Fellowship and Life

“And He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it …” — Jesus, Luke 19:19

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood …” — Jesus, Luke 19:20

I was on the schedule at my church this past Sunday to present the “communion meditation,” a short homily preceding our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

That schedule—published late last fall for our Traditional services in 2020—was obviated (i.e., “blown to smithereens”) by the COVID-19 shutdown. We still partake in the Lord’s Supper in our online service (at home) but with no Traditional service homily.

Months ago, pre-shut-down, I hit on an idea for the homily and made notes. When my phone calendar chime reminded me last week to prepare the communion meditation, I dug out the notes and figured, column! Here is my communion thought:

“The broken body and the spilled blood of Christ.” That’s the phrase we hear so often as we encounter the Lord’s Supper, our commemoration of Jesus at the last supper in the upper room. Jesus there instructed His disciples, going forward, to eat the bread and drink the cup “in remembrance” of Him. In the ensuing hours, Jesus—the perfect and innocent lamb—would be arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. Jesus’s broken and bloody body hung on the cursed cross sacrificed to defeat death, forgive humanity’s sins, and complete His mission of salvation in perfect obedience to God. 

That’s a story we all know, but frankly I don’t always like the way it is told. Jesus died a violent but purposeful death and His resurrection proved His truth. But scripture tells us that Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, would have no “broken” bones (Exodus 12:46, Psalm 34:20, John 19:36). And though Jesus bled, crucifixion is not a “blood” sacrifice—death comes from multiple trauma and agonizing asphyxiation on a “cursed tree.”

Listen closely to the words of Luke 19:19: “He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it.” Jesus was breaking the bread of sustained fellowship with His disciples and instructing all believers for all time to remember and replicate the holy communion the disciples had with Jesus and each other. Fellowship, not brokenness, is the point.

And hear Luke 19:20: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood …” Blood is the locus of life, we are taught in the Old Testament, and this new cup of Christ indicates not only His bloody death but the blood—the new life of faith—in the New Covenant.

Let us always encounter the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper with joy and fellowship, in both our communion with Christ and in loving each other. Why would we celebrate a guilty remembrance of a brutal death, or a shaming reminder of our sins, failures, and fallenness? When did Jesus say to believers, “Remember your guilt!”?

No! In communion with the gracious, risen Christ we are to joyfully and properly share in His eternal gifts of hope and peace. “Go and sin no more!” Jesus said. In this supper we commemorate the glory and love of God, the perfect truth and obedience of Jesus, and the abiding comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup remind us that we are Christians commissioned to shine Jesus’s light on mankind and that Jesus commanded us, as faithful servants, to love God and to love each other.

In a world where Satan’s darkness is close, we are citizens of a Heavenly light in communion with the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and each other. Let’s remember that.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is fixed and gathered, not broken and spilled. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

It’s the Light, Not the Leap

“…that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on the power of God.”

“…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

1 Corinthians 2:5, Hebrews 11:1

If I do say so myself, I wrote the most amazing sentence this past week in an email exchange with an extraordinarily bright, non-religious, long-time friend.

Let’s call him John, and his irenic response to that sentence inspired this column.

John had commented wryly but critically about a recent op-ed piece I had written, “On Facemasks … Who Are We?” It was an editorial about American character, COVID-19, and hiding the identity God gave to us behind a facemask.

John’s public observation contained what seemed to be ad hominem vitriol. I pushed back, but our ensuing non-public exchange was thought-provoking. He noted: “My lack of faith means I do take things more objectively, and though your words were almost poetic it might not resonate as deeply with me as it would with a Christian. …”

A nice compliment from a smart guy that revealed a common error about “faith.”

I responded, “Great note John. I deeply appreciate your sincerity. Don’t ever think lack of faith makes one more objective; it makes one (maybe not you) less able to embrace the existence of objective truth, which requires faith. …”

That was my “amazing sentence,” in case you couldn’t tell. I continued briefly about being 47 when I “got” Christ, what a deeply intellectual journey my faith-growth has been, and I noted John’s keen capacity to parse and understand virtually anything.

To that John replied, “I love how your journey has … led you into sureness that (in my wry and respectful observation) you can use a phrase like ‘embracing the existence of objective truth requires faith.’ I … understand that after you have crossed that faith bridge you are no longer tentative but living in a new certainty, such that a phrase that seems to be a contradiction in terms isn’t a contradiction at all.”

