Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Lent Ponderings (page 2 of 4)

Guest Post: Lost in Suffering

by Erin Davidson 

Read Isaiah 50:4-9a.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comObedient, loyal and steadfast, they’re all big, meaningful words, words that Jesus embodies.  They’re words for us as humans to strive to live and grow into.  As we move through Lent, we experience Jesus’ journey to the cross.  It wasn’t a pleasant one and no matter how much God could have told him about what would happen, Jesus, as a human, wouldn’t have been fully prepared.  Yet throughout this journey of suffering, Jesus remains obedient, loyal and steadfast.  Isaiah writes in this passage about a suffering servant, whether we interpret this servant as the children of Israel waiting to be delivered, or Jesus towards the end of his life, it’s a journey of obedience and God’s steadfastness.

In Isaiah 50:1-3 God essentially asks rhetorically, “Did you really think I have forgotten you?  Did you really think that I’m unable or unwilling to deliver you from this?”  To which God then responds in verses 4-9 that a Savior will come.  Not only will this Savior come but God details some of the suffering he will have to endure.  Throughout it all, this Savior is obedient and loyal to God because he knows God will stay with him the entire time.

Sometimes we get lost in our own “suffering,” forgetting that God is always present with us on our journey.  I cannot imagine being tasked with the role that Jesus had; I also cannot imagine being such a faithful disciple.  However, Isaiah reminds me that God prepares disciples, giving us a “well-instructed tongue” to know the words to use, open ears to listen to those around us.  God equips us with everything needed for the journey ahead and in turn, we must listen and follow.

This year as you read through the stories of Lent, look for examples of obedience, loyalty, and steadfastness. Examine the characters of the story, the words they use, or when they don’t talk. Use their stories to guide how we live our lives as disciples.

Erin B. Davidson is a full time social worker and part time Day Camp Director at Camp Hanover in Mechanicsville, VA.

Guest Post: Jesus Grieved

by Rev. Doug Sasser

Read John 11:1-45.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comWhen I was three, my mother died in an automobile accident.  My father was a college president at the time, and the chairman of his board of directors advised him to get remarried as soon as possible, maintaining that the college needed a first lady and I needed a mother.  Within a year of my mother’s death, my father began courting a woman he would soon marry.  This marriage was not harmonious and I recall frequently hearing them arguing with each other.  After seven years, their marriage ended in divorce.

Although many factors led to divorce, my father’s decision to get remarried so soon after being widowed may not have been healthy for him and his family.  He was given very bad advice by his board chair.  Psychologists agree grief involves a long emotional process.  We must be able to sit with our pain and allow ourselves to heal slowly over time.  When we try to pretend our grieving is done by starting a new relationship, this typically leads to emotional turmoil later.

Once, when I lost a loved one, my friends at church said to me, “This is probably not painful for you because of your faith in God.”  The opposite is true.  God made us and understands what goes on inside of us when we grieve.

The Jews understood no one should have to grieve alone.  Others from the community surrounded Mary as she grieved the death of her brother Lazarus.  Our text describes how the comforters all accompanied Mary as she went outside of the house to greet Jesus.  Some of those gathered noticed Jesus weeping and acknowledged how much he loved this family.  Jesus cries with them just as those who surrounded Mary had.

Others expect Jesus to offer a quick fix by saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  Martha takes on an accusatory tone when she says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  We may ask ourselves why the Son of God stood around blubbering instead of raising Lazarus on the spot.  Elsewhere in the scriptures Jesus healed people without even being physically present.

I believe Jesus responded the way he did because he understood the grieving process.  Lazarus is not resurrected in this passage; he is resuscitated.  He will die again someday.  His family shall grieve his loss for longer than three days.  Jesus understood grief is painful and it takes time.  Through the miracle of the incarnation God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ.  Jesus took on humanity in all of its intricacies.  He knew what it meant to feel pain, sorrow and grief.  Jesus is showing Lazarus’ family how to grieve.

During the season of Lent this is especially evident to us.  Through the scriptures we make the trek down the mountain with Jesus and the three disciples on Transfiguration Sunday.  Then we make the journey with Jesus and the disciples as they travel to Jerusalem.  Along the way we stop as Jesus cries over the city of Jerusalem.  Tension builds as Jesus confronts his enemies after turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.  A bittersweet mood hangs over Jesus and the disciples during the Last Supper.  Jesus is deserted in the garden of Gethsemane when those who vowed to defend him to the death an hour earlier run under the cover of darkness.  While on the cross Jesus expresses the ultimate feelings of rejection when he confesses feeling abandoned by God.  Even after Jesus died on the cross the scripture describes how some disciples hide behind locked doors for fear of Jesus’ enemies.  Other disciples expressed their bewilderment over the death of Jesus with a “stranger” they met on the road to Emmaus.

