The Force

Like many others over the last month, we went to Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. I vividly remember seeing the very first Star Wars movie, “A New Hope,” when it came out. I saw it twice in the same week. Once was at a drive-in with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. The other time was in a regular theater with my brother-in-law. I definitely have some favorites in the series which now spans over forty years.

As I have gotten older, I am amazed at how many correlations there are between the movie plot lines and theology. One of the most profound is in regard to the force. For anyone who for some strange reason does not know to what I am referring, the force exists throughout all creation and through this invisible entity the Jedi’s obtain the power to overcome evil and work good in the universe. This seems clear to me what I refer to in my faith as the Spirit.

In the very first movie, Luke Skywalker must be trained by Obi-Wan Knobi to sense the force and to use its power to achieve the missions which he is given. Throughout the first three movies, which are actually chapters four through six in the story, Luke learns more and more about who he is and how to benefit from the force. I see a correlation with the journey of a Christian. We need an experienced mentor like Obi-Wan to first introduce us to the Spirit and then guide us as we tap into the power and strength of the Spirit. This is a journey and along the journey we come to realize who we are and whose we are.

One significant difference between the storylines of the Star Wars series and our experience with the Spirit is that only select individuals seem to be able to fully harness the benefits of the force while the Spirit’s benefits are available to all people. There appears to be a hereditary connection among those who are able to utilize the force in full capacity. This is partly true when it comes to the Spirit also because we are heirs with Christ because all are children of God.

So let me recap the connections which I see between Star Wars and what I believe:

  • the force = the Holy Spirit
  • the need for a mentor/guide
  • the power and strength to achieve our mission in life
  • the benefits are linked to inheritance
  • family lineage = heirs with Christ

I encourage you to look for other connections between Star Wars story lines and Christian beliefs. In a galaxy far, far away, I may even share some other connections which I have found.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

Achievement and Kindness

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

This quote comes from Jesus’ teaching which we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. The section of Matthew’s Gospel from chapter 5 through chapter 7 is usually considered to be the sermon which Jesus gave on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. These verses are considered to be the underlying foundation for all of Jesus’ teaching. Included here are the “blessed” statements referred to as the Beatitudes, teachings on attitudes leading to actions, love for enemies, prayer (words of the Lord’s prayer found here), material possessions, worrying, judgment, and cautions regarding pitfalls. In the midst of all this we see guidance about what we should seek in life.

I began thinking about this passage after having read an article asking if showing kindness is a hindrance or aid to achievement. The author of the article cited some studies which were conducted to help determine the role of kindness in achievement. Many people view kindness as a hindrance to personal achievement because it shows weakness and a willingness to give versus striving to obtain. However, what the studies found was exactly the opposite. Those individuals who demonstrated kindness in their professional and personal lives, tended to reach a higher level of achievement.

My theory is that by extending kindness towards others, those who receive from your acts of kindness are more supportive of you reaching a goal, or set of goals, which you have set for yourself. They may even work to help you in obtaining what you seek. While those who view a person focused solely on themselves and not expressing kindness through words and actions, are less likely to attempt to support and work for the success of the individual.

This brings me back to the passage from Matthew 6. Here we are called by Jesus to seek those behaviors and attitudes which are within the character of God. From my reading of Scripture, it is clear to me that God intends for us to show kindness to one another. In the Old and New Testament, we are exhorted multiple times to show kindness to those who are oppressed, orphaned, or otherwise in a difficult situation in life. Jesus teaches that we are to show kindness not only to those who are similar to us and whom we like but also to our enemies. Kindness is definitely a component of the kingdom of God. Therefore, kindness is something which we should seek to demonstrate.

I am led to see the findings reported in the article which I read to be in coherence with the verse from Jesus’ sermon. By seeking God’s kingdom, through kindness, a person can obtain a higher level of achievement than using whatever methods will bring others down.

A Foggy Perspective

For the first three mornings this week, our city has been enveloped in fog. My understanding is that this is pretty common during the winter months in Texas. The warm, humid air from the gulf comes up north and encounters the cooler air from the north which causes the fog to develop. Yesterday, as I was looking at the fog blanket outside our windows, I was drawn to the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

As I was pondering this verse, I began thinking about the perspective through which we view life, one another, and our Lord. Much like the fog of recent mornings, our perspective is not clear. We are not capable of knowing all but instead only a part of each item mentioned above. The promise is that there will be a time when I will see each in fullness but for now I have a fog over my sight which prevents me from seeing the whole.

My vision of my life is limited to the current and to the past. I can anticipate the future, just as I anticipate turns and intersections when driving a familiar path on a foggy morning. However, the certainty of my knowledge regarding my future is limited. Like the warnings on the morning news to take it slow and to give one’s self plenty of time to navigate through the fog, I must do the same as I move forward into my future.

The view which I have of others is also limited. I only see what that person allows me to see. I do not know their backstory unless they tell me it. The burdens carried by the person are only visible to me if they choose to share them with me. Caution is again vital when determining how I look at someone else. This reminds me that my judgment of them is impaired so be careful how I judge them.

