Commitment and Conviction: Sanctification

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 2:13-15.

This past week I had the opportunity to gather for prayer with a group of the South Shore youth before they left for their summer camp experience. They were fully equipped for camp – pillows, donuts, energy drinks, and portable chargers for all.the.devices.

(Let us pray…for their leaders!)

Before leaving the youth leader, Toni, invited the students to sit to review their covenant for their trip together one final time so that everyone was on the same page as far as behavior expectations and accountability.

I submit to you – some of the language and expectations in that document strengthened – a.lot. – from previous iterations.

Why? Because of me.

I could tell some of the students had their feathers ruffled…and so I quickly identified myself as the source of the updated behavior expectations and accountability. In fact, I congratulated the students on being the first group at South Shore to live into new behavior expectations and accountability in our shared ministry together!

They thanked me…? Kinda?

At the end of my conversation with the students I referenced a grout line on the floor of the hospitality area, saying that once they crossed that threshold they would be “going onto perfection” within the boundaries of their new behavior expectations and accountability. One of the adult leaders was already on the other side of that grout line – I affirmed that Jeremy was already before them a shining example of going onto perfection!

They laughed. Heartily!

(I feel like they know something I don’t…!?)

“Going onto perfection” is the work of Sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. We are made holy through our relationship with and experiences of God.

John Wesley uses beautiful imagery of the breath in describing how our souls act and react with God as we are made holy. He writes, “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested in the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be [a] holy sacrifice, acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. And hence we [may infer] the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul (whatsoever it be called) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears God does not continue to act upon the soul unless the soul re-acts upon God” (The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God III. 2 and 3).

As we grow in our relationships with God and experience God we are continually introduced to greater depths of our covenant with God. This necessarily means that we are also held to higher behavioral expectations and accountabilities as God’s Spirit wholy and holy transforms us into the people that God desires us to be. As I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes this gets under my skin…ruffles my feathers. It is in those moments I am called to meet God in the quiet to share my heart…and ultimately receive God’s heart for that moment and season in my life.

Wesley believed that when we achieved perfection – achieved entire Sanctification – that we would inhale God’s love and exhale God’s praise – in all times in all places with all peoples. That is a goal of mine. Sanctification has the trajectory of my life and my life of faith coursed in that direction.

I am so grateful. I am going onto perfection.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

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Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

Thrive: Boundaries

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:15-20

Last December Andrew and I rescued Tala – then an 11-month old salt-n-pepper miniature Schnauzer. This is a photo from a few days after “Gotcha Day!”

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We are Tala’s fourth family, which is a lot in 11 months of life. Her first family gave her up because they did not want a mini Schnauzer with a natural tail. Most Schnauzers have their tails docked – our Samson does – but Tala has a full tail of glory. Sometimes I would forget that dogs have tails…now I have Tala who frequently smacks me with her tail as she perches around my shoulders on the back of the couch. She will not let me forget.

Tala’s second family gave her up because they did not have the energy to help train and raise a puppy. Tala’s third family gave her up because they did not have time for her. During this season she spent most of her time in her crate – not a lot of exercise or opportunities for interaction with humans or other dogs.

Tala joined our family and it was a long adjustment period. An addition to my apology for her making a mess or causing commotion was “She has no boundaries.” As a young pup she had not been taught what was to be done inside and what was to be done outside. She had not been taught how to play sweetly, how to walk on a leash, or how to relate to others. A little over nine months later we are still working on these skills. She has calmed down…a little…we think. She is learning and positive reinforcement sure does help. She is familiar with her boundaries and the consequences associated with them.

Boundaries help Tala feel safe and learn to thrive within stated expectations. Knowing her boundaries (our boundaries!) helps guide her behaviors so she makes good choices that lead to cookies and head-scratches and not bad choices that lead to solitary confinement in puppy-not-so-playland.

In our text for this week God’s messenger names the boundaries for the land of God’s people. The focal point of the land is God’s temple; all of the boundaries are defined in relation to the temple. These boundaries are an invitation for God’s people to root and thrive anywhere within this land. This is also an invitation to remember, above all else, that the people are here – we are here – because of God’s provision and our gratitude for God’s provision should continually lead us to offer praise in God’s sanctuary.

