Monday, April 23, 2018

597 - A Little Bit Benedict

Spirituality Column #597
April 24, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

A Little Bit Benedict
By Bob Walters

Wincingly observing the daily, ongoing train wreck that is the American news media makes me especially glad I have a Bible, a church, and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus is my true north; and the media compass is spinning out of control.

This isn’t to fecklessly complain or whine about the absence of Christian truth, hope, promise, piety, and decency in the current mainline, cultural narrative – though it truly is not there – it is to point out that no voice in the breezy, intellectually lockstep commercial realm of mainstream public information processing and delivery (i.e. journalism) can or wants to communicate Christian, biblical, Jesus ideals effectively.

Why? Because human truth is all Jesus; and modern journalism is all politics.

These days, it seems, never the twain shall meet.  What a shame.

It is a soul-stealing crisis that a secular “there is no God” baseline governs our American news and political media narrative. Freedom “yes,” but God “no.”  I don’t know how anyone can encounter the miracles of freedom embodied in the U.S. Constitution and not grasp God’s very special providence in ascribing humanity’s natural rights, each person’s divine liberties and responsibilities, and the ensuing nation it conceived.

Oh wait … there is a discussable “God,” just not a very powerful one.  God becomes – in these times of human arrogance – a “god” who needs to be confined to terms that satisfy cultural fashion, political expedience, and moral fluidity.  This certainly isn’t the God of ultimate love, not Jesus Christ with all authority over creation, wisdom, truth, and life, and not the Holy Spirit offering divine light and animating every spirit.

Instead what we witness in the general media’s public square is a conditional god desperately requiring doctrinal, politically minimizing labels like “evangelical” because, I can imagine the media thinking, “I can’t argue with Jesus but I can sure besmirch an evangelical.”  Talk about identity politics run amok.  The media is using every club in its bag to insert a God it doesn’t understand into a situation it doesn’t like.

And what it likes less then God, at the moment, is President Donald J. Trump.

Specifically we see that now even Christianity – well, American political Christian thought leadership – is starting to consume its own franchise, like a snake eating its tail, by focusing not on the truth of the biblical Jesus but on the efficacy of joining the secular media in expressing abject horror at the moral abjurations of the U.S. president.  They had a serious conference on this recently at august Wheaton College.  Really.

Pompous Christian thinkers – and there are plenty of them – rush to scourge, as one wrote in a recent mainstream column, “the naivet√© and self-sabotage of the Trump evangelicals.” But the “thinkers” spurn their own proper focus on the centrality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and promise of sufficiency in Him alone; not politics.

I want to shake them and say, “It’s not about Trump! Stick to Jesus!”

The “Benedict Option,” referred to in the title, is to pull away from society and live in monastic-ish seclusion.  Nah, I love too many people and want to share Jesus with too many people to simply shun society.  Instead, my “little bit of Benedict” is to be very, very selective when I read anything about Jesus or evangelicals in the general media.

I won’t disengage, but generally speaking, I know the media is not on my side.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is a Christian, not a Trump evangelical.
Monday, April 16, 2018

596 - 'Our' of Power

Spirituality Column #596
April 17, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

‘Our’ of Power
By Bob Walters

“… thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:57

For each of us who claims Christ as our personal, eternal savior, we must never forget that Christianity is the ultimate team effort.

Jesus is our savior.  One’s faith is dead if Jesus is considered only “my” savior.

I thought I was onto something new recently as I was nearing the end of reading Kenneth Bailey’s wonderful book “Paul through Mediterranean Eyes.”  It is a brilliant dissection of the literary and rhetorical construction of 1 Corinthians and how it is actually five exquisitely constructed separate essays made up of individual homilies.  Paul wrote 1 Corinthians with metaphors that would relate to the Corinthians (e.g. mountains, military, sports, labor) and with philosophical and rhetorical constructions that would resonate with both Greek and Hebrew intellectuals.  There is a lot more there, I discovered, than first meets the eye.  Bailey offers astounding insights.

