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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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

CrossTalk: Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life

Watching your children at play can teach you volumes about the nature of the universe. Take Legos, for instance. My son can build and destroy, then build again all afternoon in perfect happiness. But when his brother comes into the room and destroys what he just built, immediately there is conflict and anger.

Parents called in to referee the dispute will say things like, “Who built this creation in the first place? What right did you have to destroy it if you didn’t build it? You must build it again, just exactly as it was before you destroyed it.” Sometimes that settles the matter. But sometimes the destroyer is unable to rebuild it. Then another remedy or punishment is necessary.

Here we see a fundamental truth at work: Nobody has the right to destroy someone else’s creation. This is especially true if the destroyer cannot possibly rebuild what he has destroyed. This is more than child’s play. It is instilled in every human being because every human being is created in the image of God.

Our sensibilities about fair play give us insight into God’s commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” God’s command against murder is not an arbitrary dictate. Far from it! It is based in the fact that God alone is the author and giver of life. Life comes from God and from nowhere else. Since God alone can make life, only God can give permission to destroy it.

We read of this in the very first chapter of the Bible. “God said, ’Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). Unless God had spoken these words, we would have had no right to eat salads, or bake bread. In fact, according to these words, human beings originally had no right to eat meat. It was only later, after the Flood, that God gave permission to kill and eat animals. “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). By these words, God blessed hunting, fishing and ranching.

But even as God was granting permission to kill and use every kind of life He had made, there is one form of life that remains off limits. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). Killing another human being is not permissible except as God’s own punishment upon the murderer. Why? Because “God made man in His own image,” and only God can do that.

What happens when this basic teaching is rejected? What happens when generations are taught that life is a result of random chance acting over billions and billions of years? What happens when the conception of children is treated as a mere mechanical result of men and women ‘breeding’? What happens when medical technicians convince themselves that they can create life in a lab, or preserve it forever?

Where these false ideas prevail, people act like gods. When people act like gods, they do not become more god-like; they become less human, and their own lives – life itself – is degraded.

Don't kid yourself into thinking otherwise. God is still the one and only author of life. To this day, nobody has ever observed or even explained the sponteneous generation of life. Even with cloning, in vitro fertilization, and various medical marvels, we are still light years away from doing anything more than manipulating lives that can only be created by God.

But because our culture has deluded itself into believing that life is in our power, a Frankenstein scenario is being played out before our very eyes. For the past several weeks we have been horrified to see Planned Parenthood working with a cabal of unethical profiteers. The smallest and most vulnerable human lives are being targeted for destruction in order that we might use their parts to build a brave new world. If you are unaware of this investigation, see it for yourself at: www.centerformedicalprogress.org.

We didn’t create these lives; and we couldn’t put them back together if our own lives depended on it! So where did God give us permission to destroy them? He never has; and He never will.

Knowing this, there is only one healthy response: repentance. It is time to step back and take stock. There can be no excuse for what is happening in Planned Parentood clinics and frankenstein-type labs around the country. And since there is no excuse, it must not be defended but defunded – not covered up, but exposed. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Eph 5:11-12).

Feelings of revulsion are appropriate. They are signs that we have not completely lost our humanity. But they must not cause us to turn a blind eye. These feelings ought, rather, to impel us to speak out and speak up for the weakest among us. Barbarity is not the price of progress. It is the mark of regress. Love does not respond with a shrug, but with tears. Tears of repentance are healing tears.

It is not too late. For the God who alone creates life has come also to restore life. What we could never repair or rebuild, He has. God’s own Son was conceived in the womb of the Virgin, and His body was given over to mutilation and death in order to restore you to true humanity.

Broken and bleeding bodies will see resurrection to life on the last day. Broken and bleeding souls already now are forgiven and restored by His own blood through the repentance of sins. Joy replaces tears of repentance.

Examine your thoughts and words and actions. Turn from every attempt to find life apart from Christ. Look to Christ alone as your life, and see your life restored.

God plans parenthood – whether it occurs in keeping with our own plans or not. And the God who plans parenthood does so because He delights in your life and He delights in restoring your life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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 28, 2015

CrossTalk: Remembering Persons

“Who, after all, today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” (Adolph Hitler)

I will. Will you?

I am writing these words on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. On April 24, 1915 the Ottoman Empire rounded up the community leaders in Constantinople and executed them. Thus began a reign of terror over the oldest Christian nation in the world. (Armenia had become Christian in 301 A.D. -- a full decade before Constantine came to power in the Roman Empire.)

Over the next eight years the Ottoman Turks worked to exterminate every Christian man, woman and child within their borders. After executing the Armenian leadership, their next order was to conscript all the males between the ages of 20 and 45 for military service thus removing most able-bodied men from their families. The women, children and elderly who were left were then rounded up and sent on death marches into the Syrian Desert. Most died of starvation and dehydration along the way. Those that made it to the last stop, Der Zor, found no refugee camp there. Instead, they were butchered by ax and sword. In all, approximately 1.5 million people were killed.

The world was reluctant to acknowledge these facts (and still is). This silence enabled Adolf Hitler, a mere 16 years later, to begin his own reign of terror with the words, “I have placed my death-head formations in readiness ... with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler knew that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. And repeat it we have.

