Sanctification Rejects the Status Quo

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(Image courtesy of jrforasteros.com)

(Image courtesy of jrforasteros.com)

Humanity’s state of sin…

Our brokenness…

Being outwardly obsessed, but inwardly blind…

Failing to hear the cry of the needy…

Ignoring the voice crying out from the wilderness…

Judgment that condemns…

Perpetuating evil…

Refusing to let grace penetrate…

Inequality and injustice…

Becoming numb to suffering of others…

Rejecting reconciliation…

For all these things, God came to us.  God has been working tirelessly to transform us, granting grace at every turn.  While we turn away to seek what feels good and grants instant gratification, Christ calls us back to the well of life, to find the fullness that only the Lord can provide.  Sanctification, the process of being made holy by the work of God’s grace and the movement of the Holy Spirit, rejects the way things are, because they do not fully reflect the glory of God and the love of God for all people.  Sanctification seeks to go on to perfection in love, growing beyond the here and now.  It is the means by which God changes the world by first changing the people who dwell upon it.  There is so much more to discover in God’s will for us, and so much more to become to others, for them.  We cannot stop and declare that we are done, that we have gone as far as we are willing to go.  Never at any point did Jesus Christ stop on the way to Golgotha.  He took that cross all the way up the hill and to the end of his own life, to pay the debt we incur with our sin.  So we cannot throw up our hands and walk away, content with what is right now, because no matter how good it is, it is not the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

So when the days come and we are discouraged, dejected, and downright exhausted from the labor of love, we can stop to rest, but not resign.  If God had taken that stance with us, then we would still dwell in darkness, and evil would consume us in pain and suffering even more overwhelming than it is in its current state.  We can recognize our weakness and our ineffectiveness, but then we turn ourselves over to the only power capable of transforming sin from an eternal death sentence into the gateway to grace.  We must entrust ourselves into this process that is bigger than ourselves, this transforming relationship with God that drives us deeper in faith and discipleship.  To be made holy is the greatest honor, for it is to reflect God outwardly while embodying God inwardly.  Who are we that we should be granted such an honor?  We are those loved beyond human reason, and those valued beyond material worth.  We are those that God looks upon and sees beyond our sin, deeper than our depravity.  God sees potential, and then moves to make it emerge, until one day we open our eyes and wonder how we ever became something capable of being a vessel of love, a means of grace to others.  But that can and will only happen when we reject the way things are to yearn for what might be, and then journey forward, following the light of Christ into uncharted territory in order to actualize it.  Sanctification is to leave the status quo behind, and enact the will of the one who hears the cries, sees the suffering, and refuses to let them continue.  If that is God’s way, then it must become ours, too.  That is what sanctification is all about.

Reactive Love

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(Image courtesy of juliasmath.com)

(Image courtesy of juliasmath.com)

I was awakened a little past 1:00 AM.  The first time I heard it, my body awakened before my mind could comprehend.  The second time I heard it, I was up out of bed in a flash.  I heard a young child screaming, but I was aware that it was not my son.  Just to be sure, I rushed across the hall and into his room, but he was fast asleep.  Through the open window in his room, I felt a soft, cool breeze, and then I heard the child scream again.  I quickly left my son’s room and closed the door before heading downstairs.  I opened the front door and stood on my front porch trying to discern from where the cries were coming.  It was down the street, and I was pretty sure they were coming from within a house.  I stood there wondering what I should do.  Should I go and try to find the child, making sure they are not somehow outside?  Should I call the police and alert them that there may be a child in distress?  It never occurred to me that I should just ignore it.

I could chalk it up to parental response, maternal instinct, etc., but I think my overwhelming desire to help that crying child was more about my faith than anything else.  While being awakened by distant cries of a child might have come from recently honed skills with my own son, my refusal to roll over and let it be someone else’s problem is the natural response to the love of Christ for all people.  Someone in pain and distress is my problem, because it is our problem.  We are connected to one another through God, who created all people and yearns to have us draw closer to our Maker and each other.  The Christian cannot pretend that pain does not exist and that suffering is not an atrocity.  The disciple cannot stand by and allow it to go unheeded, but is compelled by the love of Christ and the urging of the Holy Spirit to respond.  Before I could step off my porch I heard the child stop screaming, as a female adult voice offered words of comfort, and the crying ceased.  As I made my way back to bed, I realized that I had been ready and willing to run out of my house in the middle of the night, shoe-less, and without hesitation to help someone else, because God sends us to be vessels of love, care, kindness, and comfort.  I think that many Christians feels this compulsion to respond, even as society tells us to mind our own business.  Yet we live in a world where terrible things happen with alarming regularity, and they happen to innocent children, too.

