Monday, August 29, 2016

Bad Medicine

Spirituality Column No. 511
August 30, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Bad Medicine
By Bob Walters

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” – Galatians 1:6
 
A “different gospel”?  The Apostle Paul must have encountered an especially vile, foreign strain of heretical non-Christian paganism to call it a “different gospel.”
 
No, Paul is simply, forcefully, and truthfully addressing the Christian church.  His loving injunction here, and the entire point of his Galatian epistle, is to correct one of Christianity’s most insidious, still-festering, joy-robbing, freedom-crushing, love-destroying, hate-generating and relationship-blurring misappropriations of biblical truth.
 
In a word, Paul is attacking legalism, a treacherous, confused faith practice still quite in evidence today.  Specifically, Paul is condemning exclusive Jewish practices, laws and customs which deceptively cloak Christ’s inclusive gospel of faith, grace and love.  Paul even upbraided the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:7-14) for dividing the church by treating Jews and Gentiles differently.
 
Today legalism can be either misdirected Christian obedience to ancient Jewish practices, or errant, modern constructs of “behavior as righteousness.”  Either way, legalism spoils our proper love of Christ and of others, dissolving into judgmental comparisons of “my” vs. “your” obedience.  Hatred ensues; here’s how.
 
If I am very busy assessing my own divine standing based on behaviors and actions I think will please God, what I am really doing is focusing on “me.” Inevitably, if I am busy judging “me,” I’m going to compare what I’m doing with what others are doing.  I either will be prideful in my superiority or miserable in my guilt.  Neither situation builds a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ or a loving relationship with others.  We become slaves to other fallen humans, rather than free in Christ.  Satan’s hatred breathes near.
 
Rather than peace, love and hope, we live in guilt, condescension and fear.
 
Recently I heard from a life-long friend concerned about a Christian relative who was approached by other Christians who encouraged participation in Jewish laws such as keeping a kosher kitchen.  I have attended a Friday evening Shabbat dinner in a Jewish home and it was quite rich and interesting.  But for Christians to engage in such practices is possibly quaint, definitely useless, and spiritually confused.
 
My friend and mentor George Bebawi, a Christian brother with Jewish roots, is frequently invited to “officiate” Jewish Seder meals in Christian homes during holy week.  He declines, and if pressed says, “I’ll do it but only if we follow the law exactly and circumcise every male in attendance.”  That usually silences the invitation.
 
Jesus frees us from rules so we can love freely and obey Him in grace rather than in slavery.  Per Galatians 2:21, if we ignore grace, Christ died for nothing.
 
Legalism is bad medicine and a gross malpractice of Christian love.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that Bebawi will be teaching Galatians Wednesday evenings at E91 beginning Sept. 21.  All are invited.
Monday, August 22, 2016

Girding Up the Mind

Spirituality Column No. 510
August 23, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Girding Up the Mind
By Bob Walters”

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13

In older versions of the Bible, instead of “preparing your mind” this verse reads “girding up the loins of your mind.”  In either case, it is Peter’s sober call to wise action.

Physically, “girding” means unencumbering one’s legs to maximize one’s mobility.  This can be accomplished with a belt or sash, tightening the waist of the garment (think “girdle”), or by lifting, wrapping and tying the “skirt” around one’s “loins,” the human mid-section between the bottom of the rib cage and the pelvis.  “Girding up the loins” is what robe-wearers do when preparing for labor or battle.

Shifting the context to Peter’s call for intellectual discernment, prayer and action, “girding up the loins of your mind” instructs us that we most effectively pursue God’s will when we unencumber our minds from things that hinder truth and slow our salvation; thereby freeing ourselves for right-minded, holy action.  In other words, Peter tells us to dismiss worldly culture and cares, and to clearly, tenaciously and exclusively pursue and emphasize hope, grace and the risen Christ in all that we see, think and do.

 A few books earlier in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17), the Apostle Paul tells us to do the seemingly impossible: “Pray continually.”  That’s actually not so impossible if one’s mind focuses on the hope, grace and revelation of Christ.  Instead of worrying what our neighbors (whom we are to love) think, we set our default mental filter on “revelation of Christ.”  That turns everything we think into a prayer as our days present us with joys, challenges, blessings, worldly iniquities, grievous temptations and a plethora of God-neutering machinations by an intellectually overbearing, culturally arrogant, “politically correct,” bullying, morally bereft and academically disingenuous society at large.

