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A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop.

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small.

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

© 2017 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 15, 2017.

In Mark 13:11 Jesus tells us not to worry about what to say when we are brought to trial, instead we should let the Spirit of God guide our words. In a world full of scripted remarks and prepared statements, it is hard to think about going into a trial without proper preparation. Yet I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should go into these situations totally unprepared.

Jesus’ whole discourse in Mark 13 is a warning to his disciples to be prepared for what is to come. He is warning them of coming persecution. To that end he tells them to be ready and to let their faith in God guide them, not their own strength, cleverness, or words. “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus said in Mark 13:23.

For us that means we need to prepare ourselves for trials in life by immersing ourselves daily in the Word of God; to prayerfully seek God and his will each day. We need to learn to endure struggles without compromising our faith in Christ. We need to continually strengthen our resolve to follow Christ so that we will endure to the end. Jesus reminds us in Mark 13:13, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Feb. 27, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

They thought they had the last say in the matter. As they walked by, they hurled insults at Jesus hanging on the cross, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself (Mark 15:29-30, NIV).” The Chief priests and teachers of the law joined in on the insults: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe (Mark 15:31-32).”

But it was never about saving himself, it was never about proving a point. It was all about saving others. In a world that so often elevates self, Jesus modeled selfless devotion to God. Through his death and resurrection, he brought us salvation from sin. He taught us to die to self and to live for him; to live for the eternal.

It’s amazing to me how so many people saw Jesus on the cross, saw the son of God before them, yet chose to dismiss him and even mock him. For some like the Pharisees it wasn’t enough to just dismiss him — they had to stop the threat. These selfish acts stood in stark contrast to Jesus’ selfless act of dying for us. I have often wondered where I would’ve stood on that day — would I have joined the crowd and mocked Jesus or would I have responded as the Centurion standing by the cross, “Surely this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).”

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. – Luke 9:26

© 2019 CGThelen

John 6:16-21 is a familiar passage in the Bible where Jesus walks on the water. I have read it many times and heard many sermons on this passage, but when I read it this morning one verse really stood out: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat (verse 21, NIV).” I wonder why they hesitated to take Jesus into the boat?

Verse 16-17 tells us the disciples opted to cross the lake to Capernaum without Jesus. It was dark and, “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough (18).” As fisherman, many of the disciples were in familiar water. Verse 19 tells us they had “rowed three or four miles” — a long time — but it doesn’t say they were “frightened” until “they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water.”

This is a decision point for the disciples. “Is what I’m seeing really Jesus, miraculously walking on the water?” I picture them saying, “We’ve been navigating these rough seas on our own without Jesus. After all, we’re experienced fisherman.” Jesus is showing them a different way to navigate rough waters. It’s a frightening thing to acknowledge him as the son of God — to accept him as the Messiah and let him into your boat.

Jesus knows our fears. He knows the difficulty we have in letting him into our boat to take control; to drop the oars and cease the straining against the storms of life without Jesus. The disciples took Jesus at his word and “they were willing to take him into the boat (21).” The rest of verse 21 tells us: “and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.”

I imagine the disciples were not sure exactly how they immediately reached their destination as soon as Jesus entered the boat. Yet I think they could see that as soon as they let Jesus into the boat, somehow they made it across the stormy sea; somehow, in some inexplicable way, Jesus led them to safe passage.

© 2019 CGThelen

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way” might remind you of an old church hymn, but for me it also sums up my struggle with the GPS on my phone. It’s one thing to trust the GPS to navigate me to my destination, but a very different thing to actually obey its directions. When it alerts me to a traffic backup ahead that I can’t see and gives me an alternate route, I struggle to believe what the GPS is telling me and ignore the instructions. It’s only when I am stopped in traffic a few miles down the road that I find myself frustrated that I didn’t obey. That’s when I tell myself, “to be happy in GPS, is to trust and obey.”

The same is true about my relationship with Jesus. It’s one thing to say that I trust Jesus with my life, but another thing to obey him. Often I have a destination in mind. I’ve mapped out my day and proceed to go through the day as planned. But then there’s that thought or random encounter with someone that tells me to take a different route, to deviate from my plans, to express my faith in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Too often I press on as planned and later I regret that I did not obey.

The old hymn tells us: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” The song was written more than 130 years ago by John Sammis, but it still rings true today. True happiness can only be found in Jesus Christ. In Him we find the strength to navigate the rough roads of life or to take the scenic route and discover the beauty of God’s creation. There is “no other way” in life.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” – Psalm 84:11-12

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.”

