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.
Monday, February 27, 2017

537 - The Last Thing I Do

Spirituality Column No. 537
February 28, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

The Last Thing I Do
By Bob Walters

“Can’t I just tell Jesus I believe in Him when I’m about to die?” – Common sentiment I re-heard recently, spoken by someone close to me.
 
There is good news and bad news in this all-too-familiar position on what so many people philosophically, intellectually, socially and practically do with God, Jesus, faith, religion, Christianity, etc. on their walk through life: Put Him off.
 
The good news is fairly small and amounts to this: the hopeful allowance that Jesus, someday, might be real after all.  That is certainly an ember to work with.
 
The bad news is far broader, starting with everything one misses in this life by isolating Christ away for the next.  Aside from fueling a bonfire of this life’s vanities and facilitating a self-centered, faith-bereft shallowness of human purpose, it is tantamount to looking at, say, marriage as the last possible option to maintain a convenient relationship rather than seeing it as the first-rank commitment of self-sacrificing, life-enhancing, partnership-building love.
 
Saving Jesus for the end of life is like running a car with the fuel tank perpetually approaching empty.  As long as the car is still running, why fill up the tank now?
 
I can’t think of a single Christian I know well who doesn’t have these “end of the line” folks in their life.  They are our kids, siblings, parents, neighbors, workmates and acquaintances.  They might be an effective leader or the person cutting our hair.  We know them well enough to discuss soul-level issues, and love them enough to want to cry out to them – Today! – on behalf of the glory of God and the love of Jesus.
 
“Don’t miss this!” we think, say or plead.  “Why should I worry now?” they shrug.
 
This is different from dealing with vocal atheists and anti-Christians, though we most likely encounter them daily, too.  “Jesus at the end” isn’t specifically denying or debating the existence of God or the fact of Jesus, but it certainly amounts to a vacuous referendum on the daily utility and joy of God’s love and our salvation in Christ.  These folks wonder, “Why change when today’s ‘life’ is just fine?”  The car is still running.
 
As we discussed here last week, anyone can experience beauty, love and hope; the car continuing to run is a beautiful thing.  But its scope is so very limited compared to the full-tank performance of the beauty, love and hope of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit speaking into our daily lives.  When life today gets ugly – and invariably it will – God’s beauty, love and hope are still here; they grow stronger and save us today.
 
Another obstacle, of course, is reluctance to identify as “one of them,” or rather, “one of us,” as a believer whom outside-the-faith folks think are a tad weird.  After all, we believers see things we can’t prove except by sighted, experienced faith.   And it is very possible to hear the Jesus story without seeing the light: think of the Pharisees with all that their Jewish scripture told them about God and Christ, refusing to accept Jesus.
 
Jesus today is worth as much as Jesus eternally.  Wisdom asks, “Why wait?”
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) was one of these “later” guys for a long time.
Monday, February 20, 2017

536 - Value Proposition

Spirituality Column No. 536
February 21, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Value Proposition
By Bob Walters

It would be a hoot to host a time-traveling visitor from the past – in my own mind the perfect guest would be Ben Franklin – and show him, say, an airplane.
 
Transported to the technological world of today, Mr. Franklin – a well-traveled and forward-thinking diplomat, philosopher, raconteur, writer and inventor – would see and grasp things of today impossible to merely explain to him if one of us 21st century types popped back into the 1700s.  A declaration like, “Mr. Franklin, man can fly across the Atlantic Ocean in an afternoon” would be more believable watching jets at Kennedy Airport in 2017 than if merely stated in Mr. Franklin’s 18th century parlor.
 
It’s not so much that seeing is believing – in a Christian sense that’s actually backwards, believing is seeing – but the previously unimaginable technological elements of today’s world like transportation, agriculture, communications, medicine, construction, warfare and even grocery stores (to name just a few) are impossible to describe to someone whose ideas on these topics were confined to horse-drawn plows, sailing vessels, quill pens, one-sheet printing presses and one-shot muskets.
 
“Here Mr. Franklin, take a look at this smart phone.”
 
This experiential disconnect is akin to the other-worldness of explaining a life in Christ to a non-believer.  The Christian story makes almost no sense to one lacking the faith, understanding, context and experience to understand it; to one without ears to hear, eyes to see, etc. Whether one’s world is muskets or smart phones, imagining something beyond our experience is very, very difficult.  And the true side of faith – the Kingdom side, the fruitful side, the Christ side – is a glorious world mysteriously beyond the stubborn, small secular daily experience clung to by much of modern humanity.
 
Never before in history has the technology for telling and spreading the Good News of the Gospel been so great.  And maybe never since the time of Jesus has so much of an otherwise intelligent culture turned its back on the Kingdom of God. Today’s technological and philosophical gospel of non-God science, evolution, ethics and social interaction flees from the truth of Jesus.  It cannot see nor is it willing to consider truth beyond material evidence.  Plenty of evidence exists for Jesus, but absent faith there is no way personally to appreciate Christ’s enormity, eternity, cosmic value and final truth.
 
This musing about Ben Franklin stirred last week after hearing a thoughtful presentation titled “Why I Am a Christian” by Ms. Alycia Woods of Ravi Zacharias Ministries.  Among her many good points were that things like hope, beauty and love, all created by God, can be felt nominally by non-believers but not in the same enormous, boundless way they are experienced when faith in Christ enters the equation.
 
Christianity is the great explainer of the human condition.  Ms. Woods noted that Jesus endows each person with great eternal value in God’s eyes; a value secular culture can neither assign nor comprehend, and a value utterly absent in atheism.
 
