Star Wars and Christian spirituality

In the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the struggle between the darkside and the lightside is like an internal spiritual struggle that everyone can identify with. Everyday, we struggle with making choices between right and wrong.

Kylo Ren tried to entice Rey into the darkside; and Rey tries to draw Kylo Ren into the lightside.  It’s a Star Wars simplified version of spirituality–a human moralism of good versus evil.  Rey was helpless in the hands of the Supreme leader. Kylo Ren was also helpless in overcoming his entry into the darkside.  And if it weren’t for Luke Skywalker’s intervening at the right moment, Rey would have come very close to entering the darkside.

The Last Jedi was not the typical Star Wars movie.  Lots of inner conflict, and spiritual soul-searching as to who they are, where they come from, and where they belong.  There is not much hope for Kylo Ren coming into the light.  Humanism places hope in the goodness of humanity.  Even if he were to turn to the light in the future Star Wars IX, we can see how weak humanity is in the face of the darkside.  There will not be redemption for Kylo Ren who killed his own father Han Solo to escape his past.  Humanism doesn’t provide healing for his guilt and shame.

The winning outcome from this type of spirituality depends on who has more power at what moment in time.  As human beings, we need a spirituality that is independent from human power or how we use or misuse the Force.  This gives our own human influence more credit than it deserves.  Humanism is deceptive as the darkside.

If you’ll allow me, Christian spirituality is different from the Star Wars type of spirituality. The solution to overcoming the darkside doesn’t depend upon our human influences of good or evil.  In Christian spirituality, we take the starting position that darkness already reside within all human beings. Our fall into sin had already begun since the beginning of creation at Adam’s fall into original sin. Sin and elements of the darkside reside in all of us which we cannot escape from.  We are helpless in the face of darkness because we are incapable of choosing the light, as St. Augustine would have it.

Therefore, we need God’s recreative force of light, external to humanity, in order to overcome the inescapable chasm of the darkside.  As Christians, we believe in the sovereignty of God, in redemption and forgiveness from our wrong-doing.  God is our Supreme Leader and his will is to conquer evil and death to save us from the consequence of the falling into the darkside.  The Lord God will reign victorious on the Final Day of our redemption.  This will happen whether we play a part in it or not.  It is inevitable; the lightside will prevail.  It is God’s battle and we can either participate or sit by the wayside.

If we do participate in the missio dei (God’s mission), then we will do what our Supreme Leader calls us to do, and allow him to reign in all that we do on earth.  If we do not participate in the missio dei, then God will use whoever is willing.  However, God will empower us by God’s Force (i.e., God’s breath, wind, or Holy Spirit) to do his will and complete the mission.

In Star Wars, we know that the lightside and the rebellion will prevail because of the force.  In Christ, we also know that Christ’s reign will prevail because the light in God’s Force will easily overcome all darkness.  The light cannot be extinguished.

In the Gospel of John, it speaks of this powerful light who is the ultimate force in this universe:

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it…,.The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9, NLT)

This light is Jesus Christ, who comes to us as Emmanuel (God with us).  Prepare for the Advent of the lightside this Christmas.  May God’s Force be with you.  May his Holy Spirit empower you to fulfill his mission.

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Time of joy, good tidings, and doing good

We subconsciously pickup from Santa songs that we get gifts according to how naughty or nice we’ve been.  If there were such a list, our gifts would be something we earn for doing good things (not totally free without strings attached).

Don’t we give with the intention that it’s a free gift without strings attached when we make donations to charities (e.g., Salvation Army bell-ringers, pack Christmas shoeboxes, etc.)?

In a letter to Titus, Paul speaks of doing what is good (Titus 3:4-5; 8),

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”” (NIV)

Regarding salvation, thank God there isn’t a naughty and nice list.  If God were to really keep a running list of all the naughty things and nice things that I have ever done throughout my life, I might be ashamed of the imbalanced tally of certain unnamed things. Following such a list can steal the joy that Christ gives because we have to work too hard to earn God’s approval.

Christmastime is all about the joy that Christ came to give us free, un-earned acceptance from God.  For Christians, our joy comes from knowing that God’s righteousness and mercy has made us righteous in God’s sight.  So spread the joy!  Donate to your favorite charities.  Serve in church.  Give of your service all year-long to your non-profit organizations. Freely give.

 

 

 

Our season for God’s hope, peace, joy, and love

Christians are preparing this season of Advent season leading up to Christmas, as a religious time to celebrate Christ’s entry into the world.  For many in North America, it’s about going to Christmas parties, buying presents, and racking up financial debt to pay for presents for siblings, parents, children, nephews and aunts. For some, it might be a hard and lonely time.  For others, maybe it’s a mix of everything. I hope this season, people can slow down to reflect on the reason for Christmas.  We are a fast-moving society that’s in a hurry to get from place to place–from work to home to parties.

