What We Can Learn About Worship From The Magi

“He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:4-6.

Scripture offers us many important journey stories. From Abraham being told to go to the land that God will show him. To the Israelites traveling through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. To Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem before the birth of their Son. And we have the Magi.

The Magi were on a journey to find and worship the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Fast forward thousands of years and ask yourself this question: Are you on the same journey to find and worship the Savior, who is Christ the Lord? So, what we can learn from these wise men, who traveled to find the newborn king?

Many lessons can be learned from the actions of the wise men. For example, they made it a priority to pursue the Lord. These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They were committed to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence? Secondly, they came to worship Him. Matthew 2:2 says, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” When they found Jesus, they bowed down. They were overjoyed. Because when they met Jesus, the search was over. They started as seekers, but when they found Him, they became worshippers. They have come all this way for one reason, and one reason only: To worship the newborn King of the Jews. They didn’t come with any kind of agenda. They weren’t looking for the answer to the meaning of life or trying to court favor with a king early in His life. They simply came to pay homage to Him, and to offer Him gifts. Fast forward several thousand years: do we come without any kind of agenda? Is our goal simply to worship Jesus? Do we offer Him gifts?   

They saw the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Their search was over. Their lives were changed forever. Will we respond like the Magi?  Seeking after God, humbling themselves, giving themselves, and obeying the Lord.  They were true worshippers.  That is the story of the gospel.  Jesus came to save sinners.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came for tax collectors, prostitutes, rejects, and sinners.  Jesus came to save whoever would trust in Him.  He is the Savior of the world.

Bethlehem was not the end for the Magi.  It was the beginning for them.  May today mark a fresh beginning, a change, in our worship, our passionate pursuit of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Worship and joy are inseparable.  Will you worship Him?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the child Jesus?
  2. What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?

Are You Ready For Some Football?

“ Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. 

The college football games have started. While it is a new season, some things don’t change.  For example, there are a few elite teams that will be elite in 2022. Then there are the other schools who look to the football season with anticipation and hope. The hope is that the team and players will have a breakout year and compete for a championship. Each week while watching the game of your choice the announcers and analysts will praise various athletes for their constant display of courage, dedication, perseverance, strength, determination, will, and passion. The young men playing college football are incredible athletes, but no one person can do it on their own. Teams win because they function as a team because the players execute the coach’s game plan.

We as Christians are part of a team. We are a group of people who are called by Jesus to work together with the common purpose of carrying out His will on the earth. Just like in college football, playing on God’s team takes sacrifice, dedication, relentlessness, courage, and passion. Since we as Christians are indeed a team, then we have a Coach that never makes any mistakes and ultimately wins everything.  The game schedule for Christians is tough and a lengthy one, basically 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. We never stop playing because life never stops happening.  

To play well in the game of life, we need to give our spiritual head Coach everything we have. We need to put all of our efforts into doing what He asks of us as a player on His team. Jesus will never fail and will perfectly do His part. It was up to us to do our part as players. As you accept your part of God’s team, your part in the body of Christ, you will not only find your place in the world but also purpose and meaning because you’re finally doing and being who you were created to be. You have a certain role to play, the others are dependent on you to do your part. That’s why it is important to do your part and pull for team God. Every part affects the functionality of the whole. It really does matter what you do or what you leave undone.

At times, we are going to get tired and want to give up. But the same way a team feeds off the energy of its fans, we can draw strength from one another. Paul reminds the church in Rome of the special power that comes through unity in Christ. “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 15:5-6)

Discussion Questions

  1. God designed you to be a team player: agree or disagree and why?  
  2. What are some of our responsibilities when we play on God’s team? What does being on God’s team look like in real life? 

The Difference Between Involvement And Commitment

  “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” –  Ephesians 5:10.

There is some confusion between involvement and commitment. To be involved typically means staying as long as you are happy.  Commitment is entirely different. Commitment is not a promise, it is the point when the promise is kept. Commitment requires planning, perseverance, and sacrifice.  

What would have happened if Noah had not been fully committed; if he had completed only ninety percent of what God asked him to do?  Imagine if he had left part of the hull unfinished, choosing instead to use the time for other things.  

