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Friday, July 20, 2018

CrossTalk: Fight Family Strife God's Way

We live in unsettled times. Everyone, it seems, is at everyone else’s throat. It’s not just politics – although the political world has become especially ugly. We also see it in the community, at work, and in homes. It even affects the church.

One thing that happens to us is that we forget family connections. Family affection is a powerful emotion for the good. The love between mother and child, husband and wife, brothers and sisters in the home can cover over “a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

When we remember that we are family, we remember that we are deeply connected despite the frustration of the moment. It re-centers us to think long-term. Friends may come and go, but family will always be family. Familiar memories and familiar roots bind us together.

This is even true when you first meet distant relatives. The very fact that they are family automatically opens our hearts to them. Family relationships provide a built-in starting point of love and connectedness. Remembering family relationships can help us treat one another with love, respect and forgiveness.

The Bible, in fact, reminds us that we are all one big family. Each of us can trace our ancestry back to Noah. Beyond that, we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. These are more than fairy tales. It is our history, told in the Bible and proven by recent scientific studies of mitochondrial DNA.

The false claims that we evolved from primates have made many forget our family connectedness. When we forget our common genealogy, we forget to treat one another as family. That’s a tragedy.

But we can do something about it. We can teach our children the truth that every person they have ever met is a relative. We can also remind ourselves of this fact every day.

Before you act out in anger, before you bad-mouth your boss, before you write a rude comment, before you dismiss someone as a Neanderthal, remember that he or she is family.

Here’s another pro tip to fight against the seething anger of our world: Repent.

That’s right, repent! Anger and hostility toward others is always felt in proportion to our own unrepentant sins. When Cain killed Abel, it wasn’t about anything Abel did, it arose from Cain’s own sins against God. “So, Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (Gen. 4:5 ESV).

If you look honestly at your own anger, you will find that the more you confess your own sins to God and receive His forgiveness in Christ, the more peaceful and calm you can be in the face of family that sins against you.

The flipside is also true. The more unconfessed sin you are harboring within, the more easily you lash out at the littlest thing that happens to you. I am convinced that the reason our world is so filled with seething anger is because there is so much unconfessed sin.

Every day we are told by Satan not to confess sins. In arguing we are told “never admit you’re wrong.” In living we are told, “if it feels good it’s not sin.” When we follow Satan’s advice, we do not confess our sins. That makes our own anger seethe like Cain’s.

So fight back against anger in both ways: 1) Remember that everyone you meet is a member of your own family. 2) Spend a lot more time confessing your own sins than dwelling on the sins of your relatives.

The forgiveness that comes from Jesus’ cross is forgiveness that rebuilds the human family.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 8, 2018 Sermon: Mark 6:1-13

...That All Should Repent
Why Jesus was rejected in His hometown,
and what to do about it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

CrossTalk: Where Is the Creator of the Universe?

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t make Himself more visible? After all, if He is truly interested in saving the whole world, you might think He could do a better job of it by making His presence a bit more obvious.

This is a thought that most, if not all people, entertain. So, let’s think it through together. Never mind the fact that it is rather blasphemous to suggest that you know better than God how to save the world.

God is gracious enough to set that aside for a moment, because He knows that we don’t really mean it. He knows that our minds are just too puny to figure out a better way to phrase the question.

Of course, if He was the kind of God to use His almighty power to destroy anyone who glanced sideways at Him, we would already be dead by now. So, I guess that rules out one mistaken notion.

But as long as we’re still alive to think about it, let’s thank God for His mercy and ask permission to go a little farther. We can adopt the posture of Abraham who said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

So, here’s a hypothetical. If you were the Creator of the universe and you wanted to prove it, what exactly would you do? It’s a simple question. But when you seriously try to answer it, strange things happen.

The true Creator of the universe made it because He wanted to--not in order to prove His existence to the things that He made. So, if you were a God who really liked making the things that you made, wouldn’t it be the most natural thing in the world to just keep on making them?

After all, we all do what we like to do. If you like playing baseball, you take every opportunity to play ball. If you like cooking, you cook whenever you can. If you like hunting, you live to hunt.

So, it would be perfectly natural for the Creator of the universe to keep on creating. He would do things at the subatomic level that boggle the mind. He would miraculously cause plants to grow in the most unlikely places. He would make so many different kinds of life that it would be impossible to count them all—much less to know all their secrets.

Like a master magician, He would do all of this out in the open, right in front of your eyes, and yet you still wouldn’t be able to say how He does it. At the end of the day, if the Creator of the universe wanted to be more impressively visible, I can’t think of a single thing He should do differently.

