“Churches are to be biblically faithful, culturally relevant, counter-cultural communities that reflect God’s kingdom for His glory among the people around us at all times.” – Ed Stetzer.

A tradition is a teaching or practice handed down from one person to another. Church traditions fall into two categories. Some are honorable, beneficial, and timely. Others are outdated, unproductive, and restrictive. In Colossians 2:8 Paul warns about human traditions: “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.”

The enemies of Jesus continually attacked Him over His disregard for human traditions. A case in point is found in Mark chapter 7. The Pharisees confronted Jesus because His disciples failed to pour water over their cupped hands before they ate.  Over the years, hand washing had been elevated to something seen as a necessity for pleasing God.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking, “…Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” (Mark 7:5). The Lord answered the question about tradition with Scripture: “…Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (verses 6-7). Jesus drove the point home when He said, “For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” (verse 8)  Jesus was accusing them of being more interested in keeping man’s traditions than in keeping God’s commandments. In verse 13, Jesus pointed out the greatest harm from the Pharisees: “And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

So, what does this have to do with us? Simply this: We too, must be careful we don’t elevate long-held traditions to the level of biblical directives. In other words, are we doing things a certain way because we have always done them that way?

When Jesus came on the scene and spoke God’s Words to God’s people in simple, understandable, and applicable terms, they were viewed as strange. We don’t want the message of Christ to be derailed by the method of delivery. We do not want to be so in love with traditions of the past that we miss loving and reaching people of the present.  Or that we are more enamored by the way we do church than by the people who need Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you keep our hearts close to Jesus? How can you be careful that your following Jesus does not become an external ritual?
  2. How does Colossians 2:8 apply to your life?

It Is Your Choice?

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” – Luke 2:13-14.

How does the old song go? “Forget your troubles and just get happy Ya better chase all your cares away.”  I can hear Ella Fitzgerald’s cheerful voice in my ear now, but most of us know that simply snapping our fingers and trying to get happy is easier said than done, even when tis’ the season to be merry. Christmas should be a season of peace, but the advent season can often make us feel like our life is a tangled-up string of Christmas lights.

While we may love the Christmas season, worry, busyness, family conflicts, and unmet expectations can take their toll. We are faced with a choice. We can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to bow down in worship.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.‘” And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.

Angels are a model of worship. They bow down before Jesus. They shout with incredible joy as they sing songs of praise. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God. Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than just a cliché. It is an intentional act of worship. It requires a heart of adoration, much like the angels had. When Jesus is the focus of our holiday, we’re focused on His love, peace, and joy.

When worship fills our hearts, it makes our choices for us. When our hearts are filled with worship there is no being annoyed at the long lines at the gas station. It also eliminates the stress that is often a part of the season. When we focus on what Christmas is truly about—the amazing gift of a Savior—we won’t stress out about what presents to buy. Rather we will exhibit the grace of God to others. Worship turns our attention to giving thanks to Jesus for all He has done and leaves little room for less important matters.

There will be lots of choices to be made during the month of December: where to serve, what gifts to buy, and how many events to attend. The most important choice we can make is to worship and sing praises to our Lord. For His gift. For His love. For His peace.

And when our hearts are at peace, our holidays can be too.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the way I worship say about God? What does my worship say about how I see God?
  2. We have choices to make this Christmas season: what can we do to make godly decisions? 

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?

Wise Men And Worship

“Though many kings of the Jews had been born and died, none of them did the Magi seek to adore. And so they who came from a distant foreign land to a kingdom that was entirely strange to them…But they had learned that such a King was born that by adoring Him they might be sure of obtaining from Him the salvation which is of God.” – Saint Augustine.

The Magi or wise men from the east had come to Jerusalem. We don’t know how many came, we don’t know how they made the trip, or specifically from where they came.  We do know that they made a long journey from the east in search of the rightful King of the Jews. Clearly, the Magi understood that this king would be more than just an earthly king.

