Monday, August 12, 2019

665 - I'm Afraid Not

Spirituality Column #665
August 13, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

I’m Afraid Not
By Bob Walters

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” – Ryan O’Neal, Love Story, 1970

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” – Ryan O’Neal, What’s Up Doc? 1972

We Baby Boomers and The Greatest Generation before us suffered the whiplash of sudden cultural self-awareness in the 1960s followed by the grinding self-indulgence of the “Me Decade” in the 1970s.  Christianity could barely catch its breath.

Not that I was a Christian at that point.  Navigating my middle-teen years and the bounty of intelligence, introspection, and worldly wisdom (cough, cough) I was to gain through college and into my early 20s and subsequent career, I had drifted completely away from my religious youth as an altar boy in the traditional Episcopal Church.

No, I didn’t know Jesus, but Father Cooper was a wonderful and kind man, and I knew the old communion service by heart.  It wasn’t until 30 years later that I came to understand and appreciate the beauty and depth of those words I could recite at 14.

The difference later was that I came to know Jesus, the Bible, and met so many Christians who were everything I didn’t think they’d be.  They were smart, kind, creative, educated, funny, generous, prosperous in their faith, highly productive in their vocations, and unwavering in their belief that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God, trusting Him as their Lord and Savior.  I learned all that in a church that reads the Bible.

None of that last paragraph would have made any sense to me prior to 2001, at age 47, when I very suddenly “got it.” Jesus made sense and the church came alive.  Most importantly, from an operational standpoint, the Bible mysteriously, magically, wonderfully before my eyes turned from opaque gibberish into utter clarity.  I saw God’s person, Jesus’s truth, humanity’s great fall but great opportunity, and the excitement, adventure, and joy of so much of life making an eternal kind of sense I had never seen before.  Why, even my childhood church liturgy morphed into a new creation of wonder.

All these lights coming on comprised the greatest gift imaginable.  They provided to me a life-changing, mind-altering, priority-shifting, and truth-testing reboot not just of worldview but of hope (eternal), understanding (divine), and love (other-directed).

So, here’s my point, which despite the preceding autobiography is really nothing about me.  It is everything about why and how we are encouraged to go to church, be in Christ, seek comfort and wisdom in the Holy Spirit, discern God, and consume our hearts with the grace, peace, trust, and compassion of Jesus.  What I’m saying is:

Fear and guilt can never build a loving relationship; trust and responsibility do. A self-focused life will imagine that “being loved” means “doing whatever I want.”  My own glory requires, “I gotta be me!”  Ergo, one never has to say, “I’m sorry.” Rubbish.

A worldly, liberal church going overboard to make your magnificent “You!” front-and-center-relevant misses the key message of Christ that this life is about God’s glory more than mine or yours. And a church holding everyone’s sin and stumbles in constant reproach for the “price Jesus paid” and the “punishment we deserve” is preaching worldly transaction and retribution instead of extolling God’s divine grace in Jesus.

That’s when freedom and love die at the altar of control by fear and guilt.  Amen.

Satan applauds self-focus because it creates comparison, envy, and division.  Loving relationships grow amid mercy, encouragement, and trust, not self-obsession.

Still think it is all about you?  Sorry … I’m afraid not.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is not afraid of God; he is thankful God is there.
Monday, August 5, 2019

664 - Something New


Spirituality Column #664
August 6, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Something New
By Bob Walters

In an interview some 50 years after the fact, Paul McCartney related a story about the first time the Beatles recorded an album using “stereo” sound.

“What’s stereo?” McCartney had inquired, having encountered the technology for the first time.  The studio sound engineer explained that in “stereo” recording, music is divided into two channels.  “Some of the music comes out of the left side speaker,” Paul was told, “and some comes out of the right side speaker.”

McCartney’s early-1960s response was a playful, puzzled, “Yeah? Great! Why?”

Although today we can’t imagine sound or video recording that doesn’t offer the depth and texture of multiple tracks, multi-channel sound, and multi-dimension video, one of the last century’s and arguably one of history’s best known musical talents had to start, at some point, hearing about “stereo” for the first time.  It was totally new.

