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Lent | 2023

We invite you to join us this Lenten season as Faculty, Staff, Students and Alums share their thoughts on Lent.

We will add new content weekly, so scroll down to view the provided devotionals.

At the bottom of this page, you will soon find a featured song by our chapel band for the series. The music you hear in each of these videos is the instrumental version of the song.

3.19.23 – Light Dispels Darkness – Ben Redmond

Light Dispels Darkness

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14

I want to start by asking you to close your eyes for three minutes. Ready? Go!

Welcome back! As you let your eyes readjust to the light, take a moment to consider what life would be like if you could not see. What would it be like to not see your friends and family? What would you do if even the simplest tasks were a challenge because of the darkness that you lived with on a daily basis?

This was the story of a man who encountered Jesus in John chapter 9. In the ancient world, being blind was much more debilitating than it is today. We enjoy advanced technology and numerous programs designed to help people who cannot see. A blind person in Jesus’ day could either be cared for by their family or they could beg on the street just to stay alive.

When Jesus encounters this blind man, he is begging on the side of the road. What a moment this must have been when Jesus restored the blind man’s sight! I cannot even imagine what it would be like to see things for the very first time. This man went from darkness to light, simply because he encountered Jesus.

This story is a powerful metaphor for the human condition. Paul says this in Ephesians 5:8-9: “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So, live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” Much like the blind man, we were living in the darkness of our sinful nature. The same thing that changed the blind man’s reality changed ours as well – the presence of Jesus. When we said yes to Jesus as Lord of our life, our eyes were opened, and we entered into a new way of seeing the world. If you are anything like me, you are grateful for what Jesus has done for you. The challenging part for most of us is how this reality changes our lives. Today I want to focus on two possible responses to the work of Jesus in our lives.

Jesus changes how we handle the darkness. We live in a broken world, which means that we will have to face darkness within our lives. Sometimes this darkness comes from the world around us, and sometimes it comes from our own sinful desires. Either way, we have to decide what to do when we find ourselves in the darkness. We would be wise to follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5 when he says, “live as people of light.” When we face any type of darkness we look to Jesus because He is the light of the world. Jesus died on the cross to bring us from darkness to light. And if He did it then, Jesus can certainly bring light into whatever darkness you are facing.

Jesus shows us how to be light in a dark world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to bring light to a broken world, just as He brought the light of salvation into the world. Paul’s encouragement to live as people of light is an invitation for us to bring light into the darkness around us. What would our world look like if followers of Jesus were committed to shining the light of Jesus into dark places? We must be careful that we do not allow fear or complacency to keep us from being the light of Jesus in a darkened world that so desperately needs us to shine.

Here are two questions to ask yourself this week. First, where do you see darkness? Where do you see brokenness in the world around you? Second, what would it mean for you to bring light into that darkness? What action could you take? What is stopping you from taking action?

Ben Redmond
SAU Director of Community Engagement

3.12.23 – Three Days – Angel Kono

Three Days

Three days. Three days is the amount of time a human body can continue to function without water. We do not know how long the Israelites had been without water in the Exodus 17:1-7 story, but it was long enough that they were beginning to argue and complain to Moses (they don’t complain directly to God; it takes much less courage to criticize our human leaders than God) about their thirst.

All of this took place shortly after God delivered them from Egypt and the hard-hearted Pharaoh; after God provided manna from heaven, and after he had already met a similar request in Exodus 15. Despite all that God had done, this crew was considered a people whose “hearts go astray and they do not regard My ways” (Psalm 95:10). In other words, they hardened their hearts – just as Pharaoh had done – and they did not trust that the God who had made every provision for them up to this point would continue to do so.

The consequence of their actions was immediate relief of their thirst as God directed Moses to hit the rock at Horeb, and from the rock, water flowed, but the quenching of their thirst came at the cost of their entrance into the Promised Land. The request to “Give us water to drink” was not wrong, but the demanding, untrusting nature of their request revealed their hard hearts.

Contrast this story with the reading from John 4:5-42. The Samaritan woman was also thirsty. She made her way to the city well around noon alone, but most women would fetch water as a group and go early in the morning. This suggests that this particular woman was an outcast. Jesus uses almost the exact words as the Israelites when he makes a request of the woman: ‘Give me a drink.’ Her immediate response is shock that a man who is a Jew would ask a woman who is a Samaritan for anything! Jews were forbidden to speak to a Samaritan, much less drink from one of their vessels. Jesus is not deterred!

In fact, He turns the whole situation around and offers her a drink of living water. Then, He assures her that “those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (vs. 14). The woman accepts Jesus’ offer, even though it is clear she does not yet understand what He wants to give her. She listens to Jesus as He confronts her with the truth about what she has done in her past. In these ways, she demonstrates a teachable heart!

Consider this: the Israelites had seen mighty demonstrations of God’s awesome power, but they chose to harden their hearts and could not seem to trust Him to meet the basic need of providing water for them. The woman at the well had not seen God act in mighty ways, and she could have easily felt like God was against her because His chosen people were against hers, but she chose to have a soft and teachable heart when Jesus approached her. The Israelites lost their future in the Promised Land. The woman at the well became the first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah, and she became one of the first evangelists and missionaries as she told her whole city about Jesus.

