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The Path

Morpheus

“There’s a difference
between
knowing the path
and walking the path” 
Morpheus to Neo,
The Matrix

Just like everything else in The Matrix, there are layers upon layers to explore if you thoughtfully consider these eleven words.  Here are my personal reflections:

First: knowing.  This implies knowledge, truth, that there actually IS a path, a way.  The nihilist fails to understand that there is objective meaning and truth.

Second: it’s a path, a journey.  It’s not just a set of rules to comply with, or boxes to check off your list.  Moralists, legalists, and their comrades can’t comprehend that there’s more to living than rigid conformity to a set of standards.

Third: There’s a difference between knowledge and application.  As James the brother of Jesus once observed, “Faith without works is dead.”  As Charlie Peacock wrote in his song Experience:

Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience
If there be no sympathy, there can be no understanding
You must surrender to a truth to really understand it

Hypocrites don’t understand this difference.

Fourth: It is a path— you can be on it, but you can also be off of it.  Jesus once taught, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Relativists refuse to accept that there are right and wrong paths.

Fifth: A path implies a destination, and the path determines the destination. Some think that since they belong to a church or once had a religious experience or once [fill in the blank] that they have secured a spot in eternity, or that somehow they can fix things at the end of their life or that it will somehow work out.  Some feel that since they know where the path is, that’s all that’s necessary— they don’t have to be concerned with walking it. Jesus taught that such people will delude themselves into hell with their false security that they are His followers; a life of not walking the path will only prove that they really didn’t truly know the path.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Seeing the Unseen

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

For this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, let’s take a look at faith.  The writer of Hebrews describes faith as the evidence (or conviction, proof) of things not seen.  Although it is not a Biblical term, we often refer to “the eyes of faith” or “spiritual sight.”

Being able to “see the unseen” is also a common theme in science fiction.  Let’s take a few examples:

As I had written in a previous post, Neo in the Matrix trilogy is able to perceive the true nature of reality in a way that no one else can.  At the end of his life, this actually substitutes for his natural sight that is lost in battle.  The whole “reality is not what it appears” theme is at the core of the story here.

And who could forget the scene from Star Wars when young Luke Skywalker first learns what it means to “see” using the Force when his sight is deprived from him using the old blast shield on the helmet trick?  Here again we have a protagonist deprived of natural sight, this time tapping into a extrinsic supernatural power.

On a slightly more offbeat note, seeing the unseen was central to the Space: 1999 episode “The Bringers of Wonder” where commander Koenig was the only one who could see the true nature of the alien blobs that were (what else?) trying to destroy the crew.

Supernatural sight, of things both present and to come, is also a central feature of the life of the protagonist of Dune, Paul Atreides.  As in the Matrix, Atreides at the end of his life loses his sight in an assassination attempt and has to rely on supernatural sight alone.

So, what do we say about all this?  Like any story, these should remind us of what is really true, that faith is a supernatural power, granted by God to His children, that truly does allow us to see the unseen, to both perceive the true nature of reality now and to see what lies ahead.  May we use it for the glory of our Lord.

Monday Media Meltdown: The Matrix Study

The Matrix

 

 

The first Monday Media Meltdown article I posted months ago was entitled Neo’s Choices in the Matrix. That post was actually an excerpt of a longer study that I had originally done in 2003 for a men’s group.  It covered a variety of themes and issues in the movie beyond the original excerpt I posted, so I have now added the complete study handout here in the Downloads section of the site.

“Jacked In” to a New Reality

In the movie The Matrix, that hotbed of pop-pseudo-religious analogies, the heroes connect their brains (“jack in” to use their slang) to a huge computer network, immersing themselves into an immense virtual reality, the “matrix,” which is a duplicate of 20th century Earth. Since the computer network is controlled by the “enemy” which “enslaves” them, the typical pop Christian analogy has been that the matrix represents the cosmos, the current world system.

But since pop-pseudo-religious analogies just beg to be toyed with, why not turn it upside down? When the heroes are “jacked in”, they get new flawless bodies(always with very cool clothes for reasons that are never adequately explained), are able to perceive in new ways and acquire superhuman strength and abilities.