And there it is, this week’s column: objectivity vs. faith. John was gently, eruditely, and without condescension acknowledging that what is a contradiction to him, i.e., “objective truth which requires faith,” he understands is not a contradiction to me.

And that seeming contradiction, friends, is what limits the world. It also largely defines today’s truth-obviating post-modernism which positions “truth” as objectively incompatible with the inferior “faith” as objective proof of the reality of Jesus Christ.

John also cited the “metaphysics” required for me to take such a “leap of faith.”

It reminded me—and underscored—how western civilization overly-relies on the ancient Greek philosophical axiom that reality and objectivity are confined to that which can be seen (or discussed) and “proven.” I also think of Francis Bacon’s 17th century “scientific method” that adds “repeatability” to the proof of “scientific” reality. These worldly constructs exclude faith and combine to vacantly imply, “Faith isn’t objective.”

Really? Which is closer to objectivity: God the Creator of all things, His infinite love and eternal relationship, that He made humanity in His own image, and lights our lives with Christ, or the machinations, variations, limitations, and opinions of fallen men?

Life’s objective truth is not a leap of faith; it is a faithful walk in the light of Jesus.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) met John (smart even back then) in Little League. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Letting Truth Out of the Bag

“When the Counselor comes, who I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me.”

Jesus, in John 15:26

A little more than a year ago I inherited the teaching duties in our church’s Thursday morning seniors “Mustard Seed” Bible study fellowship. At age 65 I am the “kid” in the group, and I can barely describe how enriching it is to share Scripture with this weekly group of seasoned, Bible-savvy saints.

Currently we have not met since Thursday, March 12, which was pretty much the last open day in Indiana before everything, including our East 91st Street Christian Church, area schools, and public meetings started shutting down Friday, March 13.

Mustard Seed–no argument there–is the kind of group that especially needs not to meet when a pandemic like COVID-19 is an evident danger to older folks.

But what I wanted to talk about this week is not the dire, dour, and depressing isolation of our nation’s and indeed the world’s present situation. Nor can I think of anything new to say about our individual and largely home-bound circumstances. To all those folks still out there working every day in hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, and other life-saving and society-sustaining endeavors, I say “Thank You!”

What I do want to discuss is the plain-as-the-nose-on-my-face fact that perhaps the greatest joy-robbing, hope-jangling feature of this unprecedented time is the utter absence of what I would call reliable truth about virtually anything having to do with the reporting, media narrative, and politics surrounding the pandemic. Who can we trust? 

From China to Washington state to New York City to Washington D.C. to Italy to my home here in Fishers, Indiana, I wonder who is pushing which social, political, or economic agenda. What is the real danger: the disease or our reaction to it? Since “tomorrow is guaranteed to no one,” let’s not panic about the presently more intense vagaries of “tomorrow.” What we all need are facts and truth, not fear and spin.

I started by talking about “Mustard Seed” because our past several months have been a study of “The Words of Jesus.” Especially illuminating to me personally, in the Last Supper and Gethsemane sections of John 14-17, is Jesus talking through these four entire chapters about God’s unwavering righteousness, eternal truth, boundless love, infinite glory, their relationship… and His disciples’ responsibilities going forward. 

This truth–His truth–marches on. In His last hours it is virtually all Jesus talks about.

When we can’t see truth–in anything, whether particular or whole–our human misery most likely is in our inability to see God, relate with Jesus, and listen to the Holy Spirit. The world, for unrighteous reasons in times like these, prefers our focus to be on fear and anxiety. These are man’s evil shackles that choke our free breath in Christ.

I listen carefully for God’s truth. I know that’s what Jesus brought into the world–freedom not just from our own sin and the wiles of wicked men and women, but toward faith, hope, love, peace, creativity, and joy that our trust in God’s eternal truth assures.

What a better world we make, and what joy we reap, when we believe in and testify to God’s truth. The fallen world controls us in fear, but Jesus by His life, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit let God’s righteous, saving truth out of the bag.  

Sometimes we have to fight for that truth, but our joy always is in knowing it.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) watches little mainstream news but stays informed and prays big sincere prayers… regularly. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

On Facemasks … Who Are We?

By Bob Walters

Before we ask every American who goes out in public to wear a facemask “just in case”…

A treasure of the American experience is our historically unique and individually tenacious dedication to that most striking declaratory characteristic which forms our lives, our communities, and indeed our very definition of humanity. 

