Sermon delivered January 15, 2005 by Tony Cirigliano

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the King James Version KJV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

From Mailman to Minister

I thought, this morning I'd share my testimony. They told me about the strict time, so, I'm going to try to make sure I fit in.

I was born in 1951, in the Bronx. Anyhow, that's why I have this speech impediment. I think my nephew, Jo Cirigliano, your evangelist has that impediment also.

In the Bronx we were in different gangs. I was in an Itallian gang called the "Golden Guineas." How's that for a name? The rival gang was the "Young Sinners," which was a very appropriate name they had. Anyhow, we had the idea one day that we would bomb them with rotten eggs while they were having a party in the park. So we all hid behind the bushes and they were all dancing with their girlfriends. And we all came out with our rotten eggs, threw them at them and were supposed to get in the getaway car. Well, I didn't make it. And so I was running and saw the cops. I remember that we would always jump from the roof tops to go to different buildings, so I ran up one of the tenement buildings, and these guys were after me, and I could see when I turned around that they had switch-blades open I had nowhere to run. I kept running and running up he stairs, and if the roof latch had been locked with a chain and a lock I would never have gotten on the roof, but it was open that day. I got up on the roof and I figured I would run and leap to the next roof. And keep going. Well, this roof wasn't connected with the other roofs. The next building was too far away. It was a jump that I don't think I could have made.

But when I saw them coming up, and I'm on this roof, and they're coming out of the doorway, I figured, I'm going to try this jump anyhow. I don't know if I'll fall down in the alleyway. I'll probably break my legs, but I'll leap anyway. At least I won't be stabbed.

You know, when I jumped, I felt something grab me and carry me to the other side of that building. And I got a grip on the ledge of the next building. As mad as they were, none of them tried that jump.

The next day I brought some of my friends back and took them on the roof and said, "I jumped this last night." Non of them believed me. And looking at it in the daytime, I didn't believe I made that jump.

Even without knowing God, He was taking care of me. God protected me and helped me get over there.

Many of the friends I grew up with have either been killed in shoot-outs, gang crime or drug overdose. God preserved my life.

I met Mary Ann, my good wife in 1969. We met, of all places, in a disco-tech. Now they don't cal them that. Now they call them clubs. But I praise God, she's the one for me. We got married when I was nineteen years old, and I married and older woman: Marianne was twenty. I got a job. One day, I was walking down on Wall street, my friends and I and I saw her in for the exam for the postal service. So I said, "I'm going to go in and take that test during the lunch hour." I took the test, all of us actually took it. I passed it somehow and got hired to work in the postal service in Frog's Neck, New York, in the Bronx.

We had our first child in 1970, Anthony, who is now 35, I believe. He belongs to the Wilson Church, and married a nice Adventist girl, Sussete, and we have a grandson, Brandon.

We bought a house in Holtville, Long Island, and in 1973 we had a daughter, Natalie, who now lives in Florida and is a management consultant.

Then I began to join the fire department, you know, fit into suburbia. And I got a transfer to the Holtville postoffice so I wouldn't have to commute all the way from the Bronx all the way out to Long Island, because we moved way out in Long Island, N.Y.

When I got there, the conditions were just terrible. The postmaster seemed awfully overbearing. I decided I would become the shop steward for the letter carriers so I took a course at Cornell University to learn about filing grievances, and being shop steward for the letter carriers. I began to drive the supervisor crazy over there. You know, I figured out how everyone could take time and cut their out, take the safety breaks and do everything just the right way, and send mail to empty apartments so they have to stop there the day they counted and all this stuff. The postmaster accused me of giving him bleeding ulcers.

But, something was missing in my life. Pretty soon after that, I began going to bar with the postal letter carriers and we'd drink. After a while I'd be there drinking most of the day because we got out early in the afternoon. Then I had a friend who committed suicide. That really got me thinking. We didn't know anything about it. He was one of our drinking buddies. Then all at once when we cam in to the postoffice they said he killed himself. That really got me thinking: What is life all about? You just live like an animal and then you just die?

