Monday, April 17, 2017

544 - Command and Control

Spirituality Column No. 544
April 18, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Command and Control
By Bob Walters

Broadly, I think American culture looks at the Ten Commandments as good advice.

Narrowly, only theft and in certain situations murder actually violate modern civil law.  How one does or does not deal with God is a personal choice, as is murdering an unborn child.  Idolatry is intellectually arcane.  Capitalism largely laughs at observing the Sabbath.  Envy and greed are “good”; accepted as cultural “get-aheads.”  Whether bearing false witness – telling a lie – is wrong depends on who has the best attorney.  Child protective services will intervene if your parents bug you (if they chose not to abort to start with).  Adultery?  Oh please … just get a no-fault divorce.

And yet there they still are, The Ten Commandments, represented in stone on the U.S. Supreme Court building and physically etched or displayed in countless courtrooms and public buildings across America.  Everyone has heard of them, though few can recite them and fewer heed them.  Check them out in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 in the Old Testament, or just Google “Ten Commandments.”

Interestingly, in the New Testament’s most succinct listing (Mark 10:19), the Rich Young Ruler parable ticks off the last six commandments, ignoring the first four about God.  All 10 are scattered elsewhere, though “observing the Sabbath” is redefined because the person of Jesus became humanity’s Sabbath.  But our central point is not what the Ten Commandments are, but what a “commandment” actually is.

Spoiler alert: Commandment doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

Once again, thanks to Bible teacher George Bebawi for a good perspective on this as we’ve recently been studying the “submission” section of Colossians 3.  To wit, commandment doesn’t mean “have to” and “submission” doesn’t mean tyranny.

The best place to start is with the Romans: the empire, not the book.  Much of how we today regard command, control, obedience, submission and punishment comes from the Roman legal model of 2,000 years ago.  Follow the law or be punished.  Fear the Emperor, his laws, his court and his army.  Submit to Caesar or die.

God’s commandments, on the other hand, are about well-ordered life, not death.  They are directions for how things work best both before God and in human society.  The heart of the Hebrew word “Mitzvah,” translated “commandment,” much more deeply implies Godly opportunity, understanding and principles, not a threatening “or else.”

Our submission to God and others is to be a divine exercise in love and trust, not fear and tyranny.  Look at how Jesus submits to God.  Paul and Peter instruct wives to “submit to your husbands” and today’s feminist world glows with rage.  Yet biblical submission is a shared life journey of love, fellowship, trust, help, responsibility, sanctity, family, faith, hope and freedom.  Fallen people in a fallen world need to cooperate.

Before there were commandments there was love, and before fallenness there was perfection.  The Good News?  We can win it all back.  It’s called victory in Jesus.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) responds better to love than to commands.
Monday, April 10, 2017

543 - Conditioned Reflex

Spirituality Column No. 543
April 11, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Conditioned Reflex
By Bob Walters

God’s love is unconditional, Christ’s forgiveness is unconditional, our acceptance into the Kingdom is unconditional, and our need to complicate things is unconditional.

When will we ever learn?
 
We hear “It’s a free gift,” and then sing about how much it cost.
 
We hear “Once for all,” and then worry if it’s enough and includes me.
 
We hear “I am your peace and strength,” and then in anxious weakness, doubt.
 
We hear “Nothing can separate us,” and then conclude sin separates us.
 
In our quid pro quo culture of marketing and merchandizing; of “can do” confidence and intellectual self-sufficiency, it is perhaps our toughest, practical, human theological hurdle to take Jesus at His word and God at His love.  His kingdom, glory and eternity are ours in Christ.  Sin separates us from God? Jesus came for sinners, not the righteous.  That’s God’s grace. We once were lost, but now are found.  Done deal.
 
Through the Bible the Holy Spirit heralds this Good News to each of us: “You are in.”  There is nothing we can do, say or believe that undoes the divine side of that truth.  Jesus has erased our sins and we are righteous before God.  Welcome home.
 
