Living by the Spirit’s Power

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Ephesians 5:15-20 

This morning’s passage is a continuation of last weeks, when we talked about what it means to be children of light. Paul spends much of his time in his Ephesians letter reminding us that as Christians, we are called to be different. We have been set apart by God, and chosen by HIM to be his representatives to the world. And while that can be a scary, and sometimes an overwhelming calling, Paul also reminds us that we don’t have to face it alone. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us… to give us strength and wisdom… and to help us mature as followers of Christ. 

This particular passage that we are looking at today, it’s not what I would consider to be a popular passage in our current culture. The message that it conveys is not one that is typically well received in a culture that glorifies living in the moment, enjoying the here and now, and doing what is fun or what feels good. But it is for those exact reasons that I think it is so important for us to look at this passage. It’s so easy to glean over scriptures that stretch us, or that make us feel uncomfortable, or that call on us to do things that we know are going to be difficult or challenging. As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into that trap of only focusing on the parts of scripture that are easy, or fun, or that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. But it is only by focusing on these tough passages that we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to live a righteous, Christ-centered life. And the entirety of Paul’s point here is that we don’t have to try to live that righteous life on our own. If we will just submit to the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be provided with all of the insight and strength that we need to live a life that sets us apart and helps us to be righteous followers of Jesus Christ. 
 
Paul starts his message by giving us a warning: Be careful how you live. He says don’t live like fools… But rather, live like those who are wise. But what does it mean to live as someone who is wise, as opposed to someone who is unwise? Wisdom is a topic that is covered extensively throughout the Bible. Remember back in the Old Testament when God offered Solomon anything he wanted, and Solomon asked for wisdom? That is the quintessential example of wise living. And what was God’s response to Solomon? He said I will give you wisdom more than any man that has ever lived or ever will live again. What’s important here is that wisdom isn’t something we have to work to attain. It is given freely to us by God if we will just seek it. When we think of worldly wisdom, often we think of elders and philosophers… people who have attained a higher understanding through life experience and contemplation. But through the example of Solomon, God shows us that we need only ask for wisdom, and it will be given unto us. And what’s more, this Godly wisdom far outweighs any earthly wisdom we could hope to attain, both in the depth of the wisdom, and also in its application. Living like those who are wise means seeking God in everything we do… Looking for his hand in our lives… listening for his guidance in all situations. And trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to provide that guidance to us. 

Paul follows that up with another challenge to us: Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Now while Paul was writing this 2000 years ago to a group of believers in Ephesus, the relevance couldn’t be more obvious in the here and now. We live in a very challenging time. I would argue that our world is more divided now than it has ever been in the past. Countries continue to fight with one another over borders and political differences. Ideologies have come up against each other in violent clashes. Extremism has taken hold in so many places around the globe. Our nation grows more and more divided every day, as those on the right and those on the left actively seek out ways to discredit or to gain an upper hand on their political adversaries. Families are torn apart by addiction and divorce. More and more children are being raised by aunts and uncles and grandparents because of the disfunction that they’ve experienced within their immediate families. Wild fires are ravaging parts of the country. Floods and famines consume other parts of the nation and the world. Earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions threaten communities and ways of life. I think we can all agree that these are challenging times in which we live. But Paul implores us here to make the most of every opportunity we have in the midst of these challenging times. So what does that mean for us? What is the practical application for making the most of every opportunity amid struggle and turmoil? That’s a question that can be answered in a million different ways. But I think the most important thing for us to remember in order to make the most of every opportunity is that, no matter what the situation is around us… no matter what hardships we might be enduring, or what battles we might be fighting… God is with us. God loves us, and he is guiding us every step of the way. So to take advantage of every opportunity means to recognize with joy that we have the protection and the guidance of the almighty. But I think we also need to recognize that not everyone can say that. Not everyone has heard and accepted the love and the grace of God. So in order to take advantage of every opportunity, we must keep our eyes open to ways that we can help those in need, and to show them the love and the support and the guidance that God provides to all of us. 

There’s a song by Matthew West called “In my own little world” that I think speaks to taking advantage of every opportunity better than anything I could say myself. The song starts out “In my own little world it hardly ever rains…I’ve never felt hungry, always felt safe…I’ve got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet… In my own little world, where it’s population, me.” Later on in the song though, the situation changes a little. “Stopped at a red light, looked out my window… Saw a cardboard sight that said help this homeless widow… Just above the sign was the face of a human… I thought to myself God what have I been doin?” This is the point in the song where he had a decision to make. He could either continue in his own little world, feeling confident and secure, knowing that he was taken care of… Or he could reach out a hand and help another human being in their time of need. Which choice do you think he made? Which choice would you have made? Well he finishes the verse: “So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eyes… Oh how many times have I just passed her by? I gave her some money and I drove on through… In my own little world, now it’s population, 2.”   

 

Taking advantage of every opportunity causes us to look outside of the blessings we have been given, and try to find a way to share those blessings with others who haven’t had the same experiences as us. And by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, those opportunities will begin to present themselves in ways that are more evident. And by continuing to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have the strength and the courage to take advantage of those opportunities.

Pauls next challenge to us is found in verses 18 and 19. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” This isn’t something that I’ve shared with very many of you here thus far, but I have had a personal bought with addiction in my own life. There were a number of years where I found myself at the mercy of alcohol and other substances to the point that I alienated myself from family, friends, and most importantly, God. I found myself behaving in ways that, in retrospect, didn’t make sense at all. My focus was on the wrong things. I wasn’t going to church. I wasn’t reading the Bible. I wasn’t spending time with my family, or looking for ways that I could better myself or my community. Unfortunately, we probably all know someone suffering from addictions. And we see the devastation those addictions have on their lives. Relationships ruined. Jobs lost. Homes and families ripped apart. Alcohol has a powerful effect on the mind and body. It causes us to act in ways that are irrational, and often outside of our own control.

