Monday, September 18, 2017

566 - 'Life is a Line...'

Spirituality Column No. 566
September 19, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

‘Life is a Line …’
By Bob Walters

Toward the end of my teen years a light-hearted, not-especially-philosophical high school friend offered this practical and subtly philosophical life’s insight:
 
“Life is a line,” he said, smiling and expressing that line by thumping his left hand and then his right hand a couple feet apart on a table in front of him. “You are born here (left hand), you die here (right), and here in the middle you gotta sleep and you gotta eat.  Other than that, you make choices and live with whatever comes next.”
 
OK it’s not Kierkegaard, but the image of that line stayed with me because it speaks to humanity’s – each individual human’s – God-ordained freedom, opportunity, and movement.  In life, are we going forward, backward, or running in place?  There was no mystery, really, at that impregnable stage of life when “forward” was the only imaginable direction; “backwards” or “staying in place” were too horrible to contemplate.
 
Back then I wasn’t thinking so much about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, eternity, or hope, but only this finite life’s seemingly infinite road ahead.  It was some years later that I learned a bit more, philosophically, about the western world’s “linear sequential programming,” i.e., “Life actually IS a line,” versus the eastern world’s quite different orientation, “Life is a circle.”  And then you discover that smart people have been thinking about philosophy – life’s meaning and purpose – for a very long time, and learn there is way more to it than lines and circles.
 
But I bring all this up because it has settled into my being that the one, simple, dependable way forward; the way to navigate life’s “line” for all time, reason, purpose, and meaning, is holy relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ.  Forward is the direction Christ is going; it’s the only way.  Here is how I know and why I want to go that way, too.
 
Let’s start with the cosmic millstone around my neck – the sin in my life.  Sparing the salient specifics of both “sin the condition” and “sin the action,” what I notice is that I’ve not yet sinned tomorrow.  I probably will – sin, I mean; in fact I doubt I can get through the rest of today cleanly.  But that millstone is both the worst of my past and the anchor binding my present unless I choose to let Jesus – in faith knowing the truth of his promise – break that millstone of sin cleanly from my neck.  Then I won’t have to live with the perpetual weight and fear of it.  The line – the way ahead – is free.
 
The Good News?  Jesus on the cross already broke that millstone; it’s gone.  The bad news?  We have a free choice whether to believe Jesus or not; to keep that millstone or not.  And that, cosmically, is life’s most important choice because I know this: That millstone – whether your own neck is in it or not – is ultimately heading for the deepest pit God can create. As the old knight said in Indiana Jones 3: “Choose wisely.”
 
Sure, sins endure … for now.  We see them, live them, suffer with them.  But they were and are covered by the life-restoring blood and resurrection of Jesus – “once for all,” is how the Bible repeatedly puts it.  Our hope is the eternal tomorrow without sin.
 
How thankful I am that Jesus is my freedom from before and my lifeline ahead.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is more a fan of Jesus than of philosophy; philosophy can explain sin but it sure can’t cure it.  Jesus is the only truly happy ending.
Monday, September 11, 2017

565 - Mark My Words

Spirituality Column No. 565
September 12, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Mark My Words
By Bob Walters
 
It seems that everybody but me already knew that the Gospel of Mark is basically the witness of St. Peter.
 
I have read the Gospels many times, know that Matthew wrote to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks and John to everybody.  Matthew the Jew was a hated tax collector for the Romans recruited by Jesus to be a disciple.  Mark was a Jew but not a disciple and most Bible scholars agree he was probably the “young man who fled naked” (Mark 14:51-52) when Jesus was arrested. Luke, a Greek physician, was not among the 12 Disciples but probably was one of the “70 or 72” caretaker disciples (Luke 10:1-2) and also very likely was the “other man” with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus when they were visited by Jesus (Luke 24:13-18) following the crucifixion.  John, “the Disciple Jesus loved,” was the only Disciple who actually was at the crucifixion.  All the rest fled.  At the cross, of all Jesus’s followers, only John and a few women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, were there.
 
