Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: fear

Sermon: Catch on Fire

This weekend I preached at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. Originally I had titled the sermon “Hope Building,” but once I started writing this 1st Sunday after Pentecost sermon, it changed to “Catch on Fire.” My texts were Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 2:14-21, 42-47.

Book Review: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

the_thing_lou_couldn_t_doThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press, 2017.

Lou is a brave girl who is afraid of very little. She will do anything!

Well, almost anything.

When her friends choose to climb a tree, Lou isn’t so sure. She is scared and uncertain. In addition, she is concerned that her friends will think differently of her because she’s not climbing the tree.

Even though she makes up some pretty fun excuses, her friends never mock or make fun of her. Lou decides on her own to join her friends by watching them have fun. She decides to try to climb the tree.

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Book Review: Jesus and the Beanstalk

jesus-and-the-beanstalkJesus and the Beanstalk: Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life, Lori Stanley Roeleveld, Abingdon Press, 2016.

When I started reading Lori Stanley Roeleveld’s newest book, Jesus and the Beanstalk, I connected with it. It was as if Roeleveld had peeked inside my brain and caught a glimpse of the questions I had recently been pondering.

This, I learned, is the nature of her blog and her book. Her writing has an approachable style to it, as if she were sitting at a kitchen table and talking with you directly over a cup of coffee.

It does not take much for us to realize that we live in unsettling, challenging times. There are giant problems everywhere we look and these giants produce obstacles, barriers, and strongholds.

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Prayer: Foggy Days

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NIV)

Lord, today is a foggy day.  We aren’t fans of foggy days. We have places to go, and the fog only slows us down.

Lord, you know that foggy days are a lot of things.

Depression and anxiety.  Continue reading

A Prayer for the World

CTukshqVEAAZdHXI was on my iPhone, causally scrolling through my Twitter feed, when I realized that there were a lot of things being said about Paris. I turned the news on, and saw the reports of what would be multiple attacks across the city, killing hundreds. I like many have been in a state of shock over the events. To the point that my journaling was just a list of words or phrases, no complete sentences, reflecting the impossibility of complete thoughts forming.

Today, I attempted to form that list of words and phrases into a prayer:

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Praying in the Woods

I left the house, most likely barefoot, and started walking through the woods. There was a path that had been worn in the dirt from all the other times I had walked this path. It is what I did when I needed to clear my head, ponder something, or escape from the stressors of teenage life. I would later have the epiphany that what was really happening was prayer. I was communing with the Creator.

There was an old stump by the creek where I would go and sit and think . . . . .I mean, pray.

Source: http://www.wildfrogphotography.com

Source: http://www.wildfrogphotography.com

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Book Review: What Keeps You Up at Night

_240_360_Book.1584.coverWhat Keeps You Up at Night: How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams, Pete Wilson, W Publishing Group, 2015.

Pete Wilson is the founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. What Keeps You Up at Night? is his fourth book, where the main idea is that God has a purpose for each of us. Though Wilson never uses the word, you could refer to it as your vocation. What keeps us up at night is fear and uncertainty about fulfilling this God-given purpose.

From there, Wilson explores various ways in which fear keeps us from chasing our dreams – or God’s dreams for us. Fear prevents us from living into the holy life God has called us to. Wilson also provides some practical steps to overcome that fear. Prayer and trust in God are the strongest recommendations. Wilson writes:

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Jaws (1975)

Jaws_MovieCoverBased on the best-selling novel by Peter Benckley, Jaws did something that no other film had done. In the careful and deliberate hands of director Steven Speilberg, Jaws is an action flick and a scary thriller, making use of a real shark as well as a mechanical shark. At times, you don’t know the difference. To our benefit, Speilberg made the thriller part more than on-screen blood and guts. It was in the context of a well developed story with well developed characters.

While all the elements are there for a typical archetypal story, Speilberg is careful not to draw too much attention to it. He leaves that work to the viewer.

Brady (Roy Scheider) moves his family from the streets of New York to a New England beach community (think Martha’s Vineyard). It is his first summer there as their chief of police. The Mayor and other locals are getting ready for the town’s big Fourth of July parade and events. It is a high tourist time of year, and the community relies on those tourist dollars for their economy.

Which is why when a teenage girl goes missing, and parts of her are found on the beach, that the Mayor and others are not happy that Brady wants to shut the beach down. The ME who first told him it was a shark attack, changes his mind to say that it was a boating accident. The biggest fear for the town leaders was not what might or might not be in the water, but losing money.

Brady has a fear of water. He does not swim, and sits patiently and anxiously on the beach watching the waters after the missing girl is found in pieces. While he is watching, other town’s people are coming up to him asking him when he is going to take care of this problem or that problem. It is not so much that the people are missing the immediacy of a shark attack, it is that they are not aware. There is a lack of awareness.

Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) comes into town and is another voice of caution and awareness. Hooper is a rich kid who has found his niche as an oceanographer. In a quick, to the point tone, Hooper tells the town people that they are not safe until they rule out what is out there in the water. He knows all there is to know about sharks, and is even willing to get in the water with them.

