mom is Japanese and his father, Afro-American.
He grew up in Hawaii, a state that has produced only one Olympian. He
was expelled from kindergarten because he could not play with the
other kids. Later in grade school, he would get into fights with
other children and bite them on the check. His anger prevented him
from participating in league sports. To release some of his energy he
turned to track and field. No one expected, Brian Clay to become a
high school, he enrolled in a small NAIA
division Christian university, Azusa Pacific. It produced one Olympic
decathlete; Dave Johnson but that may have been a fluke. No one
expected a 5’ 11” and 174 pounds athlete to become
the Olympic trials began Brian Clay had been
two-time US Outdoor, decathlon champion, runner up in the 2004
Heptathlon but few people expected to win the decathlon. The odds on
favorite was 6’ 4” 235 lbs, Tom Pappas, the decathlon
star from the University of Tennessee whose Greek ancestry would have
made a great storyline for the Athens Games. But a not so strange
thing happened on the way to Greece, on the second and last day of
competition Brian Clay turned in three personal bests in the discus,
pole vault, and javelin to better Pappas by 43 points. The headlines
to the story on MSNBC read, “Clay surprisingly wins trials
What no one else expected, Brian Clay accomplished. In our Scripture
passage today we have a list of people who were never expected to do
great things for God, yet each in his or her own small way became an
unexpected Olympian of faith. Their stories remind us that even when
no one else expects much from us, God can still accomplish great
things in our lives.
reader of the Old Testament the names and
stories should be very familiar. That may cause a small problem. We
tend to elevate our heroes and endow them with special God-given
attributes and skills that are vastly superior to us mere mortals.
While that may be true with athletics, it is not true in matters of
faith. Actually, when we consider the character of the characters
listed in the book of Hebrews we discover that these people were not
always shining role models. Most of them almost ruined their lives at
one point. Their deeds were not absent-minded miscues or
procrastinating indecision. Their transgressions shower a blatant
disregard for others. The list contains an exhibitionist, two
murderers, a prostitute, a war criminal, a child abuser, and an
adulterer. What a grand assortment of characters? Can you match the
person and the crime?
is not referred to by name but tradition
claims that he was sawed in two. However, before his execution he
once walked around the city of Jerusalem stark naked telling the
people that the city was about to be destroyed. The remaining
survivors would not be making a guest appearance on the next reality
TV series, either. Instead, they would be dragged into captivity
naked. Before Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through
the sea that destroyed the Egyptians, he killed an Egyptian in a
moment of rage. He had to flee into the land of Midian to avoid
arrest. The other murderer was David. He conspired to have his best
army commander killed in battle to conceal his act of adultery with
the officer’s wife; former President Clinton’s crimes
pale in comparison to this Jewish monarch.
the death of Moses, Joshua leads the people
into the Promised Land in conquest. When they come to the city of
Jericho, he sends a group of soldiers ahead to serve as spies. Their
presence is discovered and the governor of Jericho puts a price on
their heads. With the city gates are closed and they have to hide, so
they turn to a prostitute named Rahab. The narrative implies that
they may have turned to her for more than a secretive closet but that
story is for another sermon. Rahab not only hides the men but also
helps them escape on the condition that they spare her life when the
city is destroyed.
his defeat of the Midianites, Gideon orders
two military leaders dragged before him. After a very brief
interrogation, he runs a sword through killing them in retaliation
for the death of his brothers in an earlier battle. The army
commander did not order a military tribunal so that the rights of the
accused would be protected; Gideon served as judge, jury, and
executioner. Latter before a battle, Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the
first thing that came through his door if the Lord would give him
victory. Upon his triumphant return home, his daughter was the first
person to run out of the house and greet him. While some scholars
doubt that he actually did sacrified the young maiden, the book of
Judges implies that Jephtah fulfilled his vow.
are the men and women of faith that the
author of Hebrew holds up as testimonies of sainthood. Some even
became ancestors of Jesus. Matthew list both David and Rahab in the
genealogy of our Lord. And you think your relatives are an
embarrassment, how would you like to explain to people that you are a
direct descendant of a hooker and a murder.
history of God’s people is not a story
about how good, respectable, religious people do great things. It is
a story about how God uses misfits, liars, thieves, murderers,
prostitutes, and even a coward to accomplish his plans. Allow me to
ask you too very personal questions. What dastardly deed have you
done that could possible exempt you from being used by God? What
blatant act of evil could you have committed that would so tarnish
your reputation that God would never think to call you into service?
Unless you are hiding a very dark, and very sinister past, I would
like to suggest that no one in this room could compete in a game of
‘Can You Top This!’ with the saints from the book of
not know who wrote this but in these
chapters, the author displays a very Pauline theology. He knows what
it means to be saved by grace. He knew the stories from the Law, the
Writings and the Prophets, the books we call the Old Testament. He
knew what each person had done. They were not secrets. They were not
contained in hidden documents that had been discovered only recently.
They were told over and over again by the Rabbis in the synagogue on
Sabbath. Parents told their daughters and sons the stories. Any child
could retell the accounts. They had committed the legends to memory.
