© Lynn Abbott
“He’s making a list, checking it twice…Gonna find out who’s naughty and who’s nice…”
It’s a familiar Christmas chorus. And if I didn’t know the rest of the melodic line, I’d say the lyrics describe my dog perfectly.
Come a visiting this Christmas and you’ll soon discover that my Labradoodle conscientiously fulfills his role as director of homeland security.
Come what may, he will ascertain the intentions of all who approach. He’s determined…
Gonna find out who is naughty and who is nice.
Actually, Bentley embraces this role as official inspector just about anywhere we go.
And even though, I find myself sometimes apologizing for my 80 pound ferocity that barks loudly at the UPS man who delivers packages, I am rather grateful for my “pup’s” commitment.
Nothing gets past him. He may be sleeping soundly under the kitchen table, but the slightest sound will draw him forth from his den.
When paws hit the floor and scramble for traction, my dog inadvertently carries the table with him for several feet. Just like Atlas and the world.
Such is Bentley’s furor. Such is his calling.
Of course, if I welcome my guests and invite them into the house, he’s all wags. Yet, even with my verbal reassurance, Bentley nevertheless subjects all to a thorough “sniffing.”
No one is immune. Everyone must pass inspection.
And even though I giggle at the sight of the kitchen table galloping toward the front door, I also recognize the wisdom that my dog so well models for me.
He assumes nothing. Rather, he explores everything. And in this uncertain world, that serves us well.
After all, not everyone who knocks is a friend. Not everyone who smiles is without guile.
Some don’t play by the rules.
It’s wise to sniff things out.
Indeed, at this time of year, I’m especially reminded of those who long ago exercised incredible wisdom. Not only did their search of scripture lead them to the Savior, but their obedience to Abba gave Mary, Joseph and our Savior time to escape to Egypt.
You know the story. You’ve seen them represented in nativity scenes year after year. And while the number of the Magi likely exceeded three, their three principal gifts have inspired creche artists all over to depict them as three royally clad easterners.
The wise men.
They were the scholars of the ancient east. Were they Jewish? No.
However, they undoubtedly studied the writings of the Hebrews, and therefore, were familiar with the prophecies regarding Messiah, the coming king.
Some Biblical scholars suggest that it was, in fact, the prophecy of Balaam that informed the wise men. Ironic, isn’t it?
We know from the account in the book of Numbers, that Balak, king of Moab feared the Israelites. He sent messengers to Balaam, a prophet, with an unusual request: would Balaam curse Israel?
Balaam initially inquired of God. He looked for God’s direction. However, although the prophet refused the request, King Balak was not to be easily deterred. He sent his leaders once more. This time, he offered a rich reward.
And so, Balaam waffled.
Of course, God prevented Balaam from making an enormous mistake (Numbers 22:23).
Balaam had listened to the wrong voice. He’d tried to please the Moabites. Temptation had overwhelmed him. He faltered.
Yet, God used him in spite of it all. And the resulting prophecy later led the wise men to Jesus.
Although Balaam had mistakenly trusted those who knocked at his door, Yahweh protected the prophet and even gave him a significant role in the prophetic canon.
Wow. There’s such hope in that. Even when you and I miss truth, when we are deceived, or when we allow the wrong voices to drown out all else, God is sovereign.
In love and grace, our Sovereign-Shepherd directs our paths. He rescues His wandering sheep and brings them back to blessing.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.
But what a lot of heartbreak I’d avoid if I simply took a page from my dog’s guidebook: diligently sniff out the truth.
That’s right. You and I know the Savior; we have His Word. When the doorbell rings, we already have all that we need to differentiate good from evil.
We can check everything twice.
In fact, you and I are commanded to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil,” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22) and to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15).
When I’m feeling hopeless…
When doubt overwhelms me…
When self-condemnation haunts me…
Or fear paralyzes…
It’s time to investigate, Sherlock.
In Christ, you and I have a new identity. The enemy seeks to undermine that. He cannot tear us from the Father’s hand, but he certainly hopes to confuse our thinking, to blind us to God’s Word, and to prevent us from living out our Savior’s truth.
Not every idea or thought comes from God.
Not everyone who knocks at the door is nice. Yeah. If nothing else, I’ve learned at least that much from my dog.
For this reason, I must carefully guard the front door. Without a doubt, you and I need to examine the Scriptures as did the Bereans, (Acts 17:11). And as we study, we compare all to what God says in His Word.