If we are too quick to rush past the sadness of Holy Week and jump to the empty tomb we are not being true to the witness of the scripture.  Also we are not being true to ourselves as humans.  We cannot appreciate the joy and amazement of Easter morning if we have not experienced the events of Holy Week.  Perhaps this is what Jesus was trying to teach Mary and Martha.  Before new life can be celebrated, mourning must occur.  Join those who surrounded Mary in this text.  Allow yourself to grieve, feel pain and cry.  When we allow ourselves space and time to feel pain, we can properly heal.  Jesus Christ, who sits with us and cries with us, is also the one who will raise us to new life.

Rev. Doug Sasser serves the Franklin Charge on the Danville District of the Virginia United Methodist Church. 

Guest Post: Lent is Waiting

by Rachel Mastin

Read Psalm 130.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comI have always loved the psalms. No matter where you are in life, you can find yourself in the psalms. And when you find yourself, look next to you, or behind you, or in front of you and you can find God, right there with you. Psalm 130 is part of a small group of psalms (120-134) that are sung by pilgrims who are on the road to Zion. And as we know, Zion is on a hill. They are literally, and figuratively, going up, out of the depths as they work through this psalm. We do not have a pure lament, nor are we completely in celebration. Rather these verses move us through different moods and feelings as the pilgrims walk. There are moments of lament, there are moments of celebration, and there moments of many things in between.

Though we could rest anywhere in these eight verses, I think the place that hits the closest for me is in the waiting. Lent is a time of waiting, of reflection, of repentance. The Psalmist is in the depths, cries out to the Lord and then, faithfully and with hope- he waits. The beauty and comfort of verses 5-6 is that you are not waiting alone.

Years ago my father had a liver transplant. It was supposed to be a fairly quick procedure, just five or six hours of surgery. By the time we got to this point we had been waiting for months. Waiting to see if other treatments worked, waiting to see if his cancer had spread, waiting for him to be moved to the top of the transplant list, waiting for the right donor liver to become available. And on this day, a sunny but cool Thursday in November, we sat at that hospital waiting. His surgery didn’t go as planned, and we waited. For twelve hours to talk to his surgeons and another three until we could put our eyes on him and know he had made it through.

I would be lying if I said that we spent that entire time praying, but it was certainly a large part of it for me. My entire family was gathered in the hospital and as we walked the hallways, tried to get information, made small talk with others who were also waiting, and turned to each other to ask what could possibly be taking so long, God was with us. In the frustration, concern, and confusion; in the small talk and the pacing and then, finally, in the relief, God was with us.

As we go about the rest of this lenten season we may linger in the depths, we may be steadily climbing up, not looking back, singing songs of forgiveness and joy on the way. We may bounce back and forth, climbing to the top and falling back down. Wherever we are, may we always know that God is with us, and may we look at our situation with the hope of Jesus Christ.

Rachel Mastin serves as the Christian Formation and Mission Coordinator at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Richmond,VA. 

Guest Post: The Revealing Light

by J. Alan Sharrer

Read Ephesians 5:6-14.

Key Verse: “You used to be like people living in the dark, now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord. So act like people of the light and make your light shine.” (Ephesians 5:8-9a)

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comOne feature of the smartphone that has come in handy more times than I can count (besides actually using it to, you know, call someone) has been the flashlight function. It seems pretty basic, but when a situation has arisen where I’ve needed a a boost of light, the app has never failed to disappoint me. Sometimes I’ve needed to make sure the path our family is walking on is clear of any upcoming obstructions. Sometimes I’ve had to retrieve a lost pacifier in a pitch black room without waking up sleeping children. Sometimes I’ve successfully navigated through the house at 3 AM without stubbing my toe on a building block or door jamb only because I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app.

Light is a powerful thing–so powerful, in fact, that it can sweep away darkness and direct people in the way they need to go (think of a lighthouse). Jesus told a large gathering, to this effect, “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

It’s very easy to look around us as we shine the light of Jesus and notice the never-ending parade of lewdness, depravity, and sin that threatens to consume everything it gets near.

