Mountain Meditation: Kingdom Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:38-48.

This week I had the privilege to travel to Fruitland Park to spend a day in prayer for dear friends that interviewed with the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I remember my interview day…nervous and knotted. So much led me to that interview moment: my call, my service in the local church, my education, my paper writing. And when I arrived at my interview I remember thinking “Okay, time to be perfect!”

Jesus concludes our Scripture passage for this week speaking of perfection, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). 

What is perfection? It is defined as the state of being perfect, of being free or nearly free of any flaw or defect.

Our God is indeed perfect. And I believe through our God’s grace we are going onto perfection, that we will be made perfect in this life. 

There is, however, a difference between being perfect and perfectionism. Being perfect is undertaking the heart work and hard work of facing one’s flaws – caused by sin – and being present in the process. Presence in the process looks like reflecting on what has happened, honoring the feelings in those reflective moments, and then discerning and acting upon decisions that will be life-giving rather than decisions that will further give into sin. This presence leads individuals in knowing him or herself and in knowing who God desires her or him to be. 

Perfectionism, on the other, is hard work without the heart work. It is an attitude rooted in performance and production rather than presence. People that act in and out of a spirit of perfectionism may look pristine on the outside, but the emptiness and achy-ness that results from perfectionism bores deep into one’s heart and soul.    

As I walked into my interview I heard Jesus’ words – be perfect. And in that perfection – seen in our Heavenly Father and seen in his Son – I was present. I shared my story – my struggles and my salvation. I shared of my transition from perfectionism practices to seeking perfection. I showed me and how God used and continues to use me. I testified to the truth that God has a plan and intent to include all people in God’s work.

God’s plan and intent looks different from the world’s. It is hard work to make our lives – to live our lives – in God’s plan and intent – but it is so fulfilling. 

In that spirit of fulfillment, I prayed my friends into their interviews. I prayed that they would be perfect and present, that they would show the evidence of their heart and hard work. 

And indeed, they did!

This is also my prayer for you this week. That you would take time to sit and reflect. That you would take time to be present in reflection of your struggles and your salvation. That you would take time to continue your attention to the heart and hard work before you. And in all of this, friends, we will be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Prayer: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name, and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share his love as he told me to. He said, ‘Freely, freely, you have received, freely freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.'”* Amen. 

*”Freely, Freely,” The United Methodist Hymnal 389.

Messiah: O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:9 and 60:1.

The older I become, the more of an early riser God invites me to be. I used to fight it, but now I am in the acceptance phase.

I used to think if I woke up early, I could go back to sleep – eek out a few more minutes – and then I would wake fully rested.

Wrong.

That method actually makes me (makes everyone?) more groggy. So no more fighting – and no more alarm clock setting. I wake up – I get up. No matter the time – no hitting the snooze.

I arise.

I spend intentional time in the morning greeting God for the day ahead. This usually involves scrolling through headlines and checking messages received overnight. Then I turn to my calendar to see where – and in who – I will meet God that day. Some days are planned to the minute while others are wide open and ready to surprise. And in the quiet of the morning – knowing a little or a lot of what has happened over night or what will happen in the hours before me – I am thankful. For God. For my relationship with God. For God’s good news that I have received. And for the opportunity to share God’s good news in the new day.

Each time I have heard Rev. Adam Hamilton speak he shares (reminds) his listeners that he begins each day praying a version of John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer that reads

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.*

In the early hours of each day Hamilton once again offers his life to God in response to God offering that day to him. What a gift! And it is the same gift that God gives to each of us.

I have heard it said, Each day is a gift- that is why we call it the present. So then, what will you do with the gift of today? Tomorrow and the next?

How do you greet each day – are you eager to meet it or begrudgingly asking for five more minutes?

When do you acknowledge God in your day? What do you say? How do you act?

Consider these questions as you consider what offering you will make when you arise the remainder of this week.

With each new day God draws us further into his light and promise of salvation. What a gift! Arise each day – receive its gifting anew – and share it once more.

