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Friday, October 30, 2015

CrossTalk: Kindness As Spiritual Warfare

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does  not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

It's hard to miss the ever-increasing level of rancor and hostility in our world today. The internet seethes with it, and cable news shows have turned it into big money. It bothers me. A lot. And it probably bothers you.

There are several obvious culprits. Cable television has fragmented and polarized the news-reporting business. Social media and internet blogs have made it possible to isolate ourselves into ideological echo-chambers where we hear only what we want. The internet, in general, has so swamped us with information that we rely on our favorite spin-meister rather than weigh the facts for ourselves. On top of all this, "conversations" carried on by keyboard and backlit screens make it easy to forget the humanity of the person on the other end. We yell at the screen and type words that we  would never, ever, say if we were speaking face-to-face.

We could go on forever about all these explanations, but that would miss the bigger picture. It sees only the temptations; but  fails to recognize the Tempter. "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians  6:12). The ghosts and goblins running around on Halloween are not real. But Satan's presence in our everyday conversations is very real.

Satan is less interested in the position you fight for than in the fact that you're fighting. He loses when you are willing to die for something; but he wins when you are willing to kill for it. The anger and the rancor that swirls all around you -- and oftentimes pulls you in -- is not just a by-product of disagreements. It is Satan's primary intention.

Satan is all about tearing apart relationships. He wants to turn children against parents, husbands against wives, voters against elected officials, workers against employers, citizens against police, brother against brother and, most of all, creatures against their Creator.

The apostle Paul saw this clearly. So he teaches, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32). This is not merely about ettiquette. This is spiritual warfare.

When we resist the spirit of the world, when we refuse to become angry with those who oppose us, we are standing with Christ against Satan. This does not mean that we simply surrender the field and let the blasphemies of Satan go unopposed. But it does mean that we speak the truth in love. It means that we defend Christ, and not ourselves. It means that we live in peace -- even when the world rages against us.

There are worse things than losing an argument. Losing your humanity is the real danger. What is worse than being insulted? Insulting. What is worse than being deceived? Deceiving. What is worse than dying? Murdering.

So take a break from social media. Turn off the cable news show. Seek out those who disagree with you and have a face-to-face conversation over a glass of lemonade. Nobody has ever been won over by an internet meme. Nasty emails do not create unity or foster love.

When anger is directed at you, remember who the real enemy is: not your neighbor who is angry, but Satan who angers him and wants to anger you. Always remember that we do not battle flesh and blood but principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age.

Most of all, take comfort in the fact that real battle has already been won. Jesus rose from the dead to defeat Satan. You are not responsible to save the world. Jesus does that for you. You are only given to live in that victory by forgiving others as God in Christ forgives you. You are blessed to be tenderhearted toward those who oppose you, just as the Father tenderly gave His only-begotten Son to a world that opposes Him.

The Son of God has absorbed the wrath of the world. There is no more need to respond in wrath. Jesus lives and reigns to all eternity. He is still in charge. His Word will not and cannot lose. But His victories are hidden and unnoticed. They happen one heart at a time. They happen every time the peace of Christ rules in the hearts of those who trust in Him.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

CrossTalk: Keep Calm and Marry On

Since last Friday (6/26/15), one topic has dominated every front page, every news site, every talk show, and many private conversations. The topic is marriage. What is it? And what happens next? What does it mean that the Supreme Court mandated a new definition of marriage for every state in the Union? What was the original definition in the first place? Let’s start there.

The marriage of a man to a woman is about children. There are a thousand different ways of loving somebody. Love can be as mild as sending a card or as powerful as dying for a friend. But only one loving activity has the potential to conceive another human being, and that is the marriage union. Once a new human being begins growing in his mother’s womb, our love obligates us to care for the child in the best way possible. That is marriage.

Mothers are always present at the birth of a child. Fathers should be as well. Marriage is the institution ordained by God to keep fathers and mothers together with their children. As long as the father and the mother remain together, there may be more children or fewer children, but all of them are blessed to have their own father and their own mother with them in the same home. Should a mother have more children with a different father, or a father have more children with a different mother, this blessing is compromised. Parents have to bounce between two or more homes, and the children feel the effects.

Since every child has the right to live with his or her own father and mother, governments that care for the rights of children have a vested interest in promoting marriage both by law and by incentives. All of these laws and incentives are aimed at encouraging the two people who conceived the child to stay together comprehensively, exclusively, and for life.

The Supreme Court did not uphold this definition of marriage. Instead, they created a new one. The new definition of marriage does not involve children. It is first and foremost about the desires of adults. Yes, laws about the raising of children will have to be updated in order to accommodate this new definition of marriage, but this is an afterthought and not the starting point.

So what does this mean? What is a Christian to do? There is much social pressure to conform your definition of marriage to the Supreme Court’s new definition. The Church has even been put on notice by the Solicitor General himself that we may face stiff fines and penalties if we don’t change our message to parrot the government’s position.

Keep calm and marry on. Marriage has not changed in the least. Your marriage is still about taking care of your children. Your parent’s marriage is still about taking care of you. Jesus Christ is still the author of such marriages and Jesus promises to help you in this beautiful and noble work.

The thunder from Washington, D.C. has not changed marriage. It has only withdrawn the government’s support of it. But this now gives us an opportunity to think about and talk about some things that we have taken for granted for a long time. So let’s talk. No matter whether you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court ruling. No matter whether you agree or disagree with your brother, or cousin, or neighbor. It is time to engage in thoughtful conversation.