Certainly, the secular, atheist, modern, post-modern “smarter than God” world thinks the whole idea is nuts.  But that doesn’t change God.  The Bible is pretty clear that only a few folks will actually embrace the truth of Christ even though it applies to everyone.  You cannot point to one person in all of history Jesus did not come to save, but there remains a broad sweeping swath of humanity that without eyes to see or ears to hear, remains lost.  As for Christians, well, we believe, but often want to edit and “conditionalize” the simple, joyous unconditional truth of salvation in Christ.
 
We recently got into this topic of “unconditional” in our Wednesday night E91 Bible study with Bible stalwart Dr. George Bebawi.  Most of us recoiled and pondered: Aren’t our own personal acceptances of Jesus and responses of repentance, faith, baptism, confession, love and obedience all “conditions” of our salvation?
 
George smiled and sparred with us, noting that a “condition” is a negative, something that takes away from freedom and love; that we place conditions on God usually due to our own guilt.  We figure God is mad at us when the obvious, entire truth of the New Testament is: Jesus came to heal us.  Accepting that truth is “a condition”?
 
One classmate noted, “It’s like a free restaurant; all you have to do is go in and eat.”  Free delivery, too.  It occurred to me later that we operate our smart phones and computers, if we can, in the way that works best – not in obedience but in thankful, enthusiastic agreement.  In the E91 pulpit last Sunday longtime friend and preacher Dave Faust talked about loving God, believing Jesus, reading the Bible, going to church, etc., in freedom because we “get to,” we want to; not because we have to.
 
Amen to that.
 
Our condition in Christ is freedom.  We should take that thought captive.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is in no condition to judge anyone. 
Monday, April 3, 2017

542 - Opportunity of a Lifetime

Spirituality Column No. 542
April 4, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Opportunity of a Lifetime
By Bob Walters

Our anxious human moments rarely involve actual heart-racing concern for the spiritual gifts of God in Jesus Christ: salvation, righteousness, glory and eternal life, for example.
 
Not without help, anyway.  We are more likely to be “Oh my God!” worried about the tangible but temporal “real” stuff of this world – money, security, health, home, family, esteem, politics, etc. – than we are about God fulfilling His unshakable promises.  It takes a really loud preacher, or maybe Satan, to jar our hearts into the realm of worrying whether God is good for His word to share His glory with us, or if we are good enough to receive it.  Satan and more than a few preachers want us to fear God’s wrath rather than trust God’s word.  God is out to get us; we’re not worthy, yada, yada, yada.
 
But hear this: No matter what else we think we see God doing, every moment of our existence should be cognizant of the truth that God is out to love us, not hurt us.
 
With Holy Week approaching – from this coming Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday next – we encounter a risky season of tough and misunderstood divine images and often bad doctrine.  Depending on the church we attend, we may see a tortured Jesus on a cross, absorb a withering sermonized assault on our sinful behavior, or hear a mindless sales pitch about all that Jesus wants to do for “You!”
 
Why now?  The world pays subtle and serious attention to Christians and Christianity at Easter.  As a holiday, Christmas has so much fun wrapped up in it that the history-changing fact of the Christ child is culturally overrun by frivolity, gifts, commerce and folksy tradition.  Easter, however – religiously – is all serious business.
 
On the one hand, Christian movies proliferate and promote the Easter season.  On the other, the non-believing world ramps up its dissention and ridicule of all things sacred.  Atheist groups advertise their “more-reasonable” worldview.   The media seeks out and reports whatever bad or unsettling news it can find about church attendance, diminishing poll approval for God, imagined faith contradictions, whatever.
 
 Believers at any level of knowledge know that Good Friday’s spectacle of Jesus dying on the Cross followed by His holy, bodily and spiritual resurrection on what we now call Easter Sunday is the solemn core of God’s loving promise to mankind: to come and get us in our sin and re-attach our hearts to His glory through His son Jesus.
 