Anyway, the final line in Paul’s essay on the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-57), is the one noted above: “our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Bailey’s commentary on that particular line keyed not on thankfulness and victory, but on the word “our.” When “our” faith, together, is focused not on me but on “our Lord Jesus Christ,” most of the problems of any church – such as the multi-cultural and doctrinally competing quagmire in the Corinthian church that Paul was addressing – go away.  How?  Because of “our.”

Says Bailey: “If Paul’s readers can reflect deeply on those four words [our Lord Jesus Christ], all will be well. … Jesus is Lord in a way Caesar is not.  Let the Romans and Greeks take note.  Jesus is the Messiah (Christ); let the Jews take note.  He is our Lord, not my Lord.  Together we have one Lord and one Father.”

Bailey made such a powerful case for the shared power we have in “our” God through Christ that the idea popped into my head about how many New Testament prayer pronouns are in the plural (“Our Father,” “deliver us,” “give us,” etc.) while so many Old Testament prayer pronouns are in the singular (“The Lord is my shepherd,” “Create in me a pure heart,” “expand my territory,” “the Lord is my strength,” etc.).

My runaway brain fast-forwarded to the community of the Father-Son-Spirit Trinity of the New Testament vs. the more singular-appearing God of the Old.  And isn’t it interesting how Jesus uniquely provides us a personal relationship with God in faith while the Old Testament covenant is with all of Israel in common obedience to the Law?  Had I landed on the cusp of some new plural vs. singular prayerful covenantal insight?

Visiting with my friend and mentor theologian George Bebawi last week, He said no, that’s nothing new and really not even a “thing.”  He pointed out that most of the Psalms reflect personal experiences and I was seeing things that weren’t really there.

Much, I would suppose, as did many in the Corinthian church.  Mea Culpa.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) appreciates the power of our faith together, the correction of the occasional comparatively neophyte error (mine), and prays for George who is in the hospital sorting out a chronic heart/kidney ailment.
Monday, April 9, 2018

595 - Easy to be Hard

Spirituality Column #595
April 10, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Easy to be Hard
By Bob Walters

“La science qui rapproche l’homme de Dieu.” (“Science brings men nearer to God.”) – Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

I like this quote not because it is the best thing anyone ever said about science or God – it’s not – but because it is so on-point in today’s off-point, build-your-own-truth, over-thinking-“reality” and under-selling-Jesus cultural atmosphere.

Christians know that it is not science, a “what,” but Jesus, a “Who” – a proper person – Who ordains reality and brings us closer to God. That’s because Jesus is God, Who became a man, God’s Son, Who in God’s loving grace restored fallen humanity to God’s Kingdom, and upon Whom God bestowed all creative authority over all creation.

That’s reality; that’s Who Jesus is. Jesus is why we are already nearer to God.

At the same time, science reveals God and I thank Him for Louis Pasteur’s (and countless others’) many medical, scientific, and technological discoveries.  I especially appreciate Pasteur’s sincere and thoroughly appropriate nod to the deity Who so much of modern scientific, social, political, philosophical, and media realms pretend doesn’t exist.  It’s as though folks think it’s a personal insult that God is smarter than they are.

Tracking the past 300 years or so, it’s easy to see that many do think they are smarter than God when Jesus, truly, is the good, divine light of discovery and wisdom.

The Enlightenment – the enduring philosophical movement of the 1700s and 1800s – was a whole lot less about the “light” of Jesus and much more about the “dark” of the mind of man.  Lots of great stuff and lots of terrible stuff happened during and as a result of Enlightenment thinking. I would list the American government and medical, communication, construction, and transportation technologies among the great stuff.  I would list Marxist governments and the errant but undeniable cultural diminishment of Christian moral authority among the terrible stuff.  Feel free to make your own list.

The Enlightenment Now, a new book we mentioned a couple months ago, is a cheerfully vacant release by Harvard atheist and psychologist Steven Pinker.  His view is that things really are quite good these days, culturally and scientifically, because the Enlightenment has done so much to rid humanity of the intellectual rot of religious myths and impinge the faithful pursuit of Jesus Christ.  Hence, praises Pinker, it “gave us the Modern World.”  All, I suppose, for the ultimate purpose of … nothing in particular.