To recap the Gospel writers early on, Matthew was despised, Mark was a coward, Luke was a foreigner, and John, probably too many times in his Gospel, mentioned that he was “the disciple Jesus loved.”  My dear but now 10-years-deceased pastor and mentor Russ Blowers liked to joke, lovingly, that John wanted to make sure everyone knew he was Jesus’s “favorite.”
 
To me the greatness of the Bible is more than just its divine trustworthiness.  With its fascinating stories, depth, danger, complex and linked characters, and how everything ultimately fits together; there is always something new to learn.
 
And I keep learning things, thanks in no small part to my great friend and teacher George Bebawi, a Bible translator and well-regarded scholar in church history (lecturer at Cambridge University, England) who for the 14th consecutive September at East 91st Street Christian Church begins a Christian teaching series, this year on the Gospel of Mark. The class – free and open to everyone – begins this week, Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the upstairs “Sun Room” at E91.  Anyone from any church is welcome.
 
Because I help George finalize his class notes (proofing and formatting), I saw the information on Peter and Mark.  I shared that nugget with pastor-friend Dave Faust, who said, “Oh yeah, that’s in 1 Peter 5:13, and Silas (verse 12) helped both Peter and Paul.”  John Samples, dear friend and pastor who wrote the foreword for my new book, said “That’s true, and isn’t it interesting that everyone thinks Mark is a shortened version of Matthew, when actually Mark was written first and Matthew is more like an extended version of Mark?”  Many of you could probably add much more.
 
So sorry if I’m a bit behind, but I find constant renewal not only in daily relationship with Jesus but in the perpetual freshness of scripture.  I pray you do too.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) sincerely invites you to George’s free class series on Mark at E91.  Just bring your Bible and your brain … and some note paper.
Monday, September 4, 2017

564 - It's the Truth, Stupid

Spirituality Column No. 564
September 5, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

It’s the Truth, Stupid
By Bob Walters

“…in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” – 1 Peter 3:15
 
Civil discourse in the modern public square – discourse not laced with name calling, belittlement, and insult – is getting harder and harder to find.
 
Can we agree, as Christians, that it’s a mistake to take that ad hominem, acid-throwing tactic and try to represent the love, salvation, and freedom we have in Jesus?  And since absolutely everybody these days seems to think they know the truth; how is one supposed to act when one actually does know The Truth?  To that end we find abundant help not only in the authoritative words of Jesus, but also in the disciple Peter’s good advice for assuredly proclaiming and witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ: especially that “gentleness and respect” part.
 
The simple trick I think is obvious: love others, don’t insult them.  We insult others maybe not so much because we think they are lesser humans than us, but because we fear their ideas; their ideas somehow threaten our lives.  That’s why Jesus’s command to “love God and love others” blends so nicely with His constant instruction to “fear not.”  We regularly get our Christian feet and faith tangled up trying to figure out if we are truly and primarily supposed to “fear” God, judgment, wrath, punishment, Hell, and Satan.  All while we routinely and inexplicably ignore Jesus’s greatest calming gift: “fear not.”
 
That means, “He’s got this.”  Being a true Christian means we trust that He does.
 
It also means, “Don’t fear other humans.”  Eternally, there isn’t much damage they can do to us anyway, despite their ability and sometimes intent to make this life as miserable for us as possible. No doubt there are bad people and bad situations; there are “wars and rumors of wars”; there are demons, disasters, diseases and disappointment.  Caution is prudent; sin and destruction are rife in this fallen world.
 
Yet the most powerful difference Christ can make in this life, right now while we are in it, is to remove fear, which He does with love.  It is our own fear that allows others to control us, robbing both our ability to love and the freedom we are promised in Christ.
 
Think about that not only in the secular venues of politics, media, academia, and popular culture, but also listen carefully – and discerningly – to Christians preaching the controlling gospel of fear, guilt, punishment, etc.  The freeing and true message of Jesus is grace, humility, forgiveness, mercy and love.  Be thankful, not scared.
 
Fear God,” I get it; sin is bad.  But love Jesus; love covers our fear in this life the way Jesus covers our sins before God.  Barbed name-calling, while it may win an argument or an election (e.g. “It’s the economy, stupid”, 1992), never generates love.
 
