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I sat with her in her living room as she talked about her life. Somehow she managed to keep her frail body upright in the chair. A small plastic tube by her nose fed her oxygen as she spoke with a raspy voice. I could sense the bitterness as she told me about past injustices done to her from decades ago. Over the years I had known this aged woman it seemed the grip of bitterness had only grown tighter on her life. It seemed to cripple her to the point where she was hunched over, eyes pointed toward the floor. I longed to free her from the bondage of unforgiveness with the loving touch of Jesus Christ, but she would have nothing to do with it.

Days later I came across Luke 13:10-17 where Jesus healed a woman crippled “by a spirit for eighteen years.” Toward the end of the passage Jesus remarked that she had been kept bound all those years by Satan. What is interesting about this passage is that the woman does not seek healing from Jesus. She was there in the synagogue listening to Jesus teach and he called her forward. Jesus told the woman, “you are set free from your infirmity.” He placed his hands on her and then she, immediately “straightened up and praised God.”

It reminded me of my aged friend I visited a few days earlier and how she chose to let Satan hold her in the grip of bitterness — choosing to let past injustices keep her bent over and unable to straighten up. She was emotionally and now physically crippled, refusing to even enter a church to hear the teaching of Christ. She refused to hear Jesus call her forward so he could touch her with his grace and release her from the grip of Satan. She chose to remain hunched over in bitterness instead of letting Jesus set her free from the grip of Satan.

In this life we are often struck by emotional and physical events that can cripple us for years. Satan wants to bind us with these infirmities so that we remain crippled, hunched over with our eyes to the ground so we are unable to stand and raise our hands to praise and worship God. Jesus calls us forward to touch our lives, but the grip of the injustices of this life hold us back from receiving his freedom. Instead we listen to those, like the synagogue leader in this passage, who don’t want us to receive Jesus Christ and his healing touch. We remain hunched over in bitterness with eyes pointed to the ground instead of Jesus.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published March 10, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

There are certain people I have met in my life who have inspired and challenged me. They are not rich and famous, nor are they well known to the public. They are for the most part ordinary people living life in obscurity, but living for the Lord Jesus. Their accomplishments won’t show up in the media, nor even a mention on social media, but they will show up in God’s book of life.

These are people God has placed in my life who have mentored and inspired me, even when I had given up on myself. These are people who prayerfully support me, lifting me up before the throne of heaven, when I don’t have the energy to pray. These are people who have been there to pick me up in the midst of traumatic events that have immobilized me.

It continues to amaze me how God places these super heroes in my life to rescue me at the right moment. They are God’s faithful who listen to the prodding of the Spirit of God and act on my behalf, even if it’s just a text, “Praying for you.” God doesn’t just value me, he cherishes me enough to provide these special people in my life — sometimes years before I need them. These are the special relationships, the community of believers, the friends who I cherish.

Take some time today to thank those who have walked faithfully with you on your faith journey. Lift them up in thanksgiving before God. Know that you are loved and valued in the Kingdom of God.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

There was a chill in the air as I watched him take a draw from his cigarette. The tip glowed orange-red in the dark of the parking area as he inhaled. A white cloud of smoke and warm breath, illuminated by a nearby streetlight, emerged as he exhaled.

“You don’t know what it’s like to have the !@$?# beat out of you by your old man,” he said in an angry tone. “Day after day my dad would pound on me.”

“No, I don’t know,” I sheepishly replied. I couldn’t possibly know what he went through, but I knew he had the same hole I did, a deep desire for a loving father. I knew he felt the same emptiness, the same longing for a father’s loving touch; a father’s loving words.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say. I looked at him in the eyes with sincerity. “You know I do care about you.”

He just swore at me and took another puff from the cigarette. “You’re all liars.”

I was speechless. I could not overcome the years of beatings, the years of disappointment he experienced. How could I overcome the massive wall he built to defend himself? How could I get him to understand he always had a loving father right there with him, that God the Father loves him no matter what. He never disappoints.

He swore again at me — told me to leave him alone. I turned to leave, then hesitated and turned around. “I wish you could see I do care about you.”

He swore again at me. “Just leave me alone,” he shouted.