And that American treasure is the sanctity of our individual human identity.

That is what is different about America; it is what America introduced to the entire world when the people—not the government, not the strong-arm bullies, not kings or emperors—were bequeathed with the righteous power of self-determination and the moral imperative of government of, by, and for themselves.

It would require Americans to function cooperatively, peacefully, and honestly together as citizens. Government would exist for the common defense and the common good. It would consist of representatives of the people, and would break “ties” when competing interests required arbitration, settlement, adjudication, or restitution.

It was novel. For the first time in human history government would serve the people, not the other way around. America’s greatest strength was the freedom its citizenry enjoyed to form interest groups and both pursue individual aspiration and serve the common good. This would be our identity not just as a nation or tribe—those are common all over the world—but the identity I have, you have, each of us has as active and free agents in shaping our own lives, families, communities, and indeed, the nation.

Identity. What is that? In America I believe it is the inviolability of our belief that we—each one of us—was uniquely created by God and will be uniquely judged by God: I will, you will, we all will. America is socially weighted to that proposition that all are created equal. I believe that divine identity to be universal to global humanity, but America puts a special twist on it because of the many qualities we embrace.

The first quality is freedom. Imperfect as we may be, we are nonetheless free to be who we want to be and aspire to achieve what we want to achieve.

Then, responsibility, which freedom requires. We are responsible to and for ourselves, family, neighbors, communities, nation … and all humanity. The binding agent in responsibility, ultimately, is our responsibility to God, though some would remove God from the list. Unless we understand our Creator, we will not understand our creation or purpose. In America we truly see each other with an at least visceral and at most resolute belief that each us was uniquely created for a unique life’s purpose and will be judged for the life we lived. That informs and mandates our responsibility to each other in the here and now and to God in the hereafter. Some folks hate that truth.

Our American identity—our individual identity as Americans—I believe begins with freedom and responsibility. After that … I think we are free and perhaps even duty-bound to construct our own list; to think about what our identity means. I propose a cornucopia of virtues. Following closely after freedom and responsibility, I’d tout opportunity, aspiration, creativity, industry, motivation … and hope. Hope of the possible; hope of the good; hope of life and love and joy and accomplishment.

I believe God loves to see his kids play and loves to see us prosper. He’ll help.

And I also believe that Americans like to see each other; we live face to face. Some cultures—especially in the East but also among communists, socialists, totalitarians everywhere—attach no such significance to individual identity because their identity is either defined elsewhere (by government), culturally diminished, or non-existent. Sadly, it seems, their faces don’t matter … not even to themselves.

Most of what a common surgical facemask is going to hide is our identity. There is debatable prophylactic effectiveness for the loosely-fitted cloth masks we see on most people, and yes we might avoid some risk for some time by “locking down” our faces behind N-95 medical grade masks. But that is not who we are; nor who I want to be.

Risk is an American value, as are freedom, responsibility, opportunity and hope. We will not fully function as Americans when externally instilled fear overrides our legitimate questions about reality. 

As I believe in the critical importance of American individual identity, so I am also convinced of darker forces within our nation dedicated to diminishing that foundationally and morally proper human characteristic of self. The “you-me-us-we” Americans freely and joyously expressing our individual, responsible, proper God-given identities works against the dark forces desiring our fear, submission, and the evisceration of self-worth.

Before we don masks and berate those who would both question their efficacy and note their deleterious effect on community esprit dé corps—“What!!! You Want People To DIE!!!???—let’s instead consider who we are as a nation and assess our identities as individuals created in the image of the living God. Yes, we live in a fallen world, but with the divine promise of God’s truth and brighter hope for tomorrow. Jesus said so.

Not everyone believes that, of course. I do, and I want to be prudent towards and considerate of others because it’s my American responsibility to respect their health, well-being, hopes, and aspirations. That’s what Americans do because we know it is the right thing. But we also have to know when a right thing becomes a wrong thing; when someone declares something to be a “new normal” … and it’s not normal.

Put on a mask … ?

Let’s not make a habit of this. Soon we won’t know who we are. 

