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In the last verse of Daniel 4, there is a line that grabs my attention: “And those who walk in pride he is able to humble (4:37, NIV).” What is it about pride that tempts us to inflate our ego and take credit for accomplishments that belong to God? Why must we be humbled before we learn to give God credit for all we have in this life?

In Daniel Chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar is humbled after he surveyed his kingdom and said: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty (29).” Some time after making this remark, God humbled the king by driving him away from people where he lived and placed him with animals where he ate grass like an ox (31). Only after the king “praised the Most High”and “glorified him who lives forever (34)” were his “honor and splendor (36)” returned.

God desires us to acknowledge him, to praise him for all we have. It is our pride that often draws us away from crediting God for our accomplishments. We long for praise from other people even for things we do in the church. But John wrote in John 12:42-43 that many leaders “would not openly acknowledge their faith” because “they loved human praise more than praise from God.” The antidote to pride is to publicly acknowledge that God is the source of our accomplishments, for everything we have in this life.

© 2019 CGThelen

I fight the words from within

Feelings that make me weep

Whispering, “You’ll never win.”

Memories I don’t want to keep

Struggling to control thought

Trauma replays in my mind

Emotions make me distraught

I seek relief I cannot find

“Lift yourself up,” others say

Yet inner strength does fail me

While trials linger on each day

From this pain I long to be free

My weary eyes gaze skyward

I pray God will lend a hand

Doing it myself is truly absurd

Trapped in this troubled land

Step by step I learn to walk

With faith in God as my guide

Being self sufficient is all talk

Since now in Christ I do abide

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

© 2019 CGThelen

In the midst of late summer, I see the fruits of my labor in my garden. Ripe, red tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers all appear on lush green plants. Flowers blossom bright hues of reds, orange, pink and purple. The grass is a blanket of soft green carpet that feels soft under my feet. I can say that all of this is a result of my work, but I know that none of it would be possible without God’s hand.

We are the benefactors of God’s creation. He could have chosen to place us in a stark and sterile world void of color and a variety of plants and animals. Yet he created a world full of color, beauty, and awesome splendor — a world that soothes our troubled souls with the sound of waves lapping the shore, the fresh smell of rain and the vast display of a mountain range. God offers us so much more through life with him, but like Adam and Eve we often opt to pursue selfish desires.

Psalm 147: 8-11 reminds us of who sustains us and this world we live in: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

If we only look at the world around us through the eyes of our accomplishments and selfish desires, we will miss seeing the true author of life. God’s love for us is evident in the world he has placed us in. His hope and peace can be found in the life and purpose he has given to us.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published June 30, 2015.

© 2015 CGThelen

I answered the call of the messengers, the call to arms. I did not hesitate to respond, immediately joining my buddies to follow the call of this Gideon. “This is our moment,” I said as we marched, joining thousands of others. I was tired of hiding from the Midianites, tired of the years of oppression. The Lord heard our cries and now Gideon would lead us to remove the stench of Midian from our midst. It was time to extract revenge on them.

Camped at the spring of Harod, I looked over the sea of men, as far as I could see. My best friend told me we were 32,000 strong. I smiled as I thought of the fear that must be present in the Midian camp. I looked north toward the valley near the hill of Moreh and imagined them frozen with fear, knowing we had come to even the score, to punish them for years of tormenting us. “Vengeance is ours this day,” I thought. “We have the strength here to save ourselves!”

Suddenly Gideon appeared and shouted something to the men. “What did he say?” I asked one of my buddies. “I think he said if we’re scared we can leave,” he replied. I couldn’t believe my ears. “That can’t be true!” I said in disbelief. “This is our moment.”

Then I saw Gideon wave his hand. A hush fell over the crowd of men. He repeated his statement as if to anticipate skepticism: “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.” There was a moment of hesitation, then a handful of men started to leave. Soon hundreds followed them. “I’m outta here,” my buddies said. “Wait!” I shouted as I grabbed the arm of my best friend. “This is our moment!” He shook his arm free of my grip. “I’ve seen what those Midianites can do to us,” he replied as he picked up his things. “It was stupid of me to think I wasn’t scared of them.”

