"Change Your Destiny"
Scripture – Ephesians 5:15-20
Sermon Preached by Jill Getty
Sunday, August 16, 2015
One summer during my college years, I worked at the Eastern Baptist Association in Clinton, North Carolina as a summer mission worker. There was a team of 3 of us college students who spent the summer in ministry with local churches to help the seasonal farm workers in the community with the essentials of clothes and food and also to reach out to meet spiritual needs by having backyard Bible clubs with the children and transporting the adults to weekly Spanish speaking church services.
It was one of the most amazing summers of my life. The people we were sent to assist were filled with faith; hard work and determination. Many of them were living in very difficult housing situations – some with no plumbing; some with several people living in a small house; some with not enough clothes and food; most with no air conditioning in the heat of North Carolina summer.
But they made the most of everything they had. They ended up teaching the 3 of us college students how to live, work, and have faith. They had come to the United States mainly from Mexico and Guatemala and most of them sent a large portion of their paychecks back home.
I remember one incident when one of the team members and I were transporting a large group of people in two vans back to their homes. I was driving one of the vans when the other van in front of me pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I knew that was not part of the plan and I wondered what was going on. When we both stopped our vans, I got out and asked my team member in the other van what was going on – as it was late at night and we needed to get the people back to their homes.
She said – I don't know what is going on – a couple of the guys told me to stop here that they needed to get something. So we waited. The two men who had gone into the grocery came out with a bag of four peaches. They handed the bag to us and said these are for you because you take us to church meetings and we are so thankful. The team member and I teared up and thanked them.
When we got home late that night, we looked at those 4 beautiful peaches and sat them out on the table. It was very difficult for us to eat the peaches as we knew the men did not have a lot of money and sent most of their money back to their families. We cried and prayed for them. The people we met that summer were all about changing their destinies and they did it through hard work and a lot of faith in God. They were looking for a better life; a way to make money to support themselves and their families. And they were willing to deal with a lot of difficult circumstances to change their destinies.
The Bible is a story of the destiny of Israel and within it are many stories of how God led people to change their lives and their destinies; of how God used Jesus to bring new life; and of how God has given all people a purpose for living. Are we aware of the opportunities that God is giving us to change our destinies? In our scripture today, Paul has written to the Ephesians while he was in prison1 about how to live life.
These verses contain three admonitions we can use to change our destinies: 1. Make the most of your time;
2. Get rid of self-sabotaging habits; 3. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. Paul states: "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil."
The first admonition from our passage today is: Make the most of your time. During the time of the early New Testament church, the people thought that the end of time would be coming within their lifespan. So they felt the urgency of doing good in the world and proclaiming the gospel; and there was a sense among them that the days till the end were evil – thus we have that part in this passage as well.
The situation we have today is that we have no idea how much time we have. We have people in our congregation who are presently over 100 years old right now. We also know that sometimes health issues happen and people die sooner than any of us anticipate.
The problem we may face is that we may misinterpret "making the most of our time" with the thought that it means we need to be busy all of the time. Being busy may or may not relate to making the most of our time. Being busy can be busy work; or frantic multitasking that makes you feel you are spinning your wheels; or staying on the computer all day trying to answer every email – not a very fulfilling task. Some may think that making the most of our time means squelching the possibility of having fun.
When we work our regular jobs, we are changing our destinies. If we choose to do nothing with our time, we are changing our destinies. Our destinies are in constant flux by the choices and decisions we make. When we finally come to a point in our lives that we think about the best use of our time – we are usually in some sort of crisis; or facing a difficult healthcare issue; or a change of life or job; facing a significant death; dealing with mid-life crisis; or looking back over our lives and wondering about the decisions we have made.
At these moments, we think about what is most important in life. Did we hit the mark with our goal setting and achievements – were those really the most important things for us to do? Sometimes it is a resounding yes – I made the most of my life; I did what was truly important. And sometimes, there is a feeling of guilt and feeling that we have missed the mark.
In this scripture God is reaching out through Paul's time to us, teaching us a universal principle about changing our destiny – it is to make the most of our time – whatever we have now – without knowing the future.
The Nightly News on NBC with Lester Holt recently shared an inspiring story. Kevin Tibbles interviewed a 12-year old boy from Minnesota, named Lucas Hobbs. Earlier this year, Lucas battled stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and totally lost his appetite as he topped out on his chemo treatments. After coming through that, The Make a Wish Foundation approached him and asked him what his special request would be. As a thank you to all the people that had helped him, Lucas chose to commandeer a fleet of food trucks and make food for all the doctors, patients, and staff of the Minneapolis Children's Hospital which is the place he credits for saving his life.
Lucas said, "I'm here to give back the kindness everyone gave me when I was sick." So he named one of his ice creams – "Rockin' Remission" and he named a hot dog the "Perkins Hot Dog" after his doctor, Joanna Perkins. Food was given to all who could come out to the trucks and for those inside the hospital who could not make it out, he made special deliveries. The story said that Lucas had already been to his church and the police station doing the same for them in thanks for their help. Lucas' wish was to thank others for helping him. He had learned at the age of 12 what was most important about life and how to make the most of the time he has.2 So the first admonition to changing your destiny is to make the most of your time.
