Category Archives: Star Wars

This is it…

Well, today is an historic day for Star Wars fans.

Today, the movie Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is released here in the UK; I understand other countries might have to wait until tomorrow, but don’t worry, you will find no spoilers in this article.

The Rise of Skywalker is the final instalment of the third Skywalker Trilogy, completing the sequence of nine movies depicting the saga of the Skywalker family and their fortunes in the ongoing Galactic Civil War that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.

I have my ticket for today’s 10:05 performance of the movie at my local cinema, and have to say that I am going with some trepidation as well as a quiet hope.

My trepidation comes from a complex story of complete cock-ups by Disney, who own the Star Wars franchise.

The first episode of the final Trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – was written and directed by the legendary J. J. Abrams, and what a superb movie it was. Released in 2015, it left loads of unanswered questions and cliff-hangers, as well as many subtle hints at what was to come. The Force Awakens culminated in the final scene, known as The Jedi Steps, in which not a word was spoken but which, through a combination of masterful music, stunning scenery and wonderful acting, finished the movie on such a moving note and a brilliant cliff-hanger, simultaneously leaving the fans satisfied and still hungry for more, what with all the unanswered questions.

Fast-forward two years to the end of 2017, and the release of the second movie in the Trilogy: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie had a very polarised reception with reactions from both extremes, from absolute hatred on the one hand to total joy on the other. Personally, I didn’t like the movie at all – in fact, I consider it one of the most rubbish movies I have ever seen, Star Wars sacrilege notwithstanding – and I was especially incensed by the cavalier treatment of the cliff-hanger from The Force Awakens’s final scene – The Jedi Steps, where that incredibly moving masterpiece was ridden over roughshod by Johnson’s storyline. Added to that, many other bad story choices – I won’t go into details – meant that The Last Jedi, for me, and for many other life-long Star Wars fans, was a complete flop. Indeed, so unpopular was the movie that when the DVD came out, it sold so badly that my local supermarket was giving it away for free with a mere £10 grocery purchase. To me, that’s an objective indication of just how bad a movie it was.

In fact it was so bad that the next Star Wars movie – Solo – A Star Wars Story, released at the end of 2018, and not directly a part of the Skywalker saga – did not do at all well in the cinemas mainly (in my opinion) because The Last Jedi had been such a terrible movie. Disney blamed Solo for its own poor reception, but in my opinion it was a simply excellent movie with so much potential for follow-up stories, with, again, all its unanswered questions, dangling threads, and intriguing little plot twists. But we will never know, now, where those story threads would have gone, because Disney announced that they were not going to do any more movies of the A Star Wars Story’ type, supposedly as a result of Solo‘s poor showing.

Anyway, back to the Trilogy. I remember thinking, during the months leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, that having three different writers (Abrams, Johnson and then an (at the time) unnamed writer for Episode IX) construct separately the story arc for a full trilogy over the space of five or six years of writing, filming and post-production, was a bit of a daft idea.

I likened it to that children’s game where one child draws a person’s head on one end of a piece of paper, then folds their handiwork under so that it cannot be seen by the next child. The next player then draws a torso and arms, and folds the paper so that neither the head nor torso are visible. Finally, another child draws the hips and legs, after which the paper is unfolded and their combined monstrosity is revealed in all its silliness, to the accompaniment, of course, of gales of laughter.

And that’s what The Last Jedi came across to me as being like. It was almost like a different story; parts of the characters had been changed, and huge swathes of the story from The Force Awakens were ignored. In fact, Mark Hamill, who played the legendary character Luke Skywalker, was reported to have asked writer/director Rian Johnson, “What have you done with my character?” Few of the actors who played parts in The Last Jedi were pleased with the story and the twisting of their character profiles, some being more vocal than others about their opinions. Of course, Disney are very tightly controlling about the way their people are allowed to express opinions, and a lot of the stuff that was said had to be ‘retracted’. Of course, all of this obfuscation is completely transparent to those who have seen, over the years, how Disney work. They know they made a mistake with The Last Jedi, but there’s no way they’ll admit it.

Fortunately (I hope), the final part of the Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, was given back to J. J. Abrams to complete the story. This means that the person who drew the head, in our illustrative children’s game, will get to draw the hips and legs, notwithstanding the efforts of Johnson to mess things up with an abysmal torso and arms. I understand there was some reluctance on Abrams’ part to take up the reins again, but I am hoping he will have done it well. But there’s always the overarching shadow of the possibility of Disney causing yet another dog’s dinner of it, despite J. J. Abrams. He will, after all, have to do as they tell him.