As I look to the Lord, I also must acknowledge my vision is limited. I cannot comprehend the fullness of the Lord at this time. I see what has been revealed to me, and others, through Scripture, the account of Jesus’ life, and my ongoing relationship with the Lord. Anticipating the actions which the Lord will take, the way in which the Lord views the world and humanity, the abilities and power of the Lord is almost impossible based on what I know. I can only see the broadness of the Lord such as the complete focus on love, the endless times of forgiveness, and unconditional acceptance which is demonstrated and testified to over and over in the lives of myself and countless others.

Yet the promise mentioned in the verse from 1 Corinthians remains for all three of these. There will be a day when I will see my life in its fullness and my future will be fully understandable. My view of others will be complete when I am able to see the whole of the person and their life. The perspective which I have of the Lord will be whole as I stand in the full presence one day. But for now, I walk in the fog of my limits and I must be mindful to proceed with caution and take my time.

Spiritual Library

Every day when I take my daily walk, I walk past a playground area near my home. On one side of this playground is a little lender library which seem to be appearing throughout neighborhoods all across the country. These are a great addition to our neighborhoods. If you are not familiar with this concept, they are small wooden boxes with a door which has a glass inset and shelves. People place books they have already read into these and if a child or adult is looking for a book to read, they can go pick out one and take it home to read. People are encouraged to add a book if they take one and/or return the book after they are finished reading it. Some of these can be very creative in the size and shape which they take.

As I was walking today, I glanced over at the little lender library. A question came into my mind. If I were to create a lender library for someone wanting to grow in faith, what would I include?

When I designed curriculum for young individuals wishing to confirm their faith and be commissioned as members of the congregation, I had a list of items which I felt were important for them to know. I have never been a huge proponent on memorizing Bible verses or other faith documents but I thought there were a few vital pieces which required memorization. My goal was that if the person was ever in a situation where they needed guidance, one of these items might surface in their mind and be a tool which could be beneficial.

So here are the items which I found to be important and which I would include in my spiritual lender library:

  • A copy of the Lord’s Prayer – This prayer provides a template for those new to, or struggling with, prayer. It provides the basic focus of prayer and can be a launching pad to our own prayers.
  • A copy of the Apostles’ Creed – Like the Lord’s Prayer, this creed is a template for articulating a person’s faith. This can also serve as a summation of the beliefs which underlines the faith which has existed for centuries. Someone exploring what Christians believe can look at this creed for a basic understanding and a basis to start creating questions which can be explored with other believers and on their own.
  • A copy of Matthew 6 – So the person can understand where the basis for the Lord’s Prayer originates and place it in context.
  • A copy of Exodus 20 – Here a person can gain insight into what has come to be known as the Ten Commandments. These words provide a basis for how we are to respond to God and our relationship with God. Contained here also is the understanding we are to have regarding our relationships with other people in our lives.
  • A copy of Luke 15 – This chapter from Luke’s gospel contains the story of the prodigal son. This is a story of selfishness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. I find this story important enough to be one that if a person cannot remember anything else, this story is the one that remains. My reasoning is that we all experience times of wanting to break out on our own and explore possibilities. We make mistakes and choices that are not beneficial for us. We eventually realize that we need to return “home” and hopefully in a more humbled state than when we left. This story reminds us that our Lord stands waiting for that return. When we do return there is not judgment but instead an outpouring of love and reconciliation which is like attending a magnificent banquet in our honor.
  • A copy of Matthew 28 with verses 16 through 20 highlighted – For anyone wishing to know what a believer in Christ is supposed to do with their life, this passage answers the question. Frequently known as the Great Commission, this passage tells every person that in whatever way fits their skills and abilities, they are called to go and share their story along with what they have learned in their faith so far.
  • A copy of 1 Corinthians 11 with verses 23 through 26 highlighted – Here we find one copy of the words used in the institution of holy communion. Holy communion is one of the key sacraments in the Christian Church. Realizing that words used for this portion of a worship service were randomly chosen but have their basis in Scripture helps to strengthen their meaning.
  • A copy of Matthew 22 with verses 24 through 40 highlighted – Jesus’ response to the question of “what is the greatest commandment?” is found in these verses. Christianity is often given the same criticism which is applied to Judaism – it is just about rules. In Jesus’ response, it is made clear that our faith is not about following rules as much as it is about loving God and loving one another.

This would be the start of my spiritual lender library. What would you place in yours?

The Valley

Recently I was considering a very familiar psalm, Psalm 23. Like many others, I memorized this psalm as part of my Christian education when I was young. I will admit that I did not understand, or even think about the words in this psalm when I memorized it. Also like many, I came to know it as the psalm which had a sole purpose of being used when someone died. As I grew older and became better educated regarding this psalm, I have found that it serves more of a purpose than being a funeral psalm. I am considering writing a series of posts which explore the words of Psalm 23. However, my recent focus is on this phrase — “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Usually when we hear this phrase as the psalm is read, we associate it with the act of dying. For many of us this means a physical death. I do not disagree with this interpretation. I do think that there is more which can be considered here than solely physical death. One additional interpretation which I have been pondering is applying this phrase to periods of depression. The word which leads me to this interpretation is “shadow.” Depression can impact a person in similar ways to death.