This Beatles vignette was in a chunk of text I actually removed from something else totally new – something I did for the first time over the weekend – which was to preach a message – a sermon – in a small church service.  It was at Allisonville Meadows assisted living center here in Fishers, Ind., and while I loved the “stereo” analogy, I forced myself not to veer so far away from the point I wanted to make.

And my point was … that the most shocking, totally new thing in all human history was Jesus Christ.  He revealed to humanity eternal life, relationship with God, the fatherhood of God, forgiveness of sin, peace in this life, comfort of the Holy Spirit, and the assured knowledge of saving grace, sacrificial love, God’s glory, and ultimate victory over sin giving human life a depth and texture it never previously offered.

That is the truth of the Gospel; that was totally new and totally unexpected.

It’s surprising, really, that despite all the prophecy and Hebrew scriptures about a coming Messiah … everybody missed it.  The greatest experts – the Pharisees and Jewish leaders – utterly and violently denied Jesus when they should have known his voice.  Instead, they wanted to kill him.  And did.  They did not know Him.

The opening of John 17 was the text for the message.  Verses 2-6 begin Jesus’s well-known “Priestly Prayer” given on His way to Gethsemane.  After leaving the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for himself, his disciples, and for all believers.  And he prayed aloud – as badly as Jesus needed to pray to God, the disciples needed to hear it.

Jesus opens by praying for God’s glory, His own glory (meaning His death, resurrection, and return to God), His authority, His work … and the eternal life that will be given to all who believe in Him.  That was my core idea: knowing Jesus is “The Right Stuff” (that was the sermon title; I took out the Beatles, left in Chuck Yeager and Neil Armstrong and referenced Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about aviation adventure) to know God, for God to know us, and for us to have eternal life.

The disciples – fearing Jesus’s death and likely their own – had no idea about eternal life or what was about to happen just three days later and on into human history.

I can imagine music without the Beatles, but none of us would have a clue – or could possibly have a clue – about eternal life or even new life without Jesus Christ.

That was really and truly something new.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) thanks retired ministers Bob Tinsky and John Samples for the opportunity to preach, which to be honest was kind of a bucket list thing for Bob anyway.  How did it go?  Evidently OK … they invited him back next month.


Monday, July 29, 2019

663 - For My Sake


Spirituality Column #663
July 30, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

For My Sake
By Bob Walters

Jesus Christ on the excruciating cross of human salvation is a frightening image, one upon which only the very crassest among humanity would gaze and ask:

“What’s in it for me?”

Fact is, none of us wants exactly that – the cross of Christ – as Christian life’s promise.  Believe in Jesus, be Christ-like, do Godly things with a Godly attitude, love God, love others, read the Bible, go to church, be selfless, kind, obedient … and what do we get?  A horrendous and humiliating public death?  No thanks.

That’s not the deal anyone is looking for.

We must be especially wary, then, in our Christian witness and preaching, to be very clear what it is exactly that Jesus did on the cross.  The world sees punishment, shame, payment, retribution, and maybe feels a little (or a lot of) personal sin and guilt.  The neurotic Christian may wilt with remorse: “That agonizing passion on the cross is my fault!  That bloody end is what I deserve!”  The arrogant libertine may be repulsed and dismissive: “How can a good God allow that to happen to His son?  I don’t believe any of it!” A devious theologian may see a means to control people with fear and guilt.

What we see on the cross is less a picture of God than of what a perfect human will do to glorify God. In that sense a little neurosis about our fate is quite apt.  The wrathful God of the Law is the same loving and sacrificial God of the New Testament.  God never changes, but the enormous gift we are given through Christ is to see the true nature of a Godly human: Jesus is our example of what a perfect human in God’s eyes actually is.  Our fallenness makes it hard to see that.

We are – each of us individually – a great mess of conflicts, fear, aspirations, hope, and pain-avoidance.  The sneaky truth of Christ that takes a while to truly see is that our greatest human joy – and our highest, most God-like humanity – is the picture of Christ humbly sacrificing himself for others.  Seeing the cross as God’s love and mercy for us, rather than seeing it as God’s anger and wrath for our sin, changes everything about what kind of Christian we can be: loving? … or judgmental?