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is a writer in Fishers, Indiana USA, and publishes a weekly Christian short essay at CommonChristianity.blogspot.com. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Humble New Beginnings

“…because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Luke 19:41

Jesus very famously wept quietly at the tomb of Lazarus–“Jesus wept”–but He absolutely howled as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Jesus weeps twice in the Bible–tenderly (Greek edakrysen, John 11:35) for Lazarus’s sisters’ sadness, and a second time loudly (Greek eklausen, Luke 19:41): “As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it.”

While we could spend this entire column discussing how deeply Jesus was moved–and somewhat miffed–at the reactions of Lazarus’ family and friends before Jesus brought Lazarus out of the tomb, that’s a common story we’ve all studied before. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25). And He meant it.

Bible scholars mostly agree that “Palm Sunday” was a few days later on the first day of the following week when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to the palm-waving Hosannas of all the believers who knew of Lazarus and had heard of Jesus’s many miracles. They welcomed Him to Jerusalem as their holy and promised Messiah. 

The Pharisees were not so thrilled. As Jesus approached (Luke 37-44) the crowd joyously praised but the Pharisees viciously harangued: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (v. 39). Jesus noted that if His disciples were quiet, then the “stones would cry out.” (v. 40). Seeing the unbelief of the Pharisees and their blindness toward God, Jesus knew it meant Jerusalem’s eventual destruction. He wept bitterly because of it.

Clearly nobody except Jesus had any idea what the rest of that week held, or how history after that would be forever changed. The reality was, Jesus on that donkey was God returning to Jerusalem–as God told Abraham, Moses, and the prophets He would–to initiate His Kingdom on Earth. It’s what Jesus had been saying all along.

What the Pharisees saw–in their blindness and anger–was a troublemaking blasphemer who would pull down their temple, negate their authority, threaten their social positions, and not least of all threaten Jerusalem’s tenuous peace with the Romans. The Pharisees “did not recognize the time of God’s coming.” (v. 41)

Something else they didn’t perceive, and I’d never thought of either, was looking at what we call Holy Week as a perfect, poetic replay of the Creation story in Genesis. 

It was just a brief note in N.T. Wright’s The New Testament in Its World I’m reading, but, Lord of lords, how poignant. In Genesis 1, God labored for six days, rested a day, and His perfect Creation was in motion. Jesus here spent six days in Jerusalem (Sunday to Friday), finishing His work of salvation, service, obedience, and love on the cross on Friday–the sixth day–and in His death rested on the seventh day–Saturday. 

Right here, let’s not worry too much whether on that “Holy Saturday” Jesus descended into Hades, battled Satan, freed the saints, or whatever else He might have done; there is only thin and much debated scriptural evidence for that. What we know is that on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.”  On the seventh day, why not let Him rest?

Jesus’s resurrection on the first day of a new week was breathtaking and glorious for those who believed. It signaled the new beginning of humanity’s eternal life in God’s Kingdom through the humility of the cross of Christ. Creation, humbly, was renewed.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) looked up the Greek for “wept” at Biblehub.com. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

When Empty is Good

“ … and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”

Colossians 2:10, NIV

What an irony that an empty grave was humanity’s first sign of salvation when what salvation means is humanity’s fullness in Christ.

In the Jesus-generated hubbub of Holy Week–the triumphant entry, trashing the temple, His teaching, the last supper, the new commandments, Jesus’s arrest, trials, horrible death on the cross, entombment, arisen and bodily seen on the third day, humanity’s forgiveness and salvation at last!–easily overlooked is the sure reality that Jesus was the human, divine, tactile proof of God’s existence and truth.

The disciples were frightened, disillusioned, and dispersed during the crucifixion.  The empty grave confounded everybody. The believers were then stunned Jesus was no longer dead; many saw Him, talked to Him, touched Him, ate with Him. He was real. 

And as for what it all meant, initially, to the believers, it meant joy mixed with confusion. Over the years we have come to talk about Easter and perhaps over-focus our faith on the gracious forgiveness of our sins by the cross and, by the empty grave, the gift of eternal life with God through faith in Christ. Sins forgiven; death defeated.

But we mustn’t stop there. It took even the disciples a while to figure it all out.

Everything the disciples needed to know about Jesus’s resurrection, who He was–God in the flesh–and what their task would be going forward, Jesus had already told them the past three years and especially in that eventful final week. Little of His infinite significance–what “Son of God” actually meant–truly sank in, at least not right away.