Love is as simple as gentleness and respect, and it is eternally wise to know joy comes when love overcomes fear.  Boldly state your hope in Christ; it’s the smart truth.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) says “Happy 30th birthday” today (Sept. 5) to his son Eric who posed the question in late summer of 2001: “Dad, why don’t we go to church?”
Monday, August 28, 2017

563 - Who's Responsible?

Spirituality Column No. 563
August 29, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Who’s Responsible?
By Bob Walters
 
There’s a preacher over here on the radio holding our feet to the fire for every sin we’ve ever committed.  Oh Lord, I can’t bear the guilt  Fearful punishment awaits.
 
There’s a preacher over there on TV who owns a private jet and says the secret to health, happiness and financial well-being lies in how well we pray … and if we send money to support his “ministry.” Oh Lord, give me more stuff!!!  Prosperity rules.
 
Punishment and prosperity are alarmingly ascendant aesthetics of today’s public Christianity.  Too bad that’s what the “outside” world often and untrustingly sees when deciding whether Christ and Christianity are what humanity needs to broaden, give purpose to, and heal our earthly lives.  And I’m telling you, folks, fear and “more stuff” are not the road upon which to have a joyous, loving, self-sacrificing, trusting, faithful, certain and obedient walk with Jesus Christ.  His road is as true as it is eternal.
 
Picking on broadcast preachers certainly amounts to going after the easy targets not because they are all bad but because they are so visible.  I listen to doctrinally deep and uplifting Christian radio all the time (though I have to confess, with just a couple of exceptions I gave up on TV preachers a long time ago).  Discernment is a must.
 
But the tendency – or maybe it’s a strategy – of dangling either guilt or greed from a public pulpit as bait for Jesus Christ can’t possibly be what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples they would become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
 
We live in a “me-first” world of concerns for our own well-being.  “Today” overtakes “eternity” when our rightful joy in Jesus is overwritten by disingenuous bait-and-switch gospel pandering to fears of “what God will do to us” or the dead-end lust of worldly wealth.  The hook is, “Can we get you to worry about it?”
 
Come back next week for more.
 
An Indianapolis TV news director told me a few years back that after 9/11, surveys proved that the No. 1 concern of folks tuning in to the news is, “Am I safe?”  The far better question, in my mind, would be, “Is it true?”  But safety is what we crave while truth, in the public square, has taken hit after hit.  Certainly, people have always had existential worries – famine, wars, etc. – but if you are fishing for an audience and that audience wants to worry about safety, then you preach fear and danger.  Anxiety, whether about what to fear or what to want, dependably tickles the ears (2 Timothy 4:3).
 
Christianity is best, and only truly is “Christianity,” when it preaches truth.  When our outward Christian lives suggest full confidence in the words of Jesus that He is our savior, shepherd, forgiver, eternal light and our “all in all,” “safety” takes on a far larger context in faith, and worry a much smaller one in our daily trials. Boldness in Christ 1) frees us from the guilt and 2) shrinks the greed that diminishes joy and limits hope.
 
Jesus promises us a big, big, glorious world – His Kingdom – that we can barely glimpse from this side.  But it is our responsibility – and opportunity – to seek it first.
 
Forego the guilt and greed, and listen for truth. Jesus is trying to reach you.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) loves boats but doesn’t like to fish.
Monday, August 21, 2017

562 - Unity of Purpose


Spirituality Column No. 562
August 22, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Unity of Purpose
By Bob Walters

Hate and diversity sure have been in the news a lot lately.

Hate groups.  Diversity narratives.  The media tacitly cheers this group’s open uncivil violence while haranguing that group’s odious philosophy.  News coverage fairly shouts with 360-degree condemnation of America’s past and present while offering neither a plan nor resolute voice of rectifying our future.  Dialogue is subordinate to distemper.

But therein, insanely, is ensconced our national political, conversational and media prioritization of the moment.  The crazies outnumber the haters.  The less sense an opinion makes, it seems, the more news and hyperbolic rhetoric about it we see.