Hard heart or a teachable heart–which is revealed in you by what you are choosing today?

Angel Kono
Free Methodist Pastor & Licensed Counselor

3.5.23 – The Journey of Belief – Corey Ross

The Journey of Belief

Genesis 12:1-4a | Psalm 121 | John 3:1-17 | Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Without a doubt, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” is the most famous verse in the New Testament, and for good reason. Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the Gospel in a nutshell.”

The popularity of John 3:16 has, in some sense, potentially robbed it of its power. Far from the “heart of the Gospel,” it now seems like nothing more than Christianity’s catchphrase—plastered on poster boards and billboards, the logo of the Christian brand.

As is the case with the whole of Scripture, when we read John 3:16 apart from its larger context, we risk missing the point. John 3:16 isn’t a theological maxim in and of itself; instead, it is part of a much richer conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus.

According to John’s Gospel, Nicodemus was a leader among the Jews. In public, Nicodemus’ devoted his loyalty to the Jewish establishment, but in private, Nicodemus had doubts. And so, he visits Jesus under cover of nightfall.

“Rabbi,” Nicodemus says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” To put it another way, Nicodemus saw that Jesus was mediating the presence of God, and Nicodemus wanted that kind of experience, too.

Then, as Jesus often does, he says something that utterly astounds everyone: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

In other words, glimpsing the Kingdom of God isn’t a matter of praying a certain way, doing the right things, or following a certain worship custom; it’s about a complete rebirth of our existence! Nicodemus – as many might be when they first hear this – is confused. How is it, exactly, that we can be reborn?

More than saying the proper prayers or professing the correct statement of faith, being born from above is about living everyday life with God. It’s about living so that those around you will see you and know about Jesus.

For Nicodemus, like many of us, being born from above happened slowly. The Gospel of John tells us that he came to Jesus discreetly. He wasn’t quite sure he believed just yet. He didn’t want anyone to recognize him. Then after he leaves Jesus, he returns to his position in the Jewish establishment. His conversion doesn’t happen with a bolt of lightning or sudden blindness; it doesn’t draw the same kind of attention that the Apostle Paul’s conversion does, and there’s no incredible dream that converts or upends Nicodemus’s life like the dreams of Peter or John. But deep down, and ever so slightly, something begins to turn. Except for one brief mention in John 7, we never hear from Nicodemus again—that is, until the end of John’s Gospel. And it is here that Nicodemus’s birth from above is laid bare.

As Jesus hangs crucified, after all of the other disciples had fled for fear of persecution, there stands Nicodemus at the foot of the cross—armed with myrrh, aloes, and the other provisions for Jewish burial, ready to bear the broken and lifeless body of the crucified Lord to its grave. We can never fully know what Nicodemus was thinking as he departed Jesus’ company after hearing these words. But we can be sure that something within him began to turn. And then, little by little, his heart was broken open, and he was born anew, finding his way through darkness and doubt to the cross.

Our readings today show another person on a similar journey of belief. Abram allowed every aspect of his life to be changed, not knowing everything that lay ahead because he believed God. Not just believed in God, but he believed God would be faithful to his promise, and then he acted on what God asked of him.

During this Lenten journey, may we allow our doubts and questions to dig into our certainty and consider a journey from belief in God to believing God. May we be broken open by a love that evades even our wildest imagining until, at last, we come to the foot of the cross.

Corey Ross
VP for Student Development and Success & Athletics

2.26.23 – The Remedy Against Sin – Rev. Brian Kono, Ph.D.

The Remedy Against Sin

Readings: Genesis 2:15-17; 3: 1-7; Ps 32; Matt 4:1-11; Romans 5:12-19

Our world does not like to talk about sin. I think that is a human condition. We do not like to
talk about insecurities, weaknesses and definitely not the mistakes we might acquaint with sin.
Personally, I would rather just quickly ask for forgiveness and then move on, without dwelling
on it. And if I’m real honest, I follow the pattern of Adam and blame someone else or the
circumstances that forced my hand, or a personality trait that often results in unbecoming
actions, or anything to deflect and move past the situation quickly.

Because we often take this attitude toward our sin, we miss the lasting affects, or the
origin of, our actions against others and against God. Much like the subtle persuasion of the
serpent in the garden, we use mental or even theological gymnastics to avoid reckoning with
how our hearts might be affected, or infected, by attitudes, actions, or the day to day living we
experience in a world that pushes against the work of God’s Kingdom in and through us. I think
that is why the early church started the practice of Lent. This season invites us, yearly, to
reflect on the temptations we have within and around us, temptations Jesus himself faced, in
order to identify our need to repent and reorient our lives.

