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A Journey of Faith With The Magi Part 2

Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… (NIV)

They were Magi. Astrologers. Educated men known for their wisdom. Men of position and prestige. Men who were likely from Persia, what is today Iran. Despite their status, they were willing to sacrifice for their faith and leave everything behind.to travel 800-900 miles from Persia to Jerusalem.

As we approach Christmas, it’s appropriate to take a look at our own journey of faith. How much are you willing to sacrifice? Would you leave right now to travel 800-900 miles, the equivalent of a trip from Chicago, Illinois to Boise, Idaho, to seek the Messiah? Would you travel on horseback or camel and leave everything behind to travel across rugged trails and terrain, through snow and cold across the plains? Just how far are you willing to go to seek Christ?

The magi knew the prophesy of the Messiah. They recognized the signs of his birth and put their faith into action. The magi went the distance to find the Messiah. They went all the way to Jerusalem. How far are you willing to go to demonstrate your commitment to Christ?

Next Post: A Bold Faith Put into Action

This post originally published Dec. 9, 2010.

The story of the magi is a familiar part of the Christmas story. Maybe too familiar. We know all too well their journey from the east to find the Messiah, the new-born king. Or do we? Sometimes our familiarity with scripture causes us to miss significant things, just as many who encountered the magi missed the news about Jesus’ birth.

The story of the magi is as much about their physical journey to find the Messiah as it is about their journey of faith. There is a lot we can learn from the magi. When you take a close look at the scripture in Matthew 2, you find the magi had four characteristics that were the foundation of their faith:

  • A willingness to sacrifice
  • A desire to put their faith into action
  • A fear of God, not men
  • A generous and humble spirit

Journey with me over the next few days as we travel with the magi through Matthew 2:1-12, verse by verse, in search of the new-born king.

Next Post: The Journey of Faith Begins with a Commitment to Christ

This post originally published Dec. 7, 2010.

For the last year I have been watching my granddaughter grow and develop. It is amazing to see how she has matured from a helpless infant to toddler. She is walking now and able to explore so many more things that are now within her reach. In a world we have known for so long, everything is new to her.

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This is what I think of when Jesus said in Mark 10:15, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (NIV).” A little child is curious about the world and wants to learn about it. They don’t walk around and analyze everything they see or question its existence. A little child is full of wonder and amazement at the world. They hunger to learn about it.

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So many things prevent people from receiving the Kingdom of God. Approaching God as a child means we trust him to care for us, to provide for us. It means depending on him to protect us, knowing he will guide us away from dangerous things that affect our faith. It is that childlike wonder at the vastness of the world God created and his infinite love for us.

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Don’t let others hinder you from approaching Jesus with your childlike faith. Run to him with wonder and amazement at the grace he gives us, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:4).” Let Jesus take you into his arms; let him place his hand on you and bless you.

“Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” is a popular song for kids in church. One of the stanzas kids shout out is, “And the walls came tumbling down.” Indeed, Joshua 6:20 tells us that when the Israelites heard the trumpets they shouted and “the wall fell flat.” But there is one verse that makes me wonder if the entire wall was actually flattened.

In Joshua chapter 2, we read about how Rahab hid the men that Joshua sent to spy on the city. In 2:9, Rahab expresses her faith in God by telling them she knows “the Lord has given you this land.” She strikes a deal with the spies who tell her to tie a scarlet thread in her window and they would spare anyone in her house. But it is not this deal that gave me pause in this chapter.

If you read the chapter carefully, you’ll notice that 2:18 tells us something amazing, “…her house was on the wall. She was living on the wall.” Anytime a Biblical writer repeats a phrase they want you to take notice. Think about this for a moment. Verse 6:20 tells us the wall around Jericho fell flat and 2:18 tells us Rahab’s house was on the wall.

We know in verse 6:22-23 that the two spies “went in” Rahab’s house and spared her as well as her family. The wall fell flat except Rahab’s house which was on the wall. Imagine Rahab’s family huddled in that house as the Israelites shouted after the trumpets blared. Picture the tremendous noise and vibration as the wall crumbled around them. All they had was the scarlet cord in the window to tell them they would be spared from God’s judgement.

