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.

Lessons in Leadership: The Most Important Muscle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 16:6-13.

While on vacation I spent precious time with my two nephews, Jacob and Elijah. Jacob will be three in October and Elijah is almost four-months old. They are true delights.

One afternoon Jacob asked, “Aunt Schawah, will you playdoh with me?” And when someone asks you to playdoh, you playdoh.

Jacob has quite a collection of playdoh toys – scissors and rollers and stamps. He even has little critters that will grow playdoh hair through their heads!

I took hold of one of the critters, turned it head down, and started stamping it on one of the playdoh pancakes Jacob prepared. “Aunt Schawah, whatcha doin’?” “I”m stamping. Look, this critter stamps out a flower.” “No way!” “Yes way. Look!” With amazement Jacob watched all the blooms appear. And with excitement, Jacob took hold of that same critter and started blooming a garden of his own.

Playdoh is impressionable. It is flexible and pliable – unless it is exposed to the air too long. Playdoh takes its shape from the maker and reshapes again and again at the maker’s desire.

Writes the prophet Isaiah, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). As God shapes us, God makes us new. As God molds us, God prefects us.

As the work of God’s hands, we bear God’s impressions in our very beings. God’s shaping of us occurs throughout our lives; it is an ongoing transformative process that begins with our most important muscle. 

It begins with our hearts.

This week the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a five-week series entitled Lessons in Leadership. We will study texts related to David found in I and II Samuel as well as the Psalms. I hope you will join us. See you in worship.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Be Perfect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:43-48.

Last week in Tuskawilla’s 11:00 Worship Service I referenced Wesley’s Historic Questions which are asked of those persons being ordained since the beginning of Methodism. There are 19 questions in all and they are all structured on a version of the verb form “to be” – Have you, Are you, Do you, and Will you? Questions structured on a version of the verb form “to be” have two possible answers – yes or no.

(And if your discernment and desire is to be ordained, your answer is yes – to all 19.)

The second of John Wesley’s Historic Questions shows he is batting for the fences. He wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter:

2. Are you going onto perfection?

Which is followed in the next breath:

3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

And given that the answers to 2. and 3. are both yes, he rounds out with:

4. Are you earnestly striving after it?

I answered yes to these three questions (and the other 16 as well!) before the entire Annual Conference the day before my ordination. I answered sincerely and confidently. I do believe I am going onto perfection. I do expect to be made perfect in love in this life. And I am earnestly striving after it.

At the heart of these questions for John Wesley is the work of sanctification – the work of being made holy – the work of recovering and restoring the image in which we were created – which is the image of God – which is perfect.

Sanctification is not a matter of works righteousness. We cannot work ourselves to righteousness through the acts that we do, the words that we say, or the money that we give. Titus 3:4-7 says, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Because God acted on our behalf, we are able to act in response to God’s grace and with God’s help so recover and restore the image in which we were created. 

Through sanctification we go onto perfection – we are made perfect in love in this life. This perfection does not mean that we will not make mistakes or have weaknesses that cause us to backslide – meaning revert to behaviors before or early on in our relationship with Christ prior to our maturing in faith. Rather, Wesley understood this perfection to mean a continual process of perfecting our love for God and neighbor by reducing – and ultimately removing – our desire to sin. When sin does not have a hold on us, we are free to love as God intended – love God first and love neighbor second, and then all else in the world will fall into place by keeping these two at our forefront.

Are you going onto perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving after it? Share how you are earnestly striving after it with someone this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide, and run not before him, whatever betide. In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord, and, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.”* Amen.

*”Take Time to Be Holy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 395.


House of Grace ~ Sanctifying Grace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:10-14

I have served on a mission trip every summer for the past 16 years. I have had the privilege of serving in the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain States, across Appalachia, along the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine and back, in Hawaii, in Guatemala and Costa Rica, and in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I have served on construction mission trips, music mission trips, and spiritual formation mission trips. I have played four-corners, four-square and connect-four more times than I can count.

Serving on mission trips is near and dear to the hearts of the people called Methodist. In some ways our denomination was birthed from a missional movement, though John Wesley never intended the Methodists to become their own practice of faith apart from the Church of England. Methodism was a revival movement committed to taking the practice of faith out of the church building and into the world. “The world is my parish,” said Brother John and that mantra accompanied him into every slum, prison, hospital, marsh, farm, and schoolhouse where he preached the nourishing Word of God to very spiritually hungry people. Wesley also recognized by his being with the people that in order to serve their spiritual needs he first needed to meet their physical needs. The physical need could have been companionship, comfort, connection, clothing, or carbohydrates! Meeting physical needs in order to address spiritual needs is a lesson I believe Wesley took from the Apostle James who writes,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

James 2:14-18

“I by my works will show you my faith.” I set this verse as my intention in each missional interaction – which I have learned can take place away from a local church as well as in the local church. It is my privilege this week to share in the practicing of this intention alongside the students and adult leaders in Tuskawilla’s Youth Ministry as we partner with the members, friends, and community at First UMC Pahokee in service and fellowship. We plan to complete painting projects, light construction (light as in the adjective and not the noun…but if we complete the noun version that would be awesome!), volunteer in a local neighborhood recreation program, serve in the community garden and food bank, and, most importantly, grow closer to God and to one another. Through this intentional work God shapes and refines us for greater works in the Kingdom. Through this intentional work God sanctifies us – God makes us holy – and draws us deeper into the interior space of God’s House of Grace. Through this intentional work God changes our appetites away from me and towards the we.

As this holy transformation further roots in my life, I am aware that my life is becoming more simple. I desire experiences not things. I desire connections not commodities. I find, as Paul says in our Scripture passage for this week, that “I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). I have not done this on my own; I have done what I have done and do what I continue to do as a witness to my salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is the cause of all this – of what was becoming, what is now, and leading towards what I will be. God’s grace has brought healing and closure to fractured and broken moments in my past. I no longer think of those moments as part of who I am because my identity and personhood is in Christ. I am looking towards the future. God’s grace strengthens me for the service I am called to now and is preparing me for the service I will do in the future. I am pressing on.

I am thankful for the opportunity to spend this dedicated time with our church’s students and to be God’s hands and feet not only in their lives but also in the lives of the sweet folk in Pahokee this week. Mark your calendars to join us in worship on Sunday, July 12 to hear all about their mission trip and service experiences. Keep us in your prayers. You are in ours.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send? I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send? I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame, I will set a feast for them. My hand will save. Finest bread I will provide till their hearts be satisfied. I will give my life to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”* Amen.

*”Here I Am, Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 593.