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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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First Saturday of Advent – 14.12.06

Preparing our souls for the coming of Jesus. How do we do it?

help_2467310bWe live amidst a swirl of self-help philosophies. Visit any bookstore, surf through some TV infomercials, or just sift through your junk mail, and you’ll find that there are countless people out there who think you should live differently – according to their plans and ideas. They claim to want you to have a better life (though, most often, what they really want is your cash for their product).

stjeromeMan has always known that he can, and should, be better. Therefore we have always devised schemes improve ourselves. In Martin Luther’s day, one of the most common self-help pursuits was the ascetic life – being a monk or nun. But Luther points out that “there has been much preaching on chastity, and many books written on the subject, in which they said, we should fast for a certain time, we should not eat flesh, we should
not drink wine, etc., that we may be free from temptations. These things…have not been enough.”
He then cites the example of Jerome, the great 4th Century monk and Doctor of the Church. “St. Jerome writes of himself that he had mortified his body to such an extent that he had become like an African; still it was of no avail, and he dreamed of being in Rome at a party with harlots!” Luther’s point: Rigid external practices don’t suffice to subdue lusts.

So, what works? Whatever it is, it should be our advent practice.

Peter tells us that, “Since you have been born again, purify your souls by your obedience to the truth.” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).

Luther’s take on this is fantastic! He states that what can truly change you “must proceed from within outward, not from without inward.” What can subdue the flesh from within? “The wine of the gospel subdues it and makes the heart chaste … if this enters our hearts, evil inclinations quickly leave. Let whoever will try it, he shall find it true, and whoever tries it, knows it well.”

retreatI’ve always loved retreats. Many times I have gotten away, usually with a church group, usually to a place where we can enjoy the beauty of nature. We spend time in the scriptures, we worship together, we enjoy and are sharpened by each other’s company. When the sacred weekend is over, I find myself heading home thinking, “I love God and His Word so much…I never want to sin again!”

This is why God calls us to worship. He is present in the praise, present in the fellowship, present in His Word, present in the bread and wine. We remember, reenact, proclaim and “eat” the gospel! Luther: “Though the Word is a small thing, there is immense power in it!” As the writer of Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and active…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit…and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That is the internal antidote we need to “purify our souls by obedience to the truth.”

So – as we continue through Advent (and beyond), be filled with the Word! Attend Advent services. Read it. Pray over it. Listen to it in the best holy-day songs. And don’t forget to share it with others! This will prepare you for His coming.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 6, 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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Advent 2014 with Peter and Martin

adventAdvent, 2014

This year for the Advent season, I will once again offer a daily blog. Some have used these blogs as seasonal devotionals that encourage them to remain focused in the appropriate, counter-cultural approach to the embrace of a classical Advent.

(…Which, by the way, is to enter into a season of preparation and hope. not carnal indulgence. Classically, Advent has been a season of elevated discipline and thoughtful preparation – “what would you do if you knew Jesus was returning on the 25th?” Our culture has taken the weeks before Christmas and turned them into a season of undisciplined license, particularly in terms of spending and diet. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?” Perhaps not, if he comes during the holidays! So, rather than being duped to believe that unbridling our fleshly appetites is the path to happiness…believers in Christ, who know better, instead take the season to re-up their longing for lives well-lived – both in heaven to come, and on earth as it is in heaven.)

Luther TreeThis year, I’m going to spend time in a New Testament book that speaks much of our living hope in Christ, and to preparing one’s mind for action to live out the appropriate daily life as we await His coming. The book is 1 Peter. And, I’ll be walking through it with a commentary on that book from Martin Luther. You see, during the past year, I have sojourned over to the Lutheran tradition. So, to walk hand in hand with a newly-adopted spiritual father will be a real treat. And, knowing Dr. Luther, it will be quite challenging as well.

Welcome. And a blessed Advent season to you all.

Bill

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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