Question: when we become a part of the body of Christ, when we become a branch of His vine, when we “jack in” (sorry) to the Holy Spirit, how does it change us? Do we really perceive our spiritual strength, endurance, patience, love, self-control, and wisdom to be any different? Do we live knowing that we are intimately connected to a God of infinite power and wisdom, that we are jacked in to a new reality?

And to carry this poor excuse for a movie metaphor one step farther, consider this: when the hero Neo first jacks in, he neither realizes nor appropriates his new powers. He doesn’t act supernaturally because he doesn’t realize he can, that he has the ability. And one of the enemy’s attacks on him is to try to convince him that he is not any different, that he is just an ordinary man. Sound familiar? How often do we live in the here and now, almost totally in our flesh, our old man, not even cognizant of our new heart or the Spirit within us? What would happen if we would intentionally try to live totally dependent on the Spirit, every second conscious of and “jacked in” to the abiding presence of Jesus?

Life Through Death

In The Matrix, Neo is told many things that make absolutely no sense to him (or to us the audience) until later in the movie. One of the pivotal staements is this one by the mysterious “Oracle”:

The Oracle: Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.
Neo: What?
The Oracle: Your next life maybe, who knows? That’s the way these things go.

Neo has no idea what “next life” means— it makes no sense to him.

However, at the end of the movie, Neo does die, and out of that death comes life, a life that has energy, power, ability, destiny.  It is life on a completely different level than he had thought possible before, life on a higher and broader scale than he even had a category for, but it came only through death.

In a sense, all of us who have experienced the new birth through faith in Christ have a new life on a whole different level. But why do so few feel like it or act like it?  There sure was no mistaking Neo was different after he was “born again”:

 

 

Part of the reason that we are still living such ordinary lives is simply this: we’re not dying.  We are not experiencing life because we are not embracing death. We are not experiencing the power of the resurrection because we haven’t experienced the power of the crucifixion.

We are not taking seriously the words of Christ, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 ESV). We seem more comfortable thinking about dying with Christ only in the past tense. And there is an important past tense, finished and done aspect of our death in Christ, but it isn’t meant to end there, to stay a one time past event. Instead, God intends for us to come to it again and again, every day of our lives.

But we like to keep dying with Christ in the past tense, don’t we? Maybe that’s because only thinking of being crucified with Christ in the past tense makes no demand of us: if we don’t have to think about dying today, we know we don’t have to give up anything today, we don’t have to experience any suffering today.  But the power to live a supernatural life can only come through death; and not just the death we experienced at the moment of our new birth, but death to self that we must embrace every day, death that will bring us more fully into the reality, present tense, that Paul was talking about when he wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).

Embrace the cross
Where Jesus suffered
Though it will cost
All you claim as yours…

Embrace the life
That comes from dying…

Embrace the cross
Embrace the cross
The cross of Jesus

(from Embrace the Cross by Steve Green)

We need to fervently pray every day, “God, kill everything within me that is not focused on glorifying Your name!”

Spiritual Sight

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:1-3 ESV)

Wasn’t this a strange way for Jesus to start a conversation?  A prominent rabbi comes in, and confesses to Jesus that he is a “teacher come from God.”  At first glance, you might think Jesus might reply, “Yes, you’re right, you’re very perceptive.”  “Yes, you have seen the truth.”  or at least, “Why do you say that? Why do you think I am from God?”

But, as Jesus often did, he throws Nicodemus something seemingly out of the blue— “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Where did that come from?

If you examine Jesus’ conversations, He often challenged unbelievers along the path of their perceived but wrong opinions.  To the rich young ruler he first challenged him about his notion of what being “good” was.  To Nathanael he challenged his image of what the Messiah would be like.  To the woman at the well he challenged her idea of what thirst was really all about.  To Pilate he challenged his idea of how an innocent man would speak before him.

So Christ immediately challenged Nicodemus on his opinion of what spiritual sight was.  Specifically, Nicodemus had studied the Scriptures all his life, and was intellectually one of the most learned men in Israel.  In addition to his learning, he had lived an exemplary holy and pious life. If anyone in Israel was qualified to know who would be truly from God and who wasn’t, both Nicodemus himself and any other Jew would have said, “Yes, Nicodemus can see.”

But Jesus jumps in and in effect says, “You’ve just said you can see that I’m from God.  But you can’t.  You’re blind.  All your knowledge and all your holiness can’t give you spiritual sight— only being born again can allow you to see the kingdom of God.”

