Do You See His Star?

Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” … and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy (Matthew 2:2, 9-10).

These wise men, their number undeclared except that there were at least two of them, made their way across the deserts of the Middle East to Jerusalem. They’d seen a star in the night sky they identified with the promised Jewish Messiah. They were aware of Biblical passages about Him – and believed what they’d read.

The Bible doesn’t record how long it took these magi to reach Jerusalem, except that when they arrived Jesus was already a toddler living in a house. In those two or three years after His birth and His star first appeared, millions of people looked up into the sky, saw His star, and ignored it. Countless people didn’t believe what it meant. Only a few wise men perceived the meaning of the heavenly light. Just a few believed what the Bible said of Him.

People all over the world have heard the story of Jesus. They know of the stories He told, the miracles He worked, and even the report that He died and was raised from the dead. Still, it is very few who believe what the Bible says of Him. Few believe in Him, putting their full reliance in Him as the Saviour from their sins.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

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Worship on Autopilot

Image result for woman behind wheel of car

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

On the drive home after Sunday service, my wife decided to stop at the fabric store and buy some yarn for a crochet project. She parked the car directly in front of the store and promised to be only a few minutes. Daniel slid his earphones into his ears and I picked up my Bible to look something up.

A few minutes later the driver’s side door opened and a woman sat down behind the wheel. She looked at me. I looked at her. It took a moment before we both simultaneously realized that this woman had gotten into the wrong car. She laughed, apologized, and then got into another red car two spaces down the sidewalk.

I have no doubt that the woman who accidentally got into our car thought she knew what she was doing. It was an honest mistake, but she was still wrong. There are also many times we approach God or the practice of religion, thinking we know what we’re doing. We’re copying what another has done or said, or what our tradition may be … we’re on autopilot, but never checked for ourselves what God says.

The Bible reminds us that There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12). With this in mind, consider 3 simple points made by Jesus in John 4:23-24 about the worship of God the Father:

  • First, there are true and false worshipers of God;
  • Second, God has established an acceptable way to worship Him;
  • Third, worship is spiritual and cultivated in the truth.

How do we know God’s acceptable means of worshiping Him? He tells us in the Bible.

Life is in the Blood

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Leviticus 17:11).

Part 2 of 2. Leviticus is one of the most neglected books in the Bible. It is full of arcane laws that most Christians ignore and pastors hide from preaching. But Leviticus is beautiful when understood.

The myriad of laws in Leviticus reveal with great clarity that man is incapable of living according to God’s character and standard. We fail miserably to live in obedience to Him and in harmony with each other. However, the primary purpose of the Bible is to reveal Jesus in the midst of a sinful world, and Leviticus puts Jesus on display as the means of being made right with God.

Through a series of blood sacrifices, God promised to cover over sin. The blood of animals could never forgive sin (Heb 10:4), but all that blood and death of animals was symbolic of God’s provision of His own Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Forgiveness is possible because life is in the blood … the blood of Jesus. Man’s failure is swallowed up in God’s love through the death of Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20).

Sin requires death, and there are many ways to die. But it is impossible to crucify yourself. The Bible says that Jesus was crucified on our behalf to pay the debt our sin created. By faith, we believe God’s promise that Christ’s death paid the penalty for our every failure. In a sense, when Jesus was crucified, we were crucified with Him. The One who loved us gave Himself for us and the shedding of His blood is life for us.

The laws of Leviticus shine a light on man’s sinfulness, God’s holiness, and anticipates Jesus as the blood-Redeemer whom the Father would provide.

The Book of Leviticus

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).

Part 1 of 2. One of the greatest stumbling blocks to personal Bible study is the Book of Leviticus, but it’s one of the most important and wonderful books of the Bible … when you understand God’s purpose in giving it.

Leviticus is a lengthy list mundane and sometimes odd laws given by God to Moses to regulate Israel’s relationship to Him, to each other, and to life as His earthly people. It’s a national law of behavior for ancient Israel.

Every law known to man exists for the purpose of restricting unacceptable behavior. Between 2000 and 2007, the US Congress classified 452 new crimes creating a total of 4,450 illegal activities. This doesn’t even consider additional state, county, and city laws! In 2013, there were already 20,000 federal laws on the ownership and use of guns.

But we continue to break the existing laws so government creates new laws to stem the lawlessness. It is believed that the average American breaks 3 federal felony laws per day that no one even knows are on the books! No law can make a person good or righteous, but laws point out our failures. Man is sinful and the law makes that abundantly clear.