Our greatest joy, then, is in serving others in freedom, freedom not just from sin but freedom to be all that God created me to be … what He created each of us in His own image to be.  I get that the cross is a picture of humanity’s gross failings and sinfulness, but more importantly it is the picture of God’s love, Christ’s humility, and the Spirit’s illumination of truth.  In this picture are glory, love, self-sacrifice, humility, restoration, forgiveness, repaired relationship, covered sins, eternal life, the conquering of both sin and death … and overwhelming peace that exceeds all understanding.

As much as we fallen humans focus on “being forgiven,” in Jesus’s entire last prayer – indeed His final teaching we see in John 13-17 including foot-washing, the last supper, the vine, His relationship with God, the Kingdom as life, God as Father, Jesus as Son, the Spirit as comfort, plus persecution, glory, faith, and perseverance – there is not one word about forgiveness of sin.  Instead, there is assurance of God’s truth.

When the chips were down and His own end was near, Jesus prayed humbly for God’s glory, His own restoration, and for our faith.  So should we.  It’s part of the deal.

That’s the best thing I can do for my sake; that’s what’s in it for me.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that humility frees us from pride. Duh.

Monday, July 22, 2019

662 - For Your Sake

Spirituality Column #662
July 23, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

For Your Sake
By Bob Walters

“I don’t know” … and … “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Cain, to God, Genesis 4:9

First a lie, then a dumb question …after starting with a weak offering.

Cain simply did not understand, embrace, or cherish his responsibilities to God.

Since the second generation of man – well, if we include Adam and Eve it actually starts right at the beginning – humanity has sustained an overall miserable record of discerning that for which we are and are not responsible in the eyes of God.

Abel – the object of God’s question and the brother whom Cain had just killed – was an exception.  Abel honored God with an offering of the best that he had, and God looked upon him with favor.  Cain, essentially, offered God leftovers and God knew the difference.  God’s favor was not on Cain, and Cain was self-righteously outraged.

You can read the entire story in Genesis 4, but here let’s focus on God’s reaction and some of the important aspects of man’s various responsibilities to God, to Mankind, and to all God’s creation.  I can’t think of a better starting point than Cain and Abel.

First, note God’s even-keeled response to both offerings.  He favored this and didn’t favor that.  No celebration, no anger … just … favor or not.  Abel’s pleasure was in honoring the Lord, period.  Cain’s heart was set more on the transactional dynamic of if he gave something to God, God better like it and act like He likes it!  Or I’ll get angry!

We often skip over Cain’s dissatisfaction with God and think Cain is simply but murderously jealous of his brother Abel.  No … Cain is angry at God so he destroys that which God favors.  Who/what does that sound like?  Satan’s playbook; Page 1.

Just as God never asks a question to which He does not know the answer (such as, “Where is your brother?”), so too He knows the exact heart of every man and woman in His creation.  Abel with his “fatted parts of the firstborn of his flock” revealed a heart truly with God.  Cain thought his own duty to God amounted to something like a trade for which Cain could keep account.  It is an error still with us today the world over – in church and out of church.  Do we simply love God?  Or are we working an angle?

I bring this up because I see a modern society quick to assign and approve an entirely self-directed, secular, and personal responsibility in sole support of one’s own appetites and opinions.  But it is a one-dimensional responsibility to self, not the proper, manifest palette buttressing the workings of a Godly and civil society: responsibilities to family, community, nation, and God.

The shame of the modern public square is its numbed, frequent, and shockingly dire opposition to – and typically total ignorance of – God’s coherent commandments for how things go best for us.  Call it “360-degree accountability.”  We must honor God, but also weigh and discern the circumstances of our brothers and sisters; and they, ours.

This is the great lesson of Jesus Christ, what true responsibility before God and mankind looks like.  We wildly assert personal rights of pleasure, comfort, and opinion, yet vehemently shout down suggestion of Godly regulation extending beyond our liking.

Jesus’s death wasn’t so much a payment; it was a picture of responsibility.

In the light of Jesus, we are all each other’s keepers and our responsibilities are never just to ourselves.  We must always ask others: What can I do, for your sake?

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) believes God prefers we don’t mess with His plan.
Monday, July 15, 2019

661 - For God's Sake

Spirituality Column #661
July 16, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

For God’s Sake
By Bob Walters

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Paul, Philippians 4:13

The upcoming quote – a verbatim Instagram from 2015 by someone you never heard of – showed up in select media last week.  As an all-purpose, plenary statement of Christian love, doctrine, trust, and obedience, I couldn’t have put it much better.