Every day our culture challenges the “girded” sharpness of our Christian minds.  Consider:
- Vice president Joe Biden, a confessing Roman Catholic, on Aug. 1 presided at a gay wedding in direct opposition to Catholic teaching, thumbing his nose at Church doctrine.
 The New York Times on Aug. 13 ran an academically heinous op-ed guest “editorial” that claimed God is transgender.  That the Times ran a pro-LGBTQ editorial maliciously mischaracterizing God (God transcends gender) is not surprising; that the linguistic and scriptural argument presented is utterly specious – the Bible translation was wrong – was evidently not something Times editors considered important.

Beware the heretics and libertines.  Whether it is the best of times, the worst of times or the end of times, now is the time to be mentally prepared, in Christ, all the time.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that being a Christian has never been “easy,” not if you really believe.  The world is always taking the other side.
– Commentary on Biden: Click here: Hey, Joe! | First Things
– Commentary on God’s Transgender: Click here: No, God Isn’t Transgender | First Things
Monday, August 15, 2016

Oh My Goodness

Spirituality Column No. 509
August 16, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Oh My Goodness
By Bob Walters

“God is good, and I’m not.”
 
That’s how I would boil down the Bible’s entire message in six words or less.
 
Some might say they could chop it to three: “God is good.”  Well in that case, probably the better three words are: “Forget about me.”  No one has to remind God He is good; He knows.  Forgetting I’m not the center of creation requires more practice.
 
And that’s OK.  It’s a good lesson to review.  I’m a Jesus trusting, Bible believing, God fearing and Spirit sensing Christian, and I’ll go ahead and boast about that in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24, 1 Corinthians 1:31).  The one thing I won’t do is imagine that my faith makes me a good person.  What it does is make me aware I’m not.
 
If, as my good friend May always says, “It is only my sin that qualifies me for the grace of Christ,” then let me state here and now, I’m overqualified.  Most Christians I know can relate, and it seems that out there in the culture every non-Christian or quasi-Christian trying to criticize the church or the faith or Jesus Himself imagines that my knowing walk with Christ is a walk in my own personal arrogance.  No, that’s the one thing it can’t be.  But if that’s the impression one gets, then it’s either an indictment of me and my behavior or you and your faulty understanding of the Bible … or both.
 
Keep it simple: God is good, and I’m not.
 
Everything about Jesus – what He preached, what He noticed, what He criticized, what he lived for and what he died for – was about His humility and God’s glory.  Jesus personified the humble heart of a loving God.  Christ’s mission to the cross was not to arrogantly reveal his own identity and power before fallen, fearful man.  It was to teach us the limitless truth of a glorious God who loves every one of us, His own Creation, and teach us how to re-engage in freedom and faith, in loving, eternal relationship, with our Father in heaven.  Why?  Because we were created for it.
 
I always flinch when I hear a sermon preached about “being a good person” or when someone defends their lack of dependence on Christ with “I’m a good person” or whatever a “good person” clich√© is addressing.  The hard truth of Christianity is that anyone expecting to come to church and “become a good person” has been sold a spurious bill of goods.  The only “good person” ever was Jesus Christ.
 
Our peace and rest in Jesus – our “Sabbath” – isn’t in “being good;” it’s in knowing that the pressure is off, that Jesus is the cover and the cleanser of our sins, and His goodness is the warmth of God’s love.
 
My Sabbath is my Jesus, and that’s plenty good enough for me.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) loves the Bible, but the main thing is Jesus.
Monday, August 8, 2016

Rough and Humble

Spirituality Column No. 508
August 9, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Rough and Humble
By Bob Walters

Surveying a rugged landscape …
 
– ISIS Islamic terrorists have recently published the 15th quasi-monthly edition of their English-language recruiting magazine, Dabiq.   ISIS is as doctrinally, lethally “against” the Muslim Brotherhood as it against Christians or Jews and seems to be mad at everybody.  One other thing … when I was a sportswriter I never remember a sports contest where the JV team had its own souvenir program.
 
– American atheists now have their own logo (devil’s horns around “Unabashed Atheist”), catchphrase (“Not afraid to burn in Hell”), organization (Freedom From Religion Foundation) and even held a rally attended by enthusiastic, god-spurning thousands this summer on Washington D.C.’s national mall.  The FFRF claims reason sides with them.  I claim that God, the author of all wisdom and reason, sides with me.
 
– The majority of today’s university “religious studies” professors either don’t, won’t or can’t admit to belief in Jesus Christ.  Faithful theologians are largely sequestered in seminaries and church schools.  Those at high-profile universities are routinely held by PC peers to be intellectually suspect and generally kept away from teaching undergrad philosophy classes, lest truth undermine opinion.
 
