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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.