Another reflection from Paul Long from my book, Spiritual Formation on the Run from his blog posted on Tuesday, August 31, 2010.
It has been a busy period for me. And it looks to be just as busy for the next three weeks. So … it is time once again to “re-center” lest I lose my focus.
Chapter 31 of “Spiritual Formation on the Run” and chapter 40 both seem like ideal chapters to reflect and blog on especially in the light of my current sermon series on Parables of Jesus, the concept of “righteousness” and the theme of “choosing” has been very prominent. Have been thinking a lot, among other things on these two areas. Anyway, first the chapters …
BEWARE THE DARK SIDE
George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith was one of the most awaited summer releases of 2005. The Star Wars movies – six in total – represented a significant milestone in movie making as the computer became as important as the actors and cameras. This futuristic intergalactic war epic started off in the middle of the story with Episode 4-A New Hope. To get an idea of the storytelling, imagine reading a book from the middle and finding out the ending, and then reading it from the beginning. Revenge of the Sith tied the beginning to the end, which is already known. In Star Wars, the underlying philosophy of power is the Force, an energy that sounds suspiciously like the Tao of Taoism. The Force inside the Jedi Knights seems similar to the Chi in Chinese religions. Before watching Revenge of the Sith, we already know that Anakin Skywalker will be seduced by the dark side of the Force. The movie revealed the reason for Anakin’s choice. When he chose the dark side, Anakin became Darth Vader, who was powerful in many ways, yet was in bondage to the Emperor.
There are certain similarities between the Star Wars series and another movie, Kingdom of Heaven. In the Kingdom of Heaven, a movie about the Crusades, one of Saladin’s (a famous Muslim general) deputies said, “In Islam, God said `submit’ In Christianity; Jesus said “choose”. Both stories are about the choices that people make. Choices that destroyed a fictional intergalactic empire and a historical Jerusalem. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of conscience, as the narration in the movie so eloquently put it, “We choose with our minds and our hearts to do what is good and we do it” Choices that could seduce a soul, or redeem it. While the violence may not be edifying, the basic tenet of these movies resonates with our Christian faith.
In our Christian life, we are asked to choose daily. To choose to walk with Christ or to walk for ourselves and away from Christ. Our God is a God who gives His people the freedom to choose. We are not puppets on a string, manipulated by a master Puppeteer. We are given the freedom to choose, even to say “no” to God. Joshua, the military leader of the Israelites, declared at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan that he would choose Yahweh and fight his battles following the Lord’s strategy. Jeremiah chose to follow the Lord even though he was asked to do some funny things to illustrate God’s message. Jesus chose to drink from the cup of suffering in Gethsemane and died a humiliating death on the cross. There are also those in biblical records who chose badly. Lot chose the rich plain where Sodom and Gomorrah were. His home was destroyed and he committed incest with his daughters. David chose to lust after Bathsheba, leading to adultery and murder. Judas chose to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
We are asked daily to choose. We must learn to do it with wisdom. That is why knowledge of the word of God is important. The Bible is a manual for decision-making. It helps us to be in the light rather than in darkness. So choose wisely. Beware the dark side.
YOU BECOME WHAT YOU DO
Brother senior disciple Ah Meng is so pious that he will be made Abba soon,’ observed Ah Lek, as he continued to knead dough to made mooncakes. Every year, the Sow Lin Monastery would make mooncakes for the poor in the surrounding villages. The mooncakes were eaten to celebrate the Mid-Autumn or “Mooncake” festival held in the middle of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.
|p/s This “Black Knight” is a Marvel Comic
character and actually a “good guy” 🙂
“He prays so fervently that his pew often shakes and so many tear drops flow down his face that he wets his Psalter. He has memorised large chunks of the Bible too. And he is Abba Ah Beng’s favourite.”
“I don’t like him,” said Ah Kow, as he put a piece of dough into his mouth. “Yuk;’ he said, spitting it out. “Senior disciple is always picking on others, looking for faults. He likes to point out my mistakes and always insists that I spend time confessing them.”
“You are right. Just this morning he hit me on the head during morning prayers. Who does he think he is?” complained Ah Lek. “You were falling asleep:’
“Yes, you were. I heard you snore”
“The other day he told Abba Ah Beng that my cell was dirty;” said Ah Lek, changing the subject. “That tell-tale. Abba Ah Beng made me scrub my cell and his too.”
“The young disciples are ill-disciplined and not fit to be in this monastery;’ Ah Meng pointed out to Abba Ah Beng during his time of spiritual direction. “They don’t know how to pray, how to read the Bible properly, how to be forgiving and how to help others. I want to help them so much. I want them to be holy. I want them to good disciples. I want them to give up their selfish desires and bad habits. In fact, I feel so strongly about it that I cannot sleep at night:’
“Yes, I have been hearing stories from the young disciples about you. It is good that you are so concerned about their spiritual formation. However, be careful that in your zeal you do not cross the line to become the opposite of what you are fighting. Let me tell you a story;’ said Abba Ah Beng.
“Once upon a time, during the time of the Crusades, there was a young, strong white knight who was very pious and devoted to God. He made it his personal quest to kill all black knights. The black knights were unholy and impure. Throughout his long life this white knight killed many black knights. One day, when he was old, he met a young white knight on the road. To his surprise, he was immediately attacked by this white knight. He fought valiantly but was unable to overcome the young knight. Throughout the fight, a question lingered at the back of his mind, `Why is this white knight attacking me?’ Just before he was killed, he caught a reflection of himself in the shining shield of his opponent. The knight reflected in the shield was black:’
I noticed that there was a period of time this year where I stopped reading news about Malaysia. Not that I was not interested, reading the Malaysia news was frankly depressing and often made me angry on many areas and levels. So the “best” course of action for me is not to read and so avoid putting myself in such situations. Of course that was simply avoidance.
