Monday, February 20, 2017

536 - Value Proposition

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

Value Proposition
By Bob Walters

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

535 - Directional Stability

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

Directional Stability
By Bob Walters

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

534 - Calming Influence

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

Calming Influence
By Bob Walters

I’ve been trying to figure out for the past week why The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, a Christian movie – a comedy in fact – affected me so deeply.
 
I suppose it’s the same reason why my first Sunday in church back in 2001 affected me so deeply.  It was the pleasantness of the Christians that was startling, and the enormity of what the whole “God thing” represented: the cosmic entirety of what is good and just.  Jesus took a while to get to know but it was easy to see that whatever was making all these people so warm, gracious, hopeful and together was something worth getting to know more about.  That emotion brought tears then, too.
 
It was so different, this Christian thing, this Bible church evangelical thing, than what I had expected or previously experienced.  This movie’s affect was sort of the same; but not because of the plot, production values, predictability of the genre, or blah blah blah critic lingo that make up the customary coin of movie reviews.  There’s the movie; and then there is the message.  And the message, like at church that day years ago, is that Jesus is here to love us, calmly and thoroughly, without shouting at us.
 
The outside world sees, or rather imagines – and I have some experience in this – the inside workings of “Jesusville” (from a line in the movie) to be judgmental, rigid, humorless, condescending, annoying, irrational, naïve, no fun and intellectually very small.  Most of you reading this are believing and practicing Christians and can attest to the rationale that if church and the faith were really like all these horrid things, not only would we not be in church every week, church likely would have died out long ago.
 
It would have meant Jesus is not real and the Christian message a charade.
 
What is real is that Jesus is about life and love in the biggest application possible; beyond imagination, really; bigger than anything Hollywood can portray.  Sadly, much of the world gets this reality dichotomy backwards, or at least confused, that somehow Hollywood is more real than God, or that neither is real, or that reality is only opinion, etc.   Gavin Stone encounters real kindness and forgiveness and temptation but ultimately imparts in his actions and words the most important lesson of Jesus, which is to love each other and trust God.
 
The Gavin character that was brash and “all about me” playing Jesus early-on in the church play ultimately finds the calming, Christ-like voice of caring for the rich young ruler, compassion for the frightened disciples, and gentle assurance for the sinful woman.  His Bible story ad-libs and improvisations prove that he “gets” the big picture, and shepherds all of us toward leniency on our judgments of others and ourselves.
 
In a world of power and self-interest, we have as the final truth a savior in Jesus Christ who is about humility and self-sacrifice.
 
You may not need a movie to tell you that; but I’m glad they made one that did.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) saw church characters – people “he knew” – in the movie.  You probably will too.
Monday, January 30, 2017

533 - I Want That

Spirituality Column No. 533
January 31, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

I Want That
By Bob Walters

“Sell everything you have … then come, follow me.” – Jesus to the rich ruler, Luke 18:22.
 
Leaving a known and worldly life behind and forging an unknown and eternal life in Christ ahead is difficult, scary, confusing and humbling.
 
And then it is easy, joyful and obvious.
 
Done right, it remains humbling though believers often don’t notice that part.  We’re too busy being thankful and amazed by the vast depth, dimension and intensity of the love of God, the light, wisdom and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the abiding closeness of the Holy Spirit.  It’s all right there with us, by us, in us.  We know it.
 
This is how I’d describe “coming to Christ” and living in His grace.  The “find” is often more of a stumble than a ballet; quite likely a surprising accident not a systematic discovery.  You can be sure that the most unshakeable Christian faith is founded in freedom and love, not bondage and coercion. The truth of Jesus arrives by accepting a relationship in love; not in losing or conceding an argument in anger.
 
We may not even be seeking the Kingdom of God – many of us are not.  In fact we might resist it vigorously and mock the “weak-minded fools” who profess to truly know and trust Jesus; who in their faith uncritically love God and others.
 
In this fallen world we have no idea, no concept, no comparison by which to find the right and the wrong, the true and the false, the wise and foolish, the good and the evil by anything less than the love of Jesus.  Oh, we think we do.  But we don’t.
 
Jesus is why discernment of these things exists; He, in His person, is Truth.
 
The Bible verse above about the “Rich Ruler” or “Rich Young Man” is a basic idea presented in Matthew (19:24), Mark (10:21) and Luke – that those with great riches in this world have great difficulty accepting the greater glory of the world to come: the Kingdom of God.  There is really nothing one can say to those steeped and probably trapped in the mortal coils of self-directed life.  Debate will not unshackle their self-sustained opinion.  Nor are our selfless love and example – not even the example of Christ – guarantors of transforming sometimes even an open human mind.
 