God wasn’t asking for an imperfect being to create a perfect product out of imperfect material, but He was asking Noah to stay committed and complete His request.  Noah could not afford to be indifferent to God’s will, and neither can we.  Noah had to complete the Ark because it was God’s will.  His salvation, his family’s chance of surviving catastrophe, and the fulfillment of God’s will were all dependent upon his complete and total willingness to trust God.  The same is true for us.  We need to trust God completely.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Real commitment is certainly difficult, yet we are asked to do it every day.  We’re asked to commit to spouses, children, jobs, church, communities, and countless other things.  Many of these types of commitments require balance. Work-life balance means we have to balance the time and effort from one commitment to another.  While this is important, it doesn’t work with our commitment to follow Jesus.  God does not expect us to manage everything perfectly, but He does expect our first commitment to be to Him.  

Much of our spiritual life is a process of letting go of old habits and embracing our new life as a follower of Jesus.  We won’t always get it right and we will make mistakes, but we will keep moving forward if we remain steadfast in our commitment to God.  “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

A life serving Jesus requires total commitment.  Galatians  6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God doesn’t leave us alone.  He gave us His Holy Spirit to walk and climb right next to us, giving us strength. God will remind us of how He guided us through difficult paths in the past so we can persevere now.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your commitment to Jesus? Why did you pick the number you did?
  2. Who or what has the most influence on your day-to-day decisions? Where does Jesus fall in the order of influential voices in your life?
  3. What step do you need to take this week to make your relationship with Jesus your No. 1 priority?

Pride Goes Before A Fall

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” – Daniel 4:37

Maybe you have heard the stories of Nebuchadnezzar, but in case you have not, Daniel, Chapter 4 details the story of Nebuchadnezzar, king in the land of Babylonia. He invaded and defeated Judah, including the city of Jerusalem, ruthlessly killed the inhabitants and took thousands of people captive back to Babylonia including Daniel. Daniel records a few of the king’s activities, including the building of a golden image. After building the golden image, Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree that his all his people were to bow down to it. The golden image symbolized his invincibility. No other king or kingdom could overpower him.

But this “invincible” king was about to learn a valuable lesson that God is sovereign, a lesson he would learn the hard way.

Nebuchadnezzar, proud of his splendor and majesty, aspired to surpass his God-given position of honor, and decided go beyond it. The king had a dream. His wise men were unable to interpret the team so Daniel, who was successful in the past of revealing the dream as well as the what the dream meant, was called.

The dream is a large strong tree that had leaves and fruit but it was cut down and all that was left was the stump. Daniel interpreted the dream and told the king the tree represented him and for seven years he would have the heart of an animal and would behave as an animal for those years. His kingdom would not be taken away from him, although he would be too incapacitated to govern. Daniel appeals to the king in verse 27: “Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

For a period of twelve months, nothing happened. But in verses 29-30 we read the following: “Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Verse 31-33 tells us what happens next. “Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”

Only when he returned to humbling himself before God and acknowledging God’s sovereignty over his life, was he restored back to the kingdom. And he admitted at the end of verse 36 that “… those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” Even the most powerful person. Even kings.

A study of history will reveal any number of great people who fell victim to their pride. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and others will go down as major history lessons for all of us to see what pride, arrogance, and a haughty spirit can do to a person and his life.

But what about us? We are not great people or kings. Pride can affect us and our relationships just as easily as the more visible examples in history. We need to ask ourselves if we have blind spots that have been created because we did not recognize pride in my life. And what has been the impact of that pride in our relationships?

My prayer is that God will teach us in the Sabotage series the truth of Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Tomorrow we will take about the antidote for pride; humility.

Discussion Questions.
1. Read Daniel 4. How would you entitle this chapter?
2. In Verse 4, the king said he was contented and prosperous. When things are going well in your own life, does this make you more vulnerable to pride?
3. Thinking of yourself as a tree, have you ever been cut down to size? What were the circumstances? Do you think that God was involved? How did you feel afterward?
4. Why do you suppose that God allowed a year to pass before fulfilling the dream?
5. If someone were to give you advice as Daniel did to Nebuchadnezzar in Verse 27, what would it be?
6. Pray that God will teach you to listen to his direction in your life.

The Perfect Resume?

Most of us have slaved over a resume at one time or another.  It is one sheet upon which you inform a potential employer about all your good qualities in an effort to distinguish your work and experience from the other hundreds of resumes. A resume is your way of introducing yourself, and giving that potential employer a chance to determine if they want to get to know you any better.

In Philippians 3, Paul presents us with his religious resume. And what a resume it was. Paul has bragging rights. If it’s ethnicity, family background, education, denominational affiliation, or accomplishments – I don’t care what criteria you wish to judge by – Paul has it in his resume. Paul has all the right stuff.

