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I quickly darted into the house unannounced as the downpour started. Inside I found a man sitting on the floor in a large, vacant room looking up at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry,” I said to him. “I just needed to get out of he rain.”

The man acted like he didn’t hear me. He just continued to stare at the ceiling. I took a step closer to him. That’s when I noticed water dripping onto his face. I looked up at the ceiling and saw water seeping through some of the tiles in the ceiling.

“You oughta fix that roof,” I told the man. “And why are you sitting under the dripping water?”

“It was repaired,” he replied with a smile as water trickled on his face. “But I kinda like it like that.”

I shook my head not understanding the appeal. “But why?”

“Well the other day a man stopped by and helped repair the hole. But honestly he wasn’t very good at patching roofs.”

“So why did you let him patch it?”

“Well, the man said he felt responsible.”

“Responsible?”

“Yeah, the other day that guy everyone is talking about, Jesus, was in town in this very house.”

“Jesus was here?”

“Yeah, the place was packed. So this group of guys made a hole in the roof and lowered a paralyzed man down on a mat in front of Jesus.”

“So the guy who did the repair was one of the guys who tore the hole in the roof?”

“No, it was the paralyzed guy who repaired the roof,” the man replied.

“Wait a minute, are you saying the paralyzed man fixed the roof?”

“Yeah, Jesus healed him. He came back because he felt bad about the hole in the roof.”

“Jesus actually healed him?”

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” the man said as he stared at me intensely. “I was there. I watched them lower this helpless man on a mat down from the roof. I watched Jesus heal him. I watched the man pick up his mat and walk away. Then a few days later I watched him climb a ladder and fix the roof.”

“So it’s true?” I asked. “He was healed?”

“It’s true,” he replied as he looked up at the ceiling again. “It’s true.”

I watched him sitting under the leaky roof as water dripped on his face. He smiled again as he said, “You know what’s even more amazing?”

“No,” I replied.

“Jesus said his sins were forgiven before he healed him.”

I stood a moment and watched the water dripping on his head and streaming down his face. It was hard to tell if he was crying.

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of someone who witnessed Jesus healing the paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26.

© 2019, CGThelen

Over the years I have encountered many people who are bitter about life and the things that happened to them. Their demeanor is so sour and angry about the past that it affects their outlook on the present. At times this attitude can cause them to lash out at people.

I thought of this attitude of bitterness when I read 1 Samuel 30. David has allied with the Philistines after fleeing from Saul. After they join the Philistines to fight Israel, they are sent back to their homes in Ziklag only to find their town has been pillaged. David’s men are angry with him when they find “it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive (verse 4, NIV).”

The response to this horrible event reveals the character of David and some of his men. In verse 6 we read that David “was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.” Not only was David upset that his wives had been taken, but now he faced the anger of his men who blamed him.

The second half of verse 6 is instructive for us in how we choose to respond to horrible things that happen to us in life: “each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord.” Because David focused on the Lord instead of the men who were bitter in spirit, he was able to seek the Lord’s guidance and rescue their wives and children as well as everything the raiding party had taken from them.

Bitterness about horrible things that happen to us can taint our attitude about so many things in life. When we are bitter in spirit as David’s men were, it can cause us to be angry with people and lash out at them for even minor injustices. David’s ability to find strength in the Lord, even in the midst of his own loss, enabled him to seek the Lord for wisdom on how to respond to their tragedy (verse 7-8). He follows God’s wisdom and rescues their families.

Bitterness of spirit can be destructive to us and those around us. It can sow seeds of mistrust, revenge and division. Read 1 Samuel chapter 30 and compare David’s response to his bitter and grumbling men. Seek the Lord’s wisdom in your response to bad things that happen in your life.

© 2019 CGThelen

It’s hard to believe it’s December. As another year draws to a close, I reflect on another year of joy and sorrows. The older I get, the more the sorrows seem to accumulate to the point where they can overpower the memories of all the joy I have in my life. The older I get the more I feel my body showing it’s age.

Yet Paul’s words in 2 Corinthian 4:16-18 remind me, “do not lose heart (NIV).” He reminds us that as Christians there is much more than the sorrows of this world and our failing body — “inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” With Christ Jesus in our life we are actually growing and maturing our eternal body inside of us.

Some days it is difficult to remember that everything in this world is temporary. The only eternal value it has is how we use what God has given us here to help others learn about Christ Jesus. Paul encourages us to keep a proper perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (verse 17).”

The next time your body’s aches and pains remind you of your age; the next time the struggles of this world get you down, remember the eternal hope we have in Christ Jesus. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (verse 18).”