The Apostle Paul characterized the Law of Moses as the ministry of death that kills (2 Cor 3:6, 7). By that he meant that the Law condemns each of us as guilty of violating the holy character of God. God said, “This is how you are to serve Me“; and we rebel. God said, “This is how you are to treat one another“; and we do what we want.

Think about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Today, have you made anything in life of equal or greater devotion than God? Have you lied? Have you craved something that doesn’t belong to you? Have you had an unkind thought about someone else? We can’t even keep the 10 Commandments for a day, let alone the multitude of rules in the Book of Leviticus. And the penalty?

The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Yes, this is a major bummer! But read again tomorrow to see the amazing hope God gives the guilty sinner in the Book of Leviticus!

Savoring the Symphony

I love summer!

Each morning at about 4:30, the first rays of the sun begin chasing back the darkness. The brightening sky calls together a heavenly ensemble in the secluded sanctuary of my backyard.

The forest trees mingle with the climbing vines of dark purple and crimson clematis. Scattered among the trees and ever-green ferns are bright pink and ruby-red hibiscus, the long glowing purple cones of butterfly bushes, yellow and pink honeysuckle, and the giant white blossom bells rising above yucca. A cathedral of the Creator.

Outside my bedroom window is my bird feeder, and the birds assemble as an early morning choir awaiting breakfast. The hooting owl in the towering firs is joined by a pair of cooing doves. Soon attending are blue jays, bright colored tiny finches, brown and white sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and red-breasted robins, each echoing their offerings for the new day.

The cool breeze blows back the curtains and the songs of the birds sift uninhibited into the bedroom and to our sleeping ears. This morning orchestra becomes so loud at times that my wife keeps a set of earplugs next to the bed.

By the time the sun slides over the hilltops, the song of the birds is replaced with the zip of speeding cars on the road and the roar of jet engines gliding along an invisible flight path overhead from the nearby airport.

I lay here and consider how my life reflects this first hour of the day.

The Bible says: By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Greek word for “workmanship” is the basis for the English word poetry. Think on this: We, through God’s gifts of grace and faith, are His poetry ….

Just as I revel in the morning symphony played outside my bedroom window, God is writing every part of my life as a poem declaring His eternal greatness and glory.

When We See Christ – Esther Kerr Rusthoi (1941)

Oftimes the day seems long, our trials hard to bear,
We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away,
All tears forever over in God’s eternal day.

Refrain
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.

Sometimes the sky looks dark with not a ray of light,
We’re tossed and driven on, no human help in sight;
But there is One in Heaven who knows our deepest care,
Let Jesus solve your problem just go to Him in prayer.

Life’s day will soon be o’er, all storms forever past,
We’ll cross the great divide to Glory, safe at last;
We’ll share the joys of Heaven a harp, a home, a crown,
The tempter will be banished, we’ll lay our burden down.

By Esther Kerr Rusthoi (1941)

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1, 2).

Restoration

After King David’s sin with Bathsheba, God caused the baby born from one night of passion to die. Later, David comforted Bathsheba and she bore another son whom David named Solomon or Shlomo in Hebrew, meaning peace or restoration.

The Bible says that God loved Solomon and gave him another name. When you find God calling someone by name, or changing a person’s name in the Bible, it’s important. He sent word by the hand of Nathan the prophet; so he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord (2 Samuel 12:25). Jedidiah means beloved by Jehovah. The name Jedidiah is related to the name David (meaning beloved).

God caused the death of David and Bathsheba’s first baby, but loved the second child. The first died nameless, but God named the second.

Through the marriage of David to Bathsheba, Solomon was born and received David’s throne. God redeemed David from his sin to something greater in the reign of Solomon. Matthew 1:6 also lets us know that Jesus was born a descendant of Solomon.

God forgave David of his sin. No sin is too great to withstand His saving grace. David’s story of sin, repentance, and God’s restoration is also our story. It’s a reminder that God is powerful enough to work even our greatest sins for our eventual good and His glory.

We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The Parable of the Interview

This was the most important interview Martin Johansson would have in a long time, and it began promptly at 10 am.

Martin prepped all night, reading reports, sifting through thick files, and scanning the pile of books that never left the side of his favorite chair. He wanted each of his questions to be couched in proper and meaningful terms, but more importantly, his final observations had to be perfectly stated.

