Monday, November 28, 2016

524 - The Gift of Freedom

Spirituality Column No. 524
November 29, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

The Gift of Freedom
By Bob Walters

“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville, that great, perceptive French social observer of mid-1800s America, noticed and admired America’s citizen-by-citizen freedom of association.

Citizens in America, de Tocqueville marveled, were free to form affiliations in pursuit of common goals.  This freedom from royal government rules, power, edicts, ownership and interference – a novel fundamental of the U.S. Constitution – fueled the engine of young America’s exploding-in-all-directions prosperity, power, discovery, manufacturing, technology and Christian faith.

These U.S. citizens were not serfs or colonists or mere inhabitant caretakers unattached to their land but for whatever meager sustenance it provided; they were unshackled owners who freely and fiercely defended property and provenance.   America was resource-rich, providentially indulged and intellectually unleashed.

That’s how de Tocqueville saw America’s 1830s present.  Here is how he assessed her future:

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there … in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there … in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” – Democracy in America

Those “pulpits aflame with righteousness” were the rolling thunder of the early nineteenth century’s Second Great Awakening, the miracle of Christian revivalism and biblical blanketing of the expanding American frontier.  We were not then a nation of theologians nor are we now, but Jesus Christ was the unrivaled moral compass of the age and culture.  The civil and political freedoms de Tocqueville so eloquently lauded could only be preserved, he forewarned, by the moral resolve of a faithful citizenry.

Freedom is a specifically divine gift when first we insist that freedom be of benefit and comfort to others.  It is your insistence on my freedom, and vice versa, that describes and assigns a free community’s love for each other and exemplifies our trust in God’s goodness.  It requires the humility, resolve and strength exemplified by Jesus.

Exceptions abound in our national morality play – we are an imperfect nation of imperfect people.  We are at our best when we use our freedom to come together and attach our liberty to Christ.  Goodness grounded in righteousness never goes wrong.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) cites de Tocqueville’s observation that the “secret weapon” of America’s greatness lay in the superiority of her women.
Monday, November 21, 2016

523 - Yours Truly

Spirituality Column No. 523
November 22, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Yours Truly
By Bob Walters

In a season of loud opinions measured against this annual week of humble thanksgiving, I am thankful for truth.

Real truth.  Objective truth.  Divine truth.  The truth of Jesus Christ.

Identifying truth in the world is always done at a human handicap – people in all times, places and cultures have little more than opinions to work with from whence they unapologetically extrapolate intractable but regularly flawed moral judgments.  At this American moment in history, identifying truth is all the more confusing, perhaps impossible, amid a boisterous, rancorous, apparently endless and thoroughly polarized political season.  Do I have hope for our nation?  Yes I do.  Is “hope” a “truth?”  No, in this context it’s merely a contentious point of view.

So in this chattering national conversational climate of crossed purposes and obstinate opinions, why does truth seem so elusive?

Because, I would suggest, we are looking for truth in all the wrong places.

The real deal capital-T truth only exists where the majority of people don’t want to look: in the person of Jesus Christ.  Legal truth, political truth, academic truth, social truth and virtually any other human-generated worldly truth may lead us to pleasant or unpleasant situational and physical realities, but the worst place to look for capital T truth is in a human heart and maybe, especially our own. Let me explain.

“Be true to your heart” can be good or bad or terrible advice.  Although Jesus may well be alive in your heart, never forget Satan is too.  Pride, fear, power, reprisal, greed, faction and many other sins are all heart temptations that make “my truth” vs. “your opinion” an incendiary, love-throttling cocktail.  Arrogance, you see, is unaffiliated with truth because arrogance lacks love.  Jesus, one notices, was pretty humble.

Don’t panic or be offended that Satan is hanging near; he sidled up to Jesus, too.  Just know that truth isn’t the invasive bodily and spiritual temptations of Satan; truth is the person of Jesus Christ: His mercy, compassion, patience, love and glory.

We fumble the ball when we mistake our own opinion for the will of God, and I hate when I do that.  God may reveal His will to us, but we must be aware he reveals it to others as well.  That’s why the holy person of Jesus factors heavily in the truth equation because He is the only truth.  In His own words: “I am the way and the truth and the life…” (John 14:6), and He meant it.  Most likely you know the rest.

Our discernment of truth does not rely on our clever and energetic arguments but on our faith, trust and love of Jesus.

