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Surfeited, Sluggish and Lazy? Fourth Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.24

It’s here. Christmas Eve. And we find ourselves at the end of 1 Peter, where the Apostle gives a final exhortation:

Resist [the Devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:9-11)

Resisting temptation…it just never goes away, does it? C’mon…even on Christmas?!?!?

Here is Martin Luther’s commentary. He starts, interestingly enough, with the physical side of resisting temptation. “Sober you should be, and vigilant, but to the end that the body be kept in a proper frame. Yet with all this, the devil is not routed; this only suffices to afford the body less occasion to sin … if he can make you lazy, so that your body is unguarded and inclined to wantonness, then will he quickly wrench the sword from your grasp … if the body be surfeited, sluggish, and lazy, it is a certain sign that the soul before was drunken, that is, secure, weary and tired of the Word, and besides sleeps and snores.”

Unwrapped Christmas PresentsLuther makes me laugh…and cry at the same time! He nails me. During the holidays, I inevitably find myself sitting on the couch after eating an amazing meal, having had a couple of desserts, now nibbling on cookies, staring at a pile of un-needed gifts and used wrapping paper …you might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “surfeited, sluggish and lazy.” That’s what Christmas is all about, right?

Sleeping-after-Christmas-002But it’s not just Christmas…it’s holidays in general. The nation of Israel used to have holidays. They were all designed to celebrate and honor the mighty acts of God in the lives of His people (Passover, Feast of Booths, Hanukkah…). You gathered and worshiped as prescribed in the law, out of profound gratitude, for the pleasure of God. In the United States, some of our holidays had similar intentions – honoring the Revolution, memorializing and honoring veterans, honoring past leaders, even honoring the labor force. We celebrated something way bigger and more important than ourselves.

But any more, holidays are for self. They are days we are told we don’t have to work, and we can rather indulge ourselves on those days for our pleasure. Parties, sales, lots of alcohol, lot of, as Luther would say, “wantonness.” We’re the honorees…we wear the crowns.

george-cruikshank-swallow-at-christmas-satire-on-seasonal-gluttonySuch is the fate of Christmas, I’m afraid. I guess I shouldn’t expect a culture that struggles to honor anything to gather itself and honor a mostly-rejected spiritual leader’s birthday. I should expect people to celebrate, not Christ, but themselves. It’s really nothing personal, Jesus. It’s how we as a self-absorbed, carnal culture celebrate all holidays.

praying bibleBut, there will be some. I’m sure there are some every year. Some who will actually find joy in the word of God, even in the tough words of God, even on Christmas day. They’ll find it in themselves (through Spirit, prayer and Word) to remain a disciple, even on Jesus’ birthday. The joy of the Lord will trump the happiness of indulgence. And, with the Spirit unquenched, they will resist the Devil, and he will flee. They will enjoy the presence of the Lord on Christmas. To Him will be dominion, forever and ever … including even Christmas day.

Lord, forgive me. Might I be counted among the faithful this year. And throughout the upcoming 12 Days of Christmastide. And forevermore. Amen.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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Feeling the Need to (Ad)Vent: Fourth Tuesday of Advent – 14.12.23

“Only one more shopping day until Christmas.” I remember hearing that phrase as a kid – and needing to have it explained to me by my Mom. Even then, I thought it weird that the task of gift-buying was given such an up-front reference.

cb_13Maybe I was touchy about it because I grew up loving the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Since I I can remember, I have always considered Charlie Brown a kindred spirit, longing for the “true meaning of Christmas” in a world saturated in materialism. Toward the end of the show, Charlie Brown says in an aside, I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” That’s right, CB! You tell ‘em! Let’s rise above it all, and turn this holy-day into a Jesus-focused, worship filled season!

47075-Xmas-Presents-Under-The-TreeThen, I make the list of Christmas presents I need to buy, hike to the mall, and engage in the ridiculous ritual of purchasing gifts that people don’t need, with money that I don’t have. Why? I confess…it’s not because I simply want to give gifts. And there is virtually no genuinely spiritual motivation – like imitating the Magi, or celebrating the tradition of St. Nicholas. Nope…for the most part, I buy things because I’ve been convinced that if I don’t, then I’m a Scrooge. And I have to make sure I spend enough on them to match how important they are to me. Oh, and it needs to be a wonderful, creative gift, or else it’s all for naught anyway.