Read it slowly, let it soak in, and then we’ll talk.

“Jesus didn't come to save those who already believed in Him. He came so that the lost, rejected, and abandoned men and women would find Him and believe.  I believe with every fiber in my body that what was written 2,000 years ago in the Bible is undoubtedly true.  It's not a fictional book.  It's not a pick and choose what you want to believe.  You either believe it, or you don't.  This world may change, but Christ and His Word NEVER will.

“My heart is that as Christians we don't begin to throw a tantrum over what has been brought into law today, but we become that much more loving. That through our love, the lost, rejected, and abandoned find Christ. The rainbow was a [covenant] made between God and all his creation that never again would the world be flooded as it was when He destroyed the world during Noah's time. It's a constant reminder that no matter how corrupt this world becomes, He will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you Lord for your amazing grace, even during times of trial and confusion.

“Love won over 2,000 years ago when the greatest sacrifice of all time was made for ALL mankind.”

Wow. Jaelene Hinkle, 22 years old at the time, penned that remarkable witness of Jesus’s love and sacrifice in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergfell ruling affirming same-sex marriage.  Note that it is a statement of belief and trust, not of anger or derision.  Note the rainbow reference.  Note the very inclusive “ALL mankind.”

Jesus came for all: in grace, with courage, and even unto death … trusting God.

With grace and courage, Jaelene also experienced a death due to her faith in God: the death of her dream to play soccer for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT).  After much prayer, she declined a 2017 invitation onto the team for June exhibition matches during which the team would wear rainbow jerseys celebrating Gay Pride month.  “I felt convicted that it was not my job to wear that jersey,” she said.

Without bitterness.

Playing for the pro Carolina Courage, Jaelene is called by some “the finest left-back in the NWSL” and now at age 26 was not invited back onto the 2019 U.S. women’s world cup championship team.   A newspaper noted, “Hinkle likely would have been a fish out of water on the uber-woke women’s national team.”  It’s hard to disagree.

We saw the team’s activist and desolately profane character in many cantos during and after its championship run.  They won the Cup.  Yet to me it is Jaelene’s faith that reveals a true champion’s strength not for what she did, but for what she did not do.

For God’s sake.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that athletes everywhere love Philippians 4:13, often skipping over the notion that God loves us all equally, including the other team.  And oh, did I mention?  Jaelene is African-American; that would have made two on the ideologically sovereign but not especially racially diverse team.  FYI.  See links about Jaelene at: USWNT Snubs Star | Daily Wire and Snub sparks debate – Wash. Times.

Monday, July 8, 2019

660 - Who Asked You? Part 2


Spirituality Column #660
July 9, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Who Asked You? Part 2
By Bob Walters
“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” – The Apostle Paul, Romans 8:26
“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalms 46:10

Probably too often, we think of prayer as an opportunity to talk to God.

Not nearly often enough do we use it as a profound opportunity to listen to God.  When we do – listen, that is – it is quite possible to be stunned by the deep knowledge, creativity, compassion, wisdom, and forethought God can offer each one of us in every prayerful moment.  God is always aware of the big plan – His Big Plan – while rarely do we look beyond our present circumstances, and then only dimly. God is big, we are small.

When Jesus is minutes away from His arrest by Jewish guards, hours away from his trials before Jewish leaders and Roman prelate Pontius Pilate, shortly after which He would be crucified by the Romans, His startling last words to His disciples spoke of nothing they could have imagined, asked for, or, until later, understood.

At that juncture, which we see in John 15-16-17, did any single one of the disciples have it in his mind to pray for all the things Jesus was about to bring into their lives, or the work of salvation He was going to complete for all humanity?

Who among the disciples would have prayed that Jesus fulfill His mission by giving Himself up to His own humiliating death?  Who would have prayed for their joy to be complete?  Who would have thought to ask for eternal life – for themselves?  Or to learn the true and immutable name of God in loving relationship as only Jesus truly knew each of them?  Who would have prayed for Jesus to send the Holy Spirit by which they later could understand many things, find peace in the Lord, and be comforted?

