Sunday, December 8, 2019

Worship & Christmas


The magi had come to pay their respects to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod immediately sought information on the birthplace of the Christ (messiah). He evidently knew that only the birth of the messiah could produce such a great interest and respect. Did he really believe that he could thwart the prophecies of the coming king? He possibly considered them to be fables, choosing to believe that this was a setup, another attempt to take his throne. Perhaps he believed that someone was attempting to fake the birth of the messiah. Whether he believed that he could thwart the plans of God by killing the newborn messiah, or whether he believed that it is all a sham perpetuated to topple his own throne, it resulted not in worship, but in a failed assassination attempt. There seem to be three responses to the news of the newborn king. First is that of Herod, “Go and make careful search ... that I too may come and worship him.” But Herod’s motive was less than pure. He actually intended to kill the child. Second, there was the response of the religious elite, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” There was no attempt on their part to follow up on the news and seek the child. Theirs appears to have been a response of intellectual interest only. They knew the scriptures and they were content with that. God was a tame God who had spoken in the past and that was that. They were happy in their elitist theology. Finally, there was the response of the magi, “We have come to worship.”

Worship begins when we acknowledge the authority of the one we worship. If Herod acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten his throne, therefore he attacked. If the religious elite acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten their comfortable spiritual pride, therefore they ignored him. The magi, in acknowledging the authority of Christ traveled difficult and dangerous miles over several months for the privilege of bowing before him and presenting their gifts.

What is our response? Have we sided with Herod, choosing our own comfort over the rule of the true king? Perhaps we have fallen into the error of the elite. We know the scriptures. We understand our theology. “Now don’t shake up my comfortable religiosity with talk about a king. That could result in spiritual awakening, revival and real, heart worship. It might get uncomfortable; it might make demands on my life. Just leave me to my theology and I’m happy.” Or, have we come, with the magi, to worship the Christ?



Saturday, December 7, 2019

Isaiah 63


Isaiah 63:15-17 (ESV)

Look down from heaven and see,
from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
are held back from me.
For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
            our Redeemer from of old is your name.
O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.


The last part of Isaiah 63 is a cry for mercy. It is a call for help that goes on into the next chapter. It is a rather self-focused and na├»ve cry. “Where are your zeal and your might?” (Is 63:15). Where are they indeed? The first part of the chapter tells us the answer? The zeal and might of the LORD has been pouring out judgment against the world. “I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Is 63:6). At the same time, the LORD has been protecting his people in mercy and covenantal love. “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD . . . that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Is 63:7). Yet despite his love and protection, “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Is 6:10).

Where is God indeed? He felt every pain of their anguish. “In their affliction He was afflicted” (Is 63:9). He guarded them, protected them, provided for them, and judged their enemies. Yet they failed to recognize his steadfast love, walk in his ways, embrace his passion for holiness, or honor him as God. And when things got hard they had the audacity to cry out, “Where is God?”

Certainly, sometimes bad things happen simply because we live in a broken, fallen world. Sometimes bad things happen because we fail to honor God as God. Either way, where we fail first is that we do not recognize his steadfast, faithful love. We neglect to recognize the blessings he has surrounded us with. We take our freedoms, our wealth, our privilege, and our comfort for granted, and complain at the least little discomfort in life.

This reminds me of Hebrews 11:35-38
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:4). And still we complain. Perhaps we should take a day to focus on the blessings of God rather than the difficulties of life. What if, for just 24 hours, we made every breath a prayer of gratitude? How might that change our perspective? What if we looked for two blessings for every difficulty we encounter? How might that change our attitude? What if we became people of gratitude rather than chronic complainers? How might that change our walk with God. Why don’t you give it a try today?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Isaiah 62


Isaiah 62:1-4 (ESV)
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

Because of the sin of God’s people, they would be abandoned, forsaken, and desolate. During Isaiah’s time, Israel fell to Assyria. 140 years later, in 586 BC, Judah fell to Babylon. God allowed their fall because of their idolatry and disobedience. They would have been viewed as forsaken by God. Jerusalem was desolate. They would have felt abandoned. How does one go from being called Desolate to being called My Delight Is in Her? That is God’s promise to his people.

The truth is, they were desolate, but never forsaken. God did not abandon his people, he disciplined them. Jesus’ message to the church in Laodicea was, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). Bad things happen to God’s people for three reasons. 1. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen to everyone. 2. We have an enemy who is trying to discredit the name of God, and stop the gospel. 3. God disciplines those he loves. No matter which is the cause of your current pain, darkness, or distress, God promised that he would never abandon his people. “He said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6).

