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.

 

the sin of gluttony

…put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:2

Winn Collier in a helpful Our Daily Bread Ministries “Discovery Series” booklet entitled, “Walking Free: Overcoming What Keeps Us from Jesus,” covers the so called “seven deadly sins.” It is most helpful in both understanding the actual sins, and what we can do about it, with an accent on God’s grace. See that for an excellent summary look into each, including gluttony.

Gluttony it turns out is more about trying to satisfy the God-vacuum of our hearts with other things, food being just one of them. Of course the actual term gluttony has primarily to do with food, as does fasting.

We want more and more of what’s pleasurable, of what we like. When all the time the greatest pleasure is God and to be in God’s presence. What  is actually the case is that we’re replacing the greatest pleasure, the actual worship of God for what ends up being idolatrous pleasures, such as satisfying our every desire, whatever that might be.

Gluttony is probably akin to greed which is listed in the New Testament as a deadly sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In the Roman Catholic teaching, it along with the other seven sins is listed as a basic sin (not deadly) from which other sins derive. Gluttony ends up being a kind of substitute for the worship and practice of loving God. Instead we’re all taken up with our own cravings, warped as they are due to our sin. And whenever we violate loving God, not loving our neighbor will follow:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:49

Food and all the other of God’s gifts to us is not the culprit. It’s our own brokenness in putting the gifts above the Giver. We are indeed given all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). But we are good at becoming obsessed over whatever in the place of God.

Thankfully God is present to help us find our way back to him with repentance and a renewed commitment to leave behind what is destructive to us and to others. To find all that we long for in God, while we enjoy God’s good gifts to us. In and through Jesus.

 

beyond make shift ethics

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

Psalm 11

There’s an interesting article on Jesus Creed on how morality is losing its grounding, particularly from religion. There certainly is a crisis in authority today, no doubt. Everything more or less seems up in the air, up for grabs.

I think Psalm 11 is at least encouraging when considering this. And I think it’s suggestive in terms of the spiritual battle we face as Christians (Ephesians 6:10-20).

God is on his throne, God is at work in the world, and his judgments continue. Humankind has routinely erected its idols. All that is in the place of God is idolatry, pure and simple. And such idolatry has tragic consequences. And the religious, including Christians are not excluded. Idolatry is just as alive and well in places where God is supposed to be worshiped as in places where God is not. And in saying that, I’m not at all suggesting that all churches partake in idolatry, just that there’s that possibility, and it clearly does happen. Like when a human leader is exalted and it’s all about going to hear them speak. That is at least on the edge if not over the edge into idolatry.

And note that the idols more often than not either are, or represent something good. Science within its discipline I take as good. All created things, and our capacity to enjoy them are fine in themselves. But when they’re not received and appreciated as gifts from the Creator, and good in their place, but become ends in themselves, then we move into the realm of idolatry.

Such a realm makes the accumulation of wealth for example an end all, so that often in that quest others are trampled on, not the least of which is the poor. And God will not look past any of that. Or if there is no God it doesn’t matter, we can do as we please, as long as it in accord with the idol in place. Greed by the way is called idolatry in Scripture (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).

Morality is grounded in humanity because humankind is made in God’s image. Right and wrong matter precisely for that reason. And everyone is held accountable. It matters not what we humans construct in place of that, not at all. God will have his say in the end. In the good judgment and salvation to come in and through Jesus.

a breathtaking, life-giving passage

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“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.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

John 4:1-42

This passage is fascinating on many levels. On the surface, it also seems strange. After all, Jesus ends up talking to a Samaritan woman, which in itself is outside the norm. And while she knew and seemed to respect her religious tradition, her life certainly didn’t line up with that, having had five husbands, and the man she was then living with, not being her husband.

It’s interesting how in their conversation which turned into so much more than Jesus’s genuine request for a drink of water from the well, as one should expect when entering into a conversation with Jesus, she really had no clue at what Jesus was getting at. Thinking somehow that the “living water” he was telling her about might make it unnecessary for her to quench any physical thirst. He presses on, their conversation moving into religious matters, where the Samaritans worshiped (Mount Gerizim) as opposed to where the Jews worshiped (the temple in Jerusalem). Jesus said the Jews unlike the Samaritans knew who they worshiped, because salvation was from the Jews. Jesus then said that in the future, and even in the present then, that would be neither here nor there. That the Father seeks worshipers who worship him in the Spirit and in truth. And then she mentions that when Messiah comes, he would explain to them everything. Jesus tells us that he, the one she is speaking to, is the Messiah.

She runs off, even leaving her water jar behind as a witness to her townsfolk. That he had told her that she has had five husbands, the man living with her now, not being her husband. That he had even acknowledged that he is the Messiah. And she exclaims, “Could this be the Messiah?”

Many Samaritans end up believing her both because of her word, and also because of Jesus’s own words after they sought him out.

Such a rich passage. Jesus’s passion, as told to his disciples, that his food was to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work. And that the harvest was right in front of them, and ready for the picking.

This passage picked me up when I needed it. Such events told, along with the words accompanying it, lift one up into a different plane, so to speak. Certainly encouraging us, but more than that, helping us to hear or sense from God the direction we’re to take. Even as we aspire to be the worshipers the Father seeks. In and through Jesus.

the fresh breath/air of the Protestant Reformation

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3

I really don’t care to identify as Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, or whatever, but rather, as Christian. I know that even Christian carries with it some historical baggage which is not helpful, and actually distracts, not to mention, contradicts its true meaning.

But on Spotify today, while trying to scroll down to see the albums playing my favorite music artist, Johann Sebastian Bach, and being blocked from doing so by an add, I either purposefully or inadvertently hit an album which has beautiful singing (likely in German), but I lit on Bach’s chorale music, so beautiful, this album. Bach himself was a Lutheran, in a pietist Lutheran setting, one that had as an emphasis a personal relationship with Christ, or knowing Christ. I was reminded of the beautiful early Lutheran music at the time of that great Reformer and Church Father, Martin Luther.

What I identify with is the emphasis on scripture being the authority to which we appeal, while taking tradition seriously, yet subjecting everything to the test of scripture. For me that’s a breath of a fresh air. And not only lifts one’s spirits, but brings new life, so that a song of praise and thanksgiving to God is indeed appropriate. It is God’s word, scripture, the essence of which is the gospel, God’s good news in Christ, which indeed is transformative. For us and for the world, someday to fill the new earth after the final judgment and salvation, in and through 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.