We Three Magicians?

In the church calendar, today is Epiphany – the day when we think about the wise men following a star to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, and that carol is sung. You know the one:
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright;
Westward-leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light
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I do like some of its truths: Gold for kingship; frankincense for a deity; myrrh as a reminder of the kind of death He would die, but you won’t catch me singing the first verse. I hate it with a passion: Firstly because they weren’t kings and nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three of them, but it’s more than that. I don’t like it because it takes away from who they really were and what that means.

The ministry Telling the Truth once released a box set called “Coping with Christmas”. I bought the series on CD and would recommend it. In their message about the wise men or Magi, they said the first four letters of that word gave us a clue: Magi … magic. In Biblical books like Daniel, when it came to distant nations (E.G. Babylon), their ‘Wise men’ were magicians and astrologers. Very likely, these were too.

I find that amazing because in the Law Moses wrote for the Jews, God had something to say about magic and astrology: “Don’t let anyone use magic or witchcraft, or try to explain the meaning of signs” (Deuteronomy 18:10). “The LORD hates anyone who does these things. Because the other nations do these things, the LORD your God will force them out of the land ahead of you.

“The nations you will force out listen to people who use magic and witchcraft, but the LORD your God will not let you do those things” (Deuteronomy 18:12, 14). Astrology and magic aren’t what God wants for His people, and living like that, they (or we in our generation) aren’t right in God’s sight.

But the story of the Magi is so awesome because God didn’t toss them aside or give up on them. When they weren’t living right before Him, He met them where they were at. They studied the stars for guidance, so the Messiah’s star appeared in the east. When they bowed down and gave Jesus their worship, it was a call to a changed life – a life centred around this new-born King they’d come to see.

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Perhaps this Epiphany, it’s worth celebrating that God offers the same to us. If you accept His offer, you can say with me and with Paul: “We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. … But God’s mercy is great, and He loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, He gave us new life with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5).

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Deception

If you were to ask me what I find most difficult to overlook, this would be it: When a friend has lied to me. I think I find it so difficult because a friend is someone I’ve made the choice to trust. We confide in one another, and I value what they say. When trust is broken, that’s turned on its head. They’ve deceived me. Their action shows they don’t value my friendship, and they don’t want me as a confidante.

Jesus is no deceiver. He says: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” He’ll never lie to us. He’ll never break our trust, and as we saw earlier this month, He says to His followers: “Love each other as I have loved you.” This gives us a responsibility as Christians to be totally trustworthy. It’s not for us to keep up a pretence. If we’ve agreed to something, we should stand by that, or have the courage to be honest if we’re failing.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

31 Jesus-Benefits: Knowing our Bibles

It’s my last day of sharing with you these Jesus-benefits. Thank you if you’ve read along, and if you have, you might have guessed what I’ll pick out as one of the most important of all:

That I can read and understand God’s Word.

I read this post fairly recently and it impressed me. As John says in the second of his points, “You wouldn’t show your love for a spouse simply by how you talk about them, you’d show your love by knowing them, spending time with them”. That’s what the Bible does: It helps us get to know God.

I must thank fellow-blogger Barbara for sharing this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “The Bible is God’s message to everybody. We deceive ourselves if we claim to want to hear His voice but neglect the primary channel through which it comes. We must read His Word. We must obey it.”

Back on day 25, we looked at Jesus – our ticket to heaven. I told you how someone joked about being left behind, and how that verse from 1 John came to me straightaway. Jesus said, “Your Word is truth.” We really need to know our Bibles. Otherwise, how can we hold onto truth when other people (and sometimes even our own feelings) try to tell us the opposite?

I’ve put together a plan to read through the Bible in a year with a bit of an introduction, explaining about the Bible and suggesting some good translations to try. Perhaps someone will find it helpful; it seems to be working well for me at the moment.

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

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In case you’re wondering, the winner of the “Just a Minute” book I posted about earlier this month is Melissa, so congratulations to her and thanks to you who’ve supported me and other bloggers in our efforts to post for the 31 days in October. It’ll probably be much quieter here next month!

31 Jesus-Benefits: Not Just Good Intentions

“He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

We’ve thought a lot about Jesus’ life, so today’s post in this series should be no surprise. We also greatly benefit from:

The success of Jesus’ death.

Fellow-Write31Days blogger Rachel wrote a post about Jesus’ death earlier in the week. It’s just beautifully-written if you want to click over and have a read. The truth is that if Jesus had merely died, everything would be different. We’d appreciate this man who wanted to take away our sins, and to conquer the last enemy (death), but they’d be just good intentions. Thankfully, they’re more than that.

“It is true! The Lord has risen” (Luke 24:34).

31 Jesus-Benefits: Truthful Pastors

“So each of us will have to answer to God” (Romans 14:12).

Day 9 of Write31Days, and I’m glad I can choose to attend a church where there’s:

A pastor who says what I need to hear.

I was told years ago that if we weren’t challenged, we wouldn’t grow. I’ve always remembered that, and it’s helped me to stick with the church. Because when your pastor preaches and it touches a raw nerve, it’s tempting to do the spiritual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears! Well, that temptation’s been around for thousands of years. God even addressed it through His spokesman Isaiah:

“These people are like children who lie and refuse to obey; they refuse to listen to the LORD’s teachings. They tell the seers, ‘Don’t see any more visions!’ They say to the prophets, ‘Don’t tell us the truth! Say things that will make us feel good; see only good things for us. Stop blocking our path. Get out of our way. Stop telling us about God, the Holy One of Israel’.