How could I ignore the distressed cries of a child when all the horrific possibilities were running through my head?  I pray that the people of God refuse to be silenced and stand down.  I hope that we will always rush to respond, and think of the social consequences second.  The ardent and instantaneous response of love in a disciple of Jesus Christ was intentionally cultivated by God for others, and we should unleash it upon them.  This is not about established etiquette boundaries, but doing our part to bring the comfort of God to all people, and actively work to ease the suffering of this world where sin permeates and kindness is mercy.  We are loved, and so we love.  God responded to our suffering in sin, and so we respond to the sufferings of others.  In this, real and tangible change is made, and the Kingdom shines brighter in the midst of the darkness.

My Struggle with Streaming

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Live streaming is growing in popularity in churches.  Some think it is necessary for growth and evangelism, but I am struggling with it.

(Image courtesy of newlifecm.com)

(Image courtesy of newlifecm.com)

It is not that I do not love technology or digital media, because I most certainly do.  It is not that I do not want to reach new people and engage them even before they walk into the door of the church, because that is the way of my generation and those after my own.  I worry about abuse, about sending mixed signals regarding worship.  Worship is when the people of God (two or more) gather together to give their best.  There is a lot of intentionality in worship, and it undergirds everything we do, from gathering to going forth with God’s blessing.  We should be offering our best, which means we are intentional about our prayers, how we sing, being ready to hear what God is saying to us as the Scriptures are read and illuminated, and even being dressed, present on time, and ready to go when worship begins.  I hear a lot of people talk about how they just could not get it together, and so they stayed home and watched worship live stream, and that is what they did: they watched.  We must be present together with God and each other to manifest the Body of Christ.  We need to be able to respond instantly to one another and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and watching makes us worship voyeurs, not partakers in each other.

Worship is more than a bunch of individuals gathering to offer their personal prayers and offerings, and get something personally from God Almighty.  It is to form a community with one sacred purpose and proclaim with our gathered presence the glory of God, the Father, testify to the salvation born of Jesus Christ, and be vessels of the Holy Spirit as it enables us to worship more fully.  I understand when faithful members are forced to be separated from their beloved congregation on Sunday morning whether from work, illness, or travel, and desire to be connected.  They do not want to miss the sermon, the sacred music, or any other aspect of their church’s corporate worship.  My concern is when that becomes a crutch, a viable alternative in the minds of people to stay home, to not be so intentional about being present.  I worry that live streaming might become a stumbling block to some, and just one is too many as the Apostle Paul says (1 Corinthians 8:9).  Even Jesus has something to say about our contributing to the waywardness of others:

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!’” (Luke 17:1 NRS).

I have not resigned myself against live streaming, but I think my struggle is clear.  As someone who is called to lead God’s people in our worship together, I want to do what is right by God, the Body of Christ, and those who have not yet taken their rightful place in our midst.  If you had the option of live streaming, how would you use it?  Would it become a stumbling block to you, crutch in your mind that allowed you to stay home, or would you resolve to use it as a companion in this spiritual path we walk?  I would love to hear your reflections and conclusions to help me make my own.

A Prayer to be Vessels of Edification

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(Image courtesy of lccdefenders.org)

(Image courtesy of lccdefenders.org)

Christ, the foundation of our faith,

The cornerstone of Christendom,

Rebuild your Church from the inside.

Reshape us, molding us into those who serve first,

And are edified in our service.

Teach us your ways of building up others.

Forgive us when our words tear down,

When we are quick to berate.

Grant us your grace to grow and discover our place,

Upholding your Gospel of truth and love.

Eradicate our sinful desire for our own glory,

So that we can more fully give glory to you.

May others come to know your transforming love through us,

And discover that all are invited to embrace this grace.

Until the entire earth rings with your praise,

We will plow the fields and search out the lost of your flock.

Give us the perseverance to stay the course.

All honor for your mighty acts and to your sacred name.

Amen.

Widening Worship

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Sometimes we have a painfully narrow understanding of what worship is and how we fit into it.  Worship is to honor and glorify a God so far beyond our full understanding that God had to reveal God’s self to us in the three persons of the Trinity.  God is too big to fit into a box, and our worship is too vital to hem in.  While worship is corporate, I acknowledge that it is simultaneously deeply personal.  It is an outward sign of this inward relationship with our Lord, and one that is transforming us even as we offer thanks for what we have been given thus far.  So how can we widen our concept of worship?

(Image courtesy of pqhobbit.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of pqhobbit.wordpress.com)

More and more I watch and observe how worship affects people gathered  I see when they are bored, disconnected, and counting the minutes until they are out the door.  Then I see people when they are struck with the power and movement of the Holy Spirit, when they feel the manifestation of Christ in our midst, and when they are overwhelmed by the presence of the Father.  I see tears, sometimes smiles, and always this gasp for the grace of knowing that God is true, alive, and with them.  That is what I want to see for all people, all the time in worship.  To this end I am working planning a new fully Emergent worship service, the third service we will offer on Sunday morning.  Not that our other two worship services are not a means of grace, a good and joyful thing, and meeting the needs of a multitude of Christians to worship God Almighty, they are.  However, my church could no longer deny that there were people missing, absent from this sacred encounter with God and other believers.  We could not stand by and allow that chasm to continue, much less grow deeper and more detrimental.  So we prayed, discerned, holy conferenced, and moved to make something new a reality in concert with God.  Out of that journey this new worship service has been conceived, and next month it will be birthed.  When it is enlivened it will need the people to open themselves in a whole new way, experiencing holiness like it is the first time.  It will require us to put aside our wants and desires in selflessness so that others may draw close.  If we widen our willingness to go where we are not “at home” and fully comfortable, then those who are not that way now can discover a profound love that willingly goes without so others may have, even for the very first time.

It is an act of kindness to place others before us, and the fullness of the Body of Christ above us.  It is an act of mercy to strive to open space, create sanctuary, and make room for worship strangers.  Without worship, believers would wander away, go stagnant in their faith, and fail to find a richer, deeper understanding of the God whom we gather to worship in the first place.  We can no longer deny that to anyone because they cannot relate to our preferred style of worship.  The world offers too many alternatives to worshiping God, and it makes it very easy and enjoyable to pursue them.  The time has come for Christendom to acknowledge this unhappy truth, and work actively, intentionally to change our mindset, our mode of worship, and get vulnerable enough to change, so that Christ may transform others into disciples who will worship and serve alongside us, and grow in their walk with the Lord with us, too.

“Wow, That’s Me”

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I had this moment last week where I had full realization that I am now one of those people, you know, divorced.  I never thought I would be here.  I never thought it would be me, but divorce is a state that results from things outside of our full control.  Just as my marriage covenant was the product of two people and the joining of two lives for what was supposed to be as long as we both shall live, divorce was half the outcome of things beyond my control and desire.  I entered into holy matrimony fully committed, and honestly fully in love.  I was hopeful and happy, but both of those are transitional states and often contextually charged based upon where we find ourselves at a given time in our lives.  While I do not intend to make my blog about life post-divorce, I felt this prophetic duty to explore its spiritual implications as least this one time.

(Image courtesy of onfirefastmovement.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of onfirefastmovement.blogspot.com)

There was a time when I would have dismissed William Shatner’s quote as overly dramatic, but now it resonates with me, and I suspect a great many other people.  Something died in me and along the way as my marriage dissolved.  I felt a piece that was once vital and full of life shrivel up, never to be again.  I mourned it deeply.  I felt it dramatically.  I watched as it turned my life upside down, and did the very same for my young, innocent son.  His pain amplified my own.  I felt helpless and hurt, neither of which I enjoy.  In the Book of Malachi it is written, “For I hate divorce, says the LORD” (Malachi 2:16 NRS).  I get that.  I hate it too, because it is the death of something crafted in love and sealed before God, yet in its wake is this suffering the likes of which I have never known.  I think God articulates this hatred of something that causes suffering, and yet is careful not to say God hates those who are divorced.  If anything, I think God mourns with us, and reaches out to love us more tangibly where human love has failed.  Divorce is a tragedy, and the victims of it are numerous.  I experienced the judgment that comes with its status, even though I divorced for the acceptable reason Jesus himself gave.  While I now feel liberated from the sin that destroyed, I still experience this overwhelming sense of loss, of what was and now what will never be.

I still perform holy matrimony, and love such a blessed position in the Church.  I still smile at the bride and groom.  I still wish them the very best from the bottom of my heart, and pray that their marriage survives in a culture where the statistics are against such a triumph of relationship.  I still believe in lifelong marriage.  I still trust that two people can put aside their selfishness and overcome sinfulness to be more together than they were apart for the glory of God and the good of the community in which they reside as a family.  I still preach the necessity of love, respect, and trust for a marriage to last.  But now I am aware that we can find ourselves on the other side of that sacred covenant, separate and damaged.  My love and that life together were wrenched from my hands, pulled from my heart.  I am here, and finding new wholeness.  Despite my state of divorce, God is ever-present and just as committed to me as before.  Having seen me through the most desperate time of my life, I can say with great conviction that I am more committed now to God.  Before we place a stigma on someone who finds themselves in this strange state of divorce, as someone who never thought she’d be here and never wanted to be, I can honestly and authentically say that it is not a good and joyful thing.  But God redeems all things, and this fractured state does not need another spouse, another marriage to be made whole.  It just needs the healing love of God.  One of the most tangible means of that love are the people who do not judge me or convict me, but instead embrace me with a willingness to look beyond my marital status and see the child of God trying to go forth into this new reality to find grace.  While my divorce is the complete and radical severance of a close connected relationship, my existence now is a testimony of God taking the broken and redeeming it for the good of the Kingdom.  May it be so, for me and all those who find themselves here in divorce.

Not Gate Keepers nor Owners, but Hosts

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(Image courtesy of stanthonyshrine.org)

(Image courtesy of stanthonyshrine.org)

I had a conversation the other day where someone point-blank asked me if my church has a problem with gays.  The answer is complicated, and I wish that it were not.  I replied that the church I serve does not, and that my denomination is trying to figure out what its stance will be with regards to gay marriage and ordination of practicing gays, etc.  Looking back I am grateful that this person did not find it necessary to ask if I have a problem with gays.  I don’t have a problem with anyone coming to a church I serve and worshiping when I lead, because it’s not my church or even my worship.  I’m just the hostess God has called for that purpose.  I am not the owner to exclude or include.  That is God’s role, and I am more than happy to leave that to God.  I know this: that God so loved the world, all people, that God came to us in Jesus Christ to save us from sin.  God invites all people into God’s grace, so who am I to exclude, to refuse entry, to prevent from participating in the Body of Christ?  I leave the judgment of a person and their life to God, liberated to love without restriction.  Consequences of our choices are God’s purview, not my place to condemn to hell or promote to heaven.

That goes for all sins.  I don’t care if it is a prostitute who just turned a trick, a drug addict who just came down from a high, a felon just paroled, the racists who speaks words of hatred from their heart, or someone who looks just like me with sins less outwardly obvious, we all belong here in the presence of God, basking in the grace freely offered to us.  Those of us who are members of a local church and active in the congregation are not gate keepers to regulate entry, not when the Holy Spirit is calling to all people to enter in.  We have to stop thinking that we are responsible for the spiritual make up of the people populating our worship.  This is not about what it reflects on us, but what it reflects of God: that God is loving and willing to grant grace to all.  We welcome because that is the sacred task God puts upon the shoulders and into the hearts of all those who choose to dwell in the sanctuary of the House of God.  The invitation to enter in is not ours, but God’s.  We are just the messengers, the couriers of Christ.  By being hosts and hostesses, God has blessed us, removing the duty to judge worthiness.  We practice instead the ministry of hospitality and the mission of love.  A weight has been lifted from us, the burden is not ours, so why do we act as if we are still chained to making those difficult and all together impossible determinations about worthiness?  I am only worthy because God says so, not any human being.  So let’s enjoy this freedom to forget establishing worthiness in the other, and simply enjoy the one place on all the earth where we are all invited, all desired to be present according with the will of God.  That’s the role of the member in the Body of Christ.