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The fire crackled as I watched sparks fly up into the evening sky. I stared at the faces of the men sharing the warmth of the fire with me.

“You are a long way from home,” I remarked to them.

They nodded in agreement. I struggled to make conversation with these visitors. I had never encounted a group of men so thoughtful, so wise. There was something different about them. Instead of worshiping the stars as a god, they used the stars to navigate — one star in particular.

“Why are you following this star?” I asked.

“We are seeking the one who has been born king of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and we desire to worship him.”

“Worship him?!” I exclaimed.

They just smiled and nodded. I wondered if they realized what they were saying. Herod wouldn’t be too pleased to know the Jewish people also had a king.

“So where is this ‘king of the Jews’ supposed to be born?” I asked.

One of the men looked at me with a surprised look, like I should know. “In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about. That was an old writing I read as a boy. It was one of many prophesies I read, but could this actually be happening as it was foretold? These men seemed so sincere about their journey, men of power and prestige. Yet they were willing to humble themselves before this newborn king. I grabbed the metal rod next to me and poked at the fire, stirring up the flames. I watched as sparks effortlessly floated up and I fixed my eyes on the vastness of the starlit sky.

#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 someone who encountered the Magi as they followed the star based on Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

Help me dear Lord to discern your truth in a world that bombards me with false hope. Give me the wisdom to see with your eyes, to choose your way. Let me not lose my first love, your love dear Jesus filling my life; the joy of your presence in my life. Show me Lord when I’ve fallen and help me get back on my feet. May your Spirit be evident in my life. Thank you for your love and grace.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” – Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Revelation 2:7

© 2019 CGThelen

People are searching today for meaning in their life. The question is if they can find Jesus. When people visit your church do they say, “The Lord is there.” When people visit your home do they say, “The Lord is there.” When people spend time with you do they say, “The Lord is there.”

In the last few chapters of Ezekiel (40-48), the Lord gives a vision to Ezekiel showing the temple in intricate detail including measurements. Verse 43:4 tells us, “The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” The last verse of the book (48:35) says, “The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits (about six miles). ‘And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.’”

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God dwells within us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:21-22: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Yet do people outside the church recognize the Lord is present in us and our community of believers?

Paul wrote in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Spirit of God dwelling within us is the external sign of our faith in Christ Jesus. It is the evidence that Christ is alive within us and the body of believers in Jesus. It is what prompts those outside faith in Christ to remark, “The Lord is there.”

© 2019 CGThelen

It’s happened many times in my life. I am in a deep conversation with someone about Christianity and it feels like I am speaking another language. I keep hitting a stonewall. No matter how hard I try to explain my faith in Jesus, they can’t seem to hear it. I just want to throw up my hands in frustration and walk away. But Jesus offers us some insight into those who refuse to grasp the truth.

In John 8:31-47, Jesus is in the middle of one his many debates with the Jewish people and they just can’t seem to hear what he is saying. In verses 31-33 he made the statement: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (NIV).” The Jewish people argue that as descendants of Abraham they are children of God and slaves to no one. Jesus makes the distinction that their actions say otherwise. “Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word,” Jesus told them (37). He then makes a distinction about which family they belong to, God his father or the devil.

“Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say,” Jesus told them (43). It’s a harsh reality, but people who don’t believe Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins are not part of the family of God. They can’t hear what we say because it is God’s truth. Jesus doesn’t mince any words: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires (45).” They can’t hear because Jesus speaks the language of truth while the devil, “the father of lies,” speaks his native language of lies (45). The truth and lies don’t mix. They are totally different languages.

So when we encounter people who seem to not want to hear the truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to understand they speak a different language. In the midst of a frustrating conversation with someone trying to convince you Christianity is phony, remember who they belong to, the father of lies; and remember where we came from.

We were once slaves to sin, chained to lies we thought were truth. Praise God we were set free through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the truth has set us free and there is hope it will also set free those who want to hear the truth of Jesus Christ. We need to remain patiently hopeful that the truth we speak will eventually overcome the lies, that they will learn the language of God’s truth.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

© 2019 CGThelen

My heart races

In the tall grass

I make my way

Eyes wide open

Alert for sounds

I hear growling

A twig snaps

I am pursued

By my adversary

Once he held me

Tightly bound

With heavy chains

And a steel cage

Until my savior

Told me the truth

That I had the key

To set myself free

Once unlocked

I fled his evil grip

Feeling freedom

My heart overflowed

With pure joy

Yet his anger stirred

He came after me

Angry I was free

No longer a prisoner

Chained to his lies

He keeps pursuing me

Not wanting to let go

Hunting me in the dark

With flaming arrows

Shouting out lies

Hiding somewhere

In the tall grass

Waiting to pounce

But I press on

With the truth

Close by my side

With the key

Firmly in my hand

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Many were grumbling in the crowd. They spoke the very question on my mind.

Indeed, what he taught was very hard to accept. It drew a line between my life as a Jew and one following this new teaching. There was no middle ground. To choose one meant leaving the other. Apparently others felt the same.