But I think this comparison by Paul is so accurate. Because what if we allowed ourselves to become addicted to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives? What if we became so “drunk” with the word of God, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, that people began to notice a change in our behavior? Paul says that we should be filled wit hteh power of the Holy Spirit, and because of that we should sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and make music to the Lord in our hearts. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a much better kind of addiction than the one I put myself and my family through for those few years. And that’s exactly what God wants from us. He wants us to embrace the Holy Spirit, and to become intoxicated with its power… He wants us to let the Spirit work in us and through is in such powerful ways, that our words and actions often times don’t make sense to people who haven’t experienced that same spiritual power in their lives. And I can tell you this. As someone who has lived on both sides of that track, living recklessly through the power of the Holy Spirit is infinitely more rewarding than any short lived intoxication that can be experienced by any man made substance. When I gave myself over to the power of the Holy Spirit, I watched as my entire life was changed. My work life became better. I began to see opportunities that ultimately led me into ministry. I began to embrace helping members of the community, reaching out to them to try and give them the same salvation that I had been given through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what Paul wants for each of us. And that is what GOD wants for each of us. If you haven’t already, I beg you today to give yourself over to Christ, and to letting the power of the Holy Spirit work in your life. I guarantee you that you will NOT be disappointed by the change you see in your life.

The last thing Paul says in this scripture is “Give thanks to God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not thankful for the years of my life that I gave away to addiction. But I am ETERNALLY and INFINITELY thankful for the power of the Holy Spirit to work in my life… To release me from the bondage of that addiction, and to deliver me into a new life as a servant of Jesus Christ, and of God almighty. I’m thankful to God that through the power of the Holy Spirit, I have healed wounds with my family. And I’m thankful that, because of that same power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to stand before you today, changed, and healed… With a new focus, and a new mission… As a new man, who tries every day to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have to do it alone. We CAN’T do it alone. So give in to the Spirit’s power. Give into the joy and the renewal of the Spirit’s power in your life. Give in to the wisdom the Holy Spirit longs to provide to you. Embrace the power of the Holy Spirit to help you make the most out of every opportunity. And remember to ask God, each and every day… to help you live by the Spirit’s power.



Children of Light

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Ephesians 4:24-5:2   

I’ve got to say, I just love this passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. In it, he provides us some great insights that seem, on the surface, at least, to be pretty straight forward…pretty common sense… But when we begin to look at this passage in the larger context of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ, and when we understand that it was written to members of a brand new church, and a brand new religious movement… It helps us to recognize that in some ways, each of us are guilty of these in our own lives. But more importantly than that, I love that Paul doesn’t just provide the condemnations… the “do nots” if you will. Instead, he pairs them with either what we should be striving for instead, or at least with a validation for how these actions can effect our lives and the life of the church in a negative way. He gives us a practical way to apply the changes that he is telling us we need to make in our lives. And in heeding these warnings from Paul, and in making these changes in our lives, we allow ourselves, mind, body, and spirit, to be more in tune with God… more in line with the character of Christ… And because of that, we become capable of being children of the light…those who have been chosen by God to spread the light of his love to the world around us.

The people in the church at Ephesus were very near and dear to Paul’s heart. He was writing this to a congregation that was very meaningful to him. He wrote the letter, probably around 60AD while he was imprisoned in Rome, to the church that he had founded himself just 7 years earlier. Paul had spent at least 3 years in Ephesus preaching and teaching, so he had a good idea of what the spiritual needs were for the people in that congregation. SO when he wrote this letter, it wasn’t from a position of anger or condemnation. It was from a place of love. Paul deeply cared for the people at Ephesus. And he wanted to do everything in his power, even while imprisoned, to give them guidance, and to help them live as righteous of a life as they could. But the thing that struck me the most as I prepared for this sermon, was how relevant each of these statements still are to us…. Here in Fort Davis…. Almost 2,000 years later.

Let’s look at Paul’s first statement in the passage, found in verse 25. He says “Stop telling lies… Let us tell our neighbors he truth.” Now in no way am I calling any one of you a liar, please understand that. From getting to know each of you over the last 4 weeks, I can say with confidence that this is one of the most upfront, truthful, and honest groups of people that I have ever been around. When there is a problem, you aren’t afraid to confront it. When there is a disagreement, you don’t shy away from talking it out and finding some middle ground. However, we as human beings, have to recognize and accept, that as fallen and imperfect creatures, it is in our very nature to lie SOME TIMES. Even when we don’t mean to… even though some of the lies are less nefarious than others, the fact remains that at some point, all of us lie. Maybe you’ve been invited out to dinner, and you just don’t feel like going. So instead of saying “no, I don’t feel like going”, you make up an excuse… “I just have so much to do around the house… My kid has a program at school I have to go to”. Ever been there? I know I have. I have such a hard time saying the word no, regardless of the situation, that sometimes I just think it’s easier to tell a little white lie instead of being honest that I don’t want to do something. It’s a lot easier to deflect the question, and to cast blame on other circumstances rather than risking hurting someone’s feelings by telling them no. But telling one little white lie often leads to telling another, and then another, and then another. And let me ask you this: have any of you ever been caught in a white lie before? When I was living in New Mexico, we were at coaching school in Albuquerque. A group of coaches asked me to go to lunch with them, and I just really didn’t want to. The truth is, I wanted to go and check out the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball stadium. But instead of being honest with them, I said “No, I’m not feeling very good. I think I’m just going to go back to my hotel room and rest.” Just a little white lie. No one hurt, right? Until about an hour later when I was leaving the Isotopes park, and who should I see walking my way but that same group of coaches. All I had to do was be honest. In all likelihood, they would have just said ok, and we would have all went on our way. But how much worse did I make the situation by not only lying, but getting caught in that lie? The truth is, not only did I show those coaches that I didn’t want to spend time with them… But I also completely lost any credibility I had with them. All over a stupid lie! My mom used to tell me when I was a kid that she hated lying. She would tell me “lying is double trouble”. And the older I have gotten, I have come to understand more and more why she felt that way. Because when someone lies to us, they lose our trust. And trust is something that is hard to get back. So when we look at a church family, lying to one another does even more damage. Because if we can’t trust our church family… if we can’t put our faith in what the members of the body of Christ tell us… that can damage the cohesion of our entire congregation-. That’s why Paul says in verse 25 “Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body”. As the body of Christ, we are to be unified. We are to strengthen one another, and hold each other accountable to the high calling of being the Children of light that Jesus called us to be when he died for us on the cross. But let’s look at this a different way. As Christians, we know that we are held to a higher standard. Morally, ethically, in our business ventures, everything. SO we have to be aware of the damage that we can do to the Christian faith when non-believers see us being untruthful. There is nothing that turns a non-believer away from the love of Christ faster than the belief that Christians are hypocrites. So because we are part of the same body, the body of Christ, let us all maintain a policy of truth and honesty… Not just with one another, but in ALL things.