– Public K-12 schools everywhere laboriously, fearfully separate “church and state.”  School boards highlight mission-level promotion of excellence, diversity, tolerance, anti-bullying, being drug-free, making good choices – anything so long as it doesn’t promote the existence of divine truth or objective morality. Faith in “me” is celebrated.  Prayer, if one dares, is forgiven as long as no one talks about God.  Capital-G God won’t be tolerated; Jesus won’t be mentioned.
 
– Old line Protestant churches stand evermore empty in Western culture except for the few that have successfully blended their long-festering doctrinal heresy of God’s unseriousness and optional faith with the modern ascendancy of a rainbow cultural pallet that praises man’s intellectual supersession over God’s “outdated” principles.  After a couple centuries of serious, God redefining theological mischief, the old guard has all but killed off God and credits the absence of Sunday crowds as a victory for progressive theology.
 
In navigating one’s holy Christian walk there is no shortage of resistance to the simple, permanent, unyielding, John-14:6-truth of Jesus Christ, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  There is plenty of instructive, awesome, eternal truth in the Bible, but that truth becomes meaningless to those who believe God either is already gone, never was there or is somebody else.
 
Gauge the world around you by the life, light, love, truth and promise of Jesus.
 
Sin won’t surprise you, God won’t fail you, and strength won’t leave you.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notices the joy and ease of Jesus, and the despair of a suffering world. Love the first by humbly helping the second.
Monday, August 1, 2016

Mercy and Justice

Spirituality Column No. 507
August 2, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Mercy and Justice
By Bob Walters

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy.” – Micah 6:8

Seven hundred and fifty years before Christ, the minor prophet Micah announced the always consistent news of God: He both loves and delivers justice and mercy.

The larger lesson for mankind – faithful trust in a loving God’s justice and mercy – easily bridges the Bible’s Old Testament law and New Testament grace, though it’s a key point easily missed.  Amid the wrath and chaos of the Old Testament I and many others have honestly wondered, “How could God be so mean?”

The Old Testament “problem” isn’t that God is mean or unfaithful; it is fallen man’s utter inability to follow God’s laws.  Man further muddles grace by trying to rewrite God’s central truth: God is eternally faithful both to Himself and to His creation.  We sing about God being “Faithful to me.”  Fine; He is.  But first we must understand that God is faithful to Himself.  He acts justly and loves mercy.  God wants each of us to get the hint: loving what God loves opens up the front door to His heavenly kingdom.

One needs mentally to hang in there through the Old Testament’s condemnation into the saving light of the New Testament where Jesus embodies and reveals God’s justice and mercy in relationship with His righteousness and love.  It’s tempting but wrong to interpret the appearance of Jesus as some kind of divine do-over with God reconsidering Old Testament laws and pandemonium and saying, “Oh, never mind.”

If God was planning our salvation all along, we wonder, “Instead of Eden and the fall, why didn’t He just start with Jesus, save everybody, and spare us the trouble?”

I figure the answer to that one is “relationship”: the necessity of God and man building a loving bond that is built on trust, not on a meaningless “do-over” and certainly not on coercion.  Love must have meaning and can’t be forced; otherwise fellowship and freedom dissolve into empty slavery.  In the Old Testament we learn who God is and what He does, and who we are and what we do.  The New Testament reveals God’s righteous plan of restored relationship: Jesus on the cross, man’s sins forgiven.

Surface appearances aside – the justice of the cross and mercy of forgiveness – justice and mercy are not opposite ideas; they are vital and complementary components in the heavenly equation of relationship with and among imperfect human beings.

I’m guessing justice and mercy aren’t much of an issue within the perfect, eternal relationship of the Father-Son-Spirit Trinity.  Imperfect man’s narrative however is a less balanced, “I want mercy for me, and justice for everyone else.”

God simply wants us to want what He wants.

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) neither deserves mercy nor fears justice. Instead, he trusts God’s love.
Monday, July 25, 2016

What Am I Suppposed To Do?

Spirituality Column No. 506
July 26, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

What Am I Supposed to Do?
By Bob Walters

“And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.” – Paul recounting his orders from Ananias, Acts 22:16
 
Too often new Christians worry what they are supposed to do.  Veteran Christians frequently worry whether they are following God’s will.
 
In the Bible’s most dramatic conversion story, Paul’s first lesson was learning that to be in the will of God he had to be in relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do that – connect with Jesus, trust Jesus, pursue Jesus, share Jesus – and you can quit worrying about seeking God’s will or what to do with it when you find it.
 