Diversity, not unity, is our battle cry.

And we are doing all of this to ourselves as Americans, without the help of or even especially the interest of existentially dangerous global bedfellows like religious jihadis and nutty dictators with nukes.  I doubt there is an Imam or an Un anywhere who gives a flying flip about our Civil War monuments or celebrates gender fluidity.

Yet look at us.  Witness today’s academic drivel and celebrity bloviation complicit with purpose-pitch, truth-shredding, secularly purified “news” that stifles freedom, muzzles constructive discourse, and mocks truth: right is wrong, wrong is right, truth is unwelcome, and hate must stop! … unless of course you hate the right people: the Klan, neo-Nazis, and Donald Trump.

Maybe now would be a good time to bring up the love of Jesus? No, wait …

Actually, forget white supremacists; the media levels its sincerest angst and castigation on the current American president who is not Jesus and … news alert … is not Satan, either.  Granted we all have a little of both in us – Jesus and Satan, that is – but the divine process that is our personal, individual eternal salvation or everlasting destruction is determined neither by a fire-breathing, context-rigging media that gets the occasional fact right but has lost moral authority and public trust, nor a tweet-seeking missile of a U.S. president.  You see, our human purpose is greater than public opinion.

We are, each of us, an accountable, salvational, image-of-God work in progress.

So where is Jesus?  Right where he always is: at the right hand of God and, by the Holy Spirit, in the loving hearts of believers.  A whole lot of Americans went to church last Sunday, identify as Christians, embrace at least the idea of objective truth if not every jot and tittle of orthodox Christian doctrine, and take the name of Jesus seriously even if they don’t know Him well.  Real truth doesn’t die; hope endures.

What our culture misses most today, I think, is a reliance on the Bible as the great expositor of truth.  Our salvation is in Jesus the Truth, and our destruction is in Satan the Liar.  Taking the Bible seriously is the single most educational, loving and perspective-fixing mindset available to us.  The saving words of Jesus harken our human love, freedom, and unity in Him; it is Satan who divides, hates, and conquers.

Choose your own public weapon of reason and faith in these perilous times, but the sword of the spirit – the Bible – is absolutely the best place to start, dwell, and finish.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) sees Jesus as reason and faith … and truth.
Monday, August 14, 2017

561 - Spiritual Eclipse


Spirituality Column No. 561
August 15, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Spiritual Eclipse
By Bob Walters

"… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
 
A young man I know well was on a mission trip in Toronto a few years ago.
 
The small crew (four adults and a half-dozen college kids) was there for five days to assist the promotion of a church “plant” (start-up) prior to its first service.  The mission was to canvass nearby neighborhoods, pass the word, talk to people, distribute literature, be nice, chat-up Jesus, etc.  It was your basic PR run for the Lord.
 
No, it wasn’t cleansing lepers in Africa, but the mission trip yielded a stunning opportunity that not only clarified the young man’s faith in Christ but also led his heart to embrace a life mission that continues to this day.  The opportunity opened up in a friendly, impromptu conversation with the lead Imam at a large mosque – not far from the new church – in the very cosmopolitan setting of globally multi-cultural Toronto.
 
Warmly welcomed into the mosque as visitors, the Christian mission team chatted some about what they were doing in Toronto, but mainly visited the mosque to “reach-out” in the existing faith community.  You know how the Bible says in several places, Old Testament and New, “God will give you the words to say”?  Well, as the missions group prepared to depart, the Imam directly posed an offer to the young man to learn more about Muhammad, the Qur’an and to submit to Allah in faith.
 
The young man, always polite as that is his nature, surprised himself by the calm but powerful words that proceeded from his mouth.  Pleasantly, not harshly, he replied to the Imam: “I already have Jesus; what more could I ever want?  Jesus loves me, He died for me, He came back and still lives for me.  He forgave my sin, conquered my death, and I’ve accepted his offer of a loving, personal relationship with Him in this life.  After that, I will sit with Jesus next to God in heaven forever.” And on that irenic yet direct note, the group pleasantly departed the mosque.  No offense, Allah.
 