If anyone wants Him to act differently than this, they are not wanting a sign from the universe’s Creator, but from an imposter. They’re not wanting God to show Himself, they’re wanting a god who will submit himself to their whims.

No. It’s not that God is not making Himself visible. It’s that His creatures have become blind. We can’t see what’s right in front of our eyes.

If I were the God who created the universe and My creatures became so stupefied that they could no longer recognize me, I would do everything I could to save them from such a terrible blindness.

That’s why “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Where’s the Creator of the universe? He’s the Man on the cross, dying to create all things anew.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

CrossTalk: Already Been Bit

It seems the Israelites of old were always complaining about one thing or another. One time, God responded by sending vipers into the camp. “They bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’” (Numbers 21:6-8)

The first thing to notice is what happens when someone gets bit. We don’t know what kind of snakes these were, but their bite was incurable. Everyone who was bitten died. It was just a matter of time. That’s why the people came to Moses for help. There was nowhere else to go.

In the New Testament, Jesus uses this as a picture of our problem with sin. We have already been bit. The poison is already working death in us. It’s not that Jesus comes to condemn us for this or that sinful act. Rather, like people who have been bitten by a deadly snake, we are “condemned already” (John 3:18). Sinful acts are symptoms that the poison is already at work.

Unless the antivenin is administered, the venom will run its course and leave us dead. That’s the reality of deadly snakes, and that’s the hard reality of sin. You don’t do anyone a favor by denying reality. If your child was but by a deadly snake, you would stop at nothing to give them the antivenin. The same is true for anyone we love.

Living in denial never saved anybody from anything. A doctor who knows you have cancer does you no favor by denying it. In fact, he would be prosecuted for malpractice and should lose his license! The first step in getting help is in admitting the problem.

Of course, it is bad news! Nobody likes to hear bad news. But your friends will tell it to you anyway. Not because they hate you, but precisely because they love you. Only those who don’t care about you will withhold life-saving information just because they don’t want to deal with your static. That’s not friendly. That’s just mean.

It’s the same with sin. It would be uncaring and hateful for those who know about the snake bite to keep the diagnosis and the cure a secret. That’s why Christians talk about sin--in order to talk about Jesus! Anything less is selfish in the extreme!

God’s cure for the bites was to, “make a fiery serpent and put it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus compares Himself to that snake.

Just as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). The venom is already at work and all the denial in the world will not make it go away. But there is one thing that will.

When Jesus, the Son of Man, is crucified He is taking away the sins of the world. He comes to be the antivenin for the bite of sin that would kill us otherwise. “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Look to Him and be saved.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Beginnings and Endings

A Sermon preached at Kramer Chapel
Dr. William C. Weinrich


When in the beginning God spoke, He said, "Let there be light," and there was light. The Word brings light, and to hear the word is to be enlightened.

Word, light, faith -- that is how it was in the beginning, for that is how God does what he does when he wills to be God for another. But who then is this "other" for whom God wills to be God? Well, listen to the voice of the prophet: "When in the beginning God spoke, He said, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness.'"

But how then did God make man and endow him with the divine image? Well, here we enter into the workshop of the divine Potter/[Pater]. God, bending low, stretched out his two hands and took dust from the earth. Dust from dust, Adam from Adam [Adam from atom?], and, as it were, holding the dust into His two hands, God breathed out His breath. He blew his spirit -- not so much at the dust, or even on the dust, but into the dust. In and through that breathing, the dust became man, a living being.

Well, think of that, O Man! From the beginning, at the beginning, God lifted up man high, exalting him above all creatures. What an exaltation that was! From dust, man had become the temple of God's own breath. By the humble bending low of the Divine Majesty, out of love and mercy, the dust had become the very partaker of God's own Spirit. Dust, now called by the personal name of Adam, was the image of God's own eternity, destined to live life with God as his own birthright, endowed with those virtues by which God himself lives and exists: charity, humility, longsuffering, patience, faithfulness, truthfulness, and goodness.

And God gave to Adam an intellect and a mind. Why? So that Adam might think the thoughts of God and, thinking such thoughts, might know the goodness of God and the goodwill of his maker

And God gave to Adam a will. Why? So that Adam might will the will of God, and will rightly, and might delight in the will of God and desire to walk in his ways.