What I find interesting (to me at least) is that I am at peace with my move to NZ. This is because I “worked out” with God many conditions that had to be met before coming over so that I could be clear in my heart and mind my motives and calling. My calling to come to NZ was never in doubt and this has been confirmed numerous times in many ways since coming here.
So anyway, been mulling over my problem was more of “residue anger” which I realize has been simmering deep within me from unresolved hurts (like a volcano?), and the need to resolve it. I have noticed that Whenever there is a hint of “I am ungrateful” to abandon Malaysia (esp the church), anger would well up within and I would think, “And just what has the Malaysian church done for me that I should be grateful?” And a huge list would pop up in my mind … a list I shall not list here 🙂 Needless to say, I had a huge list of grievances (and humanly speaking, a valid one too I might add) and how much I had done and yet not only unacknowledged but been even abused despite them. And when I think of the blessings of being in NZ and serving as a pastor in a great church, I find myself too often comparing my current experience with the many in Malaysia in not the healthiest of ways. I mean, I had great times in Malaysia and I have many wonderful friends who have blessed me and impacted my life … but I don’t thank God for them as often as I should. I have too often chosen to dwell on the negatives rather than the positives. This is simply WRONG!
Venting to God and even close friends etc is fine and often necessary to find healing but there has to be a time limit 🙂 and the need to move on! Basically I found God telling me gently this whole year that I have still pockets of anger and hurts (even residual resentment) that I needed to CHOOSE TO LET GO FULLY OR RISK LETTING THE DARKNESS OVERWHELM AND CHANGE ME INTO SOMEONE I SHOULD NOT BE.
I thank God I see more and more signs of healing of residual anger! And awareness is half the battle won.
I think of the many lessons I have been learning from my current series on Parables. Here’s a partial sampling.
From The Parable of the Rich Fool – I need to share and find help in community and not “dialogue with myself”. And this is a great quote from Kenneth Bailey that I did not develop on due to overwhelming material : “A naked cry for justice, unqualified by any self-criticism is not heeded by Jesus”.
From The Parable of the Great Banquet – You can choose not to join in the banquet. But if you choose not to join, it is your fault and you will have to bear the consequences! And … part of the incredible theology of the cross is how God chooses to turn his anger into costly grace! The challenge to see the reality of the power of this principle when applied in my life.
From The Parable of the Two Builders – Jesus is the foundation, and not to listen and obey Jesus is to have no foundation. It is really hard work to dig deep to get to the rock but it is necessary. Choice again … to take the easy way out or take the tough but necessary route!
From The Parable of the Unjust Steward – A reminder of the importance of being wise as serpents but innocent as doves – my ethical foundation needs to be strong. But more important, to be wise and realize that the ultimate resource available to me is a gracious and generous God. It’s a “risk” to bet everything on God but in reality it is the only “sure fool proof bet”.
From the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – The main issue is for me to have a right relationship with God. This is what righteousness is. It is a gift that comes through a relationship with God. And I can’t understand and receive grace of I choose to compare myself with the failings of others rather than the perfection of God.
From the Parable of the Compassionate / generous Employer (Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard) – God is FREE to CHOOSE and He will choose to do what is right / just. The big question is, do I choose to trust Him in that “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”. Also, everyone is equally undeserving and has access to God’s grace (if we choose to accept it!). And one more … my attitude to service should be that which springs out of gratitude rather than motivated by rewards.
It is hard to describe my main point – hence my ramblings but it is along the lines of kingdom principles / values versus worldly principles / values are very different. And while some worldly principles I do feel are valid (all truth is God’s truth), kingdom principles are on a higher level. The more I choose kingdom values, the more I will allow God’s light to shine in me and through me. The more I choose to work just on the level of worldly values (even the valid ones), the greater the danger of my succumbing to the dark side – not because I intentionally want to but it will happen.
Hmmm, not a very clear conclusion even if it just a “ramble” – perhaps some quick Malaysian examples?
To fight for the rights of pastors that they should be treated with dignity and respect as one would expect to be treated is a valid principle. But kingdom principles would add the perspective of call and the example of Jesus who calls us also to expect suffering and to trust in God rather than men. Without the kingdom perspective, the slow unintended and unrealized crossing over to the dark side is a very real danger. I see now how there is a lack of pastors and also how there is a danger that more and more may be viewing being a pastor as just another job among many.
To boldly speak out and fight to end racism and racial politics, and to demand for a just government and the removal and punishment of corrupt government officials and politicians is a valid principle. But kingdom principle also warns us of the danger of going the way of “the ends justify the means”. I get scared that PR option is looking to be just as corrupt and more people “seem” to just close and eye? I post comments on “Malaysia Today”
and I get scared when I realize that I am one of the few who refrain from using foul language and make degrading remarks. Interestingly I realized that my last 2 comments while free from foul language etc were laced with sarcasm. The gentle slope to the dark side is very slippery….
Other Paul’s reflections from Spiritual Formation on the Run
Why the Hulk should be Red not Green
How expensive is your church?
How heavy is your burden?
Shout to the world
The silence in the noise
Omission and Commission
A Burning Bush
Just do it