Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: John the Baptist (page 1 of 2)

YouTubevotinal: Bed Sheets

Simon Tofield Simon's Cat for Magazine interview. 24 October 2009

Simon Tofield Simon’s Cat for Magazine interview. 24 October 2009


Changing the bed sheets is one of those necessary chores. You watch the sheets, take the old sheets off the bed, and then put the warm, clean sheets on the bed. Putting clean sheets on the bed just right can be a change all its own. Add a curious cat, and it becomes even more challenging.

Simon’s Cat has a collection of short films on YouTube. The most recent film is called Bed Sheets.

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3 Shades of Grace: Justifying Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

Read about prevenient grace here.

“Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and God will give you more grace.” (John Wesley)

Through prevenient grace we are made aware of our sinfulness and our need for divine grace. Along with that awareness comes an invitation which we can choose to respond to or not. When we do respond to the invitation, we experience the second shade, or movement, of grace: justifying grace.

Justifying grace pardons us of our sins and makes us right with God. Again, God acts. This time through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of what God did through Jesus out of a great love for us that we have this amazing grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is considered the ground of justification. It is the basis or foundation of our salvation.

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved gift given to us. Theologian Randy Maddox refers to grace in the Wesleyan understanding as responsible grace. What he means by that is that God’s grace gives us the ability to respond. Faith is the response on our part to that gift of grace. To claim faith is to do two things: repent and believe. John the Baptist began his ministry with just such a call to repentance and believing. Jesus summarizes the gospel in this way, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).  Paul, throughout Acts and his epistles, preached a similar message.

In the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the word for repent means “to turn around.” In other words, we make a U-Turn, we change the direction we are headed in. John Wesley called repentance, “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” All sin is lack of acknowledgement of and separation from God, while all holiness is being fully aware and fully acknowledging God.

The younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 provides a good example of what repenting change looks like. In the parable, the younger son leaves his father, claiming his inheritance early. He parties it away and ends up with a job feeding pigs more food than he can afford. This experience led to a new self-understanding for the son, which lead to a conviction that what he had sinned and he should return home.

When we repent, the change we undergo involves a new self-understanding of who we are as sinners and the need for us to return home. This is what it means to make a U-Turn back to God.

While repenting is the first act, belief is the second act. Belief is more than memorizing scripture and reciting creeds. Belief is putting and having full trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. John Wesley wrote, “To believe in God implies, to trust in him as our strength, without whom we can do nothing . . . . as our help, our only help in time of trouble.” Our minds understand that Christ died for our sins, and our hearts commit to living in Christ.

sixthsenseWesley would save that once we claim the gift of faith, we gain a sixth sense. And not the “I see dead people,” sixth sense. Our eyes are opened and we see the world differently. We are awakened to a spiritual reality, and we see ourselves, others, and the world through that reality. This awakening leads us to respond to faith by doing good. We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the sick, we love as Christ has loved us.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says this about faith and works:

Both faith and good works belong within all all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God’s gracious love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, this does not mean that we will never sin again. Justification cancels sin. When we repent we turn back to God and accept the gift of faith. In justification, we still have the chance to respond. Too often Christians think that salvation is sealed in a single moment. Wesley would add that in that moment we begin a journey. This process of being cleansed and freed from sin is called sanctification. We will look at sanctifying grace in the next post.



Guest Post: Go and Tell

Rev. Alan Combs serves as Pastor at Lane Memorial United Methodist Church in Alta Vista, Virginia.

Read Matthew 11:2-11.

candles_9826cJohn the Baptist is beginning to wonder what’s up with Jesus.  As Stanley Hauerwas points out, John was certain that Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized him. Now he isn’t so sure.  What changed?  Well, for one, John’s in prison for calling Herod out on failing to keep the law.  Even worse, there are a lot of folks who don’t appear to be taking to that whole “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near” message John and Jesus have been proclaiming. [1]

Even John, the one who Jesus describes as “more than a prophet,” the one called to announce the Messiah doesn’t seem to be getting the Messiah he expected or asked for.  So he sends his disciples to speak with Jesus.  He charges them to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response to the question is to ask John to look and listen, through the reports of his disciples, at what is actually happening all around them.  Rather than to remain bogged down in what he thought it meant for the Messiah to come, Jesus challenges John to see the kingdom that is unfolding in their midst:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them (Matthew 11:4-5).

Yes, John is in prison, but those who are disabled and sick are now lifted up, rather than seen as accursed.  Yes, there appear to be many who aren’t paying attention to the arrival of the Messiah, yet as Mary sings in the Canticle this week, Jesus has “lifted up the lowly” and “he has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53).

