Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: spirituality (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Punching Holes in the Dark

Punching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World, Robert Benson, Abingdon Press, 2016.

I have made it a spiritual practice to carry a journal with me, and use it to write down prayers and reflections. At times it is just a few random scribblings, at other times it is pages of recounting and reflecting on a slice of life. These journals are Moleskins, hardback, and leather bound. Some are plain, and others are adorned with superhero or cartoon characters.

No matter the kind of journal, it holds various scribblings that reveal my heart.

When I read Robert Benson’s Punching Holes in the Dark, it felt a little intrusive. It was like I was holding one of his journals and reading through his scribblings. And with each turn of the page, I began to see what was in his heart.
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Book Review: Channel of Peace

Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11, Kevin Tuerff, River Grove Books, 2017.

September 11, 2001 is a day that very few will ever forget. 9/11 is one of those dates where you will never forget where you were. I was a student at Randolph-Macon College and was walking across campus after my early morning class. As I crossed the lawn in front of the library, I overheard other students talking about planes being flown into a building.

In the car, driving home, I turned NPR on to listen for details. Once home, my mom and I watched as the news replayed, over and over, the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. There are not enough words to capture the gut reaction that we felt as we watched what was happening in New York, Washington, D. C., and Pennsylvania.

The unthinkable had happened.

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Deacon’s Call: Mike Friedrich

I’ve been collecting call stories from my friends who are serving in diaconal ministries – ministries of service – expressed in the United Methodist Church through the provisional and ordained deacon, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and home missioners.  In this post you will hear from Mike Friedrich is a provisional deacon serving as the Emerging Ministries Specialist to the Bridges District of the California Nevada Conference..  Here are Mike’s words: 

Here’s the short version:  I stood in a church one day and out of the blue said to myself, “I gotta be part of this!”

I think you’ll find the longer version is more interesting.  Here it is:

I was raised in a practicing and faithful Roman Catholic family and was personally active spiritually and religiously while attending my Jesuit college. Yet, I fell out of practice when I discovered all the local churches I knew were into families and I was a single 20-something guy.  There was no welcome space for me.

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God Has a Purpose For You

purpose_10509cThis week I’ve stumbled upon some well written blogs by young people pondering faith in their life. Some are searching for purpose in the midst of it all. Others are ready to give up and turn away from this God figure and this thing called faith. One is bravely stepping out onto the bridge of doubt, asking questions about what he believes and why. Another honestly shares about her eating disorder and how Sundays are the hardest days of the week.

It is hard, at times, to acknowledge that God has a purpose for you. Buried deep inside each of us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, is a treasure. This treasure was placed in us by God. What I hear in the blog posts I found this week are voices trying hard to find the treasure within. They are rejecting conformity, which is what the Bible says to do (see Romans 12:2). Yet, they too often do not find or feel support of that from their communities of faith. Which saddens me deeply, for these communities are not fulfilling their purpose of discipleship.

I’m not going to sit here and be one of those Christian guys who tells you that life is going to be perfect if we just accept that God has a purpose for us. Yes, God has a purpose for you. But what is it? What isn’t the right question to ask. I think the better question is, “How do we know what it is?” Discerning, or figuring out, what God’s purpose for us is is not easy. It’s hard! It’s challenging! And sometimes, it’s not fun. In the midst of all of the promises Jesus made, there is one he did not make. He never promised that this thing called being a disciple – being a Jesus follower – would be easy.

So, how do we discern what God’s purpose for us is? In a word: prayer. As we spend time with God through spiritual disciplines or practices like daily devotions, journaling, mediation, and prayer, we begin to discern God’s purpose for us.

When I was a teenager it pissed me off when adults would say that we were the church of the future, like it was some attraction at Walt Disney World. It bugs me still when adults say that about teenagers and young people. You are not the church of the future, you are the church of right now. And I believe strongly that not only does God have a purpose for you, but God has a purpose for you in a community of faith. Partipicate in worship leadership. Lead a service project. Serve on a committee. The church needs you. I’ve been to a lot of church meetings, believe me when I say it, the church needs you.

As teenagers and young people, you have a voice that the Church needs to hear. You have a voice and insight that will make the church stronger and more faithful. To those young bloggers I’ve read this week, God has a purpose for you and it easily may be what you are doing now. So I thank you for your voices. Thank you for being brave enough to share where you are and how the church is or is not apart of that. We need to to hear it. We need to have our eyes opened to the world around us. We need you.

From Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted: An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith:

Missional at its core means “sent.” It is the opposite of “come to us.” So many believers have selected their pet conecpt of the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” but neglect the prerequisite instruction: “Go.” Going is the noble history of the Trinity. God sent Jesus to dwell among fallen humanity – not to visit, not to remain separated, not to rescue. Upon Jesus’ resurrection, God sent the Spirit from the heights of heaven to the heart of every believer, an indwelling.