My prayer for you this Easter week is that you hear an encouraging message that increases your trust in God’s promises and convinces you more of your place in God’s glory.  These seeming abstractions that are the spiritual gifts of God are mysteries, yes, but truly tangible in our hearts and minds as peace, joy, rest, freedom, faith and hope.
 
The message of Jesus Christ is that we have less to worry about, not more.
 
God’s love is unconditional, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) was attracted to Jesus by His love, not his own fear.
Monday, March 27, 2017

541 - Run to Jesus

Spirituality Column No. 541
March 28, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Run to Jesus
By Bob Walters

I have given them the glory you have given me” – John 17:22, Jesus praying for all believers in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
 
In this suddenly, seemingly upside down world of snowflakes and safe spaces, of microaggressions and trigger warnings, and of big lies, vacant truth, backwards morality and intensely unjust and mockable “social justice,” why is culture running from Jesus when humanity’s most secure shelter, rest, peace and purpose is Jesus?
 
Maybe it’s because folks see Jesus – if they see Him at all – as the ultimate parole officer, the prosecutor of our sins and the judge of our sinfulness.  “Love of Jesus”?  Yeah, sure.  But be sure to duck if you do wrong” is the received message.  “Forgiveness sounds nice but do you see what they did to Jesus on the cross?  If He was perfect and was treated that way, what are they going to do to me?”
 
Which is to say, Christians frequently kill our own narrative.  We preach the Bible’s forgiveness but our witness often appears hypocritically unforgiving.  Freedom in Christ takes on the appearance of condemnation in Christ.  Christians who truly do understand Christ’s love and grace too often present Jesus in terms of commandments, obedience, punishment, payment and price.  Folks get plenty of that in their day jobs.
 
We all have friends and family who regard a trip to church as a trip to the spiritual police station.  Nobody wants to face the desk sergeant.  Or, as Jesus is the great physician, going to church is a trip to the spiritual hospital: “Yes I want to get well but I also want to get out of there as soon as possible.  Jesus is only a visit, not a lifestyle.
 
Instead of using the Bible and church mostly as wrecking balls for sin, we as Christians have to improve our ability to communicate the rock solid building blocks of Christian faith and life.  “Made in God’s image” (Genesis 1:27) is the foundational truth of humanity.  That we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) is the unavoidable truth.  That Jesus restores us not just from sin but into the holy family of God (John 17:22, “I have given them the glory you have given me”) as children and co-heirs (Romans 8:17) is a prize of unimaginable scope and a responsibility of eternal consequence.
 
We chase holiness and people laugh at the notion because we all know we are not holy.  That’s because our holiness never comes from us; it comes from Jesus.  We are all unique in our particular sins but we are, as believers, all the same in our holiness because holiness is entirely God’s.  With our faith in Christ, God’s glory is our glory.
 
That makes it a big, big deal to sit in fellowship and worship with other believers knowing that together we share Christ’s glorious promise of life and eternity with God.
 
Now that is a safe space, and the only way there is to run to Jesus.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) isn’t holier than thou, he is merely a different type of sinner than thou. Also, hat tip to Wednesday night E91 Bible teacher Dr. George Bebawi for the John 17:22 reference.
Monday, March 20, 2017

540 - Swinging for the Fences

Spirituality Column No. 540
March 21, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Swinging for the Fences
By Bob Walters

Public opinion polls these days fairly pulsate with bad news for the Christian faith.
 
Endless journalists and authors predict looming cultural destruction.  Political and media savants pontificate daily that civilization’s sky is falling because of the godless “other side” (liberal vs. conservative, etc.).  Theological sages insist the church must expand; the church must contract; the church must withdraw; the church is irrelevant.
 