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Kingdom of God has come near, and it is received first by those who are most in a position to hear it. They are the ones who most easily “take no offence” at Jesus because they have no stake in the powers and principalities that are threatened by this new kingdom in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53). [2]

As we live in the tension between awaiting the birth of our Messiah and the flowering of his kingdom in his return during Advent, we find ourselves again challenged by this Jesus who refuses to be who we try to make him into. This was true even of John, who must have wondered why Jesus didn’t make his disciples fast in the same way John did, and who hung out with people like tax collectors and sinners.[3]

We are constantly surprised we are not getting the Jesus we asked for. Instead, Jesus challenges us to look at the places where his kingdom is actually unfolding.  He meets us on his own terms, and he reaches out to people we may think don’t deserve it.

We are surprised to find a Jesus who actually makes demands on our lives, rather than kindly letting us know that the way we are living is all right with him as long as we are nice people.

We are surprised to find that he’s not upset with John for saying hard words to people in order to lead them (and us) to repentance.  Jesus points out to the crowd:  John’s a prophet, that’s what prophets do.  They speak often unpleasant and unpopular truths to call us to repentance. (Matthew 11:7-9)

Instead, we find a Messiah whose kingdom is breaking into our world to our right and left, but the epicenter resides not in the centers of the powerful.  Instead, we find it in the centers of those who are often marginalized and voiceless.

When we learn to see and hear the signs of this kingdom, we find ourselves charged in the same way as John’s disciples, “Go and tell what you hear and see.”

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible:  Matthew, (Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, pp. 113-114.

[2] Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 115.

[3] Ibid., p. 114.

Guest Post: Make Straight Paths

Randy Timmerman is a graduated Bailey Scholar from Randolph-Macon College and is currently a seminary student at Duke Divinity. Randy’s blog is Messages to Samaria

Slide3Read Matthew 3:1-12

Is everyone ready for Christmas?  I’m certainly not – I’m probably going to be one of those last minute shoppers on Christmas Eve night scrambling through row after row of store aisles looking for that perfect gift.  But my grandmother was not like that.  Her Christmas shopping was done before the end of August hit.  She was always ready when Christmas got here.

But as Christians, how are we supposed to get ready for Christ’s arrival?

This time of year, we hear the phrase “Prepare the way of the Lord” in anticipation for the coming Christ.  It is obligatory to read this passage from Isaiah 40 and Matthew 3 to prepare for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.

But have you noticed the full verse contains more?  It reads, “Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight paths for Him.”

Of the two commands, preparing seems pretty easy; “making paths straight” sounds rougher.  But they go together.  “Making paths straight” is the call to everyone preparing for the coming Lord.

Does this mean that everyone is being called to work to make every literal path in the world straight?  That would require a lot of time, money, and physical labor . . . . .

So if not actual physical labor, what exactly does this call require?

John the Baptist’s sermon in the wilderness focuses on this prophesy from Isaiah.  Here we see John confront the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to the river where he baptized new believers.

John the Baptist was no hypocrite, so the way he reacted to these Jews would demonstrate how he expected us to make paths straight.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” John says, “and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

These are like incredibly harsh words, especially for the season of Advent, but in these words we discover what John means by “…making paths straight.”

The preparation to which John referred was the spiritual preparation of each individual heart.  How do we respond?  By setting aside a few precious moments to reflect, pray, and read our Bibles to ask the Spirit of God to form our hearts to better understanding His word and plan for us.

At the same time, we should strive daily to increase our own spiritual fruits, but not because it eases our way into heaven or because it is commanded of us, but because we want to be like our Savior.

And so today, we celebrate Advent and the joyous meaning behind it, remembering that the call is the same today as it ever has been – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Although her time on earth has passed, Grandma Timmerman prepared for more than just Christmas during the year.  She cultivated spiritual fruits – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – all year long.

Let us all make a renewed effort to spend more time in spiritual preparation and producing New Fruit for our Lord.

Joy Conquers Fear: A Sermon

A sermon preached Sunday, December 16, 2013 at Peakland United Methodist Church.  Scriptures were: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18.

The wilderness.  It was the place where the Hebrews wandered for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.  It was the place where Jesus would go and be tempted for forty days before officially starting his ministry.  And it was the place where John the Baptist lived and preached.

The wilderness is dangerous and inhospitable.  It is barren, rough, and rocky.  It is a place that is unstructured and chaotic.  The wilderness is a place of fear.  We have been in the wilderness this weekend.  We were forced into the reality that the world is not safe and is unpredictable. We have roamed in fear, grief, and horror after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Sometime Friday, a clergy person I know posted on his facebook, “WHY!?!?!”  We have probably all asked the same question at some point.  Why did this happen?  Why does this keep happening?  Will we be safe?

But if we let the words of John echo through our wilderness, we may find the next steps.  John calls for repentance and change.  He calls for the people of God to bear good fruit.  It is not enough, he tells them, to claim your heritage to Abraham, you must act like who you say you are.  To us we hear it is not enough for you to say that you are a Christian, you must act like who you say you are.