It’s not that Christian influence is bad (well, not all bad), but followed exclusively it distorts our perception of real life and our role in it.  We turn a blind eye to the customs, cultures, communities, and contexts where people live their lives with different preferences and worldviews right next door to us.  The problem with Christian segregation is the idea that God asked us to be on mission with Him, sent us to some group of people somewhere, and wants us to minister to them in a way that meets their needs by speaking their language.

Guest Post: The Baileys

This post is written by Kelly Conner, currently a student at Duke Divinity and a graduate of Randolph-Macon College. She writes about what it meant to her to be a Bailey Scholar.

My name is Kelly Conner, and I am a first year MDiv student at Duke Divinity School.  I really view it as God’s leading and influence in my life that I have been afforded the opportunity to be here at Duke, and every day when I set foot on campus, it defies belief that I could possibly be so lucky to be learning in this environment.

During my first semester here, it became obvious that my time at Randolph-Macon (both in class and as a Bailey Scholar) prepared me well for my classes here.  Because I was a Religious Studies major, I had already been exposed to theological language and I had already begun to do some deep thinking about the nature of God, Scriptural interpretation, and spiritual disciplines.  That part, the academic part, was obvious to me:  I didn’t struggle in the same way that some of my friends did over words like “eschatology” that Duke professors automatically assumed students would already know; I knew to read the Old Testament like a continuous narrative and that its organization and progression were already familiar to me; I had already been introduced to some Church history so that I could conceptualize some basics about what we were discussing in class.  That part was easy to see.  But what I am just starting to realize is that the Bailey Scholarship program itself gave me just as much preparation as the academic side of Randolph-Macon did.

The Bailey Program is not simply a scholarship; yes, we receive tuition funds, but what is equally important is the community we have as “Baileys.”  We come together once a week to share a meal and reflect.  We also study Scripture during this time and hear about important ministries which are taking place on campus and in the lives of our fellow Baileys.  From the other students, I learned what it means to be in community.  We prayed for one another and discussed problems of a theological and a daily nature.  We genuinely cared for another and encouraged one another in the face of difficulty.  We learned how to join one another in ministry and came to one another for advice.  This gave me more preparation than I realized, especially when I arrived at Duke Divinity School and encountered an academic community of gracious, kind, prayerful, contemplative, often stressed, and yet merciful professors and students.  If my classmates know I’m having a rough week, they will stop and pray for me in the hall.  If a classmate is struggling, they always find a hug and a listening ear.  We have formed for ourselves accountability groups and conversations that offer reflection, commentary on class material, and, occasionally, an outlet for frustration.  This reminds me of my time in the Bailey Program with my fellow Baileys.

Despite being at Duke, a place of academic rigor, all I really seem to find is more questions.  I’ve been told that this is a common, normal experience; after all, only God knows all the answers.  I suppose I could say that I am learning to appreciate God’s mystery more and more, because the more I learn about theology and Christian thought, the more I realize that God is too big to be contained in these principles.  Ultimately, it is up to us to participate in a community of believers, like a church or our fellow Bailey students, and discuss how we see God moving and what we think the truth is.  Sometimes, we learn more from one another than we could in any classroom.

For more information about the Bailey Scholarship program at Randolph-Macon, visit their website.  Or click email and we’ll send you information.

Mary Had a Baby Boy

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

My cousin is in the hospital awaiting the arrival of her first baby. As I’ve been talking with her and praying for her, I’ve also been thinking about what it must have been like that first Christmas. And the more I think about it, I think about how incredible the incarnation is. God became a human being.

God became a baby.

God became just like us. And in that moment, God was poor and helpless. The God of Creation became a crying baby boy. And the prophet Isaiah calls this baby, “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Before anything else, Jesus was Mighty.

Before changing water into wine. Before teaching the masses. Before walking on water. Before raising Lazarus. Before the Cross. Before it all, the baby was Mighty. This baby is the Mighty One who saves. This baby is the Mighty One who will change the world.

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a sermon preached to a church in Havana, Cuba, said, “But now it is true that in three days, Christmas will come once again. The great transformation will once again happen. God would have it so. Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given. All crying will be stilled. No tears shall flow. No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten.”

Guest Post – Come to the Manger, The Heralds of Christ: A Sermon

A sermon preached on Sunday, December 16, 2013 at Heritage United Methodist Church on John 1:1-18.

Lord Jesus, I know that I do not have all the answers. But you, gracious God, sent your Word, to teach us and make us new. You give us your Spirit so we can understand what you have to say to us. Come to us now and shed light on your word that we may be filled with grace and truth. Amen.

The world is often a dark place. Friday we were reminded of this darkness by a devastating school shooting that left 26 dead. This violent action taken against children, teachers and family leave us with many questions. Why did this happen? What are we supposed to do now? And in the words of the Psalms, “How long, O Lord?” These questions can leave us feeling lost in the darkness, not knowing which way to turn or how we can recover from such a wound. And there are no easy answers.