“Okay,” I nodded and walked away. Before going back inside, I turned to look back at him. The orange-red glow of his cigarette was visible in the dark. “Dear God, help him to see you,” I whispered. “Help him to know you”

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. – 1 John 3:1

© 2019 CGThelen

Imagine if you just heard that you won the Nobel Prize in Literature. You immediately share this good news with friends and family, but they respond: “Oh that isn’t true. That doesn’t really exist. You just want to convert me so someday I’ll get a Noble Prize too.” Imagine the heartbreak when no one believes you won the award. You have no one to share and celebrate the good news.

This is how I feel when I try to share my faith in Jesus with some people in my life. When you have good news you want to share it with others — celebrate it — but you can’t if they don’t want to hear it or reject it. My heart aches because they don’t want any part it.

My faith in Christ is such a large part of my life, yet I cannot share it with so many people I know. It’s not that they don’t know I am a Christian (or religious as some describe me), it’s more that I can’t share the joy, the reassurance I get with having Jesus in my life. They seem more intent on debating than accepting Jesus.

Some might describe my sharing Christ as trying to convert them to Christianity, but I would say that John captured my real intent. He wrote in 1 John 1:3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (NIV).” I want them to share the fellowship with other believers in Jesus. I want them to know intimacy with God. I want them to know the peace that comes from knowing Christ.

So it is with the joy of the Lord Jesus. Until those in our life accept Christ and follow him, they cannot share the joy with us; cannot share our experience in walking with Jesus each day. There is something missing in our ability to connect with them. John described this in 1 John 1:4: “We write this to make our joy complete.” My joy is incomplete when I can’t share with them the good news in my life. It’s like having the Nobel Prize in Literature and no one to share the excitement and joy.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. – Luke 15:3-6

© 2019 CGThelen

It’s happened many times in my life. I am in a deep conversation with someone about Christianity and it feels like I am speaking another language. I keep hitting a stonewall. No matter how hard I try to explain my faith in Jesus, they can’t seem to hear it. I just want to throw up my hands in frustration and walk away. But Jesus offers us some insight into those who refuse to grasp the truth.

In John 8:31-47, Jesus is in the middle of one his many debates with the Jewish people and they just can’t seem to hear what he is saying. In verses 31-33 he made the statement: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (NIV).” The Jewish people argue that as descendants of Abraham they are children of God and slaves to no one. Jesus makes the distinction that their actions say otherwise. “Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word,” Jesus told them (37). He then makes a distinction about which family they belong to, God his father or the devil.

“Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say,” Jesus told them (43). It’s a harsh reality, but people who don’t believe Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins are not part of the family of God. They can’t hear what we say because it is God’s truth. Jesus doesn’t mince any words: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires (45).” They can’t hear because Jesus speaks the language of truth while the devil, “the father of lies,” speaks his native language of lies (45). The truth and lies don’t mix. They are totally different languages.

So when we encounter people who seem to not want to hear the truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to understand they speak a different language. In the midst of a frustrating conversation with someone trying to convince you Christianity is phony, remember who they belong to, the father of lies; and remember where we came from.

We were once slaves to sin, chained to lies we thought were truth. Praise God we were set free through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the truth has set us free and there is hope it will also set free those who want to hear the truth of Jesus Christ. We need to remain patiently hopeful that the truth we speak will eventually overcome the lies, that they will learn the language of God’s truth.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

© 2019 CGThelen

I am fascinated by abandoned buildings. I look at the crumbling brick walls and think of all the work that went into carefully building those walls brick by brick. I notice rusting metal beams and think of all the hours of labor that went into forging the beams and welding them into place. I see crumbling plaster with drooping wallpaper and think of the hours spent carefully selecting colors and installing the walls and wallpaper.

It doesn’t take long to see in our world what Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless (NIV).” He makes a great point about the purpose of this futility — that it is meant to point us toward God. “This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment (verse 24-25). Without God in our life, our work in this world will amount to nothing.

If our purpose and meaning in life is centered on God, then all we do will be meaningful, our efforts will be invested in the eternal Kingdom of God. Our work on earth, our toil, will become centered on God’s purposes, not our own. Our work becomes a way to invest in the lives of those around us, to be a light for them in a dark world.

