giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

praising God

Praise the LORD.[a]

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 150

Praise means to speak well of something or someone ordinarily because of what is done, or because of intrinsic worth. In Christian understanding the ordinary response to God’s worthiness is worship, and to God’s acts is praise.

Praise is done both individually and in community. It seems like praise together as the church can help us enter into it for ourselves. Truth is more often caught than taught, though both are important. But we also need to praise God as individuals, not only when we’re together with God’s people, but also in the daily grind and groan.

Something I want to learn and practice and grow in. In and through Jesus.

 

cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.

worship of God as our first priority in the midst of life

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:8-11

Worship of God is held in the highest esteem in scripture. And yet it’s not simple to define or describe. And we all too often are at a loss to understand what it really means in our lives and practices, even as professed followers of Jesus. Jesus was certainly a worshiper of God, of his Father, but in the mystery of the Trinity, as we see from the New Testament, received worship himself.

Worship has been described as giving worth-ship to God, how the English word was derived. From scripture it is in terms of awe and proper reverential fear. It is the human response to God’s greatness and goodness. And by grace, it is the response of love to Love, entrusting one’s whole life and being into God’s hands and seeking to live that out in every way in our lives. Worship surely does not exclude any part of our humanity, or the gifts God has given us. We receive such gifts, but reserve adoration, thanks and praise to the Giver. We refuse to allow any of those things to occupy what is not fitting for them, while appreciating and enjoying them for what they are. God is in a category other than all else. Ironically, as we give God that due, we can love and appreciate all God’s gifts in a more pure, complete sense.

To be worshipers of God individually and together ought to be our goal as followers of Christ. That should be our expressed purpose and passion. Surely Jesus was bereft in feelings after fasting in the wilderness for forty days and nights. At least Jesus did not refer to his feelings, but to God’s word when refuting Satan in making it clear that humans are to worship only God. Of course the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3).

Only God can help us “get it” at all. As Jesus said, the Father is looking for worshipers, and such worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). We need the Spirit and the word to help us, and we also need the community of the redeemed, the church (Ephesians 3:14-21).

If we concentrate on worshiping God, the rest will come much easier, I’m supposing. Not to say that life all the sudden will become easier, or we’ll arrive in any kind of sinless state. But we will be helped immensely, and be a help much more, if we can just begin to get our feet on the ground in seeking to be worshipers of God. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

worshiping God

…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

Worship of God is a theme in Revelation (see here, for example). It got me to thinking. I wonder just how much we truly worship God.

Worship is ascribing worthship to something. In scripture and Christian tradition, only God is worthy of worship. Although sometimes that language has been used for lesser objects. In the Great Tradition, veneration is giving special honor, even reverence to objects not worthy of worship. I am among those who would not be comfortable joining other Christians in doing that. But we naturally do that to some extent to those we highly esteem. This is set in certain Christian traditions for “saints.” Of course God alone is worthy of full, complete worship. And really, that can come natural too, as we seek to give our full attention to God: who God is, and what God has done.

When we are talking about God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship the Father in and through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But we can worship all three Persons of the Trinity, since God is one, and the Father, with Jesus and the Spirit are, or we might say is God.

To worship God might come naturally so to speak, as we focus on God. Of course it is what we call supernatural, beyond nature, since we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. We can only begin to gather in our minds and hearts just who God is by the Spirit. Then we worship God in our hearts through song and ascriptions such as we find in Revelation, the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture.

Worship includes offering ourselves to the One who is deserving of everything. By creation and redemption, as well as simply who God is, God is worthy. We join in this eternal singing and song, and giving of our lives, in and through Jesus.

pure religion

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Religion and relationship in scripture actually go together. From the time when people started to invoke or call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), right up to the present time when we gather in buildings, and partake of Holy Communion, we participate in a kind of religious service led by someone with a liturgy all its own, even if not liturgical in its emphasis. And we’re told in the Old/First Testament that to know God means to help those in need, perhaps getting more precisely in line with the point James is making here:

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

Jeremiah 22:15-17

James echoes something of both the Old Testament wisdom, and here, of the prophets. To know God is to begin to know something of the heart of God. And God’s heart goes out to the poor and displaced. Those who profess to know and worship God must begin to have the same heart for others. Otherwise their profession of faith is empty. Specifically here in caring for widows and orphans in their distress, which can include and group in the same category today.