A prophet spoke of a people who didn’t take time to observe a Sabbath rest as God had commanded.  They hardened their hearts toward God. They didn’t slow down to celebrate God’s salvation and worship the Lord as God had designed for them to worship. In a way, our society today has also hardened our hearts toward the things of God.

In Hebrews 3:7, 12 and 15, it writes:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts“… “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness“… “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

As Christians, it is very important that we slow down and rest.  In our rest, God can come into our busy lives.  Manufactured hope, peace, joy and love do not last; it’s artificial.  But God sent Jesus into this world to bring us something genuine.  He came to:

  • bring us an eternal hope that leads to salvation so that we may be with God forever,
  • give us inner peace between a sinful humanity and a holy God,
  • give us real joy  that comes from God’s unconditional forgiveness,
  • share God’s love with us.

These things are eternal and lasts forever.  May God’s grace find its way into your lives this Christmas /Advent season.

Advent: Hope and peace for humankind

My parents gave me a maxim to live by that I never forgot: “As being human, be a better human being.” Being a good human being is not so easy when anger and resentment gets in the way.

The Apostle Paul said in Titus 3:11-12,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (ESV)

Christian spirituality exhorts us to live godly and upright lives which Paul the Apostle told Titus.  Religion says I have to do it.  I know that in my human power, I cannot do it.

The good news is this: the grace of God (gift of Jesus Christ himself) has appeared to usher in salvation for humankind.  Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  In Jesus, this grace of God comes to us despite our failures and guilt.  We don’t earn it. It’s a free gift.  We are no longer condemned by our personal failure to live out the law.  Shame and guilt no longer controls us.  God has now given all humankind a new hope.  This is why this Christian/Advent message of peace also comes with a hope-filled exhortation.

The Holy Spirit invites us to take a step to welcome Jesus into our imperfect lives.   God has called you into his spiritual calling.  As for me, answering his call has given me hope for a peace-filled life, knowing that I have made peace with God, and God has made peace with me. This is God’s solution for me in becoming a “better human being.”

The gospel liberates us to really live in freedom

I have said that a performance type of Christianity can be unsustainable.  What I mean by “unsustainable” is that a person can get tired out by having to perform all the time. We are forced to keep up and maintain the image of being a “good Christian”.

A part of spirituality involves doing good works, and so I have tried to be a good, holy, and virtuous person.  I tried to be that “good Christian” according to the church’s standards of what a good Christian is.  The righteous life became a goal I pursued.  Honestly, I have failed to live according to the ideal of the virtuous life…but who really can?

When we live out a performance type of Christianity, it can be unsustainable.  A person can get tired out by having to perform all the time because we are forced to keep up and maintain the image of being a “good Christian.”  If religion is about keeping up with self-image then that religion itself is a failure.

Though I have failed to keep up to that image, I have never considered giving up my faith in Christ or leaving the Church, but I have felt a burden of guilt–a guilt that’s been planted by people’s expectations. It is a burden and puts us in bondage to our own sin.

[ I was surprised by a recent op-ed article by a Muslim who asked introspectively, “Does Religion Make People Moral?” (N.Y. Times, Nov 2017).  Religion can, and it cannot.]

If our own Christian religion only comes as just a bunch of rules, then it is dead.  When it’s only about law without grace, it can become destructive to a person’s spirit.   A religion of law sucks them dry and leave them spiritually empty.  It is no wonder the church has somewhat of a negative reputation.  This image of Christ’s church needs to change.  We need to change.  There is hope yet.

The prophet spoke of an advent or coming of good news that brings a refreshment of life, healing and freedom (Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV),

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Praise the Lord!  This is what the gospel does.  The gospel is to bring healing, liberty, freedom, the Lord’s favor and blessing, and comfort.

I am still learning more of what true religion is, and what it can and cannot do. True religion is not about image, performance, and moralisms; such are human expectations.

The gospel frees us because the good news of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love liberates us from a performance-oriented religion.  On the other hand, the law is also a beautiful thing that can teach us ways that improves our way of living.  Both law and gospel are awesome things that God has given us.

Both law and gospel are deeply spiritual ideas within our Christian faith.  But it’s only the gospel that liberates us.  God sent us Jesus to give us freedom and release from bondage and imprisonment from our sin and of false religion.  It leads us to a deeper spirituality that liberates and comforts our human soul and spirit that mourns for freedom from judgment that can bind us.