“The Glory of God is the human heart fully alive.”*

The passages we have read makes it clear that the remedy to our sin, and the process of
reorienting our lives to bring God glory, is obedience, another concept we have mixed feelings
about as Christians. In some of my recent reading, I stumbled across the saying above
attributed to St. Irenaeus of Lyon from the second century. This statement gave me a new
perspective on how to contextualize obedience in order to ground it in something other than
obligation, guilt or striving to do the right thing. When I think of obedience, I immediately think
of my mom telling me not to do certain things, or to make sure I do things a certain way.
Obedience is following the rules and pushing past temptations in other directions. The trouble
is, we are wired to focus on what is in front of us. So if I tell you to not think about elephants,
you can’t help but start to think about elephants. And if we think of obedience as avoiding bad
things or even to behave better, we tend to focus on the negative or on our own weakness and
inability to ‘try harder.’ These actions do not make us feel alive, they make us feel weary,
weighed down, or less alive. I think this is what the author of Psalm 32 is hinting at in verses 8-
11. We seek instruction from the Lord (vs. 8) but we end up thinking about it as a work animal
controlled by a bridle (vs. 9). That action produces the ‘woes of the wicked’ (first phrase in vs.
10) and while we may be ‘doing the right things’ we are not fully alive. Instead, the author
points us to God’s unfailing love and rather than a call to obedience the author exhorts us to 1.
trust in Him (vs. 10), and 2. Rejoice, be glad, and sing (vs. 11). I think this re-contextualizes
obedience to understand that we are choosing to do something (obey) which God loves, and by
doing so, we are trusting Him to change our heart to love the thing, and Him, more. For
example, my wife and I love pizza (probably from our time spent in youth ministry). The trouble
is she doesn’t eat pork. She prefers chicken or veggies or anything that’s not pork. I know what
you are thinking, “What is pizza without sausage or pepperoni?” Over the years, I have chosen
to love my wife by sharing her taste for chicken and veggie pizza. And as I’ve done so, I have
grown to love it, as I love her.

The application for our obedience is this. If we take the time, in Lent and every day, to
define what parts of this world and our lives God loves, and chose to live and act and think in line
with those characteristics, the Holy Spirit has space to transform our hearts to be fully alive.
If we see obedience as a means to free us to be alive instead of bridling us from what we ‘really
want’ then we experience real transformation. We may start with wanting to want what God
loves, but slowly, we will receive the abundance of Grace (Rom. 5:17) and Christ’s love will
compel us (2 Cor. 5:12) toward love and good works (Heb. 10:24). And that’s how and why we
can sing, be glad and rejoice as we bring glory to God!

My prayer for you is that you would so desire a heart fully alive that you would give the
Holy Spirit room to transform your understanding of obedience from a ‘must do’ into a ‘love

*In his book, Awaking the Dead, John Elderidge adds heart to the quote to emphasize the
implied intention of St. Iraneaus of Lyon to whom the quote is attributed. The original quote is
“The Glory of God is man fully alive.”

Rev. Brian Kono, PhD
University Chaplain
Associate Professor, Theology

An Introduction to Lent – Rev. Brian Kono, Ph.D.

Lent is a season of the church calendar observed during the days leading up to Easter. While some historians date it back to the second century, most see its common practice after 325AD with the general church Council of Nicea. It is most often linked to practices of fasting, prayer and a period of repentance as a means of reflecting on the Cross and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While mostly observed within many of the more liturgical traditions, many contemporary churches are finding rich meaning in the observance as a period of renewal for every believer and a preparation for new converts and their baptism as part of the Easter celebration.

The days of Lent between Ash Wednesday and Easter are symbolic of the 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. The synoptic Gospels describe this as the temptation of Jesus by Satan himself, reminiscent of the origins of humanity and our story of the fall (Genesis 3:1-7). Since the beginnings of the observance of Lent, the practice of fasting from meals, spending time in reflection on the life and story of Jesus and designating quiet times to pray have been some of the intentional daily rhythms for the season. These were not meant to be added to all the other activities of the life of the church or a believer, but the goal would be to simplify our week by eliminating overall busyness to incorporate a renewed focus on one’s faith. While a follower of Jesus should be doing this daily, the season of Lent allows the church around the world to set aside a time of self-reflection to fulfill the Apostle Paul’s encouragement for the church at Philippi, and today, to “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2 NIV).

We invite you to observe Lent this year with SAU family and friends through weekly devotions we’ve collected anticipating the Easter Season, as well as video testimonies from staff, faculty, students and alumni as they reflect on the meaning of Lent and how the season has encouraged them in their faith. You will receive an email each Sunday with scripture readings taken from the book, Ancient Christian Devotional: A year of Weekly Readings (Lectionary Cycle A) by Thomas Oden along with links to the video testimonials and our devotional reflections written by staff and faculty of SAU.

You are welcome to share these emails and links with family and friends or just use them in your personal quiet time to help experience this season in a new way. However you choose to use these resources, I pray they will help you think clearly and deeply about how your faith is the reason for the hope you have. We are looking forward to the journey with you through Lent and toward the celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus and the new and eternal life we have in him.

Rev. Brian Kono, PhD
University Chaplain
Associate Professor, Theology