Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Jesus Christ (page 2 of 3)

The Perfect Wave (2014)

The Perfect Wave At a time when movies like God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real have motivated movie goers – both evangelical and progressive – comes a film from South Africa: The Perfect Wave. It is billed as “more than a love story.” The film is based on the real life events of Ian McCormack, who is well known as an atheists turned born again Christian. In fact, the story that the film portrays is a story he has told to millions of people around the world.

Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) plays Ian as he skips around the world including Australia, Indonesia, and Africa, in search for the perfect wave. Ian is portrayed as a somewhat selfish 24-year-old not concerned with his mother’s charity work or anything to do with the church. His family, on the other hand, are devout in their spiritual life and in their care for others.

Out of the blue one day, Ian decides to sell his car and tells his mother (Cheryl Ladd) that his going on his dream trip in search of big waves. He keeps a journal of the different waves he surfs on along the trip. Even though she cannot convince him to stay home, the mother has a bad feeling – a sixth sense, if you will, that something is going to happen to Ian. She makes no bones in telling people that she has heard the voice of God – there is a scene or two where she describes the occasion – as such, her Holy Spirit sense may have some weight to it.

Ian and his best friend set on this journey. As he searches for the next best wave to ride, he realizes that he is searching for something more. “I’m chasing something,” he narrates, “that’s more real than this.”

What Ian is in search for is love. It is the story of a young man’s love for surfing. It is the story of a faithful mother’s love for her son. It is the story of young men and women falling in love. And it is the story of persistent love of God. For the most part, the film is about Ian’s desire to find the perfect wave. Everything else in life seems to not matter as much as that perfect wave does. Then, after a relationship breaks up, the film takes a turn toward the deeply spiritual. Ian has a near death experience. After being pronounced dead, Ian experiences not only the love of God, but the voice of God. Who knew a jelly fish sting would have such an effect?

While the film has a few rough edges in its writing and occasionally in its acting, it is a solid family film. It is not, however, a film that will be attractive to the “unbeliever.” But perhaps, that is not the point. Perhaps the filmmakers want the mostly Christian audience to experience Ian’s story in a new way and then feel compelled to share it with others.

Perhaps.

The film gets points for not beating the audience over the end with Biblical “truth.” It is open just enough for people to come to their own conclusions – meeting them where they are in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The film, for a brief moment, suggests that a person can be spiritual without being religious. Were not for the relationship Ian developed with a spiritual woman, he may not have had the Paul-like blinding light Jesus experience that he did.

For a complete listing of cities where the film is playing, you can click here.

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_movieA ship sails across the Atlantic from Great Britain to the Caribbean. The ship is transporting the new governor of Port Royal and his young daughter, who is fascinated by pirates. The others on the ship, however, are not. As the young girl gazed out over the Atlantic, she notices something drifting in the water. It is a boy, about her age. They rescue the boy, who is wearing a locket. Worried that the adults will think the boy is a pirate, the young girl takes it to save his life.

Skip ahead eight years, the young girl is now a young woman, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and the young boy is now a young blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). The high seas adventure of this Walt Disney summer blockbuster based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow who has a deep affection for his blessed ship the Black Pearl. Sparrow’s trouble begins when he stops in the process of stealing a British ship to rescue Elizabeth Swann after she falls into the ocean. From there, Sparrow is at the top of the most wanted list.

Right away, one of Sparrow’s nemesis is the British commander, Norrington, who has made it his vocation to bring Sparrow to justice. Even though Sparrow saved Elizabeth’s life. Norrington wants to send Sparrow to his death. Elizabeth protests, only for Norrington to respond, “One good deed is not enough to redeem him from a life of wickedness.” To which Sparrow replies, “But enough to condemn me.”

Redemption is the theme of the film. Jack Sparrow is searching for redemption. Elizabeth, here in the rescue scene and throughout the movie, is the one who consistently raises the need to see others in a different light. People are not always so easily labeled good and bad.

Sparrow’s other nemesis in the film is Captain Barbossa, played by the brilliant actor Gregory Rush. Barbossa leads a mutiny on the Black Pearl which leaves Sparrow stranded on a deserted island. But because Barbossa leans heavily on a dark power, he and his crew are cursed leaving them among the Undead. They look like any other normal pirate, until they are exposed to the light of the moon, where their skeletal cadavers are revealed. Which all seems like a silly plot point, until you realize that even though they are dead (and not killable), they are searching for the cure from the curse.

Elizabeth is the source of Norrington’s other self-determined vocation – marriage. But Elizabeth has been in love with Will Tuner ever since she first met him. When Sparrow finds out who Will is – or more importantly, who his father is – Will becomes very important part of Sparrow’s plan to reclaim the Black Pearl.

