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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

CrossTalk: True Freedom

Freedom of religion means not only freedom to worship, it also means freedom to pray whenever, wherever and however you will. It means freedom to speak of your creator openly and without fear that you will be degraded in the classroom or disqualified from public service. It means freedom to operate your business according to God’s standards without the threat of fines or of being fired (as the Supreme Court recently ruled and the Congress of the United States overwhelmingly passed in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act). This is the first of the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights. Our founders knew that it is foundational for the very existence of a free society.

When God first breathed His life into mankind, He created us to have a share in His own free existence. God, who is compelled by nothing and no-one, is utterly free. In this freedom He chose to love us by sharing His own freedom with all of humankind. This makes us human–different from the animals. For this reason the Constitution of the United States stipulates: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It was not always so. Those who wrote these words were the grateful inheritors of an idea that was introduced into the world through Christianity. Before Christ, religion was the realm of the government. Citizens were forced to worship according to the cult of the city or country in which they lived. To be Egyptian meant to worship Horace, Isis and the rest. To be Greek meant to worship the gods and godesses of the Pantheon. To be Phoenecian meant to worship Molech with child sacrifice.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth changed all that. He broke the tyranny of Satan by His very presence in the world. As Christ’s Word spread throughout the ancient world, it turned the relationship between government and religion topsy-turvey. For the first time in the world’s existence, religion was not defined by those in power. Rather, all power and authority was defined and would be judged by the one true God – Jesus Christ. This means that every human being, no matter how powerful or how marginalized, stands equally under the same Lord and God. For people and nations who understand this, tyranny is restrained and laws intend to measure up to a standard of justice which is not merely human, but divine.

On the other hand, where this idea is lost, power reverts to a law unto itself and laws are passed to expand that power to make the power-holders into gods. That’s why it is so troubling for me to see Christianity marginalized in the name of “freedom from religion.” I am not troubled just for myself or my religious group. I am troubled because I can see far enough ahead to know that such a mindset diminishes freedom for all people. The loss of Christian foundations will inevitably lead back to the enslavement of all people. Consider what happened to freedom in the former Soviet Union or in present day North Korea where all faith is suppressed. Freedom FROM religion never freed anybody.

We are witnessing a great struggle in America today to come to terms with the relationship between freedom, power, and faith. Whether you are a Christian or not, your attitude and your understanding of these things matters. We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that calls for our nation to be governed by these lessons. But daily we are being reminded that unless we remain constantly watchful over our elected representatives, executors and judges, these lessons and these freedoms can and will be lost.

Christians who wish to uphold these great, human freedoms need not be shrill or frantic. You can be a strong witness to freedom merely by steadfastly exercising them in your own life. If you want to keep the freedom to worship, then don’t just talk about it! Worship freely and worship often! If you want to keep the freedom to speak God’s Word to your neighbor, then speak it today! Don’t be pressured into silence either by social stigmas or legal fears. If you want people to see the benefit of a nation “under God,” then place all your own actions and words and will under God yourself. In this way, learn for yourself the truth of Jesus’ words, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). This is the freedom that changed the entire world.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Persecution in the Ball Diamond

Sam is in high school. He’s one of the good guys, a well-liked athlete who loves the outdoors, good books and being Lutheran.

He also leads the team of acolytes at his church, training the other young men and setting an example for what reverence and piety look like in the Divine Service.
He’s in church. He’s in Bible class. He is what it means to be Lutheran.
And because he is Lutheran, and because church matters to him, because he actually believes that Jesus is there for him in real time, flesh and blood on Sunday morning, he sets school and sports and friends aside to be there.
He knows everything else pales in comparison to what his Savior has to give him.
And because he is Lutheran, and because he longs to be where God has promised to be, he made a hard choice that turned out to be not so hard at all. 
He told his coach during Holy Week that he wouldn’t be able to attend all the scheduled baseball practices, that he would have to leave early to make it to all the services.
And his coach, who really ought to have patted Sam on the back and told him what a wise choice he had made, instead warned him, “Sam, we all have to make decisions in life. We have to decide what our priorities are.”
That is to say, “Sam, church doesn’t matter. Baseball does.”
And yet how did our young LCMS hero respond?
“I know our decisions matter . . . and that is why I’m going to church.”
This is just the beginning of an excellent article by Adrianne Heins. Read the rest of it HERE.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

CrossTalk: Resurrection Realities

Now that the Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs have been put away, the stores are already redecorated for the next holiday. But some of us are not so ready to move on. After all, the first Easter was not over after a single day.

It’s true that Easter Sunday was huge! Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:14-17; Mark 16:9). There, He also showed Himself to several other women (Matthew 28:9-10). Later that same day, Jesus appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34). In the late afternoon, He spent some hours walking and talking with Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12). That evening He appeared again to Peter and to the women and to Cleopas and his friend -- together with a whole roomful of disciples at once. There He talked with them, ate with them, and generally rubbed shoulders with them (Luke 24:36-49; Mark 16:14; John 20:19-23). But that doesn't end the story!

