Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: God’s Kingdom

Book Review: Kingdom Come

41gf7itj8wLKingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead, Reggie McNeal, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.

Reggie McNeal sets out to do exactly what the subtitle suggests. The fist half of Kingdom Come explains why the church must give up fixing the church. While the second half deals with the what the church should do instead along with practical ways to do just that. The thesis of this approachable book is summarized in this statement by McNeal, which he repeats often:

“The church is not the point of the Kingdom; the Kingdom is the point of the church.”

The book is divided into two sections. One focusing on McNeal’s theory that in order for the Church to survive in this new day and age, it must refocus on the Kingdom. The second half gives practical examples and practical steps to achieve that. While the first half of the book is Pastor McNeal, the second half is Leadership Consulant McNeal.

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Guest Post: Grace!

by Rev. Charlie Baber

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comCenter With Prayer: 

Creator of birth and rebirth, remove the veil from my heart that keeps me from knowing you more perfectly.  Christ, lifted up on the cross of death to heal all who look upon you and believe, strengthen my heart to accept your Word as transforming truth in my life. Wild and untamed Holy Spirit, catch me up in your movements that I may go where you send me. Amen.

Read the Scripture: John 3:1-17.

I recently drew a comic about God’s love and a Methodist understanding of the Way of Salvation. It’s also based on my experience with animal rescue and fostering.  Prevenient grace is the Holy Spirit at work in every single person, beckoning us all to God.  Since all my students take Spanish and not Latin or French, I told them to call it “Pre-Vamonos” grace: “Everybody, Let’s GO!” It’s like the porch of a house, inviting you to come in. Justifying grace is the turning point, where we recognize our profound need for God, repent and trust in Christ.  It’s “Just-if-I’d” never sinned, and the faithfulness of Christ fills up and covers over our faithlessness.  It’s like the door into the house where the party is going on. Sanctifying grace is a life in Christ, growing to be more and more like God as we grow closer to God.  It’s the whole party house.  But we can make some pretty terrible mistakes, and turn our backs on God.  Fortunately, God’s grace is always first, always going before us, always calling us back.  We love because God first loved us.

Take a moment to read the comic below.  Reflect on the ways God has fostered salvation in your life and rescued you.  Then go forth in your salvation and love the world that God has so loved…


Rev. Charlie Baber is a deacon serving at Highland United Methodist in Raleigh, North Carolina. Charlie has a weekly comic-blog called Wesley Bros.

The Ten: Respect God’s Name

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way. (Exodus 20:7, Common English Bible)

The Ten - jasoncstanley.comThe other day I was at Taco Bell ordering lunch. After I ordered and paid, the woman behind the counter told me to have a blessed day and “Jesus loves you.” I was kind of surprised. I have been told by many to have a blessed day. But I think this was the first time I was told by a clerk, “Jesus loves you.” Not even in a Christian bookstore have I been told that “Jesus loves me.” But here, in the tiny Taco Bell, Jesus loves me.

When we think of the commandment of “do not take God’s name in vain,” we often think of swearing or profanity. To use the Lord’s name in vain is to use God’s name as a curse. While there is truth to this understanding, there is so much more to this commandment. God’s name is a powerful thing, and it should not be taken for granted, but held with the most respect.

God tells the Israelites that he spares them from the plagues, “to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). When Jesus gives the Great Commission, he tells the disciples to baptize in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The name of God points to the Kingdom. It is disrespectful to use God’s name in a way that does not point to God’s kingdom.

Seminaries in the south became experts as theologically reasoning why enslaving African-Americans was not only okay, but ordained by God. In the name of God, they enslaved other human people. During the Civil Rights era, church going people bombed churches and houses, burned crosses, and killed other human beings in the name of God.

The purpose of the commandment is to protect the holy and divine name of God from being used to distract others from said holiness. When we use God’s name to promote hatred towards others, we are using God’s name in vain. When we use God’s name to put down others and make them “less holy,” we become less than holy as we misuse God’s name. When we judge others and condemn them to an eternity without God, we disrespect the name of God and God’s kingdom.

