Monday, September 19, 2016

Masked Man

Spirituality Column No. 514
September 20, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Masked Man
By Bob Walters
 
“… Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14
 
Paul had just an awful time with the Corinthian church.
 
Every manner of false apostle, Judaizer, heretic, pagan, deceiver, quarreler and fool had a seat in God’s house in Corinth.  Paul’s steadfast message of Jesus Christ and righteous preaching of the Gospel attacked all false doctrine, fanned the flame of truth and shared “surpassingly great revelations” (12:7) even as he bore a personal thorn of unknown torment and courageously endured shipwrecks, beatings and prison.
 
Paul plainly had his story straight and his ministry blessed straight from the top.  His mission was to build people up, not tear them down (13:10), but he pulled no punches, tolerated no heresy and gave in to no falsehood.
 
The light Paul preached was the true light.
 
I don’t know of a modern day church that has a “Paul,” exactly; he was really one of a kind; a ministry archetype of faith, knowledge, anointing and action.  But there are plenty of great preachers today preaching Christ crucified to faithful congregations that are full of sinners, full of problems, full of hope, full of truth and full of repentant but stumbling believers who nonetheless pursue God’s call, love their Lord, their neighbor and help out where they can.  A smile in church is neither a mask nor hypocrisy.
 
Believers can be sinners in the same awkward, tangent comparison that judgment can include mercy. Knowing you have sinned and going to church doesn’t make you a hypocrite any more than knowing your car is dirty and taking it to the car wash.
 
Are “churches full of hypocrites?”  Sure, but the question really asks about man, not the church.  Considering fallen humanity’s proclivities and fears, hypocrisy is not our worst trait.  Ignoring God is our worst trait.  Church is a step in the right direction and hypocrisy is OK if it brings one into proximity with Christ.
 
From there, let the Holy Spirit – Who is not a hypocrite – do its job.
 
I wince when I hear preaching about the “masks” we wear in church to hide our sin, how we’re hypocrites, etc.  Baloney.  Satan masquerading as a believer is different from a believer bucking up with a smile in an effort to escape a bad week.  Church and the love of Christ are supposed to provide welcome respite from life’s sin, shame and struggles.  We share our burdens.  Jesus is our peace and our rest, after all, and God rested after a week’s work.
 
So relax – wear a smile and leave the mask at home. The best relationships are built from honest joy, not from behind a mask.
 
Going to church should make you feel better, not worse.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) realizes church always has room for more hypocrites; Paul likely would have preferred them to the crowd he had in Corinth.
Monday, September 12, 2016

Separation Anxiety

Spirituality Column No. 513
September 13, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Separation Anxiety
By Bob Walters
 
Trusting the love and grace of Jesus Christ is our only way out – out of our fears, out of our failures, out of our pride and out of this fallen world into the glorious next.
 
Even as worldly life may be momentarily calm, sin is never really absent.  Hence it is wise and responsible to remain prayerfully ever-vigilant knowing today’s comforts and peace are fleeting.  Family and health issues pop up out of nowhere.  Each of us at any given instant is this far from a misstep, a weak moment, a self-inflicted calamity or even an innocent mistake of potentially devastating impact.
 
Every day, society-wide spiritual menace is staring Christians in the face.  Consider the overwhelming obeisance to a secular palette of false, self-aggrandizing, spirit-crippling “truth” that corrupts politics, academia, entertainment culture, media of every description and saddest of all, more than a few churches.  We are coached to “believe” patently ungodly things.  Satan constantly queries of our faith, “How can you be sure?”  Popular society’s “best and brightest” regularly ridicule the notion of Godly, objective, eternal, righteous, accountable truth.
 
Our neighbor insists, “That’s only your opinion.”
 
And I don’t buy any of it.
 
The one thing I believe is the Bible; the one thing I know is Jesus Christ; the one influence I trust is the Holy Spirit.   And I know and trust that God is always there, or here, or nearby or somewhere in the mix.  Never, ever, do I think He is absent.
 
That is the strength of a Christian walk – knowing we are not walking alone. How often we hear that sin “separates us from God.” Well, I’m here to preach that sin is the very thing that must draw us to God.  And we are drawn to the Father through Jesus Christ His Son whose mercy, compassion, love, forgiveness and righteousness constitute our entire, unwavering and exclusive survival system – our only hope – to endure and overcome the inevitable sin in each of our lives.  Want biblical proof?
 
See Genesis 3.  What is God’s first move after Adam and Eve sin … and they know they have sinned?  God goes and finds them, and curses them, and tells them the road to come will be very difficult, and throws them out of the Garden.  But there are another 65 books in the Bible that prove God never abandons them … or us.
 