So, it all boils down to today. I will go to see Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, as I said, at the 10:05 performance today. I am hopeful that the genius of J. J. Abrams will recover something beautiful from the catastrophic mess left by Rian Johnson – a mess which even included the pointless death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi. I am wondering quite how Abrams is going to achieve that feat. I am wondering how he’s going to bring together all the story threads from his masterpiece that was The Force Awakens: how he’s going to bring in the obvious Force-sensitivity of Finn; if Kylo Ren will turn to the Light Side of the Force; how he’s going to explain Rey’s parentage and her Force-sensitivity; how he’s going to explain why the Skywalker lightsaber called out to Rey in a Force dream in The Force Awakens. How (and even if) he’s going to incorporate any of the canonical back-story from books like Star Wars: Before the Awakening which included many important attributes for the characters Finn, Rey and Poe. And will Luke reappear as a Force-ghost? How is he going to incorporate the much-touted reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, who supposedly died at the end of Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, without rendering the story arc of all six of the original movies pointless?* All these questions and more, I am hopeful, will be answered by Abrams’ story today, because he wrote the original story that introduced the new characters (Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo), and he knows what he had in mind for them in the first place.

Well, we shall see. The trepidation of being able to sort out the balls-up that was The Last Jedi. The hope that Abrams will successfully work his genius to make everything right again.

I’m sure there’s a spiritual parallel there somewhere 😉

But I do hope that I will emerge from that cinema this afternoon with a sense of closure. Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life; I have so much invested in the characters and the stories, and I really don’t want to be disappointed. But I’m hopeful that J. J. will do a good job.

The Force will be with you. Always 🙂


*The original movies were Star Wars – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi. These were then succeeded by the ‘Prequel Trilogy’ consisting of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The whole overarching theme of these stories was the fall and subsequent redemption of Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) and his destruction of the Dark Side powers known as the Sith when he destroys Emperor Palpatine, thus turning back to the Light after his long sojourn under the Dark Side of the Force.

00

‘Execute Order 66’

I don’t expect people who are not Star Wars fans to get this – but when the sales assistant at the chip shop shouts out ‘Order 66!’ then it’s time for Jedi everywhere to be worried… 😉

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Order 66 was the order given by Emperor Palpatine in the movie ‘Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith‘. The order meant that the Emperor’s soldiers were to wipe out the Jedi – the warrior/monk class that had been the guardians of peace and justice in the Galaxy for thousands of years.

Here’s the moment when Palpatine issues the order:

So there it is.

You can imagine, then, how it makes a Star Wars diehard like me feel when someone calls out ‘Order 66!’

Life is full of laughs. Take ’em when you can 🙂

 

10

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Star Wars…

Well, after a two-year wait since Episode VII – The Force Awakens, it’s at last  time for us to pick up the story of Finn, Rey, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker once again. First screenings of ‘Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi’ begin here in the UK today.

I’m going to see it in half an hour’s time. I won’t post any spoilers, nor will I even say whether I enjoyed it or not, since that too would be a spoiler.

If you go see it yourself, I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

Until then, may the Force be with you!

10

Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

“Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.”
– Yoda

You won’t find this in the Bible, so don’t even try to find it 😉 Instead, once again, the wisdom of Yoda, from the Star Wars saga, illustrates perfectly a life-giving principle in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s hear it from Yoda first of all, shall we:

Well now, I was sad to read, the other day, posts on Facebook from a bloke who was spouting all kinds of nasty poisonous religious stuff, in response to my friend sharing things he’d discovered about Jesus and His take on homosexuality. I came away from that with a heavy heart, because I felt sorry for the man who had said all those nasty things. It was clear to me, reading between the lines (something I normally find difficult due to having Asperger’s Syndrome, but in this case I think the Spirit was leading me in my feeling) that this guy had some serious anger issues against those who did not quite agree with his doctrinal position.