I watched in amazement as all my buddies left me standing alone. My heart sank as I watched a river of men pouring out from our camp. I sighed as I scanned the remaining men — a fraction of the force we once had. “Better to get rid of the cowards,” I reassured myself. “We are actually a stronger force now with brave men,” I convinced myself as I moved closer to the remaining men in the camp. Then I saw Gideon again. My heart raced. “Could this be our call to battle?” I wondered.

Gideon motioned to us to go to the water to get a drink. “Smart man,” I thought. I could tell he considered all the details. He wanted to make sure we would not grow faint from thirst as we went into battle. I followed the men into the water and knelt down to get a drink. The water refreshed me. As I stood up I noticed a few men cupped the water in their hands and lapped it like a dog. “They’re acting like an animal,” I mumbled. “What kind of soldier is that? They certainly can’t be a good soldier if they do that.” I watched as Gideon pulled those men aside. Apparently Gideon agreed with my assessment. But then he did something that astounded me.

There must have been about 300 men standing with Gideon when he announced that those men would stay and the rest of us should go home. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The men around me shook their heads and grumbled about Gideon. I had to agree with them. How could we possibly have a victory now with a few hundred men. I followed the other men as we started for home, so disappointed that Gideon had squandered this moment to beat back the Midianites. I stopped a moment and looked back at the small group of men standing with Gideon. “The dogs!” I thought as I turned and continued walking. “They’ll be slaughtered.” The man walking next to me nodded in agreement. “It will take an act of God to save them.”

#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 man who answered Gideon’s call to fight the Midianites, based on Judges 6:1-2, 6 & 34-35; 7:1-8 (NIV).

© 2019 CGThelen

Lord today help me to see myself as you see me. Help me to know you as you know me. Help me to see myself as created in your image.

May we see others we encounter this week as you see them. May we help others to know you dear God as you know them. May we help others see themselves as created in God’s image.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

A constant connection with God

A life aligned with His will

Selfish ambitions cease

Harmonizing my life with God

No longer out of tune

Shedding the burdens

God lightens the load

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).”

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16

© 2019 CGThelen

In 2 Chronicles 1, after the death of David, Solomon “established himself firmly over his kingdom (verse 1, NIV).” That evening, after making sacrifices to the Lord, God appears to Solomon and asks him: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you (verse 5-7).” This is the ultimate test of someone’s heart.

Stop and think for a moment. If someone with the ability to give you anything you wanted asked you what you wanted what would you say? Pose that question to anyone on the street and how many would say they want wisdom and knowledge? How many would request the things God lists in verse 11: “wealth, possessions or honor… death of your enemies.” These are the desires of the flesh, selfish desires.

But Solomon, humbled by the task before him, asks for “wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours (verse 10).” God said to Solomon in the next verse, “Since this is your heart’s desire.” Solomon didn’t just want wisdom and knowledge for himself, but to faithfully perform the task that God laid before him.

When God gives you a difficult task that overwhelms you, a task you feel ill-equipped to handle, how do you respond? Do you seek the counsel of this world and follow your own desires or do you seek wisdom and knowledge from God? Is your heart’s desire to faithfully perform the task he has given you, humbly admitting you feel ill-equipped without his guidance? May you continue to seek the wisdom of God in prayer and His word — in honor and praise of our Lord.

© 2019 CGThelen

A Journey of Faith With the Magi  Part 6

Matt. 2:7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Herod has a secret meeting with the Magi. It’s interesting that he meets with them in private. He does not want people to think he’s concerned about the magi and what they are saying around town. Herod does not want to give the magi any credibility or even hint that there might be some truth in their question about a new born king. He is more concerned about how it might affect his prestige than about the reason the magi made their journey.

Instead, Herod wants to get to the bottom of all this talk about a King of the Jews. From a selfish perspective, he likely asked himself, “Is this another plot to overthrow me? Are these guys spreading rumors to stir a rebellion by telling the Jewish people their Messiah is born?”

