Choices and That Very First Sermon


James E. Copple

That first sermon, I will never forget it. Less than four months after I found myself kneeling at an alter and accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I was now preaching.  My conversion was radical. I mean, I went from a hell-raising 15 year-old to a Bible carrying evangelist overnight. I wanted to tell the story of Jesus. This was the Jesus that said he would never leave me nor forsake me. Jesus was now on my side and I certainly was trying to be on his side.

Four decades later, I am not surprised by the text I chose for that sermon. The Wise and Foolish Builders – Matthew 7:24-27. A man builds his house on a rock, the rains will come, the winds will blow, the streams will rise, but it does not fall. A man builds his house on sand, the rains come, the streams rise and the winds blow, and it crashes to the ground. It was about choice. Where will you build your house? The sermon was a call to decision.

After some reflection on my journey, what I proclaimed in that first sermon has been happening in my life for nearly 50 years. It is about choosing. I gravitate to scriptures like “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, I will serve the Lord.” The number of scriptures that emphasize choice or use the word choose are in the hundreds. Making decisions – I am rather certain that defines my life and the life I expect of others. The times in my life where I have been emotionally and spiritually crippled are those times when and where I could not make a decision. I flipped flopped back and forth, over processed or over analyzed the dilemma and just felt caught in the irons. That is not a good place to be.

I have a staff member that understands my need for decisions and she often forces me to make them. Periodically, she will approach me with a list that includes decisions I have refused to make and she compels me to decide. It is both a good feeling and a discomforting feeling. When you make a decision – there is something final about it. No retreat, no undoing the actions that follow. Something happens. You can now leave it or in my case, you can now worry about it.

In my work in substance abuse, poverty eradication, or crime prevention, I tend to see the world through the choice lens. Come on people, you decided to consume that alcohol or inject that methamphetamine, or drop out of school, or have unprotected sex. These were choices – these were decisions. To be sure there are a lot of internal and external variables that influence the decision. However, ultimately and for the most part, it becomes a personal choice.  When my step-son Michael was 16 years-old, he rolled his mother’s car jumping small hills in the Virginia country side.  The car was totaled and he was cited for reckless driving. When I met him the next morning for the “come-to-Jesus” meeting. He used the word accident. I said, “Michael, don’t use the word accident when describing what happened last night. You made a decision – you made a choice and now we have a consequence.”  Yep, that is the world I live in and I am still guided by those beliefs.

This morning’s blog is written from Nairobi, Kenya. I am still trying to comprehend the tornados that swept through Moore, Oklahoma, Clearwater, Kansas, and Arkansas.  The very foundations of life were literally swept away by record breaking winds. I am observing choices and decisions being made by survivors and the spirit and attitude of leaders that reflect a gutty determination to move on, recover, and survive. In Nairobi, in the various communities where we work, I see people rising each morning making choices and decisions that affect their survival. There is an energy and determination that is palpable in the way people go about making their choices.

How we cope with the realities of our situation depends on the foundation we established with that critical choice  we made between a house built on a rock or a house built on sand.  That first sermon – it still preaches.

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