uncle_san_i_want_you_to_spend_a_lotDoes anyone else see that we have been manipulated to make these purchases by a media-infested, capitalistic, greedy culture that cares absolutely nothing about Jesus? Don’t you hear them speak about whether or not this is a “good” Christmas based on “consumer confidence” and “holiday sales”? And isn’t it astonishing that Christian after Christian follows this cultural paradigm like lemmings to the sea, even though it runs counter to the teaching of the Word of God on multiple points? God says bless the poor – we bless those we like who are in our network. God says daily bread, food and shelter, is enough – but we line our homes, garages and mini-storages with piles of stuff. God says share the gospel – we table to gospel to keep the friction of unbelief away from our cozy gatherings. It’s as though we collectively lose our spiritual minds.

pagan ritualIt makes sense to me that Christians should observe the holy days very differently. But I, like so many others, feel the pull of the commercial holiday so profoundly that it seems there is no escaping it. At least not without being called a Grinch.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Our enemy is clever…and when we see Him on the prowl, he must be resisted!

And here is Martin Luther’s commentary: “So are we now on earth, where the prince is an evil spirit and has the hearts of men in his power, doing with them what he will. It is a fearful thought if we properly consider it. Therefore Peter warns us to … know the state of things here! … If we then are fools and regard him not, but go on and take no heed, then he has as good as seized us … it is so sad for us that we go about so heedlessly.”

I think that’s it for tonight. Praying that I, and hopefully a community of others, have not be irretrievably seized, and will have the boldness to observe Advent and Christmastide in increasingly godly ways.

E     *     O

 

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Don’t Get All Religious On Me Again!… 4th Monday of Advent – 14.12.22

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14).

xmas vacIt’s the Monday before Christmas day. Family gatherings have begun to take place. For those of us who truly believe in the fullness of the Christ of Christmas, these gatherings can be awkward. The Word of God is clear: We should share the gospel of Christ. Especially on the day we celebrate His coming! But we know that we’re to share the gospel with those in our families who don’t believe. But we know that conversations like these can engender ill will, even hostility.

Enter Luther: “Should you not believe in and confess this name, then the world would love and esteem you, for there is no name hated more by the world than the name of Jesus Christ. Not that it cannot mention his name or hear it mentioned, yea, the worst and bitterest enemies of this name hear it and boast of it the most.”

Cultural Christians, religious unbelievers, are a mixed bag. Do you have these in your family? The ones who think it fine to speak of Jesus, almost authoritatively, and even to attend the occasional church service (especially around the holidays). But they are hostile to the Biblical call to wholeheartedly follow Christ.

ToleranceIn our society which battles relentlessly for political correctness and religious pluralism, it has become the cultural imperative that we not only let people believe whatever they want to, but we are obliged to honor their beliefs. “God, on my terms!” they argue…and who are we to counter their ideas?

Yet our ideas are countered, seemingly without hesitation. Atheists, agnostics, and the pseudo-religious types slander our gospel presentations, says Luther, “because we do not let this name be considered as an ordinary name…because we believe, preach, and confess that Jesus Christ…is the only Savior of the world, who saves from sin….and that only those who know him as such does he deliver from sin and death, and they only obtain grace and eternal salvation. This the people of the world cannot tolerate.”

So, we’re faced with it again: Do we risk putting a damper on the holiday by referencing the fullness of what the coming of Jesus demands of our lives? Or do we shelf the gospel for the sake of “peace on earth, good will toward men?”

cb and linusIn the spirit of Advent…would you share the gospel if you thought Jesus would be arriving for His second coming on Thursday? I would guess yes.

Knowing what you know now about the truth of the gospel, wouldn’t you want people to keep bringing it up if you weren’t a believer? I know I would.

Praying that all of us can be bold carriers of the gospel this holiday season … and that the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us, making our lives and words divinely fruitful!

E     *     O

 

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One Fruit Cake Too Many! Third Saturday of Advent – 14.12.20

personalized-christmas-cookies-500x262A brief offering for you today – in light of the growing pile of Christmas goodies on your kitchen counters.

(First, let me preface this with an apology to any over-sensitive Germans there might be out there. I’m just quoting Luther!)

Today, we hit upon this Advent-related verse from 1 Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.Now, when I think of being “sober”, I think about avoiding the effects of inebriation. Luther has a broader view….

schlaraffenland2“’To be sober’ means that we eat and drink only sufficient, so that the body may practice abstinence and perform its functions aright … On this subject there should be a great deal of preaching, for we Germans are about sinking in ruin under the shameful vice of overeating and overdrinking!”