⁃ Isaiah 50:10 (NIV)

You can read the lyrics of the hymn trust and obey at: https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Trust_and_Obey/

© 2019 CGThelen

arcadia-beach-3

It is hard for us to comprehend what the earth was like before God created light. In his book Riding Rockets, Space Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane described how from space, the earth is “framed in a pre-Genesis black.” He goes on to explain: “There is no blackness on Earth to compare… not the blackest night, the blackest cave, or the abysmal depths of any sea.” Since I never made it into space, the blackest cave was the closest experience I had to seeing pre-Genesis black.

When I was a kid, my mom and dad took us on a tour inside a deep cave at Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. Deep in the bowels of the earth, the park ranger stopped us in an expansive part of the cave with a large vaulted ceiling. With a few minutes warning, he had the lights turned off so we could experience total darkness. Instantly we were thrown into the formless and empty darkness of Genesis 1:2.

When the lights went out, it was impossible to see anything. I had no way of knowing what was next to me or around me. There was no form, no definition to the space where I stood. Suddenly a light appeared. The ranger struck a single match and immediately the entire area and everyone in it came into view. It was astounding how that single match suddenly separated us from the darkness.

In Genesis 1:3-4 God says. “Let there be light.” Like that single act of striking a match, his command separated the light from the darkness. He brought form and shape to the world. It is the same light we can bring to this dark world. In the darkness of life, Christ is light that pierces the darkness, separating the darkness from the light. Even when we are in the midst of the deepest darkness of life, we can trust the light of Christ to bring form and shape to the void of a seemingly hopeless situation.

Throwback Thursday — This post originally published January 24, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published December 6, 2016.

Sometimes no matter how much I plead with God to transform the life of a person with Christ, it seems nothing changes. The struggles remain and I feel helpless to show the way to Christ. I feel helpless to bring about any change and it feels like my prayers fall on deaf ears.

At times like this I am caught in the tension between God’s sovereignty and the free will of people to reject or embrace Christ. Romans 9:18 tells us, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden (NIV).” Within this tension I am forced to trust God’s sovereignty; forced to deepen my pursuit of Christ; forced to let the tension hold me close to God.

I must trust that God has a purpose for delineating between mercy and wrath and that only he is qualified to judge between the two. I must admit I am severely unqualified to judge why some graciously receive Christ and others reject him.

The only answer to this tension is to continue to liberally apply the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to all people who God places in our life. We must continue to trust God to handle the response people give to the message of salvation.

© 2016 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published March 30, 2018.

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

© 2018 CGThelen

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” – Jeremiah 29:11-12

Lord Jesus at times I feel like I am in exile in a foreign land. Yet you oh Lord know the plans for my life. You know me intimately. Help me, dear Lord, to listen to you, to call out to you for direction. May I rely on your wisdom and the wisdom of the faithful you place in my life, not the counsel of worldly wisdom. Lord fill me with your strength. May your Spirit fill me to overflowing; fill me with a desire to serve you where you send me. May your desires be my desires. May my hope be in your future. All praise to you Lord Jesus for your obedience, for what you did for us. All praise to God who we humbly serve.

© 2019 CGThelen

How many times has God called you to do something that seems impossible, yet you move forward in obedience? Then almost immediately opposition arises to attempt to make you question what you are doing. You become discouraged, even doubting your ability to complete what God has called you to do.

There is a lot we can learn from Nehemiah about overcoming opposition to your work for the Kingdom of God. In Nehemiah chapter 4 and 5, Nehemiah has returned from exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As he and the Israelites work, they are heckled and threatened by others. Sanballat ridicules them with lines like “What are those feeble Jews doing?” and “Will they finish in a day (Nehemiah 4:1-2, NIV)?” His companion Tobiah added, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones (Nehemiah 4:3)!”

Opposition to their project continues to grow to the point where Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Nehemiah 4:8).” Isn’t that what happens to us when we pursue a ministry or task for God? Opposition pops up and the more progress we make, the stronger the opposition becomes against us. But Nehemiah does not rely on his own strength and wisdom to stand against those opposed to rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah relies on God and the faithful working with him. “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat (Nehemiah 4;9).” He prayed to God and used the people working with him to guard their work. He did not go it alone. Nehemiah encouraged the people to stay focused on God. “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes (Nehemiah 4:14).”

Nehemiah also instructed the people working on the wall to not fight opposition by themselves. He kept them focused on acting as a team. “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us,” he said (Nehemiah 4:20).” He also made sure they were focused on working for God and not enriching themselves. When he learned some of the Israelites were impoverishing their own people, he immediately confronted this disparity. “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies (Nehemiah 5:9)?” He made sure his workers were not divided, that they were unified in their mission and determination to rebuild the wall.

When you make a bold move for God, know that opposition will come. Voices will rise against you and even within your own ranks, Satan will try to create division. Nehemiah provides us with guidance on how to stand up to opposition and stay focused on the task God wants us to pursue.

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” – Nehemiah 6:9

© 2019 CGThelen

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