This chap kept ‘warning’ us that our thinking was ‘dangerous’, ‘idolatry’ and other such words. And, predictably, he issued threats that we were going to Hell (handbasket probably optional, although I must say he didn’t specify). To be honest, I don’t really think he knew what the words he’d used meant. But the entire thing was shot through with anger, hatred, and fear. He expressed hatred both for us and for what we believed in. It seemed that he was terrified that if he didn’t ‘point out our error’, that he too would suffer the ‘same fate’ as we would for our heretical beliefs. I don’t think that, even in my rabid Fundamentalist days, I ever thought like that, although I have to admit that I felt a lot of anger about the way that certain cults, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had ‘twisted’ many, many Scriptures to make them look as if they ‘supported’ their doctrines. And so I know how it feels…

Living a life like that leads inevitably to suffering, because there are consequences to our actions. That’s what sin is and what it produces. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. And instead of exercising our freedom and following Jesus, we once again get all tangled up in ‘sin’ – both ours and others’ when we take it upon ourselves to ‘correct’ others – just like it says in Hebrews 12:1.

So today, then, I would like to develop this idea that, indeed, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering”. Fear has, as Yoda says, ‘Everything!’ to do with it.

You see, people in Religious circles insist on perpetuating fear-based theology, despite (and indeed ignoring) reassuring passages like 1 John 4:18, where the writer says this:

This is about as clear as the Bible ever gets. If you are afraid of God punishing you, then you will live in fear. But there is no fear in Love; not in God’s Love at any rate. Those who have experienced God’s love do not live in fear, because the experience of that perfect Love drives out all fear of punishment. We know for a fact that God will never, ever punish us for anything. And so there is no need to fear God, either in terms of punishment or anything else. Once you have been made perfect in Love; once you have experienced His Love, nothing and nobody can take that away from you, and therefore you do not live your life in fear anymore. I can testify to this, in that the worst thing that could possibly happen to me has indeed happened (Job 3:25), and yet here I am rejoicing still. Because I know the Love of the Father, and fear no longer has a place in my life 😀

It is easy to see why people have a god that they fear. Quite aside from the misuse of ancient English language as used in the King James Version of the Bible, where the word ‘Fear’ is used in the context of ‘fearing God’ – where actually it refers to being in reverent awe of Him, not being scared of Him – the whole message of humankind in regards to our position before god has always been one where we should be afraid. Be really, really afraid.

And that despite the most common phrase in the Bible . “Do not be afraid!”

In my article, Graven Image, I wrote this:

“So effectively the religious authorities of [Jesus’s] time had made a ‘graven image’. They had built themselves an image of God in their minds and in their writings, and they thought that God was like that image. This image of God they had made was of course, like all graven images, completely incorrect; even in the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a God of Love, which their graven image did not reflect. They had set up, in the place of the Loving Father, a man-made, stone-faced image of a ‘nasty god’ which bore no resemblance to the loving Creator of the Universe. Ask any person even nowadays what they think of God, and the chances are that they think of him as an angry old man up in Heaven just looking for people to get radgy with. This is the legacy of the graven image that these people worshipped – and, sadly, that many people still worship today.

And tragically that’s the case for many Christians too. Many Christians are driven by a fear of ‘going to Hell fire’ if they put so much as a toe out of place. This fear is perpetuated by church leaders who fuel this fear in order to maintain control over their ‘flocks’*. And so, Christians like that Facebook contributor fear God because they believe – incorrectly – that He’s a pretty nasty piece of work. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day believed that, and look where it got them – condemned to live lives where they had to observe all the minutiae of an impossibly complex religious ruleset in order to make themselves ‘acceptable’ to God. Who wants to live like that?

It is well known that we become like that which we worship. And so, believing in a nasty killjoy god and worshipping it means that we become like it. We will be wary of having fun, and we will condemn others who have fun, in case such behaviour – or allowing such behaviour – leads us into ‘sin’. We will become harsh, judgemental and intolerant.

However, if we believe in – and therefore worship – a God of goodness, joy, love, healing, peace and wonder, as demonstrated by Jesus, we will become more like Jesus instead of more like the nasty god. And the fruits in our lives will reflect that – love, joy, peace and all the rest, and this too will manifest itself in the way we relate to others.

But this fear of God, and what they fear He will do to them if they ‘get it wrong’, is deeply rooted in so many Christians’ lives.  It appears that this man on Facebook became angry that others – especially the ‘unrighteous’, but also other believers – had got it wrong and he couldn’t stop us getting it wrong, and he was angry at us because he felt that we would drag him down, along with the rest of society with him, given half a chance.

And for that, he hates us – although he would doubtless say that he was being ‘loving’ in pointing out our ‘sin’ and ‘heresy’, but believe you me, there was nothing loving in his speech. But hate is a form of unforgiveness, and the only solution to that is to forgive us for our perceived ‘sin’; to let it go, to not worry about correcting us but to leave that up to God to correct us should He so wish.

