Monday, January 22, 2018

584 - Are You Sure About That?

Spirituality Column #584
January 23, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Are You Sure About That?
By Bob Walters

“Materialists and madmen never have doubts.” – G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

If only Chesterton could peek into this world of 2018 one hundred and ten years after he wrote those words.  He’d find a world not so new, just one that proved his point.

Chesterton had a lot of good points in his 1908 classic, Orthodoxy, a relatively short book in which he describes his Christian faith.  The book was gestated as a counterpoint to his earlier work, Heresy, which described what was wrong with other religions.  Picking up a public challenge – Chesterton was a noted British philosopher, author, and columnist – he wrote Orthodoxy to say what was right with Christianity.

Orthodoxy – my paperback copy is 168 pages, well-worn, and heavily-underlined – is a book I pull off the shelf and re-read every couple of years.  Chesterton’s understanding of Christ is certainly illuminating but his understanding of humanity truly masterful.  And let’s be clear, it is important never to split those two up – Christ and humanity – because when you lose one you lose them both.

And in many modern precincts, we have lost them both, owing to the ferocious obeisance most of society assigns to the ascendant, virulent, absolutist-though-hollow virus of secular “faith” and its accommodation – mistake really – of personal “If it feels good, do it” freedom over right behavior, civil responsibility, and sacrificial love.

Christians are properly free to debate and even doubt many aspects of their Christian walk – especially the part that involves their own behavior, choices, love, obedience, discipline, etc.  But it is not proper to doubt the righteous love of God, the truth of Jesus Christ, the accuracy of scripture, and the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.

A century ago Chesterton put it this way: “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. … The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not doubt – the Divine Reason.”

Welcome to 2018, G.K.  We still celebrate ourselves, not God.

Granted, we all struggle with exactly which spirit is stirring us.  But the Christian spirit affirms loving others and sharing with others, hence the perpetual importance of church fellowship and also of evangelizing – sharing Jesus – with non-believers.  We Christians are sinners like everybody else, but unlike everybody else our joy is in freely sharing Christ’s love with others we seek and encounter.  God is glorified in our love, not in our mere freedom.  If I love only myself and my freedom, I will likely harm others.  It is using our freedom to love God and protect others that is the proof of Jesus Christ.

Chesterton quips that man is the only truly “wild beast” because he/she is the only animal capable of acting both rationally and against its own nature.  Our truest, best nature, we discover – doubts and all – is best served within the love of God and the commandments of Jesus.  The Bible is a comprehensive book on just that subject.

Sadly and revealingly, our growing secular culture tolerates no doubts about its artistic, moral, and sexual freedoms.  But the truth is … it could use a few.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) isn’t reading Orthodoxy at the moment; just thinking about how very unalike were the weekend’s Right to Life and Women’s March rallies.
Monday, January 15, 2018

583 - When Truth Showed Up

Spirituality Column #583
January 16, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

When Truth Showed Up
By Bob Walters

“And the Word became flesh.” (John 1:14)

In ancient times, the Greeks were pretty smart.  But for all their philosophy and politics they had no idea what the truth was that they were, presumably, looking for.

Today in Western culture, we enjoy unparalleled heights of education, technical innovation, communication, mobility, and social opportunity.  We can access previously unimagined troves of facts and ideas; we have the science to unlock many of the universe’s secrets.  But it seems hardly anyone is actually looking for truth.

Therefore it seems worth noting that between the ancient Greeks and today, Truth – in an objective, eternal and Capital T kind of way – showed up.

By “ancient Greeks” I mean the intellectual realm of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  They were the Big Three, the sages of Hellenic thought generally regarded as the originators of what became Western Civilization.  Their scholarship flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries BC, early in the “intertestamental” era between the end of the Hebrew writings of the Old Testament prophets and the incarnation of Jesus, a Jew, the Messiah/Christ, whose presence re-set and defined not merely our annual calendar but established the anchor of all truth for all time.