And I was treating my family bad at the time. You know, when you're unhappy, you do strange things, when you have a void. At night I got to the point where I needed to drink almost a whole bottle of Vodka before I could go to sleep. I was searching, but somehow, the Good Lord was beginning to work in my life. I was impressed to read the Bible. No one told me to. No one gave me counsel about it. But I felt like I should read the Bible. I had grown up in the Catholic Church, I had a respect for the Bible. It was like a holy relic. I never read it.

I found one in our dresser drawer, an old Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version of the Bible that Mary Ann had. I dug it out and began to read it, and I had this big glass of Vodka and Orange juice in one hand and I had the Bible in the other hand. I would walk back and forth. This went on for months, reading the Bible, and just high-lighting different parts of the Bible. And I had read the whole New Testament, and was reading the Old Testament on July 13, 1977. It was about two o'clock in the morning and I was reading Isaiah 53:1,2. Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

And he shall grow up like a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground. Verse six says, All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

And, for the first time I understood the gospel that Jesus Christ had died for my sins. I began... It never happened to me before... I began crying with joy. Just weeping for joy. Feeling like the load of the whole world came off my shoulders.

I told May Ann the next day, I said, "Mary Ann! Something happened to me. You've got to read the Bible." She thought I had flipped my lid. She said, "You've gone off the deep end now." It's funny: I was getting nicer and she was getting nastier. And I didn't even know what happened to me. I had no idea. I didn't know anything about friends that were born again. I had no knowledge.

One day I was watching television and there's this guy on TV, and he's telling what happened to him, which sounded like what happened to me, and he said he was "Born again!" I told Mary Ann, "Come in here. You see that guy? Whatever happened to hi happened to me. I born again," I said.

I gave up smoking and drinking. What do you think they gave mailmen in New York for Christmas? Why, you'd open the mail box and there'd be a bottle, nicely wrapped of Johnny Walker Red, or Johnny Walker Black with a card on it. They'd give you whiskey or something like that for Christmas. And the Lord gave me... And I had these Miersheim pipes. I collected these fancy Miershiem pipes. God gave me... Before I heard anything about the Adventist Church, or anything. The power to take all those pipes and put them in the garbage cans and pour all that strong drink down the toilet where it belonged.

Jesus says in John 8:36, If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

I had a whole new outlook on things, a whole new paradigm shift. I went outside, I remember, taking a walk, and Mary Ann thought I was crazy because I was saying, ""look at those beautiful flowers! Look at the tree. Did you see that bird?" And she said, "What's wrong with you?" I said, "It's beautiful! Don't you see that?"

And I was praying for her, because we were going this way. Everything I wanted to do, she didn't want to do. The things we used to do, I didn't want to do anymore. I was praying.

About nine months after that, Mary Ann always had a good heart about wanting to help people. She went to this fish organization. It was called a Christian Organization and I was praying for her. One day, a lady got up whose best friend had run away with someone else. She got up and gave her testimony what Jesus had done for her. At the end she had a little call and Mary Ann came up to give her heart to Jesus. When she came home and told me, I just couldn't believe it. It sounded too good to be true. But, sure enough, she had become converted. She had given her heart to Christ.

So, you that have spouses, you may be praying for, keep praying. You don't know what God will do.

And so we went back the Catholic Church where we grew up in. In fact, I even made my brother, Dominic, I don't think has forgiven me, go to the priest. We were so bad we were out of church so long the box wasn't good enough. We had to do one in the office with the priest at our confession. So, I made Dominic go first and he was in there a long time. When he came out, I don't know what happened in there, he was pretty mad. When he came out he said, "I'll never do that again!"

So I went in there and told him all years of sin I could remember. You know what was weird about it, you had to lie in the confession because you didn't remember. He'd say, "How many times did you do that?" "About fifty." You don't know, you don't remember. A lot of times. Anyhow, I came out of there and I started attending St. Sylvester's Roman Catholic Church. Now, that was the early start of the Charismatic Movement when they were speaking in tongues. At this movement there would be some Protestants that were coming too and they'd hold hands and speak in tongues. I would ask questions but the priest never seemed to have any answers for the questions I had from the Bible. He would just say, "Well, praise the Lord and it doesn't matter. So I'd be reading these things in the Bible and not getting real answers from the Bible when I questioned the priest about it.