When we crave to share the truth, grace and glory of Christ but see any person, whether a rich ruler or more likely a beloved family member or friend, walk away from sChrist’s command to “Follow me,” don’t we want to say more?  To plead, in love:
 
“Don’t go! You don’t know what you are missing.”
 
For a midlife convert to Christ, which I am, it was that specific line in the movie “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” that nearly put me in a teary puddle on the floor of the theater.  In a good way.
 
In finding Christ, I know from my experience on the outside what doesn’t work.
 
But I sure understand what did for Gavin Stone.  See the movie.  Take a tissue.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) shakes his head looking back on his life before Christ.  He’s not bragging about humility; he’s reflecting on narrow-minded stupidity.
Monday, January 23, 2017

532 - Let it Rain

Spirituality Column No. 532
January 24, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Let it Rain
By Bob Walters

“In the Bible, it says rain is a sign of God’s blessing.” – Franklin Graham’s well-timed adlib at the slightly damp 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.
 
There is a Saul of Tarsus quality to Donald Trump’s surprising ascendency to the U.S. presidency.  It is a true monument to cosmic unlikelihood.
 
Saul, of course, might be the New Testament’s leading bad guy if not for Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Judas Iscariot and Satan.  Saul was a Jew, a high-ranking Pharisee, a Roman citizen, educated in Greek and a most vigorous persecutor of Christians in the early years following the crucifixion of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church.  We meet Saul in Acts 8:1 supervising the stoning of St. Steven, the first Christian martyr.
 
Then in Acts 9:1 as Saul is still “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Jesus shows up, knocks him down, blinds him, challenges him and all Saul can say is, “Who are you, Lord?”  Next thing you know, Saul is preaching Christ, traveling widely and is himself severely persecuted by the Jews.  By Acts 13:9 he is known by the familiar name St. Paul the Apostle, writer of nearly half the New Testament and bedrock of the early church.
 
How did that guy become that leader? How did he get from there to here?
 
Are we not wondering the same thing about President Donald J. Trump?  From his bully pulpit the tough talking, free-tweeting, thrice-married New York real estate and global construction billionaire, TV celebrity, and cultural icon of extraordinary proportion – “You’re Fired!” – somehow jiu-jitsued the entire American political system to capture a barely-believable but unmistakably controlling interest in truth, justice and the American Way.  Disingenuous politicians, agenda-driven media, snooty academics, crazy cultural fascists, politically correct doctrinaires and self-righteous faux-philosophers of the entertainment industry were all pounded with a very large and consequential hammer of common sense, American reality and appropriate supplication to the divine.
 
To these bullying modern Pharisees of “correct” but dissembling thought, Trump – once approximately one of them – is now loathed; the “bad guy.”  He is the threat, promise and unlikely messenger of restoring a central truth to our American consciousness: that our nation exists for “We the people.”  And if you really heard the inaugural prayers, “We” – each person – exist for the glory of God.  Shocking, and true.
 
Friday’s ceremony reportedly set a record for the most prayers in a U.S. presidential inaugural.  Fine.  What is undeniable is that scripture was quoted accurately and sincerely, Jesus Christ was invoked by name and station, and God was honored before the attending throngs, a divided nation and the entire world.
 
All I can say is, let it rain, Lord.  Your truth is marching on … regardless.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) mentions that on Saturday there were in D.C. both a syncretistic pray-to-whatever-you-want prayer all-call and a “women’s rights” anti-Trump march closed to pro-lifers.  O, for the Dr. King days when marches were God-fearing calls for human rights, not self-righteous demonstrations in support of human wrongs.
Monday, January 16, 2017

531 - When Christ is New

Spirituality Column No. 531
January 17, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

When Christ is New
By Bob Walters

Fifteen years ago I couldn’t have predicted how I’d feel, now, a decade and a half into a life with Christ.  At least I couldn’t have predicted this.  I had no idea.
 
And here is what surprises me: it’s still all new, every day, this life with Christ.  I’m more interested in Jesus now than I was 15 years ago on that November Sunday evening in 2001 when East 91st Street Christian Church pastor Dave Faust in Indianapolis so graciously spent extra time after our final Walking with Christ class in leading our group to the E91 sanctuary baptistery where three of us buried our sins and came alive in Christ.
 