The next statement Paul makes is found in verse 26. “Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Notice, Paul never says don’t be angry. Because sometimes anger is necessary. There is that righteous indignation that you feel when someone is being wronged or being taken advantage of… And that type of anger can be beneficial to us if we harness it in the proper ways. But Paul says don’t let your anger control you. We probably all know that person who is angry all the time. The person who, no matter what, is mad about something. I’ve worked with people like that. It’s amazing how many teachers fall into the category of letting their anger control them… Or how many coaches are constantly mad regardless of how good practice went, or how many games their team wins. I’m sure you can think of a person in your own life who fits that mold. What Paul is telling us here is, make sure that YOU are not that person. Make sure that you aren’t allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with your anger. And he tells us why that is so important in verses 26 and 27. If you let your anger control you, if you let the sun go down on your anger, then you are giving the devil a foothold in your life. By allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with anger, you are opening the door for the devil to work evil in your life, and to begin to convince you that “Those things that make you angry wouldn’t be happening if God really loved you”. You begin to lose your focus on the joy of the Lord and on all of the blessings that God provides to us daily. And instead, you give Satan the power to make you bitter, and spiteful, and full of rage…. There’s a guy that I’ve known for over 10 years. We met through some mutual friends our senior year of high school, and instantly we became friends. He was such a joyful person. Always happy, always smiling. He had this ability to see the best in people. He was a great guy, and fun to be around. Not long after high school, he married his high school sweetheart. Around the time he got married, we moved to New Mexico, so I fell out of touch with him for a few years. Upon visiting Lubbock a few years later, I ran into him at a restaurant, and immediately I could tell that something was different about him. He didn’t smile when I saw him. He didn’t act excited to see me after several years. And after talking to him for a few minutes, he revealed to me that, not long after his wedding, he had caught his wife cheating on him. He was so angry as he told me about it. It was like he was spitting venom with every word he said. You could see the anger and the hatred in his eyes. I later found out that he had lost a very well paying job, and had isolated himself from all of his friends and family. You see, he let his anger control him. And because he allowed that anger he felt to take control of him, he gave the devil power over his life. And the devil used that power to completely wreck every aspect of what was once a happy and productive life. It’s ok to be angry. But process it, and let it go. Because if you don’t, you are inviting the devil to take hold of your heart, and to wreak havoc on your life from the inside out.

Paul’s next statement, to me seems to be the most obvious. If you are a thief… quit stealing! What a novel concept! Don’t take what isn’t yours. From a young age, most of us are taught that stealing is wrong. But more so than the call to not steal, I think the alternative Paul gives is even better. He says Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Most people who steal from others do so because they have a need that they feel they cannot meet in any other way. Maybe they’re hungry, so they steal food to feed themselves or their families. Maybe they lack clothes, so they steal money from someone, or steal clothes from a store so that they can provide it to their loved ones. Those people who steal, they know better than most how meaningful it can be to receive a handout in your time of need. And that’s what Paul calls us to. Instead of taking from someone else, find a way to put your hands to work, and to use them for good. And because you know personally what it feels like to be in need to the point that you feel like stealing is your only option, give! Use the fruits of your labor to give to those in need. Use the products of your work to provide for those who cannot do it for themselves. That to me is one of the truest marks of Christian living.

Paul next tells us not to use foul or abusive language. Because words can hurt. We can say all day that sticks and stones break bones but words will never hurt us. But you know as well as I do that words can tear us up inside. You can look at the effects of bullying in our schools today as proof of that. Gone are the days when bullying meant being shoved into a locker or given a swirly. Now the most prolific form of bullying is cyber bullying. Where children mock and demean others with their words through the internet and social media. You can see the devastation this causes when you look at the rapid growth of teen suicide, and school shootings. Almost to a number, over the last several years the children who have taken their own lives, or felt that they had to lash out in the form of violence against their schools have done so because of the effects of bullying. And because of their belief that no one cared, or that no one did anything to stop it. What if instead of breaking each other down, demoralizing and demeaning one other, we used words to build each other up? What if we made it our goal every day to compliment every person we talked to at least once? How much different, how much better, how much happier would our world be? That’s what Paul is calling us to. He says let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

The last of Paul’s statements I want to look at this morning are found in verses 31 an 32. He says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” That sums up the entire meaning of this morning’s message. That is the key to living as Children of light. If you get rid of all bitterness and rage, you take away the devils grip on you, and you remove his ability to have power over your life.  If we treat each other with kindness, and forgiveness, and tenderheartedness instead of stealing form them nd using harsh words and slander against them, then we reflect the love and the forgiveness that Christ has shown us back into the world. There is no greater way to live as children of light.