Eventually we came to the point where we made a tough decision to leave Catholic Church and I also had to do some tough changes at work. I couldn't hide in the woods in the mail truck now that I was a Christian and read magazine a couple hours before I came in. I had to come in when my route was done. Now you can imagine, here I am changing all the carriers to get all their routes cut and I'd become a Christian and I'm coming in early. So, they didn't understand. I was a brown-noser. In fact, I gave the postmaster a Bible and he looked at it like it was a bomb. "What is this? You shouldn't use religion to drive people crazy." "I'm not driving you crazy. I just want to give you a Bible." He even transferred to another postoffice after that.

The union was after me for coming in early now. I was being called a "brown-nose" and all this kind of thing. We were really praying and wanting to do God's will ans we were going from church to church. One day we learned about the Sabbath from the World Wide Church of God. Garner Ted Armstrong had a magazine and I had gotten a hold of it and I was reading it and the thing about the Sabbath just kind of struck me. What was this about the seventh day? I tried to disprove it. In fact, I went to the library and everything I could find I would read in the libray about the Sabbath, the changes of the Sabbath. What was funny was that years later, when I was in the Adventist Church I found the very quotes that I had seen in the library when I was searching for answers.

I sent for studies from the World Wide Church of God and I found things there we just couldn't accept. We were studying and discussing it together: the second chance at salvation, the US in England, the two lost tribes of Israel, and several other things. So we concluded there was not true church. We had a neighbor who was a Lutheran. We tried studying the material they had. After I became a Christian I got my high school diploma. I had dropped out of school. Now I was going to college to be a real estate agent. In college there was a Greek Orthodox Bible study group, so I began studying with them. A family friend was a Jehovah's Witness and he said he had the truth. I had Baptist literature. We were having all this piled on the desk and reading these different things. As I said, we determine it wasn't really a true church, in fact, I was going to start a church, my own church. I was going to be pastor. How about that?

On my mail route one day I came across a "Signs of the Times" magazine. That magazine caught my attention because it had the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventists. "Who are these people?" So I sent for one of those little tracts, "Your Friends, the Adventists." You pull it open and it's got scriptures on this side and you turn it over and it's got scriptures on the other side. We couldn't understand the name. In fact, we made fun of it. "What is that? People going on adventures for seven days? What is this Seventh-day Adventist?"

I called the church and it just so happened that I looked it up in the yellow pages. I didn't even know there was a Seventh-day Adventist church around. What a shame on that church. It was just a few blocks from me and didn't even know they were there. So anyhow, it said the number of this church, so I called the church, and it just so happened how God worked, how Sandy Newman's little church in Patchogue, Long Island. Sandy Newman helped the pastor as a secretary and she just happened to come in to get a piece of paper or something when I called. She said, "Yes, this is the Adventist Church." I asked her if she had any material she could send me because I was getting a little gun-shy of Bible studies because I had gone to a couple groups. She said, "We're having a Bible study in my house tonight. Why don't you come to my house?" So, I cut my college class that night and I went to the Newman's house and they're having a Bible study and it was the last night the pastor was there, he was going to Keene, Texas. Lo and behold, what are they studying, the Little Horn of Daniel Seven. And Sandy had asked on the phone, well, what church I grew up in. So, they were talking about then little horn and the man of sin and Babylon the great. And I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, "That sounds like the Pope to me."

So I put my hand up. "I said, Pastor, are you talking about the Pope?" And he shook his head, "Yes." And I said, "It makes perfect sense to me."

I began studying with Pastor Marco Valenca who was the pastor there. I think he's now an officer in the Southern New England Conference. He had a very heavy Brazilian accent. By the way the weird thing that happened at this Bible study was the pastor there who was leaving tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I'm glad I met the next pastor of the Patchogue Church." Now can you imagine that?

So, I went home. Mary Ann said, "How was the meeting?" I said, it was pretty good, but I think the people are a little crazy. Because he said I was going to be a pastor." And we both laughed about it. I turned out I was the next pastor of the Patchogue Church. I remember what he had said.

We began studying with Pastor Valenca, and he had a very heavy Brazilian accent. In fact, when he said Jewelry, he'd say Jewry. I thought he was talking about the Jews. Anyhow, when we studied in my house, he came up to the Spirit of Prophecy and the way he presented it was... We were eating it all up. It was the Truth. It was the Bible. It was it. We knew it and we had not known about the Sabbath and these other things. But when we got to the Spirit of Prophecy, he made it sound like we had to confess our name when we were baptized or something. I said, "Naw, You're just like these other groups. I'm sorry, don't come back anymore."