God is so much bigger than anything we can say or do, decide or plan. And God’s name is meant for praise and adoration. God’s name is meant to witness to God’s kingdom. Instead, perhaps, we can be more like the Taco Bell clerk who tells us, “Jesus loves you.”

Elysium (2013)

Elysium Movie Review - jasoncstanley.comMatt Damon is Max, a man who is trying to get his life back to together and has hopes of a better life on Elysium. Turns out that in 2154, the Earth is a grime place, while the exclusive 1% live on a space station called Elysium. There they have the best of the best. Resorts. Fine dining. Beautiful landscapes. And most of all, health care.

Elysium is from the creative mind of Neill Blomkamp, who brought us District 9. Blomkamp is no stranger to using his films for social commentary. And I’m going to put this out there, but the film seems to be paying some kind of homage to Mad Max.

The Earth scenes are limited to a ghetto of Los Angeles, that is mostly a Latino neighborhood. Max grew up here, looking to the skies, hoping to become a citizen of Elysium. A nun gives him a locket with a picture of the Earth, and tells him that the view of them is more beautiful. After doing time for being a car thief, Max has gotten himself a factory job. Someone has to develop the robots that police the streets.

It’s not the best job. His boss is a jerk, and its dangerous. Max ends up being exposed to radiation, and being told he only has five days left to live. The pills he has been given will only slow it down.

In the meantime, Jodie Foster is the defense secretary who makes it her mission to protect the freedoms of the 1%, even killing immigrants from Earth who try to cross over into Elysium. She is coming under some heavy heat from the President, and plans a coup with the CEO of the company that Max works with (William Fichtner). The CEO will develop a computer program that will enable anyone else to be President.

Back on Earth, Max makes a deal with Spider that he will download information from the CEO in exchange for a ticket to Elysium. They have no idea that the CEO has downloaded the program he has created into his own brain and is on his way to deliver it to the defense secretary. The best scene in the film is possibly the one where Max and his buddies shoot down the CEO’s private jet and attempt to steal the data.

Most of the group is killed off, but Max survives. He hides out at the home of an old childhood friend who happens to be a nurse (Alice Braga). Her daughter is dying from leukemia and could use the healthcare of Elysium.

Eventually, Max allows himself to die to give Spider time to install the computer program that Max downloaded. Max’s sacrifice means that all people on Earth are now citizens of Elysium. Including his friend’s dying daughter, who longer is dying.

Max becomes Christ-like. After searching for his own fulfillment, he comes to the realization that his death (something he knows is coming) will benefit the many. Max’s actions are a vast contrast from the defense secretary’s. Perhaps Blomkamp is saying that the privilege of the 1% is at the cost to the 99%. Perhaps he is saying that universal healthcare is needed. That it is unacceptable for a child to die from leukemia when there is a way to heal her.

Elysium by definition is a place or condition of ideal happiness. The power is that elysium is too often an exclusive thing. Even in Jesus’ day, happiness was limited to a select few. The powers that be kept the weaker, poorer in their places. The wealth of the 1% was gained on the back of the 99%. Jesus broke into this system with a message and with a life that was counter to all that.

Love was for all. Justice was for all. Peace is for all. There are no outsiders. In Blomkamp’s tale, citizenship is for all. Healthcare is for all. There are no outsiders. It is an important message. We are all the same. We are all in this together. We are all citizens of the same Kingdom.

Camelot (1967)

Some have called it sappy. Others have called it a flawed musical. Still others call it a medieval fantasy. Whatever you call it Camelothas a place in classic American cinema.

This 1967 film directed by Joshua Logan was adapted from the Broadway musical of the same title. Though widely accepted that it was not a great cinematic feature (the Academy Awards it did win were all in costumes and set design), the film benefited greatly from the times. In the 1960s there was a deep fascination with Camelot and King Arthur’s narrative. So much so that it drew comparisons to the royalty of the United States: the Kennedys. The Kennedys loved the musical. According to the First Lady, she and the President would listen to the soundtrack of the musical at the end of the each evening.

