Monday, May 22, 2017

549 - Our Guilted Age

Spirituality Column No. 549
May 23, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Our Guilted Age
By Bob Walters

Mark Twain’s 1873 classic satire The Gilded Age: A Tale for Today described 19th century America’s gold-leafed wealth culture that masked great miseries of the poor.
 
In the 20th century we saw figurative “gilded” or golden ages of radio, Hollywood and television, of the Greatest Generation, of rock and roll, space travel and civil rights.  In history are ancient golden ages of civilizations like Greece, India, Islam and others.
 
Twain’s 1800s complaint still resonates.  The gilded American eras of the 1900s provide mythical, urban-legend-infused, gold-leafed narratives of inspiring heroic times of glamour, glory and hope.  Greeks used “Golden Age” to refer to the first and best of ancient Greece’s five declining cultural ages.  Third-century India saw a golden age of math, science, culture and religion.  In the seventh-to-13th centuries Islam molded an empire influencing science, economics and culture.
 
But notice: what Islam experienced as its “Golden Age” the West experienced as its “Dark Ages.”  Golden Ages, then, are not necessarily “gilt,” “gilded,” gold-leafed or golden times from all perspectives, as Twain aptly observed nearly 150 years ago.
 
Today I sense a 21st century golden age of a different and troubling sort: the Golden Age of Guilt.  In these permissive times of popular culture categorically denying the personal moral need to feel guilty about immoral choices, today’s out-of-whack controlling social narrative is designed to induce crippling guilt at the suggestion of moral truth.  That is the tarnished, tyrannical, suppressive and wholly non-golden jiu jitsu of political correctness: truth is sin, and sin is merely opinion.  Guilt is weaponized.
 
Shame and guilt once were nearly exclusively the schematic domain of a fearful Christian religion.  God and Jesus and the church stood for right and wrong and if you screwed up, condemnation, damnation and hell were set to rain down upon you.  The problem with that narrative is that guilt isn’t what Jesus is about: He proclaimed love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation, yet even so the worldly church generally had more luck establishing its power with shame and guilt.  Society is a lot like that these days.
 
As the apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16).  Me neither.  Nor am I ashamed or feel the least bit guilty about understanding biblical truths, Christian morality and divine relationship.  My faith in Christ is driven not by the intensity of my guilt but by the intensity of my love.  Shame properly understood is life’s great guardrail, encouraging us to think before doing stupid things.  It protects what we love.
 
When I consider the Pharisees who tried to silence Jesus, I find little difference in them from the disingenuous tyrants of political correctness (PC) today.  As the Pharisees pounded God’s will out of Jewish law, today’s PC despots have pounded freedom out of moral public expression.  How?  By denying moral truth and coercing spurious guilt.  PC’s influence is a function of control, not love; it offers crippling shame, not freeing salvation.
 
So resist the urge to feel guilty for knowing the truth.  Make that your golden rule.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is guilty as sin but forgiven in truth … and thankful.
Monday, May 15, 2017

548 - What, Me Worry?

Spirituality Column No. 548
May 16, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

What, Me Worry?
By Bob Walters

Let’s just suppose for a minute that you have nothing to worry about.

You have plenty of money, great health, job security and career satisfaction.  More importantly you have a loving, trustworthy and productive family – no one is in trouble, having trouble or wandering off the behavioral trail.  You personally haven’t done anything dumb recently and your long-ago mistakes have buttressed your joy and perspective on life.  You are debtless, have abundant discretionary time and resources, eat smart and well, and enjoy companionship that nurtures all involved.

You could do anything or go anywhere.  Your mental faculties are sharp; your character, decision-making skills and leadership strength respected.  Your political views are trusted, your kindness, patience and humility are obvious, and you possess a vast palette of talents and pursuits freely shared with others.  Nobody owes you money.

And that secure job?  You love it; can’t wait to get there.  It is purpose-filled, interesting, helps others and presents challenges you love.  You could quit the job but you don’t want to.  You don’t need the money but you revel in labor’s joy.

At home the grass is cut, the flowers are in bloom, a loving spouse awaits and there is not a cross word to be heard.  You sleep like a baby and awake with energy and wonder.  If you cry it is usually due to happiness and awe, not sorrow and pain.

You love life and life loves you.

Can you improve on all this with a relationship with Jesus Christ?  Of course you can, but for the moment let’s talk about true human freedom and what we do with it, and also discuss some of life’s worry-inducing tethers that actually serve to hold us safely back from the perils of over-indulging our worldly appetites and temptations.

It’s a subject as old as Adam and Eve.

