Follow Friday: Susan Irene Fox

I first discovered Susan Irene Fox and her self-titled blog after she started liking some of mine posts. Out of curiosity I started reading her blog. Susan has a way of sharing profound, spiritual thoughts that are welcoming and not threatening. After a twenty-year career as an elementary school teacher, that ended due to a permanent disability, Susan started blogging to get her name out there.

She had started a Bible curriculum projected for grades K-6 called Branches. The blog was to give her an online fingerprint for potential publishers. Ever since then, both the curriculum and the blog have evolved. “The curriculum,” Susan says, “is now a biblical devotional series for families.”  Branches, which is based on John 5:14-15, is currently in the editing stage. Meanwhile, the blog has greatly expanded as “a way to edify, encourage, enrich – and sometimes gently exhort – the Body of Christ,” Susan says. The blog has become, for Susan, a way to abide in the Spirit, while building the Kingdom of God.

As I have lifted the focus off me and onto God, the experience has become rich with new insight. Followers have increased organically as the Spirit has led them. And when just one person tells me the words I write have reached his or her heart, that comment keeps me motivated for weeks, because I have been an obedient vessel.

At times, Susan will post a poem, which is an incredible way to express a gospel truth. “Poetry,” Susan says, “is a rekindled love.” She wrote poetry during high school and college. She would teach grammar through poetry writing. Often, as she writes in her personal prayer journal, she will write poems. She never, however, had the courage to make any of the poems public. With great delight, the poems were welcomed and well received. Susan got a number of reassurance and support for them, including from other poets. She now posts a poem every Sunday – “my small way of praising Him.”

Susan, like other bloggers, will occasionally do a series. Currently she is doing a series on the Beatitudes. Susan says there are two reasons that went into her decision to do a series. “The first,” she says, “is because writing a series keeps me motivated, interested, and educated.” It gives her the opportunity to “dive more deeply into a small amount of Scripture,” and then share what she gleaned from that dive with others. “The second reason,” she says, “is that, as I’m editing Branches, I’m relooking at this living text called the Bible.” Susan says that each time she ponders on the Bible, “it seems to speak differently” to her. These new ponderings lead her into areas she may not have been ready to see previously in her life. “It’s an adventure,” she says, “and I love to follow each new path.”

The topics in the series are the same topics that are included in Branches. The first series was on the Fruit of the Spirits. The series after the Beatitudes will be The Twenty Third Psalm. Each series gives an opportunity to chew and digest small pieces of Scripture at a time.

I was curious to know who Susan reads. Every so often she will quote a Christian thinker and ponderer. When Susan first came to faith, she “soaked up Lee Strobel’s books.” She names her pillars as N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Henry and Richard Blackaby. She also reads Max Lucado, Tullian Tchividjian, Jonathan Merrit, Francis Chan, Phyllis Tickle, David Platt, John Ortberg, Beth Moore, and Tim Keller. But that is just to name a few.

Blogging has its rewards. I wanted to know what the most rewarding part of Susan was from blogging.

The most rewarding part of blogging is the discovery of new things about Scripture from the most amazing blog writers. I have so much to learn as a new believer, yet just this week I was greatly comforted and inspired that I am not unlike all those other “new believers” in the first century – Mary and Martha, Priscilla and Lydia, Titus and Timothy – and I am humbled and enriched to be in such gracious company.

You can read Susan’s blog at susanirenefox.com and you can follow her on Twitter @susanirenefox.

Easter Feet

Easter Ponderings“But, go, tell his disciples, and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)

A few weeks ago my friend Jennifer posted on Facebook a quote from her daughter. The three year old had placed two Easter eggs on her feet and declared, “Look, Mommy! I have Easter feet!”

So adorable and innocent. And theological.

Mary Magdalene and the other women at the tomb, in Mark’s Gospel, are commissioned to go and tell the others that the Christ is Risen, Risen Indeed! The command to go and tell is not unlike other times in the Gospels when the followers of Christ are told to go and tell. After Jesus had healed lepers in Luke 7, he tells the followers to go and tell John the Baptist about the things they had seen. Mark and Matthew record Jesus telling the disciples and go and tell (preach) the good news.

Go and tell.

That is what it means to have Easter Feet. To walk or run with our Easter Feet is to go and tell. Mary and the other women were a sent people with a mission.

We, too, are people who are sent. We are sent out beyond the boundaries of our church walls to share the gospel message – a message filled with love, grace, and hope. The church is an important and vital place for the believer. Christians gather together at the church on Sundays and throughout the week for worship, studying the scriptures, prayer, and participation in the sacraments. Then, followers of Christ are sent to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, to love others as Christ has loved them.