Even when Jerusalem’s walls were rubble and the temple was destroyed, God’s people had this promise to cling to, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her” (Is 62:4). That promise gave Daniel hope. That promise gave Esther purpose. That promise motivated Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild. They understood that devastation is not the same as rejection.

Too often we judge our relationship with God by our experience and our emotion. When we feel close to God we assume everything is as it should be. When we do not feel God’s presence, we feel abandoned or rejected. When bad things happen, we cry out, “God, where are you?” And he responds, “I am right here in the darkness with you.” The problem is, our experience often shouts so loudly that we fail to hear the still, small voice of God assuring us of his presence.

God has never abandoned us. If we are believers, then God’s Spirit dwells within us whether we feel him or not. God’s presence surrounds us, whether we sense him there or not. God’s faithfulness never abandons us, whether we feel abandoned or not. We are in Christ, and in Christ we are His Delight. Celebrate his presence today despite your circumstances. Rejoice in his promise, and hold firmly to his faithfulness. “You shall be called My Delight Is in Her” (Is 62:4).


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Isaiah 61


Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV)

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,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

The first part of this passage is what Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town (see Luke 4). He stopped with the words, “To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” He then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. He was proclaiming a Jubilee of Jubilees when YHWH restores all things to their rightful order. He will bring justice to a broken world. He will release captives and comfort mourners. That prophecy will be fulfilled completely one day when the King returns to set up his kingdom, but there is a sense in which that prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus here and now.

To those who mourn he gives “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes…a garment of praise instead of mourning.” The King James Version of the Bible says that he will give “beauty for ashes,” but that misses the point. In times of grief mourners would wear sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. It was a symbol of brokenness. The word translated “beauty” in the KJV is translated as “beautiful headdress” in the ESV, and “garland” in the NAS. It is a word that refers to the turban that a bridegroom or an important individual would wear. God is saying that he will change the mourners’ sackcloth and ashes into turbans and garments of praise. They will go from sitting in ashes, like Job in Job 2:7, to being clothed like brides and grooms in wedding celebrations.

This is what the King of Kings does in the lives of those who follow him. Life is painful. It is messy. Sometimes, like Job, we just want to cry out, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (Job 3:3). But in the darkest times we can hold on to the faithfulness of God. He has a way of turning darkness into light, mourning into celebration, and sackcloth and ashes into wedding gowns and tuxedos. We can’t always see it, but that doesn’t change the truth of it.

I’m sure that as Daniel and his friends were being carried off into captivity to Babylon, remembering the destruction of their loved city, Jerusalem, they couldn’t see any light or hope. They had nothing to celebrate, yet they determined in their hearts not to defile themselves. They understood the promise of God. He is the one who turns ashes on the heads of broken people into turbans of bridegrooms and men of significance. He turns sackcloth into wedding gowns. He has not forgotten nor forsaken us just because we can’t see through the darkness and the pain. He will one day set things right. We can trust him. He is a good God.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Isaiah 60

Isaiah 60:21-22 (ESV)
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the LORD;
in its time I will hasten it.


Isaiah 60 describes the restoration of the Jerusalem. They will be a wealthy, sought after, honored people who live in peace and prosperity. The Lord will be in their midst. As God was a light to the Israelis in the Wilderness, leading them as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, so now the presence of God in their midst will be their light. They will be a people living in righteousness, glory, and peace in the presence of YHWH.

Reading the description of God’s promise, one could get impatient waiting for its fulfillment. I can just imagine people’s thinking 700 years after Isaiah, at the time of Christ. The promise would either seem unreal, and people would long ago have stopped looking for it, or they would be impatient with God wondering when he will fulfill his promise. We are an impatient people.

We want God’s promises, and we want them now. But the chapter ends with these words, “I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it.” Those three little words, “in its time,” call us to patience and faith. I recall years ago an elderly man of God asking about the spiritual state of a mutual acquaintance. I said that I thought perhaps his family had given up on him. He looked at me, pointed his finger at me, and said, “You never give up.” God accomplishes his purpose “in its time.”