And God gave to Adam a body. Why? So that Adam, rightly thinking and rightly willing, might in fact live according to God's will and reveal himself to be the image of God through works of love and humble service to his neighbor. Through the body, that "robe of glory," as the fathers like to call it, Adam could speak, and he could do what he thought and what he willed -- with hands able to work the good, with ears able to hear the sounds of blessing, with eyes able to see righteousness, and with a tongue able to speak peace, with feet able to walk in the statutes of the living God. Adam could thereby be the image of God, not merely in thought and will but in reality and truth. The robe of glory was, as it were, the lamp of God's own light, set in the world for others to see and to hear.

And so in the beginning, God placed man into the world as his own image to be a light, a beacon, recalling and reflecting the light of the Creator. And as it were, God gave to man a single and primal commandment: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." What a mystery man was! And here is the mystery: Man himself was that commandment. Were man to be in truth man, the light would shine and the Father would be known.

Consider, then, O Man, what exaltation had been given to the mere dust. What had dust become? It had become the image of the Divine Love, the light shining as the sun of Righteousness. Dust was now the patience of humility -- that is, dust had become man. Dust had become the image of the immortal God.

Well, that was at the beginning when God, bending low, lifted dust up and set it on high as his own image. It was as though God had said, "Hear, my man! When you speak, it is as though it is I that will be speaking. And when I do good things, it will be you who act. When I love, it will be through you that I do so." And Adam, at the beginning, said, "Yes!" And then Adam added, "I am the servant of the Lord, for he has made me thus. And I will delight in his will and walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name." That is how it was in the beginning, when God made man and exalted him to be as God among man and beast.

But that beginning was not yet the end, for into this beginning there slithered an alien thought, a strange and contrary will, tempting man towards unholy deeds. Now how the tempter came to be, I do not know, for he too was a creature of God. But the holy writers tell us that the tempter had fallen away from God's presence out of pride and out of envy -- out of pride, because he was not the equal of God, and out of envy, because he was jealous of man's status.

And so the tempter contrived a new calculus, one might say a false creation: "Let us exalt man, and so bring him down." And so into the thought of man there came a strange and tragic thought: "I could become not merely like God but my own god." And so into the will of man there came a strange and tragic will: "I might by my own will make my own commandments, and determine what is good for me and walk in my ways."

And into the heart of man there came a strange disobedience. Strange, I say, for in such thoughts and such a will and such a heart, man turned against himself. Man became the corrupter of his own nature. Man chose to be against himself in the strange and tragic deception that he was the Lord of his own life.

And so as it were, man made himself to be his own tower of Babel, reaching up into the heavens so as to grab as his own possession the things of God. But according to the terrible physics of sin, the higher man reached, the lower and more degraded he became.

Infused with the pride of the tempter, man's own thoughts became prideful, and the result was envy, lust, rapaciousness, arrogance, and unseemly bloatedness from one's own self-importance. Infused now with the waywardness of the tempter, man's will also became wayward and unstable. The result was unfaithfulness, idleness, weakness towards the good, and a constant tendence toward the cowardly and the apostasy.

Man's body, too, that robe of glory, now the instrument of sin and death, became besmirched with the filth of a fallen mind and the desires of a wayward heart. Oh, what those eyes, now cast down, did not desire to look at! And what those ears, closed now to the voice of God, did not want to hear! And that tongue, now silent to the hymns of praise, what it did not dare to speak! And oh, what did those hands not desire to touch, to what places of ill repute did those feet not hasten to go? Can we name such things?

Out of a certain shame, let us let the wise Solomon speak of it: "Of the envy of the devil, death entered into the world." The apostle, too, describes this chosen madness of man: "Although man claimed to be wise, he became a fool, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images. Man exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things." The Christian writer also has pondered this strange state of affairs: "When man exalted himself and became abased."

Listen, then, to the sad account of the holy preacher who surveys the realities of prideful man. Having stretched out his hand to take hold of an apple, promising a false divinity, man himself was dissolved and sank into the earth, no longer dust to man but man to dust -- no longer the temple of God's spirit, but the empty vessel filled with the stench of sin. No longer the light of truth in the world, but the sad shade of a hollow life.

And man, the exalted sinner, bequeathed to his children the terrible inheritance of his own death: promiscuity, slavery, tyranny, hate, jealousy, destruction. And the destruction of man upon the earth became indeed strange and terrible, for man, thinking himself great, became the slave of sin, was led as a slave into the land of bondage and was drowned in the swamp of insatiable desires. Avarice, wantonness, murder, robbery, father against son, son against father, mother against her own children, sexual unions devoid of creative power, trading the natural powers of mutual love for the strange neutrality of sterility.

