“Come” – a sermon in a series called “Thirsty?,” preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, March 4, 2018

“Come” – a sermon in a series called “Thirsty?,” preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, March 4, 2018


I carry a water jug around with me, most of the time.  I, normally, fill it at least once or twice a day.  But, on Sundays, I get so thirsty from preaching and talking, I have to fill it three times.

When I work outside of the house, or in the garage – like I did yesterday – my wife frequently asks me if I’ve had enough to drink, because it gets so hot here, in South Florida.

Often, when I’m riding my motorcycle, for any length of time, especially in the sun and heat, I realize how quickly I feel dehydrated, and need a drink.

God designed our bodies to need water.  About 60% of the human body is composed of water.  We can’t survive more than a few days without water – less than that if we are in a hot or dry climate.  Virtually every part and function of the human body, down to the molecular level, depends on water to function healthily.  We need it to thrive.  We need it to survive.

And, when we need more, the body’s natural, God-designed response is to feel thirst.  When the body’s hydration equilibrium gets out of balance, and needs more water, the central nervous system alerts the brain, which sends us signals like dry mouth and the craving for fluid.  When we feel thirsty, we know we need something to drink.  We don’t need a doctor’s report to tell us.  We just know.

But, we aren’t just physical, of course.  We’re also spiritual beings.  Just as the body needs water and food and oxygen to live and function, our souls need the Spirit.  And, just as the physical body thirsts for water, the Bible says that we are designed to thirst for the Spirit.

Sometimes we don’t recognize spiritual thirst, as spiritual.  Sometimes, we just feel an inner need or drive that demands attention.  We need to feel valued, or loved, or accepted, or important… or to stop feeling loneliness or pain.  If we don’t understand our thirst as spiritual, we might look for other ways to quench it.  I wonder if, sometimes, our thirst for worldly things –  like wealth, or possessions, or popularity, or approval, or status, or substances, or escape, or sex, or food, or fun, or any number of other things –  might actually be a thirst for God, that we’re attempting to quench with cheap substitutes.

We likely only figure that out when we get what we thought we wanted, but it just doesn’t satisfy the thirst.

C.S. Lewis, wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

            There is an old Ethiopian proverb that says, “In the abundance of water a fool is thirsty.”

St. Augustine once wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

            Nothing can replace God.  If the thirst is for God – and it is, because God made us that way – nothing this world offers can satisfy it.  Until we realize that only God can quench the thirst, we will remain restless.

You may have noticed, the symbol for this series is a gold fish.  You may have wondered, “Why goldfish?”  Have you ever noticed, goldfish are never thirsty?  A goldfish needs water, just like humans do, though they have a different anatomy to process it.  Water passes through the goldfish’s mouth, and out their gills, and somehow water is absorbed into the fish’s body by osmosis somewhere in between. A goldfish never thinks, “I’m thirsty.  I need a drink of water,”  because a goldfish is literally swimming in it, and breathing it.  I’m not sure if a goldfish even knows what water is, unless it jumps out of the fishbowl!

Imagine if we, like the goldfish, were actually fully immersed in living water!  We are!   Acts 17:28 says, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Ponder that for a moment.  God is everywhere.  God is always with us.  Like a goldfish in water, we are literally swimming in God’s presence.

            If you live in a place like South Sudan, water is not always easily available, and quenching a thirst may require walking miles in search of a dirty water hole, or stream.  For most of us, clean water is more easily available.  It’s as close as a water fountain, or a water tap, or a bottle of water from the store.

What if our spiritual thirsts are even more easy to quench than our physical thirsts?  What if there’s living water as available to us as water is to a goldfish, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  Can you imagine being so deeply immersed in God, that we will never thirst again, that we could absorb God by osmosis, as he passes through us?  Can you imagine?


Living water…

One day, Jesus was walking with his disciples, and came to a well in a village called Sychar.  It was in the middle of the day, and Jesus was thirsty, and he didn’t have a bucket and rope to draw water.  So, Jesus asked a woman who had come to the well, to give him a drink.

