March 13, 2016

It’s rare that “Daddy Jack” Purcell meets me at the tennis court that he doesn’t have a story. I think most of them are true. On Friday morning he told me about the year that he was the principal for Rutledge Academy in Morgan County. The people of this community had worked for years to build the enrollment and to build a new school. The year they completed their new facility, they called Jack Purcell as their principal.

At the end of the year, it seemed fitting to celebrate graduation with a big name speaker, the cherry on top of a great year.

He scored with Bert Lance, a local banking prodigy that Governor Jimmy Carter appointed as the Highway Commissioner.

This was a big moment. A local man from the State Capitol was in the building. What would he say to these aspiring graduates?

Outside the building the skies grew dark and thunder began to bounce off of the steel frame building. As Lance began to speak, the sky opened up and the rain beat down on the tin roof till it sounded like a hundred roofers were hammering above. Then the microphone went dead.

Big Bert with his booming voice stepped out in front of the podium and did his best to save the day. The storm interrupted that important moment and not everyone got to hear his speech. It was disappointing.

Jack was being pastor to me last Friday because he knew the pressure and disappointment I felt on Thursday as I discovered that morning that Rev. Ken Smith wasn’t on his way to Jefferson as planned to speak to our men’s First and Goal meeting. I worked all day on a plan to save the day and with the help of Justin and Joe Morgan we were about to broadcast Ken live to our men in the Reach Chapel. His message was powerful and meaningful.

Jack shared his story with me on Friday morning. I continued through the day making plans for Dr. Olu Menjay’s arrival from Liberia. Then about 4:30 that afternoon he called me to describe the chaotic scene at the airport in Monrovia as people learned that the flight had been cancelled and everyone was going to have to return to their homes and try again the next day.

“I will not be able to preach for you on Sunday,” he said with great disappointment. “Please extend my apologies to your people.”

Now what makes this so ironic is that today Dr. Menjay was going to bring to you a sermon entitled, “Finding Our Faith Through Interruptions”.

So today I am wearing a traditional Liberian shirt in honor of Dr. Menjay. I wish he were here to share his sermon because Liberians have come to learn that interruptions are a way of life. His perspective on this is so different from mine

What I do know is that when you travel to Liberia or any Third World country you should write these two words on the outside of your suitcase: “Expect Interruptions.”

When Robby, Candace, Nathalie and I went to Liberia two years ago, our first Liberian experience was an interruption. The tire on the Ricks Institute van waiting for us at the airport was flat and when Faliku Dukely retrieved the spare and the tools we discovered the lug wrench did not fit the lugs on the flat tire. For six hours we flagged down people looking for a lug wrench. Finally, a man coming in from the States recognized our Ricks van. He was an alumni of Ricks and he called his brother who worked at the airport and he came and changed our tire.

Nathalie said the interruption was one of her favorite memories of the trip.

Here in America if the tow truck hasn’t arrived in 30 minutes we are not happy. If the electric current flickers, we get upset. God help us all if DISH or Direct TV goes out during an SEC football game. Somebody’s likely to have a coronary.

I was in Liberia in the midst of the Civil War when no one had power in 1995—no one. I knew things were beginning to get better around Monrovia when some of the people could complain about interruptions in their power during the day. Still, most of the electricity in the country is supplied by gasoline powered generators.

Liberia was just getting back on her feet. The economy was just showing signs of life as countries were investing in her again when life was interrupted by Ebola in 2014. Ebola killed over three thousand in Liberia and shut the schools and businesses down for a year. Nothing moved. Ebola interrupted church, commerce, education, travel, funerals, meetings, government, social gatherings, and normal human contact.

Now one might be thinking, “Well, I feel bad for those people. But Michael, I don’t really see how their problems affect me.”

Interruptions are threatening, and typically many of us react to them like the Liberians did at the airport when they discovered their flight had been cancelled. We become angry. Anger isn’t always bad or wrong, but we have to be careful that it is not sinful or destructive.

If we never look beyond the anger, disappointment, or frustration caused by interruptions in our lives, we will never discover the opportunities.

When the civil war interrupted school in Liberia for 15 years, one of the most important things for the hope of the nation was the rebuilding of schools.

Dr. Menjay went to the same Ricks campus in 2005 that we had visited in 1995 that housed 25,000 United Nation Refugees. The campus was completely looted during the war. Some of the buildings were destroyed but the main structure was left intact. The Liberian Baptist Missionary and Education Commission invited Dr. Menjay to come to Liberia to discuss becoming the new principal and reopening the Baptist school that had been the premier boarding school in the country.