We gather with other people of faith to engage in works of piety so that we can be sent to engage in works of mercy.

We are sent out on our Easter Feet.

The mission of the sent is to continue the work of making God and God’s ways known to the world. In this sense, the world needs the Church. It is through the Church that the world responds to Christ in faith and accepts the grace that has been given to the world. All of this is made possible by and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But, there are days when it is not easy to walk on Easter Feet. There are days when it would be so easy to act like all those other people who are rude and just plain mean. We are assaulted by this meanness at work, at school, in our communities and yes, even in our churches.

Recently, a minister in town attended a children’s ministry event at our church. He took issue with the children’s moment that we had, where we shared the Easter story. About 80% of the children were not part of our church, and were 3 and 4-year-olds. The children’s moment presented the story using language that was age appropriate and focused on the meaning of Easter – a risen Jesus!

This visiting pastor, who was present with his children, took to Facebook to share three or four theological points that he considered were left out of this outreach event. He did not come to talk to any of the clergy. He did not write an email. He did not place a phone call. He took to Facebook and shared very publicly that our church was leaving out the truth of the Gospel. Some members who knew him took him to task for his actions. He later edited his Facebook post deleting the rude statement and replacing it with scripture. The meaning, however, was the same.

There are times when people will assault us with meanness and they think they are doing the right thing. They think they are being faithful to their God. They use their Bibles, quoting scripture to put others down.

Friends, this is not what it means to stand on Easter Feet. 

We can stand on Easter Feet and be in dialogue with those that we disagree with. We can stand on Easter Feet and walk in grace, showing the grace that Christ extended to us to others. We can stand on Easter Feet and use the word of God to build up instead of tear down.

Jesus did not say, “Go and tell others all the ways in which they are wrong.” Jesus said, “Go and tell that I have risen!”

How are you walking on Easter Feet?

 

Bible’s Major Players: Mary Magdalene

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Mary Magdalene is one from the New Testament.

Mary Magdalene is one of the few women who are named as followers of Jesus. Mary is often listed first among these names. She is often portrayed in movies, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as a prostitute. Why? Mary Magdalene is often connected with the woman of the street who breaks the jar of perfume and washes Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. In Luke’s Gospel this woman is nameless. Mary Magdalene first appears in Luke 8. As scholar Fred Craddock points out, “Only popular legend has made her a prostitute.” Luke’s eighth chapter tells the reader that Mary was healed of seven demons. Craddock observes, “Demon possession caused various maladies of body and mind but not moral or ethical depravity.”

Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson's film.
Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson’s film.

Mary plays a significant role in the Gospel story. All four gospels account for Mary being present at the death of Christ. More importantly, Mary was the first witness of the resurrected Lord. In Luke’s account of the resurrection, the two men “in dazzling apparel” tell the women, “Remember how he told you . . .” (Luke 24:4,6). This assumes that Mary Magdalene and the other women were apart of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The dazzling men are under the impression that these women were present when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (“Remember how he told you”).

Luke continues the narrative saying that the women “remembered his words” (24:8). The women are told to go and tell the disciples what has taken place. They recalled what Jesus had said and told the eleven and “all the rest” (Luke 24:8-9). As Craddock points out, these women were not “errand runners for disciples; they were disciples.”

Mary Magdalene, the woman saved from seven demons, is one of the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. Her role in being one of the first to communicate the resurrection to others, places her among the Bible’s major players.

How are you living as a witness of the Resurrected Christ?

Resources: Craddock, Fred B. Luke. John Knox Press, 1990.

Noah (2014)

noah-poster2At the sound of his name, Noah has become quite a controversial figure these days. The film has been declared “unbiblical” by many, while deeply theological by others. (For example, there is this YouTube video that someone thought I needed to see after posting a comparison chart and some discussion questions.) What follows is a theological reflection on the film. I know that there will be some readers who will disagree with me, and that is okay. I am assuming that you have seen the film. If not, I recommend reading this spoiler-free review.

Entertainment Weekly was perhaps one of the first outlets to say that the director

faithfully follows the message of the slim biblical text in the Book of Genesis, but he fills the gaps with spectacular CG effects, Tolkien-esque creatures

The film is based on the Genesis narrative of Noah, the man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, as found in chapters 6-9. The film’s production notes cite the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Dead Sea Scrolls as additional sources. These are ancient texts, which are not found in the Christian canon, but were likely widely read in the ancient world.

Ari Handel, the co-writer of the film, told Jacob Sahms of HollywoodJesus.com that they started with Genesis. “The commentaries are there to draw on to take themes and questions that people have been asking about the Noah story for hundreds and thousands of years,” he said. The Genesis account wrestles with the themes of destruction and new beginnings (or second chances) and Handel told Jacob that they “wanted to humanize those issues and make the audience empathize with them.”

DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcoverAdam Hamilton, minister at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, agrees that these are powerful themes in the Genesis account. The themes, he argues, gets overshadowed in the film and when “Christians insist that the stories be read like an historian’s report of ancient history.” I don’t disagree with Hamilton, but I have to wonder if what we carry with us when we enter the dark theater  - our expectations, our baggage, our hopes of a great film or of a horrible film – is what overshadows the themes. Yes, the director Darren Aronofky is a self-proclaimed atheist. But that fact does not eliminate the themes of the Biblical account – the themes of destruction and new beginnings. The way the story is told is different from Sunday school – not unlike Cecil B. DeMille did with the Moses narrative in the classic film The Ten Commandments. The original Noah story was told and retold through oral tradition long before it was ever written down. The fact that artist liberties were taken, should not be a surprise.

Darren Aronofky took the lead as the film’s co-writer and director. Aronofky has been thinking about Noah and the themes of his story since middle school.  The 13-year-old Brooklyn native wrote a poem called “The Dove” in which we get this theological gem:

Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin but the rainbow and the dove will always live within every mans’ heart.

In many ways this statement is the thesis for Aronofky’s film: “Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin.”

The film begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family as the only descendants left of Seth – the third son of Adam and Eve. Seth, unlike his older brother Cain who killed brother Abel, remained faithful to the ordinances of God. While the descendants of Cain kill animals to eat (they believe they gain power through the meat) and use up the earth’s resources, Noah and his family live a simple life.

Father Time or Voodoo Witch Doctor?
Father Time or Voodoo Witch Doctor?

One evening, Noah has a dream where the earth is destroyed. Unclear about what the dream is about, he packs up his family and home and they hike to the mountain of this grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Methuselah’s father was Enoch “who walked with God.” It is believed that Enoch did not die a physical death, instead he was so faithful to God that one day he just walked into eternity. These are Noah’s genes.

Methuselah mixes some drink for Noah (which has earned him the “witch doctor” nickname). Upon awaking from his sleep, Noah tells Methuselah of his dream about the world being destroyed by water, not fire. As they discuss this, Noah acknowledges that the Creator’s goal is rebirth. Water has long been the theological and spiritual symbol of rebirth. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that he must be born again, drawing upon the images of water in the womb. The sacrament of baptism reminds us that in Christ we have a new life.

Noah follows the Creator’s instructions and builds an ark with the help of the Watchers. The closest we get to the Watchers in the Christian canon is the nephilim. These are the Tolkien like creatures that Entertainment Weekly spoke of.  These creatures of Earth’s rock each have a dim light within them. The Watchers themselves represent the thesis of the film – there is light within us – there is peace in the midst of evil.  The Watchers are fallen angels striving to redeem themselves with the Creator, which is accomplished when they are faithful in their assistance with Noah’s call.

There are a handful of images that get played and replayed through the film. The image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, both humans are glowing creatures of light. This is followed by the image of a black snake coming out of a green snake, leaving behind the skin. Then, the image of the fruit of the tree, beating like a heart, acknowledging that The Knowledge of Good and Evil is itself life. The fruit of the tree is picked and eaten, which is followed by the image of Cain killing Abel.

Peace has been engulfed by evil.

This series of images communicate a theological understanding of sin and salvation. When Noah tells his family the story of creation (remember that the bulk of Genesis was first oral tradition before it was written scripture), these images repeat themselves. Humanity was created in the image of God. But when the first humans disobeyed by eating the fruit of the tree, sin distorted the image of God. The image of God in humanity continued to get distorted until the point where the wickedness was so great (humanity was striving to be its own ruler – as Ham tells the human leader, “There is no King, only the Creator is God”) that God decided to flood the earth to give it new life. The themes of destruction and new beginnings.

Evil does not win.

But evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin.

Noah ArkUnfortunately the debates about whether or not Noah is Biblical – word for word from the Bible – has overshadowed Aronofky’s thesis: Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin. If you have seen the film, you would most likely agree with me that evil seems to prevail in the film. The film is filled with darkness and it feels worse when the storms and the rain come. Peace only seems to appear at the end of the film, represented by the broad, all-encompassing rainbow.

Noah takes the call to build the ark seriously. Humanity has rejected God and this is a serious offensive. Aronofky and Handel, as they did in other films such as Black Swan, dive into the exploration of obsession. To say that Noah goes a little crazy while he is on the ark is putting it mildly. Noah becomes so obsessed with the wickedness of humanity, that he truly believes that his sons will be the last men on earth. If Shem’s unborn child is a girl, Noah will kill her. But, if the child is a boy, he will let the child live, and he would be the last human on earth.

noah-jennifer-connellyAri Handel tells Hollywood Jesus:

Noah is given an almost insurmountable job, to go build this giant ark. How could he do that? To do that and let everyone else die. What kind of power of will? What strength of purpose would you need? What weight would he have to carry? Those are things we wanted to convey through the story.