When one possesses all that, thankfully, opinions don’t matter.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) prays that only the grateful, charitable love and truth of Jesus converge at your Thanksgiving table.  (I know… good luck with that.)
Monday, November 14, 2016

522 - Controlling Interest

Spirituality Column No. 522
November 15, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Controlling Interest
By Bob Walters
 
“God is in control.”
 
How many times have you heard this uttered through a prayerful but nonetheless held breath?  It is a thoroughly Christian response to tough times, surprising circumstances, incomprehensible challenges or recently and with undue panic, the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States.
 
But while everyone else is discussing the election, I want to discuss “God is in control.” 
 
Indeed He is. God hung the stars, set the heavens in motion and is the Creator and judge of all things.  Yet considering our wide-ranging human freedom designed and ordained by God, one has to admit that we have plenty of control of our own.  The truth of saying “God is in control” may be more defined by its admonishment to trust God than merely a prayerful surrender to the will of God.
 
God’s will, you see, is for Him to be glorified; and God is glorified when our free will is entrusted in love, by us, to Jesus Christ.  We mustn’t simply hand-off our “light and momentary” troubles to God to solve them, but to truly trust God in all circumstances, especially awful circumstances that can overcome faith.
 
The Apostle Paul was lashed, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, jailed, ridiculed and more than once left for dead.  Yet that meant nothing to Paul compared with the glory of God that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).  Christians are pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 17), yet must fix our eyes not on what is seen and temporary, but on what is unseen and eternal.  Paul thus describes the eternal glory of God that outweighs all human experience, good or bad.
 
Never forget, human experience is something of which we are in control because God designed it that way.  God’s glory requires that we be entirely free, challenged greatly and yet still find our first love in Jesus Christ.  Do we “pray continually”? (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  That’s code for keeping God ever close.
 
What if we don’t keep God close?  Well, Adam and Eve listened to Satan instead of God in the Garden, creating endless trouble.  Conversely, Jesus answered Satan with God’s word in the desert, harkening eternal salvation.  That comparison is a tad uneven given Adam and Eve (i.e. humanity) were merely God’s image while Jesus is God incarnate.  But the lesson is that when we are challenged, we mustn’t just assume “God takes control.”  He can, certainly, but God liberally lets us figure things out for ourselves.  What God is wondering is, do our faith and love survive?
 
Our ultimate test is not in merely and reflexively looking to God for solutions, but whether in tribulation or triumph we humbly and always trust Jesus Christ with our entire life and for all strength, endurance, perseverance, peace and most importantly, love.
 
God, I believe, is always as close as we allow Him to be.  We can control that.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) today, Nov. 15, marks the nine-year anniversary of the funeral of dear friend and preacher of the Gospel Russ Blowers, loved by many. 
Monday, November 7, 2016

521 - Where's the Love?

Spirituality Column No. 521
November 8, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Where’s the Love?
By Bob Walters

Life basics: God is love, Jesus has all authority, and the Holy Spirit dwells among us providing divine knowledge and comfort.

With these resources, with this truth – our lives of faith should be easy and joyous.  Instead we opt for contention and confusion both inside and outside the faith.

Christians will ball up a fist and hit you repeatedly in the face reminding you of your sin and shame.  Then they’ll ball up the other first and hit you repeatedly with guilt because of Jesus having to “pay a price” for your salvation with a hideous death on the cross.  They’ll then insist this is evidence of God’s tender love and represents a solid foundation on which to enter into a divine, loving, eternal relationship with Jesus to the glory of God.  The themes may be biblically defensible, but the “pitch” is relationally warped.  Love – true love – never comes from accusation or transaction.  It comes from freedom, compassion, mercy and grace; the things that make life easier.

Meanwhile, Jesus-mocking Western-world secularists accuse Christians of arrogance and hypocrisy on one hand and taunt them for a lack of reason, intelligence and sophistication on the other.  Secularists are humans who might give God and Christ a chance if only someone could “prove it” to them.  Two things in the Bible they believe: they’ll go to heaven, and “Don’t judge.”

Though these secular (non-religious) folks are deaf to the Holy Spirit’s call for Christ and the infinite, eternal love or God, they still are able to love others and do good works; and they’ll defend to the death what they love. Privately they may wonder if God exists, but publicly know it’s easier to go along to get along within the ever-diminishing piety of political, social, academic, scientific and cultural norms not having to explain Jesus in their lives.  Odd though how they believe they belong in heaven, the eternal Kingdom home of Jesus in whom they neither believe nor place their trust and love.