With the wall gone, the Israelites took Jericoh and destroyed everyone and everything as God commanded. Just as death passed over Israelite homes with blood over their doorway in the Passover in Exodus, destruction passed over Rahab and her family because of a blood-colored cord in their window. It was Rahab’s faith in God that brought salvation to her home.

As Revelation 11:15-18 tells us, someday the seventh trumpet will sound and judgement will be at hand for those opposed to God. Just as Rahab was spared, only the blood of Jesus Christ over the doorway of your life will save you from destruction. On that day, you will feel the noise and vibration of the world crumbling around you, but will be reassured by Rev. 12:11, “And they overcame because of the blood of the Lamb and because of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 18, 2012.

I had anxiously waited for this day to come. With great anticipation I approached the building where I would finally get to tour the Hall of Fame. All the great heroes I had read about from young on were memorialized here.
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My guide greeted me at the door with a warm smile and presence that made me feel like we had been close friends for a long time. “Welcome,” he said as he opened the large ornate door and motioned for me to enter. I stepped through the entrance into a large lobby area with a polished marble floor and vaulted ceiling with a painting of the universe.
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“Ah,” my guide remarked as he observed me gazing upward. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:3, NIV).” I nodded. “It’s important that you understand what we recognize here as greatness,” my guide continued.” I looked at him and said, “The great things they did for God.” My guide shook his head no. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” he explained. “This is what the ancients were commended for (11:1-2).”
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I frowned wondering what he meant. How could someone be commended for just having faith? All the other hall of fames I had visited recognized people for their deeds, their great accomplishments. My guide smiled and motioned for me to follow him through a modest wood door. We entered a dimly lit hall with small gallery lighting illuminating signs with names printed on them. “That’s it?” I exclaimed. “I came all this way to see a bunch of names on a wall?”
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My guide gently smiled and said, “Come, follow me.” As we walked past the names of so many of my heroes, my guide would stop at each one and explain. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (11:8).” At Moses, my guide said. “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (11:27).” 
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We continued down that long hallway as my guide told the stories of all the great names of the faithful. At the end of the hallway we walked around a corner into another long hallway and stopped. I stared at the walls, confused. “These walls are blank. Why?” My guide smiled at me with a gleam in his eye. “These walls are reserved for the faithful yet to come. There is a place for you if you choose to follow God in faith.” I frowned as he continued, “If you choose to persevere and run the race marked out for you (12:1).” He paused and placed his hand on my shoulder, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (12:2).”
#WednesdayWalk through the Bible — Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3.

I have often found comfort in Psalm 91 during traumatic times in my life, particularly verses 1-2: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (NIV).” Finding refuge and rest under his wing (verse 4) is a comforting image of God’s care and concern for us. But when I read Psalm 91 yesterday, the word “fortress” in verse 2 resonated with me.

As a fortress, God also defends us against the forces of evil. We need not be afraid because the arrows of the evil one bounce off the fortress of God that surrounds us (verse 5). We do not need to fear the evil that stalks us (verse 6). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (verse 11).”

Verse 14 tells us God offers protection to those who acknowledge Him; he answers those who call his name. Declaring that God is your refuge is more than just a place of rest; it is also a declaration that you put your trust in God as your fortress against those who pursue you with evil intent. By declaring, “The Lord is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” we verbalize that we put our faith in God and his eternal purposes, not the temporal ways of the world.

