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1st Tuesday of Advent – 14.12.02

“For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

firstworldproblemsmilkandcookies-themdarmfirst_419d89_3174805As a 21st century American, I’ve got to admit that I have WAY fewer trials than most human beings have had through history. We kid in our family about our “first world problems” – lost remotes, slow internet connections, not enough foam on our lattes … in other words, not really “trials” at all. In fact, progress has made my life so simple and prosperous, I rarely experience a legitimate trial.

As a result, I don’t have much of a stomach for hardship. My heart should be full of gratitude, and the feeling that I don’t deserve all the blessings I have. Instead, I’m slow to say “thank you”, and quick to whine when things don’t go exactly my way. I’m spoiled rotten.

And this is a key reason why “hope” feels awkward and contrived to me at times. It’s hard to long for something more when you have so much. Layer upon this a holiday season where everything is pretty, tasty food is everywhere, everyone is on their best behavior … it’s hard to long for heaven when it seems like heaven materializes before us every December!

According to Peter, without trials, we’re missing something. He says that “trials…have come so that…your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor.” Good stuff comes out of trials. Important stuff. Needed stuff.

Luther's Ultimate TrialMartin Luther says this: “The very nature of the Christian life is that it constantly increases and becomes holier and purer.” Really? If that’s true, how does this increase happen? Luther describes one critical way: “God throws us into the midst of the fire of opposition, suffering, and tribulation, so that we may become more and more purified until we die … as a result, from day to day we become more assured of our calling, we grow in the understanding of the divine wisdom and knowledge, and the Scriptures become ever easier and clearer … we need such a fire and cross as this daily … to this we cannot attain by any works of our own.” *

flagellatorHmmm … if I experienced more trials, my faith would be stronger. My witness would be bolder. My life would be praiseworthy, for the Lord’s sake. And, my longing for Christ’s return and the inauguration of the heavenly Kingdom would come alive. It sounds like the bi-products of trials are desirable!

But…what do I do? I just don’t have many trials. And Luther warns against the monastic approach of self-initiated trials (e.g., disciplines of “mortification”): “It is not God’s pleasure that we should select our own works, but wait for whatever God imposes upon us and ordains for us.” But, it seems God just isn’t imposing any trials on me…

Or is he?

  • Has he charged me to share the gospel more boldly in situations that might result in conflict?
  • Has he charged me to be more selfless in my relationships?
  • Has he charged me to embrace and love the unlovely?
  • Has he charged me to be more generous, giving up my prosperity for the sake of others?
  • Has he charged me to fast?
  • Has he charged me to labor in Bible study and prayer?

The sad truth is this: I don’t have trials because I don’t obey. To obey the Lord is to be ushered into divinely appointed, beneficial trials … and if I continue to avoid them to protect my own comforts, my faith will be anemic, my flesh will take charge, and my hope will wither.

Knowing that simple obedience will bring trials … do I dare walk in obedience this Advent season?

E     *     O

* For you lovers of history out there — Luther spins the Reformation itself as a God-given trial: “Had not the devil here of late years both with force and cunning attacked us so strongly, we would never have come to this certainty in our doctrine; neither would the articles of faith on the righteousness of the Christian and the doctrine of faith be developed as fully as they are.”

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Advent 2014

 

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1st Sunday of Advent – 14.11.30

To the elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:2).

aug(I’m not going to get into pre-destination here*. Rather than how we are elected, I’m gripped instead by what we are elected for.)

According to Peter’s opening salutation, we are chosen by God to be “sanctified” by the Spirit – literally, “made holy”, or set aside for God’s special purpose. He then says this purpose is obedience to Christ. Easy enough, right?

LutherBut, Luther says (and this jibes with my personal experience) that “it is hard for human nature, hostile to it and exceedingly humiliating, to submit to Christ, give up all its own possessions, and account them contemptible and sinful. But yet it must be brought into subjection.”

This is our holiday-season dilemma. Our human nature wants nothing to do with holiness. Our flesh loves any chance it can get to feed itself with reckless abandon. “Just one more cookie, it’s Christmas!” “Ahh, just buy it – we can pay that off in child-grabbing-cookieJanuary.” The underlying credo behind the season: It’s not the season of disciplined living – it’s the season of unbridled fun!

That dichotomy should make NO sense to the Christian, who truly and genuinely believes that God’s will and ways bring the greatest joy and blessing. Why would we ever put our discipleship on the shelf? Especially during a season that has Christ’s name on it, and is supposedly set aside for His honor and worship?

