August 18, 2019

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

Two economists are walking down the street.  The first one looks down and exclaims, “There is a $20 bill on the ground.” The other one turns to him and says, “That’s impossible. If it were there, someone would have picked it up already.”

So goes the great debate about opportunity.  If opportunities are so attractive, more than just one person will recognize it, some say. (Ibid)

It’s like when you are looking for an excellent place to eat.  Where do you go?  Do you go to a place where there’s one or two vehicles or do you go to a place where you can’t find a parking place?

You go where you can’t find a place to park because everyone knows where the good places are to eat.

But there was a time when the crowd wasn’t at those places. Someone had to be the first ones to discover how good the food was.

It could have been on a night when you said, “Let’s try something new. Let’s try something different.”  Then you found out the food at that place where there are only a few vehicles is really good and then you started spreading the news.

Our openness to change, to new possibilities and opportunities has a lot to do with whether we just follow the crowd or whether we are willing to take some risks.

There are always risks, and risks often hold people back.  Rarely is there anything we do in life that is risk-free.

Some people throw caution to the wind, but the wind usually wins. Throwing caution to the wind is what gamblers do.

A prudent investor is much more measured but understands that if you make any gains, you must take some risk.

Listen to these words from Ecclesiastes 11:1-6: “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.  If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

This passage reminds us that the farmer is a risk-taker. He has control over some things and some things he does not.

He does not have control over the rain or the wind.  If he stands around looking at the clouds and watching the wind, he will never plant any seed or reap a harvest.

Every farmer knows that when he puts seeds in the ground, there is a risk the seeds will not produce a harvest, but the greater risk is not to plant.

This author encourages hard work. “Do not be idle.  Sow your seed in the morning AND in the evening, because you don’t know which will come up.  Maybe both will do well.”

I heard recently of a farmer in North Texas that plants wheat on a hundred acres of land.  He drives his tractor 40 miles just to get to his acreage.  I can’t remember the reason he drives his tractor to the acreage instead of hauling it.

A few years ago he dug two wells to irrigate his land because it gets so little rain.  It cost $200,000 to drill each well.  In two years, the yield on his harvest has paid for the wells.

You could say that the farmer took a measured risk. Or you might say that the farmer saw a window of opportunity to maximize the yield on his harvest by digging the wells and he took it.

“Ship your crops across the sea,” the writer says. “Maybe you will receive a return, but there is no guarantee because you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Isn’t that a refreshing thought coming from the Bible? How many times have you thought the same thing –that you didn’t understand the work of God?

Here the biblical writer confesses that while he cannot understand how God works, he believes that God honors our work.

So, when God presents us with a window of opportunity, we need to decide whether we are going roll up our sleeves and get to work, or whether we are going to allow the moment to pass us by.  Once it passes us by, it could be gone forever.

Every farmer knows that there’s a short window of opportunity to plant and to harvest.

Once seeds are in the ground, there are essential windows of time when those seeds need water.   After the crops mature and produce their fruit or seed, there is a window of opportunity for harvest.

Michael Johnson who won four Olympic God Medals said, “Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter; long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best.”

In our Future Story, God has led us to develop the Mission Field, the Technology Field, the Field of Discipleship, and the Field of Construction. If we succeed, it will take the best effort from each person to accomplish our mission.

For our church to promote the love of Jesus into the next decade and beyond, we must offer our community the best form of ministry possible, from Sunday school, to children’s, youth, music, and senior adult ministry.

Years ago, people made their first entry into the life of the church through Sunday school.  Now, people make their first entry into the church through the worship service.

We are reaching people in about seven zip different codes through our worship ministry.  Now God is asking us to expand our ability to reach more people.

It is not without some irony that we will soon celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of our beautiful, wonderful sanctuary where we worship in the traditional service.

There the gospel has been preached for almost 100 years.  Hundreds of people have been baptized, exchanged marital vows, and had eulogies said over them.

We might think of these people and their witness as a marathon that stretches across the generations.

The next few months will be like a sprint toward a window of opportunity that can take us toward the construction of a new worship facility that can aid us in fulfilling all parts of our Future Story.

One hundred years ago in the 1920’s. there was a window of opportunity to build our historic sanctuary, a time when money was hard to come by, but people found a way to get this project done.

What they did then is still making a difference one hundred years later.  What we have a chance to do now can make a difference, immediately, but it can also be making a difference one hundred years from now.

Windows of opportunity do not come our way very often, but when we take up the challenge, the harvest can be an ongoing one in God’s kingdom.

Our challenge will require prayer, faith, sacrifice, unity, determination, hard work, enthusiasm, a shared vision, passion, excitement, and a continued focus on relationships to realize our dream.

We must always remember that the result of our mission is not a building but changed lives. Otherwise, we will have built something, spent a lot of money, and missed our window of opportunity.  The widow of opportunity  in these four fields spoken of in our Future Story is changed lives.

The real window of opportunity is reaching people for Jesus. It’s reaching people who need to know that they need Jesus, that Lord loves them, forgives them, and wants to lead guide and direct them each day.

I can confess with the writer of Ecclesiastes that there is a lot about God I do not understand.

I don’t understand how God can make a brown cow that eats green grass, makes white milk, and plops a black patty, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying a nice steak.