In this instance so many of us can relate to Noah in a way or another. Noah is obsessed with his mission, that he becomes blind. His wife (Jennifer Connelly) pleads with him to see the good in their sons – in humanity – which she does. But Noah is clear that the task is for humanity to cease in its existence.

Why does this happen? What causes Noah to become this way?

When Noah goes into the human camp, what we assume is to find wives for two of his sons, he is encountered with a wickedness that is overwhelming he cannot handle it. This scene, of animal tossing, cave man like behaviors, and the air filled with cries and hissing, is a pivotal scene. Under the cloak of darkness, a raw piece of meat is thrown over the fence. A longhaired, bearded man, walking like an ape, grabs the meat. He scuttles off, passing in front of Noah. Noah watches him as his chipped teeth bite into the raw meat. As the ape-like man turns to face Noah, he hisses. In that moment the man’s face looks an awful lot like Noah’s. (I only caught this the second time I saw the film.)

Noah sees wickedness in himself. And it changes him. It hardens his heart. And he becomes obsessed with his own wickedness. He is not worthy to be saved, so clearly God’s intention is for him to perish as well.

Is this in the Bible? Literally, no. The Genesis writer provides no account of what happened while Noah and his family were on the ark. But, it is Biblical? We can argue that it is.

We believe that God created the world, and it was good. We believe that God created humanity in the image of God, and God declared that it was good. We believe that sin entered the world and it distorted the image of God within humanity. We believe that the journey we call faith is a journey of redemption, restoring the image of God back to its original beauty. We believe that in the midst of this journey, evil exists. We believe that we all have fallen short of the glory of God. We believe that through accepting the power of Jesus Christ, we reject the spiritual forces of wickedness.  And we believe that the day will come when there will be no more violence, no more crying, no more pain and suffering, only the peace of the Kingdom of God.

Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin.

Jesus Cried

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.com“Jesus cried.” (John 11:35)

Someone told me the other day that her husband’s favorite Bible verse was “Jesus cried.” It is known as the shortest verse in the Bible.  It was her husband’s favorite verse because when he was in confirmation everyone was required to memorize a Bible verse of their choosing.  So, he chose, “Jesus cried.”

It’s a little verse and easy to memorize. But it holds a lot of weight. It is one of those rare moments in the Bible when we see Jesus’ humanity. We almost forget that while Jesus was divine, Jesus was also human. And maybe because it makes us uncomfortable to think of Jesus as human. If Jesus cried and got angry, than does that mean Jesus had acne and farted?

Jesus was God and human.

So, why did Jesus cry?

Sunday school has taught us that Jesus cried out of grief for his friend Lazarus. His friend died. We too would cry at the grave of our friend. When death has wrapped itself around us, all we can do is cry.

But some have suggested that Jesus was not only grieving the physical death of his friend, but the spiritual death of his people. They were still waiting for the Messiah to ride in on a grand, white horse and stomp out the evil Romans. But the Messiah who stood before them crying was not about war, but about love.

In a few chapters, John will be telling us how Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples. He was a servant to the end.  Yet, here were God’s people who were spiritually blind (dead?) to what God was up to.

I imagine that there are still moments when Jesus cries. Perhaps when students are being shuttled into cold, school buses because of a bomb threat, Jesus cries. When a student lashes out in rage and harms others at his school, Jesus cries. When leaders chose hurtful words to make a point, Jesus cries. When his word is used to keep people out, Jesus cries. When a pastor publicly criticizes another church on social media, Jesus cries.

Jesus’ tears, however, turns into a shout. He shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus was the original walking dead. The episode must have been an astonishing site! The stone is rolled away; the stench of death breezes out; the dead man hopples out with the grave clothes still in place. Jesus is the giver of life.

Frances Taylor Gench, one of my New Testament professors from seminary, has written:

If actions speak louder than words, Jesus could have provided no more radical demonstration of his power to give life – both in the present, on this earth, and as a promise that on the last day he will raise the dead.

There is still spiritual death among us today. We could call is spiritual immaturity. We could call it spiritual fatigue. Whatever you call it, Jesus calls us out of it into life.

How will we respond?

Noah: The Bible vs. The Film

noah-poster2I saw the new film, Noah this weekend. There has been a lot said and written about the film. Why you should go see it or why you shouldn’t go see it. For generations of filmmakers, the Bible has been a primary source of creativity. And for generations, there have been critics who are disappointed that the film does not follow the Bible to a tee.

