Category Archives: Star Wars

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “

Most of my readers know how much I love to use the mythology of Star Wars to illustrate theological points from the Christian faith. And of course there is no better character than Jedi Master Yoda when it comes to wisdom quotes. With his backwards-facing speech and small stature, it’s easy to underestimate him – until you realise that he’s over 800 years old and has lived under the guidance of the Force (the Star Wars universe’s version of God) for his whole life. He’s compassionate and gentle, wise and powerful. Someone once said to me that he thought that Yoda was ‘…a better Christian than some Church people I know’!

Although sometimes his sayings can be most confusing!

Take, for instance, the saying in the title of this piece.

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “

This is actually a fair summary of the message of God’s Grace, in a nutshell.

But first, let’s hear it from Master Yoda himself:

And I’m not the only one who found it confusing. For instance, in the Disney XD series ‘Star Wars Rebels‘, there’s an exchange between Jedi Kanan Jarrus and his young Padawan (apprentice), Ezra Bridger, talking about it:

As I said above, this is indeed a fair summary of the message of God’s Grace, in terms of what we need to do to please God. Naturally, I’m ripping it entirely out of its original context, and saying something completely different from what Yoda meant (I think, anyway!) – but still it’s useful.

“Do, or Do Not, there is no Try”, simply reminds us that in Christ we have the freedom to Do, or to Do Not. There is absolutely no need to Try.

This is so liberating!

You see, as my regular readers will know, I am a strong proponent of Grace. God’s Grace: the undeserved favour of Almighty God given freely and without hindrance or condition to His children. In all the world’s religions, there are really only two main approaches: there’s Legalism, and there’s Grace. And Christianity, at its core, is the only faith which promotes Grace, and this entirely through the finished work of Jesus Christ – although sadly, much of the time, it is bound up with so much other legalistic religious baggage that it’s undetectable in its true form.

Simply put, Legalism is: do this, do this, don’t do that, don’t do that. Try harder to impress God and He’ll look upon you with favour.

Grace, however, is: it’s already done! Because of the freedom Grace brings, Grace is “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’. “

Grace gives you the freedom to choose to do, or do not, without the Law telling you what to do or not to do. Grace allows you to live life by the Spirit of God, life ‘in the Spirit’, completely unfettered by human expectations of how you ‘should’ obey God’s Law. In short, Do, or Do Not. If you begin to ‘Try’, then you immediately fall into Law and you have ‘fallen from Grace’ (Gal 5:4) in that you are no longer in the state where you are relying on Grace to do things for you, such as making you righteous, fulfilling the Law in Christ and so on. You cannot be in Grace and Law at the same time; it’s either one or the other. To coin a Star Wars phrase, again, you need to ‘trust in the Force’, to ‘let go’ and let God work out His will for you as you walk in the Spirit.

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “

Because the flesh and the law work together, there is no try, because try is doomed to failure. The Law is weakened by sin, and sin increases through the Law (Rom 7:5-6). The two therefore work together in a vicious circle to produce fruitlessness and death. If you want to live by Law, fine; you will still enjoy fellowship with God after a fashion, even though you will likely be adding in lots of additional burdens like rule-keeping, expected behaviour and having to toe the party line on certain issues like creation/evolution and gay/straight debates. There is a form of fellowship with God there, because God allows people to ‘do legalism’ without it affecting how He sees them. But it’s not because of the Rules you think you’re keeping so well (in fact you will probably be conscious of how badly you’re keeping them!); no, It’s because of God’s Grace, apart from Law, that you are already made acceptable to God in Christ. But unless you come into the real freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21) then you will never be free, completely free, from the desire to please others, from the jumping through man-made hoops in order to please God, and all that other baggage. Make no mistake – the desire to please God through following rules almost always turns into trying to please men, because in actual fact it’s their rules you end up trying to keep, not God’s. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day had the Ten Commandments and some other laws too, but they also added lots of other man-made rules of their own. You see the problem? This still goes on today…..

Grace is over Law – the Law of God which essentially states that everyone has to be perfect, and therefore naturally leads us to the point where we realise we can’t be perfect. And so it leads us to Grace, because the function of the Law is to show us our need for Grace (Rom 7:13). The key here is to realise that and accept it, rather than to go on struggling under Law!

