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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

CrossTalk: Forty Days of Life

Last Sunday, November 3rd, concluded the latest observance of “40 Days for Life.” Since September 25, people around the world have prayed and fasted for life. Today I want to highlight their message of faith, hope and love.

Consider what they did. They fasted for life. While, at first, this may seem a contradiction, it is anything but. Fasting seems to deny the necessities of life from the body. But the opposite is true. By fasting, we are confessing that the true necessities of life are not found in food and clothing, material and emotional support. Rather, the truest and most certain support of human life comes directly from God through His word. As Jesus, our Life, said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word proceeding from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

While fasting, they also prayed for life. To pray for life is to ask God to give and preserve life. That's quite a mouthful. It acknowledges both that life is from God and that it is desirable.

Oftentimes in our world of technological advances we forget that life is from God. We marvel at all modern science can do. In agriculture, we have hybrids, insecticides, and genetic engineering. In medicine, we have genome mapping, open heart surgery, and even in utero surgery.

But it only takes a moment of reflection to notice that none of these technologies create life. They tinker with what God alone can create. As I pen these words on Halloween, I am reminded that Dr. Frankenstein's creation remains pure fantasy. No man ever re-animated the dead, much less have they ever – or will they ever – create life from scratch. This sobering reality alone ought to drive us to careful reflection. How dare we destroy what we are incapable of creating. 

When we reflect upon life, we learn that God loves life. We see it all around us. From the microbes that live on your counter-top to the fish that swim in the ocean, this world is teeming with life. While some might see all this abundance of life and conclude that life is cheap; faith concludes the opposite. Faith concludes from the sheer abundance of life that God must really, really love life.

That's why we pray. We pray not only because apart from God we would have no life, but we pray because we know that God Himself wants life and wants to answer our prayer. This is especially true of human life.

No other species has been so honored and so blessed as human life. When God came to His creation, He “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary and became man” (Nicene Creed). His salvation of the world reflects the fact that man, and man alone, was created in the image and likeness of God. What an incredible creed this is!

God considers every human life -- God considers your life -- so precious that He Himself became a man in the person of Jesus. No matter what has happened to you, no matter what challenges you are dealing with in your life, nothing can change that fact. No matter how you were conceived, your life and the life of every conceived person is a gift of God and desired by God Himself. And no matter what sins you may have done, no matter how terribly you have failed to rejoice in God's gift of life, God has become a human being in order to forgive and save your life, both now and in eternity.

We just celebrated 40 Days for Life by prayer and fasting. But God celebrates every day of life by answering your prayers and satisfying your deepest hunger. “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crosstalk: Christians in the News

Current events in Syria and Egypt have raised our awareness of ancient Christians in the Near East. Reports are filtering out about the systematic burning of Christian Churches, the theft of Christian property, beatings and other horrors, and even executions. I wish to dedicate this column to these people.

“Coptic Christians,” or simply, “Copts,” are so unfamiliar to most of us that they might be from another planet. It is difficult for us to feel the bonds of Christian kinship with people we never knew existed. So let me tell you about the Coptic Christians. These people are neither Roman Catholic nor protestant. In fact, they are a branch of Christianity more ancient than every single denomination represented in Evanston.

Coptic is an ancient Egyptian delect. Though it is not Greek, it is written with Greek letters. The language as been around since hundreds of years before Christ. But in the first century of the Christian era, this entire people group became Christian.

During the time of the Apostles, Christian missionaries brought the Gospel to Ethiopia (Acts 8:27) and Egypt. The most prominent of these missionaries was St. Mark. After doing some early work with St. Paul (Acts 13:5), Barnabas (15:39) and Peter (1 Peter 5:13), St. Mark traveled to Alexandria, Egypt and planted Christ's Church among the Copts and was martyred there.

As the Church grew, the Copts became nearly 100% Christian. Pastors from Egypt were some of Christianity's strongest leaders. Men like Clement, Origen and Cyril, Augustine and Cyprian. The Coptic Christians believe in the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Jesus Christ. They confess the Nicene Creed and accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. These are the people under attack in modern Egypt. Please pray for them and speak up for them. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria have a different, although similar, story. There are three distinct regions of Syria which all became Christian at the earliest of times under the teaching of different apostles.