For as long as I have been a Christian I have sought to have a heart after God. I have questioned God about many things in my life including many traumatic events, but I have never questioned my belief in God. But last week a fellow believer posed a question to me that I have wrestled with since then: “Do you believe God is who he says he is; do you believe his promises?” She was encouraging me to let go of all my efforts, my own ideas of serving God, and to rest in him. She described it as a funnel where I keep running around the outside trying to do things on my own. Then she asked me, “What happens if you stop running?” I looked at her and said, “I fall into the dark hole at the bottom of the funnel, the unknown.” She nodded, “Exactly.”
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She pinpointed my greatest fear — the fear of the unknown. What I viewed as efforts to serve God were more driven by not wanting to fall into the unknown; of not wanting to fall completely into the hands of God. “Do you trust God to take care of the things you are trying to fix on your own?” I hesitated to answer. The revelation that I did not completely trust God brought tears to my eyes. I thought I was totally devoted to God, to following Christ Jesus, but her words revealed I was still clinging to the sides of the funnel with my own selfish motives and my works.
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She went on to explain that falling into the unknown, falling into the hands of God, releases us to let his Spirit work fully within us. Our efforts become a response to God’s call, a nudging of the Spirit. A heart after God is the first step, but God calls us to a deeper relationship with him. He asks us to trust him and his ways even when they don’t make sense. “Just be still,” she advised me. “He is calling you to still waters, a place of rest.” It is a place where you can hear God’s call.
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Running around the funnel on my own is tiring. Resting by still waters sounded attractive, but was it enough for me to stop running around the funnel? My fear of falling into the unknown still caused me to cling to the edge of the funnel. Even though I know God is there at the bottom with open hands to catch me, I can’t seem to let go. I feel God’s tug on my life, yet I still keep running around the funnel, too scared to fall into his hands.
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This seems like a crisis of faith I am in. Will I let go of my own efforts and fall into a deeper relationship with the God of the universe who is patiently waiting for me; am I willing to die to self so I can fully live for Christ? It is not so much a question of belief, but a question of if I will give all I am to follow God even if I don’t know where he is leading me? Can I really let go of my efforts to control my life and let the hand of God guide me?
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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. – Gen. 12:1 (NIV)
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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. – Matt. 16:24 (NIV)
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Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Matt. 4:19-20 (NIV)

Throughout my Christian life I have taken multiple spiritual gifts inventories, personality tests and aptitude quizzes. They have been helpful to some extent in orienting me toward where I feel God is calling me to serve, yet I have often wondered about God calling me to serve in areas where I feel ill-equipped or where tests show I am not strong in that area. It made me wonder what a spiritual gifts inventory would have shown Gideon prior to God calling him to save Israel.

In Judges 6 we find Israel oppressed by the Midianites because Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord (6:1, NIV).” Verse 6 tells us that the “Midians so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Did God respond with a mighty army to save them; a legion of soldiers who scored high on warrior skills on a spiritual gifts inventory? Not exactly. He sent them Gideon.

Who was Gideon? The angel of the Lord calls him, “mighty warriorand tells him “the Lord is with you (6:12)” To which Gideon responded, that “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (6:13)?” Gideon has doubt about God’s intent to save them and perhaps even more doubt about his ability to lead the charge against their oppressors. The Lord reassures Gideon he has the strength and that he is with him (6:14), yet Gideon still questions God’s judgement. Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family (6:15).”

Sometimes God calls us to do things where we feel unqualified and weak. We can think of others who would be far more qualified in our opinion. Yet God reassures us, as he did Gideon, “the Lord is with you (6:12); I will be with you (6:16).” The Lord who created us often knows us better than we know ourselves. He calls us to fulfill his purpose and asks us to trust him. God sees things in us that sometimes assessments and analysis do not uncover in us. We just need to have faith in God’s judgement of our abilities.

Even though Gideon has doubts, he goes on to accomplish great things for God and brings the freedom from oppression that the Israelites asked for from God — probably not in the way they expected. Read Judges 6:11 – 7:25 and see how God develops Gideon into the mighty warrior he did not see in himself when God first called him. May this passage reassure you that God is with you no matter what he calls you to do.

Fear is an interesting thing. It can create great stress in the midst of troubles and cause us to panic. Yet fear can also protect us from harm and create a proper respect for authority. In Mark 4:35-41 we have the familiar story about fear where the disciples are in the boat with Jesus when a “furious squall came up (verse 37).”

At the beginning of Mark 4 Jesus pushed off in a boat on a lake to address the crowds pressed against the shore. Here he taught the parable of the farmer sowing seed where he explained to his disciples in verse 17, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” He continued to teach and then by evening Jesus and his disciples pushed off in the boat to cross to the other side of the lake (verse 35-36).