The people of God did great things, not because of their skills, or
their religious righteousness but because of their faith.
should ask ourselves, do we have their type of
Past is Past
consider their lives, I see several common
themes in the lives of these unexpected Olympians. First, they put
the past in the past and lived exclusively in the present. Each
person had committed serious crimes against God. They had trampled
upon the edicts of the Law, some more severe than others, but God
still called them and used them to accomplish his plan.
live in the past for many reasons. Some use
it to garner attention from others. By the repeated lamenting of past
misdeeds, they receive sympathy and affirmation. We usually offer
words of encouragement to former prodigals. We want them to know that
they made the right decision to admit the mistakes of their past and
turn to Christ. Unfortunately, some people enjoy the attention so
much that they never move on. Others use the past to prevent taking
responsibility in the present. The fear of failure haunts us. A lazy
spirit may just not want to put in the work and effort that the
present requires. By regurgitating past misconduct we can prevent
others from expecting anything from us now.
the time comes when God expects us to live in
the present by faith. At first Moses balked, even after 40 years he
could not forget the taking of a human life. He feared that someone
in Egypt would remember his notorious crime. It was a struggle but he
finally laid aside the haunting memories and responded to God’s
present call. Rahab was a woman with a reputation but after the
conquest of Jericho she became the wife of Salmon and bore a son
named Boaz who married Ruth. They bore a son named Obed who fathered
a son named Jesse whose youngest son, David became King of Israel.
faith, these people lived in the present and
we be people who live in the past or by faith
live the present?
in God to Work in You
only were the saints of the OT able to put the
past behind but they also knew that the source of their strength was
not in themselves but in the God who had called them.
appears to have been a small but very
prominent city in the ancient world, strategically located near an
oasis. The book of Joshua uses it as a reference point to note the
movement of Israel in the desert. It was one of the few places that
Moses was allowed to see from Mt Nebo on the other side of the
Jordon. It was also a heavily fortified city. Even to a
well-equipped, well-trained, well-seasoned army, it posed a
formidable challenge. But God wanted to show his people that their
strength did not lie in their military might soGod sent an angel to
Joshua with a very unorthodox 7-day strategy. The army was not to
storm the walls but instead they were to walk around the city. The
next day, seven priests were to circle the city blowing their horns.
The were to repeat this routine for the next five days. Then on the
seventh day, the priest were to walk around the city six times
blowing their horn but on the seventh trip the people were to join
their voices to the noise of the trumpets. With the blasts of the
trumpets and the shouts of the people, the walls of Jericho came
crashing to the ground and the people conquered the city.
account of Joshua’s triumphant victory
had left an indelible mark on the memory of the people. Centuries
later the people of Israel again faced an enemy that was stronger and
protected by heavily fortified walls in the city of Caspis. Their
leader, Judas Maccabes, gathered the people together and they called
upon “the Lord of the world who without any rams or engines of
war did cast down Jericho in the time of Joshua3”
Relying on the success of their ancestors, they placed their faith in
God and miraculous triumphant over another enemy. These two victories
were accomplished by people who thought more about what God could do
through them and less about what they could not do. The people were
willing to believe that God could make their obvious weakness able
for the incredible task.
challenges we face in our ministry together is
trivial compared to the challenges of Jericho or Caspis but to us
they seem overwhelming. The needs of the Lakes area community are far
greater than one small church can meet unless its membership believes
in a powerful God. One needy family can quickly drain are available
funds The Building and Grounds Ministry Team will be submitting their
report to Session on the renovation of the manse. In addition to the
manse, we have another pressing need in this that we have been
ignoring for too long. Each winter we wastes hundreds of dollars
because the windows in this sanctuary are nothing more than a thin
sheet of plastic. They should have been replaced a decade ago with
double paned glass. All these projects will be expensive. But will we
focus on our limited resources or the God who owns the cattle on a
faith, Israel believed that God could
accomplished his plans through them and he did. By faith, the leaders
of Israel believed that even in their frailty, God could display his
strength; even in their scarcity of resources, God could abundantly
provide and he did.
we be people who limit our ministry because
we just a small church, with only a few people and only meager
resources? Or will we be people who serve by faith the God whose
power is display through our weakness?
third characteristic of the saints from the
book of Hebrews is that they were people who believed in a promise
despite the facts of reality. How could Moses know that the water
would divide with the raising of his arms? What facts could Joshua
use to convince the people of Israel that the walls of Jericho would
fall down with the blast of a triumph and the sound of their voice?
Gideon, Jephtah, and David did not have any military intelligence
that indicated that their badly outnumbered soldiers could defeat a
vastly superior army. Yet, each man went into battle and by faith
of you may still remember the 1995 Big Ten
football season. It was a season to remember because that year
Northwestern University shocked the sports world by going to the Rose
Bowl. No one believed that the most academically demanding and
smallest school could compete on the football field against the
behemoths from Columbus OH and those two other schools in Michigan
except one man, the coach. He ordered a Tournament of Roses flag for
the football building and kept a silk rose on his desk to remind
everyone where the team was going. At the very first meeting of the
season, he told the players that the only thing that they needed was
to believe without evidence.4
we be people who believe without any
unexpected Olympian Brian Clay is now getting
ready to compete for a gold medal. It did not happen without hours of
training. It required dedication and commitment but Brian would not
have been able to devote his entire life to pursuing his dream unless
he believed, unless he believed by faith that his dream could become
dream do you have for this church? Would you
like to see us accomplish great things for God? Have you ever dreamed
that this church could have a major impact on the drug traffic in the
Walled Lake schools? Have you ever dreamed that this church could
relieve the anguish of women and children who suffer from domestic
violence? Have you ever dreamed that this church could play a
significant role in mending broken marriages? Have you ever dreamed
that we could be a community of healing for people suffering from
chronic illness or terminal cancer?
could be all these things but it is going to
take people who are able to put the past behind them and walk in the
present by faith. Those dreams will require people who are able to
believe in a God who can work through their weakness. Those dreams
will require us to begin and believe even without any evidence.
you ready to be an unexpected Olympian of
Weyler, “An Overlooked Star” The Los Angeles Times, [on-line]
surprisingly wins trials decathlon” [on-line] available
Letter to the Hebrews. Edited by Barclay, William, lecturer in the
University of Glasgow. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed.
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975.
L. Burford Fairmont, West Virginia cited in Leadership Journal.
Summer, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Page 64.