Edessa, Syria became Christian at such an early stage, many consider it to be the home of one of the wise men who visited the baby Jesus. Later, the Apostle Thomas seems to have staged his missionary journey to India from this Christian community. Today, these are known as the "Thomas Christians."

Damascus had a Christian community in it already before St. Paul became an apostle. It was in Damascus that Paul was baptized by Pastor Ananias (Acts 9).

Antioch was the first Church in Christendom that was made up predominantly of non-Jewish Christians. St. Paul counted this Church as home base for his missionary journeys (Acts 11:26). St. Ignatius, one of our earliest martyrs (110 A.D.) was the pastor of Antioch.

These are the real people on the ground, living as a tiny minority among their Muslim countrymen. They have been confessing the Nicene Creed and living the Christian life for nearly two thousand years. They have gone from minority status (1st century) to majority status (6th century) and back to minority status (8th century to the present). Still God has preserved the true worship of His name in these locations.

As you pray for them, do not only weep for them but rejoice in them. For through their quiet faithfulness, and through their patient steadfastness in the face of overwhelming opposition, we can be inspired to imitate their faith in our own place and time. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Crosstalk: Naturally Speaking

There are times when I think that the world must be going crazy. Today was one of those times. I was reading about the conference in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. It was a gathering of humanitarian organizations and philanthropists on how to reduce human suffering around the world. One of the presenters told his gathered audience, “pregnancy is not natural.” Think about that sentence for a minute. “Pregnancy is not natural.”

If natural may be defined as that which is a common experience, I can’t think of anything that is more natural than pregnancy. After all, without a doubt each and every one of you exist because of a pregnancy — namely, your mother’s! More than that, if all pregnancy would suddenly stop today, this world would be emptied of all people–not to mention almost all animal life–within a hundred years. “Pregnancy is not natural?”

Not only is this sentence nonsensical from a practical standpoint, it is even sillier from the standpoint of language. “Natural,” after all, comes from the Latin word, “natus,” meaning “to be born.” The very definition of “natural” has to do with the bearing of children. In fact, it is from this same Latin word that we have dozens of other words having to do with birth. Pre-natal means before birth. Your nativity is your birthday. Your nationality is the place of your birth. Innate qualities are those qualities you are born with. “Pregnancy is not natural?” You might as well say that light is not enlightening!

The frightening thing is that Mr. Kissling was able to speak such utter nonsense without being laughed off the stage. What kind of world do we live in? How did we get to the place that somebody could even think such orwellian nonsense? More alarming still, is the fact that he said it in a conference to eliminate human suffering.

Then again, I suppose there is some logic at work here. What better way to eliminate human suffering than to eliminate humans? What kind of world do we live in? The kind where the highest priority for secular humanitarians is to reduce the number of human beings. That is a sad fact, but it is a fact. That is the best that secular human aid can do.

Seeing this dead-end fact provides a strong incentive to look for a better solution. If secular humanitarians can do no better than this, let’s have another look at what divine humanitarianism has to offer. What does God do to eliminate human suffering?

First off, God became a human being. We confess, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.” God came as a pregnancy into the womb of the Virgin Mary. Nine months later, God was born into the world on the first Christmas–the Holy Nativity. By this simple and profound act, God did not give up humanity as a hopeless cause. Rather, He renewed our hope and redeemed the entire human experience.

By becoming a man, Jesus shows us that humanity is not forever doomed to be separated from its Creator. In fact, He shows that your human body has the capacity to be the temple of God Himself by faith in Jesus Christ. He returns us to our true nature. There’s that word, “natus” again! Our true nature is what we are intended to be by birth. By your very birth, you were created to have faith—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here is the answer to human suffering.

Human suffering is not eliminated by eliminating humans but by returning to true humanity. This humanity is described in the Bible as the image of God. It “loves the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). What could be more natural?