But we need to stop and consider something else with our flashlight first.


In today’s reading, Paul shares a sobering reminder that we all were once in the darkness, kept away from God due to our sin. But Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changed all that. As a result, our faith in him transformed us into “people of the light” (v. 8). In order to shine, however, we’re encouraged to be five things in the passage–good, honest, truthful, non-partakers of evil deeds, and exposers of the darkness (vs. 9-11). To do these, we need to consider our own hearts. We might be honest in the big things of life, but what about the small things, like being undercharged at a restaurant? When a friend asks us how we’re doing and we respond with “Good,” are we telling the honest truth? Are we one way in public life yet harbor a secret life that, if found out, would surprise, shock, and shame those close to us?

Take some time today to consider these questions and ask God to take his flashlight and shine it on you.  By confessing and asking forgiveness, those areas of darkness can be eliminated so you can be better used for his glory.

When the flashlight shines on us, may we be found full of Jesus’ light and love, ready to reflect it for the world to see.

J. Alan Sharrer is a Senior Writer at HollywoodJesus.com.

Guest Post: Monsters in the Dark

by Steve Norton

Read Luke 9:1-41.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.com“Don’t leave the room, Daddy.  There’s a monster hiding in my closet.”

It’s a situation that is familiar to many of us.  You’re putting your child to bed and they won’t settle.  Despite all your assurances to the contrary, they remain convinced that something or someone is hiding in the shadows of their bedroom.  Exhausted, you turn on the lights so that your child can see for themselves that there’s nothing to be afraid of and hope that this helps them to calm down and go to sleep.

There’s a mystery to darkness that often causes anxiety among people.  Regardless of age, a fear of the unknown can grip anyone and set their imagination ablaze with the most horrible of scenarios.  The quiet becomes deafening and the shadows, menacing.  In these moments, light becomes a source for hope.  Surrounded by the night, many will cling to the smallest flicker of a flame for comfort.

And yet, sometimes, there are people that have been in darkness for so long, they fear the light.

As we continue forward in this season of Lent, we find ourselves in the midst of this tension between light and dark.  Moving towards Good Friday, we become increasingly attentive to the darkness that builds in the distance (not to mention, within ourselves) yet also prepare for the light of hope that follows.  Jesus was keenly aware of this contrast, constantly reminding the Disciples of what is to come.

“Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” he states honestly.

Focusing on the presence of his light, Jesus’ ministry was based on the premise that his truth could cut through the shadows and reveal God’s hope for humanity.  An interesting example of this tension comes in John 9 as Jesus pauses to heal a man who was born blind.  Placing mud on the man’s eyes and instructing him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, the man immediately rejoices and begins to share his story with those around him.  However, his excitement causes such a disturbance that he is immediately brought before the Pharisees in order to explain what has happened. (In fact, the Pharisees were so stunned by these events, that they even drag his parents into the Sanhedrin to confirm his identity!)

However, in the midst of this moment, we bear witness to a much more significant conversation at play.  Although their confrontation appears to focus on the matter of the man’s healing, the Pharisees are far more interested in the identity of Jesus.  Passionately arguing that Jesus could not be who the man claims him to be, the Pharisees reveal their own spiritual blindness through their inability to see and celebrate the work of God that’s taking place right in front of them.  In other words, whereas the (formerly) blind man both experiences and accepts Jesus as the Son of God, the Pharisees deny themselves that opportunity by their lack of faith.

In some ways, I admit that it’s hard to fully blame the Pharisees for their disbelief.  Although they would have known all the prophesies about the coming Messiah as teachers of the law, it is often another issue entirely to accept the fact that He has arrived (and not in the manner that you expected).  However, because of the hardness of their hearts, they also reveal themselves as the ones who are truly blind to the reality of God’s Kingdom.  While the blind man celebrates his newfound sight at the hands of the present Messiah, the Pharisees are left stunted by their lack of vision.

As we journey in this Lenten season, this conversation about the identity of Christ should lie close to our hearts as we grapple with the significance of the Cross.  In moments of darkness such as these, we yearn for the light of Christ to shine brightly so that we too might experience the hope that He offers.  Although there are those who refuse to see Jesus as Lord, our desire to embrace Him brings healing into our lives and opens our eyes to His truth and glory.

In doing so, this light also destroys those pesky monsters once and for all.

Steve Norton is a staff writer at HollywoodJesus.com and blogs at Movio Dei.

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