Yet, Paul looks over his religious resume – his bloodline, his knowledge of Hebrew, his learning, his commitment, his enthusiasm, his adherence to every jot and tittle of the law – and says that compared to life in Jesus Christ, all of those things, are rubbish. Rubbish? Really? It makes one wonder about my accomplishments and achievements reflected on my resume. Doesn’t it?

In Paul’s day, many people confused their religious resume with faith in God. Their resume was built on an individual’s accomplishments rather than on what God had done in, through, and for them. That is still true of us today. People ask us about our faith and we talk about affiliation and accomplishments. And no wonder.

We’re told to be productive, to make a name for ourselves, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We’re told to harness the power of positive thinking, to tap the secret deep inside ourselves, to be self-made people. We are self-made, on our own, and completely self-sufficient. The problem with focusing inward and cataloging my accomplishments is that, after awhile, I actually begin to believe my own hype, and I begin to think that I’m all that and more.

Then, Paul reminds us of where our priorities are. You think you’re something? You think your accomplishments are something to be proud of? You think it’s all about you? Turns out it’s all about having a relationship with Christ. It’s bigger than me. It’s about my values, and my attitudes, and my behaviors being shaped by Jesus Christ. It really has nothing to do with what people think of us, or if we’re keeping up the right religious appearances. At the end of the day, none of it matters. My accomplishments and affiliations are nothing more than rubbish.

I know that sounds so counter intuitive to what society tells us, but in reality this is good news. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I don’t have to be Mega Christian. I can be myself, someone with the same doubts and fears and shortcomings as anyone else in the room. I realize that everything does not rise and fall on my own personal accomplishments, because I am part of something greater than myself. I am part of Christ, I am connected to His body, and this is now the greatest and most important thing going on in my life.

So take the first steps or continued steps to sacrifice your ego on the altar of God. If you are one who has worked on being a self-made Christian by trying to beef up your religious resume, consider Paul’s message to press on even more diligently in winning the prize, which is a life with Jesus.

Questions:
1. What is Paul’s number one priority? What is our number one priority?
2. What does he consider rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus?
3. Are there things you put in front of God? What would you be willing to give up in order to know Him better?
4. Who do you know that seems to put Jesus first? How can you tell?

The True Servant’s Heart

Every one of us knows at least one person who will do about anything possible for you. I have met many such people at Northstar. They are willing to change their plans and help you at the drop of a hat. I admire those people and wish to be like them.

But then I read Philippians 2:6 which says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” I have read that verse many times, yet it still blows my mind. My reality, my perspective, my understanding, my awareness, my wisdom, and my discernment concerning God is too insufficient to process what the Son of God did for me. It never fails to remind me of Isaiah 55:8-9:“ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yes, there are people that will go out of their way to help me, but Jesus was God, yet He came down to earth as a servant, humbling himself as a human. Now add verses 7 and 8 in Philippians 2 “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! ”

How do you get your arms around that one phrase, “He made himself nothing?”

He was born in a trough for feeding animals. He was born in the likeness of men. The first day of His earthly life, He had enemies. He submitted Himself to parents, themselves by nature sinners against Him. Since He voluntarily submitted to His own Law, He obeyed His parents, “for this is right.” He was trained in a common laborer’s trade.

He had one purpose on His mind, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)  And these “many” were His enemies, haters of God and an insult to His righteousness and holiness.

He was baptized by a sinful man, John. He endured temptation and near starvation in the desert. He made Himself available to any needy individual and spent three years helping others, morning, noon, and night, when fresh, when tired, even washing people’s feet like a slave and having no place to lay His head, all the while setting His face like a flint toward the Cross.

And then there is Judas. Even though Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, he still washed his feet. Can you imagine? I have a hard time being nice to someone who cuts me off in traffic, let alone someone who set me up to be killed.

The bottom line is this. We all should be blown away when we think about the sacrifice that Jesus paid for all of us on the cross and the ultimate servant He was on earth. It makes me want to be more like Him.  My prayer for Northstar is that we will be motivated to be more sacrificial and servant-like. That God would cultivate a heart in us that everyone we meet would characterize as a servant’s heart. Not just so that we can be seen as a servant, but so that people can see the awesome sacrifice of making Himself nothing to save unworthy sinners from their sin.

Questions:
1. How do you react to the phrase, “He made Himself nothing?”
2. Why did Christ take on the limitations of being human even though He was of the same nature as God? (2:7)
3. How is Christ the best example of humility and unselfishness for us? (2:6-8)
4. How does Christ’s example of humility challenge our natural self-centeredness?
5. Pray and ask God for the heart of a servant. What actions could you take this week to have the heart of a servant?