And finally hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. Because it’s unforgiveness, it will eat away at us from the inside out. And thus the Dark Side triumphs in that person’s life, in that, like in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy”. He steals our assurance, kills our joy, and destroys our peace.

To illustrate how this works, I will return for a while to the Star Wars analogy. I present this as a parable; a fictional story with a meaning. Let’s take a look at the main protagonist of the ‘first’ six episodes, from The Phantom Menace through to Return of the Jedi: the young Anakin Skywalker, whom I have featured in my blog before.

For Anakin Skywalker, the progression from Fear, through Anger, then Hate and finally Suffering is encapsulated brilliantly by his transformation into the evil Darth Vader

A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story.

I must warn you that this will be a ‘spoiler’ if you haven’t seen the ‘Star Wars’ series yet!

As a young slave boy, Anakin Skywalker was recognised as being powerful in the Force, the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of God. Rescued from a life of slavery, but sadly not being able to free his beloved mother as well, Anakin is taken to the planet Coruscant in order to be trained to be one of the Jedi; warrior-monks who use their powers in the Force to maintain peace and justice in the Galaxy. The movie clip at the beginning of this piece shows his interview before the Jedi Council, of which the wise Yoda is a member. Anakin falls in love with a young lady called Padmé Amidala; a liaison which is forbidden by Jedi laws, but Anakin secretly marries Padmé in defiance of those laws. The evil Senator Sheev Palpatine – who is a Sith Lord, a follower of the evil Dark Side of the Force – then uses Anakin’s fears  to corrupt him and turn Anakin too to the Dark Side. Firstly, his fears for his mother – who dies in his arms after being abducted by the ‘Sandpeople’, all of whom Anakin then murders in revenge for his mother’s death. His fear led to anger, his anger led to hate, and his hate led to suffering. Secondly, Palpatine then uses Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s safety to twist him subtly towards the Dark Side; Anakin’s anger flares because he perceives that his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, does not treat him fairly. And finally, that anger changes to Hate. Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, his new Sith name. And his hatred for Obi-Wan spills over into his relationship with Padmé, and he chokes her almost to death. The very last thing Anakin/Vader says to Obi-Wan, before being left for dead – are the words, “I hate you!” (Be warned, this is quite graphic)

And Vader has to live with the destruction caused by that hatred – the suffering which Yoda mentioned and which, tragically, he was so correct about. “I sense great fear in you”, said Yoda, and he was right. Padmé dies of a broken heart (after giving birth to Padmé and Anakin’s twins, Luke and Leia) and Vader blames himself because Palpatine lies that Vader killed her. His anguish, in this penultimate scene of the film, is so terrible that the Dark Side of the Force overwhelms him and causes massive destruction in the room around him. As you can see from Palpatine’s face, this is all pleasing to him as Vader succumbs more and more to the horror and despair of the Dark Side of the Force.

And then the rest of the Star Wars saga is about the results of Darth Vader’s anger, fear, hatred and bitterness as they fester inside him and destroy all that is dear to him, especially the Galactic Republic that he fought for for so long; instead, it becomes the Galactic Empire and Palpatine names himself Emperor. This next picture illustrates beautifully the regret, grief and destruction that Vader contains within himself (the lady whose face is in the picture is Padmé):

For Anakin, then, his fear leads to anger; his anger leads to hate; and his hate leads to suffering – not only the loss of his beloved wife, but also the unnumbered sufferings of those whose lives Vader destroys, and that deadly, destructive regret and self-blame that feeds the Dark Side of the Force within him. He’s full of anger, hate and suffering; anger at himself, at Palpatine, and at everyone else who he feels has betrayed him. Until eventually his love for his son, Luke, compels him to save Luke from being murdered by Emperor Palpatine – albeit at the cost of his own life – but in the process, Vader comes back to the Light and dies in Luke’s arms, but as the redeemed Jedi Anakin Skywalker once more. He has let go of his hate at last.