This statement completely blows Nicodemus and his world away.  The fact that spiritual sight can’t be attained though even his lifetime of diligent effort— he just can’t comprehend it (well, duh, because he doesn’t have any spiritual sight.)  But the spiritual blindness of humanity is a fact. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

It is only after God directly intervenes in our life through the new birth that we can see, as Paul says in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Nicodemus was convinced he could see spiritual reality, but he couldn’t until he was born again.  When someone is born again, their eyes are opened to a whole new world of spiritual reality, just as in the movie The Matrix Neo sees his reality in a whole new and deeper way after he is reborn:

 

 

So, how should believers respond to this truth from John’s gospel?

First, we need to be thankful to God that He has in His mercy chosen to allow us to have spiritual sight.

Second, we need to pray and strive to use this spiritual sight, to see the Kingdom of God as we journey in this world, in the situations we deal with and the people that we minister to.

Third, we need to know that the battle to bring people to see the Kingdom of God, to see the truth of the gospel, is not just a battle with their emotions or minds or wills, but with spiritual blindness, a battle where we must pray and ask God to remove their blindness and grant them spiritual sight. 

Neo’s Choices in The Matrix

Welcome to “Media Meltdown Mondays”, a new feature here at Light Along the Journey.

In Media Meltdown Mondays, we’ll tackle a movie or song or book and review it, or just try to tease out a relevant theme applicable to your spiritual walk with God. Some may be “Christian” media, some not, sometimes the metaphor will be direct, sometimes subtle or partial, but it will always point us a little farther along the journey.

So, how can I not start out with the most overblown and overanalyzed movie in evangelical Christiandom in the past ten years?

The Matrix 

Yes, I’m talking about The Matrix, that mishmash of guns, kung-fu, black leather, pop cultural, cyberpunk, and obtuse religious references. There have been so many Chrisitian web sites, articles, even books and postgraduate work devoted to this movie it is truly bizarre, especially considering how very very far away from the kingdom of God the two guys who came up with this stuff appear to be. Regardless of the movie’s many failings and shortcomings, yes, I liked it.The mark of any great movie (or any sermon or any creative work) is: How does it create a time and space for us to consider the nature of God, the nature of ourselves, and how we can become more like Christ? As I watch (and rewatch) this movie, one theme that both came out to me and that the writers said they had in mind is the whole thing of individual choice, specifically Neo’s choices. Even though the writers’ eventual explanation of the nature of Neo’s choices in the final movie is banal, insipid and just plain stupid, at best, let’s focus on the choices themselves. In the first movie, one of the main elements of the plot is the series of choices that Neo has to make, and those choices have a parallel to choices we have to make as well, and just maybe seeing those choices we have to make in our spiritual lives illustrated through the medium of a guy in a black trenchcoat and cool sunglasses will help us better consider those choices in our own lives.

1. Choice to go to the nightclub where he met Trinity—the choice of exploring the uncertain and unknown
–>Neo chose the unknown, not knowing the significance of his choice at the time
If he had not made that one choice, the rest of his choices would never have been open to him. 

Have you obeyed God in a matter, and God opened up a blessing or opportunity you weren’t even aware of as a result?

2. Choice to go up the scaffolding of his office building—the choice of taking risk
–>he saw the difficulty “this is crazy” “why is this happening to me?” and chose not to, with a result of both missed opportunity and enslavement.

Have you ever had a tough choice, a risk, and took the “easy way” out? What happened?

3. Choice to stay with Trinity in the car and trust her—the choice of trust
–>Trinity to Neo: “Please, Neo, you have to trust me. Because you have been down there. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

When have you seen where “your” road ends, and said “I will trust you God, even though I don’t know where You are going.”?

4. Choice to take the red pill—the choice of irreversible commitment
–>this is the choice of belief, many liken this moment to Christian conversion

Have you made that choice, to choose Christ as Lord and Savior?

Is there a choice in your life that you haven’t made because there wasn’t an “out”, a way you could undo it?

5. Choice to save Morpheus—the choice to sacrifice your life for a greater good
–>Neo: “Morpheus believed in something. I know that now”
What does Neo “know now”? —that to believe in something changes your life, and demands sacrifice. This is the first selfless, noble thing Neo does in the whole movie; it is his turning point. Note that it is now Tank who says “this is crazy” instead of Neo saying it during his earlier choice of risk out the window of his office building.