In the midst of the barren and inhospitable, John calls for reprioritizing.  In the midst of chaos, John calls the people to focus their lives on God’s love.  And we, like the people in the wilderness of John’s day, ask, “What then should we do?”

John’s answer is preschool worthy.  What then should we do?  We should share.  John gives examples of what to do.  If you have a lot, and your neighbor has nothing, you should share what you have.  It reminds me of the saying, “Live simply, so others may simply live.”  But this sharing goes beyond our material things.  We who claim the Christ Child as our Lord and Savior are to share the love of God with others.  We are to share grace and forgiveness.  We are to share our hugs. We are to share our prayers.

In Philippians 4, Paul tells the church, “do not worry.”  At a time like this, that seems like a tall order.  If anyone knew anything about what it meant to worry, it was Paul.  He had churches that were being bombarded with false theologies and pagan ideas.  The churches were infested with conflict and confusion.  They were looked down upon by the rest of the society.  All of this is tough when you are responsible for one church, but Paul had them scattered all around.  Oh, and Paul was in prison.  Paul knew about worrying.

But Paul goes on to say in Philippians 4, “but handle everything in prayer.”  For Paul, the opposite of worry is prayer.  Instead of worrying and being anxious, Paul says, pray!  Prayer should not be the last resort when we are panic-stricken.  Instead, we should be so tight in our relationship with God, that we open ourselves up to God on a daily basis, so that when we are panic-stricken, we are in a place where we naturally hand things over to God.  We do no worry, we give it God.  Because, at the end of the day, God is in control, not us.

My Dad was an example of this for me.  While he was in the hospital sick with prostate cancer, the meds were leaving him in such disarray that he did not always realize where he was.  So, we took turns staying overnight at the hospital with him.  On the night I stayed, I was a young 20, Dad thankfully was alert to his surroundings. During our conversation that evening, he lifted his hands as high as he could and said, “It’s in God’s hands now.”

It would be easy to say that my Dad was giving up, and to be honest, that’s what I feared was happening.  But the reality was that he was opening himself up to God in such a way that it was natural and easy for him to say, “It’s in God’s hands. I’m not in control. God is in control.”

This experience was a wilderness one for me.  It was a time full of fear and uncertainty. It was a time of sorrow, and a time of hopelessness.  It was difficult to see my Dad, whom I had never seen sick during my childhood, in a hospital bed, barely able to lift up his own hands.

Every year during Advent we come to the wilderness to hear John’s story and his message of repentance and change.  It is a message of transformation and renewal.  There is no getting to Bethlehem and the sweet, little, baby born in the manger without first going through the wilderness.

There is a Native American proverb that goes like this. A grandfather told his grandson about two wolves who were constantly battling inside his heart.  One wolf was greed, hatred, and fear.  The other was love, peace, and kindness.  “Which will win?” asked the grandson.  The grandfather replied, “The one I feed.”  When we open ourselves up to God and live in this tight relationship, we are feeding the wolf of love, peace and kindness.

Paul goes on to say, in Philippians 4, to rejoice!  That too seems like a tall order in moments like these.  We can rejoice, however, because the Lord is near.  One Bible translates as “God lives among you.”  This is a word of comfort, no doubt.  In the midst of our grieving, God is with us.  In the midst of our sorrow, God is with us.  In the midst of loss and tragedy, God is with us.  In the midst of healing, God is with us. These are all causes for rejoicing.  Because God is with us, we discover joy.

This is perhaps why the words from the prophet Zephaniah are so profound.  The Israelites of this generation were surrounded by destruction and exile.  They had failed to listen to God; they had strayed; they had not trusted God.  They were need of renewal and change.

What Zephaniah pronounces is that the crises we face are best addressed in community.  Change and transformation, healing and renewal happen best in community.  Nurturing our relationship with God as well as with others is essential to the Christian faith.    We need each other. The Christian faith is not a solo, rather a choral arrangement.  And at the center of this community is the God who comforts.

Despite the conditions and challenges we face, the pain and disappointment, God is a God who comforts, consoles, and nurtures.  God is a God who hears the cries of God’s children. God has not abandoned God’s people.

The events on Friday showed us that in a moment everything changes.  In a moment 15 first-graders were taken from us.

In a moment a teacher, protecting her students, lost her life.  In a moment the lives of ten individuals in Chicago ended.

In a moment, a father loses his job and a family struggles.  In a moment, an accident leaves a mother in a wheelchair.

In a moment a light begins to shine.  In a moment we discover joy.

And it only took a moment for a baby boy to be born. A baby boy who will change everything.

Go from this place and share. Share the love and grace of God.  Share your prayers.  Share a hug.



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