I notice a couple of things here.  One, the ancient Greek philosophers had faint knowledge of, and certainly no intellectual interest in or dependence upon, the Hebrews or their God, scriptures, history, or culture.  Though situated in the same general corner of the world, Greek society knew little of the Jews; a nether-regions nation with a much lower class of people and, as Paul tells us later, an “unknown” God (Acts 17:23).

Two, while the Greeks and then the Romans set the early Western worldly standards of power, conquest, government, philosophy and culture, it was out of the obscurity of Palestine that arose this unique Hebrew God of truth, light, and life – Christ Jesus, the son of God, fully human, fully God – to re-start the clock of history.

Jesus was the most unexpected, unusual, unheard of, unwelcomed, and unimaginable power and personality the world has ever known.  He was clearly foreseen by Hebrew prophets, but when He arrived, almost nobody grasped His mission or appreciated his presence.  To paraphrase 20th century monk Philemon of St. Macarius: “Jesus is God’s Word, His divine truth, in the flesh.  By his incarnation our Lord contradicted everything we imagined about God.  He revealed His utter humility, used His power to preach, to heal the sick, and to restore the dead to life.  His power was patience and persuasion: patience for us to grow up and mature; persuasion because coercion removes freedom, and without freedom there is no love.”

Philosophy is great at formulating points of view and considering their validity, while untethered human ingenuity provides vast ideas, technology, and comforts.

But it was Jesus who bestowed upon humanity the Truth: His sacrificial, gracious divine love, delivered with mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and utter trustworthiness.

Unless we are looking for Him, truth will forever elude us.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) thought it was a good week to discuss truth.
Monday, January 8, 2018

582 - Optional Equipment

Spirituality Column #582
January 9, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Optional Equipment
By Bob Walters

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” – Jesus, John 14:6.

I don’t see a lot of options in this verse.  I see freedom – come to the father or not; your call – but no suggestion of a by-way, other way, or highway.  And no “my way.”

“Through me.” He says. No options.  Jesus is it.

But, “it” for what?  And what if I don’t want whatever “it” is?  As a late-to-the-faith Christian myself, I spent 47 years of my life bouncing around the optional edges of “it,” er, Christianity.  Yes, I went to church as a kid … all the time, in fact.  But the world around me presented tons of options and distractions in my teen years, and then on into college, adulthood, career, marriage, parenting, successes, failures … life, in other words.  But there was no church in those years.  I was ideally set up for what qualifies as a razor thin, surface, secular, American cultural understanding of Christianity.

And in those terms of Jesus in the most limited sense, “it” is eternal life, heaven, and forgiveness.  Oh, and going to church.  Those four things are really all I knew about Jesus and probably cover the broadband understanding about Him of many non-Christians, “Nones,” disenchanted ex-Christians, agnostics, atheists, etc.  They know a little about Jesus and likely have a dim view of more than a few Christians they know.

Why?  Well, there is all that “judgment of sin.”  You know, wrathful God, fires of hell, condemnation, etc.  Christians are arrogant hypocrites; think they are better, etc.

Sheesh.  No thanks.  No fun there.  What kind of valid options are those?  Folks cannot really imagine eternal life.  Most assume they’ll make it to heaven – if heaven’s not a myth – because “I’m a good person.”  They don’t appreciate your tone when you suggest they need forgiveness.  And they prefer Sundays on their own terms.  “Why go to church and be judged?  I have lots of other options.  I just want to be happy.”

Sound like anyone you know?

Well, my young (to me anyway) late-to-the-faith friend Katie Crebo, a Carmel, Ind., attorney whose parents I’ve known for several decades, put the proper gloss on this topic recently, reviewing her own journey the past year.  It included a fairly awful divorce but also a sincere surrender – finally – to Christ.  Here’s what she noticed.

“So many people live and hold Jesus as an option, not a necessity, and that’s what I lived and held before I was saved.  ‘Ah yes, there is Jesus,’ people say. ‘What a nice option to have.  I will get to him when I can or really need to.  No hurry.’”

Katie’s witness resonated truth; it was no fleeting cry of desperation after a tough year.  She was paying attention, discovering the Spirit’s enduring revelation of what Jesus offers and actually is, and it’s the Gospel Gift A-List: divine relationship, sacrificial love, peace, truth, and adoption into God’s Kingdom sharing the glory of all creation.