There is some accuracy to Pinker’s observation if not depth to his end-game.

Israeli biblical scholar Yoram Hazony, commenting on Pinker’s book in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, noted that Enlightenment advocates like Pinker “oversell the benefits of unfettered reason.”  Pinker, Hazony notes, praises worldly Enlightenment philosophers (e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche) who “replaced dogma, tradition and authority (i.e. God) with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking.”

I prefer Jesus in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Now that is truly God, up close and personal.

Beware philosophy that – and a philosopher who – makes truth harder than it is.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) knows that life’s biggest truth and easiest yoke is faith in Jesus Christ.  Another big truth is that Bob was terrible at French in college.
Monday, April 2, 2018

594 - Measuring Stick

Spirituality Column #594
April 3, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Measuring Stick
By Bob Walters

Americans culturally are an especially competitive and commercial lot.

We The People want a rulebook, a scorecard, and referees in order to know how we rate. And when it comes to the action-reaction marketplace dynamic of reward and punishment, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, all the world's a trade.

Unfortunately and errantly, that's often how people go to church.  Christ freely offers to us grace, love, freedom, hope, and truth.  We don't have to compete, we don't have to "keep track," and we don't have to toe a line; we needn't fear the scorekeeper.  But we take what we learn in secular culture and apply it to the "religious experience" and clog up our divine joy in Christ with the transactional rubbish of this world.

In that sense, "Christians" are no different from those who ignore God; who also are competitive and commercial - usually with a different moral playbook and notion of grace - and still striving against life's measuring stick.  It is a peculiarly American trait.

So … in this corner we have love, Jesus, and the Kingdom of God, and in that corner we have Satan’s Hell of eternal damnation.  Reward over here; punishment over there.  Faith, mercy and joy in this corner; the blind despair of “I don’t care” in that one.

We ask competitively “Where do I stand?” instead of “How do I stand with Jesus.”  We fear “punishment” but sincerely wonder, “Do I really need to worry about Hell?”

That’s our culture: “What do I have to do?” and “What can I get away with?”  So it is “Whew!” though false news when clergy – whether it be Rob Bell, an Anglican Bishop, or the Pope in Rome just before Easter – provides a notion that Hell does not exist.

I’ve grown in my faith to the point that I don’t look at Hell so much as the justice of punishment, but more like it’s a highly predictable finish for those absent God.  What is Hell like, exactly?  I don’t know, but the Bible convinces me I don’t want to find out.  And who goes there, exactly?  Honestly, I’m not sure about that one either.  But I surmise persons who spend their lives rejecting Jesus, insulting God’s plan, denying the Holy Spirit, and ignoring the opportunities of faith, the Bible, and the consequences of sin, spend no serious time in this life believing in Heaven or Hell anyway.

Simply put: Without Jesus, our sin – and we all have it – leads us to Hell.  Of that I am certain.  But it’s like the guy who prefers jail to freedom; is Hell really “punishment” if one wants nothing to do with God?  And why debate “punishment” at all?  The Bible’s language regarding the Cross of Christ is about defeating sin and death in love and obedient sacrifice.  Punishment, depending on the translation, is barely mentioned.

Still, if I want to control you I’ll scare you by preaching “punishment for sin.”  Whereas if I love you, I’ll preach God’s love, the truth of His righteousness, the sacrifice of Jesus, the miracle of His resurrection, the joy and greatness of the Kingdom of God, and the freedom of this life when our hope and trust points to eternal life.

God’s righteousness is unassailable, and that’s all I really need to know about Hell.  It is my comfort, though, to know in Christ I don’t have to worry about it.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) believes sin, Satan and Hell all exist, and that bad preachers and the secular marketplace work like crazy to make us think they don’t.
Monday, March 26, 2018

593 - What's in it for Me?

Spirituality Column #593
March 27, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

What’s in it for Me?
By Bob Walters

"I believed that Christ was God incarnate, that the tomb was empty, that the resurrected Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  These are not psychological projections of my religious self-consciousness.  They  are beliefs about time and reality. ..." Carl Trueman, Paul Wooley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary.

