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When he was a young kid, barely a teenager, I would often notice him standing in the back of church all alone. One day as I watched him I felt God nudge me to go over and talk to him. I sighed and reluctantly walked over to him. I tried to start a conversation, but we stumbled over our words. It was very awkward at best. Afterward I questioned why God wanted me to talk to him. It made no sense to me.

As the years passed, God continued to nudge me to periodically talk to this boy. Sometimes it was just a simple “hi” to show that I noticed him. Because of these short, awkward conversations we connected in a strange way. We didn’t become close, but slowly I built a kind of disconnected friendship with this kid.

As he grew older he began to get in more and more trouble. Several times I would talk to him about it, but he was indifferent to my words. It became harder to connect with him, yet God still nudged me to talk to him. When his trouble landed him in prison, he put me on his visitor list. I wrote him a couple times and tried to visit him but for some reason my visitor application was lost.

I began to wonder what the point was in trying to stay connected with this guy who was now a man serving time. Yet God kept nudging me. After he was released from prison, he committed more crimes that landed him back in prison. This time I was able to visit him in prison. When I sat down with him the first time in the visitor area, I was astounded to hear him talk about the Bible and following Jesus. He was determined to change his life.

Last December he was released from prison after serving his sentence. A few weeks ago he and his wife came over to our place for dinner and advice on questions of faith and their relationship with each other. As they sat on our couch talking with my wife and I, it occurred to me that perhaps God placed me in his life almost 20 years ago for this moment. He kept me connected to him with those short, awkward conversations that did not make sense at the time. God knew this day would come and he began preparing us for it almost 20 years ago. I was reminded that God is at work in the littlest details. He has the long view of life and how seemingly small, insignificant things can make a big difference years later.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

© 2019 CGThelen

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

I am a self-made man. I relish my achievements because they endorse how great I am. From job promotions, to bank accounts, to awards, to the accomplished lives of my children, I constantly seek endorsements that I am better than those around me. This arrogance is what elevates me above God. This is not an attitude that brings me closer to God.

It is in the hard times that I am brought closer to God and his purposes for my life. We do not welcome the struggles in life. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:6-10, we plead for God to take them away, to remove the thorn in our flesh that continues to torment us. It is difficult for us to see that the challenges we face in life are there to help prevent us from becoming conceited.

It is so very hard to think that God places a thorn in our sides to prevent us from becoming arrogant. For months, even years I have prayed for a young soul to return to Christ. I have helplessly watched as this person’s life spiraled out of control. I desperately try to help, but it seems all my efforts are in vain. I feel weak and humbled. Paul’s words in verse 9 resonate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is not in my own abilities that I find the strength to manage hardship, it is in humble reverence to God that I find strength through Jesus Christ. When I am beaten down and worn out, that is when I am most open to the power of Christ within me. It is what Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus sacrificed himself to demonstrate the power of God to the world. On the cross He looked weak and defeated to the world. But through his death and resurrection, God’s power was made evident. Our ability to make Christ evident rests in our ability to die to self; to remain humble and not conceited. Paul’s words in verse 10 should encourage us: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” It is our acknowledgement of how truly weak we are to control this life that we find our true strength in Christ.

© 2016 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 30, 2012.

After a year of neglect, my old garden plot was overtaken by weeds. Remnants of corn stalks and brown, brittle garden plants were barely visible in the sea of green weeds that now dominated the plot of earth.

“How did this happen?” I asked myself. It amazed me how the weeds now dominated the garden to the point where it choked out the fruitful plants. I asked “how,” but I knew the answer to my question could be found in 1Thess. 5:16-18 where Paul wrote, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks…”

The question is that if we are not filling our lives with praises for God, then what are we filling our lives with? The gaps presented by our inattention to God create opportunity for discord and discontent with God. They become the small weeds in our fruitful garden that will eventually choke off the good plants if left to grow.

Praying without ceasing keeps us connected to God. It puts us in right relationship with Him. By rejoicing in all things; by giving thanks always; we are able to choke off the weeds of bitterness and anger that try to take hold when bad things happen in life. Praying without ceasing is like weeding our garden so that it will be more fruitful and filled with the joy of the Lord.