In their interview they asked him about his dream and his vision for the institution. Dr. Menjay said, “My vision is for us to cut the grass.”

In that answer, he told them something about the opportunities that lie ahead: “Before you can think big, you must do the little things first.” Olu didn’t expect God to do for the Liberians what the Liberians had to do for themselves.

When word got out that Olu was going to Ricks, members of his own family tried to persuade him not to go. He was told that with his education he could get a government position, which was true. One said, “It makes no sense to do what you are doing. You need to fold it up.”

Dr. Menjay believed that the interruption meant an opportunity for him that others could not see. He was influenced by the work of people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. This became his calling and so he has learned to embrace a life of interruptions.

Gordon Tredgold is a leadership expert who believes in having an open door policy. He believes that leaders should be approachable.

He says being approachable is “about people feeling comfortable coming up to you and asking questions, starting conversations, or just saying hi. It’s about them feeling welcome and not being afraid of your reaction if they try to make a contact.”

One time a colleague asked him why he accepted being interrupted in a meeting when he could have asked the person to wait 5 minutes until the meeting was over.

He said he was in a geography class as a teenager when about 5 minutes from the end of the lesson a pupil came into the class looking to interrupt and to speak to the teacher.

The teacher was very cross, told the pupil that he should wait outside until the class was finished. He told the student that his class was important and he didn’t like interruptions. The student said that the matter was urgent, but the teacher just became more indignant and sent him out.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher called the pupil back in and asked, in front of the entire class, “What was so urgent that you needed to interrupt my lesson?” The pupil replied, “your wife called, and said your house is on fire!”

A lot of the interruptions we have in life are like that. We find ourselves shaking our fist at God, complaining about why we are so inconvenienced, and then, when we are ready to listen we are humbled as God shows us something we could not see or know.

There are many interruptions that are evil. There are many things that are not of God, but that doesn’t mean that God is not with us. Some approach life with the belief that if God were here, there would not have been an interruption. God would have greased the skids for them. But where does God promise us this kind of life?

The greatest gift of God is the gift of himself through his son Jesus. Speaking of interruptions, Joseph experienced one when the angel said to him, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:23).

God promised to be with us. God interrupted human history with His physical presence. So let’s remember, all interruptions are not bad ones.

All interruptions that comes our way do not have to be turn into crisis situations, but even when they do, they can be opportunities for God to help us find our faith.

So when we read your Bible and notice that when Jesus was interrupted, which was often, he used the interruption as an opportunity to help people find their faith.

Once Jesus was teaching in a house that had Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting inside. There were so many people outside that some men carrying a paralyzed man on a mat couldn’t get to Jesus. So they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. I’d say that’s an interruption.

Whatever Jesus was teaching was set aside and the new lesson became about faith and the forgiveness of sins as he healed the man and told him his sins were forgiven.

On another occasion, Jairus, one of the synagogue rulers came and pleaded with Jesus to save his daughter who was dying. Jesus agreed to go. As they moved through the city, a large crowd followed him, but then Jesus stopped because he felt power leave him as a women touched the hem of his garment.

Now even though this woman was healed, a woman that had suffered with a physical issue for twelve years, imagine how Jairus must have felt. His girl is dying and Jesus has stopped because he felt someone touch his robe? Even his disciples questioned that one.

Jesus said to the woman: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”36 Overhearing[c] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:34-36)

Then when Jesus went to the home, he performed one of his greatest miracles when he brought this child from death back to life.

Like most people, your life will have interruptions. The interruption might be unwelcomed and it might threaten to ruin your day, if you let it. Or you can pivot, like a basketball player and look to make a play. Have a conversation with the Lord. Look and see how that interruption can be an opportunity for some blessing you could not see or did not expect.

Let God use you to be the blessing.

How many veterans from the Vietnam era and before had their lives interrupted by draft notices? Yet they left their families for us.

How many doctors have had their evenings interrupted, or leave home in the middle of the night in order to go and help someone in need?

How many plumbers have answered a call to someone in crisis as their home was being flooded by a busted pipe?

How many volunteer firefighters have trained and readied themselves knowing they would be inconvenienced and interrupted but did so because they wanted to help people?

How many teachers have been interrupted at night by a call from a parent who wasn’t very happy about something or just needed to talk about his or her child and the teacher took the time to help calm and reassure the parent that he or she was working for the student’s best interest.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Every light that shines interrupts the darkness around it. Will you be that light this week?