Spoiler Ends

Now to return from that parable into real life. Quite a jump, isn’t it? Star Wars is simply brilliant….anyway, the Vader example is hopefully a slightly extreme comparison for our contributor in the Facebook story, but still it illustrates the point. Existing with a fear of God, in the sense of being scared of Him, is not a healthy place to be in at all. I don’t know why people hold so hard onto the fear aspect when all along there’s the Loving arms of God underneath (Deut 33:27), although as I said above, fear is its own vicious cycle. But it’s easy to see the chain reaction of fear-anger-hate-suffering that some of these people have, and, I hope, that they long to break free of. They don’t need to be scared of God, they don’t need to be angry with others who don’t agree with them, and they certainly don’t need to hate us. Because the only outcome is suffering. These people will never be free to enjoy the freedom of the Kingdom of God unless they first break free from this fear-induced cycle.

But that takes God’s Love. It takes a realisation, and indeed a divine revelation, of God’s Love for us. You can’t make it up. You can’t even make it happen. It’s got to be from Him Himself. But, you can ask Him for it. Ask God to reveal His Love to you. Ask Him to show you the perfect Love that drives out all fear! You see, fortunately for us, God’s Grace reaches us even in our hopelesness, darkness, blindness and despair, in our suffering, in our anger, hate and fear and regret.

And He heals us.

Fear is indeed the path to the Dark Side. It leads to anguish and suffering. But we do not need to follow that path. Don’t persecute those who believe things differently from you. Let go of your anger, your fear, your hatred and let God heal you.

Let me tell you, the relief, the sense of a huge weight lifting off you, is immense. This is my testimony:

My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!

 


*There may be some reading this who would love to break free of that fear, but paradoxically they are afraid of what might happen – what God might do to them – if they are wrong. Well, I feel for you people, I really do. And I testify that there is indeed freedom out here, free of the chains of fear-based religion.  And it’s a safe freedom!

I would say to you, along with many other voices in the Bible: Do not be afraid!

20

The Weaponization of Scripture

Here’s a great post from Mo, one of my Facebook friends:

“Jesus and the teachers of the law both quoted a lot of scripture.

“The stunning difference was in the lens through which they saw it, the lens that defined its purpose and set its context.

“The Pharisees used the scriptures to condemn, to accuse, to prove guilt. Present-day people are pros at this pastime and propose plenty of proof-text piles to penalize perpetrators.

“I’ve done this too often, sad to say.

“Jesus came to show that the entire scriptures pointed to Him (Luke 24:27), the One who came to bring healing, forgiveness, wholeness, restoration, peace and Life.

“The Pharisees “weaponized” the scriptures, while Jesus came to disarm them and bring to us an entirely new way of engaging with the world. . .

“A way informed by His Love, built on
the foundation of His Shalom.

“Selah.”

I have written on this subject before. Some people see the Bible as the Word of God, and that the ‘Word of God’ is not only the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ (Eph 6:17), but also ‘…quick and powerful, cutting [really deeply]’ (Heb 4:12). I personally have likened the idea of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ as being the ‘Lightsaber of the Spirit‘, albeit jokingly.

But I am concerned when Christians conduct what I would call ‘friendly fire’ attacks on fellow believers by wielding the Bible as a club, sword or other weapon. As I quoted in the first of the articles in the paragraph above,

“Every time [Scripture] is used, it should be used in a way that matches the heart of God. If it is not, it is being abused.”

How true that is. The great Christian theologian and apologist, C. S. Lewis, also agreed:

A-flippin’-men to that. Yes, it is Jesus Who is the Word of God (Jn1:1), not the Bible, although it does contain some of the words of God – some of the things He said. And the Bible is, as Lewis says, is one of the devices God can use to bring us to Christ. It is so sad, then, that in these days, people use the Bible as a judgemental weapon to beat up both those in the Church, and those outside it. Is it any wonder that I get so frustrated seeing, time and again, ‘believers’ hurting others with this powerful book – albeit a book that only has real power when people agree that it has. In other words, for those that do not believe in things written in the Bible, it holds no power.

Conversely, though, the Bible holds the power both to build up or to destroy those who do believe in what the Bible says. This is why the message of inerrancy  – that the Bible is always right – is so damaging, because firstly the Bible was never intended to be always right; secondly, those who have dogmatically decided that what they believe is right are the ones who batter people over the head with their own beliefs, based on their own interpretation. That there are many ways of interpreting the Bible is beyond doubt; that is why there are tens of thousands of Chistian denominations all across this world of ours.