Secondly, Paul states: "Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery." The second admonition from our passage today is: Get Rid of Self-Sabotaging Habits. A broader understanding of this scripture is not to let any habit or behavior hinder you from living in a positive and meaningfully productive way. Any addiction or self-sabotaging behavior that causes us to be numb to our families; the world; our duties; our work; and God is detrimental to moving forward in a positive and meaningful way and will definitely hinder positive changes in our destinies. The book of Hebrews states: "...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."3
There is a true story on YouTube about John and his wife Lisa. The YouTube video said that Americans spend more gambling than they do on movies, music and sports combined. The thrill of the win, the excitement and the competition make gambling an irresistible high for some. John said that he had probably won 2 million gambling and lost 2.5 million doing the same. He was downsized at work and thought he could make a few bucks here and there. John said he never meant to get hooked; he just saw it like a hobby – a few games here and there and a few trips to the race track. First it was just one day a week; then it turned into 2 days a week. Within six months, he was gambling every day and had become addicted and was going into severe debt.
He started missing his family's birthdays and his children's significant events. The life of gambling got its hooks in him for almost 11 years. He said he thought about gambling 24/7. Lisa worked several jobs and put assets in her name else they would have been broke. It was hard for her to understand why John would rather be out gambling than spending time with her the children. John was so desperate to gamble that he pawned his wife's jewelry, his own wedding ring, his son's baseball cards, and broke into his parent's home at 4:00 am and stole their computer. Lisa said when they were first married he was really fun and nice, but the gambling changed his behavior and he became mean and abusive.
John came to the end of his rope; was miserable and depressed and no longer wanted to live. He went to 4 rehab centers with no change. Finally he went to a different rehab center and it helped, but he knew he would need God if he was going to have any long lasting hope. John said he feels that God has forgiven him; he has new hope for each day. He has not gambled since November 2000. He and Lisa have rebuilt their home-life which has not been easy but they have done it with a lot of support from God and their faith community. John said that he spent a lot of years hurting people with his gambling addiction; now he wants to spend time helping people so he runs an addictions support group at his church for anyone needing help overcoming addiction problems. He wants to encourage others that there is hope and God can turn your life around.4 So the first two admonitions to changing your destiny are to make the most of your time and get rid of self-sabotaging habits.
Thirdly, Paul states in the passage: "...be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." The third admonition that this passage encourages is: Allow the Spirit To Guide You. The Holy Spirit is God's power acting in our lives. We are not alone. Changing our destinies is more than self-help; it is self-help plus God-help. This is the most important admonition because it brings wisdom and insight to the other two. Allowing the spirit to guide us means that God intervenes and holds the process together. This passage encourages being filled with the Spirit and then it gives us some hints at how to do that:
a. Being filled with the Spirit means understanding and doing the will of the Lord. The will of God is the greatest commandment – to love God; love your neighbor and love yourself. And living out this kind of love is a life-long quest. It means taking up your cross and following Christ; turning the other cheek; going the extra mile; standing as the light in evil places; humbling yourself; pouring out your life for the greater good; seeing other people as God sees them and not with your own prejudices; and forgiving those who are hurtful and hateful. You see doing the will of the Lord takes us to the cross – where even Jesus forgave those who crucified him. It is not an easy path; but it is the divine path for achieving your destiny.
b. Being filled with the Spirit – means music. In this passage, Paul said we should sing songs to each other. I don't think he means we have to be professional musicians to do this. I believe Paul is really talking about the tone and attitude we use in communicating with each other. Imagine waking up in the morning and singing to your spouse instead of gruffly pushing them out of the way to the bathroom sink. Imagine walking down the halls of the church and singing to each other. Imagine talking to others with a smile in your voice. Think about how happy you feel when you hear the voice of a beloved child or grandchild. Paul's admonition here is to speak, even sing, to each other with kindness and joy.
c. Paul says that along with singing to each other; we should also sing to God – make melody in our hearts to God. Paul encourages a personal relationship with the Divine Creator.
d. Being filled with the Spirit means being thankful. How do you feel when someone is truly grateful for something you have done? How do you feel when you meet someone whose daily expression is thankfulness – a person who lives with a smile? Doesn't it lift your spirit?
Being filled with the Holy Spirit means that we are walking every moment of every day with God and allowing God to influence our decisions regarding time, behaviors, and treatment of other people. I know many people who allow the Spirit to fill their lives. A special one of those was my Pa-Poo. He died when he was 90 years old. But from the time he turned 79 years old, he felt he was living on borrowed time because all of his brothers died at the age of 79. He made the most of his time. And he lived his life with wisdom, kindness, joy, thankfulness, and spiritual songs. He loved to work. So after he retired from being a furniture salesman when he was 75 years old; he continued working in my parent's grocery store. He loved talking with the customers that came in the store and having conversations with them about life, God, the church, nature, and his garden.
He would help fix the produce and while putting lettuce out in the produce case he would sing Jesus Loves Me and other hymns to pass the time as he worked. I remember being at my grandparent's home one day. While I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I watched my 87 year old Pa-Poo out of the window as he raked leaves in the yard. He would rake a little and stand still and look around the yard and up at the sky and I could see him moving his lips – and I knew he was talking to God about the world, the birds, the earth, and in general being grateful to God for all those things. I remember standing there smiling while watching him.
Pa-Poo was a man who enjoyed the life that God gave him; his family, his church, and his work. He loved to encourage people and would pat people on the back; he would listen to people and he would talk with strangers as if he had known them for years. He was a Godly man, filled with the spirit and his example remains clear in my heart to this day. When I think of him, I think of how simple God wants life to be for us. For us to focus on the good and to let go of grievances; to let go of petty things that cloud our vision and keep us from peace and joy. The more I look back at my Pa-Poo's life, the more I see how grace filled and spirit filled it was. Just a simple man making his way in the world; living wisely; making the most of his time; and walking humbly with his God.
God is calling us to live the destinies that God has for us and sometimes that means changing our thoughts about what is most important; about letting God help us with the attitudes or addictions that hinder us. What is God's destiny for us? What do we need to do to allow God to help us get there?
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