When have you stepped out in faith and “lost your life” for God?

6. Choice to face agent Smith rather than run—the choice to accept your destiny
–>”what’s he doing?” Morpheus, “He’s beginning to believe”
Neo finally KNOWS who he is, and he makes THE choice, the choice to fight the enemy, save his friends, fulfill his destiny. As John Eldredge puts it, “You’re just not going to be able to live an ordinary life anymore. I’m sorry. But you know too much now. You are too dangerous to leave alone, and the Enemy is going to come after you, to try to put you back in your place. The battle can get ugly…but this is where your strength is revealed” Please note that the choice did not make his life easier, but harder, but it was the right thing to do.

Have you made that choice?
The choice to live a life of sacrifice, of destiny?
Do you have a sense of what God’s destiny, what your place in the battle is?
What do you need to do now in your life?

7. Choice to get up after being shot—the choice to believe that you have a new life and new nature that is supernatural

One of the movie’s nicest touches is that Trinity, Morpheus, and Neo all have to “get up” at an absolutely critical time, and break through their natural resistance to do so. Neo’s “resurrection” occurs as he realizes that the matrix, the agents, and “death” have no power over him any longer.

Have you realized this truth? Have you realized that in your new life in Christ you have abilities (of love, mercy, and the other fruits of the Spirit) that transcend anything that you could do in your old life or your old nature?

How can you live a supernatural life today, impervious to any “bullets” the enemy can throw your way, able to live as a new creature in Christ?

Babes in Arms

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of what I playfully term “babes in arms”, or actresses in very restrictive and undoubtedly uncomfortable clothing wielding high-caliber weapons or just generally kicking butt. Matrix, X-Men, Tomb Raider, Underworld, Catwoman, Aeon Flux, Bloodrayne, Buffy, Xena, Elektra—even Disney got in the act with Kim Possible. These are not just B-movies on the fringe, these are mainstream culture making big money, along with video games and other media.

This phenomenon would have been inconceivable 50 years ago, and probably illegal 100 years ago. What’s the reason? Why are men flocking to this new image of femininity, which is almost a complete antithesis of the beauty that God looks upon as precious?

Although the reasons are undoubtedly complex, let me venture one that both men and women need to think about. It certainly is not my original thought, but let me express it in my own way.

I would start with a very self evident quote from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart:

If a man does not find those things for which his heart is made, he will look for them in some other way.

Yes, that’s obvious, but maybe not so obvious after all. Eldredge is famous for saying that men must have a battle to fight and an adventure to live. And that is not original with him either, having been echoed in one form or another for millennia. Men must be releasing testosterone and adrenaline—that is the way God has both biochemically and spiritually made them.

So what happens to men, millions of them, in a culture who are not engaging on a daily basis with the challenges, battles, risks, and adventures that are Kingdom-building, God-honoring, Christ-focused, and Spirit-empowered?

They look elsewhere. And where are they looking? Lots of places, like the spectator sports industry, grabbing power and success, and various addictions.

But how about looking for adventure through women? And what kind of women? I recently read a commentator describing his feelings while interviewing Angelina Jolie. He basically said that all men think that they “play it safe”, and never risk enough in their “lives of quiet desperation”, as Thoreau put it. He said being around Jolie a man wasn’t sure whether she was going to have sex with him, murder him, or take him around the world, but he knew one thing for sure, that life wasn’t going to be boring, that he wouldn’t look back and think he missed out.

There it is. If a man thinks he isn’t risking, something within him is impelled to start risking, and the picture of a woman with a kind and gentle spirit, which is of great value to God, doesn’t fit the bill of risk the way a woman in a black catsuit with Uzis in each hand does. If you don’t think you are living on the edge with God, then living on the edge with that kind of woman seems to be a pretty good second choice.

So, if you are a man, what about you? Are you trying to fulfill your God-given spirit of adventure, risk, and battle with a “risky” woman, either in reality or vicariously through media? If you are, you need re-oriented in the basic concept of what God made women for, and you need to find out what kind of real adventure that God made you for.

If you are a woman, don’t be pressed into the mold of the world. Be beautiful, be feminine, be a refuge of delight and peace for your man away from his adventure and battle in the world, instead of unknowingly being a substitute for them.