which has the Israelites in the wilderness complaining because they are hungry.

Often, when we discuss the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, and their desire to go back to Egypt where they could at least eat, we often condemn or disparage them for their lack of faith. A typical sermon that evolves from the ‘Israelite Wilderness experience’ is ‘Don’t be like the Israelites in the Wilderness wanting to go back to your sinful life in Egypt; trust God to lead you to the Promised Land. We’ve heard those sermons.

However, while preparing for today, I challenged myself by asking this question: ‘What if I were working in a low paying, dead job, which offered no chance of growth or promotion. Furthermore, I was living in an area which I hated. Although I may have hated the job, as well as the place where I lived, the job did allow me to provide food & shelter for my family.

Suddenly, there is a cataclysmic communal event, which forces the entire community to immediately leave our homes with nothing but the clothes on our backs. We are all subsequently transported to a distant and unfamiliar place. We have no way to protect our families or provide for them. I look into my family’s eyes and all I see is hunger, desperation, and fear. In human terms, the sudden upheaval just described is similar to what the Israelites experienced during the Exodus.

The question is ‘How would we react as spouses and parents in that situation?’ Let me be honest with all of you; I would have wanted to go back to the job and neighborhood which I hated. I may have hated the job and the community, but my wife and daughter would have been able to safely eat and sleep indoors.

I very easily could have been one of the men in Exodus 16: 3 who said to Moses “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, and when we ate bread to the full.” At least, my family was fed and relatively safe in Egypt.

Let me be clear; I am not condoning the behavior of the Israelites in the Wilderness. The Apostle Paul dedicates much of 1 Corinthians 10 to warn us about the behavior of the Israelites in the Wilderness. Paul tells us we should use them as an example of what not to do. However, as spouses and parents, we can understand the concern many of them had when they could not feed their families.

Having said that, there are many lessons we can learn from the Israelites in the Wilderness. For example, we can review those areas in our lives in which we have allowed ourselves to become comfortable in our discomfort. Although the Israelites hated being in Egypt and hated their lives, they made themselves comfortable, in their discomfort, and decided to make the best of it. They gave up!

Can the same be said for some of us this morning? Is there one, or perhaps more of us here this morning, who have given up hope on being able to accomplish a God-given dream? If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, please know that most of us understand throwing in the towel and saying the heck with it…especially as we age.

As we age, it gets easier for us to sit in our recliners and be comfortable in our circumstances. It’s even more difficult to leave the comfort of our recliner & following God into a new land as we age. We’re not all Abraham who was able to leave his home and follow God to the Promised Land.

God leading us into a new land will entail struggle, heartache, and pain along the way. The journey often becomes fearful and stressful. Satan feeds into those emotions of fear and anxiety in order to discourage us. We have to remember that God is faithful & God is with us on the journey.

Let me share a personal story with you. God had been after me for many years to go to Seminary. However, I had made myself comfortable in my discomfort of not going back to school and had no interest in going to Seminary. In late 2015 or early 2016, my wife started to encourage me to go back to school; her encouragement was not always positive. Eventually, it became easier for me to enroll in school, as opposed to continuing to deal with Dee and her words of encouragement. In August 2016, we started on a journey. I say ‘we’ because this journey does not happen without God’s faithfulness and Dee’s support. As many of you know, busting Dee’s chops is one of my favorite pastimes. However, I am the epitome of the line ‘behind every good man is a good woman.’ My life with Dee is much better, and more productive, than my life before Dee. Please don’t tell Dee I said that; we don’t want her getting too big-headed.

We enrolled in the Master of Divinity program, at the Trinity School for Ministry in August 2016, on a full-time basis. The goal was to graduate in May 2019 with the Master of Divinity degree. I was 63 years old at the time, working full-time for Allegheny County, had not been in school for many years, dealing with my mom who was in declining health, and just dealing with life in general. I added full-time graduate school onto this already very crowded plate.

Things did not go well during the first year, it was extremely stressful, but I was certain that seminary was a part of God’s plan for my life. For starters, the school is in Ambridge, which is 25 miles one way from my house, and I was required to be there four days a week. I flunked a class during my first year of school because I was unsuccessfully trying to keep up with my work at the County. I was fired from the County during the first year of school because I was unsuccessfully trying to keep up with schoolwork. I was not doing either very well and it was still only the Fall of 2017.

I went to Africa in January 2018 with a professor, and we were nearly killed. We found ourselves in the middle of a Christian-Muslim firefight. We could smell the gunpowder, hear people screaming, and we were not sure if we were going to make it out alive. Although we got out of Africa in one piece, that incident was very unsettling & left me emotionally scarred for a while.

A month after getting home from Kenya, I had to put my mother in a nursing home, and promptly flunked another course. Any of you who had to put a loved one into a nursing home know the pain. Putting Mom in a nursing home was actually tougher on me emotionally than Mom dying. At that point, which was the Spring of 2018, the idea of graduating in May 2019 was not looking very good but I knew God was with me.