On the following day Jesus was still alive. His followers didn’t pack up the decorated eggs and start looking forward to Mothers’ Day. On the contrary, they continued to see dead men walking! It wasn’t the Zombie Apocalypse. These were saints, holy people of God, who came back to life at the earth-shattering moment of Jesus’ death. These people left the graveyard and entered into Jerusalem to walk and talk and be seen by many different people (see Matthew 27:52-53).

Nor did Jesus stop His Easter activities on the day after Easter. A week later, He appeared again to the disciples gathered in the upper room. But this time, Thomas was there, too (John 20:26-29). About a week after that, Jesus appeared to Peter, James, John, Thomas, Nathanael and to other apostles who had left Jerusalem and were fishing on the sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14). In fact, Jesus kept appearing to various and sundry people for almost six weeks after Easter until He withdrew His visibility on the day of Ascension. “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:13).

Paul sums up the list of Jesus’ appearances like this, “He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." Notice the phrase, "most of whom are still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). Paul wrote these words in 56 AD only about 25 years after Easter. So recently that most of the 500 people who saw Jesus during the 40 days after Easter were still around to tell and retell their stories, to fill in details and to answer questions. Think back to something important that happened to you in 1989 and you will have an idea how vivid and reliable their memories were.

I rehearse all these details for three reasons. First, I thought you might appreciate knowing how many eyewitnesses there were to the resurrection. Your confidence should grow knowing that they were cross-examined and checked out by so many people, for so many years. The trustworthiness of the Bible is also strengthened when you know that it was written during the life-times of thousands and thousands of people who saw and heard the events themselves. Knowing all this, you will either be strengthened in what you already believe or you will need to re-examine why you don’t believe it.

Second, the extended time of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection, can help you understand why the Christian Church doesn’t celebrate Easter on one day only. We keep the Easter celebration going for seven full weeks! Even then, Easter is never really ever “over.”

Still, we are living in a world where Jesus is arisen. This is the third point. The resurrection is not merely ancient history. It is a present reality. The passage of time has not tarnished the brightness of the resurrection in the least. We may get distracted from thinking about it. But the energy and joy of Easter is still every bit as fresh as it was on that first Easter two millennia ago. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still risen from the dead. Satan has still been conquered. The risen body and blood of the Risen Lord is still available for you.

For this reason, your life today can and should be lived as though Christ died yesterday, arose this morning, and will come again tomorrow. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

CrossTalk: Love Your Enemies

Last night at the Lange house we sat down to watch Macbeth, the classic play by Shakespeare. No wonder it is a classic! In a couple of hours, Shakespeare is able to engage you in thinking about some of the most profound issues of life. The major issue comes early in the play and sets the stage for all that follows.

Good king, Duncan, rewards Macbeth as a loyal subject and a favorite general. He promotes Macbeth to a high position, and loves and trusts him in every way possible. But when the king came to visit him in his castle, Macbeth murders him. What?!

“That makes no sense!” you say.  And you are right. It is just plain inhuman, unnatural, even demonic, to act in such an evil way against someone who had done nothing but good to you. It violates the most basic instinct of every man. This is morality at its core. You don't need to be taught it, it is written into the very fiber of your being. In fact, not only does anyone with the slightest humanity know this but they rather, instinctively love and cherish anyone who is kind and loving.

This is such a basic truth that Jesus talks about it in His very first sermon. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46). Jesus points to the most unscrupulous kinds of people and shows that even they love those who love them. These are such obvious morals that they are hardly worth mentioning.

You might think that Jesus is driving towards the point that we should reach out in love to the highways and byways, beyond our little circle of friends--even the smallest and most unnoticeable. He certainly makes this point elsewhere (see Matthew 22 and Luke 14). But Jesus doesn’t say anything about that here. He is making an even bigger point.

He says, "“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45) Loving family, friends, and even strangers is just plain common sense. But Jesus brings us totally out of the realm of common sense. He would have you love your enemy -- the one who is out to do you harm.

By “love” Jesus doesn't merely mean to tolerate or to co-exist. To love is to reach out -- to go out of your way and actually do good things for your enemy. It means to value the one trying to harm you as much and even more than you value your own life. This, Jesus says, is what true sons of the Father will do. Always. Every time. Without fail. That is the Christian life; because that's Christ's life.

Jesus is truly a man. In fact, Jesus is the only true man. He shows precisely by loving us, his enemies. St. Paul summarized this point by writing, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8-9)

So, when Jesus tells you to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, don’t reject his command as unrealistic and superhuman. Rather rejoice that He is both real and truly human, and that He does it for you.