Coming up out of the water, with the peace and joy of salvation washing over me and a sense of the adventure before me, is so very vividly and forever in my memory.  I can still feel the moment; I can see it.
 
Yet today I have so much more.
 
What I have now is assuredness in Jesus, in the Bible and in the fellowship of believers I’ve been so blessed to come to know, trust, lean on, learn from and love.  In the baptismal pool there was the blossoming bud of faith and the expectant sapling of curiosity, but no way could I anticipate the life-altering depth of the journey ahead.
 
And that depth is the depth of Jesus.  What a world-confining mistake it is to think our lives consist of our daily routines, successes, failures and challenges; our “overcomings” and our “underwhelmings.”  The life-altering nature of Christ is in realizing real life only exists in Him.
 
I’ve heard “change” preached from pulpits in the profane sense of changing our daily habits and “being a better person.”  When Christ altered my life, it has shown itself over the years in having blown the lid entirely off of what I thought “life” was all about in the finite realm of the daily habits of this world.
 
Through Christ we taste the mind of God, not the mere appetites of this physical world.  We encounter this life’s delights and comforts, its sorrows and distresses, and the vagaries attendant to fear and desire.  And Paul tells us they all mean precisely nothing compared to a life in Christ.  Fifteen years ago – even in the hope and promise of baptism – I had no idea what that meant or why I’d want it or if I could even understand it.  But now … I get it.  And I know the more of it I get, the more God is glorified in the continuously expanding love of even one sinner like me who happily entertains every personal doubt of worldly being while reflexively trusting the doubtless goodness, faithfulness and love of the Father, Son and Spirit.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) adapted this column from his 2016 thank you, faith inventory and update letter he writes to Faust every year marking the November 18 anniversary of Dave baptizing him in 2001. Jesus is eternally new; Walters had no idea.
Monday, January 9, 2017

530 - God is Still Here

Spirituality Column No. 530
January 10, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

God is Still Here
By Bob Walters

Perhaps the greatest arrogance of this or any age is the assumption that God’s existence is somehow dependent on the majority opinion of mankind.
 
Let’s remember that God is still here no matter what educators teach, the media reports, pollsters predict, commentators opine or celebrities spasmodically declare.  Neither does a sincere preacher’s sermon nor a humble Christian’s service alter the unalterable divinity of God.  The thing that can be made different is not God, but man’s faithful relationship and love with God and others.  Beware; we live in an age – an arc or history, really – out of alignment with the pedestrian but supernatural truth of Christ.
 
This “arc” is the modernist march of philosophical humanity that for the last 300 years or so has walked Western man’s popular intellect further and further away from the foundational, always relevant reality of God.  While I’m quite convinced man’s modernist inclinations have no impact whatsoever on the three-in-one person of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, or on the eternal kingdom, divine glory and ultimate victory for God’s plan of salvation and love, we are wise to take heed that when we confuse our temporal intellectual fashions – modernism – with the unceasing reality of God, we are compromising our own eternal being.
 
We are electing eternal sides – Heaven or Hell – not fleeting flirtations.
 
“Modernism” doesn’t mean smart phones and driverless cars.  Tracing its roots back to Thomas Aquinas and 13th century naturalism, modernism is the seriously earnest academic trajectory of man taking over the definition and description of God.  Humanity beheld the Age of Enlightenment – great philosophers, brilliant politicians, and revolutions both shedding kings (America) and killing them (France, Russia) – and this modernist Enlightenment “light” man has been trying to steal is the spotlight that shines properly, only, entirely and eternally on Jesus Christ, not human systems.
 
But human systems are what popular culture’s “best and brightest” human minds have been assembling and assimilating ever since in an attempt to replace the simple and traditional truth of God’s ultimate mastery over all Creation.  God gave mankind freedom to concoct all manner of foolish ways to replace God – from the fall in Garden of Eden up through evolutionary theory, social science, reproductive rights, identity politics and on and on.  Bounteous modern day ammo exists to locate, learn about and love God – Church, the Bible, communications’ tools – as does the ever-present, ineffable, stubborn sense human’s possess that “there must be something more.”
 
Yes, there is “something more” no matter the modern or ancient world’s fancy or arrogant arguments against it (Romans 16:18, 1 Corinthians 2:4, Colossians 2:4)
 
God is still here and our faith still counts.
 
He always is and it always does.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that secularism suggests we don’t need to trust Jesus, glorify God or seek the Holy Spirit.  Those are three pieces of very bad advice.

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