I am planning to write a review of the film, but in the meantime, I put together a chart comparing the Biblical narrative of Noah as found in Genesis chapters 6-9 to the film. Yes, there is a lot more in the film than in the Bible. The Biblical story is only 4 chapters long, which is not a three hour movie.

The purpose of this post and the chart below is simply a comparison. That is all. There will be more later.

Verses

Bible

Film

Gen. 6:1-4 Nephilim are introduced. Walter Brueggemann calls them “strange giants.” The Watchers
 Gen. 6:3 Mankind has 120 years left on earth Time frame is not given, but the idea is there
Gen. 6:5-7 Earth is filled with wickedness; God decides to wipe it clean. God speaks, but to whom? We see the wickedness as depicted by the barrenness of the earth. God reveals the plan to Noah in a dream.
Gen. 6:8-10 Noah finds favor with God. Noah and his family are the only ones caring for God’s creation.
Gen. 6:11-17 God tells Noah the plan and what to do. This is all done through a dream and then visions from berries from Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah the son of Enoch.
Gen. 6:18 Noah, his wife, and their sons, and their sons’ wives will enter the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and one wife enter the ark.
Gen. 6:19-21 God instructs Noah to bring animals onto the ark and food for the humans and the animals. God sends the animals to the ark. Noah’s family puts them to sleep for the log voyage.
Gen. 6:22 Noah did as God commanded.
Gen. 7:1-5 Another account of God instructing Noah to bring animals into the ark. God sends animals to the ark.
Gen. 7:6-16 The flood begins. “springs from the great deep burst forth” and “rain fell.” Ditto. And its very dramatic.
Gen. 7:15 The animals “came to Noah” The animals come to Noah.
Gen. 7:17-20 It rained for 40 days. We aren’t told how long it rained, but it rained.
Gen. 7:21-24 Everything outside the ark, died. True. Except for one man who sneaked on the ark, which was mostly a plot mover.
Gen. 8:1-2 The rain stops. Ditto. The sun comes out.
Gen. 8:3-5 Ark rest on Mt. Ararat The mountain looks like “grandfather’s mountain” where they built the ark.
Gen. 8:6-9 Noah sends out a raven. Then sends a dove, but finds no earth. Noah’s wife and youngest son send raven, finds nothing. Then sends a dove.
Gen. 8:10-12 After seven days, Noah sends the dove again. Dove comes back with olive leaf. The dove mentioned above comes back with olive leaf.
Gen. 8:13-14 The earth is completely dry. Dryness happens.
Gen. 8:15-19 Come out of the ark, be fruitful and mulpity. Noah says this at the very end of the movie.
Gen. 8:20 Noah builds an altar. There is something altar like in the last scene when the family gives thanks.
Gen.8:21-22 God promises never to destroy the earth because of mankind. God never speaks in the film.
Gen. 9:1-7 God gives blessing to the men to be fruitful and increase in number.God says, “for in the image of God has God made man.” Noah speaks this blessing in the last scene.The theme of being created in the “image of God” runs throughout the whole film.
Gen. 9:8-11 God establishes covenant with Noah. Again, God does not speak.
Gen. 9:12-17 God sets a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant. The very, very last bit of screen time is the rainbow.
Gen. 9:18-23 Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk from the wine, and lays uncovered in his tent.Ham sees his father’s nakedness and tells his brothers.

Shem and Japheth walk backwards to cover up their father, no not to see his nakedness.

After the family gets off the boat, Noah drinks wine, gets drunk, and lays uncovered on the beach.Ham sees his father’s nakedness.

Shem and Japheth walk backwards to cover up their father, no not to see his nakedness.

Gen. 9:24-28 Noah wakes from his wine and finds out what Ham had done and curses Ham’s son, Canaan. Noah blesses Shem and Japheth.Noah dies. Ham leaves the family on his own.Noah and family are still alive as movie ends.

Snake Bites

Read Numbers 21:4-9.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comAnne was a college student who loved the church. She volunteered as often as she could at the church. She, like her mother and grandmother before her, grew up in this local church. During her devotional time one day, she realized that she had gotten caught up in the complaining about the church and others. It was easy, those around her were complaining too.

So, Anne decided that during Lent whenever she complained about something, she had to do something about that which she complained. It worked for a few weeks. But she finally slipped, and joined in complaining about the lack of Vacation Bible School leadership or planning.

She remembered later her Lenten promise that if she complained about something she had to do something about that which she complained. So, the next day she went to the pastor’s office and said that she would like to be the Vacation Bible School director. And she did.