If I understood everything about God, then there wouldn’t be any reason for one of us to exist.

I can accept that I’m not God.  I can accept that I’m not supposed to understand everything about God. What I do understand is that when God places opportunities before me, what he wants from me is faith.  He wants to know whether or not I trust him enough to follow him.

What I understand about myself is that I struggle to keep the two greatest commandments: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as I love myself.

Selfishness is a sin I have to repent of often.

Even when it comes to the church, God has to remind me that the church is not here primarily for me, but the church is here to continue to share to love of Jesus with a lost world.

If I don’t care enough about the lost to put their needs ahead of my own, how can I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?

How can I love my neighbor as I love myself?

If I make every decision about my church based on how it affects me, then I am not spiritually mature.

Paul told the church at Philippi:  “Do not do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” (Philippians 2:2-4)

Because the Mission Field is one of the areas of our Future Story, I can explain this with a picture.

This is Doris Seh.  For those of you that read my book, “Hoping Liberia,” I have a picture of Doris in the book, along with her father, Varney, who works as head of security at Ricks Institute, in Virginia, Liberia, about 16 miles from Monrovia.

When a peace treaty was signed, and the Liberian Civil War ended, Liberia held its first democratic elections in over fifteen years.

Liberian soccer star George Weah was running for president and he stopped by the Ricks Institute as he campaigned.  He gave a speech to the students.  Before he left, he awarded a nursing scholarship to Doris Seh, a graduating senior.

George Weah could do that because he was very wealthy and he did this in many places where he campaigned to garner goodwill and gain votes.  When he lost the election to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, he stopped paying for these students to go to college.

By this time, Doris had attended one full year at Cutting ton College School of Nursing.  Without the scholarship, she would have to leave school and return home.

Dr. Menjay, the principal of the school, told me this story, and said to me, “If you can help her complete her nursing education, I would be grateful.”

One evening, at sunset, I met with Doris’ family at their home.  The Seh family lived in a thatched roof house, with a dirt floor, no running water or electricity.  I told Mr. and Mrs. Seh that I would see that their daughter finished nursing school.  They shed tears of joy.

In return, I asked that she come back and assist Dr. Menjay at Ricks for a while before she ventured out and looked for another job, which she did.

Doris was instrumental in assisting people in her country during the Ebola crisis, and she has been very helpful in educating people about the dangers of dirty drinking water that can cause dysentery and malaria.

This picture is not her graduation picture from Cuttington College.  It is a recent graduation picture after she received an advanced degree in the mental health field.  She sent it to me with words of thanks for helping her all those years ago.

Why am I showing you this?

About 13 years ago, Dr. Olu Menjay presented me with a window of opportunity to make a difference in the life of a poor African woman.

It’s actually a window of opportunity that those who believed in the work of the Bricks for Ricks Foundation took with me.  We helped make Doris’ dream come true.  Together, we changed her life and the lives of every person she has helped save in Liberia.

Because you are a mission-minded church, you understand this.  Every time you have given money, your time, or talents  to any mission endeavor, you have done so not because it was going to help you in any way, but because of the opportunity you had to change the lives of others.  You did it because of the lives you had the chance to save.   You thought of others before you thought of yourself.

The thought behind every dollar we set aside for missions is that others might know of God’s love through our gifts.

A byproduct of our gifts is that God will bless us a result of our giving.

We have windows of opportunity before us in the fields missions, technology, discipleship, and construction.

When you eventually see renderings for a proposed building, instead of seeing brick and mortar I pray that you will see the lives of people that are going to be changed because of the ministry that happens in that place.

See the worship of God that will take place on this campus for generations to come.

See the people who have not yet given their lives to Jesus who will hear the gospel and will develop a relationship with Jesus and with other Christians and eventually cross the line of faith.

See the people who have not yet moved to Jefferson and Jackson county that are looking for a church that is fully committed to reaching people for Jesus, and have a place for them to worship, whether they want to worship God in a traditional or a more contemporary setting.

See the fellowship that will occur when the entire church gathers in one place.

See the discipleship that will happen in small groups during the Sunday school hour.

See the relationships that will form when senior citizens come and exercise and make new friends during the week.

See the fun children from the preschool will have on cold and rainy days when they cannot go outside and play.

I cannot begin to know or imagine all that will happen in the lives of people because of the construction of this new facility, but God knows.

I do know that 100 years from now, people will be thankful that you took advantage of the window of opportunity that lies before us.

They will be thankful that you “sowed your seed in the morning, and at evening and that you did not let your hands be idle.”  They will be grateful you took advantage of this window of opportunity.

As each of you step into you week, I can assure you that there are going to be windows of opportunity that will come your way that you did not expect.  Perhaps you will be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the wounded Jewish man as an opportunity of compassion rather than a someone that might make him ritually unclean.

Perhaps you are already know about a window of opportunity and you are looking to God for direction.

Opportunities rarely come without risk, but for those who wish to honor God, if we wish to honor God with our decisions, we can expect God to bring something good from our efforts.

If you will bow your heads now, let Andy pray for you, that you will honor God with the windows of opportunity that are before you.  May we all join together in prayer over these next 100 days, that God will give us faith and unity to see God’s vision so that 100 years from now people will be grateful that we took advantage of the window of opportunity that is before us.

Photo Credit: