When students from Southeast Asia met a teacher from North America, the visiting instructor learned a lesson. After giving his class their first multiple-choice test, he was surprised to find many questions left unanswered. While handing back the corrected papers, he suggested that, next time, instead of leaving answers blank they should take a guess. Surprised, one of the students raised their hand and asked, “What if I accidentally get the answer right? I would be implying that I knew the answer when I didn’t.” The student and teacher had a different perspective and practice.
In the days of the New Testament, Jewish and Gentile converts were coming to Christ with perspectives as different as East and West. Before long they were disagreeing over matters as diverse as worship days and what a Christ follower is free to eat or drink. The apostle Paul urged them to remember an important fact: None of us is in a position to know or judge the heart of another.
For the sake of harmony with fellow believers, God urges us to realize that we are all accountable to our Lord, to act according to His Word and our conscience. However, He alone is in a position to judge the attitudes of our heart (Rom. 14:4-7).
Many manger scenes depict the wise men, or magi, visiting Jesus in Bethlehem at the same time as the shepherds. But according to the gospel of Matthew, the only place in Scripture where their story is found, the magi showed up later. Jesus was no longer in the manger in a stable at the inn, but in a house. Matthew 2:11 tells us, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Realizing that the magi’s visit happened later than we may think provides a helpful reminder as we begin a new year. Jesus is always worthy of worship. When the holidays are past and we head back to life’s everyday routines, we still have Someone to celebrate.
Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), in every season. He has promised to be with us “always” (28:20). Because He is always with us, we can worship Him in our hearts every day and trust that He will show Himself faithful in the years to come. Just as the magi sought Him, may we seek Him too and worship Him wherever we are.
My son is learning to count from 1 to 10. He counts everything from toys to trees. He counts things I tend to overlook, like the wildflowers on his way to school or the toes on my feet.
My son is also teaching me to count again. Often I become so immersed in things I haven’t finished or things I don’t have that I fail to see all the good things around me. I have forgotten to count the new friends made this year and the answered prayers received, the tears of joy shed and the times of laughter with good friends.
My ten fingers are not enough to count all that God gives me day by day. “Many,
Let us join David as he praises God for all His precious thoughts about us and all He has done for us, when he says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (139:17-18).
Let’s learn to count again!
Every year some two million people from all over the world visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is well worth the admission fee to experience the magnificent structure designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren during the late 17th century. But tourism is secondary at this place of Christian worship. A primary mission of the cathedral is “to enable people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ.” If you want to tour the building and admire the architecture, you must pay an admission fee. But there is no charge to enter and attend any of the daily worship services at St. Paul’s.
How much does it cost to enter the kingdom of God? Entry is free because Jesus Christ paid the price for us by His death. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). When we acknowledge our spiritual need and accept by faith God’s forgiveness for our sins, we have a new and everlasting life in Him.
You can enter a new life today because, by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has paid the price of admission!
When the sun came up on the first day of the seventh month in 444 bc, Ezra started reading the law of Moses (what we know as the first five books of the Bible). Standing on a platform in front of the people in Jerusalem, he read it straight through for the next six hours.
Men, women, and children had gathered at the entrance to the city known as the Water Gate to observe the Festival of Trumpets—one of the feasts prescribed for them by God. As they listened, four reactions stand out.
They stood up in reverence for the Book of the Law (Neh. 8:5). They praised God by lifting their hands and saying “Amen.” They bowed down in humble worship (v. 6). Then they listened carefully as the Scriptures were both read and explained to them (v. 8). What an amazing day as the book that “the Lord had commanded for Israel” (v. 1) was read aloud inside Jerusalem’s newly rebuilt walls!
Ezra’s marathon reading session can remind us that God’s words to us are still meant to be a source of praise, worship, and learning. When we open the Bible and learn more about Christ, let’s praise God, worship Him, and seek to discover what He is saying to us now.
Last year at a retreat I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I laughed with them as we enjoyed the reunion, but I also cried because I knew how much I had missed them.
On the last day of our time together we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. More smiles and tears! I rejoiced over the grace of God, who had given me eternal life and these beautiful days with my friends. But again I cried as I was sobered by what it had cost Jesus to deliver me from my sin.
I thought about Ezra and that wonderful day in Jerusalem. The exiles had returned from captivity and had just completed rebuilding the foundation of the Lord’s temple. The people sang for joy, but some of the older priests cried (Ezra 3:10-12). They were likely remembering Solomon’s temple and its former glory. Or were they grieving over their sins that had led to the captivity in the first place?
Sometimes when we see God at work we experience a wide range of emotions, including joy when we see God’s wonders and sorrow as we remember our sins and the need for His sacrifice.
The Israelites were singing and weeping, the noise was heard far away (v. 13). May our emotions be expressions of our love and worship to our Lord, and may they touch those around us.
During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.
When we think of the chameleon, we probably think of its ability to change color according to its surroundings. But this lizard has another interesting characteristic. On several occasions I've watched a chameleon walk along a pathway and wondered how it ever reached its destination. Reluctantly, the chameleon stretches out one leg, seems to change its mind, attempts again, and then carefully plants a hesitant foot, as if afraid the ground will collapse under it. That was why I couldn't help laughing when I heard someone say, “Do not be a chameleon church member who says, ‘Let me go to church today; no, let me go next week; no, let me wait for a while!’”
“The house of the Lord” at Jerusalem was King David’s place of worship, and he was far from being a “chameleon” worshiper. Rather, he rejoiced with those who said, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). The same was true for believers in the early church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:42, 46).
What a joy it is to join with others in worship and fellowship! Praying and worshiping together, studying the Scriptures together, and caring for one another are essential for our spiritual growth and unity as believers.
Psalm 100 is like a work of art that helps us celebrate our unseen God. While the focus of our worship is beyond view, His people make Him known.
Imagine the artist with brush and palette working the colorful words of this psalm onto a canvas. What emerges before our eyes is a world—“all the earth”—shouting for joy to the Lord (v. 1). Joy. Because it is the delight of our God to redeem us from death. “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus endured the cross (Heb. 12:2 nkjv).
As our eyes move across the canvas we see an all-world choir of countless members singing “with gladness” and “joyful songs” (Ps. 100:2). Our heavenly Father’s heart is pleased when His people worship Him for who He is and what He has done.
Then we see images of ourselves, fashioned from dust in the hands of our Creator, and led like sheep into green pasture (v. 3). We, His people, have a loving Shepherd.
Finally, we see God’s great and glorious dwelling place—and the gates through which His rescued people enter His unseen presence, while giving Him thanks and praise (v. 4).
What a picture, inspired by our God. Our good, loving, and faithful God. No wonder it will take forever to enjoy His greatness!