Quint (Robert Shaw) is a typical crusty old seaman. He is the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with after a long day at sea. For most of the beginning of the film, Quint is part of the background. He tells the town during a town hall meeting that he can catch the shark, for the right price. And we see him glide by as other locals and non-locals board their boats to go out and catch the shark for the award money. He snickers at them, because he knows what they do not.

This isn’t just a shark, it’s a great white shark.

In a five-minute monologue while the three men are at sea hunting the shark, Quint shares his story and why he hates sharks. Quint has faced his fear and triumphed. But there were many of his comrades who did not, and for them he hunts this shark.

Brady has a fear of water. He does not – will not – get into the water. But he does get into the boat with Quint and Hooper in search for the great white. At point, while shoving raw meat into the water, Brady comes face to face with the giant of a shark, and says, “We need a bigger boat.”

Each man has boarded this boat in search of the great white that is holding a community in the bondage of fear

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  These three men – Brady, Quint, and Hooper – live this verse. They have their own fears, but they overcome them. God did not give us a spirit of fear, God has empowered us with power through the Holy Spirit and love and self-control. We are in control of how much we fear. We are in control of how much we love. And we are in control of how we use the power from the Holy Spirit. All three men, wise men in their own way, are hunting the shark because of the people they love, where the other shark hunters were hunting for the prize money.

These three men use their power to overcome the great white shark.

Jaws is a modern day parable reminding us that we decide how much fear controls our lives. We have to choice to love others as we have been loved, using the self-control that God has given us, and we have a choice to use our power for good. Let us all be hunters of great white sharks.

Dark Skies (2013)

Dark_Skies_1-Sht.inddThis film was marketed to those viewers who wanted more Paranormal Activity. Some of them may have been disappointed. More disappointing, however, is the number of viewers who most likely did not see the film because they were told it was more like Paranormal Activity. I found it more like a M. Night Shyamalan film. A drama filled with suspense and uncertainty as to what would happen next.

As the film opens, we see images of a quiet, peaceful suburban community. But not all is peaceful. There are signs outside of homes that say, “Bank Owned.” As we meet the Barrett family, we learn quickly that life is stressful. Daniel (Josh Hamilton) was laid off of his job, and has been struggling to find a new job. Lacy (Keri Russell) is a realtor having trouble selling a house in their neighborhood. Jesse is the teenage son coming to age, interested in girls and becoming his own person.

Life, we learn from the Barretts, is tough. It is Sam, the younger son, who brings this reality to home for us the best. Sam is the picture perfect example of an innocent child. We first meet Sam as he decides that he is going to nurse a lizard with a missing tail back to health instead of letting it go. Sam is compassionate, kind, and gentle. He is the exact opposite of the world around him.

The midst of normal day-to-day life struggles, a series of unexplainable events begin to occur in the house. Daniel and Lacy do everything they can think of to figure out what is going on and to protect themselves. One day Lacy gets on the internet to do some research. She finds a site titled, “How to know you’ve been chosen.” There are pictures that are too similar to what has been happening in her home. While it is hard to believe, Lacy begins to think that aliens are behind it all.

J. K. Simmons plays Edwin Pollard, a conspiracy theory kind of character, with newspaper clippings over his apartment walls. At first Daniel and Lacy are not sure if he can help them. But when Pollard begins asking questions, they quickly learn that he is the right person to go to. Pollard advices that they can protect themselves. He tells them, “The invasion already happened.” The aliens, he advised, are most likely coming back for the first person in the family whom they made contact with. Daniel and Lacy assume that it is Sam because of the strange behavior. But was it?

The film was grossly overlooked when it came out in theaters. While I think that in part it was because of its marketing, but some critics didn’t care for it. The film isn’t an Oscar-winning film, but it is engaging. It has this power about it that draws the viewer in. It deserves a second look.

And the film is more than just about aliens. As with Shyamalan’s films, director and write Scott Stewart draws an interesting commentary about American culture and the state of humanity. It is not a mistake, in my opinion, that Lacy is a realtor who cannot sell a house. She represents the failing housing market that contributed to the recession the United States experienced, resulting in people being laid off, finding themselves behind in payments, and discerning what they can do without.

And possibly the greatest impact is the amount of stress it all puts on the family unit. Pollard, when educating Daniel and Lacy about the aliens says to them, “They use our fears against us.” Fear is a powerful force. Fear clouds our minds and drives a wedge between us and others. We see this with Daniel’s relationship with Lacy and his sons, especially with Jesse. Daniel and Lacy, it is implied, have not been intimate in some time. While Daniel is searching for a new job, Lacy is working extra hard. And in the meantime, Jesse seems to be drawing farther and farther away from them.

The more fear there is that works against us, the more paralyzed we become to do anything for the common good. The Bible tells us in multiple places, like Hebrews 13:6, that we do not need to fear, because God is our help. With God, all things are possible, and we do not need to fear.

The very last word of the film (I will not spoil it for) reinforces the theme that we cannot live in fear.

Faith & Fear

Vestal Goodman

“We are not people of fear, we are people of faith.”

© 2017 Jason C. Stanley

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