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A Journey of Faith with the Magi Part 5

Matt. 2:4-6 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Notice Herod does not call the magi right away. First he conducts an investigation. The magi are asking about the King of the Jews so he calls in the Jewish experts. It’s ironic that the chief priests and teachers of the law know the prophesy from the Book of Micah 5:2. They know the scripture and where the Messiah was to be born, yet they did not know the Messiah was already born.

An active faith requires us to not only know scripture but to act on it as well. Where are you at in your faith? Are you more like the Chief priests and teachers of the law who knew scripture and the prophesy, but missed its fulfillment. Scripture to them was just words on a page and the prophesy was just another fact they taught. Or are you like Herod where everything is about him, someone who looked at the news about the Messiah as competition for his throne.

The magi were educated  men who understood the prophesy about the birth of the Messiah. They were men who were sincere in their belief that the Messiah was born — men who were sincere in their pursuit of Christ and willing to give it all to him. Are you willing to follow the magi and follow your faith to Christ?

 Next post: When Self Makes Us Miss the Biggest News on Earth

This post originally published Dec. 15, 2010.

© 2010 CGThelen

A Journey of Faith With The Magi Part 4

Matthew 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.

News about the fulfillment of the prophesy about a Messiah was not well received by King Herod or the people in Jerusalem. It’s interesting when you look at the chronology of the events in the first three verses of Matthew 2, it’s not how it’s often portrayed:

  • Verse 1, the magi arrive in Jerusalem
  • Verse 2, they start asking around about the “one born King of the Jews”
  • Verse 3, eventually Herod hears about it

The magi do not seek an audience with Herod. They start asking about the location of the new-born king. The news about the birth of Jesus spreads through Jerusalem. Eventually, Herod hears about it from someone on the street. It demonstrates that King Herod was paranoid enough to have spies keeping tabs on what was going on in Jerusalem.

Another interesting thing in verse three is that it says they were all disturbed. Think about it. It says, “Herod and all of Jerusalem.” In a time with no cell phones, television and the Internet, the news still traveled fast. So why would they be disturbed by this news? Isn’t this what the Israelites longed for since their exile, a Messiah to save them? Or maybe it was because they said he was already born and they did even know it had happened.

The people in Jerusalem were caught unprepared for the news of the birth of the Messiah, yet they don’t respond with excitement. Contrast this to the sacrifice the magi made to travel to Jerusalem and their desire to put their faith into action. They are totally focused on Christ. Their boldness in asking about the Messiah spreads the news that Christ was born. Remember, they only asked one question and look at the response they received from all in Jerusalem.

What is your response to Christ? Are you like the magi who were bold in professing the Messiah’s birth and not worried about what others might think? Are you true to your faith even in asking a simple question that could have a major impact?

Next Post: Follow the Faith of the Magi Instead of Facts

This post originally published Dec. 13, 2010.

© 2010 CGThelen

A Journey of Faith With The Magi Part 3

Matthew 2:2 … and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Picture the magi coming into Jerusalem, the crossroads of the world. They enter this bustling town full of people going about their daily business. The magi must have thought that the Jewish people would know about the birth of the Messiah. So they inquire of the people in Jerusalem, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?”

Their determination is evident. They focus on finding the Messiah, and acting on their faith. Remember, they are strangers in a strange land, yet they don’t show fear of asking about the Messiah. The magi are not afraid to act on their faith. How is it that these strangers from a far off land show the people in the Israelite’s home town how to live their faith?

What a contrast to the people in Jerusalem who don’t seem to have a clue about what is going on. It appears that the star the magi saw was not even visible in Jerusalem. If you look closely at verse two they ask, “We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.” They didn’t point to the sky and say, “that’s the star we saw.” Apparently the star that was guiding them is not visible.

It’s interesting that they don’t ask if they have heard of the prophesy, they ask, “where is the King of the Jews.” They seem to know he has already been born and they have come to worship him. They are not scared about what people will think. They profess that he has been born and that they want to worship him.

How bold are you about your faith? Are you as bold about your commitment to Christ as the magi? Do you act on the scripture and God’s guidance? Do you fear God more than man?

Next Post: A Determined Faith

This post originally published Dec. 11, 2010.

© 2010 CGThelen

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.

© 2010 CGThelen

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.

© 2010 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

I have read the passage in Mark 10:17-31 many times and heard many sermons about the rich ruler. But this time when I read about Jesus’ encounter with this man, the first sentence in verse 21 caught my attention: “Jesus looked at him and loved him (NIV).” I think too often I have been quick to judge this man who “had great wealth” as someone hopelessly attached to his riches. I think Jesus saw something else in him.

In the opening verse of this passage, the man ran to Jesus “and fell on his knees before him (verse 17).” He addresses Jesus as “good teacher.” This shows the man has respect for Jesus and views him as someone with good advice on eternal matters. I think it’s also significant that the man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said “inherit” instead of “earn” which indicates to me that he desires to be part of the family of God.

This a completely different posture than at the beginning of this chapter where the Pharisees approached Jesus to test him. The rich man seemed sincere in his pursuit of eternal life, but he is misguided in his method of obtaining it. Unlike the Pharisees who seem intent on proving Jesus wrong, this man appears to want a heart after God. Something inside of him is telling him he is missing something and he is excited to see Jesus, excited enough to run to him and to respect him as a “good teacher.”

I think the key point in Mark 10 relates to our attitude toward God. Are you more like the Pharisees where you think you are a mature Christian who needs to test the faith of others, or are you like the man in verse 17 where you desire to learn more; where you respond to the Spirit and fall at the feet of Jesus to ask him, “What am I missing Jesus? Point me toward what I need to change.”