Anne left that experience with a greater sense of her vocation. She later would go to seminary and become a Christian educator. And she kept that Lenten promise beyond that Lent. Whenever she complains about something, she has to do something about that which she complained.

Complaining is nothing new to the Christian. It seems to be second nature. The problem is that complaining can bite us or burn us. In the scripture text from Numbers, that is what is happening. The people of God are complaining. At first they complain about Moses’ leadership, before they turn their complaints towards God. Instead of celebrating their salvation and freedom from slavery, they complained.

God responds by sending poisonous snakes. The snakes bite the people, giving them more to complain about I’m sure. The bites felt like fire. Eventually the people confessed and repented for their complaining. But God does not take away the poisonous snakes. Moses prays to God for the people. Moses receives an answer and follows the instructions:

Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live (Numbers 21:9).

The people’s complaining lead to snake bites. After confessing of their wrong doing, there is no snapping of fingers on God’s part to eliminate the snakes. Repentance requires an action on our end just as well as on God’s end. The word repent means something like “U-turn.” When we repent, we turn around back to God. While sin separates us from God, repentance returns us to God. But we, as the sinner, are the ones who take action and turn around to God. 

The bronze serpent lifted high should remind us of the Christ who was lifted high on the cross. While the bronze serpent healed the Hebrews of their snake bites, Christ on the cross heals us our sin. But, just as the Hebrews had to turn and look at the bronze serpent, we have to make that U-turn to set our eyes upon Christ. Why? Because it is through Christ that we are reconciled to God.

Consider how you can use this season of Lent to turn around and look up to the Christ who redeems.

Path of Grace

Read Psalm 121.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comMy family used to have a collie named Penny. She was a rescue. A friend Dad’s found her in a ditch and we adopted her. I loved that dog. She was sweet and kind. She was loving and nurturing. Penny, like so many other dogs, always knew when I needed her.

Behind our hour in rural Hanover County, was a path that lead to the creek and would wind around to my grandparents’ property. Penny would accompany me on my treks though the woods. Penny would walk next me, but most of the time she would run ahead of me. Once a few times ahead of me, she would turn around to make sure I was still following the path, as if she is saying, “It’s okay. The path is clear.” Penny truly was “man’s best friend,” for me.

God is like that. It may seem like a cliche to say that life is a journey, but it is. And God walks with us on that journey. In fact, God will walk ahead of us at times, turn to make sure that we are still on the path. The journey is getting from where we stand on the path to where God is beckoning us to be. As if God is telling us that, “it’s okay. The path is clear.”

The journey that God is beckoning us on could be various things. It could be starting a new job, or starting a new ministry. It could be seeing your child for who he or she really is. It could be meeting God again for the first time. It could be anything. Whatever the journey is, Psalm 121:8 offers us hope on that journey:

The Lord will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.

The image of God, like a lovable dog, running ahead of us on our path and looking back to make sure we are following, is a beautiful image of sanctification. God does not leave us where we are on the path, instead God calls us – beckons us – to a closer relationship with God.

Sanctification is grace for the journey. Let’s face it, while life is a journey, life is messy. We are going to get dirty, and that’s okay. The point of the journey is to restore the image of God within us. And at the center of that restoration – at the center of this journey – is grace.

And what an amazing gift that is!

I pray during this season of Lent that you stay on the path you are walking and know that God is with you.

The Third Wheel

Read Genesis 3:1-7.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comYou’ve heard the phrase, “third wheel,” before, I’m sure. It refers to the third person who is hanging out with a couple. Often times the couple might invite the third person to hang out with them out of pity. When this happens, the third wheel is usually left out of the decision making process, and tags along with what the couple has decided and planned.

We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. The serpent comes along and tempts them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the very tree God told them not to eat from. Once they do,

They both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. (Genesis 3:7a)

A conversation takes place. A decision is made. All by the couple. While God was a part of the scene in the verses before, now God is reduced to being the third wheel. There along for the ride, but left out of the conversation that leads to a decision.

How true is that in our own lives? We carry a Bible with us, a cross in our pocket, or wear the cross around our neck. We carry God with us, but that’s all we do. We forget to include God in the decision making that we do on a minute-by-minute basis.

The couple is riddled with guilt after they commit the act they knew they were not suppose to. This act of eating the fruit of the tree is theologically referred to as, “The Fall.” It is referred as such because in that moment humanity for generations to come were separated from God. This separation is the result of God being the third wheel.

Sometimes the third wheel feels uncomfortable when the couple cuddles or sits close on the couch. It gets awkward for the third wheel. But not for God. God wants to be a part of what we are doing. God wants to a part of our lives. It is up to us to let God be more than just a cross in our pocket or around our neck.

How is God a third wheel in your life?