© 2018 CGThelen

As followers of Jesus Christ, how often do we make plans that include his will for our life? In 1 Corinthians 16:5-9, I am struck by how committed Paul is to following the Lord as he made his plans. When he talked about doing certain things, he often deferred to what the Lord might have him do.
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In verse 6 he said, “perhaps” when he discussed how long he will stay and concluded the sentence with, “wherever I go.” In verse 7 he concluded the sentence with “if the Lord permits.” In verse 8 he stated how he wanted to remain in “Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me (NIV).” Each statement expressed Paul’s desire to temper his plans with what the Lord would have him do.
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It is evident that Paul cared deeply about his friends and fellow servants in Christ. This is clear in many of his letters. In 2 Timothy 1:4 he wrote, “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 he wrote, “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.” These are people that shared faith in Christ Jesus with Paul, people he longed to spend time with in their homes.
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Yet Paul remained faithful to where the Lord placed him to share the gospel, even when he faced “many who oppose him (verse 9).” Though he longed to be with his dear friends, he chose to place Christ first in his life. It’s a powerful testimony to what it means to give your life to serving Jesus, a testimony that makes me contemplate the depth of my faith in Christ and my willingness to follow him, even at the expense of things that I hold dear to me.
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Jesus said in Matt. 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Sometimes that means sacrificing our desires for God’s desires. It is part of the process of pursuing a heart after God, a process of acquiring a longing for people to know the joy of the Lord Jesus as their savior.
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Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

© 2018 CGThelen

For years I drove by the fast food restaurant on a busy corner in town. As time passed, a fresh coat of paint or a new sign would change its look, but inside you could tell it was the same old building. One day I noticed the words “Closed for Remodeling” on the lighted sign in front of the building. I chuckled as I wondered how they could possibly succeed in giving this old place a new look.

It shocked me the next day when I drove by and saw that the entire building was gone. Only the familiar “Closed for Remodeling” notice remained out front. It was readily apparent they were not interested in papering over the old condition of the building, but wanted to make a fresh start. In the weeks that followed, many that passed by that busy intersection took note of the emerging new restaurant.

It’s a good example of what can happen in our Christian life. Sometimes it seems easier to paint over lingering sin than to admit our struggles. We want others to see our fresh coat of Christian paint, but inside we still wrestle with the flesh of our old way of life. But as we grapple with these remnants of our former life, we should think of it “as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want (1 Peter 4:1-2 MSG).”

Pursuing what God wants means we have to tear down the walls that formed our old, worldly life. It’s a painful process that requires us to remove self-centered pieces that are more concerned about ourselves than following Jesus. Some of these bricks are so securely cemented into our old life that it takes a chisel to break them free. It’s part of the painful process of putting off “your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds (Ephesians 4:22 NIV).”

As we make a new life with Jesus, we replace the bricks of selfish desire with bricks focused on serving him. We build a new life in Christ that others take note of on the busy intersections of life. We become part of something bigger than ourselves: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5 NIV).” You become part of God’s kingdom which will stand forever. “For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame (1 Peter 2:6 NIV).’”

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published Sept. 3, 2010.

England 2012 Cross Web

© 2010 CGThelen

I have often found it a challenge to put into practice 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).” As much as I want to, I just can’t seem to maintain a constant state of rejoicing and prayer. I began to wonder if it was even possible until last week when I ran into Sandy, a woman I have know for years.

Sandy is a giving person who has served on a village council for more than 10 years. When she first joined the council, their small village was depressed and not very prosperous. One person described it as being stuck in the 1950s, but she persevered with a grateful heart. Over the years she worked to implement one positive change after another. A mural here, an improvement to a park there, a repaved street here and there. Before long a positive momentum emerged as people saw the town change for the better.

I remarked to Sandy about all the good things happening in her village. “We are so blessed,” she exclaimed to me. Then she listed all the good things going on just this year. “I don’t have all the answers, but I keep praying for our town, our businesses and our people.” I smiled as I realized she is an example of 1 Thessalonians 5:16. In essence she bathed everything in prayer, rejoiced always and was thankful for everything.

Then she told me what really mattered to her. “Oh but what we really need is Jesus,” she said to me with a smile. “Now you know my real passion.” She had shown me that I had 1 Thessalonians 5:16 backwards. Her optimism wasn’t just out of her efforts to have a positive attitude about everything, it was a joy born out of her love for Jesus and her deep desire for others to have that same joy.