“So this is what the Holy One of Israel says: ‘You people have refused to accept this message and have depended on cruelty and lies to help you. You are guilty of these things. So you will be like a high wall with cracks in it that falls suddenly and breaks into small pieces. You will be like a clay jar that breaks, smashed into many pieces. Those pieces will be too small to take coals from the fire or to get water from a well.’ This is what the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘If you come back to Me and trust Me, you will be saved’” (Isaiah 30:9-15).

Sobering, isn’t it? Do you really want to hear only what makes you feel good? Wouldn’t you rather have the odd sleepless night now than get to the end of your life and realise there were things you should have paid attention to? Let’s appreciate those pastors who preach truth, even when it doesn’t sit easily. God can use their words to make us more like Jesus.

What I Woke up to on Christmas Eve

This morning I was listening to the breakfast show on my local radio-station. When a change to the law brought in same-sex marriage, people said it wouldn’t be long before someone decided to marry their dog … Well, in the news today, a lady has married her cat. I was so sad to hear this. It makes marriage look like nothing more than a gimmick, and yet God says: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one.”
To me, it’s still holy.

There’s also a local pub, which has gone into the Guinness book of records for selling the world’s biggest Christmas dinner. They try to make it more palatable by saying that for every meal ordered, they’ll donate the equivalent in weight to their local food bank, and of course people could share it or take home the left-overs, but with a challenge like this to eat a 10,000-calory dinner, it’s no wonder that people associate Christmas with gluttony.
To me, it’s still holy.

Please enjoy this holy time. Why not celebrate how God sent His Son into the world as a baby, who would later die on a cross to take the punishment for our wrongdoing? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

The Truth About Self

This week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt is truth – that thing that’s so vital in processing what we hear, so we can live our lives well. Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”, which is why it’s so important to find out what He thinks about us and our lives.

Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about self. As an example, here’s a quote from a friend’s update on Facebook:
“Apparently happiness has replaced goodness. We all strive for what will make us happy, to fulfil our desires, to satisfy our needs & dying are the thoughts for doing good. Its all about us. Praying that I’ll change my selfish ways to wanting to make a good choice, to please God with my actions instead of pleasing myself. Happiness only lasts for a time but doing good lasts forever.”

At first glance, this might give the impression that all God wants is for us to do good, paying no attention to our feelings and having no thought for ourselves or our happiness. I admire people like my friend, who’ve given up some of their own comforts to accomplish something greater for God, but I also love my friends dearly and don’t want to see them working themselves into the ground whilst forfeiting their happiness. I’d rather see them work less and smile more, but does Jesus agree?

Just today, I listened to a radio-programme about self-obsession, and the presenter said: “The whole point of following Jesus is that it’s nothing about yourself at all” – again, same impression. If I took just these two quotes on their own, I might be left wondering if God really cared about me.

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” says Jesus, so let’s look for the truth in God’s Word. “God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to Him” (1 Peter 5:7), and one of my favourite verses: “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the wellbeing of His servant” (Psalm 35:27). God delights in our wellbeing – mine and yours. If I had to make a judgment about God, I’d say He’d rather see us work less and smile more too.

Of course doing good is important. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). Doing good is essential to the outworking of our Christian faith, but not at the expense of our joy. I was just thinking about the phrase: ‘Find your joy in the LORD’. Where do you think it’s used in the Bible; in connection with working for Him?

Actually, it’s used in connection with Sabbath – with God’s day of rest. “If you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

There were two sisters who were friends of Jesus while He lived on earth: Martha and Mary. Basically Martha beetled about trying to get everything done, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Jesus said Mary had made the better choice (Luke 10:42). Perhaps, rather than striving to do good or striving for happiness, our life’s goal should be intimacy with Jesus. Out of that will come everything else we need to live our lives for Him.

Lies or Truth?

“A witness who lies will not go free” (Proverbs 19:5, 9).  It’s rare for a phrase to be repeated like that, but there seems a lot in this chapter about lying.

 

“It is better to be poor and honest than to be foolish and tell lies” (Proverbs 19:1), “so it is better to be poor than to be a liar” (Proverbs 19:22).

 

In an earlier chapter, we’re told dishonest words crush the spirit.  I don’t know if lying has got you into trouble:  Maybe it’s to get attention, or to get something you want … but though the reasons might be very complex, please remember the people it affects, and remember their deep sadness/their crushed spirits.  Maybe they long for you to trust them with the truth.

Memory-Verse: Proverbs 25:28

It was lovely to be back in church today, after a week off last Sunday when the clocks went forward and my memory let me down.

 

Our pastor talked about anger and how as Christians, we don’t have an excuse. We can’t blame what we were born into because when we’re born again, the Holy Spirit lives in us and His fruit (E.G. self-control) is available to us. It’s great to have a pastor who’s courageous enough to preach truth and give us these reminders.

 

I can think of a time when something I’ve done in anger has led to people saying hurtful things about me, but what made them say those things? What gave them that impression? To my shame, it was the way I acted, I realised as the life in these words hit home: “If you cannot control your anger, you are as helpless as a city without walls, open to attack” (Proverbs 25:28).

 

If they hit home for you too, why not ask God for His forgiveness and His help in the future?

Love Is …

Have you remembered that Valentine’s Day’s coming up this week?  So I’m linking with Kirsten today to share about love:

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Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.

Love is the Father who understands you while others think you’re extreme.

Love is the Friend who invests in you forever, irrespective of the return.

Love is the Judge who never thinks badly about you, but only what’s true.

Love is to be shared.

Love is unstoppable; even your future can’t change it.

Love is God; God is love.