Depression is a very real aspect of life. There is not one individual who has not experienced depression in some form over their lifetime. These experiences usually come and go at various times. From my own experience, I would say that when I have been in a period of depression, I felt as if my very life was being sucked out of me. I have no energy, no joy, no motivation. I felt like I am living in a shadow. I view these time periods as living in a valley, a valley which is dark and gloomy.

I am fortunate that I am able to climb out of the valley, out of the period of depression. This happens due to my having an excellent support system, especially my husband. Unfortunately, many individuals do not have a strong support system. Others have an outstanding support system but out of fear do not reach out and honestly share their depression with members of that group. Sometimes living in the valley of the shadow of death leads them to view physical death as the best way out of the valley. They feel alone and isolated even when they are surrounded by loving and supportive individuals. This is not because they are weak or selfish, in fact, they are usually the opposite of these traits.

One of my truths which has been a comfort and provides assistance during these times of depression is found in the words of the psalm following the above phrase: “I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.” I am reminded that I am never alone. I am not alone when life is going smoothly, and I am not alone when the shadow overwhelms me in the valley. The strength of the Lord (rod and staff) sustains me when I am feeling weak.

Depression is very real. Depression is not a sign of weakness or inability, it is an emotion in life that accompanies difficult situations as a person perceives them. The psalmist knew and understood this, in fact, probably was experiencing this. My message for anyone experiencing depression is to realize a few truths:

  • You are not the only one to experience this.
  • You are not the only one who has ever gone through what you are currently going through.
  • You are never alone because the Lord is in the valley with you.
  • You have people around you who are desiring more than anything to be supportive and present without judgment.
  • The valley is not the whole but a part and there will be times that you can stand atop the nearby mountain which has formed part of the valley.

If you think someone might be struggling with depression, the most important thing that you can do is to be present in a nonjudgmental way. Listen without giving advice. Love without expecting anything. Show them how the Lord is with you in whatever you are experiencing.

Maybe you will look at Psalm 23 a little differently today.

Joining Together

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

This poem speaks of our connectedness as humans. When we were created, humans were created to be social creatures. We are intended to interact with one another. We build each other up, support each other, challenge each other, and strengthen each other. We are also capable of tearing each other down, abandoning each other, attacking each other, and weakening each other. The reality is what Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” and “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (See Matthew 25)

I thought of this poem and our interconnectedness when I was pondering the value of Christian fellowship. Often when we hear this term, our minds go to that designated time before or after a worship service when individuals gather for coffee, snacks and possibly some conversation. While these are important social gatherings, this does not fully present the concept of Christian fellowship.

Christian fellowship is about interconnectedness among those who follow Christ. In actuality, it extends beyond just followers of Christ but for this post I wish to focus on the concept in regard to a group of followers. Being in fellowship with one another is paramount to faith formation and growth.

A person can believe in God and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ without being engaged in a Christian fellowship. A person can also worship God without being engaged in Christian fellowship. I am sure you have heard individuals say, “I can worship God on the golf course, lake, or hiking down a trail.” That is a very true statement and should be encouraged. A person can be a Christian without ever becoming actively involved in fellowship. However, a person cannot experience the full potential of faith formation and growth without being actively involved. I would also say that the person who chooses not to be engaged in this manner, loses the opportunity to experience the fullness of Christ while sojourning on earth.

Spiritual matters are difficult for us to understand. The truth is that we never fully understand all the intricacies of our spiritual self and our spiritual beliefs. Attempting to sort through these weighty aspects alone can lead to disappointment and discouragement. God never intended us to do this alone. As social beings, we were expected to engage with difficult spiritual matters along with others. We see this expectation established throughout the Old and New Testaments shared with us from the beginning with Adam, through the diaspora, and throughout the ministry of Jesus. This pattern is continued in the stories of Acts and in the letters of Paul along with letters from other spiritual leaders in the early church. We NEED one another to wade through our questions, trod through the muck of life, and determine what we truly believe.

In addition to seeking out answers to our questions, Christian fellowship provides a support system. Life is not easy. There are times when we experience difficulties which can seem impossible to overcome alone. As Christians, we come to believe that during those difficult times, Christ remains beside us and walks along the path with us. The physical manifestation of that belief is found in the fellowship of Christians. When a fellow believer provides a listening ear, a shoulder to cry upon, or other type of support, it is Christ reaching into our lives. I personally have experienced this truth multiple times in my own life. I have also witnessed the challenges which individuals who are not engaged in Christian fellowship experience during their difficult times. These challenges seem to multiply whatever struggles they are experiencing. The opposite exists when a person is part of the Christian fellowship. While the difficulties do not go away, the burden is easier to manage.

We were created to be connected, not an island. As followers of Christ, we were intended to be in fellowship with one another. While at times it is necessary to take a sabbath from Christian fellowship, it should never be a regular state of being for us. Christian fellowship is vital to a healthy faith.