In the Garden of Eden life was worry-free and rosy.  Yet all God’s gifts did not keep Adam and Eve from listening to Satan instead of minding God.  Humanity’s true freedom is properly put to use in the single-minded pursuit of glorifying God, but is often diverted to fashioning a Satan-pleasing false self-godliness.  It’s a common mistake.

“There is a God, and I’m not Him,” said the wise priest.

G.K. Chesterton described the seemingly chaotic world of conflicting Christian doctrines, agendas and pursuits as a playground free-for-all taking place atop a tall, flat mountain, with the church serving as the security fence around the chasmic perimeter thus enabling the frantic Christian freedom of activity.  Without the fence the people would gather fearfully and lifelessly in the middle, afraid of falling into the abyss.

Christ provides our fear-limited lives with a limitless safety net we often cannot or just plain refuse to see.  It’s a lottery we’ve already won: humanity’s spirit-filled heavenly blessings restored from the curse of God through the grace of Jesus.  Every worry-free scenario we can imagine falls short of the peace we already have in Christ.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) quotes Mad magazine in the title … and it works.
Monday, May 8, 2017

547 - Doing, Doing, Done ...


Spirituality Column No. 547
May 9, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Doing, Doing, Done …
By Bob Walters
 
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” – 1 Peter 3:15
            The circular firing squad that all too often is Christians zealously trying to evangelize or impose God’s will on nonbelievers also all too often violates the next sentence of verse 15: “But do this with gentleness and respect.”
            Oh, how badly I want to share my faith; and oh my – too often – how badly I do it.
            Famed preacher Bill Hybels of enormous Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago was featured last week on Moody Radio (May 3-4, 9 a.m. WGNR 97.9 in central Indiana, audio link at end of column) talking about sharing our Christian faith and reaching the lost.  It was a Moody Founder’s Week presentation from 1999 with great and timeless advice.
            Hybels noted that the message of Christianity is “a body of truth that must be communicated and understood before anybody can come to faith.”  He further noted it is a message that must be presented “winsomely, creatively and accurately” without violating the “age old law of supply and demand,” i.e., supplying too much answer to a seeker’s simple question.  We can work on preparedness in knowledge, and we can pray for the Holy Spirit’s leading and discernment in what to say and when to say it.
Gentleness and respect?  Some of us have to work harder at it than others.
            Anyway, I didn’t realize Hybels was a competitive sailor, and while much of his Moody presentation was about his racing sailing crew he built of non-believers, that God loves the lost and celebrates recovering the lost more than he celebrates retaining believers, and that Jesus always sought out the lost, etc., he had this story …
            Hybels and his wife Lynne were vacationing alone on a sailboat in the Caribbean. As often happens in the nautical life, they were invited aboard another vessel of several strangers for “happy hour.”  When asked what he did for a living, without awkwardness Hybels said he was a minister.  All was well and the drinks and jokes of these new and obviously non-believing friends continued to flow.  Upon the Hybels departing the boat in a dinghy, a woman leaned over the rail and asked Bill, “I’ve always wanted to ask a Christian, how you become one?  Can you give us a brief explanation right here?” 
 Bill – um, uh, uh – replied: “I spell religion D-O – the good things people do when they know they’ve offended a holy God. They get on this treadmill of doing, doing, doing …wondering if they will ever hit the quota where they can feel OK and gain entrance to the Kingdom of heaven by doing.  I [was] on that treadmill.  And I bailed out of religion.
“I spell Christianity D-O-N-E. It is what God’s son Jesus Christ has done for those of us who have violated God’s standards and who need forgiveness to come our way as a gift – so I received Christ into my life and it changed everything and I’d like to recommend that to any of you who are interested …”
By morning the boat sailed … but the Holy Spirit had a shot.
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is really, really good at knots. Sailing? No so much.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Monday, May 1, 2017

546 - Thy Kingdom Come...

Spirituality Column No. 546
May 2, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Thy Kingdom Come …
By Bob Walters

I’ve always had it sort of stuck in my head – errantly, as it turns out – that the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” is about the future, not right now.
 
How rich it would be, I’d muse, if the Kingdom were here now when in our fallen state we need comfort and assurance the most.  And come to find out, it is.  Who knew?
 
The Bible ends with the famous entreaty, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20), suggesting a future day of the Lord’s salvation and deliverance.  But we are asking for something we already have.  See the Bible’s actual last verse, Revelation 22:21, which says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
 
Do you see the shift?  In verse 20 is the future implication of something that we might think hasn’t yet happened, “Come, Lord Jesus,” where verse 21 is very “now” oriented in its verb structure, “be with.”  In other words the Apostle John is saying, “Help us understand that God’s grace is with us now.”  It is not an expectation for the future; it is God helping us now in grace through the Holy Spirit.
 