During her final semester of seminary theologian and homiletician Barbara Brown Taylor recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?” One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”* That is an incredible boundary. There is so much wideness and so much nearness within that boundary. God’s people engaging in behaviors that were not pleasing to God resulted in their exile and separation from not only God but also from the image in which they were made. Examining present and future behaviors and actions in relation to how they reflect our belonging to God draws us into a cooperative spirit with God as we thrive in relationship – created with Creator.

Thriving in this relationship draws us towards the image in which we were created – holy and whole.

Prayer: “Nothing between my soul and my Savior, naught of this world’s delusive dream; I have renounced all sinful pleasure; Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like worldly pleasure; habits of life, though harmless they seem, must not my heart from him ever sever; he is my all, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like pride or station; self or friends shall not intervene; though it may cost me much tribulation, I am resolved, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, e’en many hard trials, though the whole world against me convene; watching with prayer and much self denial, I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between. Nothing between my soul and my Savior, so that his blessed face may be seen; nothing preventing the least of his favor; keep the way clear! let nothing between.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 110.

**”Nothing Between,” The United Methodist Hymnal 373.

Plot From The Plain: Known

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:43-45

This past week I had the privilege to attend a conference on clergy finances. I know – exhilarating topic – but it turned into a conference on clergy health as a whole – personal health, financial health, and spiritual health. Some of the information was new, some of the information was an expansion on knowledge garnered at other times, and some of the information was reiterations of previous lessons.

I admit – in one of the reiterations of previous lessons sessions I initially checked out. What was the subject of that session? Boundaries. I’ve been hearing about boundaries it seems like forever. Boundaries are not walls between myself and others. Boundaries are the means by which I am responsible for myself and accountable to others with whom I am in relationship. Boundaries keep me safe; they state was is acceptable behavior and what is not. Boundaries enable me to stay true and in awareness of my feelings, choices, limits, gifts, loves, and values. I am by no means perfect with boundaries, but as a Wesleyan I believe that I am going onto perfection. I am learning, I am growing, I am holding myself accountable, and I am being held accountable.

As I sat in the session on boundaries I felt the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit settle on my heart as the speaker shared from hers. The lessons that convicted me are these:

1. Setting boundaries and then letting them slip to the back of my mind or out of my mind completely is not acceptable. My boundaries must stay current and fresh in my mind. I must be aware of them at all times so that if my behavior walks too closely to the line or crosses the line I will know in that moment rather than in hindsight.

2. The specific aim of the session was to explore boundaries as it relates to technology – emails, text messages, tweets, status updates, picture uploads, pins, blogs and whatever else is out there as far as social media. The convicting question was this – is the self that you are portraying in and through these media your true self?

Wow.

And as that relates to our Scripture passage this week – is the self you are portraying in and through these media who you want to be known as? Is this self how you want to be known? I believe those are two different but correlative questions.

And again I say…wow.

There is so much that is lost in translation when we connect through technology – context, tone, inflection, sarcasm, emotion, and more. And then there is also so much that can be gained – boldness, passive aggression, outright anger, and more.

There are some things we say via technology that we would never say in person…there are somethings I have said via these electronic means that I would never say in person. I am not perfect, but I am going onto perfection.

When I say these things – is that how I want to be known? Do I want what I say through these forums to conflict with how I am known in person? Or do I want it to be a seamless transition from one to the other?

I don’t want to be a good tree in the flesh that produces rancid fruit experienced in electronic life.

The facilitator joked, “This is my boundary: if whatever I am about to post I would not say in person to my mother or to Jesus, then I will not post it.” The room laughed. I laughed. And then that Spirit of conviction became a Spirit of peace. Jesus knows all my thoughts – Jesus knows my heart on my brightest and on my gloomiest days. Jesus knows and Jesus redeems so that others will know and experience my heart, my true self, as Jesus does.

After this experience I don’t think I’ll be scoffing at reiterations of previous lessons anymore. God knew that I needed this lesson. It went straight to my heart. It led me to take a good long look in the mirror – some of it I liked and some of it God is continuing to work on, work in, and work out. God’s grace is in the boundaries. God’s redemption is in the boundaries.

I’ll be in the boundaries.

Prayer: “Come, all of you, come, bearers of burden, come forward, I will give you rest; don’t wait for long; all of you who are weary, come to me, the Christ Jesus The Lord of all, the Savior, King of humankind. Come, all of you, come trouble-minded, come forward, I will give you peace, the peaceful mind; all of you who are hungry, come to me, receive bread and the water of life, provided by Jesus your Lord.”* Amen.

*”Come, All of You,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 350.