We don’t know the timing of God. But he does. He never forgets his promises. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2Pet 3:9). The verse goes on to say, “but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God’s timing has to do with God’s patience and God’s purpose. We want answers now. We want results now. We are an impatient people. But God’s timing is perfect. Psalm 18:30 says of God, “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” He can be trusted even when he does not work in our time. We don’t know the timing of God, but “His way is perfect.” Trust him and be patient.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Isaiah 59


Isaiah 59:11-13 (ESV)
We all growl like bears;
we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the LORD,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

The people of God are living like the world. They are growling and moaning over the consequences of their sin, yet God does not hear them. He does not hear them or respond with salvation, not because he cannot hear them, but because he will not hear them. He refuses to listen when they refuse to repent.

It reminds me of times when my children were small. The would demand a glass of water, or another helping from the dinner table. I would ignore them until they stopped demanding and began asking politely. Then suddenly I could (would) hear them and respond by giving them what they asked for. Once they gave up their sinful actions and began to respect and honor their Dad, they received what they were desiring. So it is with the People of God.

Along with God’s warning comes a promise.
Isaiah 59:19-21 (ESV)
So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the LORD drives.
“And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
When God’s people turn back to him he will hear them and deliver. Beyond that, God promises that there will be a day when he will pour out his Spirit not only upon them, but on their children, and their grandchildren.


We saw the fulfillment of this in the time of Jesus. The Pharisees failed to have their prayers for Messiah answered, not because Messiah did not come, but because they failed to recognize him when he came. On the other hand, those who repented and believed left behind generations of believers on whom the Spirit of God has been poured out. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Ultimately it will be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. The promised is fulfilled, but it is not yet fulfilled.


In response, I need to ask myself: Am I the self-righteous one whom God cannot hear, or am I the broken, repentant one whom God will bless? Father, search my heart and do not let me get away with hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. Only God sees my heart as it truly is. Clara H. Scott penned these words in the late 1800s. They should be the prayer of our heart daily, for only he sees me as I truly am.
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Magi at Jesus' Birth

Herod opposed the new King. The Jewish religious leaders ignored him. The Magi, the wise men, came to worship. They probably knew something about the Jewish prophecies from Daniel and some of the other Old Testament prophets who had actually lived in their part of the world at one time. They may even have been familiar with Balaam’s prophecy in Num 24.17-19
 
[17]  I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
[18]  Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
[19]  And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!”

Because they believed, they traveled a long distance for the purpose of worship. But notice that it wasn’t just God they came to worship in the presence of this baby. It was the Child himself who was the focus of their worship. Verses 10-11 of Matthew 2 tell us that they rejoiced, they saw the child, and they fell down and worshipped him, acknowledging the greatness and authority of the child. This child was worthy of worship. The word “worship” means to kiss toward or to fall on your knees touching the ground with your forehead, or to kneel and show obeisance. The text says that they “fell down and worshiped him.” (vs 11) NAS says they “fell to the ground and worshiped him.” They prostrated themselves before this child.

The magi had nothing to gain by traveling to show respect to the new king. They came simply to worship. It almost seems like an anti-climax. They see a star. They journey for months. They likely dream, talk and debate about what they are going to find. They finally arrive at Jerusalem and ask directions at the palace of the king. I’m sure what they found there confused them. Shouldn’t they have known all about this new king at the palace? But, they find the star again and are led to a house. They kneel, worship, offer their gifts, and then they head home. If they had come seeking some great spiritual adventure, perhaps it was an anti-climax, but that was not why they had come. They recognized the significance of the birth, and the authority of the child, so they came to worship.

Worship does not begin by seeking personal fulfillment, although personal fulfillment is often found in worship. It does not begin by seeking joy, although joy often accompanies worship. Worship begins when our heart recognizes the authority of the king and bows in humble submission to His Highness.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Priests at Jesus' Birth

When the Magi showed up at Herod’s door asking about the new King who had been born he had no idea what they were talking about. Matthew 2:3 says that “he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” He called together the chief priests and scribes of the people to gain some insight into what was going on. They knew the biblical answers, but their response is fascinating. Think about this with me.

They had to know what prompted Herod’s inquiry into where Messiah was to be born. All the city was troubled. Everybody was talking about these foreign visitors. It was no coincidence that just after they show up Herod wants to know about the Christ. Not only was everybody talking about these strange visitors, but we need to remember that the shepherds had already given testimony to what they had seen on the hills near Bethlehem and what they witnessed when they went to find the new born baby. Luke 2:18 says that “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The rumor mill was running full bore. Not only were the crowds buzzing about the magi and the testimony of the shepherds, but Simeon and Anna had testified in the temple of Jerusalem. These things were not done in secret. For up to two years the rumors have been circulating about this King. Now someone from a distant land has shown up looking for him. This inquiry didn’t take the Jewish scholars by surprise.