 



Feeding Ourselves

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John 6:24-35  

Last week we talked about feeding the people… Looking to those in our community and in our world who are in need, and finding a way to meet those needs… using the resources that God has blessed us with to further his kingdom… and having faith that God would provide enough to sustain us as we blessed others through this giving. But in light of speaking about feeding others and all of the things that go along with that, I think we would be remiss if we neglected to recognize that before we can be able to feed others, there’s one very important step we have to take… We have to feed ourselves. But the type of feeding we are going to be talking about this morning isn’t the same kind of feeding we discussed last week when we talked about providing for the needs of those around us. When we talk about feeding ourselves, I’m not talking about making sure that we have food on our tables, or that we are eating a healthy diet. I’m talking about feeding ourselves spiritually.

Much like last weeks scripture, our scripture this morning begins with a group of people pursuing Jesus. Many, if not most, of the people in this group, were the same people who had been there when Jesus fed the 5000 with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But you see, even though this crowd had witnessed Jesus perform one of his greatest miracles, they were following him for the wrong reasons. As Jesus himself acknowledged in verse 26, “you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” As I read and re-read this scripture this week, I was deeply convicted in my heart. Because as I contemplated my relationship with Jesus, I came to a humbling realization. Far too often in my own walk with Christ, I find myself following him, not because I recognize and appreciate what he has done for me… But because I am constantly looking for what the next thing that I can ask him for is. And this has been especially true as I have gone through hard times and difficult struggles in my life. Jesus, please heal my knee. Oh Lord, please help me to preach a good sermon this week. Dear God, please let people accept and embrace me because they associate me with you. But that’s not what Jesus has called us for. And it is not what he was prepared to provide for the group of people in this scripture either. Jesus recognized that, not only did the crowd not understand the power he had shown when he fed them the day before… But he recognized also that, that miracle was completely lost on this group of people. In just one day they had completely forgotten the power that he had shown. And instead, they continued to seek him out solely because he had given them food to eat.

If you have spent any time in the state park or in other “wilderness” settings, you have probably come across the sign that says “Do not feed the animals.” And there is a reason for that sign. First of all, it is for your protection, so that the animals don’t get close enough to you to cause you harm or injury as you try to feed them. But more importantly than that, the sign is there because the park rangers know that if the animals are fed by humans enough, they will quit trying to forage for food for themselves, and instead will become dependent on the handouts that the park guests provide for them. In the same way, these people had found their meal ticket! They had found someone who would provide food for them… Food that they wouldn’t have to work for or prepare for themselves. But you see, the crowd had totally missed the mark of what Jesus was trying to show them when he fed them with the bread and the fish. And that is why in verse 27, Jesus tells the crowd “don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”

The crowd found themselves in kind of an awkward situation at that point. Here, they have been following this man, knowing that he is capable of providing food for them, when suddenly, Jesus turns and says to them stop worrying about food! Stop focusing on things that don’t last! Spend your energy seeking eternal life, that’s the true gift that I want to give to you!… Realizing that they had been admonished by Jesus, the crowd tried to save face… They tried to make it look like they hadn’t been waiting for another handout, and instead were devoted to doing what Jesus was asking of them. “We want to perform God’s work too”, they said. “What should be do?” Jesus’ response to that question was so simple, and so straight forward. He tells the crowd in verse 29 “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

It seems so easy, right? The only thing God wants from us is to believe in Jesus. The only thing we have to do is to have faith in the Son of God. If we can just do that, we have fulfilled EVERYTHING that God demands from us in order to do his work… Only, it wasn’t that easy for the people in the crowd. And in the same way, though it seems so easy, we ourselves often make it harder than it has to be. So many times in our lives, we become this same crowd, and our response to Jesus when all he asks from us is to trust and believe in him is… “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate mana from heaven while they journeyed through the wilderness. The scriptures say ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.” The crowd was literally saying to Jesus, never mind the miracle we just saw, or the countless miracles we overlook every day… Never mind the gift of life, and the breath in our lungs, and the beauty of creation… Never mind the houses that shelter us or the food that we have on our tables… Never mind the sunrise or the sunset, or the word of God that you have provided as a guide for us. Never mind the fact that you fed all 5000 of us with 5 loavesof bread and 2 fish. Never mind any of that! If you want us to believe in you, show us a sign!

It’s obvious at this point that Jesus possesses a patience that is not of this world. I can imagine if I were Jesus in this situation, I would have said “What about the 5 loaves and 2 fish that I fed you with yesterday? Was that not miraculous enough of a sign for you? What about when I walked on water last night? What about the lepers you’ve seen me heal, or the blind that you saw me return sight to, what about those miracles?” But that wasn’t how Jesus responded. In his typical straight forward, calm, and level headed fashion, Jesus simply explained to the people… “I tell you the truth. Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven. My father did. And now, he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Friends, this is the kind of spiritual nourishment that we need. Just as we need physical food to nourish our bodies if we are to survive and thrive and be able to carry out our day to day tasks, so too do we need spiritual nourishment if we are to survive and thrive in our relationship with Jesus Christ! Just as we need physical food for our bodies to grow and for our minds to continue functioning, so too do we require spiritual nourishment if we are to grow and to mature in our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ, the son of God, the word made flesh, he IS that spiritual nourishment! He has already been given to us. We have already been provided with everything we need to not only survive, but to flourish in our spiritual walks with Jesus. We can spend out whole lives worrying about if we will have enough money to pay our bills, or to put clothes on our backs… if we can work enough hours to make the kind of pay check we need to live a happy life, and what we will do with that money once we get it. But Jesus himself tells us that without seeking spiritual nourishment, none of that matters! Without being filled with the Holy Spirit, and accepting the gift of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, no amount of food or clothing or entertainment will ever be able to satisfy us. It is only through accepting the free gift of Jesus Christ that was so graciously give to us that we can begin to position ourselves in such a way that we can begin to enjoy the fruits of what life truly has to offer us.