Jesus is not some seasonal option; He is forever love showing a better way.

And out of necessity – and freedom – the only way.  For all of us.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) asks: What’s truly necessary in your life?
Monday, January 1, 2018

581 - Backward and Forward

Spirituality Column #581
January 2, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Backward and Forward
By Bob Walters

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

Unlike Jesus, history is a remarkably unstable thing … its facts and truth so often becoming manipulated slaves of current cultural fashion.

Whether it is the sin of presentism – judging the customs and constructs of the past by the political correctness of today  or the mischief of disingenuous embellishment – altering yesterday’s known facts to press a trendy agenda coyly presented as a “settled narrative” instead of a case for civil discussion  both smack of dishonesty.

Truly, the political, social, economic, scientific, educational, entertainment, religious, or any other sphere of human endeavor exists today in a light different than ever before.  Communication technology has made it as fast and easy to promulgate bad ideas as it is to share good ideas.  The difference in the dissemination dynamic – of the bad or good, I mean – historically remains about the same.  Unhappy people tend to play at a louder volume in the aggressive key of outrage, while happier folks tend to avoid rocking the boat.  Truth is less important than timbre; facts subordinate to agenda.

I’ve never read of a rebellion started by passivity, and know of only one that ever started with pure humility. We’ll get to that in a minute but first, “history” is often “wrong.”

My wife and I have been smitten by the current Netflix series “The Crown” about the reign of Queen Elizabeth and 20th century Britain.  Meticulous in its setting details, well written, and beautifully shot, its “poetic license” miscasts several historical character relationships.  The recent movie “The Post” recounts the liberal Washington Post newspaper’s coverage of real 1960s government lies, the Pentagon Papers, and the Vietnam War, but a reflexive, decades-old real-life leftist media/entertainment bias requires attacking Richard Nixon … for events that occurred before his presidency.

For those now fashionably disaffected by the actual history of the United States – a disaffection plainly infecting so many modern academicians – socialist Howard Zinn’s broadly-distributed U.S. history book is a weapon of mass mis-instruction so fashionable for the globalist, anti-patriot, open-immigration, “America is Unexceptional” left.

Another glaring media weak spot is polling, posing insecure and often spurious narratives of “truth” fashioned from fallen human opinion.  People demand truth!  But I think not really.  What I realize, truthfully, is that neither my “right”-trending opinions nor another’s “left”-trending opinions alter one iota of the only real truth that’s ever existed.

And that secure, humble, final truth – causing that humble rebellion mentioned above that began two thousand years ago – is the truth of Jesus Christ because it is the righteous, final truth of God. Not “my” truth, “your” truth, historical interpretation, poetic license, political spin, or polling data.  Jesus is the singular truth of God, forever.

I’m OK knowing I’ve gotten so many things wrong in the past – everybody has – and I pray for discernment sorting today’s mistaken narratives.  Truth in Jesus is already with us, stays with us, and guides us if faith in Jesus lights our path to the future. 

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) appreciates truth that leads us forward without tying us to or confusing us about yesterday.  Happy 2018!  May it be a year of strong, joyful, true, and forever faith.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

580 - Go Ahead and Live It, Part 4

Spirituality Column #580
December 26, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Go Ahead and Live It, Part 4
By Bob Walters

"How many observe Christ's birth-day! How few, his precepts. O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments." - Ben Franklin (1743)

With Christmas now ever-so-slightly in the rear-view mirror, what shall we do?

Drive away at high speed from the joy and repentance proper to celebrating the incarnation of God, or do the right thing and load Jesus in the car with us?

Just let’s not pack away Jesus with the rest of the seasonal ornaments.  The fun of Christmas – the “lights and cookies, gifts and guests” way we celebrate it, I mean – frankly would get boring if it happened all the time.  By the end of December I’m ready to have the house back to normal, the schedule slowed down, and for life to go on.