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “

Paul, talking about God’s dealing with Israel with regards to the Gospel, (but the principle applies to Jew and Gentile believer alike), says in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (NIV) The King James Version actually adds in more, which I find helpful: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” Romans 11:6 (KJV). That elaboration in the KJV is helpful because it explains that whichever mode of belief you subscribe to – Law (works) or Grace – they are mutually exclusive. You cant exist in both states at the same time. To try to do so means you become ‘double-minded‘ because you are in and out of the ‘state of Grace’ and blown about all over the place (Jas 1:5-8)

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “

I still maintain that, for many believers (even those who understand Grace), the temptation to become acceptable to God through performance – ‘works’ – is a vestigial remnant of their desire to please God in their own strength. But what of where James says in Jas 2:14-26 that “faith without works is dead”? Don’t we need both faith and works? Yes, but only in that works are the fruit of faith. A life lived in faith will produce good works; as usual in many Christian circles a lot of people have got it back-to front and said that good works prove your faith. In one sense they do, but it is not the job of fellow believers to be ‘fruit inspectors’ who ‘police’ others’ works! And the interesting thing here is that actually even those whose walk is under Law still do produce some fruit, because their hearts are in one sense right before God in that they desire Him and desire to walk with Him. But the primary holdup with Law is that the Law-walking believer is never walking in the complete freedom that is his by birthright.

Why have I gone to such lengths to describe the futility of the walk under Law in this piece?

Because these are all examples of Try. It’s all about what we do, rather than about what Christ has already done. What part of Christ’s work does the Legalistic believer think was not completed properly, such that he needs to complete Christ’s work for Him? No, this is Try. Even for those who claim to recognise Grace, but then try to prove they love God by trying to obey rules, it’s not really living under Grace; it’s living under ‘mixture‘. True Grace is completely different. There is no compulsion to try to fulfil the Law in order to please God, because Jesus has already fulfilled the Law on our behalf. There is the freedom to Do – works for God flowing from the depth of our love, and relationship with, Him – but not in order to try to earn His favour, which we already have. The freedom to enjoy life with all its blessings without human rules and expectations getting in the way. There is the freedom to Do Not; the freedom to just rest in God and trust Him for all our own righteousness rather than try to earn it for ourselves – which we can’t do anyway!

Despite all my convoluted explanations above, it’s really very simple.

Under Grace, you have the freedom to Do; you have the freedom to Do Not.

But to Try – I think we’ve already seen how futile this is.

No, it’s always got to be this:

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’ “
do-donot-yoda-pie-chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

And May the Force be With You!

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“It’s true. All of it.”

I love how Christians can learn so much from Star Wars mythology. In the trailer for the new movie, The Force Awakens, there is the following exchange:

Rey: “Those stories about what happened….”

Han Solo: “It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side; the Jedi. It’s all true”

What was it that turned the cynical, hard-bitten smuggler, Han Solo, who originally said that in all his travels, he’d never seen anything like this ‘all-powerful, invisible Force, controlling everything’, into a man who came to believe in all the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ of that same mythical ‘Force’? Well, the thing was, he’d seen it in action, used by his friend Luke Skywalker. There was no longer any doubt in his mind.

And so, thirty years after the events in ‘Return of the Jedi’, Han Solo can tell these two young adventurers, Rey and Finn, about the Force – the “… energy field created by all living things; it surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” – with some authority, even though they’ve never really heard anything about it. He can tell them it’s true, because he knows it is.

And for Christians, this of course reflects on the reality of Jesus.

Sometimes because of our circumstances, sometimes because of the pressures of life, we become cynical; we become discouraged. We wonder if God really does have His Hand on us. And so it’s time to look back at the things God has done for us in the past – at the times when His Hand was certainly on us; at the times when we’ve seen Him in action. At the times when He provided just what we needed, at just exactly the right time. Or maybe we should listen to the testimonies of our Christian brothers and sisters who have also found God’s provision to be just what they needed, when they needed it.

Then, when we look at the promises of God, we can also expect them to be true for us in our lives. And even the vast apocalyptic prophecies, like at the end of Revelation and in parts of Daniel (e.g. late in Chapter 7), where it speaks of a heavenly city, and the people of God shining like the stars of heaven – It’s true. All of it. These things, one day, will happen, and will become historical fact. And – and I find this the most exciting thought of all – we will be there! And we will see it, and take part in it. Now isn’t that something mind-blowing?