Abba has certainly warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world rather than according to Christ,” (Colossians 2:8).
Of course, it’s easy to get pulled in by all that we see and hear. No doubt, like me, you find the nightly news discouraging. You may even fear the future.
Some days, I feel I can do little to make a difference. And I wonder if I have any choice but to do Balak’s bidding.
But hold on…that’s my cue…
Paul reminds us, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
The enemy seeks to deceive, to dishearten. He excels in peddling fear, condemnation and doubt. He plays to our human tendencies to self-preserve and self-protect. He flatters and tempts.
And like Balak, he’s persistent.
Balaam initially missed that. Although he knew the truth, he nevertheless hesitated. Doubt settled and he listened to Balak instead of to God.
In the heat of spiritual battle, Balaam let his guard down.
What a contrast we find in the Wise Men from the East!
Unlike Balaam, the Magi not only did their homework–exploring Scripture, seeking spiritual discernment–but they also sought to verify their findings. They followed through.
Theirs was not a blind belief. The Magi studied the appearance of the unusual star and they found a reasonable connection to the prophecy.
Thus, fairly confident in their convictions, they traveled to Israel to confirm their faith. In addition, they brought gifts for the expected Hebrew king.
Scripture actually doesn’t tell us just how many there were, but it must have been a significant number because Herod took notice of their arrival. Likely a little uneasy, he “secretly called the Magi” for a meeting, (Matthew 2:7).
I’m sure it the Magi probably didn’t initially question the request as on the surface, Herod’s invitation appeared to be reasonable protocol for foreign dignitaries.
I doubt that Herod would have given their announcement a second thought if his guests had been less important or few in number. For this reason, I believe the company to have been a large one.
Obviously, their numbers were great enough to cause Herod grave consternation. He immediately devised a plan to eliminate any potential rival.
However, he had successfully maneuvered his way through the maze of Roman politics.
I suspect he had mastered the poker face. Rather than reveal his murderous designs, Herod feigned enthusiasm for the Magi’s quest.
“‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him,'” (Matthew 2:8).
Yet, the Magi exercised extraordinary faith. It’s clear they cultivated their connection to God. Scripture records that God warned them in a dream. Thus, after worshiping Christ, they did not return to Herod.
No hesitation. Unlike Balaam, they did not falter. They obeyed Yahweh.
I wish I could say I were always so wise. But quite honestly, I have to admit that, at times, I have listened to some rather dubious visitors.
I’m so thankful that my heavenly Father, in His great grace, has rescued me time and time again. In spite of myself.
I fully appreciate the wisdom of the Magi. Matthew reveals what at first was not apparent.
Herod was foul, not fair.
Or, as Shakespeare penned, “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” (Hamlet, Act I, scene 5).
Herod schemed. He sought to destroy Christ. And even though the Magi did not return to reveal the location of the Christ child, a determined Herod acted with ruthless vehemence.
The Magi’s obedience, however, bought Mary and Joseph time. Having received God’s warning in a dream, they fled to Egypt and fulfilled yet another Old Testament prophecy concerning the Christ, (Matthew 2:15).
Matthew writes that Herod demanded the slaughter of all male children under two in the Bethlehem area. But Mary, Joseph and Jesus had already escaped.
God, in His gracious sovereignty, had thwarted the enemy’s ongoing schemes to curse humanity.
Christ must live to face the cross. There, as our redeemer, He would fulfill the Father’s purpose.
Grace always wins.
You see, ultimately, our omnipotent God has the last word. A thorough examination of Scripture underscores that.
When the nightly news leaves me hopeless… Abba reminds me of our Christmas and future hope, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, One who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him,” (Romans 15:12 and Isaiah 11).
Doubt overwhelms “But the LORD is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one,” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
When self-condemnation haunts, we embrace our new identity in Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).
When fear knocks, Abba speaks reassurance, “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,'” (Isaiah 41:10).
Yes, this coming year, I wish to walk fully in Abba’s truth. I long to truly understand my identity in Christ.
I know I have a long way to travel. For this reason, I thank Abba for His amazing grace.
Some days, I falter. But armed with God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit, I plan to investigate all that knocks.
And for starters, when I hear the noisy clatter, I plan to ask one, all important question… Who dat?
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…” ~Ephesians 1:18-19a