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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 29, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

What motivates you each day to do what you do? Are you driven by a sense of personal gain or by a desire to serve God? Do you seek to glorify God or self? In John 7:14-18, the Jews were amazed at Jesus’ teaching and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught (15, NIV)?” They were not amazed by what he was teaching, but by who was teaching.

You can sense the admiration in the crowd. People are impressed with Jesus. This man, a carpenter’s son, is teaching like a scholar. But Jesus is quick to divert them from focusing on the person. “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me,” he answered them (16). Jesus continues in the next verse, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

When we are in the will of God and seeking to glorify him, we speak for God and not ourselves. It is a humbling responsibility to be a messenger for God, to represent him in a world that elevates self. The words of Jesus in verse 18 are instructive to us today: “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

© 2019 CGThelen

The gravel crunches under my shoes as I step out of the batters box with bat in hand. I notice the outfielders moving in as I take my stance at home plate and face the pitcher. “Easy out,” someone shouts from the infield. My confidence evaporates as I steady the bat, poised to swing. I glance at the stands filled with parents cheering, but my father isn’t there. He’s never made it to even one of my games, but I still hope someday he will.

The pitcher delivers a fast ball across the plate. I swing the bat. Nothing but air. “Strike one!” The umpires snaps in a gruff voice. I want to glance at the stands again, but I force myself to concentrate on the next pitch. “Strike two!” The umpire yells. I just want to get on base for once. “Wait for the pitch,” the coach yells. I restrain myself on the next pitch. “Ball one,” the umpire calls to my relief.

But I can’t hold back on the next pitch. I swing and feel the ball clip the bat, then rise toward the sky. The bat slips from my hands as I instinctively sprint toward first base, unaware that the ball is sailing straight up, past the foul line. I run with all my might, but my heart sinks as I hear the ball smack a glove. “Out!” The umpire shouts. I drop my head and return to the bench. I know this will be my last time at bat.

A few innings later the game ends. We lost again. Our opponents smile and give each other high fives. All I could think about was being a loser on a losing team. I trudge toward the now empty bleachers to wait for my brother to pick me up. He’s usually late. I pass parents reassuring my team mates, “It’s okay.”

I start to climb the rows of seats on the bleachers when I notice an older man sitting on the top row. “Dad?!” I utter. He gently smiles and motions to me to join him. I climb the bleachers and sit next to him. He gives me a hug and says, “It’s okay, son.” I look at him in disbelief. “How long have you been here?” He gives me a loving grin. “For the whole game, he replies.” I shake my head, “But I didn’t see you.” I look into his eyes and feel a warmth I’ve never felt before. “I’ve been here for every game,” he says.

I’m skeptical about his comment, but his face speaks truth. “This is part of your journey, son; part of making you into the man I want you to be.” Such wisdom, but It doesn’t make sense to me. “But I’m no good,” I insist. He smiles and puts a hand on my shoulder. “I made you to be so much more than a baseball player.”

Suddenly a car horn blares. I turn to see my brother pull up with the car. “That’s my ride,” I say as I turn back to look at my father, but there’s no one there. Tears well up inside of me as i step down from the bleachers. I climb into the car with my brother. He turns to look at me. “Who were you talking to on the bleachers when I pulled up?” I close the car door and look at him, “My Father.” My brother frowns. “Dad? Dad’s at home!” I smile at him, “I was talking to God my father. He hasn’t missed a single one of my games.”

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14 (NIV)

© 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

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

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