Prayer: Spend a few moments in silence and then offer Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.

*”A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” The United Methodist Hymnal 607.

House of Grace ~ Prevenient Grace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 5:8-14

This week the Tuskawilla Community begins a 3-week sermon series entitled House of Grace. In this sermon series we will explore our Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, described God’s grace as threefold: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. We will study one facet of God’s grace each week.

I understand grace as God’s love and mercy given to humanity by God not because we deserve it or because we earned it. God pours out God’s grace freely because God wants us to have it. By having God’s grace, our souls are nourished, we receive God’s care, and we are drawn into ways of responsible living – for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for our world.

When Wesley taught on God’s grace, he used the image of the house – specifically the porch, the door’s threshold, and the living quarters of the house. He linked the image of the porch with prevenient (or preventing) grace, the door’s threshold with justifying grace, and the living quarters with sanctifying grace. For more on each of these, I invite you to worship this Sunday…and the two following it! I plan to share memories from my childhood during each week of this series. Y’all should know by now that you can take the girl out of Polk County…but you cannot take the Polk County out of this girl!

As I prepare for worship this week and prepare for next week when our Annual Conference will convene in Daytona, I am aware of how in need of God’s grace we are. Many conversations will take place at Annual Conference and I hope all participants in those conversations engage with a willing posture committed to discussion rather than division. Decisions from these conversations will include the election of delegates that will represent the Florida Conference at our connectional General Conference in Portland, Oregon next April as well as the adopting or endorsement of any petitions and legislations that will be brought to the floor of General Conference by the Florida delegation.

I invite you to begin praying with me today about our Annual Conference event, that throughout this time of holy conferencing all those present will honor God and invite God’s grace to inform, shape, and lead our acts, signs, and deeds. My hope is that we will meet as a fellowship of God’s people, and with honoring God as our focus, we will meet God where God is and lead towards the vision that God reveals…and if we accomplish some conference business while we are there, that is great, too.

God, we are not perfect. Our church is not perfect. Our Annual Conference is not perfect. We are seeking after you…you who are perfect. And in the seeking, you reveal a more perfect, a more grace-filled, a more holy way. Where you lead us, we will follow. We are with you, with you, all the way.

Prayer: “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones; you only asked me to follow humbly. You need my hands, full of caring through my labors to give others rest, and constant love that keeps on loving. O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” The United Methodist Hymnal 344.

Collect Moments With God: Through

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:8, 2:42-47

I remember it like it was yesterday…the sweaty palms, the clammy brow, the unsettled stomach.  I was seated at my desk.  A blank sheet of paper before me and a pen in my hand.  The task: write out the prepositions used in highest frequency in the English language.  I believe there are 63.

Did I mention this was 8th grade?  This was a life or death situation!

Then again I also remember the day before my first exam in my Old Testament seminary course, where Dr. Petersen and his fabulous mutton chops said, “I will not test you on something you can look up in a book…”

Geez…I wish Mrs. Anderson would have had the same sentiment…all that sweat for nothing!

Through was one of those high frequency prepositions.  I understand through as a conduit.  Like if you were traveling through a tunnel – you begin on one side and end up on the other.  Movement, momentum, and progress occur in the through.

In honor of today being the kick-off to the 2014 NFL Season (Go Packers!), there are no “delay of game” penalties when you get to the through. You walk up to the line of scrimmage and you initiate the play.  Or in our case of the collect prayer, you state your do – the petition of the prayer – and then proceed to the through so you begin working on it.

To continue the football analogy, saying the prayer is not the end of the play.  Walking up to the line of the scrimmage and saying “hut hut hut” is not all that is required.  You have to surround yourself with a team.  You have to have a strategy.  You have to actively move the prayer forward.  If you are going to run the prayer, then you need people around you that are going to secure a safe passage.  If you are going to launch your faith into a new area, you need to make sure you communicate with others so they can catch you or meet you on the other side.