In the Summer term of 2018, I took a Hebrew course in an attempt to catch up, but I flunked that course as well, things were looking really bad, but I still felt God’s presence. I met with the Academic Dean and school Registrar. Although I was really behind, they developed a plan which made it plausible for me to graduate on time.

The Fall of 2018 was okay. I squeaked through that semester with the extra workload and survived Hebrew thanks to Shannon. Shannon helped to carry me through Hebrew that term. Then came January 2019, and I had to take seven courses, as opposed to five, in order to graduate in May. I was feeling pretty good, and things appeared to be on track, or so I thought.

I was saying to myself “I got this; completing seven courses in the time frame that it takes most people to complete five courses, no problem.” That was early in the month of January 2019. On January 29th, I went over to my brother’s house because I had not heard from him, knocked, but no answer at the door. I went inside the house, and he was on the bed dead. Jerry’s death came from nowhere.

April 18th, I was outside cutting grass and minding my own business. A police officer rolls up, gets out of the car, walks up to me and said, “Are you Wallace Scott?” I said, “yes I am, how can I help you?” He said “Mr. Scott, I am sorry to tell you this, but we found your sister, Catherine Thompson, dead in her apartment. It appears to have been a massive heart attack. Catherine’s death came out of nowhere. Ten days after Catherine died, on April 28th, my mom died. Although I knew Mom was at the end of her journey, her death was still very painful. However, I still knew that God was with me. We turned in our final assignment two days after my mom died and we graduated, on time, with Shannon, and the rest of my classmates and compadres on May 11, 2019.

I did not give you so much detail to impress you, I gave you the detail to impress upon you that GOD IS FAITHFUL. If God has given you a dream, do not let Satan steal it from you. Do not let Satan tell you that you are too young, too old, too this, or too that. Trust God and pursue your dream.

Go home and read Ezekiel 37; Ezekiel 37 uses dry bones as a metaphor to describe Israel’s spiritual desolation at that time. The prophet Ezekiel was prophesying during Israel’s time in Babylonian captivity and the Israelites had lost hope. Ezekiel 37:11 says “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’
Starting in verse 12, God tells Ezekiel to reassure the Israelites; all hope was not lost, God would breathe life into those dry bones & would restore His people to their rightful place in Israel.

Perhaps, God is saying the same thing to some of us this morning. Perhaps God is saying to some of us this morning that He will breathe life into the dead bones of our dreams & make our dreams come alive once again. Perhaps, God is saying to some of us this morning not to lose hope because He is faithful.

Philippians 1:6 says, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;’ Old folks used to say, ‘If God takes you to it, God will take you through it.’ It is the same idea as Philippians; the point is don’t give up on your dreams.

Back in the early sixties, my grandmother was in her late sixties at the time. Grandma used to say to us “Listen kids; God is good. It don’t matter if you are eight to eighty, blind, feeble, cripple, or crazy, you trust God. If God tells you to do something, you do it, and He will help you."

The point that Grandma was making then, and the point I am making now is, irrespective of our age, especially if you are like me and getting older, do not give up on God and do not give up on your dreams. Get out of the recliner and go on your journey because God will be with you.

What happens to a lot of us as we get into our sixties and seventies is we sit in our comfortable chairs, knowing there is still unfinished business in our lives, but Satan convinces us we are old, washed up and tired. As we get older, we even begin to say: ‘I’m old; I’m tired.’

Meanwhile, there are still things we need to do…. Satan comforts us, in our discomfort, by feeding us the logic of being ‘old and tired.’ Being old and tired is a lie straight out of the pit of Hell. We know that to be true because Isaiah 40:31 says to us, ‘But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.`

It’s not God telling us we are old and tired; we know who is telling us those lies. Let me close by begging you to recommit to excellence in the everyday mundane tasks of life, irrespective of your age.

Remember, everything we do affects everything we do. In other words, the habits we practice in the everyday areas of our lives carry over into other areas of our lives. That is why it is so important to commit to excellence in our daily habits. Let’s face our discomfort. Let’s get out of the recliners and pursue our dreams. The trip will be rocky, but God will be with us. There may be times when we feel like the Israelites in our reading this morning, meaning we may want to return to Egypt near the pots of meat, as opposed to continuing the journey, but continue the journey anyway.

Let me tell you from personal experience that our faith in God, as well as our self – confidence, grows exponentially after the journey is complete. Completing the journey with God’s assistance is exhilarating. Please….let’s not give up on our dreams or give up on God, because God has not given up on us. Let’s face our discomforts, get out of our recliners, commit ourselves to daily excellence, trust God, and pursue our dreams with passion. Irrespective of where we are age-wise, let’s live life to the fullest. AMEN!

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