More proof?  Jesus arrives.  Go to Romans 8:31-38, “…nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  Do you think Paul meant that? Knew that?  I do.
 
I turned my back on God for much of my life but when I turned back, God was there, Jesus embraced me and the Spirit has led me.
 
Sin hasn’t left me, but I know God never gives up.
 
Neither should we.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com), who figures people are far more likely to leave us than God, “woke up” to Jesus in September 2001, 15 years ago.
Monday, September 5, 2016

Selling Salvation

Spirituality Column No. 512
September 6, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Selling Salvation
By Bob Walters

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.– 2 Corinthian 4:18
 
Everyone wants to define God in understandable terms.
 
In plain English, please.
 
That today’s Bible is translated from ancient languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, various dialects, etc.) muddles the “plain English” demands of folks who “just don’t get” the Bible, Jesus, sacrifice, salvation, God’s perfect plan or the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in our lives.
 
For these loving matters of eternal weight, secular culture craves light explanations that remove gray areas, doubts and rebuttals.  They have to see it to believe it.  Therefore folks lament that they can’t see God, never met Jesus and assign unholy properties to the Holy Spirit.  They find the Bible confusing, divine grace untrustworthy and faith a non-provable mental exercise.
 
As for God’s gift of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ, there are folks who “get it” (meaning they see the unseen), folks who want to get it but don’t, folks who don’t care, and folks who care deeply to prove it all untrue.  Satan himself is in that fourth group, is demonstrably successful among the last two, impedes the last three, and messes with all four.  Popular culture, “the world,” largely looks at Jesus and receives Him not (John 1:11).  So we believers scramble to come up with explanations in worldly terms that provide “visible” – meaning “familiar” – reasons for faith.
 
Marketing – buying and selling – is a common cultural construct so we’ll say “Jesus died to pay for our sins.”  Sin is bad, and if we do something bad, we have to pay for it.  But in divine terms, if Jesus is part of the Trinity, never did anything bad, and is fully God as well as fully man, then on the cross who was paid, why, and with what?
 
God (Jesus) paid God (the Father) for our (humanity’s) sins by killing Himself?
 
The marketing argument fails.  People pay for stuff all the time, so do we understand salvation as a transaction; something to be bought?
 
Obviously, this isn’t like the world means “bought.”  Salvation – restoring our relationship with God – is given and received by the divine grace of Jesus Christ, something I can’t see, explain, or buy.  I just have to trust Jesus that it is there.
 
How do I know?  I just know.  That’s the truth.  Grace is the unseen answer.
 
Yes, the Bible uses marketing metaphors: “bought with the blood,” “purchased at a price,” etc.  But it’s not like paying the cable bill or buying groceries.  Jesus died to defeat sin’s penalty of death; He arose to open a priceless door, our door, to heaven.
 
Desperate as we are to glorify Jesus, plain English fails.  It is His word deep in our hearts, not on the tips of our tongues, that saves us.  And it’s not for sale.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) isn’t merely sold on Jesus; he knows Christ’s value is infinite.
Monday, August 29, 2016

Bad Medicine

Spirituality Column No. 511
August 30, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Bad Medicine
By Bob Walters

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” – Galatians 1:6
 
A “different gospel”?  The Apostle Paul must have encountered an especially vile, foreign strain of heretical non-Christian paganism to call it a “different gospel.”
 
No, Paul is simply, forcefully, and truthfully addressing the Christian church.  His loving injunction here, and the entire point of his Galatian epistle, is to correct one of Christianity’s most insidious, still-festering, joy-robbing, freedom-crushing, love-destroying, hate-generating and relationship-blurring misappropriations of biblical truth.
 
In a word, Paul is attacking legalism, a treacherous, confused faith practice still quite in evidence today.  Specifically, Paul is condemning exclusive Jewish practices, laws and customs which deceptively cloak Christ’s inclusive gospel of faith, grace and love.  Paul even upbraided the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:7-14) for dividing the church by treating Jews and Gentiles differently.
 
Today legalism can be either misdirected Christian obedience to ancient Jewish practices, or errant, modern constructs of “behavior as righteousness.”  Either way, legalism spoils our proper love of Christ and of others, dissolving into judgmental comparisons of “my” vs. “your” obedience.  Hatred ensues; here’s how.
 
