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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

I slipped on my new pair of eyeglasses and was amazed at what I could now clearly see. Over the years my distance vision had slowly deteriorated so that I did not even notice how much I was missing when I looked around me. Now with corrective lenses I could clearly discern what was in front of me.

It made me think about how my spiritual vision can become so clouded that I cannot discern the things of God. If I am not vigilant, this world can fog up my view so that I cannot clearly see the Kingdom of God at work. It is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 8:10, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand (NIV)'” Which was a reference to Isaiah 6:9.

In Luke 8, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable he told to the crowd of people gathered to hear him. Jesus describes all the ways that Satan can steal the word of God from us: “…takes away the word from their hearts (verse 12); …in the time of testing they fall away (13); …and choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures (14).” If we lose sight of the word of God for the reasons Jesus lists above, we will not be able persevere and act on it in order to be fruitful for The Lord.

My prayer is that your vision of God’s purpose in your life will remain clear and in focus; that the word of God will continue to work in your heart and not fall prey to the deceit of the evil one. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published January 20, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

Today is Father’s Day, a day to also recognize God our Father. We are His children. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 NIV) We are his creation. It is right to set aside this day for God our Father. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 7:11) He is worthy of thanks. “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20) We should give him honor not just in our words but in our deeds. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col.3:17) Honoring God with service to others in need. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Cor. 9:12) He has given us new life through his son Jesus. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) Our life should glorify God. “You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Cor 6:20) His love for us is eternal. “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26) Let us praise him forever and ever.

 Happy Father’s Day, God!

* This post originally published June 10, 2010.

© 2010, CGThelen

 

Envy. It is the one word that is hard to avoid in our world. Even if you try to not be envious, it still stalks you, seeking to dig its claws in you. Everywhere you go, it’s there waiting for you, waiting to take root in your heart.

It’s not just the nice house, the perfect lawn or the fancy car that passes your broken down car on the side of the road. It’s not just the perfect family always smiling on social media. It’s not just the person at work who always gets the praise and promotions. But it’s also the person at church who seems so holy, sings beautifully to applause, or preaches with power and conviction that impacts people. You feel forgotten while others have praise heaped on them. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 that we all play an important role in the body of Christ. “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1 Cor. 12:18, NIV).”

Envy is that fiery dart that the evil one uses to pierce you, to pierce your heart. Left inside of you, the dart causes an infection that can lead to strife, jealousy and even anger. It can drive us to pursue things not out of our love for God, but out of our desire to show others that we are better than other people. Solomon sums it up well in Ecclesiastes 4:4: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (NIV).”

Meaningless. Chasing after the wind. Can you really capture the wind if you chase it? You can try, but it will slip through your fingers and blow right by you no matter how hard you try. When envy stalks us, we must remember we are made in the image of God for a special purpose. God gave us unique talents and abilities for the tasks he lays before us. We are to pursue God’s plan for our life, not someone else’s journey. Psalm 139:13-14 tells us: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16).

© 2019 CGThelen

In 1 Samuel 9, the prophet Samuel is about to anoint Saul king over Israel. He tells Saul, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line (verse 20, NIV)?” Saul immediately tells Samuel why he could not possibly be the desire of Israel. He looks to worldly attributes of strength to disqualify himself by explaining that he is from “the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin (verse 20).” He even questions Samuel by saying, “Why do you say such a thing to me?” But Samuel ignores these comments and in chapter 10 he anoints Saul king.

Too often we are quick to dismiss how The Lord views us and the tasks he appoints us to do. We are too quick to measure ourselves by the world’s standards instead of by God’s standards. Throughout the Bible we see God using the weak and lowly to overcome the powerful in the world. Psalm 8:5 tells us that God has made mankind “a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” The Psalm goes on to remind us that we have been made “rulers over the works of your hands.”

It is natural to question what God calls us to do and the position he has given us in his creation. Even the Psalmist pondered in Psalm 8:3-4, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them.” Yet we should take to heart that we are his creation and he has ordained us for a specific purpose in His kingdom on earth. Embrace this role and seek God for the strength to pursue his will in your life. Don’t let the weight of worldly questions about your worth weigh you down.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published January 9, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

Physical strength is something that we can see and recognize, but how do we know if someone has spiritual strength? How do we know someone has a strong faith in Jesus Christ? Often it is through difficult times in life that the strength of our faith becomes evident. Just as the strength of a weightlifter is tested by adding more weight, the added pressures of trials in life test the strength of our faith.

Like a weightlifter preparing for competitions with muscle building exercises, God works with us to strengthen our faith and endurance. He encourages us to read scripture, pray and meet with other Christians. He continues to add weights, continues to encourage us, continues to tell us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).”

Yet when we are in the middle of great difficulties in life; when our arms are fully stretched holding the weight of the world above our head; when our arms tremor as we watch more weight being added to the barbell; it’s hard to heed God’s reassurance that his burden is light. All we can see is the crushing weight of trials over our head, not wanting to release our grip even though we can feel ourselves growing faint and weak, weary from the pressure.

That’s when God gently tells us, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).”

© 2019 CGThelen

When I was in college many years ago, in the days before video streaming and on-demand television, my roommate in the dorm religiously watched his favorite television shows each week. He was so devoted to his television that he structured his weekly schedule around the weekly broadcast schedule of each episode.

His behavior might seem a bit strange in our digital era, but things were different back then in the world of broadcast TV. At that time, if you missed the show that week, you may have to wait months to see it when the network aired it again. If you didn’t catch a rerun of your favorite show, you would be at the mercy of the network to show it again sometime.

So my roommate planned accordingly by scheduling classes around the weekly broadcast schedule. One night when I asked him if he wanted to join me for dinner in the cafeteria, he told me no because the “Rockford Files” was on in a few minutes. I began to learn his weekly routine and when I was likely to find him in our dorm room in a trance, staring at the TV screen.

When I think about his devotion to those old shows, it makes me consider what I give priority to and how it shapes my day. At times I wonder if I have the same regimen for my devotion to God. Does my life revolve around Jesus and the Word of God, or do I give other things priority over God? My roommate demonstrated to me his devotion to his television by how he planned his life. May others see our devotion to God in how we plan our life.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” – Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

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