In those days, it was unusual for a stranger to speak to woman, much less ask her for a favor – it wasn’t the custom.  And, this woman was a Samaritan, and Jesus was a Jew, and Jews were supposed to hate Samaritans.  The woman asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

            Jesus replied, “If you knew me, you would be asking me for living water.”

            Notice how Jesus switched the topic from literal water, to living water?

            She said, “You don’t even have a rope.  How are you getting water?”

            Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:13-14)

            The woman said, “Sir, give me that water.  I want that water!”

The conversation began with a simple request for a drink of water.  But, the conversation quickly turned spiritual.  Jesus wasn’t talking about water, drawn from a well.  He was offering himself.  He was offering her the Spirit.  Jesus was saying, the gift of the Spirit – in whom we live, and move and belong – is like a fresh spring of water that never ends, even for eternity, and it’s available to everyone.

And, that living water is available to us every moment of every day.


“Let the one who is thirsty come…”

The last chapter of the book of Revelation describes the end of times, when all will be well.  It says there is a never-ending stream, flowing from the throne of God, and  through the main streets of heaven.  And, the Spirit invites everyone to come and drink, Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”  (Revelation 22:17)

            The Spirit is inviting us.  Jesus is inviting us.  There is a river of living water flowing all around us, that will quench our deepest thirsts and desires.  All we have to do is drink.

            One of the first scriptures I ever learned was, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) The same passage appears in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.  But, Luke adds, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Even a terrible, dead-beat, sad-excuse-for-a  father, will usually feed his hungry kids.  If that’s true, then our heavenly Father will give us so much more.  “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  You can ask him for the living water, and know for sure that he will give it to you!


You can lead a horse to water…

            Friends, God does not play hide and seek with us.  God isn’t stingy.  God doesn’t want us to thirst for him unnecessarily.  God doesn’t make us jump through hoops to catch him.  The offer is made – “Come and drink.”  The offer is made – “Ask me, and I will give you living water.  Ask me, and I will give you my Spirit.”

            There’s an old expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.”  I don’t mean to call y’all horses… but if horse shoe fits…  If the thirst fits…

If you are spiritually thirsty… if you’ve realized that nothing in this world can quench your deepest thirst… come and drink the living water.  It’s all around you.  All you have to do is ask.  All you have to do is drink.



Quicksand Spirituality

Quicksand Spirituality

In a meeting with strangers, Thursday night, the question was asked, “Who gets stressed?”  We all knowingly chuckled.  We ALL get stressed.

The leader asked, “What stresses you?”  Work.  Family.  Relationships.  Health.  Money.


But, I never said a word, out loud.  I smiled and nodded.  “Yes. Work, family, and money stress me too.”

I know this sounds terribly judgmental – please, forgive me.  As I listened to our trite examples of stress, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Have we forgotten what JUST happened?  Or, are we just being polite?  Or, is it too painful to say out loud?  Are others inwardly shouting, as I am?  Or, has everyone else moved on?”

I know we have to move on, some how.  We can’t wallow in this forever.  The students have gone back to school.  Businesses are open.  Teams are playing sports.  New stories are making the headlines.

But, I can’t “move on.”  Though I wasn’t directly affected by this tragedy, this tragedy has deeply affected me.  I’m functioning, fairly normally, I think.  But, my soul is troubled.  I’m wrestling with questions I’ve not really wrestled with before, and I can’t find satisfactory answers.  My heart hurts, a lot.  My prayers have devolved into angry rants.  I’m listening, but not hearing.

My struggle is not nearly as significant as the MSD families who lost loved ones, or the students who witnessed horrors, or the parents who now fear their children’s safety, or the faculty and staff who, somehow, must pick up the pieces and make something of the remaining academic year.

Perhaps I’m struggling because I’m supposed to speak for God.  After all, that’s my job.  That is what I’m paid to do.  I’m supposed to know why God allows tragedies to happen.  No. I take that back.  I’m supposed to know why God allowed THIS tragedy to happen.  I’m supposed to know where God was during THIS shooting.  I’m supposed to know why a “good” God allowed THIS evil and suffering.  I’m supposed to know why God didn’t intervene.

