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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

I sat with her as she lay dying. The machine behind me pulsated, providing oxygen to sustain her in these final moments. She could no longer swallow and her voice was barely audible, yet occasionally she was able to say a few words. I held her hand and told her, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Even though she was very weak, she managed to lightly squeeze my hand. The cancer had ravaged her body, taken away all her strength, and now it was taking her life. She was no longer able to sit up and had been bed-ridden for more than a week. But now I sensed the end was near.

I gently pulled the hair away from her face and slowly caressed her head, trying to sooth her. “Water,” she managed to utter. She was no longer able to drink with a straw. I picked up the small sponge on a stick, dabbed it in the cup of water by her bed, and moistened her mouth with it. She sucked on it and I could see the relief on her face as the water refreshed her parched mouth. I set the sponge down and held her hand. “Thank you,” she managed to say with a raspy voice. “It’s okay,” I repeated to her with my mouth close to her ear. “God loves you,” I added.

As difficult as it was to sit with her, I had a sense of peace. I couldn’t help but think of this as an image of God and how he tends to us with a loving touch. In the midst of our difficulties in life, when we feel weak and helpless, he is there holding our hand saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He dabs our parched soul with living water to refresh us. He is there by our side each step of the way, gently caressing our head, soothing our weary soul. We only need to take his hand and say, “Thank you.”

After a few hours of sitting with her, a family member arrived and took over the vigil. A few hours later she died. I thought of what a privilege it is to serve God; how he calls on each of us to serve him in a special way. No one act of service is any greater than any other in the Kingdom of God. We all have our own calling to convey God’s love to others in need of a loving touch; people who need their parched soul moistened with living water. As followers of Jesus Christ it is a privilege to be his hands and feet in a world full of need.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28 (NIV)

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

This #ThrowbackThursday post commemorates a good friend who died a year ago on August 17. Originally published August 21 2018, this post reflected on the experience of being there that day.

I have been reading through the book of Ezekiel. It always amazes how when God sends a prophet to warn the Israelites of coming judgement for their disobedience, they do not heed the Word of the Lord and mock the prophets. My focus on these books of prophesy has usually been on the evil people who have abandoned God’s law for vile acts. But Ezekiel 9:4 caught my attention as I read: “…Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it (NIV).”

Throughout the history of humanity, there has been no shortage of “detestable things that are done.”The same is true today. But I wonder how many of us followers of Jesus “grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done” in the world today. Do we have a heart for God that runs so deep in our soul that we mourn for those who deny God, who reject Jesus. I confess that I often get annoyed or even angry at people who ridicule my faith in Christ or publicly mock God.

To grieve and lament is to feel sorrow, to mourn the impending loss of these souls. It is not just about being saved, about being marked as righteous by God, but also about a desire to bring that salvation to those who are facing destruction. As believers in Christ Jesus, God has anointed us, just as he anointed Ezekiel, to bring the Word of the Lord to the lost. He has placed specific people in our life who need to hear the gospel message. May our heart reflect the love of God; may our prayers be filled with lament and grief for those who reject God as well as a deep desire for them to know the joy of the Lord.

© 2019 CGThelen

Life has a way of giving us formidable challenges with seemingly impossible hurdles. “It would take at least six months of work to make that happen,” we say, discouraged as we assess our options. “We don’t have nearly enough here to help all these people,” we cry as we are overwhelmed by the need around us. From our limited perspective we can’t see beyond ourselves and our limited abilities. We do the math and things just don’t add up.

It’s the same type of response Phillip and Andrew gave in John 6:1-13 when Jesus tests them with the question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat (verse 5-6, NIV)?” Jesus specifically asks his disciples the question in response to a large crowd gathering around them. As believers in Jesus Christ, it is the question we are often faced with in our walk of faith: Do I trust God to provide or rely solely on my own means to try to overcome challenges in life? In our head things just don’t add up.

“It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite,” Phillip answered Jesus, with a rational approach of doing the math to determine it would cost more money than they had available to feed everyone. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Andrew replied, only seeing what was available in front of him. These are answers I often give when what I have available doesn’t add up to the need.

But Jesus shows another way to look at the equation: “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish (11).” He shows his disciples that God is able to meet our needs in ways we can’t imagine. When we try it on our own, we come up short, but with God we get our fill: “When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten (12-13).”

© 2019 CGThelen

There is a natural rhythm to life as expressed in Ecclesiastes 3, “a season for every activity under the heavens (verse 1, NIV).” As you read verses 2-8, it’s hard not to feel the emotion that Solomon describes in so many of these life events — the sorrow and the joy. We can readily identify with so many of the seasons of life that are expressed in these verses, but we don’t always understand the purpose behind them.

In the verses that follow 2-8, Solomon provides a clue for the reason for the rhythm of joy and sorrow we feel in life. In verse 9 he related to our frustration at times in trying to understand what we gain from our toil, the burden to find purpose. It is that desire to seek meaning that should point us toward God. We cannot “fathom what God has done from beginning to end,” but we can begin to see “how he has made everything beautiful in its time (11).” To “find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (13).”

It is a gift from God to be able to see how he makes everything beautiful in its time. We can feel the joy of new birth and smile holding a new born baby, but the sorrow of death is hard to understand (2). We can feel the pride of constructing a new home, but feel sad when we watch our grandparents’ home torn down to make way for the new (3). We can smile at a keepsake given us, but cry when we must sort through and throw away sentimental things we have accumulated through life (6). Without God we cannot understand these rhythms in life, but with God we are able to trust he has a purpose for everything under the sun.

Solomon told us in verses 3:12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” May we receive this gift from God and accept his purposes, the rhythms of the seasons of our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

“What are you doing next Thursday?” I open my calendar and respond, “Let me check. Oh, I’m open that day.” Without a second thought, I add another appointment to my calendar. I make plans without consideration to God’s plan for my life.

But James reminded us in chapter 4, verses 13-15, that we should not take the future for granted. In verse 13-14, he wrote: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (NIV).” Its a sobering statement that reminds us we have no guarantees for tomorrow.

In the next verse, James wrote: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” I don’t think it is James’ intent to have us be morbid all the time and say with every appointment or plan, “We will do this if we’re alive tomorrow.” I see it as more of a reminder for us to engage God in our plans; to seek his counsel; to have a willingness to change our plans to pursue what God puts in front of us each day. It is a recognition that God holds your life in his hands.

Telling others, “God willing,” when we plan for the future reminds them that we are not the master of our life. It communicates our openness to letting God work in our life, our willingness to set aside our plans for his will. It is a statement of our faith in God, an admission that we actually don’t control our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

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