For too long I focused on the first part of the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,” as this challenge to be joyful about everything; to lift up everything to God in prayer. I was treating it almost as a chore, keeping track of how many times I failed to pray or be thankful about something. What Sandy taught me is that the second part of this verse is really the answer: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

It is God’s will that in Jesus Christ we can rejoice always in continual prayer. Through Jesus we can find the ability and the will to gives thanks in all things. We can see God at work in all things. When our optimism is born of the Spirit of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are aligned with God’s plan and his will. It is having a passion to serve Christ Jesus, to bring Jesus to others, that makes us want to constantly rejoice, to constantly pray, to continually thank God.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people – Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 14, 2010.

There was Simon at Lake Gennesaret, wrapping up another night of fishing like he had done so many times before with his partners. All night long they plunged their nets into the lake and each time they came back out empty. They repeated the same process over and over and each time they came up with empty nets. They had nothing to show for their work when they returned to shore.

By the time Jesus comes on the scene (Luke 5:1-11) Simon is with the other fisherman cleaning their nets after an exhausting night of work. That’s when Jesus steps into Simon’s boat and his life. He asks him to push-off from shore so he can address the crowd. There in Simon’s boat, in his life, something happens. Jesus shows him and his partners James and John how to trade their empty nets and emptiness for a life full of meaning.

They are astonished at what they see. “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men,” Jesus tells them ( NKJV). With that, they ditch their boats on shore and follow Jesus. They leave behind their life work, the family business, to start a new career showing others how to trade their emptiness with fullness in Christ.

What about you? Do you find yourself on an all too familiar lake fishing for something big in your life but only finding emptiness day after day? There at the end of your day, exhausted and with nothing to show for your work, Jesus steps into your life and asks you to ride with him for a moment. Do you grudgingly agree like you do each Sunday when you agree to go to church?

Yet there he is in your boat, right in the middle of your life. He’s teaching to the crowds but it seems he’s speaking directly to you. In the same places you’ve fished all your life for meaning, he has you cast your nets. Knowing the routine, you protest but give in. But this time they come up with the fullness of Christ. He shows you how much fuller your life will be following him. When you see a direct comparison of a full life with Jesus compared to the emptiness of your old ways, why wouldn’t you drop everything and follow him?

“Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” (John 4:14 NKJV)

© 2010 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 16, 2010

The author of life created us with a purpose. He gives us the words in the Bible to define our life. Yet too often we choose the sinful words from this world to describe our existence. We build our life story around temporal things that lack meaning and purpose, settling for a life that’s disoriented and distant from Christ.

Galatians 5:16-26 reminds us that there are two sets of words to live by – those that describe the sinful nature and those of the Spirit. Verse 17 tells us “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that “you do not do what you want to do.”(NIV) It’s a daily struggle to choose the right words to build a life story around Christ.

The Message translation of the Bible gives us a striking list of words that describes the sinful nature in verses 19-21: “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” You don’t have to look far to see these words in the world today and the kind of story they tell about a life caught up in the sinful nature.

If we live by the Spirit our lives will tell a different story, a story that reads as it was originally written before it was edited and revised according to the sinful nature. Verses 22-23 tell us the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It’s interesting that verse 23 ends with “Against such things there is no law.” Laws abound around trying to control the sinful nature.

The story of a life lived with the Spirit will bear fruit that communicates Christ clearly to others. In the struggle to write our life story each day according to God’s design, let us carefully choose our words. Paul advises us in Gal. 5:24, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

© 2010 CGThelen

Throwback Thursday – Originally published March 26, 2010

When Christ pries open the bulging suitcase of our life, the contents spill out before us. There, spread out for everyone to see is all the junk we have carried for years. Just as when a bag bursts open in an airport, our first reaction is to stuff everything back in before anyone notices the personal items in our life. The last thing we want to do is to stop and take time to examine our dirty laundry.

But an emptied life is a chance to see how you can repack for a journey with Christ. It’s a new mindset that is different from the world you once knew, a mindset that requires you to only focus on what you need for your destination. Romans 12:2 reminds us: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is (NLT).”

Our life is designed to only need a small carry-on bag filled with God’s goodness. The challenge is to not put everything back in again so that Christ gets misplaced in your overloaded life. Paul writes in 2 Peter 2:20, “If they have escaped the corruptions of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”

A commitment to Christ means sorting through your life and dealing with the contents one by one. It means reading the Bible and praying and meeting with other Christians to help you sort out the things that do not belong in your life. When you pack for a journey with Christ, you will be amazed at how everything fits in your life. Christ said in Matt. 11:30 “For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

© 2010 CGThelen

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

© 2018 CGThelen

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