James, as he does in this short letter, especially in our chapter 3, really focuses on the tongue, our speech, and learning to hold it in check. If anyone considers themselves religious, James says, but fails to keep a tight rein on their tongue, their religion is suspect at best, in fact in God’s eyes, worthless. And they deceive themselves. We often can say all the right things, but fail to follow through with action. And James will get to that in this letter. But that’s not the point here. Rather it’s about a loose tongue which more often than not is quite destructive. And the rest of the letter, particularly chapter 3 informs what James is referring to here.

We should be known as Christians for what we do in helping those in need, not in what we’re saying, particularly when it comes to issues which can end up being critical and disrespectful of others. And make no mistake, such speech can be right on the tip of our tongues. That’s why James says here that we’re to keep a tight rein on our tongues. We have to bridle as in controlling our tongues, and not let them have their way in words which ultimately will be helpful to no one. And even deceptive to us, perhaps in the sense of putting us on the wrong track when we think we’re in the right, though often we should know better.

And to keep ourselves from being unstained or unpolluted by the world. We have to be aware and beware in this regard. We need to develop a humble ability to see through what the world holds dear, mostly by developing a stronger commitment to keep a single eye and heart on what God holds as important for us, individually and together. In and through Jesus.

praising God always

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

Psalm 34:1-7

There are some basics in which in looking back on my life, and even considering the present, I’m either absent, or not doing as well as I should. One of them is praising God. Although it’s good when we do praise the Lord over good that takes place. Praise in scripture is tied to God’s good works. So we praise God for what he has done. Worship on the other hand is given to God because God deserves it in himself. It certainly can include all he does. But it is essentially taken up with who God is.

And so when we are faced with a new day, and with all the problems each day will bring, and sometimes more than usual, we need to praise God. And when we are faced with especially challenging matters, then regardless, whatever happens, we should still praise God. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, we’re to rejoice in the Lord always. Which is nearly like both worship and praise, but probably with its accent on praise.

And praise in scripture is normally corporate, though we as individuals do it. Certainly we should do it when alone, but it should be a part of what we do when together as God’s people, the church. Certainly a staple of corporate worship.

Praise even is a component, we might say, in spiritual warfare. Once when Israel went out to battle, it was when they praised God, that God moved against the enemy (2 Chronicles 20:22). It is certainly important for us to praise God, we might say for our faith. In so doing we take up the shield of faith with which we can quench all the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

This is much more, but the kind of “positive thinking” we need to engage in. It is not trust in ourselves, but in God, and in what he will do. He is faithful always and forever, no matter what, in and through Jesus.

worship of God

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24

The Greek word here translated “worshipers”: προσκυνητής, simply means worshipers. προσκυνέω is the verb here (“will worship”; “worship”; “must worship”), the surface meaning: “to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)”, the definition according to biblical usage of the term: “to do reverence, or homage by kissing the hand; in NT to do reverence or homage by prostration, Mt. 2:2, 8, 11; 20:20; Lk. 4:7; 24:52; to pay divine homage, worship, adore, Mt. 4:10; Jn. 4:20, 21; Heb. 1:6; to bow one’s self in adoration, Heb. 11:21” (Bill Mounce).

I am afraid that in our rationalistic way of approaching life, and I can speak well for myself, that the lifting up of hands, and bowing down is just something many of us don’t naturally do. And our romantic reaction against rationalism may not be much better. The passage here brings both together. We are to worship the Father in both spirit, and in truth. And of course the outward things we do might be empty religious exercises or rituals. Yet it seems both from the Bible and life that what we practice can change the way we both think and feel. As well as what we think and feel influencing what we do.

There are other words to consider, translated “worship,” in our Bibles, but I want to look at this one word for now. The word is used in other places (see passages listed above) for worship and adoration of Jesus, as well.

What we fix our minds on is ultimately what we worship. Or where we get our enjoyment. I’m not referring to necessary things we must give our attention to, nor enjoyment of the gifts God has given us. I am referring to what we value the most, what takes priority over everything else. And oddly enough in worshiping God, everything else as in the good gifts of God, is appreciated all the more, but in its proper place.

And worship of God is not something we do to get something out of it. We do it simply because God deserves every bit of it, and as a response to both who God is, and what he has done for us (Romans 12:1-2).

The worship spoken of here in John 4 and elsewhere, is what I want to intentionally purse and grow in, in days to come. In and through Jesus.