I’m going to try to make this comparison, and I hope I don’t completely butcher it. But since we have been talking about the difference between physical nourishment and spiritual nourishment, lets think about it like this. We can go to the store and we can buy bread and cheese and meet and lettuce… We can take it all home and put it in our refrigerators. But has that satisfied our needs for physical nourishment? Just by having food available to us, has it fed our hunger, and provided our bodies with the proteins and nutrients that we need to survive? NO! If that meet and cheese and lettuce sits in the fridge, and that bread stays in the pantry, we will starve to death, even though we have food available to us. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ is all that we need to become spiritually nourished. And unlike the food at the grocery store, he has been given to us freely! But if we just allow him to sit on the outskirts of our lives, then we can’t reap the benefits of the spiritual nourishment that comes with having a personal relationship with Jesus. Just as we would starve if we allowed that food to stay in our fridge, if we are not partaking of Jesus daily, we are starving spiritually.

The food that we buy will not cook itself. That sandwich will not magically make itself just because we have bought the ingredients necessary. And in the same way, once we have accepted the gift of Jesus Christ in our lives, the work isn’t over! The job isn’t done! We still have to do something with that gift we have been given if we expect to be nourished spiritually. That bread from heaven that Jesus talks about does us no good if we don’t do anything with it. So what must we do in order to be nourished spiritually? We must partake of that bread of life. Well how do we do that? There are so many answers to that question. The two most obvious are by praying, and by spending time studying the word of God. When we pray, we invite our creator, our Lord and savior, to draw close to us. We give over all of our hurts and our pains and our frustrations to him, and we have faith that he will handle them. And at the same time, we thank him for all of the things he has blessed us with, knowing that everything we have now and will ever have in the future is because God has provided it for us. We begin to develop a personal relationship with God. Just like you get to know someone by talking to them, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is by spending time in prayer with him. Because prayer is just a conversation with God! It’s a two way street. Later on we will talk about the misconceptions of what prayer is and what it means to pray, but prayer is not just talking AT God, it is talking TO God, and listening for his responses. And in addition to spending time in prayer with God, we have been given this book. This Holy, divine, inspired word of God. And it has been given to us, not so that it can sit on our bookshelves or on the corners of our desks collecting dust. But so that we can seek knowledge and wisdom, and we can learn the things that God himself has deemed important enough to impart unto us.

Now trust me, this next part I am saying to myself, just as much as I am saying it to each of you. But we have to do these things DAILY! Just as we must eat daily if we expect to grow and be nourished, we must get our spiritual nourishment daily as well! Coming to church one day a week and expecting that to be enough nourishment is the same thing as deciding that you only need to eat one meal a week to stay healthy. It just doesn’t work that way! And it is hard to do! It takes dedication and devotion. It takes a conscious effort and a concerted decision to make reading the Bible and spending time in prayer a priority in your life. But if we expect to grow in our relationship with Jesus, those are the things we HAVE to do!

As we prepare to take Holy Communion this morning, let us really consider what this bread and this juice represents for us. The body and the blood of Jesus Christ. The elements of spiritual nourishment. And as you come to the alter to receive your portion, I encourage you to make a commitment to nourishing your spirit each day as you go through this next week. Begin with a prayer and a short bible verse. And then watch as your spiritual health begins to improve.



Feeding the People

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John 6:1-16

I have titled this morning’s sermon feeding the people. The obvious reason for that is that in the scripture we just read, Jesus was able to provide enough sustenance for 5000 people. But as I prepared for this morning’s service, there was a question that kept coming into my mind over and over again. Are we, as God’s church, feeding his people? Am I, as the leader of this congregation… as someone who has been called into ministry… am I providing this congregation with the spiritual sustenance that you guys need, in order TO BE ABLE to feed God’s people? And if the answer to either of those questions is no, then what is it that WE need to do in order to follow the example of Christ, and feed his people?

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is one of the most well known in the new testament. In fact, it is one of the few miracles that is included in all four gospels. But I think that just goes to show the importance of the message behind the feeding of the five thousand. Let’s think about the context of when and where this miracle takes place. According to John’s account, it takes place right on the heels of Jesus healing a lame man on the Sabbath. 6:1 tells us that Jesus went from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other, and that the large crowd of people who had gathered around Jesus continued to follow him, even as he crossed the sea. But more importantly than that, John tells us that this group of people was following Jesus because of what they had seen him doing for the sick. They had seen him heal the lame. They had witnessed him return sight to the blind. They had experienced him, with just the touch of his hand, cleanse leapers from their skin diseases. So because this crowd had experienced such powerful and miraculous works from Jesus, they continued to follow him. By this time, they had been following him for a number of days. They had so much faith and so much devotion for following Jesus, that they followed him AROUND the sea of Galilee, and out into a rugged and remote area. Now before I go on, I want to bring your attention to verse 3. It says “Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.” Now I know you may be thinking to yourself, so what? Why does that matter? What is important about that? Well here’s the point. Even in the midst of a large crowd eager to hear him speak, Jesus excused himself for a minute… He withdrew from the group… And taking his disciples with him, he took the time to sit with those who were closest to him. That act of Jesus speaks powerfully to me. Especially in the context of our fast paced society. In a world that expects so much from us… Where we devote our time and effort and energy to so many different things, and so many different people… Jesus is showing us the importance of taking time for ourselves. Time to step away from those deadlines that are pressing in on us… Time to step back from the chaos of raising a family or running a business… And to take the time to surround ourselves with those closest to us. To think about it another way, you could make the argument that Jesus was setting the example for future Christians as to the importance of taking time to gather as a family of believers. Because we have to remember, Jesus didn’t withdraw alone. He gathered with his disciples… Those people who were sharing in the journey with him. And together, they took the time to just be in each other’s presence. To sit with one another, and to be filled once again.
 