© 2012 CGThelen

Typically in a game of hide and seek, the goal is to hide so as not to be discovered by the seeker. But in the case of Zacheus in Luke 19:1-9, he chose to put himself in a place that made him visible to Jesus. Scripture tells us Zacheus wanted a better look at Jesus. He didn’t settle for trying to get a peek at him through the crowd. Zacheus is determined to get a full look at the man he had heard about.

I wonder what was going on in Zacheus’ life to cause him to climb a tree like a child to get a better look at Jesus. Perhaps there was a hunger in his heart to see if what he had heard was really true. Maybe he was growing tired of his lifestyle and sought something better. Whatever his motivation, it appears that he did not anticipate that Jesus would see and seek him. He sought Jesus and then Jesus sought him.

Imagine how Zacheus felt when Jesus stopped below him and looked up at him. I picture his heart beating faster as he stared into the eyes of Jesus. When Jesus asked Zacheus to take him to his house, he responded immediately and took Jesus to his home.

Sometimes we may feel like playing hide and seek with Jesus. Our struggles and our sin might make us feel like hiding from him. But Jesus seeks us no matter how much we try to hide from him. Like Zacheus, we should place ourselves in full view of Christ. When he asks to come into our home, we should welcome him. Like Zacheus, we should repent of our sins, offering restitution to those we have harmed; demonstrating our new found life in Jesus to others.

© 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

I must confess that many times in my life my mouth has gotten me into trouble. Not necessarily because of some remark uttered out of anger, but by a response to a temptation or sinful desire in my heart. The mouth vocalizes our thoughts whether good or bad; it responds to temptations with a “yes” or “no.”

Psalm 141:3 tells us, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” It is a great prayer that treats our mouth as a fortress that determines if good or evil enters our life. The guard at the door to this fortress determines what comes in or goes out of our life and what better guard than the Lord.

Even though evil doers approach and ask to enter, our door remains closed. Our lips do not welcome them. With the Lord’s wisdom we can defend our life with how we respond — with what we say. With our mouth we can humbly pray Psalm 141:4, “Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.”

© 2019 CGThelen

I recently thought about the people in my life who mentored me in the early years of my Christian faith. I am thankful for their patience and interest in me. I was immature in my understanding and perhaps a bit too zealous, yet they poured into my life and encouraged me to go deeper in my relationship with Jesus.

I recall how a dear friend of mine opened my eyes to the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus. It changed my life. I remember how years ago our pastor encouraged me to preach a sermon while he sat in the pew and listened. “I’m can’t do that,” I objected. He smiled and told me, “I love it when people get up from the pews and do things the pastor usually does while I’m sitting in the pew.”

When I read 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 I think of these people in my life. Some are still dear friends and others have moved on to other places and ministries to mentor others in the faith. At times we have encouraged one another as we faced struggles in life. Like Paul, I am so thankful for the faithful Christians God has placed in my life. I can’t thank them enough for the joy in Christ Jesus they have given me. It is a joy I now share as I watch other people in my life grow in their faith.

Who are the mentors in your life who have given you the joy of the Lord? Who are the people you are currently mentoring who bring you joy? If you are so inclined, share those experiences in a comment. Thank you for reading and the joy you bring me through your interaction on this blog. May you continue to experience the joy of the Lord.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

Ever had a time when you worked at something a long time and had nothing to show for it? Such was the case with Simon in Luke 5. Simon had fished all night and caught nothing. As he cleaned his nets with the other fisherman along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, Jesus was also there teaching the crowds.

Luke tells us in verse 5:1-3 that the crowd pressed in so Jesus climbed into Simon’s beached boat and asked Simon “to put out a little from shore (verse 3, NIV).” Even though Simon is likely exhausted he shoved the boat off shore. Then Jesus “sat down and taught the people from the boat (verse 3).”

At this point I wonder if Simon sat and intently listened to Jesus, or was he just thinking about going home and getting some sleep? When Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch (verse 4).” Who can blame Simon for responding, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets (verse 5).”

