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#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

I sat on the floor with my back against the wall in the dark room. It seemed opposition surrounded me on all sides. I only wanted to share the joy I felt, the peace in Christ that I was so generously given. I did not anticipate such hatred of such good news. Who would turn away from eternal hope? It was discouraging to me.

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold on. “Stand firm.” His words echoed in my mind. “Hold fast to the teachings.” I knew I was called to this. I remembered the Spirit of God coming alive in my heart: my parched soul was quenched. It was humbling to think we could share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. I only wanted others to share in this glory.

“Hey,” my brother in Christ said as he entered the dark room illuminated by a lamp. “There you are.” He sat down next to me and placed the lamp on the floor between us. “What are you doing here? You look so worried.”

“I’m discouraged,” I replied. “It seems pointless to try to tell people about Jesus.”

I watched him smile as he pulled out the letter and opened it. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself…,” he read. “… and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

Paul’s words stirred my heart. I smiled and nodded.

“Remember where our strength, our encouragement comes from,” my brother in Christ reminded me.

#WednesdayWalk through the Bible. What unknown people experienced in the Bible, based on 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17.

© 2019 CGThelen

Of all the armor of God that Paul described in Ephesians 6:10-17, only one is offensive. The rest are defensive to protect against attack; to “take your stand against the devil’s schemes.(verse 11, NIV);” to take a stand “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil (12).”

The defensive measures Paul listed are a life lived for Christ Jesus. In verse 14 Paul encouraged the Ephesians to strap on “the belt of truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness.” With the truth of God in your heart and righteous living, you are actively living out your faith in Christ and not cultivating evil desires. In verse 15-16, Paul told the Ephesians to have their “feet fitted with the readiness” and to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Finally he told them to top it off with “the helmet of salvation (17);” which is knowing your salvation is secure in Christ. All of this armor of God is a defensive posture to protect you from Satan’s schemes where he comes at you with doubts, false truths and questions about your salvation. Paul encouraged them to stand firm in their faith.

But Paul also instructed them to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (17).” This is an offensive measure that tells us that with the Spirit of God within us, the word of God, we can pierce Satan’s evil schemes and expose their lies. But to do this effectively, we must rely on the Spirit and be well-versed in the word of God. Jesus warned in Luke 11:12, “But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.”

When we live out our faith and seek to follow Christ with righteous living based on God’s truth, we are prepared to defend ourselves against Satan’s attacks. But when we learn to rely on the Spirit of God, not the wisdom of the flesh, we are equipped for offensive measures against evil. When we study the word of God, we equip ourselves to challenge false teachings that seek to sway us away from Christ.

© 2019 CGThelen

Where can we find joy in life, true joy that lasts? Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that even though the Thessalonians suffered, they had “joy given by the Holy Spirit (NIV).” This joy was born out of their embrace of the gospel not just as words, “but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (verse 5).”

Because of their devotion to Jesus Christ, The Thessalonians were motivated not by human desires, but a desire to serve Christ. Paul wrote that it was evident their “work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith, love and hope in Christ motivated their actions.

The Thessalonians found true joy in serving Christ despite hardships and trials. They did not do things grudgingly or because of guilt. Paul wrote how word spread throughout the region about how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (verse 9).” People knew their faith was real, that they held eternal truths, not words based on idle human wisdom. May we realize our joy in the Lord. May it motivate all we do so others will see the living God in us.

© 2019 CGThelen

There he was at work sitting at his desk like usual when Jesus walked up and said, “Follow me (Luke 5:27, NIV).” Without hesitation, Levi “got up, left everything and followed him (verse 28).” Jesus called Levi to follow him, but then Levi called Jesus to follow him. He had Jesus follow him to his house where he held “a great banquet” for Jesus with his fellow tax collectors and others (29).”

We often think of Jesus calling people to follow him, but do we think about people calling Jesus to follow them? Like Levi, we should invite Jesus to follow us into our lives and the people we know. Because Levi invited Jesus to follow him into his home for a banquet, his fellow tax collectors and others also met Jesus.