Woe is us!  God is losing!  “Nones” are ascendant!  America’s moral compass is lost.  Millennials don’t do church.  Boomers spoiled their children.  Academia has gone secular.  “Love God and others” is now “If it feels good do it (with whomever you want).”
 
Hysteria reigns, possibly because personal “opinion” is now culturally sovereign having conversationally replaced divine “truth” almost everywhere. That doesn’t truly mean God is behind, Jesus is losing or the Holy Spirit is taking a few days off.  It means we are living in a time when culture’s most aggressive, pervasive and powerful communicators do not intimately know God, Christ, the Bible, Church or religion.  They’ve heard of it but don’t know it.  They certainly don’t trust it; it’s just an opinion.
 
Thus has arisen today’s quasi-god culture that freely invokes divine-sounding expressions – “You are a blessing to me,” “May god bless you,” “I pray to god,” “God help us,” “Jesus Christ!” (the expletive) and many others – without a second thought as to their true divine meaning, the divine realness of who and what they are talking about, and the eternal efficacy of figuring out divine truth in the context of their words.
 
Truly knowing God, you see, is a good thing.
 
Instead people emptily, mindlessly, chat up “faith” or “belief” without offering the bedrock context of something really big out there worth faithfully believing in: a true, righteous, relational and loving all-powerful God.  Secular folks intone small godly bon mots with sincerity of their own earnest but shallow purpose, or to encourage others as an expression of compassion.  They offer nice words that have no cosmic juice.
 
And it is shake-that-person-by-the-shoulders maddening to see how little they understand about and expect from God.  God is relationship, Jesus Christ is explanation and the Holy Spirit is wisdom.  This God is the biggest thing going.  Faith and belief are only a small start, maybe a sacrifice bunt, toward learning what God means in our life now and forever.  It is trust and relationship that awaken the true “swinging for the fences” powerhouse of intimately knowing God with our heart, mind, soul and strength.
 
There is no opinion poll that can track that.  Paying lip service to some god as we express a sincere personal intention about some worldly concern is a stillborn exercise of vanity; a baseless hope.  A seeking human heart’s love and thirst for Jesus, on the other hand, is the thundering long-ball of infinite, eternal trust and relationship.
 
That is the faith and belief – God’s Grand Slam – that will get you home.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes baseball starts soon.  Polls suggest the Cubs are 4-1 favorites to repeat as World Series champions.  Anybody got an Amen?
Monday, March 13, 2017

539 - Prophet and Loss

Spirituality Column No. 539
March 14, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Prophet and Loss
By Bob Walters

If there is a worse job in the history of mankind than being a prophet of God to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, I can’t imagine what it would be.
 
Prophets were the all-time, all-star, all-truth bearers of what certainly sounded like bad news for a nation of sinners that plainly did not want to hear it.  Israel was so busy believing its ancient press clippings about being the chosen of Almighty God that its people forgot about God’s almighty righteousness.  Israel sinned and rejected and was disobedient, and God through the prophets told Israel what he would do.
 
It wasn’t pretty and a lot of the Bible is hard to read: blood, chaos, death, war, disease, plagues, earthquakes, floods, enslavement, destruction of whole cities, exile of entire populations and in every way imaginable being disowned by the Creator of the universe and their sworn protector.  It was a message no one wanted to hear.
 
Then there was the Good News of the coming deliverance through and salvation in Jesus Christ for all mankind.  To ancient Jewish ears, the message of this coming Messiah was largely misunderstood gibberish.  Suggesting that God was going to tear down this nation like a lion but then deliver the whole world through his Son “a lamb” only added “crazy” to the people’s disbelieving assessment of the prophets’ messages.
 
The people took God for granted and most of the prophets for crackpots.
 
It really wasn’t any better for Christ Jesus the incarnate Son of God and his apostles.  In Jesus mankind encountered not merely a message or a prophet but the divine person of God’s love, truth and forgiveness, along with an invitation for eternal relationship with God in heaven.  How was that received?  Jesus and most of the apostles died violent deaths at the hands of disbelievers, typical of the difficulty and resistance mankind has always had hearing, trusting and acting on God’s truth. Maybe because so many of us don’t trust ourselves, we don’t or won’t trust God.
 