Bible’s Major Players: Tamar

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. David’s daughter Tamar is one from the Old Testament.

Tamar was the daughter of Maacah and David. She is the only daughter of David’s mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In an interesting story, worthy of Jerry Springer, David’s oldest son (and first in line for the throne) Ammon finds himself madly – madly – in love with his half-sister Tamar. He pretends to be ill and asks for Tamar to come and prepare food for him. Ammon is able to get  his half-sister with him and rapes her.

Ammon, however, does not stop outdoing himself. Now that Tamar is no longer a virgin, custom says that she must be married. Even if it his her half-brother. She pleas with Ammon to marry her, but he refuses. In fact, Ammon’s love for her has been replaced with hatred. He wants nothing to do with her anymore. It seems that he got what he wanted, and was satisfied.

source: http://thebricktestament.com
source: http://thebricktestament.com

Tamar is forced out the door and into the streets.

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went. (2 Samuel 13:19, Common English Bible)

This act outside of Ammon’s house, Virginia Stem Owens suggests, is a “symbol of her degradation.” The rape along was enough to humiliate and shame Tamar, but to leave her unmarried was worse. She would be lowered in the eyes of her society. She no longer, without the man who took her virginity, had the possibilities of marriage or children. Her future was taken from her and ruined.  And so, “Tamar, a broken woman, lived with her brother Absalom” (2 Samuel 13:20b).

How have you been left broken by others?

Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.

Bible’s Major Players: David

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. King David is one from the Old Testament.

The Bible says that when Samuel anointed David, the “spirit of the Lord came mightily upon” him (1 Samuel 16:13). In the very next verse, the reader is told that an evil spirit in Saul replaces the spirit of the Lord. Barry Bandstra notes that in “the Hebrew Bible the spirit of God is the power God bestows on select individuals that enables them to perform their God-given task.” God had chosen David.

The first narrative of David is when he confronts the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17). In this act of defeating the giant, David was able to gain much popularity with the people, including Saul’s own family. This began Saul’s rich jealously and attempts to kill David, failing again and again. David would spend much of his time in hiding from Saul.

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While in hiding, David becomes something like a Biblical Robin Hood. As Walter Harrelson explained, David “gathers around him a band of desperadoes, and is able both to prevent capture by Saul’s men and to become the most feared and respected man in all Judah.” When he grows tired of being an outlaw and on the run, he and his “band of desperadoes” join the Philistine camp in their struggle against Saul. The whole time, however, they are raiding the tribes south of Judah. This only increased Saul’s determination to rid of David.

Meanwhile, the Philistines have pushed Israel back toward the Jordan River. Saul attempts to take a stand at Mount Gilboa. However, Saul and his sons die in this battle, leaving the throne empty. David would claim his divinely ordained role as King.

David, from the beginning of his kingship, would lead with what many scholars have called “political savvy.” At the news of Saul’s defeat and death, David made a point not to approve nor condone the death of Saul. As Bandstra points out, “He did nothing that might serve to alienate the loyal followers of Saul,” which made up most of North Israel.

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Michelangelo’s David

David would set his capital at Hebron in Judah. David would rule over the southern tribes, and after the northern tirbes fell apart under Ishbaal, he would rule the northern tribes as well. It would be the first time that all the tribes of Israel would be united. David then decided to move his capital to Jerusalem, so as not to give the impression that he was favoring the south, and called it “the city of David” to show that it was under his command. After chasing the Philistines out from around the city, he made another political move that would change things. He moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, setting the city as the political and religious center for the newly unified nation.

David’s heart became troubled after the nation was safe. He was living in a great house, while the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence among God’s people, was in a tent. David set out to build a great house for God. God, however, through the prophet Nathan, told David to not build such a house. Instead, God promised that God would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:16).

This is a play on words, as Walter Brueggemann suggests. The word “house” can mean either “temple” or “dynasty.” Daivd would not build God a temple, but God would build David a dynasty. This will become the first dynasty of the Hebrew people.

As great as David was as a king, he would make some pretty bad decisions. Despite these mistakes, God still supported him. Although Samuel disapproved of the people’s desire for a monarch, God used the line of David to shepherd his people.

How has God used you through your successes and mistakes?

Resources: Bandstra, Barry L. Reading the Old Testament. Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Scandal 2.21: Any Questions?

Ponderings - Scandal Season 2 recapsUsing the backdrop of Cyrus giving a press conference on Mellie’s unveiling of Fitz’ private life, this episode takes us on another wild ride with Fitz and Olivia and learning who the mole is.