© 2019 CGThelen

When I attended college there were many buildings on campus that bore the names of people from generations before me. I had no idea who these people were and why they were important enough to have their name on a building. To me the name was just a reference to the building. Unless there was a plaque on the building about the person, no one would know them or their accomplishments.

I thought of this as I recently sat at a dedication ceremony where someone I knew was having a building named after him to recognize his accomplishments in the city. This was the third person I knew who would now have their name emblazoned on a building. To me, the building would always be associated with the person I knew, but to coming generations the name would be just a building to them.

Solomon reminded us of this in Ecclesiastes 1. “Meaningless, meaningless” he wrote in verse 2 about the result of all we do on this earth. “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun (verse 3, NIV)?” Like the people I know who had buildings named after them, ultimately their accomplishments will be forgotten and eventually the building that bore their name will be torn down to make way for the new. “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever (4).”

Solomon cautions us not to ignore the eternal in our work here on earth. It is the only thing that will truly last forever. All our accomplishments in this world, as great as they may seem, are meaningless unless they help build up the Kingdom of God. “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them (11).”

The only thing that matters in the end is if our name is in the book of life. “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:5).” We may have our name on an earthly building, but it won’t matter if our name is not in the book of life. “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).”

© 2019 CGThelen

I have been contemplating for some time now what it means to be part of the family of God versus the family I was born into on this earth. This is a question Jesus also faced during his time on earth. People in his hometown of Nazareth spoke well of him, but knew him as Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22). They couldn’t see beyond him being a local boy, the son of a carpenter.

In Mark 6 we read how the people in his hometown were amazed at his teaching and his miracles (verse 2). They recognized he was doing amazing things, yet they could not see beyond his family ties. They remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us (verse 3, NIV)?” They heard his teaching and saw his miracles, yet could not see beyond his local identity.

The blood lines of family can be strong, yet they can also create problems for us. Sometimes it is hard for us to get beyond the identity of our earthly family and to embrace that as believers in Jesus we are part of the family of God. Jesus said, when told his mother and brothers were waiting outside for him, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice (Luke 8:21).”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of a different bloodline, the blood of the cross. The sacrifice Jesus made for us, the blood that ran down the cross on the day he was crucified, enabled us to be part of the bloodline of God. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).” We are part of the family of God. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).”

© 2019 CGThelen

We live in a world of the seen, the visible. Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight all give us a sense of this world we live in. Yet it is the unseen that guides us — our conscience, our emotions, our thoughts deep within our being. Our mind directs our actions, our beliefs.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (NIV).” Ultimately we must acknowledge the unseen, feel the presence of God, know that he is in our midst. We must take that step of faith and earnestly seek him. Yet doubts can persist.

In John 20:24-29 we read about Thomas doubting Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord (verse 25).” Yet Thomas’ doubts persist and he replies, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe (25).” A week later Thomas is with the disciples when Jesus again stands among them. Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (27).”

Because Thomas saw Jesus in the flesh, he replied to Jesus, “My Lord and my God (28)!” It will be the same for everyone someday when we stand before Jesus. Romans 14:10-11 tells us that one day we will all stand before God’s judgement seat where there will be no doubt. Then “‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God (verse 11).” Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Years ago we were at a conference with other Christians and during the break we struck up a conversation with a couple we had never met before. They soon learned that my spouse and I were in the middle of moving and our new home would not be available for a few weeks. “This may sound strange,” the older gentleman said. “I know we just met, but why don’t you stay with us. I feel like we’re family.” We reassured him that we had a place to stay nearby with family, but thanked him for his generous offer.

Even though this happened years ago, I have often thought about it when I consider who is my family. In Luke 8:19-21 Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but the crowds prevent them from getting close to him. Someone informs him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you (verse 20, NIV).” To which Jesus replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice (verse 21).”

We are born with an earthly family yet as Christians we are children of God our father. Romans 8:14-15 tells us, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” We are adopted into the family of God so we can cry, “Abba, Father.” Only those who believe in Jesus and follow him will be part of the family of God. It pains me to think some in my earthly family are not part of God’s family because of their disbelief.

Praise God, however, that he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).” Even though we are sinners, he welcomes those who believe in Jesus into the family of God. In John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” There is hope for my unbelieving family members, I just need to continue to pray and reach out to them.

© 2019 CGThelen

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