I just love that story.  The young man today lives as a Christian among peaceful Muslims in the Middle East, an endeavor I think is well-described as “lampstand” mission work: respecting restrictive local laws but not hiding his faith under a basket.
 
Anyway, I relate that story – “I already have Jesus; what more could I ever want?” – to make this point about what’s happening to “light” this week in America.
 
Every charlatan spiritualist, New Ager, prophesy purveyor, pagan mystic, crystal reader, astrological seer, media scare-monger and, sadly, more than a few sincere but misguided biblical eschatologists, are shilling multiple false gods and omens about next Monday’s total solar eclipse.  But hear this: nothing’s there to worship, fear or impute.
 
Yes, God hung the Sun and the moon and what a grand show is the cosmos He created – eclipses included.  But leave it at that; don’t be suckered by meaningless, spiritless, quasi-faith “event” canards that eclipse truth and add darkness, not light.
 
Enjoy the astronomical show, but persevere in the light.  We already have Jesus.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes there will be 224 eclipses this century.
Monday, August 7, 2017

560 - Christianity's Decline?

Spirituality Column No. 560
August 8, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Christianity’s Decline?
By Bob Walters
 
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” – Hebrews 13:8,9
 
We survey modern society, the modern world, even the modern church, and believing Christians shake our heads and wonder, “How did this happen?”
 
Modern society shuns not only Jesus in most cases but refuses to admit the existence of Truth.  “Jesus is fine if he agrees with me and gives me stuff” is a common sentiment, but even that notion is leavened with “All religion is only opinion,” “Religions are all the same,” “I’m spiritual but don’t need God,” and of course the ever-popular paean to vacant self-sufficiency, “Hey, I’m a good person.”  Right.  Let’s just “coexist.”
 
Jesus came to save the whole world but on most days the world does not appear that it wants to be saved.  Or if it does, it wants to be saved on its own terms not on the Godly, unbending formula of God’s love, Christ’s trustworthiness, and the Spirit’s truth.  Why?  It’s an obvious question with a painfully disturbing, single, easy, and to the world laughable answer: Satan, the Lord of the World.  He’s in it to win it, every day, endeavoring to destroy what God loves and made in His own image, human beings.
 
The Church of England recently decided to develop a liturgy specifically to help transgender people celebrate their transitions.  In a festival of knee-jerk “me-too!”-ism the church naively bowed to its secular despisers.  Forgoing honest scriptural, philosophical and theological consideration of transgenderism, the church sought social relevance by erecting a façade that will not stand; the church still won’t be trusted.  As scholar Carl Trueman offers in First Things, “Alas, self-awareness has never been the strong suit of those liberal Protestants who have perfected the art of always being belatedly in support of whatever nonsense the sexual revolution is now declaring as a self-evident truth that only a hate-filled bigot would deny.”  Truth, as it were, be damned.
 
Society wants to go it alone.  The world obviously doesn’t think Satan is such a bad guy.  And the Anglicans are just one example – rife around the world – of churches diminishing Jesus as Lord and replacing him with trends, prosperity, or pagan spirits.
 
But take heart: neither Christ nor His truth is in decline; Jesus doesn’t change.  Fallen people in a fallen world, often, don’t change either.  When a modern church muddles Christ’s identity, it only shows not much has changed in 2,000 years.  Jewish society had the entirely wrong idea of what the Messiah Christ was going to be: not a fierce conqueror of Romans but a humble victor over sin and death.  Read 1 Corinthians or Galatians to see early churches with confused doctrine and misdirected priorities.
 
Pastor Caleb Simerson up at Michigan’s Eden Bible Church preached a nice sermon last week on the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4), pointing out that Satan is here to ruin God’s seed but that Jesus came to nurture that seed with faith and love.
 
It occurred to me that a tiny mustard seed of faith, planted in the good soil of a believing heart, can grow to overcome anything and everything in the world.  Our hearts simply must trust that Jesus will never change, and that we must never stay the same.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) knows this: Satan ultimately loses and wants company.

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