We don’t have to wait, we just have to be smart.
 
God gives us the freedom to accept or ignore that grace; to act on it with joy, faith and humility, or with pride, contempt and disbelief.  It is up to us what we do with it, but foolish to put it off and inaccurate to think it hasn’t already happened.  Read Acts 1; the Holy Spirit comes on us in the present.  Jesus promised.  Use it or lose it.
 
One of the things I miss during summers is our weekly Wednesday evening Bible study at our church with Dr. George Bebawi, who just concluded a series on the book of  Colossians that was rich with hope and truth about the real nature of God’s presence in each of our lives.  This “Kingdom of God” thing, George pointed out last week, is a very real and currently available gift as well as a bankable promise for our future.
 
We recite “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2) in modern English but, as George noted, the deeper intention of the original language in Jesus’s Aramaic and the Bible’s Greek was probably best stated by third-century church father Tertullian, in Latin, saying that Jesus is instructing us to ask of God, “May your Holy Spirit come and dwell in our hearts.  That’s a great and encouraging prayer.  The Holy Spirit’s grace tells us of our adoption into God’s Kingdom as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ in a spirit of love, not as slaves in a spirit of fear.
 
Sometimes prayers are funny things.  We pray for the second coming, but it will happen anyway.  We pray for God’s will, but Satan trips us up.  We pray not to be condemned but we already are.  We pray to be forgiven but … we already are.
 
Better to pray to let the Holy Spirit rule in our lives every day with God’s love.
 
Let His Kingdom come and His will be done.  And do it now.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) needs either daily reminders of God’s eternal glory or a longer attention span.
Monday, April 24, 2017

545 - Post-Truth Paralysis

Spirituality Column No. 545
April 25, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Post-Truth Paralysis
By Bob Walters

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925
 
Last November the Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as 2016’s “Word of the Year,” it’s relevance hastened by political surprises with Brexit and the U.S. election.
 
Upon first hearing the phrase, I wrongly assumed it was anti-religious in nature.  “Post-truth” instead intones the expiration of the validity of facts and the ascension of emotion as the foundations of influencing public opinion.  Absent lucid elitist explanation, these seemingly impossible-to-grasp political developments – Brexit and Donald Trump – were snootily decreed “post-truth” anomalies; the stubborn masses just would not listen to “reasonable” and “factual” and “right” reporting and commentary. 
 
The masses ignored the “truth,” in other words.
 
To shroud the possibility that the media was wrong and the people got it right, the subtle semantic subversion of “post-truth” is that it is a calming explanatory escape hatch for establishment elites.  Rather than admit the possibility that media, academics and politicians lie, “post-truth” implies that people are too dumb to know the difference.  “If no truth exists, our opinion can’t be wrong.” 

Sigh.
 
“Post-truth” is a highbrow pejorative leveled against the obstinate, non-theoretical pragmatism of regular folks.  Whenever I hear the word “truth” in any context, I think of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Humans have opinions all day long on every subject, but I’ve settled in my mind that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are free of and immune from opinions; they are the locus and sum total of truth in the cosmos.  A post-truth maven’s likely response?  That’s just your opinion.
 
Similarly “post-modern” describes the absence of truth, the myth of objective good and the charade of virtue.  It is a philosopher’s stew of divinely vacant and self-absorbed inanities proudly serving rather as an atheist’s comfort food. There is no God.
 
And so it goes.  “Truth” in secular society today is merely a free-floating and bereft intellectual construct of cultural and political fashion rather than both the ultimate expression of God’s love and glory and our ultimate moral purpose as human beings.
 
But here is why I bring all this up.
 
The Apostle Paul spends 13 books in the Bible’s New Testament explaining in many ways the truth that we are dead in our sin and life only truly exists in Jesus.  That was a tough sell 2,000 years ago and remains so today because we still can’t really see the problem any more than the solution.  Each of us feels alive, sure – we breathe, eat, navigate the currents of each day, succeed, fail, emote, etc.  But culture’s daily comings and goings regularly flow away from God; not toward Jesus and life’s supreme truth.
 
Jesus gives us the strength, courage and purpose to go against the stream of errant but popular thought.  Our life’s freedom is in swimming upstream toward God – frantically, if necessary – not idly floating downstream toward despair and oblivion.
 
Better to be energized by God’s truth than paralyzed by culture’s failings.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) doubts himself, not God. And that’s the truth.
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. 

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