Like acquainting Ben Franklin with jet travel, the value of Christ is in the ride.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) wonders what Franklin would think of modern politics.
Monday, February 13, 2017

535 - Directional Stability

Spirituality Column No. 535
February 14, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Directional Stability
By Bob Walters

“Remember that the ‘power’ in our prayer rests on the One who hears it and not the one who speaks it.” – Joyce Samples, daily devotional text message, 2-11-17
 
Last year dear friend from church Joyce Samples started sending out a daily text message briefly reflecting on her daily devotions and prayer.
 
Petrified she was “bothering” people, Joyce checked and double checked with recipients inviting them off the list.  You will not find a bolder witness for Jesus Christ than Joyce Samples but, you know, she’d be mortified if she thought she was pestering her friends.  And please know Joyce has lots of friends.
 
Joyce has been married to wonderful Christian pastor John Samples for 66 years, and John has served at East 91st Street Christian Church here in Indianapolis since the late 1990s as an associate pastor, then the Senior Ministries pastor (for us older folks) and now as one of the busiest “retired” pastors you’ve ever seen.
 
He’s a great friend, too.  John married my wife Pam and me back in 2009.
 
Five years ago today, Valentine’s Day 2012, this column was about John and Joyce – Estes was her maiden name – and Joyce’s six other siblings all of whom had been married at that point for 50 years or more. That’s seven Estes family brothers and sisters who celebrated Golden wedding anniversaries.  Jay Leno invited the entire surviving Estes clan to be on the Tonight Show, but several of them didn’t/don’t fly.
 
It’s the best Valentine’s Day story I know.
 
But let’s get back to Joyce’s daily text messages.  In general, any writer knows it’s far more difficult to write “short” than to write until you’re done.  I worked in and around sports media for 30 years and the hardest working reporter in the press box was the one from USA Today who had to tell the whole story in six or seven paragraphs. I’m also reminded of Will Rogers, the pithy, funny cultural and political commentator from the 1920s and 30s who worked hours each day coming up with topical one-liners that ran in most of the nation’s newspapers.  For example: "If you ever injected truth into politics you’d have no politics.”
 
So Joyce’s ability to say a lot in a very few words puts her in rare company.  And as to the specific sentiment expressed above, it made me think of this:
 
I have a sensitive ear for the prayers of people who are praying but who I am not convinced have any idea to whom or what they are praying.  I’ve heard performers, athletes – all kinds of people, really – “pray” calling on God or beseeching the Lord for this favor or that success and there is nothing in the prayer for God.  It’s all for “me.”
 
A “tell,” I think, is whether they invoke Jesus in their prayer, directing the focus and power onto a divine person; stable, holy, solid, other and beyond themselves.
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, but God’s glory is the point.  We need Jesus for that.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that his in-laws Richard and Etta Erdman of Honor, Michigan, have been married 67 years this May.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Also, feel free to pester Joyce Samples about adding you to her daily texting list.  BTW - to see that column from 2012, here's the link: CommonChristianity #275 - Love, Endurance, and Prayer  
Monday, February 6, 2017

534 - Calming Influence

Spirituality Column No. 534
February 7, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Calming Influence
By Bob Walters

I’ve been trying to figure out for the past week why The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, a Christian movie – a comedy in fact – affected me so deeply.
 
I suppose it’s the same reason why my first Sunday in church back in 2001 affected me so deeply.  It was the pleasantness of the Christians that was startling, and the enormity of what the whole “God thing” represented: the cosmic entirety of what is good and just.  Jesus took a while to get to know but it was easy to see that whatever was making all these people so warm, gracious, hopeful and together was something worth getting to know more about.  That emotion brought tears then, too.
 
It was so different, this Christian thing, this Bible church evangelical thing, than what I had expected or previously experienced.  This movie’s affect was sort of the same; but not because of the plot, production values, predictability of the genre, or blah blah blah critic lingo that make up the customary coin of movie reviews.  There’s the movie; and then there is the message.  And the message, like at church that day years ago, is that Jesus is here to love us, calmly and thoroughly, without shouting at us.
 
The outside world sees, or rather imagines – and I have some experience in this – the inside workings of “Jesusville” (from a line in the movie) to be judgmental, rigid, humorless, condescending, annoying, irrational, naïve, no fun and intellectually very small.  Most of you reading this are believing and practicing Christians and can attest to the rationale that if church and the faith were really like all these horrid things, not only would we not be in church every week, church likely would have died out long ago.
 
It would have meant Jesus is not real and the Christian message a charade.
 
What is real is that Jesus is about life and love in the biggest application possible; beyond imagination, really; bigger than anything Hollywood can portray.  Sadly, much of the world gets this reality dichotomy backwards, or at least confused, that somehow Hollywood is more real than God, or that neither is real, or that reality is only opinion, etc.   Gavin Stone encounters real kindness and forgiveness and temptation but ultimately imparts in his actions and words the most important lesson of Jesus, which is to love each other and trust God.
 
The Gavin character that was brash and “all about me” playing Jesus early-on in the church play ultimately finds the calming, Christ-like voice of caring for the rich young ruler, compassion for the frightened disciples, and gentle assurance for the sinful woman.  His Bible story ad-libs and improvisations prove that he “gets” the big picture, and shepherds all of us toward leniency on our judgments of others and ourselves.
 
In a world of power and self-interest, we have as the final truth a savior in Jesus Christ who is about humility and self-sacrifice.
 
You may not need a movie to tell you that; but I’m glad they made one that did.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) saw church characters – people “he knew” – in the movie.  You probably will too.

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