The damage caused by this sort of behaviour is at least twofold. Here are the two principal types of damage I can think of: firstly, those who believe the Bible is an authoritative document are led into lives of slavery and misery by those who claim to have everything all ‘right’; all their doctrines lined up neatly like ducks in a row. Secondly, people outside the Church see all this theological infighting and decide, quite rightly, that they want nothing whatever to do with this sort of thing. In a very real way, the ‘gatekeepers of Heaven‘ are shutting the doors of Heaven in men’s faces by their misuse of this book which is such a precious spiritual resource but which is misused so often, as in the Lewis quotation above.

Instead, then, let’s use the Bible as the way to build people up. Let’s use it for its primary purpose, which is to lead people to the true Word of God, Who is Jesus Christ – not in an accusatory or condemnatory way, but in portraying God as Jesus portrayed Him: full of mercy, compassion and Love. When we lift Jesus up, He draws all men to Himself (Jn 12:32).

This is so much more upbuilding than causing vast spiritual and emotional damage akin to waving a razor-sharp sword around.

Or even a lightsaber

So, to my mind, it’s about time people stopped waving this lightsaber around like that.

They’ll have someone’s arm off….* 😉


*This is a reference to how, in most of the Star Wars movies, someone’s arm gets lopped off by a lightsaber. I have heard it jokingly said that it’s not a proper Star Wars movie unless someone loses an arm… 😉

41

Who is your Father?

Yes, this is a deliberate posting of a (very loosely) Star Wars – flavoured post on the day that the new Star Wars movie, ‘Rogue One’, is released!

I sometimes wonder if the ‘family resemblance’ of certain people who identify as Christians is more towards the Dark Side than the Light.

Throughout this post, please bear in mind that, as always, I am not referring to the average Jesus-loving churchgoer, but to those who consider it their duty to poke into others’ lives with their judgementalism and such like.

You see, Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-45, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven“. I’ve written about that here. Someone who does these things is showing the ‘family resemblance’ of Father God’s Kingdom, and that was what Jesus was talking about.

This week, though, I have been looking at the FB pages of several people whom I have seen on there and on forums whom I would term ‘nasty Christians’. Not that they are bad people as such; I used to be like that once upon a time and I know what it’s like to be dogmatic, unbending and rigid in my beliefs; held to an artificial set of behavioural Rules made up by humans (Mk 7:6-7). I’m not saying they are literally nasty people, but that they do come across as harsh and judgemental, making the Gospel unattractive with their judgementalism and sin-policing. They make faith in God just as unattractive as did the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, and they ‘shut the doors of Heaven in men’s faces’ (Mt 23:13)

Now, in a kind of antithesis to how Jesus said ‘you will be called the sons of my Father in heaven’ to His disciples because they reflected His Father’s character, He also chided the Pharisees of His day when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies“. (Jn 8:44 (NASB))

The devil is the ‘father of lies’; he’s also known as the ‘Accuser’ (Rev 12:10); the Adversary’ (1Pet5:8 (ESV)) and the ‘thief’ (Jn 10:10).

The thing is that if you look at the actions of these so-called (and I use that phrase in its true sense) ‘nasty Christians’ who do ‘sin police’ with their victims, being their Accuser, being their Adversary, threatening them with Hell, feeding them with a false gospel (i.e. lies) – then let me ask you: whose fatherhood do they most reflect? I would say they reflect the characteristics of the enemy, the devil, more than they do those of Jesus’s Father God. These people condemn other people, and accuse them of sins. Who does that sound like to you? Clue: the last time I looked, accusation is the job of the enemy!

Now, compare that to the way in which real Christ-followers simply love others. “By this will all men know that you are My disciples – that you love each other” (Jn 13:35). Not just your little inner circle of family or people that agree with you (although of course it is them too), but everyone. The fruit of the Spirit called ‘Love’ applies to everyone. Otherwise, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Mt 5:46) No, Jesus meant to love everyone – just like He did – which means to lay down one’s life in service to others. This is what happens when Jesus is allowed to live His life through the believer by the power of His Spirit. It just comes naturally; if you have to force it, you’re not doing it right! And that’s how people will know that you are His disciples, not by being a ‘nasty’ Pharisee!