There are allowances for time-outs, for pauses, for discernment, for consultation with coaches, mentors, family, and friends.  But those need to be regulated as well.  Not rushed, but regulated, because we cannot stay in time-outs forever.  God does not want us in between plays or in between pursuing the words of our prayers indefinitely.  God wants us active and serving and, in the words of John Wesley, “spreading Scriptural holiness over (or perhaps through-out!) the lands!”

In a football game the clock is always running.  If it is stopped, it is only for a brief period.  That players and coaches make such discerned and calculated and timely decisions is evidence of their preparatory work.  God calls us to the same sort of preparatory work, and we engage that work through prayer.  In prayer we offer our requests, we hear God’s will, we feel God’s strength, and we are sent out through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Every day we are stepping onto the “playing field” – are we going to move forward or move backward?

The through of the collect prayer moves us from start to finish, from beginning to end.  And through God’s Holy Spirit, I believe we are transformed into holy conduits to move forward God’s new and renewing acts of grace, from one side to the other, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.

Strong and Courageous: With Boldness

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:1-9

This Sunday at Reeves we begin our Stewardship Series – the theme is “The Year of the Joshua Prayer.” Each Sunday throughout this series we will focus on a different aspect of the United Methodist membership vow:

As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?

We begin this week with prayer and center on our theme of “The Year of the Joshua Prayer” by studying the opening passage of Joshua. I imagine (thanks to Cecil B. DeMille) Joshua standing on a hillside and gazing into a valley – the threshold of the Promised Land. But he doesn’t have to wait any longer – no more wandering, no more hoping, no more delay. He and the people of Israel have arrived. God’s words are true. They are delivered. Now “be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

//

I think throughout our lives we have “progressive promised lands” – as in we hope for one and then when we achieve it we hope for the next. I think my first progressive promised land was the transition from a bike with training wheels to a good ole two-wheeler – nothing holding me back. Other PPLs along my way:

  • from reading chapter-less books to chapter books (and now sometimes I wish this trend would reverse!?!)
  • from elementary school to middle school
  • from middle school to high school
  • to turning 16!!!
  • to turning 18!!!
  • from high school to college
  • to turning 21!!! (wait…there’s stuff after you turn 21??? I learned that too)
  • to marrying my best friend and true love Andrew
  • from college to graduate school
  • from graduate school to commissioning as a provisional elder in The UMC
  • from commissioning to my first appointment
  • to ordination as a full connection elder in The UMC…

That last one – ordination as an elder in full connection has been my promised land since really my commissioning in 2010. I worked toward it. I served toward it. I prayed toward it. And this time last year I submitted my application…and November of last year I was told that my journey would continue, but not yet as a full connection elder.

I felt like my promised land had been snatched away. I felt like I had been told to go wander in the wilderness for another year. I was on the mountain. I could see into the Promised Land, if only I could walk down the valley…

Instead I had other places to walk. I walked steep hills of self-reflection. I wandered towards glassy seas of mirrors and took very long and very hard looks. First I saw only what I didn’t want to see, what I didn’t want to acknowledge. And after a while God helped me see beyond – to the beauty, to the transformation, to the benefit of the additional time in the wilderness.

//

The longer I serve in full-time ministry the more I am convinced of the movements and stirrings of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led me in discerning this passage for selection for week one of Reeves’ Stewardship Series. The Spirit led me in setting Reeves’ Stewardship month as September. And as it happens, this Sunday we will begin the stewardship series studying this passage from Joshua, and I will submit my application a second time for consideration as an elder in full connection.

I am headed back up the mountain. I am gazing down the valley towards the promised land. I am hopeful, but hope is not my only strategy. I have served, prayed, wept, worked, and celebrated along the way. I have shared this year with family, friends, and colleagues that have supported me, screamed with me, dried my tears, and cheered me onward. I am so thankful for you.

I believe I am ready. I believe I am prepared. And I believe that if I have to walk in the wilderness another year, then God will lead me back to this valley in promised time.

Prayer: “On Jordan’s stormy bands I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie. When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest, for I shall see my Father’s face, and in his bosom rest. I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.”* Amen.

*”On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 724.