To be sure, the devil is trying hard to wipe out this true humanity. No wonder that secular humanitarianism has this as its goal! But now the mask is off. You see Satan’s work for what it is. All the confusing and nonsensical language of the world is exposed in a brilliant flash of clarity. Satan kills. Only the Lord gives life. And this Life is embodied in Jesus Christ, God-made-man.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Read what you've been missing



Reserved seating for the media at the Kermit Gosnell murder trial.
The seats have gone unused at the trial of the century.

Mollie Ziegler, the daughter of our own past pastor, Larry Ziegler, writes a well-known blog on the way the media reports on religious issues. Her recent posts on the Kermit Gosnell trial are a good introduction to some of the issues. Read it here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Saturday

O Christ, to keep the Sabbath day
Your body in the tomb is laid.
One Sabbath day remains for rest:
Great Sabbath day, the last, the best!

Your work is finished, as You said;
Now to Your rest, Your body dead.
The perfect rest, none more complete;
Your heart has even stopped its beat!

God rested once. God rests again.
You are that God! Amen, amen!
Your day of rest will soon be past;
Then up from death, O First and Last!

In light of Easter, shadows flee;
O Christ alone, our Sabbath be!
Rest for our souls, not for a day;
O Christ, You take our sins away!

O Christ, You are the Father’s Son,
The Son with Father, Spirit, one.
To You, O holy Trinity,
All praise for all eternity!

Text: Matthew Richardt; Tune: Bonnie Rex

Holy Saturday marks the time when Jesus is resting in the tomb. Beginning with His burial on Friday at sunset and ending on Saturday at sunset. Since we do not have a service scheduled for this occasion, members and friends are encouraged to sing or read aloud the above hymn during this time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It

Abstract

Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. By encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role. The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.

Full Article, by Ryan T. Anderson

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CrossTalk: Champions

The biblical account of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) is more than an ancient underdog drama. The man-on-man fight between a 10 foot tall giant and the kid with a slingshot was, in fact, a battle of nations. Israel and Philistia (ancient Palestine) were at war. Large armies were lined up on both sides of the valley. They were prepared for a large-scale, bloody battle. Against this backdrop, Goliath made an offer. "Let's cut down on the carnage. Let's boil this whole thing down to one man from each army." The battle between David and Goliath was a battle between champions.

A champion is someone who takes up your cause. He is someone who fights for you -- on your behalf. This is the most important feature of the story. It reminds us of the bigger story throughout the whole Bible -- the story of Jesus. He is our champion. He takes up the cause of the whole human race. One Man does battle for us all.

A second feature of the story of David and Goliath is the appearance of each warrior. Goliath is huge, unnaturally huge! David is small, too young to be in the army, too small to do anything but watch the sheep and be a go-for. By this massive difference in size, God reveals to us how He always works. The appearance of strength does not translate to the certainty of victory. Nor does might mean right. Appearances deceive. When you look around the world and wonder were God is at work, you will usually find Him at the point where the enemies of God look hopelessly overpowering. God will be at work in the smallest, weakest and most insignificant.

Think of Jesus on the cross and you will get what I mean. Jesus was one, unarmed, unimportant Man. He was standing against the whole leadership of the Jewish religion and the entire strength of the Roman occupation. Jesus is David. Satan is Goliath. The odds against Him are off the charts. But here is where He accomplished the greatest victory as the Champion of the human race.

When you look around your world and see all the power and influence on the side of Satan's interests, do not despair. Do not second guess God's Word. Do not become frantic and seek for some compromise. Remember that this is always the way God enters into the battle. Trust Him. Pray for your Champion to win the victory for you. Then, calmly do whatever God has given you to do.

David refused the use of Saul's battle equipment (1 Samuel 17:38-39). Instead, He chose five smooth stones from the brook. For God does not fight with conventional weapons of war. Satan is not overcome by the strength of arms, or by the power of the will. David said to Goliath, “You come at me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts” (v. 45). Jesus did not win by the wounds that He inflicted on His enemies. He won by the five wounds that they inflicted on Him.

David did not win the battle against Goliath. The Lord of hosts won that battle. Little David came to Goliath in the name of the Lord. The Lord did all the heavy lifting. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). For Christ, alone, is your champion in the fight with Satan.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living Lent

Whether or not you have been following the recent events in our Synod - events which made the national news - you will be heartened and encouraged by this video.