God!  Why didn’t you intervene?????

I don’t know.  I’ve had answers before, when things happened to strangers, in far away places.  But, today, two and a half weeks later, my neat theological explanations aren’t holding water.  At least, they’re not for me.

I can’t seem to retreat into comfortable spiritual routines, or familiar theological answers, or even my faith.  In fact, it’s my faith that troubles me most.  How do I speak for a God I don’t understand?  I’ve never presumed to comprehend God.  But, that’s different.  God is beyond human comprehension.  I actually like that.  I need that.  I’m comfortable with that.  This?  Not so much.

Though I haven’t lost or abandoned my core spiritual convictions, or turned my back on God, I feel like my foundation has turned to quicksand.  Where is my rock?  I don’t know where to step and stand with confidence.  And, I’m beginning to wonder if “moving on” spiritually will require me to know and speak for God with a lot less certainty.  That’s unsettling.  To say the least, that stresses me.

Stressed?  Yes, I am stressed.  But, for none of the normal reasons.

Pulling Weeds

Pulling Weeds

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”  C.S. Lewis

I grow bonsai trees – little trimmed trees in little pots.  Though I’m only an amateur, I confess I’m obsessed.  I have juniper, adenium, cypress, spruce, crepe myrtle, sea grape, rain tree, acacia, box wood, ficus, mandarin orange, bougainvillea, buttonwood, fukien tea, podocarpus, joboticaba, calliandra, holly, escombron, aralia, elm, and a few others, whose names are escaping me.

As Spring approaches, they’ve needed some extra care – pruning, trimming, repotting, fertilizing, etc.  But, the care I enjoy the least is the tedious work of weeding.

I don’t know where the weeds come from.  I mix the soil myself.  I keep them in a screened-in porch.  How do they get in there?

Wherever their origin, they spring up suddenly, and in abundance!  If I’m not careful to pay close attention, they can sprout up quickly, and become larger than the bonsai tree, itself!

Besides being unsightly (after all, with bonsai, aesthetics is the whole deal!), weeds can actually harm the tree.  Since the trees are growing in small pots, without much soil, the weeds compete with the tree for water and soil nutrients.  I actually have a tree in distress, because I hadn’t noticed some weeds that popped up out of nowhere, before they did their damage.

And, the job of weeding is so tedious.  It’s critical to pull the weed out by the root, or the weed will grow back.  But the weed’s roots tend to intertwine with the roots of the tree, making weed eradication a challenge.  Weeding requires going slow and using tools to gently pull each individual weed.  Even then, it’s impossible to get them all.

Weeds are a pretty good metaphor for my life.  When I’m not paying attention, weeds can unexpectedly pop up, crowding into my life, sapping energy and vitality.  Sometimes weeds are bad habits.  Sometimes weeds are unhealthy emotions.  Sometimes weeds are negative, self-defeating thoughts.  Sometimes weeds are painful memories.  Sometimes weeds are sin.

If I’m not careful, weed roots can grow deep, and entangle my soul.

So, I have to pull my metaphorical weeds too.  And, I think the weeds growing in my soul are even more tedious and challenging, and sometimes more painful to pull, than the weeds growing with my bonsai.  But, if I don’t pull them, they’ll just keep growing and growing and growing.  They’ve got to go before that happens.

Pulled any weeds lately?

Two Essential Elements

Two Essential Elements

According to Scripture, humans are composed of two essential elements – carbon and spirit.  Carbon appears on the Elemental Table.  Spirit doesn’t.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  Genesis 2:7

Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “breath” translate as Spirit.

Carbon is earthly.  Dust is composed of carbon.  Ash is composed of carbon.  All living things on earth, when reduced to their essential elements, are basically carbon.