The holocaust of the Jews was not the last genocide of the 20th century. While 6 million Jews were being killed in Germany, between 8 and 60 million more people were being killed by Soviet Communists. Then, Communist China killed uncounted millions more. Who can forget the killing fields of Cambodia, or the slaughter in North Korea which is still ongoing after 60 years? More recently Rwandan Hutus slaughtered 850,000 Tutsis between April 7 and July 8, 1994. Even now, we are seeing regular spectacles of mass beheadings and slaughters of Christians in the very same Syrian Desert where 1.5 million Armenians marched to their deaths.

Who can forget? We can, and we do. The numbers are simply too staggering. The methods are too gruesome. The justifications are too close to home. For, even though the whole world agrees that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent person, yet every one of these murders was justified by the rationale that not all human beings are persons.

Thanks be to God, that the Lord who created these human beings has not forgotten them. Nor has He consigned anyone to non-personhood. The Maker of human beings does not agree with the judgments of the world that some human life is unworthy of life. Rather, He stands in judgment against the world’s judgments. For God’s part, He seeks out and loves the weakest most vulnerable. Jesus demonstrates His strength and sovereignty not by destruction of the weakest and smallest, but by dying for the weak and the small. He does not finish off the helpless, but raises up the helpless.

For this reason He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He was made Man in order to rescue man. He came that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). In every place and in every heart that forgets this Truth, terror reigns. After all, once human beings can be stripped of their personhood, how could I ever be certain that my own life was worthy of life?

But Christ’s own death and Christ’s bodily resurrection is your own guarantee that you are worth dying for—not because of what you have done or not done, not because of your relative usefulness to society or even to God—but because of who you are. You are created by God in the Image of God Himself. You are one for whom Christ Jesus has given His own life.

If you are rebelling against God’s Word and God’s rule because you think it takes away your dignity, think again. If you think anyone worth less because they are rebelling against God, think again. Together let us listen to the Good Shepherd and learn to see our neighbor through the eyes of God. By this Word, you come to know the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

Jonathan Fisk - higherthings.org

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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

CrossTalk: The March of Life

On Thursday, January 22, I and a few friends walked down Constitution Avenue in our nation's capitol. It had a profound impact on me and I would like to share it with you.

The date for the walk is significant. We walked on January 22 because it was on that day in 1973 that the United States Supreme Court handed down the decision called Roe v. Wade. As a direct result of those men’s opinion, America has lost over 55 million people in the past 42 years.

The friends who joined me were about 500,000 people from every state in the union. Imagine gathering the entire population of the state of Wyoming into a few city blocks. That’s the March for Life.

We arrived about 11:30 and the crowd steadily thickened until the 1:00 start time. Speeches were coming from a huge stage, but we were too far back to hear them. When we tried to find a better place, we only succeeded in getting separated from our group. Twenty anxious minutes passed before we found them again.

There was a man pushing through the crowd and yelling out important-sounding things. But once close enough to hear, they were only curses and ugly insults hurled at us, the marchers. Saddened, we turned away. Those closer to him tried to talk calmly and reason with him. Some offered him words of comfort. Nobody tried to shout him down. Nobody reviled in return.

Once the March began it was more like a shuffle. Imagine a half-million people walking down twelve city blocks. It took us over 30 minutes just to get off the grass and onto the street. But we were moving. I was excited to get going, anticipating the destination.

There were many other groups, each one had a different pace--a different way of dressing. Some loud and singing, others were totally silent. Some individuals didn't come to march. They came to preach at the marchers. We ignored them. We had came to walk. One showed terrible and disturbing photographs. It subdued us. You could feel an intense wishing--not so much that they would stop, but that they weren’t real.

As time dragged on I became more anxious to arrive. I wanted to speed up, but there was little hope of that. Time passed slowly and progress was slower still. My phone rang and filled my thoughts with problems and challenges that I faced elsewhere. But on we marched.

In the end, it took us three full hours to walk 12 city blocks. When we finally reached our destination I looked around for a sign that we had arrived--a concluding speech, or a bell to ring, a vista for a picture--anything. But there was nothing of the sort. We milled around for a while and left for home in pairs or small knots.

This ending may sound disappointing. I admit that I was disappointed at the time. But on the plane ride home, I had a chance to reflect. The March for Life was a lot like life. We spend so much of our lives hastening on to the next thing, anxious to reach a goal. We are confronted with obstacles and annoyances along the way. Many times the people we are walking with begin to get on our nerves. We are forced to hear things and look at things that we would prefer not to. Sometimes this is facing up to the truth, but not always.

And when we get to the destination that we had anticipated for so long, there is no trumpet blast, no dazzling light. No one makes speeches and the orchestra does not play a finale. We just take it in for a moment and move on towards the next destination.

I will go back to the March for Life. My second time, though, will be different. I will be more patient for the destination to come. I will be less anxious about the time that is passing. I will be more appreciative of the people around me; and less annoyed by the myriad distractions. Because I have learned that the point of it all is in the walking. The point is in the participation; it is in the joy of loving people that you have never met and will never know. Loving people for love's sake. That’s the March for Life.

And while I am waiting for my next chance to go to Washington D. C., I will be applying all of these very same lessons to my daily walk here and now. Life is not about our destinations, or our goals. It is not about efficiency or productivity. It is about walking together; it’s about staying on the path that Jesus walked; it is about forgiving and loving and understanding and bearing with one another.

Not a bad lesson to begin with as we enter into the walk of Holy Lent.