 

Loving unconditionally vs performance

A true and deep spirituality comprises more than living according to rules and keeping the law.  Some Christians would go as far as to label this a false religion.

People are searching for a deeper spirituality that involves love and acceptance.  If we have a shallow understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness, we might end up emphasizing performance over grace.   How well one follows rules/laws and do good deeds become a measure of our Christian spirituality. This fails to show how deep and wide is the love of God.

What’s worst is how this might influence the way we treat others, e.g., being judgmental and hypocritical toward others if we don’t match up to our standards of following the law.  This type of spirituality can feel very unsatisfying (and be unsustainable), especially if we’re on the receiving end of judgment.

This judgmentalism and performance type of Christianity paints a false picture of God’s love and acceptance of us as God’s children.  People have turned away from the church because of our hypocritical attitude towards them.  The sad thing–we who might be hypocrites may not even know it, and often, we’re too busy putting up a show of being moral.  It might be good for our image but bad for spiritual morale.

Paul said in First Thessalonians 1:3,

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”

Jesus speaks of loving one another as a command (Gospel of John 13:34-35),

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For some ex-Christians who have left the church, the ability to believe in God’s unconditional love is where it stops. After failing to live rightly and justly, and having to repent over and over again for our same old sins, some of us just give up and no longer believe because we have not experienced the love of God through others.  We have been given a false image of a harsh God.

This is a lot of pressure we place upon ourselves and upon others.  It becomes an unsustainable spirituality, and possibly, even a false religion.  Where do we get this impression of God’s love being conditional?

If we have projected our moralism upon others, may we be humble enough to ask for God’s forgiveness. It might be a first step toward forgiveness, a deeper spirituality, and a better religion.  We can do better as Christians.

Texas church massacre: May God heal us

May God’s peace, love and mercy, be with the families and friends of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX.  In this time of tragedy and sadness, may the prayers of the saints rise to heaven, and may the Lord hear our cries and heal our land.

_______________

People are looking for answers and reasons.  Who in their right mind would have the indecency to murder innocent children and adults, especially during worship.  Why do things like this happen in our society, even in small communities?

In our confusion, sadness, and anger, we might ask, “Where is God in this?” but another question might be, “What is it with human beings?”  Is humankind so potentially depraved that it would drive a human being to murder Christian worshipers in cold-blood?

When a person is estranged from God, one is also estranged from God’s love; and when one is estranged from God’s love, it leaves room for hate, sin and evil to enter in.  This is why there is such potential for evil.  We call this depravity.

The murderer, Mr. Devin Patrick Kelley, was far from having any reverence for God’s holiness and love for his fellow human beings.  He was a hardcore proponent of atheism, and Antifa globalist propaganda (left-wing, anti-fascists who hate Christian conservatism).

The Apostle Paul speaks of human depravity in Ephesians 2:1-3,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

We, as depraved human beings, have the potential to do much evil in this world, especially with all our passions and desires that drive us toward sinful behavior.  Add in factors of mental illness, Antifa ideology, and perhaps add in chemical dependency, a person can get very confused.

When we are spiritually weak, we need God desperately.  Perhaps the fear of God really is the beginning of wisdom? (Proverbs 9:10).

In our search for answers, I hope that we as a society and as individuals, seek peace, truth, and reconciliation with God, with humanity, and with ourselves.

God prunes us like a gardener

I’ve planted tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables in past seasons. This year, nothing. Only a raspberry bush that had already been growing. Like a good gardener, I pruned it and tended to it carefully. As a result, I got to harvest some ripe and sweet raspberries. Branches that did not grow fruit needlessly took up nutrients that otherwise could be used by branches that do bear fruit. I snipped these off.

The Gospel of John talked of gardening. In John 15:1-4, Jesus said,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.”

Jesus is like a vine in a plant/tree; Father God is like a gardener who tends the garden. A good gardener must prune and cut out branches that do not flower and bear fruit in order to give more nutrients to the rest of the other branches on the tree/plant. Why? So that nutrients can be redirected to branches that are growing fruit. More nutrients means more fruit. This passage made sense to me because I have done pruning which helped the plant grow more fruit. My personal experience gardening gave a better understanding of the writer’s intent in John 15:1-8.

Does this mean that we might also need some pruning in our lives? Sometimes, we might feel unfruitful in our personal ministry and life. This might mean that our personal lives needs a little pruning. Do you see areas of your lives where things might be distracting your attention from spiritual growth? If you do, God may be speaking to you about needing to do some gardening in your personal life. God has recently spoken to me about this in my own life.