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When we think of the word famine, we think of an extreme scarcity of food. But in Amos 8:11, we read of a different kind of famine: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the Lord (NASB).’” In the midst of their prosperity, Amos is calling the Israelites to realize they are suffering a famine of the heart. Amos is reminding them of their need to return to the ways of the Lord, to return to the Word of the Lord.

Amos points out how Israel has ignored caring for the needy in their land. Even worse, they exploit the poor. Their physical lives were full and not wanting, but they suffered from a famine of the heart. They go through the motions of religion, yet abuse the less fortunate. Amos pointed out that Israel viewed the Sabbath and God’s appointed festivals as something that interrupted their business: “Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market (Amos 8:4).’”

A famine of the heart can be difficult to see, yet it can be far reaching. By its definition, a famine is characteristic of a nation or widespread in a particular area. There may be physical prosperity in the land that masks the famine of the heart, but as Amos points out, the signs are evident. There is a deep hunger, a gnawing feeling that something is not right. They seek to feed their starving heart with things that do not satisfy the hunger. As followers of Jesus, we have the gift of the bread of life to feed the starving heart, the parched soul, the famished land.

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” – Matthew 24:12-13

“Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17

© 2019 CGThelen

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)

Thanksgiving Day is everyday. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week.

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Nov. 29, 2018.

How willing are you to leave the safety and security of your home or church or work to go where the Lord leads you? How inclined would you be to go if you were also told, “By the way, there’s this group of people waiting to devour you.” I’m not so sure I would be anxious to follow the Lord’s instruction to, “Go!”

In Luke 10:1, Jesus “appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (NIV).” Among the things he told them was that they would face opposition. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves (10:3). This brings the image to mind of a bunch of lambs safe in a pen and the Lord selecting 72 to leave the security of the farm to go to a bunch of hungry wolves waiting outside the fence.

Yet Jesus instructs then on how to handle opposition. He told them, “If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you ((10:6).”

Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” To towns that reject them, he instructed them to say, “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near (10:11).”

Jesus wants them to make it clear that if they reject them, they are also rejecting God. He told them, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” I am humbled, yet encouraged by this passage. Humbled in contemplating if I am living out my faith in a such a way that others can see Christ. Encouraged in that despite facing opposition, the 72 returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name (10:17).”

We are called to go out into a hostile world to tell others about salvation through Christ Jesus. Indeed, as Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (10:2).” Yet we should not just run out on our own trying to collect that harvest. Jesus also told them to, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (10:2).” We should follow the Lord’s lead in our life and express to others that it is not our own efforts, but Christ in us.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. – Luke 10:17-20

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

© 2019 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 7, 2017.

I laid on a bed in the emergency room as the doctor asked me multiple questions about my condition. I answered each question as best as I could, hoping it would help her find what ailed me.

“Does it hurt here?” She finally asked as she pressed the area where I was experiencing discomfort in my abdomen.

“Yes,” I replied as the pressure from her hand made the pain worse.

She paused with a brief look of concern, yet a look that expressed knowledge of what was going on inside of me. The doctor’s patient dialogue with me helped identify what was wrong inside my body. She now had an idea of the potential source of the pain that prompted me to go to the hospital. A subsequent CAT scan enabled a look inside of me that confirmed her suspicions.

Later, after we left the hospital, I thought about how much faith I put in the doctor. I knew something was not right inside of me and I turned to the doctor in the hospital to figure out what was ailing me and to find the right remedy. She gave me a prescription to fight the infection and further instructions to help me get well.

It made me contemplate why I don’t always have the same faith in God or even my church to help me with my struggles in life. Usually the barrier is that I refuse to dialogue with people in my church or even God about the emotional pain deep inside of me. No one can help us if we don’t first open up about the hurt we feel inside. We must be open to prayerfully seeking God for help; open to dialoguing with him. Then we must trust that his instruction is for our own good.

There are many instances in the gospels where people pursued Jesus for healing. In Luke 8:43-48 a woman reaches out to touch Jesus for healing. In Mark 2:1-12 men lower a paralyzed man from the roof in an effort to reach Jesus for healing. Then there is the blind man in Mark 10:46-52.

In this passage the blind man hears that Jesus is walking by and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus then asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Verse 52 tells us that Jesus responds, “Go, your faith has healed you.” The man then received his sight.

What if the blind man had not reached out to Christ or not told him what he wanted Jesus to do? It is the dialogue with God that is important; our faith in God to come to us with the right approach to what ails us inside. As Jesus said in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

© 2017 CGThelen

People are searching today for meaning in their life. The question is if they can find Jesus. When people visit your church do they say, “The Lord is there.” When people visit your home do they say, “The Lord is there.” When people spend time with you do they say, “The Lord is there.”

In the last few chapters of Ezekiel (40-48), the Lord gives a vision to Ezekiel showing the temple in intricate detail including measurements. Verse 43:4 tells us, “The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” The last verse of the book (48:35) says, “The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits (about six miles). ‘And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.’”