But whether we see Him or not, invite Him into our lives or not, or accept his gifts or not, Jesus is right here with us.  And not just as a perpetual, corrective, behavior-monitoring “Elf on a Shelf.”  No, the hunt is on and Jesus – seeking us – invites all to join His divine safari of salvation, love of God, and love of others.

Too many folks have it stuck in their heads that those “Commandments” Mr. Franklin mentions are a litany of fun-killing, life-throttling rules enforced by a wrathful God who is grumpily waiting for us to stumble so He can punish us and send us to Hell.  The “Holidays” – the Christmas we cheerily celebrate – provide a comforting notion of loving warmth and home, certainly lacking the same terrifying, mortal-combat aesthetic of much Christian “Commandment” enforcement.  What’s truly terrifying and mortal isn’t God’s Commandments; it is Satan’s attempted claim on our souls.  God invites us to share His glory; Satan endeavors to kill it.

Sure, history is pock-marked with awful things Christians have done, mostly to other Christians.  When legalism, sin, fear, and punishment control the enforcement of faith, great damage is done to humanity.  Once the Romans were done killing the early Christians, many martyrs for the faith since then have died at the hands of Christians.

Properly understood, God’s commandments to humanity exist not to trip us up but to help us get along.  It was Pharisaical legalism that Jesus sought to undo, and that same off-point legalism has been a dispiriting, ugly, and sadly constant component of Christian religion.  Loosely masked as “Commandments,” they are more accurately described as man-made points of false, judgmental, and controlling legalistic doctrine.

Of course any light, merry holiday is better than that mess.  Satan has infected both the “Holidays” and “Commandments” with deceptions not of God’s design but of mankind’s pride.  Take Christ out of Christmas and love out of God’s Commandments and it is easy to see why folks pack-up religious Jesus with the lights and ornaments.

But what if we “keep” Jesus out, and love him with all our strength, hearts, souls, and minds all year long?  And love our neighbors?  And humbly repent of our sins?

We’ll discover that, thanks to Jesus, humanity is united to God forever, that divine love cannot be destroyed, that Christ is in every member of our bodies, that no joy matches the joy of God’s forgiveness, and that heaven’s bond of love is indissoluble.

That would be much bigger than a “birth-day”; that would be a life worth living.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) believes God is serious about His image, i.e., us.
Monday, December 18, 2017

579 - Go Ahead and Say It, Part 3

Spirituality Column #579
December 19, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Go Ahead and Say It, Part 3
By Bob Walters

My very favorite Christmas curmudgeon is not the fabled “Grinch” of cartoons and movies but my very real-life friend and Christian mentor Dr. George Bebawi.

Now there is a guy – a pastor, teacher, Bible translator, and a man deeply blessed with many spiritual gifts of intellect, experience, and communication – who doesn’t like modern Christmas.  It is enlightening to find out why.

Let’s start, for our purposes, with all the Christians who embrace the infinite love of Christ, who participate in the divinely and humanely giving spirit of the season, and who embody the family-strengthening sentimentality of home and church traditions.  They annually encounter the inexplicable, ineffable peace of this holy season marking the arrival of the baby Jesus, give thanks to God for His infinite Love, and will renew their striving to maintain an attitude of goodwill toward all of humanity all year long.

George certainly loves all these people too; heck I’m one of them and so are a whole, whole lot of my friends, his friends, your friends … a lot of all of our friends.  But George also very keenly notes the secular, symbolic, stultifying intrusion of snowmen, sleigh rides, reindeer, blow-up lawn ornaments, shopping delirium, and spiritual dysfunction into what properly should be, could be, ought to be, a most sober, reverent, reflective, and yes joyous commemoration of God’s greatest gift to mankind: Jesus.

Cultural Christmas winds blow us too easily off the Godly, serious course of Christ and we instead land on the far shore of a massive, man-made party full of emotion and bereft of theology.  The “true meaning of Christmas” amounts to far more than “a baby in a manger and presents under the tree” yet goes undigested in the swirl of busy commercialism and then out the door with the used gift-wrap.  We should – but we don’t – take absolute ownership all the time of the Jesus gift we are given.