These wise men went to Jerusalem and began inquiring where the new king was.  It must have come as a shock that nobody knew anything about the king. Herod got wind that a threat to his throne may have been born among the Jews.  He calls together all the experts.  Everyone knows what is going on.  The experts in Scripture know about Bethlehem and the prophecies of the Messiah. But no one from Jerusalem goes to find out anything, except the wise men.

The Magi followed a star to a place in Bethlehem where they find Jesus. And when they found Jesus, they fell down before Him and they worshipped Him.  They humbled themselves and they fell down before this baby, they now called king and worshipped as God. They gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had found the Messiah, the King of kings, the Savior of the world and they worshipped Him.

These wise men were seekers.  It was in their seeking that they saw something.  They saw something of God in creation in the star, then in Scripture through the prophecy, then they saw God in the person of Jesus Christ.  They found the Savior.

It wasn’t just lip service to them. They obeyed God.  They didn’t just give their gifts and then do whatever they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. When God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, they didn’t.  They obeyed. Their worship was authenticated by their obedience.

They had great joy as well. The Scripture says that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  There is no stronger way to say that they had joy.  They were full of the greatest joy.  Worship brings joy.  Worship of the King of kings brings joy, unspeakable joy, hope, and life.  Worship and joy are inseparable partners.  And the Magi discovered it in Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the baby, Jesus? What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?
  2. The wise men were led by a star to Jesus. What are various things in your life that lead you to Jesus?
  3. The wise men went to great lengths to worship Jesus. But Jesus went to greater lengths to love them. How will you respond to God’s love for you this Christmas?

Don’t Miss Christmas – Part 3, Herod

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. – Matthew 2:1-3.

The third person who missed Christmas was Herod. It is very hard to find anything good about him. Basically, Herod was a selfish and evil man. We could probably call him the first Scrooge.

The Bible tells us that Herod called the religious leaders to find out where the future king should be born. He was told “Bethlehem.” After that, he called the wise men and asked them to report to him if their search in Bethlehem proved fruitful. God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod so they returned home by another route.  Herod was enraged and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem.  Joseph and Mary had already fled to Egypt.

The palace of Herod was brimming with wealth and luxury at the time Jesus was born. Fast forward to today. All that “Herod the Great” ever owned lies in the broken ruins and dust of the Middle East. There are no hospitals built in Herod’s name. No colleges or universities claim Herod as their inspiration. No charities rally people to a good cause by remembering Herod’s influence. Herod’s picture doesn’t adorn anyone’s building, home, or jewelry. If it weren’t for the Christmas story, most of us would have never heard this man’s evil legacy.

On the other hand, there is Jesus. In the beginning, Jesus was born in a homeless set of circumstances, while Herod enjoyed his choice of palace beds. In the beginning, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus ran from Herod. While Herod had enormous wealth, Jesus never had a penny. Herod had palaces, but Jesus had simple lodging. He probably slept on the ground, or in borrowed beds more than his own bed, during his ministry. To the untrained eye, in that day, Herod and his kind were in control, had the power, and left a great legacy.

In the end, however, Herod lay dead, and Jesus lived. Even after His death, Jesus lived again, and today, the world is a changed place not because of Herod “the Great,” but because Jesus lives.

See the baby Jesus in a new and fresh way this Christmas season. Give us ears to hear the angels singing. Give us feet like the shepherds to go swiftly to Bethlehem. Give us hands like the Wise Men to offer Him the best that we have. Give us hearts of love to worship Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God included Herod in the Christmas story?
  2. What can we learn from the story of Herod?
  3. What can we do this season to ensure we don’t miss Christmas?  

Are We in Awe of God?

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV).   

Are you in awe of God? Have you ever taken a moment and tried to consider the greatness of God? Maybe you’ve thought about what God has done in the Bible, in your own life, or in the life of someone you know. Psalm 145:3 says “Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.” We cannot even begin to comprehend the full extent of the glory of God and His greatness. He is our Creator, our King, Savior, and Lord.