Like this man, Jesus looks at us and loves us. He sees our heart and what we truly desire. Jesus has a way of convicting us with the Spirit of God in what we need to change in our life to have eternal life. He tells us to be sold out to a life in Christ. Like this man whose face fell and went away sad (verse 22), when the Spirit convicts us, it can sadden us as well. The question I like to ask is, “How much more than gravity is holding you to this world.” For this rich man, apparently his riches were holding him back from selling out to Christ.

As Jesus points out, earthly riches can make it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God (verse 23). Jesus said in verse 25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” But we have to be careful we don’t fall in the trap of saying, “At least I’m not rich. I’m doing all the right things to enter the Kingdom of God.” That is exactly what the man told Jesus in verse 20, that he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.

It’s easy to slip into the thought that our good deeds make us a good Christian. That’s why we need to focus on having a heart for God, a deep desire to follow Christ. Praise God that he looks on us with love and compassion. When we are convicted by the Spirit to address things that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus, it can make us sad like this rich man. As God reveals more and more of our failings, we can feel like the disciples who remarked, “Who then can be saved (verse 26)?” To which Jesus responded in the next verse, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

To be sold out to Christ Jesus requires us to rely on God, not ourselves or our riches on this earth. Kneel at the feet of Jesus and ask him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What he tells you might make you sad; it might seem impossible, but remember, nothing is impossible with God.

© 2018 CGThelen

The following was sent to me by my friend. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

A few days ago my daughter and my granddaughter were here for a brief visit. Just before bedtime I got out my green laser light to show my granddaughter. She loved it, precotiously exclaiming “This is really ‘mazing!'”

After she went to bed I went outside to check on my herd of frogs and toads. Yes, you read that right. You see, the light on the north side of the garage attracts a lot of bugs. Every warm night three to six tree frogs perch around the light for a meal, and two to three large toads sit on the ground below waiting to pounce on any careless flyby.

The herd was in full force! Six tree frogs and three large toads; a new world record! The thought then occurred to me, “I wonder how they would react to my green laser light?” I tried the tree frogs first. They did nothing. Then I shined the light on the ground about 6 inches in front of a large toad. He immediately pounced! For the next 5 minutes I was leading toads all over the driveway as they aggressively hopped in pursuit of the shiny green meal.

Those toads reminded me of our pursuit of shiny green nothings. The toads were obviously hungry. But the truth was there was nothing in what they were so aggressively pursuing that could give them nourishment or satisfaction. It was a worthless waste of time and energy on their part, but it was immensely entertaining on my part!

When we spend our time and energy pursuing shiny green nothings, I wonder if the enemy is like me with those toads. He is fooling us, and is immensely entertained by our foolishness. The toads remind me of God’s leading with His people in Isaiah 55:2-3a, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live…”

Let’s learn the lesson from these toads and pursue the satisfying soul food of a deeper relationship with Christ and His people!

Fear can be a powerful motivator or hinderance in our commitment to following God, particularly when we are called to go to a new and unfamiliar place. The most difficult part is often the journey, the transition between your old place and the new place. There is a tension between the uncertainty about where you are going and the familiarity of where you have been. It is this in-between place where doubt and fear can take hold of us, where faith and facts compete with one another. This is where the Israelites were as they approached the land God promised them.

In Numbers 13 and 14 God instructed Moses to “send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites (Numbers 13:2, NIV).” The spies spent 40 days exploring the land and reported that the land “does flow with milk and honey (13:27).” But they also reported that “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (13:28).” This is the moment where fact and faith present themselves to the Israelites.

God has laid out a plan for your life, a journey that will lead you to “a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8).” With each new step, he asks us to follow him in faith. The challenge is to not do what the Israelites did and take your eyes off God, to not let fear take hold of you. In Numbers 13:33 there is a telling phrase where some of the spies say, “in our own eyes.” They could only see that they looked tiny, like grasshoppers, compared to a foe who appeared “stronger” and “of great size (13:31-32).” They were scared they would be crushed like bugs even though God assured them they would take the land.

God asks us to view things through his eyes, not the world’s eyes of things like power and riches. Sometimes he asks us to take a step of faith even when the challenges look insurmountable. That’s when we need the advice of faithful followers of God like Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 14:6-9 they tell the Israelites not to be afraid, that the Lord will give them the land; that it is a good land; that the Lord is with them and they should not be afraid. Numbers 14:24 tells us that Caleb “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” This is the type of counsel we need to encourage us on the path that the Lord has laid before us. If we let fear instead of faith dominate our actions, we may miss what God has in store for us.

Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. – Numbers 14:30-31 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

Throwback Thursday – Originally Published March 18, 2010

If you asked someone to write down what they think of you in 140 characters or less, what would they write about you? Would Christ come through loud and clear or would it be a mixed message? Would they write more about you or about Christ? What would you write about yourself?

Sometimes the opinion we have about ourselves is different than reality. An article in the Feb. 18, 2009 issue of Scientific American, “Think You’re Good Looking? Think Again” detailed a study that showed people often over inflate how they view their own physical appearance. Study participants were asked to identify their face out of eleven pictures that were actually modified images of themselves. Most of the time, the person chose the more attractive image, even over an actual picture of themselves.

“It is perhaps of little wonder, then, that people so rarely seem to like the photographs taken of themselves,” remarked the authors of the study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Our selfish desires can paint an image of ourselves that makes us think we are better than others. Even the disciples fell into this trap. In Mark 9:33-35, Jesus asks them what they were talking about as they walked along the road. The disciples don’t answer “because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” (NLT) Jesus then tells his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” (NIV)

Christ helps us see the sinful image of our life that we do not want to look at. He gives us the Spirit to help us serve Him instead of ourselves. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”

© 2010 CGThelen

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