Christ’s Church is with you. We will continue to speak about marriage as God instituted it at the beginning. We are here to support your marriage for your children’s sake. We are here to support your parent’s marriage for your sake. We are here to help those who have been hurt in marriage. The Church exists because we love all people. And this love impels us to so speak and act.

And how does Jesus support you? By dying and living again to forgive your sins. Jesus forgives sins. He doesn’t just wish them away or deny that they are sins. Jesus forgives sins of all kinds, also sexual sins of all kinds. True love means true forgiveness. The True Lover is the True Forgiver. His love is comprehensive, and exclusive, and unwavering.

Because Jesus is the True Bridegroom He will never give up on you. After all the blood that He shed and the pain that He endured to win you, there is no social pressure or governmental penalty that could possibly change His mind now. So keep calm and marry on.

Pastor Jonathan Lange,

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

Jonathan Fisk -

It's kind of an important question. I mean, if the resurrection didn’t happen, what on earth are we Christians doing? It’s not like it’s gaining us any power or money or anything. But if the resurrection did happen, then why is it that so many people in the world don’t believe it?

The resurrection did happen, and I can tell you how you can be certain of it. More than that, I can do it without telling you that you have to believe it just because the Bible says so. That’s the key thing. A lot of non-Christians in our world think that Christians are just a bunch of willfully ignorant nincompoops who believe in some book that fell out of the sky. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are Christians because something happened in history unlike any other thing ever: A guy named Jesus was murdered, but refused to stay dead. It’s not a leap of faith. It’s an historic fact that is as easy to prove as any other bit of history, if you aren’t too close-minded to consider the evidence.

  1. Jesus was a real human. Even without the Bible, modern scholars have to admit that there was a Jewish man named Jesus who lived in the first century. Non-biblical writings like Flavius Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Jewish Talmud all mention Him as a real, historical figure.

  2. The real human Jesus died by crucifixion and was buried. In the same way, some of these extra-biblical texts mention that Jesus was killed. They don’t go into detail, but only an ignorant person who gets all their information from internet forums will try to tell you that the real Jesus didn’t die, and wasn’t even buried.

  3. This Jesus had real followers who took his death very hard. At this point, we have to start trusting the books of the Bible as eyewitness accounts. We don’t have to believe they are true. We just have to trust that they tell us what the people who wrote them actually thought. That’s what we do with every historical document about any piece of history, at least, until we find other history that tells us something different. So the guy who wrote John’s Gospel around 90 AD also claims he followed this real guy Jesus, and believed He was the Savior of the world before He was murdered, watched Him die, and then fell into despair.

  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later. Next, the followers of Jesus who despaired after His death also tell us that they stopped despairing because He appeared to them as risen. But not just to them. Extra-biblical sources from Roman historians tell us that after Jesus was killed, “a most mischievous superstition...again broke out.” Yet another document, traced to Jewish sources, tells of a gardener named Juda who stole Jesus’ body. When you put all of these pieces of history together, and combine it with the fact that Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection all started within walking distance of His tomb, there is only one reasonable historical answer: Somehow, some way, that tomb was empty.

  5. The disciples stopped despairing and started preaching, even though it meant their own deaths. Both biblical and extra-biblical documents tell us that Christianity came from the meeting together of these followers, in order to worship their leader “Christ” and listen to his teachings. Rather than give this up, the same disciples who once fled, willingly faced gruesome and painful deaths.

  6. Antagonists convert. James, Jesus’ brother by blood, and Saul, a man who made a business of killing Christians, were among these converts. More so, Saul’s own writings claim his reason for conversion was a face-to-face meeting with the risen Jesus.

  7. This is the event upon which Christianity is founded. Christianity is not direct proof that Jesus rose, but it is proof that people who knew Jesus personally before His death believed that He rose.

  8. Christianity was founded in Jerusalem. No one in the town where all this was happening could present the dead body so as to put a stop to it. Instead, the “stolen body theory” is preached even 
by the first skeptics.

  9. They worshiped on Sunday. These new Christians, a bunch of Jews (whose religion insists they worship on Saturday) start worshiping on Sunday, because Sunday is the day when they 
believe the resurrection happened.

  10. Do the math. The challenge for the non-Christian or the skeptic (which they are usually unwilling to take up) is to find an alternative historical explanation for where this Christianity came from which also fits all of these simple, documented facts. What could make orthodox Jews change their most sacred rituals, and go to the ends of the earth to tell others about it even though it only gets them killed? They say it was because they themselves saw this man risen from the dead. On top of this, the tomb was clearly empty and the man was nowhere to be found. So, what other explanation for all the facts can you come up with?
Over the last several hundred years the skeptics have tried. There’s the hallucination theory, and the swoon theory and that good ol’ stolen body theory. But none of those theories explain all of the above facts. You can’t steal a swooned body that gets up and walks away. Separate groups of people don’t experience the same hallucination. A Jesus who needed to be taken to the hospital would hardly have convinced terrified disciples to go out and die for him.
The simple reality is that there is only one explanation of the evidence that fits all the facts. It might be unbelievable, but it is anything but unreasonable. So put it in your pocket for the next time a skeptic attacks you with his claims that you are ignorant. Ask him how he explains what Tacitus says. Ask him why the Talmud called Jesus a sorcerer. Ask him to explain all the historical facts. Then, when he won’t (since he can’t), feel free to go right on believing the truth: that the resurrection did happen. Not only is it the best explanation for all of the real historical evidence, it also happens to be what the Bible says was God’s plan for the precise purpose of saving you.