What should our response to God’s greatness be? Hebrews 12 encourages reverence and awe. Awe is a response to something.  It doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is the result of something seen, experienced, or encountered.  Being in awe of God implies that we respect Him as well as have an attitude of worship and admiration. Psalm 95:6 says “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” God, in His greatness, is worthy of all our devotion and praise. He is worthy of our awe.

God is called “awesome” right after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea. On that occasion, the army of the Egyptians which had pursued them had been washed away. Moses composed a song in commemoration of God’s salvation, in which he said about God: “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). We can easily understand that the Israelites stood in awe when they looked back at the Red Sea. For God had shown His majesty over nature. First, He had stopped the waters from flowing, allowing His people to cross the sea, and then He let the water resume its course. This is an event that even today we cannot fathom.

And yet, awe seems to be a fragile commodity.  One that’s not easily obtained easily lost and or replaced. We have a sense of familiarity that keeps us from captivating our imaginations with awe of who God is. We take God for granted and our worship of Him reflects that. It’s almost looking at the Cosmos with a “shrug” and settling for a passing knowledge.

Each weekend at Northstar and churches across the world, we have the opportunity to learn about and worship God. We have the opportunity to seek Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Why would you settle for “just doing worship” when you could stand in awe?  The one true God is inviting you to see Him and stand amazed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How we can avoid familiarity with God in our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to pause and worship our awesome God?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Glorious

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, God is glorious.  Defining the glory of God is impossible.

“The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections. The infinite beauty—and I am focusing on the manifestation of His character and His worth and attributes — all of His perfections and greatness are beautiful as they are seen, and there are many of them. That is why I use the word manifold.” – John Piper. 

What is the glory of God? And what does it mean to glorify Him in our everyday lives? The glory of God is a term used often in the Bible.

When Moses asked God in Exodus 33:18, “show me your glorious presence” he wasn’t asking for a glimpse of the vault of heaven or to hear a list of God’s credentials read aloud to him. He was asking to see God–to see Him for everything He is. To see His greatness, His splendor, His majesty, His perfect holiness, His goodness. The Bible doesn’t say this, but I wonder if after he said it, Moses was worried about getting what he asked for. It was no small request that could cost him dearly. In verse 20, God says, “…you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” Moses is shielded from seeing God’s face, but God says in verse 19,  “I will make all my goodness pass before you.”  

The scriptures tell us: ”[He] has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? … all the nations of the world are, but a drop in the bucket. [to Him] …[He] spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them.” (Isaiah 40: 12, 15, 22). The prophet attempts to give God’s glory some scale through word pictures. Still, even these very picturesque and helpful descriptions fall miserably short of capturing the awesome glory of God. God’s glory encompasses the greatness, beauty, and perfection of all He is. There is none like Him; He has no rivals, and no valid comparisons can be made to Him. He is beyond our ability to estimate, understand or describe.

There is one activity that Scripture associates far more than any other with glorifying God, and that is worship. At its heart, worship ascribes all glory to God alone. We can glorify God in many ways, but Scripture indicates that nothing we do delights God more than calling on His name with sincere hearts and declaring that all glory belongs to Him.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. The definition of glorifying God is: To honor God by our lives showing His splendor, love, and perfection, that His presence is seen in us. In what ways does the believer do this in everyday life?
  2. What can we do this week to glorify God?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Sovereign

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is sovereign. 

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” – 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. 

God is sovereign. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. There is no higher authority. He is all-powerful. He is present everywhere, so no one can hide from Him or escape His scrutiny. 

There is absolutely nothing that happens in the universe that is outside of God’s influence and authority. As King of kings and Lord of lords, God has no limitations. That’s what being sovereign means. It means being the ultimate source of all power, authority, and everything that exists. Only God can make those claims; therefore, it’s God’s sovereignty that makes Him alone, worthy of worship. Consider just a few of the claims the Bible makes about God:

God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is immortal, and He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. (Revelation 21:6)  God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens (Romans 11:33).