I rarely connect my physical fitness with my spiritual life. But Luther does, and calls us all to temperance in our appetites – not so we’ll look good, feel good, or live longer, but that our prayer lives would be stronger! What do you think?

(And a brief word about 16th century Germans: I don’t know anything about your eating habits, but I must venture a calculated guess that you didn’t suffer the propensity to obesity that we collectively experience in 21st America, land of fast lifestyles and fast foods. If anything, we need to hear Luther’s thoughts more than the people of his day did!)

Again, in the irony that is the Advent-turned-commercial-Christmas season, what once was a time dedicated to heightened discipline has turned rather into a less-than-holy-day of license, even gluttony. Fitness clubs’ biggest month of the year is January, partly because everyone lets themselves go during the days around Christmas.

sfIf Luther is right … could our over-eating be a key reason why Jesus has slipped from being the reason for the season? Is there any chance that some of us might do the edifying, counter-cultural thing … that is, stay disciplined during this season, allow Christ and His Word to remain on the throne of our lives, and help make the holy-day genuinely holy?

By the way, our feast is coming on the 25th … and for 12 days after that! Hang on, everyone! And pray richly and deeply during these last few days of Advent as we prepare for the true celebration ahead.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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Cute Noah’s Ark? Third Friday of Advent – 14.12.19

noah's arkDoes anyone else connect Noah’s Ark with Christmas? I do…mostly because I remember giving a toy Noah’s Ark to our daughters for Christmas one year. And, each year that cute Noah’s Ark ornament finds its way to the family Christmas tree.

The fact that this portion of mankind’s history has become a sentimental children’s story is interesting. Somehow, lots of cuddly animals on a family boat trip, culminated by a rainbow … these tender images have pretty much trumped the specter of the global holocaust that was going on under the waters.

We have the tendency to do the same thing with the Second Coming of Christ. Do we long for it? Of course! But, in it’s tow will be devastation the likes of which the world has never seen. Personally, I don’t long for that.

Today’s text from 1 Peter references the flood.

“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Sinful men, the patience of God, the covenant between God and His elect established, the impending judgment, and the salvation of the remnant. These are descriptors for both the days of Noah and these “last days” before the return of Christ. The season of Advent drives us into this connection, and to acknowledge the gravity of our times.

Triptych-Left-Panel-Philipp-Melanchthon-Performs-A-Baptism-Assisted-By-Martin-Luther-Centre-Panel-The-Last-Supper-With-Luther-Amongst-The-Apostles-Right-Panel-Luther-Makes-His-Confession-Luthers-Sermon-BelowMartin Luther’s words help here: “As it happened when Noah was preparing the ark, so it takes place at present … As he had regard to himself and was saved in the ark which swam upon the waters, so must you also be saved in baptism… we sail in the ark, which means the Lord Christ, or the Christian church, or the Gospel that Christ preached, or the body of Christ to which we cling by faith, and are saved as Noah was in the ark … where there are now those who cling to Christ, there is surely a Christian church.”

Not to get way off on baptism here – but Jesus commanded us to go into the world and baptize. This ancient initiation rite, infused with divine efficacy and depth of meaning by Jesus and his disciples, is an indispensable part of God’s gospel plan. It has always been understood as the official “embarkation” onto the ark – which Luther equates to Jesus/the Church/the Gospel all in one!

There is, however, a striking difference between Noah’s ark and today’s church: God has called today’s “Noah” to go into the highways and byways, and seek passengers for the ark of salvation before the deluge begins! Each day God’s patience delays the second coming means salvation for many (2 Pet. 3:9). But the flood waters are coming. Our advent focus should heighten our urgency to share the evangel-invitation to the world, that they, too, may be baptized onto the passenger list.

So, when you see a cute little Noah’s Ark this holiday season, think a bit about the underwater reality of that story, and let it motivate you to prepare for His coming!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Advent 2014, Baptism

 

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See Those Lights? No? Third Thursday of Advent – 14.12.18

politicalI made the mistake yesterday of “getting into it” with someone in the comments section of a blog. I felt indignant that my ideas were being both misunderstood and belittled. By the end of the exchange, I had sinned on several fronts. Not only did I share poorly chosen words, but my spirit was flustered, and my conscience was stained. Overall, a bad exchange.

In my angst, I began doing some reading. I found an interesting article about the theory of motivated reasoning. In the article, the author breaks down reasons why, even when given considerable evidence, we can be very slow to change our minds because of our pre-existing beliefs. “All we can currently bank on,” says the author, “is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself? Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.”

Minds don’t change easily.  Which leads us to today’s text from 1 Peter, and Martin Luther’s commentary thereof.

“Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:14-16).

n278s Turning AwayWhat do you think, Martin Luther? “The method by which [for the sophists] it must be shown that the faith is a right one, must agree with reason and come from the brain. But our faith is above all reason, and it alone is the power of God. Therefore, if people will not believe, then be silent; for you are not responsible for compelling them to hold the Scriptures as the Word or Book of God. It is enough that you give your reason from the Scriptures. But if they take exceptions … when you hear people of this stamp, who are so blind and obtuse as to deny or doubt that this is God’s Word, then be silent, speak nor more with them, and let them go.”

If you are an unbeliever reading this blog, you probably feel terribly patronized by Luther right now – after all, we’re right, and you’re obtuse. I apologize for that rhetoric – sort of. But the Biblical truth states that … well, we are right (not because we’re brilliant, but because God by His grace has revealed truth to our hearts and minds), and you’re … well, just unable to see it. And we can’t make you able to see it. Only God can do that.

Christmas_Lights_021A holiday analogy for you. Say you had a blind friend. No, wait, let’s expand that – you live in a colony of people who are all blind. But you have undergone a surgery – one that has been available to everyone in your town. But most people don’t think that it’s really available, or that it really works. But you believed. And now, you can see.

Now, suppose you are taking a group of blind friends for a walk through your neighborhood. You were just like them a few days ago, but now you can see the Christmas lights! So you enthusiastically tell them what “light” is, and then tell them about “colors”, and describe all the “beautiful” homes to them. And, you remind them that they could be enjoying these sights, too.

How do they respond? They say there’s no such thing as the surgery, or light, or colors. You must be making it up. You’re either self-deluded, or insane. The fact that they can’t see them doesn’t mean that you don’t. But, clearly, no amount of arguing is going to change their minds. The only way they will change is if they have the surgery done.

Some will believe in the surgery because of your testimony. Some simply won’t believe, and will remain blind. As the scriptures say, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

I’m so thankful that I can see the lights. I do want others to see the lights. It seems, though, that the more I talk about the lights with some, the more hostile they become. It seems to make them angry, for some reason.

But I can’t be hostile back! Gentleness. Respect. Gracious silence. And mercy and compassion for them in their blindness. I will pray that their hearts will be moved – so they will truly long for and receive the vision that is freely given to those who believe. And, in the meantime, enjoy the lights, and be thankful!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Advent 2014, Evangelism

 

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Blessed to Bless: 3rd Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.17

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.27.04 AMI have the privilege of preaching tonight at our church for a Wednesday night Advent service. The text I was given is Isaiah 61, the beginning of which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It will be my honor to remind the church that the favor of the Lord continues to be dispensed through the church, which will remain the case until Jesus’ second advent, when He comes again to bring about the final redemption of all things.

This reality – that while we wait for the final consummation, we are actively blessing the world – lines up nicely with Martin Luther’s commentary on 1 Peter 3:9-10. First, the text from Peter (who also quotes King David):

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.”

im-not-arguing-im-just-explaining-why-im-rightprotestIn a world full of evil, we live righteously. In a world for of enflamed vitriol, we speak words of kindness and blessing. In a world full of fractious arguments and warfare, we serve as peacemakers. In a world full of indescribable evils, we seek good, lovely days.

We do this because we know and believe something that the world does not. We know that God is good, and that He is in control. Those who aren’t born again by the Spirit of God will not and cannot escape the bondage of sin. We should not expect people to behave well – exactly the opposite! So, how should we respond when people behave badly? Luther says it this way:

Preaching-347x280You have no reason to revile, but to bless. You have received a blessing from God, not only for yourselves, but also that you may be a blessing to those who are still held by the curse. In other words you are to pray for them that they also may also come to faith through your doctrine, patience and exemplary manner of living … you have more cause to pray for your enemies and to have compassion on them than to be angry with them, and the like.”

Luther soberly adds, “O Lord God! How few such Christians there are!”

This Advent, I hope we are all struck once again at the mission God has given us, which we must carry out faithfully until Christ returns. Our best preparation for His second advent is to be fully engaged in the blessings of the first.! “As the Father has sent me, so also I send you” says Jesus in John 20:21 … to proclaim the favor of the Lord on those who would believe! To bring healing to the broken, and compassion on those bound by the curse! Might the “peace on earth, good will toward men” that we all long for during this season pour out of the Church, draw people to Christ, and help prepare them for eternity, too!

Oh…and when we do this, we receive a blessing, too!

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Advent 2014

 

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