Well, God is righteous; we can trust that.
 
In the Old Testament we think God looks mean.  No, He is righteous.
 
In the New Testament we think – and this is an egregious error – that God is punishing His Son instead of us.  No, Jesus on the Cross is God becoming sin and defeating death for the sake of God’s righteousness because God’s righteousness is His love.  If we understand nothing else about God, we had better understand that.
 
God’s love gives us hope; God’s righteousness tells us He’s God.
 
We make a mistake if we look at God’s actions anywhere in the Bible and see retribution rather than righteousness.  Retribution is a reaction, a trade, a transaction, a change, and God does not change.  Righteousness is the unchanging truth and purity of God’s love.  With our sin reconciled in Christ, Godly relationship becomes possible.
 
We can freely change our hearts and accept God’s righteousness, but God does not change.  That’s what the prophets tell us and it’s our loss when we miss it.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) was no prophet but worked in PR for many years.
Monday, March 6, 2017

538 - Hey, Wait a Minute ...

Spirituality Column No. 538
March 7, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Hey, Wait a Minute …
By Bob Walters

The Ten Commandments, Old Testament precepts, obedience, mankind’s sin nature and wondering about heaven are all great grist for any Christian’s mental mill.
 
But not one of them can save us; only Jesus can do that.
 
Christians study, pray, listen, read, watch, act, serve, praise, worship and love … and then argue about whether this or that biblical concept, doctrinal theory or religious practice opens the true and unique and unshakeable door to understanding life’s biggest question: “What am I supposed to do right now?”
 
And life’s second biggest question, “What happens next?” (after we die).
 
Just recently I’ve witnessed each of the above mentioned Christian mental bits generate quarrelsome heat between believers, and I mean real sincere believers whose lives are devoutly ordered by their trust in Jesus, love of God and love of others.
 
Each time, I’ve thought just afterward, “Hey, wait a minute.  The point is never ‘What I think’; the point is always, ‘Jesus Christ is Truth.’”  And I put that capital “T” there on purpose.  Jesus is Truth.  Jesus is my savior.  Jesus is Lord.  Love God and love others.  Worry about that and it’s amazing how quickly we enter the realm of the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) rather than the arena of perpetual dissension over things that don’t truly matter.
 
OK, maybe they matter some; but they aren’t Jesus. Focus on Him.
 
In this age of global networked mass communication it is easier than ever to grab a rhetorical club and beat one’s opinionated way into conflict over politics, social priorities, academics, entertainment, sports, science or of course, religion.  Mankind has become expert on many useless things, and forgotten critical things … like God.
 
The culture-wide mistake is plugging religion into the realm of personal opinion rather than accepting Jesus Christ as the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth for He is God.  Christians make the same divisive mistake in church, finding opinions to fight about that contradict the inspired biblical direction of Jesus.
 
Obey the Ten Commandments? Sure, it’s a start. But Jesus said love God, love others and follow me, not “Make a list.”  Old Testament precepts tell us who God is and what He does, and who we are and what we do.   But the New Covenant in Christ tells us, definitively, in grace, where we are going and how to get there: by Jesus, not works.
 
Sin nature?  It is all around us and in us, but frankly I care less about whether we are born with it or grow into it than that Jesus, for sure, is my only shelter through it.
 
‘Gotta go see The Shack movie to learn “the real story” of God and heaven?  No, see it as a sweet but theologically lopsided springboard into productive discussion of biblical realities of a fallen world, a loving and righteous God and the Holy Trinity.
 
And remember, in a world of confusion, Jesus is sufficient as Lord and Savior.
 
Don’t fight about that.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) may not be right, but knows Jesus is.

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