For those gentle believers battered by the actions of Pharisees, then, I would say this. Jesus said that “The thief comes not but to steal, kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). The Pharisees are like ‘their father’ in that they steal your assurance (or at least they try to, by challenging your ‘salvation status’), they kill your joy (because Pharisees are killjoys by nature!), and they destroy your peace (with their accusations). Encountered someone like that recently, either online or in real life? Then you can be sure that because their fruits are  bad – and they are indeed bad fruits! – you do not need to agree with anything that they say/write to you. You don’t need to be afraid of these people, because Jesus said in Matthew 6:20, “Store your treasures in heaven, where … thieves do not break in and steal” – and that (the thieves) includes them! The Kingdom of God takes all sorts, yes, but those people, who are narrow-minded enough to believe naively that they have ‘got it all right’ to the exclusion of others, don’t get to have any say in your eternal destiny! They are not the gatekeepers. It doesn’t matter what they say; the fact remains that they have no say in your, or anyone else’s, salvation! Always remember that the treasure you have is untouchable by those who would seek to deny you it. It really is in that place where ‘thieves cannot break in and steal’. Your place at the table is reserved, and no amount of men’s proclamations can ever take you off the guest list.

But I also have to point out that even for Pharisees, this ‘father issue’ can have a happy ending!

You see, Jesus didn’t mean that the Pharisees were literally children of the enemy. He was meaning that they reflect more the character of the enemy than they do the character of Father God, as I explained above. But, you know what? Jesus, for all His diatribes against them, actually loved the Pharisees. In His way, He was dealing with them in a similar manner to how they dealt with others; imposing their Laws on them and reminding them of how important it was to fulfil the entire Law (Mt 5:19). I believe He did this in order to use the Law for its original intention – to show the futility of human effort in trying to please God by obeying Rules, as is put another way in the quote below:

the-genius-of-jesus

In fact, for some of them, there actually is an historical record of that happy ending! There’s a fairly obscure little passage in Acts 15:5 that says that some of the believers were in fact Pharisees, which means that they did come to believe in Jesus at some point. And even in the passage I mentioned above, they were still pushing their legalism agendas! It just goes to show that it really takes all sorts in the Church, and that the learning of the ways of Grace can take time; as far as I know, that passage in Acts is set in about 50AD (nearly 20 years after Jesus’s ascension), so those Pharisees had probably either never/not yet learned, or slipped back into their legalistic ways (it’s easy to do; this is the natural human inclination!). But whatever the case, they were ‘believers’.

And so, this tells me that there is still hope for Pharisees, even those of today. (In fact there must be; I was myself one, once upon a time, before Jesus set me free!) Although they may well find it hard to slip their legalistic mindset, they are still partaking of the Kingdom, albeit probably in a limited way as they don’t appreciate the full freedom they have!

In fact, I wrote a piece nearly a year ago which gives you a simple ‘acid test’ to determine whether your fruits are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Whether they are ‘Pharisee’ or ‘Grace-based’. Click here to go to that piece – you might find it helpful!

So, if you have felt your spirit touched by this blog post; if the Spirit has been prodding you about whether you are behaving, speaking and forum posting nastily – more like the enemy than like Father God – be encouraged too. You can be free of all that need to correct others! You can be free to be the person you were meant to be; a child of your Father and not ‘of the enemy’! Maybe check out this blog post for more ideas – and walk out into your freedom. Freedom you were born for. Freedom that reflects your true Father!


SPOILER ALERT
If there’s anyone reading this blog who does not know the significance of the featured (header) image for this blog post, do not continue reading.

(spoiler below!)

 

If you do know the significance, then of course you’ll know that the picture shows the scene from Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader tells ‘Luke Skywalker that Vader is in fact Luke’s father. The classic line ‘No! I am your father!’ – the ‘Big Reveal’ – is of course one of the most iconic moments in the entire Star Wars saga.

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Twin Lightsabers!

After some of my more serious posts recently, I felt I just had to inject a bit of light relief into my blog posts.

The Bible says to “…take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Now, whether that refers to Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, or the Bible (possibly not, as it didn’t exist when Ephesians was written! And I don’t do bibliolatry*) but in any case, having the Scripture memorised is indeed a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare; the enemy doesn’t like to hear an appropriate Scripture quoted at him!** So let’s call the Bible the word of God for now. And it’s the Sword of the Spirit. I like to think of it as my spiritual lightsaber***.

Now, as you may know, I am a huge Star Wars geek. Not just a fan, but a total geek. And in Star Wars lore, there is a lightsaber combat style known as Jar’Kai, which is the method of using two lightsabers together in combat.