Whether it was intentional or not, the film pays homage to the assassinated President Kennedy.  As the film opens it is draped in mystery as Arthur (Richard Harris, probably best known as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films) sits in the damp and misty forest calling upon Merlyn, the mystic magician. Arthur is about to go into battle, though he would prefer to avoid it. In this state of uncertainty he cries out to Merlyn (Laurence Naismith), who instructs Arthur to remember the day he met Guenevere (wonderfully played by Vanessa Redgrave). From here the film goes back to that day and we follow along as the story of this romance unfolds.

But the film is about more than just a romantic tale of King and Queen, and more than just the love triangle that develops when Lancelot (Franco Nero) is introduced to the narrative. Arthur wants to bring about social change. As he tells Guenevere, “Merlyn taught me to think without boundaries.” Arthur ponders how peaceful the kingdom would be if disagreements were not settled by violence. As he dreams about this with Guenevere, he images a round table that they would all sit at to discuss these issues.  A round table, not a square table, so no one may be seated at the head of the table.  Not everyone in his kingdom buys into this image as easily as the French knight Lancelot.

Lancelot rides into town with great respect for King Arthur. He is filled with excited hope to witness this new vision of kingdom. And to some extent that is what Lancelot represents in this film. Excited hopefulness. An excited hope fueled by Lancelot’s desire to do good and to right wrongs. Lancelot is the only French knight of the Table. Lancelot comes because Arthur’s vision gives him hope.

But Lancelot is also a religious voice in this film. A majority of the characters never really say much about religion. When we first meet Guenevere she is praying to some goddess. Meryln seems to be a holy figure to Arthur. But for Lancelot, he expresses without apology his Christian faith. In a jousting contest, Lancelot hits his opponent hard enough to knock him off his horse and leave him wounded. Arthur pronounces the knight dead. Lancelot looks on from his horse, uncertain about what he should or shouldn’t do. He eventually jumps off his horse, removes the King’s cloak from the dead man, grabs his face into his hands and beings to pray. As he does so, he is weeping. The man eventually opens his eyes. The people are amazed, including Guenevere.

From here Lancelot’s romance with Guenevere begins. He feels that God has led him to her. He begs for forgiveness because he knows it his wrong to be in love with a woman who is married. Yet, the romance continues. In the meantime Arthur is developing his dream. The Round Table is becoming a reality. The vision is extended from nations and knights to the common people. Courts are developed where disagreements can be settled.

Arthur’s vision of a peaceful kingdom is threatened when a young man named Mordred comes into town. When Mordred relieves that he is Arthur’s illegitimate son, Arthur takes him under his wing. But Mordred has his own agenda. Mordred uses Arthur’s vision against him in an attempt to overthrow him as king. They catch Guenevere and Lancelot expressing their love and drag them to King Arthur where Mordred reminds him about his vision of courts and juries handling matters like this.

A trial is held and the jury decides that Guenevere is guilty of treason and is to be put to death by burning at the stake. One character says, “Your table has cracked, Arthur.” Arthur calls upon Meryln that night: “They forgot justice.” Without justice, the vision of the new kingdom is ruined.

Seeking justice without violence is a major theme throughout the Old Testament prophets. The ancient Hebrews believed that injustice equated the absence of God. The prophet Habakkuk pleas with God about ending the violence and the injustice.  He pleads for God’s presence to be felt, to be known.  God repeatedly responds back that in time things will change. In the gospels the disciples and others long for the day when Jesus will lead them to victory over the oppressive Romans. But the Kingdom that Jesus preached about in the Gospels was a different kind of vision. A vision of peace and all at table.

As in Arthur’s time, the vision requires thinking outside of the boundaries. As such, the vision has been difficult to achieve. But, let us hold on to excited hopefulness for the Kingdom.

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