He had a beautiful prayer for me and Mary Ann that God would continue to leads us. He left us a copy of the "Great Controversy." I started reading that in the postoffice. The more I got into the book, being a former catholic, the more I was reading truth.

I called Pastor Valenca back. To make a long story short, we were baptized in the Patchogue Long Island Seventh-day Adventist Church. Then years later, people kept saying, "You aught to be in the ministry." They kept saying that. I kept getting more and more calls about doing that. I felt impressed eventually to go to college. We were going to go to Atlantic Union College at the time.

We were all set to go to Atlantic Union College, but I was still troubled because I was going to quit the postoffice and the night came, I was working 8:30 at night to 5:00 in the morning to keep the Sabbath. I had to get transferred. I had to load trucks and all that stuff. I was so troubled about going to Atlantic Union College. I didn't know if it was me wanting to do it, or the Lord wanting me to do it. I was praying and praying that night. So I went out for lunch in the middle of the night in the postoffice. I prayed, "Lord, if you don't want me to go, and quit tonight, please give me some kind of sign."

All at once there was a police car behind me. I pulled over. He had his lights on me. He didn't get out of the car. Finally I got out of the car, and walked over to him. And I said, "Officer, I need to get back to the postoffice. Are you going to give me a ticket or whatever. I need to do it right away." They were real hard about being late. He looked at my car, and I had a bumper sticker on it that said, "The difference is Jesus." "Who put that bumper sticker on your car?" Just what I need, a policeman who hates Christians in the middle of the night. "Well, I did." "Why did you do that?" I said, "Well, I'm a Christian. That's why I put it on there." "He asked, "What church do you go to?" "Well, I'm a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church."

He stuck his hand out the window. A true story. In the middle of Hicksville Boulevard, not a soul around, and says, "Praise the Lord, Brother," and he shook my hand. And he said, "Watch for the sign." So I looked around to see any signs. Then he turns the corner and he says it again. "Watch for the sign, Brother." Then he backed up and said it the third time.

It may sound crazy, but that was my sign. I told Mary Ann, "We are not going to AUC. God want us not to go there." And I told her that story.

Well, it turned out that if we had gone to Atlantic Union College, we would never have had Bible studies with Joe Cirigliano's mother, who is now a powerful evangelist for this conference.

He was a charismatic Catholic and came over with a pepperoni pizza with the idea that when I picked the pepperoni off he was going to set us straight. That went into a three-hour Bible study and a couple weeks later she called and said, " Can I come to church with you?" And she was baptized and won many souls herself.

After that the doors were open to Southern College.

I was poor. As a married couple, I remember, I had to take an exam one day and I went over to talk with the financial director. He said, "

First, before that, I was in the postoffice. We all opened our mail in the postoffice and my bill said I owed four thousand dollars. There was this guy... You now, the devil always has somebody at that time, saying, Yes, God really blesses you, doesn't he?" He was looking at my bill. So, I was depressed. It was a chapel day. So, I thought I'd go to chapel that day. It turned out to be an awards chapel. At the end of the program Dr. Douglas Bennett gets up and he says, "We have a special award from the Durham/McClelland Trust Fund." I was thinking, "Eric was a friend of mine, He got a five hundred dollar award. I said, "Eric, What a blessing!" Then they said the amount. And we thought what a blessing. It was four thousand, one hundred and seventy dollars. And Dr. Bennet said, "Would Tony Cirigliano please come up here." My legs turned to rubber almost. I don't even know what I said when I got the award, or how I got it. The first thing I did with that check as to run and find that guy that said, "God really blesses." And I told him, "God really blesses, doesn't He?"

Then I went home, and Mary Ann jumped about that high off the floor. God had provided us. We were able to get our exam permit. And God provided us the means to get through college.

You know, John said something. John said in John 12:25, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. God is good all the time.

 Hymn of Praise: 27,  Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
Scripture:  Psalm 34:6,7
Hymn of Response: #572,  Give of Your Best to the Master 

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