The President stayed the night at Olivia’s. Cyrus has to bark his way into Olivia’s apartment, walks in on the two of them, and yells, “Get up!” Cyrus is in fix-it mode. As Olivia and Fitz get dressed, Olivia offers to help fix it. Fitz tells her no, “stand down.” If the relationship is going to work, they have to take out the business part of it.

Olivia comes into the office learning that the good news is that Cyrus is not the mole, but whoever the mole is knows about Defiance. Olivia quickly goes to the safe to make sure the Cytron memory card is still in there. David is present, he claims to be a Gladiator.

Mellie is interviewing a new fixer. He’s not quite Olivia Pope, but he knows how to find things in the trash. He manages to get a copy of the President’s speech for Mellie to look at. Mellie refuses to give up Olivia’s name, even to the fixer. She knows Fitz, and she knows he’ll do the right thing.

Fitz’ solution, which is what his speech will be about, is to not run for reelection. Cyrus sees him throwing away his legacy. “I’m in love with a woman,” Fitz says, “who is not my wife.”

Jake Ballard meets Mystery Man in the park again. Mystery Man is not happy with Ballard. They met the night before and Ballard did not share with Mystery Man that the President was with Olivia Pope. The job is simple, keep an eye on Olivia. Ballard shows Mystery Man a picture of Charlie. We know from the Huck flash backs that Mystery Man knows Charlie. But here, he doesn’t let Ballard know that he knows. Mystery Man tells Ballard to bring him the tape of he and Olivia having sex and to find Charlie and bring him in.

When Ballard asks Mystery Man about Cyrus, Mystery Man replies, “I’ll take care of Cyrus.”

Sally Langston makes an appearance, mostly to make us consider that she might be the mole. She and Cyrus are walking down the hall of the White House together:

Sally: You know what the Bible says, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Cyrus: That’s not in the Bible. Not everything is from the Bible.

teach_5986cCyrus is right. The line actually comes from a play written by a guy named William Congreve. Go figure. But the quick dialogue does show how quickly tradition regarding what the Bible says overpowers what the Bible actually says. There is no better way to know what the Bible says than to read it. . . . .for yourself. I know a preacher to teaches preachers not to say, “The Bible says,” without citing where it says it in the Bible. I think that is a good practice.

Harrison thinks Olivia should be his client, because he knows that it won’t be long before her name is associated with the President’s affair. Olivia reminds him that she can take care of herself and that he needs to focus on the task at hand. Cyrus and James have a fight over James’ interview with the First Lady. Finally, Cyrus realizes what happened. James was naive and was used by Mellie. Mellie made it happen for James to get that job at BNC, and requested him to do the interview to get back at Cyrus as much as getting back at the President.

Cyrus and Olivia meet in a park outside the White House. Cyrus tries to convince her to talk sense into Fitz, to make this thing go away. But Olivia is standing down, as she said she would. As Olivia walks away, Mystery Man shows up – more and more all of a sudden. He tells Cyrus that he should have shut down the Fitz-Olivia thing a long time ago. It is clear that these two not only know each other, but have an understanding about not messing with each other’s turf. Mystery Man tells him that his boy Charlie was one of his, and that Cyrus will have nothing to do with anymore.

Ballard, following orders from Mystery Man, tries to take down Charlie. But Charlie is too quick and dodges him. He ends up at Olivia’s office. Everyone has taken an hour to clear their ends, but David Rosen who stayed behind. When everyone returns, Charlie has a gun to David’s head. Charlie wants to be a client. He knows that once he is caught they will kill him. He wants what Huck has. Huck asks Olivia to take care of it, “My world. My rules.”

Ballard failed to get Charlie, but he did give Mystery Man a copy of the tape of him and Olivia. When asked how it was going to be used, Mystery Man basically told Ballard it was non of his business. Cyrus reluctantly accepts that the President is not going to seek a second term. When he goes to ask a staff person to retrieve the candidacy papers, the staff person says she cannot because they were never filed. Turns out they are still on Fitz’ desk.

Cyrus goes to Olivia. Olivia goes to the White House. She talks to him, telling him that he doesn’t want to run because of their relationship, then she will support him. But if decided months ago not to quick because of Defiance, that he shouldn’t give up.

The actions of others affected Fitz and how he understands himself. This pep talk from Olivia is giving him the empowerment and encouragement he needs. At the press conference, he announces he will be seeking a second term.

Huck has Charlie duck taped to a chair, gets a name from him as to who the mole is, and prepares to kill him. Then Quinn comes in, and convinces him that he shouldn’t kill. They let Charlie go. When they get back to the office, Harrison discovers that the Cytron card is gone. Everyone knows at that moment that the Charlie thing was a set-up. He has the card. And who is the mole? Billy Chambers!

But the one giving him the Cytron card is not Charlie, it is David Rosen!