Jesus takes care of that Himself.  Just look at Paul.
 
Saul the Pharisee had been enthusiastically – and in his mind righteously – killing Christians (Acts 8-9).  While traveling to Damascus to kill more Christians, Saul was knocked down, blinded and talked to by the now-ascended Jesus.  Why Saul?  Consider both his legal position as a Pharisee and demonstrated fervor for obedience to God.  He was a natural evangelist, but grossly doing the wrong things.
 
Jesus gets Saul’s attention, then commands wary Ananias, the Damascus disciple, to go to Saul, restore Saul’s sight and deliver the instructions Jesus has determined for “Paul’s” ministry.
 
It’s funny how so much of life as we know it, live it and define it is based on our own sense of “doing” something.  Often it’s doing something we ourselves see as a high and noble purpose.  Notice that Jesus starts His relationship with Paul not by having Paul do something, but by forcing “Saul” to do nothing.  He doesn’t want Saul just to obey Him but to fully understand who He is and trust Him.  It’s this relationship that fuels history’s greatest evangelical ministry and accounts for nearly half the New Testament.
 
 When we look at the most formative relationships in our earthly lives – those of families, spouses and children – notice they aren’t built with a “to do list” or a system or a rule book.  They are built with love.  Looking back and aligned now with what I see as God’s proper context, I didn’t have to stop and think, “I am a son to my parents,” or “I am a husband to my wife” or even, “I am a father to my two sons.”  I was all those things because of relationship and love.  That should be where we start with Jesus.
 
Paul didn’t have the luxury, at first, of experiencing God’s love.  That came with time and understanding.  Too many folks today sit in churches wanting relief from turmoil, sickness or sadness without first understanding that it is a relationship with Jesus that builds the peace and relief they seek.
 
Build that relationship, and the Kingdom is yours.  What are you waiting for?
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) admires the courage and trust of Ananias.
Monday, July 18, 2016

What's So Important?

Spirituality Column No. 505
July 19, 2016
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

What’s So Important?
By Bob Walters

It’s easy for Christians to answer the question, “What’s so important?”
 
Jesus is important.  God, Christ, the Spirit, the Bible, the church, salvation, faith and love are all important.  Living a humble, servant-hearted, God-honoring and faithful life is important.  The moral absolutes of God are important.  Loving God and loving others are our divine marching orders from Christ.
 
May I continue?  To paraphrase the ShamWow guy, “I could do this all day.”
 
Christianity easily brings many important things into focus and informs, moment-by-moment, one’s lifelong moral code.  Because all Godly authority resides in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), priorities are bare-faced and simple to a Christian.  Jesus is No. 1.
 
God-directed obeisance diminishes as one gets closer to self-directed priorities.  Honoring God and helping others – obviously in a zillion complicated ways – is the simple Christian answer to “What’s so important?”
 
It’s that simple because God’s authority is that unimpeachable.
 
So asking a Christian “What’s so important?” isn’t a stumper.  The stumper is asking that question to anybody else.  Pick a topic or cause, the more controversial the better, and ask its adherents, supporters, champions, leaders, fans or experts simply: “What’s so important?”  You’ll get a million different answers but no real authority.
 
No response will come close to, “Because God said so.”
 
I bring this up because I had a nice conversational lunch recently with an erudite pastor friend who is a remarkable educator and preacher of the Word.  Touching on contemporary social and political issues, we wandered from the hot-topic specifics of LGBTQ ascendancy, the overreach of governmental control (think “Obamacare”), the underestimation of foreign enemies (think ISIS), the abysmally failing and diminishing landscape of American racial relations and violence, the looming, glooming, oh-my-goodness-gracious presidential race, popular science mocking faith, and education expelling any teaching of God’s moral certitude.  Identifying the problem purveyors is easy.  The one thing neither of us could really answer is, “What’s so important to them?”
 
Seeing the other guy’s side of the story is one thing.   But when you look at the social, political, academic and economic forces arrayed against the simple and unwavering truth of Christ – in a nation that very much depends on individual Christian morality for its ability to function as a republic – looking for another thing that stands as authority, that is truly “so important,” remains a mystery.  The “authority” is merely the vaporous, prideful, Satan-inspired human assumption of righteousness in one’s opinion.
 
Salvation?  Everybody says, “I’m a good person,” except of course Christians who really, truly “get it” that our goodness abides only as far as does our faith in Christ.  “Goodness” isn’t thanks to us, it’s thanks to God.
 
Understanding that is really important.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) picked up the check.
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