If the truth be told, I think it’s because many people don’t believe Jesus and His Word. We say we do, but, well, we really don’t. We want to believe so we get eternal life when it’s all over, yes. But, really, we think the descriptions of godly, Spirit-filled living in the pages of the New Testament are have-tos, not get-tos. Deep down, many of us wish wecross carrier could have our salvation cake, and eat all the sins we want, too.

The advent season reminds me of this sobering reality: God says to live one way, but there’s something in me that wants to table that lifestyle, and instead indulge in the world. The classical Advent season, which had been a corporate call to “let every heart prepare Him room”, has now been deconstructed and reassembled into a December-long commercial-bonanza/flesh-feeding-frenzy. Do I go along for the ride? Or do I stand up against the cultural tide, and insist on living differently?

The season becomes a test of what I really believe: If God’s way truly is the best, why would I stray from it, even for a moment?

E     *     O

* As Luther says, “Be not so bold as to try to explore the depths of the divine foreknowledge with the human reason, for thus you will certainly go astray, you will either begin to doubt or be thrown overboard to take your chances…if we consider the foreknowledge of God in the manner Paul is accustomed to do, then it is comforting beyond measure. Whoever considers it differently, to him it is something horrible.”

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in Advent 2014, Early Church, Uncategorized

 

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Lutherans, Pastors, Authority

Hosanna LutheranI worshiped with the local Lutherans today (LCMS). It was a very nice morning. The liturgy was rich, the hymnody stimulating, the preaching thoughtful, and the people seemingly very friendly. Though I don’t know it well, I was blessed to share the morning with this part of my family tree.

As a career pastor, I was struck by the wardrobe adorned by the leadership. The white robes, green sashes, crosses around the neck – it was clear who the consecrated ministers were. And there were several men adorned this way…which made me wonder about how leadership is chosen in this tradition.

what about pastorsSo, as I headed out, I picked up a publication in the foyer entitled “What About…Pastors.” In it, an explanation is given for what pastors are, what they do, how they are ordained, and how they should be treated. That’s when I stumbled on this quote from Luther’s Small Catechism:

Book-MartinLuthersCatechism-1868-Fair“When the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

Wow.

I’ve been a leader in the church for a quarter century. Not only have I never been treated like this by the people I’ve led, but I have never expected this kind of response. Rather, I have always thought that no right-minded person would have the audacity to equate the validity of his or her leadership to being as valid as Christ’s. To do so would be an over-reach of one’s appropriate role, correct?

In this month’s edition of Christianity Today (Oct. 2013), there is a thoughtful article by Andy Crouch about the role of power in the church. In speaking about “power distance,” he juxtaposes those who create distance between themselves and those they lead through visible expressions of power (high distance), and those who try to look less powerful than they really are (low distance). He then remarks that, “America, today, is about as low power distance as it has ever been – and so is the American Church.”

pastor authorityI get this, and feel it. I remember from the days of my youth the bumper stickers on many hippie-driven cars and microbuses in Southern California that called us to “Question Authority.” That cultural ethos, coupled with some colossal leadership failures in the public world (Nixon, Bakker, Swaggert, Clinton, Edwards, Haggard, Weiner), have left us with little honor for, and therefore little allegiance to, our leaders. So, we’re uneasy when any leaders claim or flaunt their authority. (As an example…the image to the left is the first one that appears when I did an internet search for “pastor authority.” I think it represents our stereotypes well.)

Still, the Bible tells us that authority is both God-given, and very important. Peter tells us to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” This is for our protection, and our advantage, because they are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14). But not only do we miss a blessing if we are out from under authority, we are also in incredible danger. Peter tells us elsewhere that “the Lord knows how…to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9-10). Despising authority is an especially grievous offence to God – and it is standard practice in our 21st century western culture.

Francis ObedienceMy ancient and medieval brothers and sisters had an understanding of the value of obedience to authorities. The standard vow made by vocational monks and nuns was always to lives of poverty, chastity, and obedienceFrom the day they were received into the monastery, it was expected that they would give unquestioned obedience to their abbot or abbess – as a sign of their consecration to God Himself. We see that as strange today, don’t we? Do you think they would see our aversion of authority as even more troubling?

So…as I try to reconnect myself to the fullness of my Christian lineage, I do find myself longing to be under Biblcial, God-ordained authorities. I know there is blessing for me there. But where do I find it? Who truly has it, and might even expect it? Who exercises it well? And, if they do, whose expression of “power distance” is high enough that I can recognize it?

Lord, forgive me for despising authority. Teach me godly submission. May your church experience your provision of authority in increasingly healthy ways. For your honor’s sake, and for the blessings that are promised.

-EO

 
 

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