Isn’t that how we respond sometimes to what the Lord asks us to do? “But Jesus, we worked a long time on that ministry and we came up empty.” We put a lot of effort into our work and now Jesus comes along and tells us to give it another try. We reluctantly respond as Simon did in verse 5, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” The difference this time is that Jesus is in the boat.

Luke tells us in verse 6-7 that they proceed to catch so many fish that their nets almost break. When their partners in the other boat come to help, they fill both boats so full that they begin to sink. Simon is humbled by what he sees. He falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man (verse 8)!”

It’s humbling when God shows up and proves our doubts were wrong. It’s embarrassing when we realize we put all that effort into something without inviting Jesus into the boat. Yet Jesus patiently invites himself into our boat, teaching us his ways; showing us how together we can do things we didn’t think were possible.

Simon, James and John are astonished by the catch of fish. Jesus tells them, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people (verse 10).” The result is that they pull the boats on shore and leave everything to follow Jesus. In time they accomplish great things for God. Indeed, later Simon Peter speaks to the crowds after the resurrection of Jesus in Acts 2:41 and “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” As Jesus promised, they became fishers of people. Their boat was overflowing with followers of Christ.

As you seek to follow Jesus, seek to serve him and welcome him into your boat. Sit humbly at his feet and listen to his teaching. When he calls you to do something, you may have your doubts, but put your nets in the water anyways. Let the Spirit of God work within you and let Jesus multiply the fruit of your labor.

© 2019 CGThelen

Over the years I have read Luke 9:10-17 and heard many sermons about this passage where Jesus feeds a massive crowd with 5,000 men and likely more. But this morning as I read this passage again a phrase in verse 17 made an impression on me: “They all ate and were satisfied (NIV).”

In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus “called the twelve together (verse 1)” and “sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (verse 2).” He instructed them to “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town (verse 3-4).” Essentially Jesus told them God would provide for their needs.

In verse 10 Luke wrote that the apostles returned and “reported to Jesus what they had done.” Then they withdrew to Bethsaida, but the crowds followed so Jesus “spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing (verse 11). At that point it was late so the twelve told Jesus, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here (verse 12).”

Remember these are the same twelve that Jesus sent off at the beginning of this chapter and told them to bring no food with them and not to worry about lodging. The same twelve that he empowered to “drive out all demons and to cure diseases (verse 1).” But now they simply wanted to send the crowd away. Which leads me to believe is why Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat (verse 13).” All the twelve could see was the five loaves and two fish in front of them.

Jesus proceeded to show the apostles that God would provide all their needs. In verse 16 he took the loaves and fishes and “gave thanks and broke them.” Then he had the disciples distribute them to the thousands in the crowd. Imagine how the apostles felt as they handed out the food and there was enough for everyone — the same apostles who wanted to send the crowd away; the same apostles who Jesus empowered to do miracles. They saw that, “They all ate and were satisfied (verse 17).”

How often do we doubt God’s ability to provide all our needs? Is our tendency to send the crowd away, to send away those God puts in our life because we don’t see how God can provide at that moment? Do we tend to want to handle things on our own, packing a large suitcase of our own provisions instead of relying on God? Jesus continued to teach his apostles to rely on God, to have faith that God will take care of their needs. Jesus continues to teach us the same thing today: “They all ate and were satisfied (verse 17).”

Jesus told his disciples, ‘If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith.’” — Luke 12:28

© 2019 CGThelen

I feel the light begin to wane

Darkness knocks at my door

An old acquaintance

Wanting to pay me a visit

.

The last time you were here

You crushed all my joy

Took away any laughter

Pulled the shades on the light

.

Tears well up inside of me

Hopelessness seeps in

My body aches with pain

As I struggle to move

.

A river of sorrow flows

From deep within my soul

Drowning out all emotion

Numbing my senses

.

With my last ounce of energy

I fight back against the dark

Press as hard as I can

To keep the light within me

.

I cry out to the Lord God

“Please give me the strength!”

I hear him gently whisper

“I am your strength.”

.

I feel God’s peace wash over me

Though I am encircled by dark

The light within glows bright

Emptiness filled with God’s joy

.

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” – Psalm 116:5-8

© 2019 CGThelen

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