When we ask Jesus into our life, we should invite him to follow us throughout our day. That means bringing Jesus with us into our homes, our work place and our time with friends just as Levi did with Jesus. Later in Luke 15:1 we read, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” I’d like to think they were there because Levi introduced them to Jesus.

How about you? As a follower of Christ do you keep Jesus to yourself and not ask him to follow you into other parts of your life — into your workplace, your school or to meet your friends? Jesus reminded us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Praying to God for healing is a difficult thing for me. It is a wrestling match between my will and the will of God. It is a deep yearning to lay down my desires for God’s desires. Yet my emotions tell me I want people I love to be whole, to not suffer. It hit me again this week when I found out a coworker who retired last year has terminal cancer and a year to live.

This struggle of wills reminds me of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:1-6. After he became ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz said to him, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover (verse 1, NIV).” These are words we do not want to hear from the doctor: “Your cancer is terminal.” They are words I have heard about a loved one: “He will not make it through the night.”

Hezekiah turned away from Isaiah in his bed and faced the wall. He prayed to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes (verse 3).” I can feel Hezekiah’s grief as he wept bitterly. I have found myself reciting a similar prayer when devoted followers of Christ I know have died; when friends contract terminal cancer. “Lord, these are people who have followed you; righteous people dedicated to serving you. Why?” In prayer I plead as Hezekiah did, “Lord, these people have walked faithfully with you; they are devoted to you.”

God heard Hezekiah’s plea, his prayer. In verse 4-5 he tells the prophet Isaiah to go back and tell him, “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and he hears our prayers. Yet it is a matter of God’s will, his plan, whether he heals. God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life, but not just because of Hezekiah’s will or his righteous acts. “And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

God chose to heal Hezekiah for his purposes; for his sake and for the sake of his servant David. God chose to continue to use Hezekiah. It seems I always want what I want and I don’t understand why God does what he does. But that is the element of faith in him. Part of the process of opening up to God in prayer is to also open up our heart to God; to share with him the deep desires of our heart and to know he hears our prayers. The answer to our prayers, our pleas, is to rest in God’s will for our life and the lives of those we dearly love in this world.

© 2019 CGThelen

How do people know I am really who I say I am? When I enter another country customs asks for my passport. When I check into a hotel in another state the front desk asks for my driver’s license. My passport and driver’s license show my citizenship. But how do people know we are citizens of the Kingdom of God?

In Phillipians 3:20 Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).” Paul encouraged the followers of Jesus to follow his example of living out their faith in Christ Jesus. In 3:17 he said, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” A Christian’s identification is their identity in Christ Jesus, a life lived for Christ.

Paul cautioned the Phillipians about an identity in this world. “Their destiny is destruction,” Paul wrote. “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” An identity invested in things of this world is an identity invested in temporary things that will pass away. How we live our life reflects our identity.

At times I am overwhelmed by God’s love and grace — that he offers us citizenship in his kingdom through his son Jesus. In Luke 6:25-26, Jesus called us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked (NIV).” As citizens of the Kingdom of God, as people whose identity is in Christ, Jesus called us to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:26b).”

© 2019 CGThelen

What’s it like to have a heart for God, to be totally devoted to Jesus? Paul gave us a glimpse in Philippians 1:21-30. In this passage Paul wrote about his longing to be with Christ yet his deep desire to continue serving him. “I am torn between the two,” he said in verse 23.

Paul revealed that it is his “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (verse 23),” but recognized the importance of remaining with the Phillipian church. As difficult as it is was for him at times, he knew his calling was to “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith (verse 25).” For Paul, it wasn’t just about his personal salvation. He had a longing to be with Christ; a deep desire to serve him; a total selfless dedication to being a disciple of Jesus.

This passage caused me to examine my own life and my devotion to Christ. While I may long to be with Christ, I don’t always share Paul’s dedication to be with those who need to be nurtured in their faith in Christ. Am I so totally devoted to serving Christ that I feel as Paul wrote: “so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me (verse 26).”

How deep is your commitment to Christ? Is your faith all about your salvation or does it include a dedication to growing other disciples? It wasn’t enough for Paul to just bring salvation in Christ to the Philippians. He wanted his passion for Christ to be contagious so that their boasting in Christ would overflow into the lives of others.

© 2019 CGThelen

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