Today was his first day on the job. Today would determine whether or not all the years of education would pay off … or he’d be standing behind the counter at McDonald’s selling Big Macs and Mc Flurries to people half his age.

He glanced at the clock. Time was flying faster than he was. He’d already created two faint water stains on his grey slacks by wiping the sweat from his hands. His interview with the president today would either make or break his career.

Promptly at 10 o’clock there was a knock at Martin’s office door. He stood from behind his desk and in walked the president of the United States of America. The president extended his hand to Martin and smiled. One more time, Martin wiped his hands on his damp slacks and took the president’s hand. The two introduced themselves and took their respective chairs.

The 50 minute interview passed by faster than expected, but Martin felt he had more than an adequate idea of what to write. He walked the president to the door where two guards quickly assumed their positions on either side of the exiting guest.

Martin returned to his desk and flipped the page on his yellow legal pad. Picking up his pen, he pressed it against the paper.

“Dr Martin Johansson, Psychaitrist. It is my professional opinion that patient Sidney Cramer suffers from acute delusions caused by schizophrenia, believing himself to be the president of the United States of America.”

He set the pen to the side of his face and remembered something he learned the first day in medical school: Mental hospitals are full of people who think they are things which they are not. Reality is grounded, not in what a person professes to be, but in truth.

Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Condemned

where living begins, pastor, Richard L Rice

Your hands lay shackled to your your waist as you move from the hallway through the door. It slams shut behind you and the guards push and pull against the sleeves of your jumpsuit, compelling you toward the high desk at the front of the room.  You wipe your sweaty palms against your thighs, despite the cold chill hanging in the air.

The sound of your chains is interrupted by the bang of a gavel upon the desk and a voice declaring: “You have been accused, convicted, and condemned. Remove the prisoner for execution!”

The only face you see is the one behind the high desk in front of you. “Your honor. I don’t even know what I’ve done. I don’t know why I’m here.”

With obvious annoyance the voice from the bench yells, “You have been accused, convicted, and condemned. Remove the prisoner for execution!”

You struggle to remain standing, but the two guards drag you backward as you cry out, “But I haven’t done anything! Why won’t you listen to me? Why won’t you listen to me?”

We expect scenes like this in Iran and North Korea, but we experience them everyday in our homes and workplaces no matter where we live. We’ve all been accused, convicted, condemned and set for execution by others. It’s what Jesus described with His words:  Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1).

The word Jesus used for “judge” means to “test someone or something with a critical, condemning attitude; to determine guilt without proper and fair examination.” There is no fairness. No consideration. No grace. Just “you’re guilty, so don’t even try to explain yourself.”

The one with such a condemning heart often takes this path to cover up his own large – or larger – fault (Mt 7:3-5). He feels better about himself when he accuses, condemns, and executes another person.

Before you go about executing your friends and family, look at your own reflection in the mirror. Make sure you’re living the way you expect them to live.

Repeating Pentecost

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles obeyed the Great Commission of Jesus by preaching in the city of Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, finally to the far reaches of the Roman world.

The Jewish people – and remember the Apostles were Jews – believed that God was only interested in them, the physical descendants of Abraham. The first controversy in Christianity was whether or not a person could even be a Christian apart from Judaism; but Jesus was actually the Saviour of the world, not just the Jews (Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; 1 John 4:14).

On the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, empowering them to preach as eye-witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1-2). From Jerusalem, the Apostles fanned out to preach about Jesus in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish regions surrounding Jerusalem.

In the Samarian city of Caesarea, the Apostle Peter visited the home of a Roman military commander named Cornelius. As he preached Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard the gospel, just as happened in Jerusalem. Peter testified that God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ … God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life (Acts 11:17, 18).

Shortly after that, the Apostle Paul took the Gospel outside of Israel to the Gentiles. When Paul preached in Ephesus, the most important Greek city in the world at the time of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon the hearers just as He’d done in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

This Pentecostal experience was only ever repeated twice: once in the house of a Roman solider in Samaria, and among a group of Gentiles in the Greek city of Ephesus. The Pentecostal experience proved to the Apostles that the Gospel wasn’t meant for the Jews alone but Jesus is the Saviour for as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39).

There is no more Pentecostal experience: the Gospel has gone out to the ends of the earth and the Church knows that Jesus saves Jews and Gentiles alike.