Perhaps the easiest way to motivate an evangelical Christian to run from the room (or off the property) is to assert the primacy of dogma in the true, orthodox Christian faith.

Oops, I said "dogma."  Are you still with me?  It's a word that should be read as "fundamental, time-honored, faithfully-vetted core truth" about the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, salvation, and the humanity of Christianity, such as Trueman states above.

Unfortuntately - and I go so far as to say "heretically" - dogma is intellectual anathema in the "Me"-centric world of too-many contemporary Bible-lite, nominally "Christian" churches that preach personal experience, self-fulfillment, activism, and "What the Bible means to Me."  Better to seek, I think, what the Bible means to God.

'Dogma" is a word that clears out the sanctuary if "I" am the reason I'm there.

You see, "dogma" happens when we get serious about the person of Christ and what this Holy Week and Easter and the resurrection truly mean in the context of God's plan for all mankind.  It's far more valuable, in other words, to lean on the wisdom and spirit of 2,000 years of Christian discernment and thought - the dogma - of the enormity of what the Bile means to God, rather than the tiny-ness and doom of what the Bible "means to me."  "Shine your inner truth" is a great sales pitch for the church of Oprah, but God through Jesus Christ affords us a cosmic all-time truth if we can just get over ourselves and focus on the reality of Christ, not the passions and politics of our personal moment.  Those moments pass; Jesus is a partner for all time.

Dr. Trueman, an esteemed church historian and evangelical, is quoted from his wonderful 2015 essay "Newman for Protestants" in First Things magazine that recently re-appeared online.  Trueman describes what for him as a perspective-changing intellectual experience at age 27 of reading a book by controversial 19th century apologist and future cardinal John Henry Newman on Newman's conversion from Anglican to Roman Catholic.

Trueman desperately wanted to hate Newman because of Newman's writings against evangelical Protestantism, but could only admire Newman because of the fundamental questions and truths Newman gently posed requiring deep philosophical thought on whom, exactly, is the person of Christ, and what, really, is the Church?

Dogma provides truth claims upon which one's faith can stand both the test of time and the "suicidal excesses" of unfettered and, I might add, self-directed human thought. That's the sad position of today's secular society, even as huge churches fill with worshippers this weekend.  "What's in it for me?" is the wrong issue to ponder.

Knowing Jesus is our most profound Christian duty and joy.  Happy Easter.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) clarifies that it was John "Newton" who wrote "Amazing Grace," no "Newman."  Here is a link to Truman's article: Newman for Protestants
Monday, March 19, 2018

592 - The Last Thing on Earth...

Spirituality Column #592
March 20, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

The Last Thing on Earth…
By Bob Walters

Billy Graham and Stephen Hawking have now left us with their last things on Earth.

What a contrast.

Graham left us with infinite and eternal hope of life everlasting in the love, truth, and salvation of Jesus Christ; Hawking left us with grim warnings of human malfeasance, impending global catastrophe, and unknown dangers from space.

Please notice here: I’m not shouting, mocking, condemning, or blaming.  With others, I am noticing the obituaries of these two globally famous, accomplished souls.  People everywhere sat up and took notice when they died.  With others, I too weep over the loss of both these brilliant men, though I must admit much moreso for Hawking than Graham, which I’ll get to shortly.  Their similarities and differences were striking.

Nobody was an evangelist quite like Billy; and nobody was a physicist quite like Stephen.  A dismissive secular world arrayed career-long disdain and disbelief on Graham’s proclamations of Jesus and Heaven, while the Christian world – all of it – could not and cannot dismiss the energy and effectiveness of his mission.  His critics notwithstanding, countless lost souls found faith and salvation in Jesus Christ because Billy Graham preached the Bible, the Gospel, the truth, and his belief.

Hawking’s declarations in the scientific and even the non-scientific world carry the weight and worth of secular scripture.  His vast capacity for mathematics, physics, philosophy, cosmic phenomena, and creativity of thought in a variety of fields had the world hanging on his every word.  Hawking’s courage and perseverance amid horrific physical challenges are absolutely a champion’s example of overcoming adversity.