But, what is more significant is that they knew the scriptures. When Herod asks them about where the Christ was to be born they knew the answer. They quoted the scriptures from Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.


They knew the truth, and yet, as the Wycliffe Bible Commentary records, “Matthew ... shows the contrast in attitudes between the non-Jewish wise men who journeyed far to see Jesus and the Jewish authorities who would not go five miles.”

The response of the Jewish leaders was not one of opposition, at least not to begin with. It was perhaps worse. They just ignored him. There was an expectation of the Messiah. They were looking for the one who would deliver them from the rule of the Herods and the authority of Rome. They desired the throne of David to be re-established, yet when the Christ came they ignored him. Later they would move from apathy to contempt, from ignoring him to outwardly opposing him, but for now they just went home. Intellectual pride and spiritual apathy is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous combinations. Jesus warned the church of Laodicea of that very condition in Revelation 3. But that raises the question: Do we do the same thing?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Advent and Worship

The magi had come to pay their respects to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod immediately seeks information on the birthplace of the Christ (messiah). He evidently knows that only the birth of the messiah could produce such a great interest and respect. Does he really believe that he can thwart the prophecies of the coming king? He possibly considers them to be fables, choosing to believe that this is a setup, another attempt to take his throne. Perhaps he believes that someone is attempting to fake the birth of the messiah. Whether he believes that he can thwart the plans of God by killing the newborn messiah, or whether he believes that it is all a sham perpetuated to topple his own throne, it results not in worship, but in a failed assassination attempt. There seem to be three responses to the news of the newborn king. First is that of Herod, “Go and make careful search ... that I too may come and worship him.” But Herod’s motive was less than pure. He actually intended to kill the child. Second, there was the response of the religious elite, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” There is no attempt on their part to follow up on the news and seek the child. Theirs appears to be a response of intellectual interest only. They knew the scriptures and they were content with that. God was a tame God who had spoken in the past and that was that. They were happy in their elitist theology. Finally, there is the response of the magi, “We have come to worship.”

What is our response? Have we sided with Herod, choosing our own comfort zone over the rule of the true king? Perhaps we have fallen into the error of the elite. We know the scriptures. We understand our theology. “Now don’t shake up my comfortable religiosity with talk about a king. That could result in spiritual awakening, revival and real, heart worship. It might get uncomfortable; it might make demands on my life. Just leave me to my theology and I’m happy.” Have we come, with the magi, to worship the Christ?

Worship begins when we acknowledge the authority of the one we worship. If Herod acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten his throne, therefore he attacked. If the religious elite acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten their comfortable spiritual pride, therefore they ignored him. The magi, in acknowledging the authority of Christ traveled difficult and dangerous miles over several months for the privilege of bowing before him and presenting their gifts. Which response is yours?



As we think about worship, will you think through those three parties and their responses to the news that there was a King born?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks


In Leviticus, the Thank Offering was also called a peace offering or fellowship offering. It was a voluntary sacrifice presented for the purpose of establishing or deepening friendship with God. It was a means of expressing gratitude to God for all he had done and all he had provided.

The peace offering included leavened and unleavened bread. It was to be mixed, smeared, and cooked with oil. Oil is often a picture of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces in us his fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. True fellowship flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience. Peace Offerings were offerings of thanksgiving reflecting friendship and fellowship with God. They also expressed the truth that true fellowship with God flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience.

The entire offering was to be eaten that day. The meal was to be enjoyed. To never take pleasure in what God has provided is to be ungrateful. God takes pleasure in seeing us dance for joy over the gifts he has lavished upon us.

Our Thanksgiving Day traces back to the foundation of this country. May a part of your Thanksgiving Day be a time of giving thanks to God from whom all the blessings flow. May you thoroughly enjoy the blessings God has provided. But not everyone will have a great day. Friends and loved ones are missed with deep grief. Each of us has experienced, or knows someone who has experienced pain. But sometimes, even in the pain, we need to take time to say, “Thank you!.”

Thanksgiving takes time to enjoy the blessings God gives, reflects on friendship with God, and expresses itself in a fellowship with our Lord that flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience. This year let us take time to give thanks!

Worship & Christmas

The magi had come to pay their respects to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod immediately sought information on the birthplace of the Chr...