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God dwells within us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:21-22: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Yet do people outside the church recognize the Lord is present in us and our community of believers?

Paul wrote in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Spirit of God dwelling within us is the external sign of our faith in Christ Jesus. It is the evidence that Christ is alive within us and the body of believers in Jesus. It is what prompts those outside faith in Christ to remark, “The Lord is there.”

© 2019 CGThelen

In Ezekiel 40-47:11. Ezekiel is shown visions of the temple of God. What struck me about this passage was the description in Ezekiel 47:1-12 where Ezekiel is shown water “coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar (verse 1).” The water starts as a trickle from the altar and soon becomes a mighty river. Ezekiel is told the water eventually flows into the Dead Sea where the “salty water there becomes fresh (8).”

Because of the fresh water, there are a lot of fish and “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows (9).” The passage describes fruit trees growing on both sides of the river because of the water from the sanctuary. Verse 12 tells us: “Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” I find this passage as a vision for what our churches today should be in this world.

Like the water from the altar, we should flow out of churches each week and press into the Dead Sea culture around us. Our fresh water faith in Christ should push back the brine with living water. Where ever we flow, we should support trees that bear fruit, bringing nourishment and healing to people we encounter during the week. With the living water we carry, “Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail (12).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Without God, our life is formless and empty. We hover over the surface of the deep, the pit of despair. Deep in our darkness we cannot see, but the Spirit of God is there, hovering over the surface. God is our hope. He brings order to our formless and empty life. In our darkness we feel the Spirit’s presence. We only need to reach out to God, to cry out to him to bring order to our life.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2

© 2019 CGThelen

It can be difficult waiting on God to respond to our needs. Often our impatience is born out of our expectations that God will respond according to our plans and schedule. This is what we see in Exodus 5:1-23 where Moses followed God’s request to return to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites. He told Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness (Exodus 5:1).'” Pharaoh promptly refused Moses’ request and then imposed harsher conditions on the enslaved Israelites that made their work even more difficult.

Instead of winning freedom for the Israelites, Moses made things worse for them. The angry Israelite overseers told Moses in Exodus 5:21, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” That is the thanks Moses received for being obedient to God.

It is apparent that Moses had the expectation that he would go ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites and Pharaoh would grant his request. In Exodus 5:22-23 Moses complained to God, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

When God does not meet our expectations, like Moses, we can get angry with God. It is hard to remember that God has the long view of our life and that his timing is perfect. Often when we think he is not responding to our needs he is actually equipping us and preparing the way for us.

Such was the case with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. If Pharaoh had simply let them go the first time Moses asked, all of Egypt would not have experienced the power of God. Because of God’s delay the Israelites plundered Egypt and were well equipped for their journey ahead as well as having gold and silver for the tabernacle and later the temple.

With each chapter of Exodus we can see the wisdom of God’s long view unfold as well as the consequences the Israelites faced for their impatience with God. The lesson for us is to rest in God and trust him even when we get impatient for him to act according to our expectations.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published Feb. 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

In the midst of late summer, I see the fruits of my labor in my garden. Ripe, red tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers all appear on lush green plants. Flowers blossom bright hues of reds, orange, pink and purple. The grass is a blanket of soft green carpet that feels soft under my feet. I can say that all of this is a result of my work, but I know that none of it would be possible without God’s hand.

We are the benefactors of God’s creation. He could have chosen to place us in a stark and sterile world void of color and a variety of plants and animals. Yet he created a world full of color, beauty, and awesome splendor — a world that soothes our troubled souls with the sound of waves lapping the shore, the fresh smell of rain and the vast display of a mountain range. God offers us so much more through life with him, but like Adam and Eve we often opt to pursue selfish desires.

Psalm 147: 8-11 reminds us of who sustains us and this world we live in: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

If we only look at the world around us through the eyes of our accomplishments and selfish desires, we will miss seeing the true author of life. God’s love for us is evident in the world he has placed us in. His hope and peace can be found in the life and purpose he has given to us.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published June 30, 2015.

© 2015 CGThelen

Suffering is a part of life in this world. It is difficult to understand the reason we experience pain and grief. Like Job, we wrestle with why we experience anguish — trauma that causes us to cry out as Job did: “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the sea… (Job 6:2-3, NIV).”

Pain in our life, deep misery, can cause us to cry out for help. As Job wrestled with God’s purpose for his agony, it caused him to open up to God and others about his pain. He expressed his true feelings: “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul (Job 7:11).” This is the essence of true community with God and other Christians; open and honest conversation about our struggles and emotions that builds a deep connection with God and each other.

When we share our suffering, we open the door to sharing a journey that can deepen our faith in God. We move beyond surface conversations like Job’s friends who claim they have answers for his suffering: “Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty (Job 15:5).”

To walk with a friend through the anguish is to experience it with them; to cry with them; to grieve with them. Sharing our deepest feelings, our deepest pain, welcomes others to deepen their faith with us as we replace trying to understand the purpose for pain with a deeper faith, a deeper trust in God. We can exclaim as Job did, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2).”

© 2019 CGThelen

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