Jerry Bridges said, “Our duty is found in the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. Our trust must be in the sovereign will of God as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives for our good and His glory.” Without God’s sustaining providence, none of us could live another day. “The life of every living thing is in His hand, and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10)  God is in control, and He is sovereignly directing your life. Proverbs 19:21 states, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail”  

God is more powerful, more loving, and more in control than we’ve ever imagined. The more we begin to see God as He longs for us to see Him, the more our lives and our faith will be transformed. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Put in your own words what it means that God is sovereign. What are some of the important life-related issues on which God’s sovereignty touches?
  2. Can you think of a situation you can share where God’s sovereignty touched your life and you only realized it in retrospect?
  3. How might a fresh look at God’s sovereignty affect your life this week?

Is The Church Still Relevant?

“Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” –  Dwight L. Moody

How do you feel about church? Some people think it is full of hypocrites? Others, view it as a self-righteous, religious club.  There is some truth to both those accusations. After all, churches are made up of people, and people are not perfect. Imperfect people make for imperfect churches. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. It’s a place where people go to improve their spiritual health. It’s a place where people go for encouragement, and to get their spiritual batteries recharged. For newer Christians, it is a place where they learn what it means to follow Christ and how to have a relationship with God.  

There was a time in America when the church was the focal point of a community’s culture and calendar. Families would make it a priority to attend church services and functions almost every time the church’s “doors were open.” Sundays featured several hours of church programming. The day started with age-segregated Sunday school classes, followed by the church’s morning worship service. Sunday evening culminated in an evening service. Most churches also hosted mid-week services, like prayer meetings in the church auditorium where everybody got together to pray. 

Times have certainly changed, due to a variety of reasons. But what has not changed is the critical importance of going to church. Why? The most important reason for God’s people to attend church is that the church is God’s idea, “… upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18). 

The church is how God is accomplishing His work on earth today. The Bible is clear, from the narrative in Acts through the Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John, that God’s work in the world today is being completed through His church. One only has to review the words God uses to describe His church to get a glimpse of how important it is to Him: the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. 

In addition, God’s Word instructs us to be involved in the church. It’s clear from passages like Hebrews 10:25 that God wants His people to be actively involved in the church. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another,…” Reading the Bible makes it pretty obvious that church involvement is important. 

God’s Word teaches the importance of active participation in a local church. Believers must make church attendance a priority in their personal and family schedules and put going to church ahead of other seemingly beneficial activities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Someone once said, “Church is something we are.” What does that mean to you? 
  2. How might your life look different if you lived as though church wasn’t a destination or an event, but something you are? 

Is There An Energy Shortage?

“Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” – Mark 12:29-30

The Message translation says, “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” How well do you manage your energy? In a time when a hectic schedule is normal, we need to not only manage our time but manage our energy. 

The longer you live, the more you can appreciate the natural strength and vigor God makes available to sustain your life. People with high levels of energy tend to brighten a room and make life seem easier. Their natural enthusiasm and vibrancy radiate and inspires others around them. On the other hand, folks who are weak with little strength can sap vitality from others—especially if they are down or have negative attitudes. 

God gives each of us certain talents and abilities, and therefore, we glorify God when we use those talents and abilities in church, in our career, or in relationships with others. Loving God with all of our energy, with all of our abilities, and with all of our spiritual gifts, is a way of expressing our love to Him. It means holding nothing back when it comes to our energy level in showing our love for God. It means that when we’re using all that energy to do our very best at everything we do, we’re pleasing God.

As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in every situation” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  Philippians 4:13 explains how: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” 

A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work.” Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul must have understood this truth because look at how he prayed for his brothers and sisters: “… so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;” Colossians 1:10-11.

Are you striving to please God in your own power, or, like Paul, are you struggling with God’s energy? The life God has planned for you is designed to require constant dependence on Him. You cannot do it alone; and if you try, you will find yourself weary and defeated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can you do to better spend your time and energy on spiritual matters this week?