Sadly, this darkness is nothing new. We have experienced it before. From shootings in other areas of the country to war around the world, violence destroys life each day. There are places where genocide is still common place, where women are raped and abused and simply walking to the grocery store is not safe. We come to these moments not only acknowledging our own losses, but also remembering that our world is in pain and suffering. We are crying out for someone to rescue us from this destruction and terror.

And in the midst of this darkened world, God made a choice. God chose to send Jesus, the Word made flesh, to a people lost in darkness. John 1:14 says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This living among us is a word that means tabernacle, literally, “pitched his tent.” This word tabernacle reminds us of how God dwelt with the people in the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Jesus also made his home and dwelling place among the people. He is God incarnate, embodying the love and knowledge of God. The truth that we find in Christ brings us ultimate freedom. And in times such as these, we need to see and hear the truth. We need to hear that because the Word became flesh- lived, died, and rose again, that we can also have new life in Christ, freeing us from the bonds of sin and death.

In John 1:6 we hear, “There was a man sent by god, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John the Baptist comes to proclaim that Christ is coming in more ways than one. Not only will he baptize persons later in the gospels before Jesus begins his full time ministry, but John testifies to Christ even in the womb. When Mary visited Elizabeth, the Baby John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of Christ. Elizabeth is the first person in the gospels to claim aloud that Jesus is Lord, affirming her son’s excitement and making a way for Christ in the world. John the Baptist points to Christ with his words and actions. John was saying, it’s not about me, it’s about God. It’s not about me, it’s about the Messiah. After all, he himself was not the light, but he was a witness to the light.

A witness is one who testifies to an event or the truth. Those who herald Christ announce God’s presence in the world in Jesus Christ by testifying to his life and ministry. During advent we are all invited to proclaim that Christ is coming into the world. We each have a choice to point to Christ, or to point to something other than Christ- which will we choose? And when we choose to point to Jesus, we are saying that it isn’t about us, but it is about a greater truth that exists in the world. The truth of the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.

There were others who testified and proclaimed Christ’s coming, such as the angels. Angels are messengers of God. An angel named Gabriel is the chief messenger in our advent texts. This angel appears to Zechariah in Luke 1 saying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” Gabriel visits Mary with the words, “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you” and “do not be afraid.” Another angel appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “do not be afraid.” Can you see a pattern? God is with you, do not be afraid. And when the angel came to the shepherds in the fields, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, I am bringing you good news, of great joy for all the people.”

Can it be good news? Can we be joyful? But it is the truth, it is the good news. God is with you, do not be afraid. Christ is coming! We desperately need to hear this message this year. Hurricanes? God is with you. Floods? Do not be afraid. School shooting? Christ is coming. Death? Jesus is the light of the world. Destruction? Jesus is Lord. You see the good news is still good. The good news is still good. Repeat this after me, The good news, is still good. I want you to turn to your neighbor and say “the good news, is still good.” Our job is to proclaim this good news from the roof tops, in our homes, in our places of employment, to our friends, and even to ourselves. And we need to hear it often.

Jesus Christ is coming into the world to make everything right. Christ comes to shed light on our fundamental need for God and to invite us to join in the work Christ is doing in the world. We can join in that work by offering love, peace, and hope to a desolate place. We can join in Christ’s work by joining in solidarity and prayer with those who suffer and with those who mourn. We can join in that work by using our power to serve others rather than oppress. We can be a part of Christ’s life by washing our neighbors’ feet and speaking up for those who have no voice.

You are Christ’s heralds. You are the ones who announce that Jesus is coming to release the captives and set at liberty those who are oppressed. You are the ones who have come to this sanctuary to receive light that you might hold out a candle for another.

Today, you get to carry the light into a dark world and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. You get to tell the world that the darkness will never overcome the light. You get to speak the truth- that the good news is still good. Amen.

Resources:

Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: Year C. (2012). Allen, Andrews, Ottoni-Wilhelm, Editors. Westminster-John Knox.

Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4. Bartlett and Taylor, Editors. Westminster-John Knox.

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.

 

Amen.

Prayer for Halloween

On this hallowed evening, may the Holy Spirit fill us with the tricks of the trade of mask-making. In the same way that you call us to imagine ourselves in others’ shoes, call us to try on the faces, the masks, the voices, and the characters of those who fascinate and captivate us, those whom we fear, those whom we adore, those who have gone before us.  Guide little ones, elders, and everyone in-between safely as they cross paths with strangers, knock on neighbor’s doors, and open their own front doors. Tonight is a thin place – where darkness and light, heaven and earth, life and death, fear and awe dance so closely together. Saint us, trick, us betwixt us, treat us, beg us, and hallow us as we hallow your name.

Prayer by Elizabeth D. Barnum from Before the Amen: Creative Resources for Worship.

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