Atheists, whom I perceive in actuality to be few in number, militantly reject any notion of a supreme being, though I sense that many public displays of atheism are more fashion than substance.  We are all wired to believe something, and believing in no God is still a belief.  Atheists will argue no, they don’t believe in anything, and some Christians will argue back, yes, they do.  But one divinely important thing I notice is that atheists are perfectly and demonstrably capable of loving others and doing good deeds.

Satan, interestingly enough, is not an atheist.  Satan absolutely knows God exists and what God is all about.  Satan simply does not love and does no good deeds.

So remember, as a Christian, that anywhere you see selfless, self-sacrificing love, you are seeing God.  God is always where the love is.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) reminds all that 1) God loves and judges on His terms, not ours; and 2) Showing love works better than arguing faith.
Monday, October 31, 2016

520 - 'How Do You Know?'

Spirituality Column No. 520
November 1, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

How Do You Know?
By Bob Walters

It is Satan’s favorite question.

It is post-modern society’s perpetual challenge.

It is, sneakily, the intellectual antithesis of open-mindedness.

When a believer preaches Godly good, Christian love, Spiritual wholeness and biblical truth; or maybe asserts that “this is right and this is wrong according to God’s word,” the secular world’s default, go-to response of dismissiveness, derision, and, sadly, despair is, “How do you know?”

Doubt is the world’s prevailing response to Godly faith.  Why?  Because Satan is lord of the world, is God’s enemy and his mission is the removal of faith, hope and love.  Satan makes stumbling blocks for humans out of these “image of God” components built into our humanity.  That we know, trust and love God, and love each other, honors God.  Our doubts amuse Satan because he works against God’s glory and our love.

This is Satan’s game, and he’s skilled at it.  Consider the Garden of Eden.  Satan insulted God’s sovereignty; tricked mankind into disobedience; set Adam against Eve; shamed both of them before God and each other; and did it by using against Adam and Eve humanity’s best Godly attribute: freedom.  Not a bad day’s “worldly” work.

Satan’s game in the Garden was, essentially, “How do you know?”

In our post-modern world broad swaths of society deride the very notion of God as being illusion, folly or a sign of feeble-mindedness.  Since God plainly tells mankind throughout the Bible that we will not see or understand much of what He does, Satan has taught us to ridicule faith and demand proof, tickling our doubts with the inadequacy of worldly evidence. By challenging our trust, Satan encourages us to reject God.

“How do you know?”  Game and set to Satan.

You may have noticed that open-mindedness is the intellectual coin and relativistic moral true north of the post-modern realm.  But open-mindedness that believes the absolute truth of God?  Never!  What a conundrum.  God’s greatest gift to humanity is freedom because only in freedom can we discover the divine love that glorifies God, and glorifying God is the entire point of life.  Whatever you may be feeling, if is coerced, self-centered and not free, it is not love.  So the world – Satan – declares morality to be relative thus requiring the Christian be open-minded about secular ways when in truth, doubting secularists would be better off being open-minded about God.

I, personally, don’t see any future in being open-minded about Satan.

And the world says: “How do you know?”  I’m glad they asked.

Because I don’t doubt Christ.

Game, set and match to God.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com), who did in fact (long ago) play small college varsity tennis, here marks 10 years – 520 consecutive weeks – publishing this column. His next book, Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary, Volume II, is in the works.
Monday, October 24, 2016

519 - Jesus and the Curve Ball

Spirituality Column No. 519
October 25, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Jesus and the Curve Ball
By Bob Walters

”’You tryin’ to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curve ball?” – Chelcie Ross as mythical Cleveland Indians pitcher Eddie Harris in the 1989 movie, “Major League”
 
For my money it’s one of the funniest yet subtle movie lines ever.
 
Voodoo-practicing baseball slugger Pedro Cerrano crushes fast balls but can’t hit a curve ball.  Meditating at the incense-burning altar in his baseball locker, Pedro offers voodoo spirit Jobu cigars and rum to take the fear out of his bats.  “Straight ball I hit it very much,” Pedro says to his teammates.  “Curve ball, bats are afraid.”
 
Eddie the pitcher sticks his head into the scene and piously, derisively suggests, “Y’know you might think about taking Jesus Christ as your savior instead of messing around with all this stuff.”  Pedro smiles, nods and says, “Ah, ‘Haysoose’ (Jesus).  I like him very much, but he no help hit curve ball.”  And Eddie, offended, delivers the line:
 
“You tryin’ to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curve ball?”
 