Notice Herod asks the magi when the star appeared. It seems no one in Jerusalem is aware of the star. He goes to the source of the rumors around town and interviews the magi. He pretends to be interested in what they are saying, implying he too wants to worship Christ while plotting to protect himself. He’s more concerned about himself than the fact that the savior of the world has been born.

The magi bring the most important news in the world to Herod, yet he misses it because he focuses on himself. It begs the question, “What are we missing in our lives because we are focused on ourselves instead of Christ? Who in our lives is missing Christ because we are more focused on our own needs than the need of others to hear about Christ?”

Often the biggest barrier to putting Christ first is that we want to look out for ourselves first. If we are to be willing to sacrifice; willing to act on our faith; willing to not worry what others think about us; then we must put Christ first in our lives.

Next Post: Listening to God Instead of the World

Originally published Dec. 17, 2010.

© 2010 CGThelen

This is the time of year when some of us get Christmas letters talking about all the great things accomplished during the year. But there is one letter I read recently that boasted about weaknesses and hardships — Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I doubt I would ever use language in a Christmas letter to my friends and family using language like Paul used in verse 10, telling people how “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NIV).”

At the core of living a life for Christ there seems to be a constant battle between self and selflessness; between a life in the Spirit of God and the flesh. Paul wrote about this struggle in 2 Cor. 12, reminding the Corinthian church to not boast about themselves, but to boast about Christ; to boast about their weaknesses. This is something that seems counterintuitive in our world. Afterall, who goes around bragging about how weak they are or their failures in a resume?

Yet humble people are often praised in this world and the arrogant often despised by others as being filled with self. When we empty ourselves of self we make room for the Spirit of God to work within us. We learn to rely on strength in Christ Jesus. As verse 9 reminds us, the Lord’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It seems simple enough that we are strongest in Christ when our selfish motives are weakest. But to put It into practice is a daily struggle. Can I honestly delight in weakness as Paul writes in verse 10? It seems my first response to insults and persecution is to defend myself; my response to hardship and difficulties is to become envious of those who seem to have the perfect life. I am more inclined to boast about myself at the expense of Christ.

In the church when we admit our failures, our weaknesses, we humble ourselves before each other. This helps to open us up to allowing Christ to not only strengthen us, but the body of believers as well. Maybe it’s not a letter bragging about all your weaknesses, but rather sharing one of your struggles with some close friends “so that Christ’s power may rest on” you (verse 9).

© 2018 CGThelen

In so many instances where Jesus confronted the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, I am amazed at how they respond to him. How could they reject Jesus, the son of God standing before their eyes, and not accept him as their Messiah? Yet I often see the same response to Jesus occurring today, not just in the world, but in myself as well.

Mark 12:12 is one example that reveals three key insights on how people rationalize rejecting Jesus: “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (NIV).”

The first insight is they “looked for a way to arrest him.” This shows they were trying to use the law to justify their actions. We see the same thing today in the world where certain laws are enacted as a way to stop Christians from sharing the gospel. Legalism in the church can also be a way to justify our actions when God’s plans seem to interfere with our agenda.

The second insight from this passage touches on how we respond to criticism: “because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.” So often when someone speaks against me, I want to justify my actions or my words to prove I am right. It becomes the motivation for the first insight, to support my cause with the law or legalism instead of listening and correcting my action or words. I become more intent on proving I am right than improving my relationship with Christ.

The third insight is: “But they were afraid of the crowd.” In this incident it appears they saw they were outnumbered by those who came to hear Jesus teach. It was a crowd not necessarily friendly to the Pharisees — perhaps a crowd with a lot of Gentiles. This shows they were not comfortable outside of their usual crowd. Too often I find myself more like the Pharisees instead of being like Jesus who mingled with people who were often rejected by the Jewish leaders, the downtrodden of their society. Too often I fear the crowd instead of God; too often I am not willing to step out of my comfort zone and mingle with people who are not like me.

Jesus often calls us to lay aside our personal agenda. At times the words of Jesus can convict us of things in our life we need to change. The challenge is whether we listen to Jesus and his call for our life, or insist on finding a way to justify our actions by hiding behind laws and legalism or siding with the crowd we know.

© 2018 CGThelen

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