It was at that point that Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. By this time, it would have been late in the day. And Jesus realized that this group of people, who had followed him out into this remote area, were going to be in need of food, and of a place to rest for the night, because many of them had traveled a great distance from their homes. Now I think this is something that we here in Fort Davis can probably relate to more than people in other areas, because we, too, are located in a somewhat remote area. I haven’t made the trip yet, but from my understanding, if you want to go to Walmart to stock up on supplies, you had better allocate the better part of an afternoon to making the journey to Fort Stockton and back. And so it was for Jesus, as he realized that these people needed food, that he posed the question to Philip: Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? And I love Philip’s response to Jesus… 6 months wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. It’s almost as if Philip is saying, are you kidding me? Even if there WAS a store or a market close by to buy bread for them, who could afford it?

Too often in our churches, we find ourselves in this exact same situation. We want to provide for our communities. We want to feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless. But when we start to look at the logistics of making those things happen, so often we are discouraged, as we think, we can’t possibly buy enough to provide. With our resources, there’s no way we could attack such a huge undertaking. And far too often, because of that, we miss opportunities to serve our communities, and to provide for the needs of our people. But Jesus provides us with a great lesson here. One of the disciples approaches Jesus and says to him “There is a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish.” He recognizes the potential for providence! But then quickly, his hope is lost when he follows that up with “But what are they among so many people?” Another missed opportunity…

But this is where things start to get good. Jesus never panics. He never shows doubt, or even frustration at the unbelief of his disciples. He simply directs them to bring him the food, and to have the people sit down. And then, taking the 5 loaves of bread, and the 2 small fish, Jesus gave thanks… He broke the bread… He separated the fish. And he and the disciples began to distribute them among the people. With just 5 loaves and 2 fish, all 5000 people were fed. And not only were they fed just a little… The scripture tells us that they ate AS MUCH AS THEY WANTED. And if that wasn’t enough, once everyone had eaten their fill, the leftovers were gathered up by the disciples. And there was still enough left to fill 12 FULL BASKETS! Can you imagine being a part of that miracle? Just think about it. There were 5000 people there. 5000! And there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish available to feed that entire multitude. And yet, as the food was passed out, people kept grabbing more, and more, and more. Until each had eaten their fill and none had any need remaining. And then, they came to find out that there was still an additional 12 baskets of food remaining. It’s no wonder that the people who saw could only be led to one conclusion. “This is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

Jesus provided for the people in a big way that day. By taking what was available to him, and by putting his faith in his heavenly father, he was able to multiply a seemingly minute amount of food into an overwhelming meal that even 5000 people couldn’t finish. And I can’t help but be amazed as I think about the example, the precedence that was set for us that day. I can’t help but see so many parallels between Jesus and us as the church. Between the people in the crowd, and our communities today. Jesus saw the needs of the people. He anticipated what necessities they were lacking, and he used the resources he had at hand to satisfy those needs. And isn’t that what we as the church are called to do? We have people in our community… in our families… in our schools… in our nation, and in our world… who are hungry, just as the people in the crowd were hungry. And as the church, we believe that God has called us to use whatever resources we have available to reach out to those people, and to satisfy those needs.

That leads me to a set of questions, a revelation, if you will. I’ve drawn the parallel here between Jesus, and us as the church… between the people of the crowd, and the needy among us. So as we look at this scripture, we must ask ourselves a few questions. Back in verse 2, the scripture says that the crowd kept following Jesus because they saw the things he was doing. Are people in our communities, seeing the things we as the church are doing? Are they being drawn to us because they have recognized our actions, and have decided that not only do they want us to help them, but that they too, want to realize and understand what we have that they don’t? Are we projecting the image, and the love, and the providence of Jesus Christ, out into our communities, in such a powerful way that the people who see us are recognizing we are different? And because they are recognizing that we are different, are those people being filled with a burning desire to see WHY we are different, and what WE know that they don’t, and making the choice to come and follow along and get some of what we have for themselves? If the answer to those questions is no, then we are failing in our Christian duties. If we aren’t living our lives in such a way that it is easily recognizable that we are different, and we are set apart, and we are not a part of the world, then we are falling short of the task that God himself has assigned to us. But we don’t have to feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish in order to make these things happen. We can provide for people in so many ways. We can simply treat them with respect, when maybe they have been burned by society and beaten down by life. We can listen to them, and share with them the difference that our love for Jesus Christ has made in our lives. We can show them the ways that Jesus has delivered us from our own distress. A kind gesture, or a heart felt hello can go much further in showing the face of Jesus Christ to people than what any of us can imagine.

But there are other questions that we have to ask ourselves after seeing this example from Jesus. Is it up to us to qualify who needs our help and who doesn’t? Are we to categorize people into groups that determine that this group is worthy of our help and support, but that group is not? Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t ask the crowd who was hungry, or who had already eaten that day, or who was able to provide food for themselves. He simply gave to each of them, and gave to them in abundance. Now this is hard for any church, and I’m not saying it isn’t. With such limited resources, often times we find in necessary to prioritize needs in order to ensure that those resources are being allocated to the most needy among us. But that leads me to my next point. Jesus didn’t look at the resources available to him, decide that they were insufficient, and because of that, simply decline to feed the people. He knew exactly what he had to work with… And yet he put his faith in God that God would take those resources, and would multiply and expand them in such a way that they would be able to meet the needs of all the people. That is maybe the hardest thing for us to do. It’s hard on a personal level. When we get our paychecks, and we know how much our bills are going to be, and how much food is going to cost us, and how much we have to pay for gas and utilities and all of the things we need to stay alive… one of the hardest things to do is to have the faith to take money right off of the top of that, and give it JOYFULLY to the church. I can attest to that first hand. But I can also tell you this. While tithing doesn’t make sense on paper… while taking 10% of your earnings and giving them away knowing full well that you could use that money in so many ways doesn’t make sense financially… When you take that leap of faith… and you give that money to God… it is amazing how often you find that all of your necessities are still taken care of. But it is just as hard to do as a church… To look at our budget, and to look at the bills that are going out and comparing it to the money coming in, and yet still having the faith to give to people in need… That takes fortitude… It takes trust in God… It takes a kind of strong faith that requires putting everything we have behind God and KNOWING that he will provide… But that’s the example that Jesus showed us. He took those 5 loaves…. And he took those 2 fish… and he thanked God for them… And then he gave everything he had to provide for the people. And even though it didn’t make sense on paper, not only did he have enough to feed the entire crowd… He ended up with 12 full baskets left over.