Because we can say, along with Han Solo, “It’s true. All of it.”


The header photo is of the legendary actor Harrison Ford, reprising his role as ‘Han Solo’ in the new Star Wars movie, “Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

The full speech is found in this Episode VII third trailer, at time point 1:08 and then at 1:29 in the YouTube clip below:

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The Jedi Steps

My regular readers will know that I love to share things that I think will bless them; things that have blessed me that I just want to share the joy of. That’s why I share cartoons, music and aircraft pictures as well as Christian insights.

So, here is a lovely piece of music from the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, composed by the legendary John Williams. It’s the music from the final scene of the movie, where the lead character, Rey, climbs up a long flight of steps, filmed at the monastery on the remote Skellig Michael island, off the southwestern coast of Ireland.

jedi_steps_skellig

The haunting theme is so gorgeous, and then the music goes into the end-credits of the movie, where several of the major character music themes are explored; Rey’s Theme and The March of the Resistance being especially superb. This is classic John Williams soundtrack music at its very best: evocative, emotive and thoroughly immersive. For Star Wars fans, at least 😉

Anyhow, less of my blathering – play it and enjoy it!

 

 

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Faith and the Suspension of Disbelief

A vital element of all storytelling – from any genre or time period – is the suspension of disbelief. The ability to believe that the characters and events in the story are really happening, or at least possible, is essential in order to enter in to the story, appreciate it, and enjoy it.

I’ve deliberately published this blog post today, on the day of the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens – the first new Star Wars movie in ten years. I’m a huge Star Wars fan; I love the characters, I love the stories, I love the hardware, I luurrrve the music, and I love the fantasy and escapism of being spirited away to a galaxy far, far away for just a couple of hours. And I love the parables and parallels for everyday life that, despite it being a fantasy, still come across so clearly in all good stories, like in the Star Wars saga*.

Apparently, they’re going to be producing a new Star Wars film every year, so forget the annual Christmas countdown; from now on it’s going to be the annual Star Wars countdown for me and other Star Wars fans – now that’s some Bah, humbug!

star wars composite

And as for Lord of the Rings – well, I could easily live in Middle-Earth….. 😉

(Problem is, of course, there would be no Internet…. 😉 )

One of the lessons I have learned from being a Star Wars fan is that the ability to suspend my disbelief is actually a powerful aid to faith. Naturally, I believe that the ability to suspend disbelief is a God-given ability, enabling us to believe what can easily be dismissed as unbelievable. The idea of a supernatural, all-powerful, all-loving Being; the idea that He can make the sick well and raise the dead. The idea that He appeared as a human and came to live with us in the flesh. All mighty concepts, and all almost unbelievable.

Except that, of course, we have the ability to suspend disbelief.

imperial-star-destroyer

Naturally, you’ll know that I’m not saying that I believe that having faith is ‘false’, as in, it’s all made up. However, I do believe that God gives us the ability to suspend disbelief so that it’s easier to believe in Him, because it makes it easier for us to believe the unbelievable. To put this another way, I mean that the ability to suspend disbelief, in order to enjoy a story (a fantasy story or indeed any other story), enables us to far more easily believe things that would be hard to grasp by the the rational mind alone. And so the reality of what appears at first sight to be yet another giant fantasy – the Gospel – is more easily grasped.

And this especially applies for people like myself who have a natural tendency – both in my thinking and training – to believe only in evidence-based things that can be proven empirically. For the straight-laced, dyed-in-the-wool scientist, there’s nothing quite like a bit of pure fantasy to enable the supernatural-belief systems to kick in as required! 🙂

star_destroyer_wallpaper-bow

And it also allows us to believe God for so much more than we see, so much more than we read, so much more than we think is possible. Our expectations of God are then limited only by our imaginations; however, God Himself is not even limited by that! “…Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” – (Ephesians 3:20)!

In some ways, it’s like when Jesus said that we needed faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’….if you like, that small mustard seed of faith can be supplied by our imagination, and God does the rest. We imagine as far as we can, and God takes over from there and makes it all real. Now that’s pretty deep, and you will need to pray that through with Jesus in order to get full understanding of it.