Even we today are often distracted by the Good Friday misery of death and the joyous Easter-morning relief of life revived. “He is Risen!” For the most part we have figured out, believe, and cherish the gifts of divine grace, the big “whew!” of our sins covered and behavioral debts canceled, and the secure knowledge that heaven, eternal life, and our adoption into God’s family and Kingdom are the sure goals of our hope.

That’s all great, but really it is only fullness for us. What about fullness for God?

That fullness is the life we are to give to others going forward. That is the glory of God Jesus brought to mankind. Jesus had fully briefed the disciples how His presence, life, death, and resurrection would define their mission ahead. And for a couple of obvious reasons, it was not the disciples’ mission to accompany Jesus into death. They were dispersed after Jesus’s arrest because 1) they had to be around later to tell about Jesus, and 2) death was something Jesus had to go through… rejected and alone. 

Jesus finished His mission on the cross; their mission was then to tell the world.

Think of the whiplash juxtaposition: on Friday the disciples thought they had seen their hope turn into a cruel lie and their mission into an empty hoax. On Sunday, hope became proof of God’s surest truth, and their mission would come to change the world.

Much, much more happened, of course. It took many years and many people to put those amazing events into the fulfilling context of truth and salvation for all mankind. 

But that empty grave?

It will remain empty forever, and thankfully, it is one we will never occupy.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com), who won’t be surprised if his own grave is a tad itchy, notes that the stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let us see in. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Hope That Assures

“We have this hope [Jesus] as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 6:19

Coulda, shoulda, woulda, maybe, might, perhaps, someday, if only … sigh …

Alas… whither hope? And oh, by the way… prove it.

Is hope a wish or a fact? Is it faith to come, or faith in action? And how in the world do we prove it? Is hope something we already have or something we “hope” to attain? Or is hope, in fact, the living presence of Jesus? I’d say, let’s go with that.

I can’t think of a less appealing and less useful way to describe one’s trust in God–“the hope we have,” etc. (1 Peter 3:15)–than to think the fruits of our relationship with the eternal God through Christ are something indeterminate and far off in the future: a big, subjunctive “maybe” of expectation someday later rather than the active, inspiring, and assuring truth of God’s presence, grace, and relationship today. In Christ.
Jesus can’t be much of an anchor if His truth is still bouncing along the ocean bottom, dragged uncertainly by its tether to the boat above being tossed by the winds, currents, and vagaries of life’s–and the fallen world’s–temptations, untruths, dangers, and deceptions.  A “set” anchor is a sure and present truth to a voyager in a storm:

We are the voyagers, the world is the storm, and Jesus is the set anchor we trust.

Hope is neither subjective nor subjunctive nor far off; it is the truth we know now. It is the Jesus truth of mankind. It is Christ resurrected and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, today. Hope that hasn’t happened yet is the longing of unmet truth; the patient waiting we see throughout the Old Testament. The arrival of Jesus brings human life’s greatest gift: humanity’s restoration of relationship to God and participation in His glory.

For Abraham, hope meant patiently waiting.

For us, hope–the baptism by the Holy Spirit–arrived in the person of Jesus. Our joy is not in the faith and patience of something still to come; we have it right now in our love for Christ and love for each other. It occurs to me that to love God and to love others are the two great commandments because love is the gearbox of putting our hope in motion in our lives. We miss out horribly if we think the Kingdom is relegated to some unknown time years hence and defined by that which we cannot know.

“Hope” infused with “maybe” inspires no one; unanchored expectations are the bane of good will. “I hope so!” is unpersuasive, like when one “hopes” all that stuff in the Bible about salvation and heaven and forgiveness is true.  Instead of being anchored assuredly–now–to the greatest truth of existence, Jesus, one’s modern tires are spinning in the muck of the current, ill-defined culture of self-interest, satisfaction of personal appetites, and transmission of Satan’s soul-killing sacrilege. Our redemption in Christ is now… and forever. Be thankful. Use the hope of Jesus–the anchor of our soul–to live in His kingdom, in His hope, in the here and now. “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done…” is Jesus teaching us to pray for, attain, and internalize the assurance of who He really is. He, Jesus, is our rest and our peace.

Our joy in knowing through Jesus that God is real, God is truth, God is eternal, and God wants us with Him, is the Kingdom that has come in Christ’s holy relationship.