Are we feeding the people? Are we trusting that God will provide? Are we using what we have been blessed with to fulfill the needs of God’s people? And are those people seeing God’s hand at work in our lives because of it? That is what we need to take away from Jesus feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. We do need to understand and acknowledge that it was a miracle from God. But we also need to understand and acknowledge that it is a miracle that we can replicate, and that we are called to replicate. Just as he provided Jesus everything he needed to feed the crowd, God has provided us the resources we need to provide for our community and for the people in our care. Now it is up to us to have the faith, and the courage, and the boldness, to look to God. And to not only trust… But to EXPECT that if we will be faithful to God, he will provide us with an abundance.



Transitions & New Beginnings

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Deuteronomy 31:1-8 & Isaiah 49:18-19

Let me begin again by saying what an honor and a privilege it is to be with you this morning. This last week has been somewhat overwhelming in many ways. Between having knee surgery, packing up and moving, unloading and unpacking, and then of course, the health complications of my wife, there have been many things that have been fighting for my time and my attention. But this morning is not about me. This morning is about Fort Davis United Methodist Church. It’s about the people of Fort Davis, and it is about the tremendous future that I believe we will share together. I understand form conversations that I’ve had with several of you, and from conversations that I have had with our District Superintendent Eddie Rivera that this congregation has encountered some hardships of your own over the past several years. Without going into detail or rehashing any of those old wounds, I do want to say that it is my understanding that one of the biggest obstacles that has been faced by Fort Davis UMC is a seemingly non-stop revolving door of pastors over the last several years. With new leadership continually coming and going, it is easy to understand how there has been instability among congregants.  But this morning is a celebration of transitions and of new beginnings, and I want to tell you this. The obstacles that I have faced during my transition from Morton to here, and the obstacles that this congregation has faced over the last several years tells me just one thing… That there are POWERFUL people of God in this community. And that the devil is pulling out all the stops, throwing everything at us that he can think of in order to derail us from doing the powerful work that God has called us to do in Jeff Davis County. But one thing that I have been told, and that I have already come to know about the people of this community, is that you are resilient! You are passionate, and dedicated, and you will not be detoured or discouraged by the attacks of the devil, or by his attempts to take your focus off of God and of doing his work in your community! I believe that today is the beginning of a beautiful relationship between pastor and congregation. That over the next several years, we will work together, growing in faith and in knowledge of the word of God. And that we, the members of Fort Davis United Methodist Church, will position ourselves in such a way that the Lord God almighty is going to use us in ways beyond anything any of us can imagine right now. And that if we are willing to allow God to use is in those ways, the blessings that we receive because of it will be what is overwhelming.

That being said, transitions are hard. They are difficult, they’re often awkward, and they take courage. Any time you leave the safety and security of what you have known and venture out in faith to embrace something new, there is going to be fear. There is going to be some stumbling, and some learning that must take place. But the gift that is given to those who are courageous and who take that leap of faith makes every tense moment and every hardship and every heart ache and every growing pain worth the journey. You see, these transitions are nothing new. In fact, the system of passing the mantle of leadership from one person to another is based on a very biblical principle. Elijah trained up Elisha to take his role when he was whisked away on a chariot and taken to heaven. David raised up his son Solomon to be the same kind of man after Gods own heart, in the hopes that when he passed down control of Israel, the transition would be an easy one. Jesus himself, on the day of Pentecost, passed his power to the disciples who had been filled with the Holy Spirit, that they might continue his ministry, and that they might develop and grow what has become the church as we know it today. We see another example of this transition of leadership in our first scripture this morning, the one from Deuteronomy chapter 31. In the books and the chapters that precede this passage, we have seen Moses as the leader of the Israelites. We watched as he led them out of Egypt. We watched as he prayed for God to provide mana and quail from heaven to sustain the people. We watched as he led them on a 40 year journey through the wilderness. We watched as the people toiled and struggled, frustrated by what appeared to be an endless cycle of wandering in circles. But as we come to Deuteronomy chapter 31, what we see is Moses, who has come to the end of his journey on earth… who has provided leadership and guidance to the Israelites through some very tough years in their history… preparing the people to transition into the leadership of his pupil… A young man named Joshua.

Friends, what all of us have been experiencing over the past several years could be considered a wilderness experience. The cycle of new pastors coming in, and church attendance declining… of financial hardships arising, and uncertainty as to the future of the Methodist church as a whole being brought forth, we have all been in the wilderness. During those times, it’s so easy for us to lose focus… To lose focus on what God is continuing to do for us and through us. To lose focus on what it means to be a Christian. To lose focus on the knowledge that God HAS provided, and will CONTINUE to provide for us. That is basic human nature, as old as the Bible itself. When Peter stepped out of the boat, his focus was on Jesus, and he found that he was able to walk on the water. But what happened once he lost focus on Jesus? What happened once he turned his attention to the waves rolling and crashing around him? He began to sink. And I think the same is true for us in our lives too. When our focus is on God, and everything around us is going well, it’s easy to feel invincible… It’s easy to have faith, and to trust that God’s got us when everything is going our way. But when the storm clouds gather, and the seas start to churn… when the waves begin to crash, and we find ourselves facing adversity, that is when it becomes so easy to lose our focus on God. To turn our hearts and our eyes away from the knowledge that we have an all knowing and all loving God who has continued to provide for us. And in those moments when we lose that focus, we feel like we are sinking. But I think it’s important in those times to remember what Peter did when he found himself slipping below the surface of the water. He reached out to Jesus. He clung to his Lord and savior, and he put his full faith and trust that Jesus would save him. Friends, that is what we must do when we find ourselves in these wilderness times in our lives. We must reach out to Jesus, and we must have faith that he will see us through.

