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.

Messiah: His Yoke Is Easy

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 11:28-30. 

Remember your baptism, and be thankful.

Last year on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday I worshipped as I watched our church family approach the baptismal font, touch the water and remember for themselves, and for most, to touch the water again and share the gift of grace the water represents with their spouse, child, or sibling in Christ. 

Remembering this moment brings tears to my eyes. 

As I watched our church family return to their seats I prepared to conclude our worship service when movement caught my eye. Half way back in the sanctuary, Phil Detmer rose to his feet to help his beloved Beverly Joyce – the girl of his choice, he told me – into her wheelchair and together they came to the font. Without thinking I lifted the bowl of the font off its stand and knelt with it. I watched Bev touch the water and touch her forehead. Then she touched the water again and touched Phil’s hand – a hand she knew so well. Every crease. Every callous. Every kindness created for her and the beautiful daughters they share in their over fifty years of marriage. 

Remembering this moment tears fall down my face. 

Commitment. Unity. These words join beautifully in Community

Ephesians 4:5 affirms the community we have with and because of Christ – “one Lord, one faith, one birth.” Our birth to new life through the waters of baptism is also our birth into the family of God, a family whose foundation is grounded in the covenant of God being our God, our being God’s children, and our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters. 

I believe the care we are called to give is the care that is articulated in the marriage covenant – to have, hold, and honor – in all times and in all circumstances. 

I see commitment and unity to this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I see community of this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I saw it last Baptism of Our Lord Sunday as our family remembered our baptisms and expressed thankfulness. I saw it in the love between Phil and Bev. I see it in each face as we fellowship, study, serve, and worship as God’s family. 

We return to our regular worship service and small group times this Sunday – Morningsong at 8:30am, Small Groups at 9:30am, Worship at 11am. Both Morningsong and our 11am Worship Services will include opportunities for Baptism Remembrance. Peace, friends. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.*”

*”Baptism of the Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 253. 

Longing For Spring: Our Stories

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 11:27-12:4

In our text for this week we first hear of the covenant God makes with Abram. God promises Abram property and progeny – all the land he can see and more children than the stars he can count. God makes this promise and God delivers.

We like to see the delivery or fruit of promises. What we are told awaits us is even sweeter when it is in our grasp. The great fulfilled promise of the Easter season is the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are times when the promises are standing right in front of us and we still doubt. Our belief still waivers. Consider Thomas. The Fourth Gospel writes,

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’” (Jn 20:24-29).

To trust God’s promises seems to require so much faith…and yet Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.

A most holy time offered in each of our healing services at TUMC is the time when folks are invited forward for prayers and anointing. I am so humbled by the persons that come forward for prayer. I so admire their courage to share their personal requests with me. There was a common theme through many of the requests I heard. I heard requests for relief from grief, sorrow, and pain, but what really caught my attention were the requests for the strengthening of faith.

“Help me to be the kind of Christian that would make my parent proud of me.”

“Help me to hand hardships over to God and not pick them back up again.”

“Help me to trust. Help me to believe.”

Help my faith so I may fully receive God’s promises and recognize the ones that are already in my life.

I grew up singing “Standing on the Promises” – a hymn about how God’s support never falters. And that’s the funny thing about support – about foundations – most of the time we do not see them, but we trust they are there. Just for a moment feel your body supported by your feet or the chair on which you are sitting. Now become aware of the floor supporting your feet or the chair. Now become aware of the earth supporting the floor. And finally become aware that it is our God who is supporting it all.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created all that was, is, and ever will be. God supports it all. God supports us. From the beginning of time God made this promise. This promise is blooming everywhere we turn. We do not have to doubt, and God still loves us when we do. I believe as our trust and faith grow so does our recognition of God’s promises in our lives – promises we have been longing to receive for what seems like eons and other promises we did not know we needed but are so thankful to have.

Our God is so good. God’s promises are good. And because of our God and God’s promises, we are good.

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God. Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal 374.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Restoration

Sunday’s Scripture – Jeremiah 31:31-34

In this week’s text God foretells of a coming covenant that will reconcile the fractured relationship between God and God’s people.  This new covenant will heal all brokenness – physical and spiritual.  Receiving this new covenant will begin a process of renewal and transformation of all creation whereby God will reclaim God’s people and all the earth for God’s purposes alone.  This process is one that God will complete in God’s time – we don’t know the day or the hour of its completion.  We do know that we presently live in the goodness of this new covenant and we wait expectantly for God to complete the redemption of all creation.

As Christians from a Wesleyan perspective, we can discuss in our theological vocabulary what happened to the people of Israel when they received this new covenant – a covenant of grace-filled forgiveness – without challenging the integrity of this Old Testament text.  We do not want to project onto or read into a text.  This is known as eisegesis – the process of misinterpreting a text by projecting our own presuppositions or biases onto it.  (This includes being a Christian and reading an Old Testament text!)  We could jump to or gloss over everything in the Old Testament and say the answer is Jesus…but the answer isn’t always Jesus…and that’s okay!  So when it comes to eisegesis – in the vein of The W’s – it is BAD!  Therefore, we want to engage in exegesis – the process of providing a critical explanation or interpretation of a text by enlivening information lifted up by the Scripture text.  So exegete…because it’s good for you!

(Now after that break for our Eisegesis vs. Exegesis PSA – back to Jeremiah 31:31-34!)

In receiving the new covenant the people of Israel were, as Wesley would say, justified and regenerated.  Justification, Wesley believes, “changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children” and by regeneration he believes “out inner most souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints” (John Wesley, The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God, Point 2.  You have view the full sermon here.)  In justification we know that God has acted on our behalves; God has rescued and saved us!  This is not something we could have done for ourselves.  In regeneration we are completely changed from the inside out; no longer are we shaped by sin but we are shaped by grace and that translates into every movement of our lives.

Israel’s disobedience, their idolatry, their sin deemed them contrary to God, opponents of God, enemies of God, but God’s grace transformed them and their circumstance, showering them with forgiveness and calling them children.  Those who were once blameful in exile are now blameless in restoration through the new covenant.  Sinners became saints, and enemies, children, and ultimately friends.

The same goes for us.  Our disobedience, idolatry, and sin makes us contrary to, opponents and enemies of God, but God’s grace continually transforms us and our circumstances that we may be children of God.

Reflection: Take time today to thank God for this grace.  Share a personal experience of God’s grace with someone.  Pray for our friends that continue resisting the powerful transformation that awaits them in God’s grace.  Pray for strength as you live each day as a witness of the power and movement of God’s grace.