Well, lo and behold.  In 2016 those once woeful Cleveland Indians are in the World Series for real (against the Cubs, no less), and America euphemistically is trying to hit one of the biggest curve balls in its history: this year’s presidential election.
 
I doubt our American civic bats – our voting responsibilities – have been this “afraid” since the Civil War, or maybe ever.  Can anyone say, “Strike three”?
 
This all popped into my head recently after reading a Facebook post saying Jesus was a political rebel who wanted universal health care so there is no way Jesus would vote conservative.  Another meme asserted liberals will hasten the end times.
 
Let’s be careful with Jesus.  Jesus was a rebel, yes, but in religion, not politics.  He didn’t challenge Rome or argue with Pontius Pilate.   And the Pharisees’ accusatory religious curve balls never fooled him.  Jesus’s “Render unto Caesar” line (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25) leaves politics to mankind. And what he was trying to heal was sin, not bad health insurance.  While we focus temporally on baseball and presidential polemics, Jesus focuses eternally on God’s glory and our salvation.
 
C.S. Lewis has a great paragraph in Mere Christianity about Satan tricking us into faith errors against either end of an extreme.  Our extra dislike of the one sin error, Lewis observes, draws us gradually into the opposing sin error.  That’s what’s happening now.  We become so politically disconcerted that suddenly we’re telling one another for whom Jesus would not vote.
 
My guess is Jesus would neither vote nor be drawn into the debate. He warns Satan “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7) and constantly tells the Pharisees devastating parables of their faith errors and God’s spiritual truth.
 
And we smugly predict God’s vote while Satan is taunting us to hit a curve ball.
 
I doubt many folks truly are ready for Jesus to come to bat.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) feels better when he reads the Bible than when he watches the news, and also is thankful for the Indians vs. Cubs World Series diversion.
Saturday, October 15, 2016

518 - 'As Real as it Gets'

Spirituality Column No. 518
October 18, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

‘As Real as it Gets’
By Bob Walters

The multiple, halting, emotional speeches hung so very, very thickly over Baby Willow’s funeral Saturday.

Born at home healthy, vibrant and hungry early October 6, Willow stopped breathing some four hours later.  No warning, no explanation … and no amount of emergency care could bring her back.  Willow’s ashes rested in a polished wooden box as parents, family and friends gathered to say we love you and good-bye.

Praise God, Willow insisted we do much more.  She insisted that we in our heartbreak encounter Jesus in all His power, promise, trust and truth.  Willow allowed no other gaze than for us to fix our eyes on the healing love of Jesus Christ.

In this season of crushing grief, Willow’s parents Michael and Maggie and all four grandparents courageously, tearfully spoke words of healing and encouragement and witnessed profoundly to the unlimited faithfulness and tender mercy of Jesus.  When so many might wonder, errantly, “How could God do such a thing?” as take young Willow, Willow’s family stood faithfully and said, “How could we survive such a thing without Jesus?”

Maggie told the funeral gathering that the day following Willow’s death she experienced a vision of Jesus.  He stepped between her and Michael, comforted them and in a voice Maggie clearly discerned said of Willow, “I have to take her now.”  Numerous other signs, works of Christian love and even rainbows appeared through the week.  When one is in the faith, such signs are unmistakable evidence of God’s nearness, relationship and compassion.  Jesus is there.

Pastor Dave Rodriguez at Grace Church (Westfield, IN) looked at the funeral gathering and noted, gently, that he understood there likely were people there who didn’t “get” the Jesus thing and more likely would be on the page of, “How could God …etc.”  Dave noted that the hurt and the love and the healing and the faith permeating that particular room, not to mention the faith witness of Maggie and Michael’s entire lives, would appear to some unbelievable; certainly not real.

Dave spoke a measured, earnest, caring truth: “This is as real as it gets.”

Willow didn’t let anyone out of the church without facing the reality that is the truth of Jesus Christ.  These are the times, the pastor noted, that God shows up and is not subtle.  Times like these are why we were created in the image of God, or else where is our comfort?  In times like these words may fail us but God doesn’t.

Like Dave, I pray someone curious about Jesus asks Michael and Maggie about this God they know.

They know Him very well.

Walters’ (rlwcom@aol.com) son Eric was roommates with Michael in college.  They grew up in faith together at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis.  By the way, Michael and Maggie have a son Rhett whom they adopted a few months before learning of her pregnancy. 

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