Here are the disciples with the son of God sleeping in their boat. They’ve just listened to a full day of Jesus teaching to large crowds. Who wouldn’t think it should be smooth sailing ahead with Jesus along for the ride? But in an instant a storm popped up and nearly swamped the boat (verse 37). Their faith is tested and their first response is to accuse Jesus of not caring what happens to them. A moment later Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, then he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith (verse 40)?”

Why are we so afraid of the people and forces of this world? So often we respond like the disciples in the midst of the storms that pop up in life by crying out to God to do something saying, “Don’t you care?” In the calm after the storm, when the disciples saw the power of God at work, then they had a fear of the Lord. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (verse 41)!’”

I find it interesting how in this passage Jesus took the disciples from fear of the storm to being “terrified” of him. They acquired a proper reverence of God asking, “Who is this?” We should have the same awe and reverence of our Lord, placing our fear before the Lord Jesus and resting in him in the midst of the storms of life. Joshua 24:14 tells us, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness (NIV).”

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a family member in Rahab’s house based on Joshua 2:1-22 and 6:1-25.

I sat in the room with my parents, siblings, inlaws, nieces and nephews. We all barely fit in the small house situated along the outer wall of Jericho. I wondered why I had listened to Rahab. Honestly, what credibility does a prostitute have in knowing about spiritual matters? Yet she insisted we remain in her house if we wanted to survive the impending attack. When I asked her how she knew, she refused to explain as if to protect her source.

We were all scared, melting with fear at what seemed like an inevitable attack on our city. Years ago we heard how the God of the Israelites dried up the Red Sea for them to cross and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Recently word came that they totally destroyed Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan. Now they had crossed the Jordan and were at our doorstep.

I stared out the window and watched the scarlet cord blow in the breeze. I wondered who Rahab was signaling with this impromptu flag. I felt vulnerable looking out the window perched high on the wall as I watched the Israelites approach the city again with priests carrying a golden box and trumpets made of ram horns. Armed men in front and back of them escorted the procession of priests.

I checked the marks I made on the wall to keep track of each time they marched around the city. This would be the seventh time. I tired of this game they were playing with us. I was done hiding in this cramped house with my family so I made my way to the door. I reached for the latch, but a hand stopped me. I turned to see Rahab looking at me with an intense stare. She didn’t have to say a word. She told us when we first entered the house that we could not leave — that the door was all that stood between us and certain death. She told us the God of the Israelites is Lord God in heaven above and on the earth below.

I stood a moment at the door with my hand on the latch. All eyes in the room were upon me. No one said a word as we heard the priests blow the trumpets once again as they circled the wall. The city gates were shut tight, the wall that enclosed the city stood between us and the Israelite army. I thought about who I had more faith in, this God my sister the prostitute talked about or this fortress called Jericho where I lived most of my life.

Suddenly I heard shouting coming from the group of Israelites who were marching around the city. This startled everyone in the room. Several members of our family went to the window to see what was going on. Then I heard a rumbling sound, at first distant, then growing louder. Soon I felt the whole house shaking. Someone shouted, “The wall is crumbling! It’s coming down!” I panicked, “This house is part of the wall!” I reached for the door latch to flee the inevitable.

Rahab stopped me again and looked into my eyes. The sound of the crumbling wall was deafening. We could hear the shouts of the Israelite army entering the city. Judgement day was upon us. If Rahab said something to me, I could not hear it. I stared back at her and nodded. I had to trust; I had to have faith we would be saved from certain death.

Suddenly the door flung open. I turned to see two Israelite men standing in the doorway. “Rahab!” One said. “Have your family follow us.” We exited Rahab’s house and followed the men. As we climbed over the debris of the city wall I glanced back at the chaos, the screams of people and the rising flames. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how close I had come to being part of that death and destruction. We followed the two men to a place outside of their camp. In the distance we could see the dark smoke rising from our former life.

“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.” Matt. 1:5-6 (NIV)

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