Hope is assured today; firm and secure. No waiting required.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) hopes you’ll believe him that he just noticed, halfway through writing this, that his coffee cup has an anchor and Hebrews 6:19 on the side. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Bad Judgment

“When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” – Matthew 7:28-29

These two verses are how Matthew in his Gospel concludes Jesus’s famed “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-6-7.  And if you know how to read this line, and somehow were able to think like an ancient Jew on the side of that mountain where Jesus taught, you’d know this whole sermon is God taking a great big giant condemning swipe at the Jewish leaders of that day. “[N]ot as their teachers…” is a total “diss.”

The crowds could discern the Godly authority of Jesus… an authority long since passed from the Jewish “teachers of the law,” i.e. the rabbis, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, and scribes. Jesus was openly attacking the Jewish leadership’s hypocrisy and arrogance, while describing God’s true groundwork for the Kingdom of Heaven. It was nothing like what the Jewish leaders were teaching, the way they were living, or the truth they were espousing. Power, pride, status, and control were what they craved.

My friend and blogger extraordinaire Brent Riggs says it this way: “They (the Jewish leaders) were a part of the system; the World. Christ said we are to be salt and light to the system, not be a part of it… They had denied the Word of God and established their own traditions, rules, and regulations. Christ reestablished the affirmation of His Word—God’s Word—alone.”

It is so easy to read the Sermon on the Mount in modern error, thinking it only a list of somewhat mysterious but otherwise rational directions for leading a “good life” before the world and in the company of other Christians. Do good, feed the hungry, help the poor, etc., is how we read it. To the Jews, Jesus’s words were shocking.

Where Jesus says something akin to, “You say this …; but I say this…,” He was severely criticizing what the Jews had done to “religion.” Jesus was presenting the new covenant of faith and strongly condemning their failure with the old covenant of the law. The Jews had missed God’s point of humility and instead built a nation of pride.

“Blessed are the meek… the poor in spirit …they will inherit the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3-10) is not just a Jesus shout-out to the oppressed; it is the harshest of  rebukes toward the Jewish leaders’ priorities and values mirroring the world, not God.

Today’s favorite Bible verse for all who do not actually understand the Bible is a similarly condemning assertion that the modern world loves to self-righteously and incorrectly quote as a declaration of freedom.  It’s right there in this sermon, Matthew 7:1.  We all know it well: “Do not judge,” contemporary code for, “Get out of my face!”

Emphatically, it is not that.  It was Jesus telling the Jewish leaders they had lost their authority to judge Godly things because they had assumed worldly values.  The dumbest taunt you can level at any human is “Don’t judge!” and think it means, “Let me do whatever I want.” Bald permissiveness is the opposite of what Jesus was saying.

What I’m saying is, my New Year’s goal is to improve my judgment, not ignore it.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that better judgment always starts with love. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

What’s He Doing Here?

“Therefore … the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: [Isaiah 7:14]
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:22-23

It takes more of a Bible geek than me to know, just off the top of one’s head, who King Ahaz was and what he did. Want to take a shot? Do you know?  We’ll wait.

Time’s up.  King Ahaz of Jerusalem appears in the book of Isaiah and is key to the explanation of the “Therefore” that precedes the prophetic Isaiah 7:14 passage foretelling God’s sign of Immanuel (Emmanuel, if you prefer) noted above. 

The word “Therefore” always makes us ask, “What’s it there for?”

Without replaying the whole passage, Ahaz feared an attack on Jerusalem – in part by other Jews in the tribe of Ephraim – and God told Ahaz not to worry: “It will not take place” (Isaiah 7:7), and “Stand firm in your faith” (Isaiah 7:9).  Ahaz was unconvinced Jerusalem could be saved.  In verse 10, God commands Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”  Ahaz refused, saying, “I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isaiah 7:12). 

Oy.  God graciously invited / commanded Ahaz to ask for proof.  Ahaz – evidently figuring he already knew everything he needed to know about God – said, “No.”

In verse 13, Isaiah notes that it was a terrible idea to refuse God’s grace and sign, disobedience which also cost Ahaz the peace God was offering.  Then comes verse 14 and the prophecy of the sign above all Godly signs to come: Immanuel – God with us – being conceived of a virgin.  God Himself would appear among man.