Barbossa, believing that Elizabeth is a Turner, thinks that she is the one who will break the curse. But she is not. Sparrow tells Barbossa that he knows whose blood he needs to break the curse. Blood is needed to break the curse. For Barbossa and the crew to be redeemed, to come back to life again, blood is needed. The blood of the only son of Bill “Bootstrap” Turner – Will. At first, Will believes that his father was a salesman, killed by pirates. When he finds out that his father really was a pirate, he struggles to come to terms with who his father is and who he is.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, would talk about sin as a disease (curse) of which grace was the cure. Grace is possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.

We know the cure for the curse, but what caused the curse of the Black Pearl? No doubt, Pirates was intended to have a summer blockbuster sequel from the beginning. Who would have thought it would have four?

3 Shades of Grace: Justifying Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

Read about prevenient grace here.

“Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and God will give you more grace.” (John Wesley)

Through prevenient grace we are made aware of our sinfulness and our need for divine grace. Along with that awareness comes an invitation which we can choose to respond to or not. When we do respond to the invitation, we experience the second shade, or movement, of grace: justifying grace.

Justifying grace pardons us of our sins and makes us right with God. Again, God acts. This time through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of what God did through Jesus out of a great love for us that we have this amazing grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is considered the ground of justification. It is the basis or foundation of our salvation.

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved gift given to us. Theologian Randy Maddox refers to grace in the Wesleyan understanding as responsible grace. What he means by that is that God’s grace gives us the ability to respond. Faith is the response on our part to that gift of grace. To claim faith is to do two things: repent and believe. John the Baptist began his ministry with just such a call to repentance and believing. Jesus summarizes the gospel in this way, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).  Paul, throughout Acts and his epistles, preached a similar message.

In the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the word for repent means “to turn around.” In other words, we make a U-Turn, we change the direction we are headed in. John Wesley called repentance, “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” All sin is lack of acknowledgement of and separation from God, while all holiness is being fully aware and fully acknowledging God.

The younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 provides a good example of what repenting change looks like. In the parable, the younger son leaves his father, claiming his inheritance early. He parties it away and ends up with a job feeding pigs more food than he can afford. This experience led to a new self-understanding for the son, which lead to a conviction that what he had sinned and he should return home.

When we repent, the change we undergo involves a new self-understanding of who we are as sinners and the need for us to return home. This is what it means to make a U-Turn back to God.

While repenting is the first act, belief is the second act. Belief is more than memorizing scripture and reciting creeds. Belief is putting and having full trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. John Wesley wrote, “To believe in God implies, to trust in him as our strength, without whom we can do nothing . . . . as our help, our only help in time of trouble.” Our minds understand that Christ died for our sins, and our hearts commit to living in Christ.

sixthsenseWesley would save that once we claim the gift of faith, we gain a sixth sense. And not the “I see dead people,” sixth sense. Our eyes are opened and we see the world differently. We are awakened to a spiritual reality, and we see ourselves, others, and the world through that reality. This awakening leads us to respond to faith by doing good. We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the sick, we love as Christ has loved us.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says this about faith and works:

Both faith and good works belong within all all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God’s gracious love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, this does not mean that we will never sin again. Justification cancels sin. When we repent we turn back to God and accept the gift of faith. In justification, we still have the chance to respond. Too often Christians think that salvation is sealed in a single moment. Wesley would add that in that moment we begin a journey. This process of being cleansed and freed from sin is called sanctification. We will look at sanctifying grace in the next post.

 

 

3 Shades of Grace: Prevenient Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

In recognizing that humanity is crippled by the disease of sin, John Wesley identified three shades, or movements, of God’s grace as a remedy. It is important to note that there are not different kinds of grace. However, we experience grace at different stages of our spiritual walk. Grace is always grace. As Steve Harper says so well, “We define grace in different ways because of how we experience the grace on our end of the relationship.”

The first shade is prevenient grace. As the prefix implies, prevenient grace is the grace that comes before. Before what? Before we are aware of God or know we need God. Before we respond to God’s redeeming grace and before we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Prevenient grace comes before.

This means that God makes the first move when it comes to humanity’s redemption. Bishop Scott Jones talks about prevenient grace as wooing us to God. In other words, prevenient grace is grace that is active in our lives and leads us to an awareness of God. Wesley believed that once we were aware of God, we would be led to repentance. This is because once we are aware of God, we also become aware of our humanity and its brokenness. We become sensitive to God’s will in the world and in our lives and how that has been violated. We want to do something about it. We want to fix it. We want to solve the “whole trouble.”

We can’t fix it on our own, but we can respond.

Grace is about God’s love for humanity. Just as God’s love is for all, God’s grace is for all as well. As the writer of 2 Peter says, God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (3:9).

Prevenient grace leads us not just to awareness of God but to awareness of our need for God and God’s grace in our sin-filled lives. It is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This awareness enables us to respond to God’s grace by repenting. John Wesley believed that prevenient grace enables us to use our free will responsibly. Because grace is given so freely, it was important to Wesley that we understand that our response is also free.