Neither man was exclusive in his work.  Everywhere, dedicated preachers bring souls to Christ, and everywhere, brilliant scientists reveal secrets of our natural world – what I would call God’s Creation.  But Graham knew everything comes from and returns to God; Hawking ended up thinking nothing came from or goes back to God.  That’s the difference; that’s why I weep for Hawking and all empty souls who so depart this life.

Hawking’s mind, to me, was proof of the wonder of God’s Creation.  I’ve long thought it a mistake to view science as somehow “competing” with or overshadowing or replacing God’s truth.  I believe science reveals God’s truth: the fascinating particulars of the “how” part of Creation, so lightly covered in the Bible.  The Bible focuses on the Why of God’s righteousness and the Who of Jesus Christ, not How God did it.

Hawking’s final warning for life on planet Earth – human aggression, over-population, climate change, pending asteroid strikes, even alien invasion – do not have the prophetic ring of the loving divine.  They have the paranoid feel of cynicism and fear.

As Hawking’s brilliant mind seemed a sign that God must exist, his body was surely a sign of the fallenness of creation and mankind.  That Hawking in the end settled on a non-God, atheistic worldview is a signal to us all that brilliance and faith, such gifts when they come together, serve fear and despair when the equation excludes Christ.

The last thing on Earth I want is an equation without hope.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) will not second-guess the reach of God’s mercy.
Monday, March 12, 2018

591 - The Root of Our Faith

Spirituality Column #591
March 13, 2018
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

The Root of Our Faith
By Bob Walters

It is fatefully and frightfully easy to misread the Bible by assuming its main focus is to tell us who we should be, what we should do, and how we should love, behave, and think.

While that’s all good stuff to consider and the Bible does provide much direction on all those things, there is an infinitely larger scriptural point to be made that is often lost amid the too-easily-seductive search for specifics about Creation, prophesy, heaven, eschatology (end times), miracles, healing, and the like.

I’m convinced the purpose and key message of the Bible is to tell us who God is, and that who we are as human beings emanates from that.  Focusing on the relative minutia of the smaller pieces of God’s cosmic glory, to me, is akin to studying a single tree and missing the grandeur of the forest.

Here’s an example.  Consider the Creation story in Genesis.  The Bible says “six days” and many insist that means “six days” (with the seventh for God’s rest).  Fine.  Whether it is literally “six days” or not, let’s don’t trip over the very first chapter of the Bible and miss the far larger divine point: God created everything, and did it with love and righteousness.  The big news to me is that everything God created He pronounced to be “good.”  After creating man on the sixth day, in Genesis 1:31 He pronounced His entire creation “very good.”  (One could surmise that God then made the whole thing perfect when He created woman because Adam needed help).

Taking the whole Bible into consideration, the Gospels (e.g. John 1:1-2) and elsewhere teach us that God declared Jesus responsible for creation and gave Jesus authority over all Creation.  That truth is way bigger than me or how long creation took.

The point isn’t to ignore the trees: by all means study them, get to know them, understand them.  But don’t get tangled up in a tree to the extent that one of two disastrous things happens. One is to become convinced that one’s salvation depends on one’s view of that one “tree” – a single biblical, theological, or doctrinal theme.  The other is to judge others’ salvation (always a bad idea) based on their view of Creation, heaven, miracles, or what have you.  This is where souls become lost and fearful amid the trees instead of beholding and trusting the magnificence of the forest.

If I’m convinced of anything else it is that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is unique to the person who has it.  This is how I read the “arms and legs of the body” and the “mansion with many rooms” imagery of the New Testament.  Our talents and interests matter but our salvation arrives through our faith in Christ, not our knowledge of how God operates.  There is room for us all in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I don’t spend much time on Creation, heaven, eschatology, prophecy, miracles and so forth.  I have no doubt whatsoever of God’s provision, presence, and perfection in these areas, but gladly rest and find peace in the arms and splendor of Jesus.

He is the root system of the entire forest.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that as “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), the love of Jesus is the root of all good.

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