Now let’s fast forward 700 years or so to the quiet Bethlehem manager where Joseph and Mary would bring into the world the baby Jesus.  Jerusalem again was being wildly disobedient to God.  Israel’s attention was entirely taken up with legalistic reconfiguration of God’s commands and fear of the conquering Romans.  God’s sign, Jesus, is revealed in the humble environment of a baby in a manger while Israel would ignore all prophecy of His coming, hoping instead for a power to conquer the world.

Jesus came to conquer our sin, to reveal the true God, to restore humanity to its original relationship with God and His Kingdom, to share the truth of God’s love, to prove the worth of our faith in God, to offer hope of God’s ever-abiding presence and power, to invite humanity into eternal life, and to allow us in this life to know God is real. His truth, the real truth, would come to life.  Talk about tidings of comfort and joy …

Isaiah is a complex book, but Ahaz’s disobedience is a message that survives simplification. Notice that Joseph did not argue with God, he obeyed.  Mary obeyed.  Jesus obeyed.  And in obedience they, like us, found and find the gift of God’s glory.

Christmas is about God Almighty come to save us – in love, not in punishment.Isaiah and Jesus – the names – both mean, “The Lord saves.” Isaiah foretold God’s coming sign of salvation, Jesus, who saves God’s own glory and saves our lives.

That’s what He’s doing here; Jesus is the proof, the sign, of God’s saving grace.

All I can say to that is Merry Christmas!

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) asserts that “Peace on Earth” is an affirmation of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts. Graciously, let’s keep it there always.  For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Automatic Renewal

“Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” – Lamentations 5:21

Traditionally the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., is thought to be the author of Lamentations.  Perhaps the most spiritually tortured of the prophets, Jeremiah had a lot to lament.

Jeremiah saw the divine judgment on Jerusalem, among the lowest earthly moments in Israel’s history.  Whether Jeremiah penned Lamentations or not—technically its writer is anonymous—the book, says my NIV study Bible, “poignantly shares the overwhelming sense of loss that accompanied the destruction of the city, temple, and ritual as well as the exile of Judah’s inhabitants.”

Lamentations, which follows Jeremiah in the Old Testament, is a deeply poetic and heavily structured cry that complains not about God’s judgment but about Israel’s disobedience. “Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean…” (Lamentations 1:8)

I bring this up just before Christmas not as a lament that the sincere “Christmas message” about hope and Jesus tends to get lost in the secular swirl of commercial Yuletide largesse, but because I notice throughout history that God keeps coming back for us.  He does it every year at Christmas.  It’s like an automatic renewal offer on a life insurance policy, and it extends over many eras.  We must return to Jesus.

I was surprised to learn just recently, for example, that Christmas Day, December 25, formally became an official United States federal holiday not until June 26, 1870, and then by decree of President Ulysses S. Grant.  Yes, it was right after the Civil War and it provided a common point of celebration and reconciliation for severely torn and previously regionally isolated national cultures.  Before that Christmas was barely noticed, gift-giving was basically unheard of, and in America, school was in session.

But notice this.  Just then in history—1870—as science in both Europe and America academically began to overtake theology, philosophy, and the thinking arts, that is precisely when Christmas was installed here as a national holiday.  The scholarly world was falling for Darwin and technology; and Christmas was put on the calendar.

Looking back you could almost see it as a place-holder for America to re-find its Christian bearings.  Christmas became popular at precisely the point in history that science sought to nullify Christ.  Jesus never goes away very far.

Christmas, a 4th-century Roman creation, is not mentioned in the Bible.  In fact, no holidays, feasts, temples, or festivals are prescribed in the New Testament.  The Old Covenant of Israel had all that stuff as a way to be in the presence of God, but the New Covenant in Christ teaches that God’s love is in our hearts everywhere, all the time.

“Old Fashioned Christmas”?  I’d say that didn’t even exist much before the 1930s, or maybe the post-World War II American cultural reset.  It is interesting to note the centuries-old development of celebratory Christmas traditions—trees, gifts, wrapped gifts, lights, Santa Clause, music, greeting cards, family gatherings, community events, feasts, and charity services—that are really developments of the last century or two.

Many of us do not need Christmas to remember Christ.  But for many others, it provides an automatic renewal of a reminder that Jesus is a very big deal.  It’s up to us to tell the story of God’s love, and I notice God is right there willing to help us.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) loves Jesus but is a sucker for Christmas traditions.  BTW, here is a link to an interesting article about the development of Christmas traditions: Christmas in 19th Century America | History Today. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.