If we read Luke 2 for the warm-fuzzy manger scene (shepherds, angels, glory, etc.) but have not absolutely understood the eternal, hard-target impact of John 1:14 – “and the Word became flesh” – we miss the point.  The Incarnation of Christ – the light of hope for all mankind manifested in Jesus – burns brighter than any holiday display.

The past couple weeks I’ve poked a bit of fun at Catholic priest Desmond O’Donnell of Northern Ireland, who recently said, “Don’t say Christmas.”  I am a career public relations guy and therefore a champion of getting the names right so yes, by all means, let’s say “Christmas.”  But Father O’Donnell, like George, has a point about not saying “Christmas” because so many people miss the holy point, which is Jesus Christ.

George, a world-renowned scholar of church history, presented an academic paper in Toronto a couple weeks ago on the brief but masterful fourth-century Christian commentary, “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius of Alexandria who describes the enormity of God’s gift without a hint of celebrating Christmas.  George gets it.

Jesus is about relationship and morality; about love, salvation, and truth.  He restores us to God for good and for all eternity.  So if that is what your season’s greetings intend, then by all means go ahead and say it: “Merry Christmas!”

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) will email George’s paper to you upon request.
Monday, December 11, 2017

578 - Go Ahead and Say It, Part 2

Spirituality Column #578
December 12, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Go Ahead and Say It, Part 2
By Bob Walters

One of the great things about a secular, non-religious, “Season’s Greetings” celebration is that there is almost nothing serious to fight about once we get past Black Friday riots over flat screen televisions at big box retailers.

Turns out the real stumbling block is the actual “reason for the season” – the Christ Child, the incarnation of God, the promised savior of all mankind, the divine love of our heavenly father, and the peace that passes all understanding.  On Jesus; that’s where we can lay blame for our contentious, materialistic, dehumanizing “holiday” division. And it’s funny – odd – from whence some of the criticism emanates.

There was the Irish Catholic priest who recently said, “don’t say ‘Christmas,’” because it’s in secular shambles having been co-opted by sinners.  And a Jesuit brother (another order of the Catholic priesthood) advised “don’t press too hard on ‘Christ in Christmas’ out of respect to other religions and viewpoints.”  We witness unforgiveness and self-righteousness on the one hand, and point-missing diversity on the other, which, you see, trumps the love, peace, truth, joy, celebration, and glory of Jesus Christ.

Therefore we mustn’t - we can’t – promote religion at Christmas.  Irony overflows.

And speaking of Trump, my heavens, did you happen to catch the lighting ceremony of the National Christmas Tree (video link below) on Dec. 1?  I don’t know who writes the president’s stuff but, politics aside, his address could have been the dedication of the Christmas tree at any Bible-believing church in America.  President Trump preached a theologically proper sermon, actually affirming “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” right there in the politically correct tornado alley of Washington D.C.

The major media, unsurprisingly, barely covered it, though they could have had a heyday hammering the President for such an insensitive gaff – “Jesus?!?”  Maybe they judged it to be silly non-news, but I thought it was news he said it, and was glad he did.

It was a fresh breeze for Jesus amid the swampy, stagnant, political D.C. air.

Now, it’s true that nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of “Christmas,” nor in the New Testament any call whatsoever for feasts, festivals, or holidays.  Celebrations had been vital to Jewish law in the Old Testament because Covenant law demanded it.  The New Covenant of Faith in Christ tells us to celebrate Jesus in our hearts – always – by loving God, loving our neighbors, and joining with humanity in fellowship.

So is Christmas holy?  It’s easy enough to Google “Christmas History” and learn everything one could want to know about how traditions developed over the centuries.  Truth is, Christmas was never a very big deal until the mid-1800s, and “blew up” over the ensuing century as its not-so-holy commercial, capitalistic potential blossomed.

Modern Christmas certainly can hurt Christian witness; a distraction from Christ’s true message and mission.  But amid a world seemingly dedicated to ignoring Jesus – exactly what Satan wants – sharing a sincere, heartfelt “Merry Christmas” feels right.

So I’m saying it.  Merry Christmas!

Archives

Labels

Enter your email address to get updated about new content:

Follow by Email

Popular Posts