We recognize that prevenient grace is active in our lives through other people and our experiences. If we pondered for a moment about our lives before we were aware of God or of the need for divine grace, we would remember people, places, and things that happened in our lives who made a difference in us. These have been agents of God’s grace. Parents, pastors, youth ministers, grandparents, peers, co-workers, coaches, and church members are all agents of prevenient grace.

For me, it was my family – grandparents, aunts, and parents. They were always at church because they love the church! There was a point in my childhood that whenever they went to church, I would go too. No matter what they were doing. If they were cleaning on a Saturday, worship on Sunday, choir practice on Wednesday, whatever it was, I was there. For awhile, my mom worked at the church preparing and running the bulletin every week. One of my aunts led the children’s choir and another taught Sunday school. I remember sitting in the pews on Tuesday nights when Dad would practice with the Gospel 7.

These people and these experiences led me to an awareness of who God is and why I need grace.

And grace is for everyone. God’s grace is active in all our lives, and as such baptism is the mark of that grace. God has made a promise of grace. And because God does not turn back on God’s promises, we only recognize one baptism.

As United Methodists, we baptize infants because of prevenient grace. Do you remember in Toy Story, how the bottom of Woody’s foot had Andy’s name written on it? That is what happens in a baptism. God’s name is placed, not on the bottom of your foot, but on your heart. You have been claimed by God, just as Andy claimed Woody. Baptism is also an initiation into the Christian community.

credit: fanpop.com

credit: fanpop.com

While United Methodists are known to primarily baptize infants, we are not limited to only baptizing infants. We do baptize infants as a sign-act of God’s grace that is already active in that child’s life. But there is more happening in the baptismal covenant. The community of faith – the congregation – is making a promise to aid his or her parents in bringing them up in the faith. The congregation promises to nurture the child and to be agents of grace in their lives.

Finally, prevenient grace offers us hope. Hope that we will not be broken forever. Hope that we can change. Hope that we will be healed from the disease of sin.

Prevenient grace is not the whole story, it is just the beginning.

In the next post we will look at justifying grace. 

 

 

Empty Eggs

eggs_5635cnpDeath is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

When I was a kid us cousins would hunt Easter Eggs at our grandparents’ on Easter day. It was what made Easter Easter. As we got older the hunting got more challenging and our parents got more creative. But the end game was always the same.

Candy!

A few weeks ago Kara, my children’s ministry colleague, and I were sorting Easter eggs for the Easter Egg Hunt at the church. As a number of people came through, they assumed that we were in the process of filling the eggs with candy.

We, however, were not.

The eggs were going to be hidden empty. It was a practical reason. Empty eggs would be traded for a scoop or two of candy. We get the eggs back, and there is some candy-control. All the children would get the same amount of candy no matter how many eggs they found.

When tasked with doing an Easter theme for the preschool chapel, my senior pastor and I used an empty Easter egg. In fact, we got a lot of traffic out of that empty Easter egg. We used it in a lot of places. When I used it for the children’s moment on Easter Sunday, I asked the children why did they think the egg was empty. One little four-year-old girl leaned in towards me, and loudly, but proudly, declared with great enthusiasm, “Because Jesus lives!”

It was a proud pastor moment.

These chapel/children’s moments with the empty Easter Egg inspired this craft in one of the Peakland Preschool classrooms:

photo by M. Ledford

photo by M. Ledford

The empty Easter egg reminds us of the empty tomb.

While we don’t wear the empty tomb around our necks or on our lapels like we do the cross, the empty tomb says with all the mightiest of God that victory has been won. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us quite humbly, “It is not we who are victorious, but Jesus.”

This is why we sing old hymns like “Victory in Jesus,” because we acknowledge that Jesus has conquered death and lives! This past Sunday during my sermon, I asked the congregation to pay close attention and every time I would say, “He is Risen!” they would respond, “He is Risen Indeed!” It is an ancient practice of the church to acknowledge that the sting of death has no power over us. The sting of death – the wages of sin – are no longer capable of holding us captive. Jesus’ victory has rendered them powerless.

Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

They are powerless; they still rage, like a mean dog on a chain, but they can do nothing against us, for Jesus holds them fast. He remains the victor.

And yet, we find ourselves living as if nothing has happened.

We live as if grace is a license to sin. We take Jesus’ victory over death for granted. Instead of acknowledging the power of the empty tomb, we submit to fear and death.

Maybe because it is easier.

Maybe because the world’s voices are louder than the stillness of the empty tomb.

Maybe because . . . . . you know we could do this all day.

We could think of a billion reasons why we fail to acknowledge the power of the empty tomb.

But when we come to this table

communion

we accept the power of the empty tomb; we accept the victory over sin and death. And it is for you and me, whoever we are and whatever we have done. That’s how much God loves us. And so every time we come to this Table and break the bread and drink the wine, we remember the victory that has already been won, and all we have to say is. . . .

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019 Jason C. Stanley

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