But, human life is generated by the Spirit of God breathed into us.  With the Spirit of God in us, we are fully alive, created to flourish in every way.  Without the animating Spirit of God breathed into us, we are just human forms, human-shaped containers composed of ash.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

One of my favorite teachings of Jesus is John 15:1-17.  I’ve read it, taught it, and preached it so many times, I can nearly recite it from memory.  In John 15, Jesus describes himself as a grapevine, and his followers as the branches.  He teaches that if we “abide” in him, our lives will be abundantly fruitful.  We were created for fruitfulness!

But, then comes a stark warning, “Apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  John 15:5-6

For years, I wrestled with this verse.  It can sound so harsh, threatening.  “Abide in me – or, else!”  But, over time, the threat has faded, gradually giving way to a more compassionate tone of voice.  Now, I can hear heartbreak in Jesus’ voice.

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  John 15:5

Jesus is simply telling us the truth.  Connected to our life-source, as intended, we flourish.  Apart from it, we sadly wither and die.  Eventually, we return to only one of our essential elements – carbon, dust, ash.

We were made for more than ash.  We were made to abide, flourish and bear abundant fruit.

The unfortunate truth is that I’m often somewhere in between.  Thankfully, I’m not quite ready to be tossed on the fire – yet.  But, if I’m honest (and, Lent is a good time for honesty!), I regularly, habitually, carelessly neglect the most essential element for abundant living – the breath of God in me.  If I’m entirely honest, more of my days lean more toward ash than Spirit.  I function, nearly daily, as though I can handle life’s opportunities and challenges on my own.  I strive and strain, as though carbon is the only fuel I need.

Carbon, on fire, is a undeniably powerful force.  Think of a steam locomotive, or a forest fire!  Yet, at some point, the fire dies out, and the carbon turns to useless ash. “Apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  John 15:5-6

One day, each year, to begin the season of Lent, Christians gather to have ashes smeared on their foreheads, as a pastor says, “Remember that from ashes you have come, to ashes you shall return.”  The forty-day season of Lent, leading to the Good Friday remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death, is a reminder that, apart from God, we are ash.  Lent is an opportunity to re-listen for the compassionate voice of Jesus, saying, “Return to me… apart from me you can do nothing… I am your life… remain in me… and, I will remain in you… and, you will floruish.”

Today, remember you are ash.  But, you are more than ash.  You were made for more than ash.  Your life is not ash.  Your life is the breath of God within you.



I recently listened to a program on NPR called, In Salt Lake City You’ll Find Mormons Who Meditate.  You can read the transcript at In Salt Lake City You’ll Find Mormons Who Meditate

In summary, the story is about a man who grew up Mormon, left the Mormon faith as a young adult, learned about Buddhist Mindfulness (meditation), while visiting Salt Lake City felt a calling to return to Mormonism, and now leads Mindfulness experiences for fellow-Mormons.  This seems to be particularly attractive to young adult and dis-affected Mormons.

I’m not Mormon, and I don’t practice Buddhist Mindfulness.  But, I am part of a Christian denomination (United Methodist) that seems to be less and less attractive/relevant to more and more people.  I am also very familiar with ancient Christian forms of contemplation and meditation, particularly from the mystical side of the monastic traditions, that have some parallels to Buddhist practices.

As I listened to this radio broadcast, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Mormons have discovered something that might also be appealing and appropriate in my context and tradition.

I wonder if mainline Christianity has become too focused on programming, structure, institutional bureaucracy, rules, and doctrine?  I wonder if we’ve neglected something that people are hungry for – ancient practices that help people connect with God in deeper, richer, more personal, and more experiential ways?

Christianity has a rich tradition of…

  • Prayer
  • Journaling
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Meditation
  • Contemplation
  • Listening
  • Mysticism
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Spiritual Disciplines

But, if I am honest, most of that tradition has been lacking in the churches and ministries I’ve led, beyond occurring in limited way in small groups or by individual practitioners.

I can’t help but wonder what we’ve lost by ignoring these spiritual treasures.  And, I can’t help but wonder if our Mormon friends might have discovered something really important.  I can’t help but wonder if a future for main-line Christianity is a return to ancient spiritual practices.

I wonder.