I sometimes complain. I wish I made more money. I wish I had a nicer set of golf clubs. I wish I could get that sports car I’ve always dreamed of. I wish I was home more. I wish someone would pay for my cell phone. I wish ministry was easier. I wish more people knew my name. (I have to admit… This list could go on ad nausea.)
There’s one common word in the paragraph above… “I.” It seems “I” has a way of keeping many of us from experiencing the adventure and thrill of ministry more than anyone or anything else. Self-centered ministry, if given space to grow, darkens the heart so much that we become unable to see when we’ve accomplished fulfilling ministry.
Last weekend God ambushed me. Through the life of a man I’ve never met I came face-to-face with my own self-absorption. I and a few others attended the funeral of a co-worker’s father. To get to the church we exited a major Tennessee highway and zig-zagged our way another 10 or so miles through the Tennessee foothills. The final stretch of this short journey put us on an obviously overused road that led us into “the valley.” The place of worship that had served generations of Tennesseans was stunning. That small country church lingered patiently in the crevice of two of God’s beautifully designed mountains. On the side of one of those hills was a garden of headstones. Between some of the gravestones a tent had been erected, a hole had been dug. The body of Brother Fred Copeland would join the family members who had gone before him in a few hours.
As we entered the church building the ushers handed each of us an 8.5 by 5.5 piece of paper. The words that had been penned on one side of a slice of paper the size of a notepad had broken the dam that had held back the tears of many of his friends, family, and parishioners. Six short paragraphs unveiled his character, integrity, the purity of his heart and the passion with which he accepted God’s expectations of him, requirements he accomplished for 73 years. A few excerpts…
Fred Copeland was born March 28, 1918. Fred accepted Christ as his Savior at 17 years of age. The Lord called him to preach a few months later. On October 10, 1936, he rode a horse 8 miles to preach his first sermon.
He worked at various jobs: farming, logging, etc. making 50 – 75 cents a day (for 10 hours a day). He worked for the CNOPTP Railroad in Oakdale for 7 years, as well as for the Morgan County School Board as a bus driver for over 26 years.
Fred served in our Lord’s ministry for 73 years. He pastored 12 churches, three of them more than one time.
In spite of not owning a car, he pastored churches for many years requiring him to walk or hitch hike several miles to preach. In the 1930’s and 1940’s many churches only had services once or twice a month. Therefore, he often pastored 2 or 3 churches at the same time. His salary comprised of whatever the offering (or passing the hat) brought. One church he pastored was 40 miles away. To get there, he walked to Harriman, paid 15 cents to ride the bus to Kingston, and then rode the rest of the way with one of the deacons (where he also spent the night). They had services Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. He would receive a love offering usually, around $2.00. One Sunday there were 15 people present and 3 of them accepted Christ as their Savior. Records at one church indicate they paid him $5.00 a week. One week he received $3.00 in cash and $2.00 in produce, which was a bucket of eggs that he carried as he walked home. While pastoring Pine Orchard (1948-52) he baptized 74 people – 25 at one time.
I never knew the man but during the funeral service I too wiped the tears from my eyes. I have processed why and have come to this conclusion… He’s one of my heroes. It seems that anyone who is who I want to become is one of my heroes. I can only hope that I’ll never again “wish” for something God has not yet given me. I can only pray that I never again long for comfort more than I yearn to do God’s will. I can only beg God and my closest friends to remind me that it’s not about making a name for myself, it’s about making Jesus famous.
There’s a difference between a calling and a career. I’m afraid I sometimes forget. I don’t believe Brother Copeland ever did. Brother Copeland was 91 years old when he was set free from the confines of his earthly body. I’m pretty sure his reward is great in heaven. Actually, I’m certain of it… “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:29-31