Because just as Jesus provided safety and security for Peter, God himself provides for us. And he provided for the people of Israel in the form of Joshua being raised up as their new leader who would lead them into the promised land. Now please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. By no means am I comparing myself to Joshua. In no way am I implying that I am going to lead this church into the promised land. But what I am saying is that, even though transitions ARE scary and often ARE uncomfortable, when the right match of people is made, God can do incredible things through them. And often times it is those scary and uncomfortable transitions that must be endured in order to move out of the wilderness and into the blessings that God has in store for us. Because you see, that is exactly what happened for the Israelites once Moses transferred leadership to Joshua. They came out of their 40 year wanderings in the desert, and crossed the Jordan river into the land that had been promised to them by God generations before. And once they crossed into that land, because they were faithful and put their trust and hope in God, they were able to defeat the clans and tribes that lived in that land, and were able to claim it as their own possession. They received the blessings that God had in store for them. And I believe that that is what is in store for us at Fort Davis United Methodist Church. I believe that God has brought me here for a reason. Not so that I could change this church. Not so that I could take charge and lead you into an era of prosperity. But so that we, together as a church family, can begin to heal past wounds. And can return our faith and our focus to God. And because our strengths and personalities line up so well that God will be able to use us to further his kingdom, and to do a great and mighty work in this part of Texas. In the week that I have been in Fort Davis, I have experienced an outpouring of love and support, of care and concern. There were 20+ people who showed up at the parsonage to unload our uHaul truck! And not only did they take the boxes and the furniture out of the truck, they set up the beds and arranged the furniture! And if that wasn’t enough, we were provided with more food than an army could eat in a week, all thanks to the kindness and the generosity of YOU GUYS! The members of this church! You have welcomed us with open arms, and I truly feel as though we are already family. But I believe that God is calling us to now turn that kindness and that generosity out… to aim it outside the walls of this church building and into this community to change lives! I have been blessed to be invited to be the pastor at this amazing church at such an important time in the history of the church. We have everything we need in order to be the hands and feet of Christ in a powerful way! We have a beautiful historic sanctuary that is still in amazing condition, even for a building that isn’t well over 100 years old! We have this new fellowship hall with all the amenaties that make a blended and more contemporary worship service possible! We have members with huge hearts, who are passionate about their community! We have a congregation who is fiercely devoted to traditional Christian values, and to spreading those values out into our community! And from what I understand, we have a congregation who has a heart for serving, as is evident by our participation in the food pantry, and in heading up the Tuesday school that serves almost 50 percent… 50 PERCENT of the students in our middle school and high school! That is such an amazing thing. I can tell you as a teacher and coach for 6 years and in 4 different communities that I have never experienced another church who has devoted itself to having such a strong presence in the local school system. So now what we have to do is, we have to take all of these passions, and all these strengths, and all these gifts that God has blessed us with… And we have to go just a little bit further… We have to push just a little bit harder. I can tell you that I am completely committed to this community, and to this church, and to growing our membership. But do you know what is more important to me than growing the number of members we have? What’s more important to me is sharing the love of Christ and the good news of the gospel to people that don’t know Jesus. What is important to me is showing people the ways that God has brought me through dark times and wilderness times in my own life, and revealing to them the power that God has to change hearts and to change lives if we will just submit to him! And what is important to me is doing all of these things together with the members of my church family.

 John Wesley had a belief that each of us as members of the church had an obligation and a calling to be ministers in our own ways. He believed that the reason God granted us each our own strengths and our own gifts was so that each of us has something to contribute to furthering the kingdom of God. And that is why I believe God has led me to Fort Davis. Because I believe that you, as the members of this congregation, have reached a point in your lives where you are both ready and willing to use whatever gifts God has blessed you with to bring others to Christ. I believe that the hardships you have endured over the past several years has strengthened your resolve, not broken your spirits. I believe that your faith in God is so powerful that the sky is the limit for the impact that we can have on winning souls for Jesus Christ.

Moses told Joshua, be strong and bold. Do not fear or be dismayed. It is the Lord who goes before you, and he will not fail you or forsake you. That is what I see from this church, even in the very short time that I have been here. I have seen strength. I have seen boldness. I have seen courage. And I Have seen a belief that God has gone before us to pave the way. You see, it is you, as the members of Fort Davis UMC… It is US, as the body of Christ, who are Joshua. We, as a congregation, will lead the charge in winning souls for the kingdom of heaven, because you are bold and courageous.

I want to end today by looking at the passage from Isaiah that I read earlier. In chapter 43 verses 18 and 19, we are told “Do not remember he former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Friends, I know that the last several years have been a struggle for this congregation. And believe me, when I give my testimony in a few weeks, you will see that it has been a struggle for me too. But God has used those struggles to strengthen us. To turn our focus back to him. To build us up for what is to come in our future. So I want to challenge you to be open minded, and to really look for the ways that God is wanting to work in your lives. I want to challenge you to let go of the hurt and the frustration of the past, and as the scripture says, to not remember the former things. Because God has made a promise to us. And that promise is this: He is about to do new things in the life of this church. He has prepared us to be used in a powerful and mighty way. He has gone before us, and has laid the foundation for something new to spring forth. Do we not perceive it? Do we not sense the positive change that God has in store for us? Do we not trust that God will continue to provide for his people, as long as we remain faithful and press forward with endurance? God is making a way in the wilderness. He is providing rivers in the desert. And he is going to use Fort Davis United Methodist Church as his tools to do that. I am so blessed to be a part of it! I am so happy that God has given us this opportunity to work together! And I hope this is a relationship that will bear good fruit for the kingdom of God, and will bring him glory and honor for the next several years at the very least. SO let us continue to move forward with courage and boldness. Let us look to God, and be receptive to the direction that he wants to guide us. And let us become the tools that God himself will use to start a revival, and to light a fire of His love for the people in our community.