If I am very busy assessing my own divine standing based on behaviors and actions I think will please God, what I am really doing is focusing on “me.” Inevitably, if I am busy judging “me,” I’m going to compare what I’m doing with what others are doing.  I either will be prideful in my superiority or miserable in my guilt.  Neither situation builds a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ or a loving relationship with others.  We become slaves to other fallen humans, rather than free in Christ.  Satan’s hatred breathes near.
 
Rather than peace, love and hope, we live in guilt, condescension and fear.
 
Recently I heard from a life-long friend concerned about a Christian relative who was approached by other Christians who encouraged participation in Jewish laws such as keeping a kosher kitchen.  I have attended a Friday evening Shabbat dinner in a Jewish home and it was quite rich and interesting.  But for Christians to engage in such practices is possibly quaint, definitely useless, and spiritually confused.
 
My friend and mentor George Bebawi, a Christian brother with Jewish roots, is frequently invited to “officiate” Jewish Seder meals in Christian homes during holy week.  He declines, and if pressed says, “I’ll do it but only if we follow the law exactly and circumcise every male in attendance.”  That usually silences the invitation.
 
Jesus frees us from rules so we can love freely and obey Him in grace rather than in slavery.  Per Galatians 2:21, if we ignore grace, Christ died for nothing.
 
Legalism is bad medicine and a gross malpractice of Christian love.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that Bebawi will be teaching Galatians Wednesday evenings at E91 beginning Sept. 21.  All are invited.
Monday, August 22, 2016

Girding Up the Mind

Spirituality Column No. 510
August 23, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Girding Up the Mind
By Bob Walters”

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13

In older versions of the Bible, instead of “preparing your mind” this verse reads “girding up the loins of your mind.”  In either case, it is Peter’s sober call to wise action.

Physically, “girding” means unencumbering one’s legs to maximize one’s mobility.  This can be accomplished with a belt or sash, tightening the waist of the garment (think “girdle”), or by lifting, wrapping and tying the “skirt” around one’s “loins,” the human mid-section between the bottom of the rib cage and the pelvis.  “Girding up the loins” is what robe-wearers do when preparing for labor or battle.

Shifting the context to Peter’s call for intellectual discernment, prayer and action, “girding up the loins of your mind” instructs us that we most effectively pursue God’s will when we unencumber our minds from things that hinder truth and slow our salvation; thereby freeing ourselves for right-minded, holy action.  In other words, Peter tells us to dismiss worldly culture and cares, and to clearly, tenaciously and exclusively pursue and emphasize hope, grace and the risen Christ in all that we see, think and do.

 A few books earlier in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17), the Apostle Paul tells us to do the seemingly impossible: “Pray continually.”  That’s actually not so impossible if one’s mind focuses on the hope, grace and revelation of Christ.  Instead of worrying what our neighbors (whom we are to love) think, we set our default mental filter on “revelation of Christ.”  That turns everything we think into a prayer as our days present us with joys, challenges, blessings, worldly iniquities, grievous temptations and a plethora of God-neutering machinations by an intellectually overbearing, culturally arrogant, “politically correct,” bullying, morally bereft and academically disingenuous society at large.

Every day our culture challenges the “girded” sharpness of our Christian minds.  Consider:
- Vice president Joe Biden, a confessing Roman Catholic, on Aug. 1 presided at a gay wedding in direct opposition to Catholic teaching, thumbing his nose at Church doctrine.
 The New York Times on Aug. 13 ran an academically heinous op-ed guest “editorial” that claimed God is transgender.  That the Times ran a pro-LGBTQ editorial maliciously mischaracterizing God (God transcends gender) is not surprising; that the linguistic and scriptural argument presented is utterly specious – the Bible translation was wrong – was evidently not something Times editors considered important.

Beware the heretics and libertines.  Whether it is the best of times, the worst of times or the end of times, now is the time to be mentally prepared, in Christ, all the time.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that being a Christian has never been “easy,” not if you really believe.  The world is always taking the other side.
– Commentary on Biden: Click here: Hey, Joe! | First Things
– Commentary on God’s Transgender: Click here: No, God Isn’t Transgender | First Things
Monday, August 15, 2016

Oh My Goodness

Spirituality Column No. 509
August 16, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Oh My Goodness
By Bob Walters

“God is good, and I’m not.”
 
That’s how I would boil down the Bible’s entire message in six words or less.
 
Some might say they could chop it to three: “God is good.”  Well in that case, probably the better three words are: “Forget about me.”  No one has to remind God He is good; He knows.  Forgetting I’m not the center of creation requires more practice.
 
