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.

What It Is… and Is Not

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 41:10

Peace is not absence of war, of strife, or of anger; it is calm trust in God and knowing Jesus, our peace.

Obedience is not the absence of sin; it is working for the Glory of God.

Patience is not the absence of hurry; it is the acceptance of God’s timing.

Joy is not absence of concern; it is assuredness in God’s truth.

Righteousness is not me being better than you; it is God being best all the time.

Love is not the absence of hate; it is the art and insistence of putting others first.

Salvation is not the absence of Hell; it is the excitement of Heaven.

Forgiveness is not the absence of blame; it is freedom from the past.

Divine rewards are not a pending “let’s see” transaction; they are God’s promise.

Grace is not the absence of judgment; it is the action of sacrificial love.
Judgment is not the opposite of mercy; it is the proper complement of mercy.

Mercy is not turning a blind eye; it is seeing things God’s way.

Thankfulness is not a debt; it is the joy of recognizing God’s gifts.

Freedom is not the selfish exercise of my rights; it is my recognition of God’s will and my responsibilities—to Him and to humanity.

Rebellion is not only Satan’s example; it is our failure to accept God’s love and assert God’s freedom.

Truth is not just the absence of a lie; it is the presence of the person Jesus.

Eternity is not just the absence of time; it is the quality and substance of the life of God.

Science does not replace God; it reveals God.

Doubt does not have to be the absence of faith; it may be the discipline of curiosity.

Hope is not a gamble on the future; it is our awareness of the reality of God.

Faith is not a blind idea; it is our living experience with God.

Church is not for being fed; it is for feeding each other.

The Gospel is not just the Good News of Jesus Christ; it reveals the perpetual light of the Spirit, truth of Christ, and love of God.

The Incarnation is not just the birth of a Savior and Emanuel-God-now-with-us; it celebrates humanity’s reunion with the Kingdom of God.

The Crucifixion is not just a horrible settlement for sin; it is the glorious, gracious, selfless, and complete obedience of Jesus Christ; it is Jesus’s human nature surrendering to God’s divine nature.

The Resurrection is not just the defining evidence of the love and power of God; it is our release from sin, the end of death, and the promise of life everlasting.

God’s glory is not merely God’s pride; it is His love He shares with us and the freedom He affords for our own response to the gift of His son Jesus, our savior.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) first dashed off this column as punctuated verse, but alas—as his wife Pam, the retired English teacher, pointed out—Walters is not a poet.  Walters is however sensitive to and observant of positive vs. incomplete, simplistic, secular, and/or negative doctrinal proclamations (and somewhat panicked by the latter). Humans tend to rebel against God rather than seeking to replace our nature with His.

“Grace Guy”

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Jesus, Matthew 11:30

My friend Glen approached me before church last Sunday–as always with a smile–and mentioned he’d been reading my weekly columns for “a while now.”

Glen is a trained chaplain (hospitals, etc.), is an astute Bible guy, helps out in seemingly every ministry in our church, and it’s encouraging to know he takes the time to read my weekly heartfelt but un-trained offerings.

Still smiling, he added, “…I think I’ve figured out that you’re a grace guy.”

A “grace guy.” I liked that. But then looking at the expression on his face more closely, I felt compelled to inquire, lightheartedly, “Is that OK?” 

“Um, yeah!” he responded, still smiling but with a moment’s hesitation.

Noticing the pause and myself not being one to miss a sardonic opportunity, I asked, “Do you prefer punishment?” He laughed and said, “No!… Well… maybe.” 

I responded, with a wink. “Well, it does help to control the flock.” Then it was time to go into the service and that conversation was over. But it got me to thinking…

The Apostle Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament and in every one he offers the greeting, “Grace and Peace.” Jesus, in the Gospels, is constantly telling us He is the truth, the way to God, the life of God, and in so many words, the face of God. Jesus came to help, not to harm; yes, to set us free from our sin but mysteriously to “enslave” us in His own goodness, protection, and love. Punishment?  No.

It is beyond weird that a “slave” in this life who finds Jesus is set free (think of worldly sinners), and a free person who finds Jesus becomes a slave (think of Paul). And I’m not talking about the slave trade; I’m talking about humanity’s spiritual tendency to bind itself to evil because of fear, guilt, greed, pride, and self-righteousness, with a perpetual sense of inadequacy or debt when it comes to an encounter with goodness.

Jesus, you see, is goodness. Jesus knows what is best for us. Jesus, Son of God who is also God–another mystery–models God’s plan of self-sacrificial love that defeats evil. Jesus is our only “way” out. He is the “truth” we can trust. He is the “life” we can live in freedom now and in God’s eternity forever. Jesus didn’t “trade” His life for ours; He showed us perfect love and obedience. His lesson isn’t what we “owe” for our sins; His lesson is what we must do, how we must love, and how we must obey.

My life goes sour when debts overwhelm me. I know what it is to be bankrupt. The parables of Jesus not only teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven but they also instruct us in the impossibility of repaying divine gifts. Think of the overwhelming amounts in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). The lesson is not the enormous amount; the lesson is the enormous mercy–and justice–of the master.

Praise God for the enormous mercy of our master, Jesus. Praise God that what Jesus desires is not repayment or guilt, but that He blesses our faith in Him and our love, mercy, and compassion for others. Guilt never builds a loving relationship.

In Matthew 11, quoted above, Jesus invites the weary to rest in Him. His well-fitting yoke helps us work together easily and productively. His demands are worthy and uncomplicated: “Follow me.” The greater we trust, the greater we love. Grace abounds.

I would not trade that love–or grace–for anything.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is thankful, not burdened, by Jesus.  It is the world that is a burden, and the world that demands repayment. Grace is divine. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

I’m Afraid Not

“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. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Something New

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. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

For My Sake

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. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

For Your Sake

“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. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.