There was an awkward silence among us casual followers of Jesus. I waited for his response. So often his words pierced me like a sword, to my very soul. He touched me deeply in a way I could not explain. There was something different about him. Yet I wrestled with what following him meant to my life. Already my family and friends were making comments about how much time I was spending with Jesus.

“Does this offend you?” Jesus said. “Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

How did he know? Once again he cut to the heart of the matter. I questioned myself if I really believed he is the Messiah. Could he be the Son of God like he claimed to be? I could feel his words penetrate me. “They are full of the Spirit and life,” I whispered to myself. Somehow he knew who was struggling with fully committing to him.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” I could feel something stirring in me to commit to follow Jesus, yet what would my family and friends say? I feared they would abandon me.

I watched as several of his followers turned and walked away. His teaching is hard. There is no middle ground. It caused people to choose — a new life with Jesus, or a life without him. I watched a couple of my friends start to leave. They stopped and motioned to me to follow them. I sighed and started to walk with them.

From behind me I could hear Jesus say to the few remaining followers, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Then I heard one of them reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” A surge of regret filled me inside, yet I continued walking with my friends.

#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 casual follower of Jesus who hears Jesus’ challenge in John 6:60-69 (NIV).

© 2019 CGThelen

There is a natural rhythm to life as expressed in Ecclesiastes 3, “a season for every activity under the heavens (verse 1, NIV).” As you read verses 2-8, it’s hard not to feel the emotion that Solomon describes in so many of these life events — the sorrow and the joy. We can readily identify with so many of the seasons of life that are expressed in these verses, but we don’t always understand the purpose behind them.

In the verses that follow 2-8, Solomon provides a clue for the reason for the rhythm of joy and sorrow we feel in life. In verse 9 he related to our frustration at times in trying to understand what we gain from our toil, the burden to find purpose. It is that desire to seek meaning that should point us toward God. We cannot “fathom what God has done from beginning to end,” but we can begin to see “how he has made everything beautiful in its time (11).” To “find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (13).”

It is a gift from God to be able to see how he makes everything beautiful in its time. We can feel the joy of new birth and smile holding a new born baby, but the sorrow of death is hard to understand (2). We can feel the pride of constructing a new home, but feel sad when we watch our grandparents’ home torn down to make way for the new (3). We can smile at a keepsake given us, but cry when we must sort through and throw away sentimental things we have accumulated through life (6). Without God we cannot understand these rhythms in life, but with God we are able to trust he has a purpose for everything under the sun.

Solomon told us in verses 3:12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” May we receive this gift from God and accept his purposes, the rhythms of the seasons of our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

Years ago our friends were building a house and they gave us a tour of the roughed-in frame. As we walked through each room, I noticed they had scripture written on the beams and door posts throughout the house. “What a great idea,” I told them. They explained that they wanted their new home surrounded by the word of God. I decided to copy their idea, but never thought about the impact it might have years later.

In the 23 years we lived in our old house, I occasionally wrote scripture on the wall as we remodeled or repainted a room. Sometimes it wasn’t painted over if I scrawled it on a wall where a cabinet was placed or fastened to the wall. It was good to know God’s word was throughout our home. I didn’t consider its impact beyond that.

Three years ago we sold our house to my nephew and moved to another home. As we started to remodel our new home, I again started to write scripture on the walls to continue the tradition. Last week I was surprised when my nephew texted a picture to me showing some scripture he found written on the wall after he removed the old mirror above the bathroom sink. You can see in the picture below it is a passage from James.

“Looks like you left me an inspirational verse?” He wrote to me. He didn’t realize I scrawled that verse on the wall several years before we sold the house to him, but it appeared we left the verse for him. I took the opportunity to share more scripture with him in my response, praying his family would continue to deepen their faith in Jesus. It made me wish we hadn’t painted over other verses, that we had left more of them visible. I did tell him how we wrote scripture on the walls and usually painted over it, but he found one that was visible. “Now you know God’s word is all around you,” I added.

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

– James 1:23-23 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

The windmill vanes

Turn to the wind

Desperately grasping

Trying in vain

To capture the wind

The wind blows past

Spinning the windmill

Gears creak and turn

The pump rises and falls

Water emerges and flows

The wind passes through

We cannot see it

Yet we know it’s there

Building windmills

To capture its power

God’s presence is evident

His Spirit blows through

May we turn to face him

Let him turn our life

To let living water flow

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

We live in a world of the seen, the visible. Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight all give us a sense of this world we live in. Yet it is the unseen that guides us — our conscience, our emotions, our thoughts deep within our being. Our mind directs our actions, our beliefs.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (NIV).” Ultimately we must acknowledge the unseen, feel the presence of God, know that he is in our midst. We must take that step of faith and earnestly seek him. Yet doubts can persist.

In John 20:24-29 we read about Thomas doubting Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord (verse 25).” Yet Thomas’ doubts persist and he replies, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe (25).” A week later Thomas is with the disciples when Jesus again stands among them. Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (27).”

Because Thomas saw Jesus in the flesh, he replied to Jesus, “My Lord and my God (28)!” It will be the same for everyone someday when we stand before Jesus. Romans 14:10-11 tells us that one day we will all stand before God’s judgement seat where there will be no doubt. Then “‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God (verse 11).” Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).”

© 2019 CGThelen

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