But the essence of all this is that our imagination, our ability to suspend disbelief, even our love for a really good story – which is all from the same roots – is a God-given gift which is there to help us in our faith.

Let’s use it!


As a postscript, you may also be interested in this article by Harvey, owner of the blog ‘Evangelical Liberal’, where he discusses why imagination is so great and why some Evangelicals feel threatened by it. Click the logo below to go to the article.

cropped-cross-sky1 evangelical liberal


 

*Of course, there are many Evangelicals who would claim that the mythology of Star Wars – the Force, the Jedi Order and all that stuff – is just a thinly-cloaked pile of witchcraft, sorcery or other ‘evil and dangerous’ – well, they’d probably use the loaded word ‘dabbling’ in there somewhere. To those people, I would say that you need to get out more and enjoy life – it was made for living! The Force is just a metaphor for God, and is a parable of the supernatural gifts that are ours for the taking; maybe not in an exact Biblical sense, but there is still so much to learn about God, you don’t have all the answers, and neither do I. Relax a bit and let the people have their fun! And you might have some fun too….

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It’s a Trap!

The ‘Grace Trap’

“Hold on! I thought your whole blog was about how brilliant God’s Grace is! How can it be a trap?”

The problem is quite simple. And, for you, it may not even be a problem, but for me it can be. You see, the human tendency is to drift towards legalism, and the practice of Grace is no exception in that it is easy to let the need for ‘living under Grace’  to become a Rule in itself.

In effect, being too ‘pushy’ about Grace, in ourselves and others, can simply become another form of legalism.

For example, sometimes I might feel like pointing out where someone else’s behaviour fails to live under Grace. Rather than living the example, and gently giving my testimony, I might want to point out their ‘error’ in still being under Law. Do you see the trap?

Or, sometimes, I even find myself reminding myself to not be like that, to not be legalistic. This can in itself become a form of legalism. The trap springs again!

Clearly, then, I am not yet used to living under grace in its entirety; I still need to be set free from some of the last traces of legalism stemming from my years of bondage to it.

And that’s an ongoing process. But, in the meantime, the Master is patient with me. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (Message): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG translation) I therefore need simply to rest in God, to simply live life and just get on with it in the knowledge that He has it all covered. Grace – in a lot of ways we may not even think about it all that much, except perhaps in gratitude. Because it will be normal life, if you like.

God is Good, all the time. And all the time, God is Good!

And boy am I glad about that!

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Some thoughts on Forgiveness

Here are some of my thoughts on forgiveness – both human and divine – and how we can reap the benefits of forgiveness in our daily lives. It’s a bit of a rambling essay, but I hope you find it helpful.

Forgiveness is about restoration of relationship, or at least the opportunity of such restoration.

Unforgiveness is one of the most debilitating of human conditions. It is not a physical condition, of course; it is a condition really of a person’s soul. But it can indeed lead to physical illness, psychosomatically if you will, if it is not dealt with. But the main illness it produces is emotional illness. It will eat you up from inside and its fruit is things like bad moods, snappiness, preoccupation, and eventually conditions as serious as depression.

It’s essentially unilateral. You forgive the other person. Forgiveness can also be received, but it doesn’t have to be received – (it can be rejected by the other person) – for it to be effective for you. If the other person rejects the forgiveness, the chances are they have not forgiven you, but that burden is on them.

This is because, again, forgiveness is unilateral. It is asymmetric. There is always a giver and a receiver; if two people forgive each other, that is actually two separate acts of forgiveness.

Why do we need to receive God’s forgiveness? Surely, if God forgives us because of the Cross, even if we do not accept it, then we are still forgiven. That’s true; our forgiven status does not depend on us; our acceptance of it does, and repentance is still what is needed…..because unless we admit our fault, we do not admit that we need forgiveness. Not because God is all angry and radgy and all, but because then we know the relationship is restored. We ourselves know we’re forgiven, and that’s why we need to receive the forgiveness.