And that’s OK.  It’s a good lesson to review.  I’m a Jesus trusting, Bible believing, God fearing and Spirit sensing Christian, and I’ll go ahead and boast about that in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24, 1 Corinthians 1:31).  The one thing I won’t do is imagine that my faith makes me a good person.  What it does is make me aware I’m not.
 
If, as my good friend May always says, “It is only my sin that qualifies me for the grace of Christ,” then let me state here and now, I’m overqualified.  Most Christians I know can relate, and it seems that out there in the culture every non-Christian or quasi-Christian trying to criticize the church or the faith or Jesus Himself imagines that my knowing walk with Christ is a walk in my own personal arrogance.  No, that’s the one thing it can’t be.  But if that’s the impression one gets, then it’s either an indictment of me and my behavior or you and your faulty understanding of the Bible … or both.
 
Keep it simple: God is good, and I’m not.
 
Everything about Jesus – what He preached, what He noticed, what He criticized, what he lived for and what he died for – was about His humility and God’s glory.  Jesus personified the humble heart of a loving God.  Christ’s mission to the cross was not to arrogantly reveal his own identity and power before fallen, fearful man.  It was to teach us the limitless truth of a glorious God who loves every one of us, His own Creation, and teach us how to re-engage in freedom and faith, in loving, eternal relationship, with our Father in heaven.  Why?  Because we were created for it.
 
I always flinch when I hear a sermon preached about “being a good person” or when someone defends their lack of dependence on Christ with “I’m a good person” or whatever a “good person” clich√© is addressing.  The hard truth of Christianity is that anyone expecting to come to church and “become a good person” has been sold a spurious bill of goods.  The only “good person” ever was Jesus Christ.
 
Our peace and rest in Jesus – our “Sabbath” – isn’t in “being good;” it’s in knowing that the pressure is off, that Jesus is the cover and the cleanser of our sins, and His goodness is the warmth of God’s love.
 
My Sabbath is my Jesus, and that’s plenty good enough for me.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) loves the Bible, but the main thing is Jesus.
Monday, August 8, 2016

Rough and Humble

Spirituality Column No. 508
August 9, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Rough and Humble
By Bob Walters

Surveying a rugged landscape …
 
– ISIS Islamic terrorists have recently published the 15th quasi-monthly edition of their English-language recruiting magazine, Dabiq.   ISIS is as doctrinally, lethally “against” the Muslim Brotherhood as it against Christians or Jews and seems to be mad at everybody.  One other thing … when I was a sportswriter I never remember a sports contest where the JV team had its own souvenir program.
 
– American atheists now have their own logo (devil’s horns around “Unabashed Atheist”), catchphrase (“Not afraid to burn in Hell”), organization (Freedom From Religion Foundation) and even held a rally attended by enthusiastic, god-spurning thousands this summer on Washington D.C.’s national mall.  The FFRF claims reason sides with them.  I claim that God, the author of all wisdom and reason, sides with me.
 
– The majority of today’s university “religious studies” professors either don’t, won’t or can’t admit to belief in Jesus Christ.  Faithful theologians are largely sequestered in seminaries and church schools.  Those at high-profile universities are routinely held by PC peers to be intellectually suspect and generally kept away from teaching undergrad philosophy classes, lest truth undermine opinion.
 
– Public K-12 schools everywhere laboriously, fearfully separate “church and state.”  School boards highlight mission-level promotion of excellence, diversity, tolerance, anti-bullying, being drug-free, making good choices – anything so long as it doesn’t promote the existence of divine truth or objective morality. Faith in “me” is celebrated.  Prayer, if one dares, is forgiven as long as no one talks about God.  Capital-G God won’t be tolerated; Jesus won’t be mentioned.
 
– Old line Protestant churches stand evermore empty in Western culture except for the few that have successfully blended their long-festering doctrinal heresy of God’s unseriousness and optional faith with the modern ascendancy of a rainbow cultural pallet that praises man’s intellectual supersession over God’s “outdated” principles.  After a couple centuries of serious, God redefining theological mischief, the old guard has all but killed off God and credits the absence of Sunday crowds as a victory for progressive theology.
 
In navigating one’s holy Christian walk there is no shortage of resistance to the simple, permanent, unyielding, John-14:6-truth of Jesus Christ, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  There is plenty of instructive, awesome, eternal truth in the Bible, but that truth becomes meaningless to those who believe God either is already gone, never was there or is somebody else.
 
Gauge the world around you by the life, light, love, truth and promise of Jesus.
 
Sin won’t surprise you, God won’t fail you, and strength won’t leave you.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notices the joy and ease of Jesus, and the despair of a suffering world. Love the first by humbly helping the second.
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