Who would have prayed for Jesus to be relieved of His loneliness as He was deserted by men?  Who would have thought to ask Jesus to forgive them for deserting Him?  Who would have known and prayed for the looming sacrifice of Jesus that would cover all their sins and restore humanity’s relationship with God Almighty forever?

Likely someone would have prayed for courage, but would they have included the prayer for the gift of conquest over sin?  There’s no record that any prayer was offered by the disciples during this time: Jesus the son of God was doing all the talking.

Simply enough, any Jew you asked at that point in their history about what they expected of the promised “Messiah,” would have responded, “To kill the Romans.”  The astute likely would also pray for the return of Israel with a King and a Kingdom.

Absolutely no praying person looked at Jesus and asked him to provide all of humanity with forgiveness, eternal love, eternal life, and intimate knowledge of the good, loving, and righteous God.  No one prayed for their own pathway of faith and hope into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Neither the disciples, family, nor friends who loved Jesus, nor the greatest minds of Israel trying to kill Him, saw any of that coming.

This is all to say, then, that when you’re not sure what to pray for, invite God to go ahead and do His thing.  Then … be still and listen.  You may be very surprised.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that God and Jesus never asked a question to which they did not already know the answer.  That makes it hard to argue with them.

Monday, July 1, 2019

659 - Who Asked You? Part 1

Spirituality Column #659
July 2, 2019
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Who Asked You? Part 1
By Bob Walters
“… I tell you the truth, my father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” – Jesus to the disciples, John 16:23

For quasi-Christians with a stubborn, worldly cant who go to church only when convenient, study the Bible only lightly, and think religion is “to get stuff,” John 16:23 appears to be the ultimate good news: God will give you whatever you want.

Wow! A free pass through the check-out lane of life!  Just pray and say “Jesus!”

It’s a fake-news notion that’s launched a thousand sinking ships.

Our purpose today is not to rant about the “prosperity” gospel, “name it-claim it” doctrine, the “golden” gospel, or any other assorted false flags of me-directed faith.  Context in the Bible is everything – I mean, Jesus is everything, of course – but a “Playtex” interpretation of scripture where you “lift” a verse or phrase you like and then “separate” it from its holy intent, dis-serves the Spirit and darkens one's humanity.

It’s never a good thing to replace a truth with a lie, not when God is watching.

And He’s always watching.

We’ve been studying this section of scripture – John 15-16-17 – in our Thursday morning Mustard Seed Bible Study.  It’s the teaching of Jesus after the Last Supper and before the Garden of Gethsemane.  Last week’s column, pulled from John’s earlier writing in chapter 3, focused on our “belief” in Jesus the Son of God as the key to salvation.

As Jesus spends these final couple of hours with His disciples before His arrest, trial, humiliation, beating, flogging, crucifixion, and death, Jesus is decisively and directly telling the disciples that He is one with the Father, that He came from the Father, that He is going back to the Father, and that because they know Him – Jesus – they – the disciples – also now know the Father.  That is Jesus’s final teaching, and the headline Jesus leaves with His disciples is: “You know God, because you know Me.”

That’s the revealing and critical bit of the context to the line, “whatever you ask in my name.”  It’s a line Jesus repeats in verse 26, “…you will ask in my name.”  Jesus says it twice – so it’s important – and it is as shocking as it is true. But the focus here should not be the word “ask.”  Instead, take full measure of the word “name.”

After previous BC (or BCE) millennia of Jewish instruction never to say the name of God, and that we will never see God, Jesus is telling His disciples that they have encountered both the person and the name of God … in the flesh … in Him.  “Name” here isn’t just a “Joe-Bob” or “Linda-Sue.”   No, in this context “name” implies both knowledge of and relationship with the person being “named.”  Jesus is talking about not just His own person but the very name of God; Jesus is saying, “That’s Who I Am.”

The disciples of course don’t quite get it all; not yet.  They know Jesus saw into their hearts, revealed to them what they were thinking, and knows them personally.  But what Jesus really is giving to them and to all humanity is something for which they never would have thought to ask: to know the heart of Almighty God; to know His Name.

That is our gift from Jesus, and it can only be unwrapped by a believing heart.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) finds it fascinating that in this most profound and critical section of scripture, neither sin nor forgiveness are mentioned, only belief.
More next week.

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