And remember that God does not forgive with strings attached. Whatever you’ve done is forgiven. You can debate as much as you like about ‘nice God, nasty God’ and why you need to be forgiven, and what you need to be forgiven for. There’s a fair chance that many of us feel that God will not accept us for some reason, whether that’s because of being made to feel guilty by things you’ve heard in Church or for some other reason. But whatever it is, release it, accept the forgiveness, and stop feeling guilty. As for strings being attached, I read recently that a lot of people think along this lines of ‘Right, you’ve been forgiven and now you’re a Christian, so now you need to do this, this and this in order to move on in that forgiveness’. This is plain incorrect, except for just one thing: yes, you do need to move on in your forgiveness but only in the sense of leaving all the guilt behind. Let it go. It has no power over you any more. Your guilt was nailed to the Cross; you can leave it behind for ever!

Now on to us forgiving others. The decision to forgive can be instantaneous; it can be as quick as you want it to be. However, applying that forgiveness, in terms of it changing the way you feel – and that’s the most important part about forgiveness – can take a long time. You may have to constantly keep reminding yourself that you have forgiven. The power is in your hands but so is the responsibility – and so is the burden. Remember that the goal of forgiving someone, which gives you the freedom from the burden of unforgiveness, is that you yourself take on the blame and the guilt of the offending party – let’s call them the ‘offender’ for now. You can then choose to let that go because it doesn’t belong to you, and equally the offender does not owe you a debt either.

Forgiveness is in fact independent of the offender, it is *entirely* in your hands. Whether or not the offender is penitent (admits their fault) is irrelevant because the initiative has to lie with the forgiver. You don’t even have to announce forgiveness to anyone except yourself. You don’t need to tell anyone. However, again, you will find that as you release the burden, any need you may have to make the offender feel bad about what they’ve done will naturally fade away – sometimes quickly, sometimes not. The need to let the offender know and feel what they’ve done wrong tends to abate when you forgive them. If you hold on to the unforgiveness, then the bitterness becomes a desire for revenge, a perceived way of punishing the offender for what you feel they have done.

Forgiveness is not a warm fuzzy ‘that’s all right then’ feeling. In fact forgiveness is often painful. You see, forgiveness is where you decide to take on board all the hurt that someone has put on you, whether deliberate or unintentional, and keeping it for yourself. And then letting it go; it has nothing to do with the offender any more. The forgiven person then owes you nothing. For any Star Wars fans reading this, It’s like when Yoda absorbs Dooku’s Force lightning in the cave in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones; he just absorbs it into his hand and it has no power over him any more. If you’re interested, it’s at 1:15 in  this YouTube video

Think of forgiveness as a lifeskill. There’s no getting away from it: people are going to hurt you all your life. The trick is to not let this damage you as a person – if you do not forgive, it just eats you up from inside and you are the only one that will hurt. Your lack of forgiveness will not make others do what you want them to do; they will just blissfully get on with life and you are the only one who will still be harbouring bitterness about the event, long after it’s happened. Decide to forgive and then move on and get on with life; there’s no point brooding about things and holding on to the hurt because the only person it damages is yourself. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person acknowledges their role in your hurt or not; you need to forgive. This is how some people seem to manage just to let all the hurt slip off them. Water and ducks’ backs, and all that.

If you are going to hold on to any kind of relationship with anyone, you need to learn this lifeskill. Otherwise every time anyone hurts you, your relationship will break down and it may well stay broken. I’m not saying ‘forgive and forget’. Certainly you need to forgive, but also remember your experiences during the episode. Otherwise there is no learning involved, so the whole experience has been a waste. Try to get something out of each experience that teaches you something else about life. Once you have forgiven, the memories can be stored and accessed without bitterness.

The trick is to work out for yourself just how much you need to forget – but still the forgiveness has to happen, and it’s 100% from your end, not from anyone else’s. The responsibility lies with you to forgive, or not to forgive. It’s probably also worth pointing out that you don’t have to actually declare the forgiveness to the other person or people; however, if you feel you can, and at the right time and with the right attitude, such a declaration can go a long way towards restoring the relationship.

Asking someone else for forgiveness means that you are offering them a chance to experience the same freedom that you yourself have experienced when you forgive.

And an apology should be viewed as the opportunity to let someone know you have forgiven them. It brings release to both of you. Whether you think that the apology is genuine or not, it is always best to act as if it is genuine.

I’ve saved the best till last. After all that essay, the best news of all is that when you forgive, you are set free. You are set free from the need to feel bitter, from bad feelings, and you are set free from the power of the event, and of the offender, to continue hurting you.

Now that’s good news!

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