And so all man became upon the earth either manslayers, parasites, infanticites, or fratricites. And in all these things sin rejoiced, who as the coworker with death always rushes ahead into the souls of men and prepares there as food for death the bodies of the already dead. And what had been taken from the earth was to earth dissolved. What had been given from God had, by a terrible choice, been assigned to the realm of Hades. And man exalted himself, thinking the things of God to be for the taking, and, going up, had cast himself down into captivity, dragged off now as a prisoner under the shadow of death. And so in the dust lay desolate God's image.

Well, that was at the beginning, which as yet was not the end. That beginning is nonetheless, for you and me, our present. For we are all at that beginning, sharing with Adam the dust of his own sin.

But there is another beginning, which according to its own strangeness is also the end. And this end is a new beginning. Let us remember, then, O Sinners, what the Evangelist tells us: "God is love, and for us and for our salvation, He did love us by giving over his Son through the exaltation of the Son of Man upon the tree." What a marvel that is -- the cross as exaltation, and the exaltation of the Son of Man as the humble obedience of the cross.

How are we to understand that? How are we to will this to be our own way, and how are we to live this as the truth of our own new being?

Well, it was no insult to the heavenly Architect to dwell in the temple which he had built, nor did the dust of the dust soil the hands of the Potter [Pater] when he made man. And so it was not alien to our heavenly Father when, once again, as at that first beginning, He bent Himself low and revealed Himself anew to be humility when He formed man anew from the wondrous dust of the virgin's womb.

There was, of course, this difference: now the humility which is God had to bend himself even lower than at the first beginning, for man had so far sunk down that the Divine Charity had, so to speak, to reveal himself even more. Yet to repeat a point, as His hands were not soiled at that first Creation, so now He was not stained when He took sinful flesh from the virgin Mary and brought forth the Lamb of God, immaculate and without the stain of sin. The humility of the most High God was not defiled when His hands formed his Son into the image of sinful man so that, through that Man, made the sinner by a strange grace, He may redeem and sanctify those who are in truth sinners.

By His stripes we are healed, proclaims the prophet. In his abasement, we are exalted. How so? Well, let the Christian poet sing praises of this as he attempts, as best faith can, to capture the wondrous greatness of Divinity in its own proper lowliness. All these things did the merciful God do, stripping off glory and putting on a body. For He had devised a way to reclothe Adam in that glory which he had stripped off. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes corresponding to the leaves of shame with which Adam had clothed himself. He put on clothes in place of Adam's sin. He was baptized in place of Adam's sin. He was embalmed for Adam's death. He rose and raised Adam up in his own glory. Blessed is He who has descended, put on Adam, and ascended.

The bending low of God was not alien to His deity, as though He could bend low only by divesting Himself of His humility. Oh no, no! Love, humility, grace, and mercy are the properties of God most proclaimed by prophet and apostle. In bending low for sinful man, God was God for man! And, in bending low in such a manner that God the Son, according to the will of the Father, assumed to himself the ragged clothes of Adam, gave to those clothes a shining newness.

How shall we speak of this new newness? The Divine Son clothed Himself with man and gave to man to participate in His own nature. Bending low to that place to which man had exalted himself in abasement, Jesus (that is His name) gave to sinful man a portion of His own humility, and man made new in humility and love was exalted once again. Exalted, I say! Yes, but with this difference -- that now man was raised in Jesus to the very throne of God to share with God in His own rule.

Here is how the ancient poet spoke of it: The Most High God knew that Adam wanted to be a god, and so He sent His Son to put Adam on in order to grant to Adam his wish. Divinity flew down and descended in order to raise and draw up humanity. The Son has made beautiful the servant's deformity, and he has become a god just as he desired. Here are the words of a more modern hymn writer: "He has raised our human nature on the clouds of God's right hand; there we sit in heavenly places, there with him in glory stand. Jesus reigns adored by angels, man with God is on the throne; by our mighty Lord's ascension, we by faith behold our own."

Man, now clothed with the new robe of glory through the sanctification of the flesh, is now, maybe now, the image of our Heavenly Father! Does this new man will to reach beyond the gifts of God given to him? By no means! This new man prays from the heart, from the mind, and from his will, "Thy will be done as earth, that is by me, even as it is in heaven."

What then, O Saints, might we say in conclusion? What final prayer might we say that speaks in truth about the truth we have now been given to be? Perhaps this: "Your cords of love, my Savior, bind me to you forever. I am no longer mine. To you I gladly tender all that my life can render, and all I have to you resign."

Amen.