Well-known (to Star Wars geeks anyway) practitioners of Jar’Kai are Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, who wields two lightsabers of different lengths, and (usually) one of them in a forehand grip, one in a backhand grip:

ahsokalightsabers

ahsoka1

…and there’s also Sith apprentice/Nightsister Asajj Ventress:

ventress1

Here’s Ventress using her two lightsabers while fighting against the Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker:

anakinventressduel-kamino

Now, here’s the funny bit. At home, and also when I go to my church’s life group (our housegroup), I take two Bibles. In effect, I’m carrying two swords. Or, as I’d prefer to think, my twin lightsabersHere’s the Star Wars equivalent: effectively, I use my Bibles Jar’Kai style. I take my 1978 NIV and my King James Version. I find that sometimes, one version puts a passage in a better, more easily understandable light. An example of the King James carrying a better turn of phrase is in Matthew 18:3 (KJV), as explained in this article. And the other side of the coin is that the Bible I use most is the 1978 NIV, and quite often I use that translation to obtain the modern English meanings of the KJV archaic speech. I find the result to be most illuminating! Each translation has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each Bible covers points the other misses.

Similarly, the Jar’Kai lightsaber style allows the user to cover his/her weakpoints with one saber while attacking with the other, or to get better use out of each saber. Think like the effect of having two lightsabers is greater than the sum of the two sabers.

And, for me, so it is with my Bibles. Some have called me things like ‘Two-Gun Tex’. I’d prefer the Jar’Kai label but nobody knows about it except us geeks 😉 Here’s Anakin Skywalker again (played by Haydn Christensen) improvising Jar’Kai against Sith Lord Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (played by the late legendary actor Christopher Lee) in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones:

anakin_dual_wielding

There are more parallels, too. Use of the lightsaber relies very heavily on the Force, which is the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of God. Similarly, the Bible has to be used as inspired by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit brings to life a passage of Scripture, then that is the point at which the Bible becomes the Word of God – living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). Although as I have said above, Jesus is the Word of God, the Bible when activated by the Spirit is still a powerful weapon. And we don’t need to be ultra-precise about these things anyway; this is supposed to be a light-hearted piece.

kenobi_faces_grievous

The picture above shows Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) facing Separatist General Grievous with his four lightsabers****. Now that’s just cheating. Not even sure that counts as Jar’Kai….

And carrying four Bibles would mean you’d have a really heavy bag.

Anyway, yes, it might sound pretentious and maybe even super-spiritual to carry two Bibles to housegroup – but I really do find it useful and educational to do so.

And I know all this sounds completely nuts. But I find it funny, and maybe that’s just a quirky Aspergic sort of thing. But I thought I’d share it because it might get a few chuckles….something we could all do with now and again!


*Bibliolatry is where people are almost thinking of the Bible as God, and anything said against the Bible is seen as blasphemy. No, really. But of course those guilty of bibliolatry can’t see that they are doing it. Now that’s worth a chuckle or two, or would be if it didn’t cause so much misery!

**Please don’t be under the impression that I take my Bibles to housegroup in order to start Scripture-bombing fights with people. I don’t 😀

***If you don’t know what a lightsaber is, be advised that it’s a famous weapon from the Star Wars movie franchise. It’s like a laser beam formed into a sword and it can be used for both attack and defence. And it’s deadly in the right hands; deadly in a different way in the wrong hands (you’d end up chopping off bits of yourself and your friends 😉 ). Another parallel about the use/misuse of Scripture!

****In Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

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The March of the Resistance

Here’s another superb piece of John Williams music from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This piece is called ‘The March of the Resistance’ and I love it. In fact, I love it so much that I have it as the ringtone on my mobile phone. The problem, of course, with having such a good ringtone, is that I never want to answer the phone; I’d rather listen to the music 😉

Williams makes full use of the orchestra in this piece, in terms of instrumentation. It is absolutely full of gorgeous counterpoints, it has a great chord structure, dynamics and lovely attack and emphasis. Some of it is even reminiscent of the piece ‘Battle in the Air’ from the film ‘Battle of Britain’, composed by Sir William Walton, which is a classic piece of movie music. John Williams is one of the greatest creative geniuses of our time.

Have a listen and see what you think!

Enjoy!

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Use the Force!

force doors 4

This is hopelessly true. At least, it is in my case. I always open automatic doors using the Force. Try it and see if you can get it to work too!

force door 3


For those who don’t know, in the Star Wars movies, some characters can ‘use the Force’ to move objects around without touching them – kind of like ‘telekinesis – and this ability can also be used to open doors without touching the handle. I couldn’t find a proper Star Wars YouTube clip to illustrate this, but this is what it would look like:

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