This is what Lent is all about. Jesus leads us to Jerusalem with its self-denial and humility in order that we might be raised to new life together with Him. I pray for you the same humble joy that President Harrison exhibits here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

He Remembers the Barren

The highlight of my week in Fort Wayne was meeting Katie Schuermann, the recipient of this year's Sabre of Boldness award.
She is the first woman and first layperson to ever win the award. Here is the reason she was nominated: Mrs. Schuermann is author of the book He Remembers the Barren, and had spoken to groups of women burdened like her with the affliction of barrenness. In the course of these meetings she soon found herself hearing from women who had turned to in vitro fertilization as a last resort to ease their pain. In spite of the sensitive nature of the matter, she felt constrained to tell the truth in love about the unacceptability of in vitro fertilization. For us who know that life begins at conception, there is really no ethical alternative than to reject in vitro fertilization, in whose process fertilized embryos are always discarded. For her to have the courage to say so in such circumstances, and to speak up for life, for which she has endured much grief and rejection, is commendable.
In addition to a book, Katie also maintains a blog by the same name. He Remembers the Barren.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CrossTalk: And A Happy New Year

“Happy New Year!” A week ago today we were greeting each other with this age old salutation. Did you ever wonder why? Why not “Merry New Year”? or “Solemn New Year”? or some other kind of New Year? Sure, nothing else has quite the right ring to it. But I think it goes deeper than that.

Think about the word “happy.” We all use it and know it as a good thing — a happy thing. But what exactly does it mean? Where does it come from?

It comes from an 800 year old English word “hap” which means a person’s luck, fortune or fate. From this word we get: haply, hapless, haphazzard, happen, happening, happenstance, happily, happiness and happy.

Given this background, it would seem that the word “happy” is a hold-over from some godless age. But wait, before you vow never to use it again, notice what happened when the Bible began to be translated into English. Instead of rejecting this word, the Christians knew that everything which happens, happens by God’s will. Even better, everything that God does is good.

It is for this reason that this entire word group took on a more ‘happy’ tone. No longer does it mean just blind luck, or fickle fate. Instead, it means good events, good things, and blessings. So Jesus says, “If you know these things, happy are ye if you do them” (John 13:17). And Job says, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth” (Job 5:17).

This brings us back to “Happy New Year!” When you say these words, you are wishing God’s blessings and joy to come in the next year. That’s what we want. It what you wish for those you love and what you hope for your own life.

Now that we’ve looked at the word “happy” we also have a much better idea of how happiness happens. Happiness is a result of God’s doing His will in our lives. Because everything that God does is good. That’s true even when He is correcting me through difficulties (remember Job 5:17 above).

When you are living according to Jesus words, you are guaranteed to have a happy new year. For “happy are you if you do them” (John 13:17). When you are praying for God’s will to be done, you are guaranteeing your happiness. Jesus says, “whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you” (John 16:23). These promises are absolute!

What could possibly make you happier? As you go forward into this new year, this is your certainty in the face of doubts. This is your confidence in the face of fears. This is your joy in the face of sorrow.

Your happiness does not depend on what things happen or don’t happen in your life. Rather, your happiness rests on the certainty that what happens in your life comes from God. With God’s Word in your ears and God’s will in your prayers, you can look forward to the very happiest of New Years.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Exceeding the Speed of Thought

In his clear and engaging review of the latest book advocating a new morality, Matthew J. Franck makes two necessary observations.

1. Unlike any other issue of social justice in the history of America (or the world) same-sex marriage has absolutely no history. No one ever -- Christian, pagan, homosexual or straight -- thought that homosexuals having the right to marry is a matter of social justice.

2. With the advocacy of same-sex marriage, it is less about respect and kindness toward homosexual behavior than it is about redefing the purpose of marriage. Instead of marriage existing for the sake of the children, every advocate of same-sex marriage contends that marriage is for the financial and social benefit of those who are married.

Read the full article here: Same-Sex Marriage and Social Change: Exceeding the Speed of Thought