#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 15, 2013.

I grew up in a very small town. When I tell people the name of the town where I lived as a kid, they typically shrug their shoulders and say, “Never heard of it.” It is of no significance to them. That is how it was for Jesus.

Matthew tells us in verse 2:23 that Joseph settled his family in Nazareth after returning from Egypt. As the verse explains, this was in fulfillment of the prophesy that “he would be called a Nazarene.” InIsrael.com describes Nazareth as so insignificant that it is not even listed in the Talmud or by Josephus. Few people outside of Galilee had ever heard of Nazareth which InIsrael remarks is almost saying Jesus was from nowhere.

Those who did know about Nazareth did not speak highly of it. In John 1:45, when Phillip announced to Nathanael he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael remarked, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

If that wasn’t enough, even the residents of Nazareth, the people who grew up with Jesus, rejected him. Luke 4:16-30 describes the account where Jesus returned to Nazareth and proclaimed himself as the Messiah in the synagogue. As a result the people of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff. Jesus’ remark to the people, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Luke4:24),” is an understatement.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth”, as if to say that he is of no significance. In Matthew 26:71, after Jesus is arrested and taken away to be crucified, a servant girl accused Peter of being with “Jesus of Nazareth”. In Mark 10:47 when the blind man heard that “Jesus of Nazareth” is near, he promptly corrected them by shouting, “Jesus, Son of David.” Many rebuked him for saying that.

Even the apostles are labeled with the term Nazarene. In Acts 24 when Paul was brought before the governor he was accused of being a trouble maker who is stirring up riots. They go as far to say, “He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.”

When we associate ourselves with Jesus, we take on the label of being a Nazarene. People will look at you as if you are from nowhere significant. They will look at you and say, “Can anything good come from you?” While your hometown may not try to throw you off a cliff, your friends and family may not accept your new life in Christ. You may even be accused of being a ringleader for that Jesus of Nazareth.

To follow Christ means we must stop identifying ourselves with the titles and addresses of prestige in this world, and be willing to identify ourselves as being a follower of Jesus the Nazarene, “a ring leader of the Nazarene sect.”

© 2013 CGThelen

“What is the Kingdom of God like?” Jesus said to the people in the synagogue after he healed a woman, “What shall I compare it to (Luke 13:18, NIV)?” It is a question for us to contemplate as we look at our role in the Kingdom of God. Are we working just for our own salvation, or to bring others into the Kingdom?

Jesus answers his question by comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed and yeast, both very small things. But what strikes me about this illustration are the words “planted” and “mixed” (Luke 13:19 & 21). It is one thing to have a mustard seed or yeast, but another thing to use them to impact the lives of others.

In the example of the mustard seed, the man planted it in his garden. Over time it grew into something large enough for birds to perch on. Think of talents God has given you that you can sow into the lives of others who are in your garden; seeds that one day grow large enough to provide support for years.

In the example of yeast, the woman doesn’t just keep the yeast to herself, or just make a loaf or two for herself. Instead, she mixed it into “about sixty pounds of flour.” If you’ve ever made bread, you know that is a large amount of dough to knead. It takes a lot of hard work to knead that much dough. Yet that is what must be done to ensure the yeast is thoroughly mixed in so that the dough can grow in size.

God calls us to Kingdom work, to take what we have been given and put it to work so that it grows the Kingdom of God. Sometimes it takes years and a lot of hard work before we see how it impacts others God has placed in our life. Sometimes we never see the results of our work — just as we rest under and enjoy the shade of trees planted by others we don’t know.

Our Kingdom work can set people feee from the chains that Satan uses to bind them. What God has given us can advance his Kingdom if we “sow” and “mix” so it influences the world around us — so Christ Jesus can touch others, causing them to “straighten up and praise God (Luke 13:13).”

© 2019 CGThelen

In so many blog posts over the years we have shared our journey through life. We have shared our struggles and our joys. At times we have cried out to God in earnest prayer; we have prayed for one another. We have shared our faith journey, as we seek to grow closer to Jesus — seek to follow his ways.

Together our prayers can build up the community of believers in Jesus Christ. By sharing our joys and sorrows with one another, we can lift one another in prayer before God; we can strengthen one another in our faith.

Today I am beginning a weekly post called “Prayer Journey” — a place where we can share what is on our heart; a place to request prayer and to pray for one another in the comment section of this post. May you be blessed this day as we share our faith journey with one another.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. – 1 Samuel 12:23

© 2019 CGThelen

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” – Jeremiah 29:11-12

Lord Jesus at times I feel like I am in exile in a foreign land. Yet you oh Lord know the plans for my life. You know me intimately. Help me, dear Lord, to listen to you, to call out to you for direction. May I rely on your wisdom and the wisdom of the faithful you place in my life, not the counsel of worldly wisdom. Lord fill me with your strength. May your Spirit fill me to overflowing; fill me with a desire to serve you where you send me. May your desires be my desires. May my hope be in your future. All praise to you Lord Jesus for your obedience, for what you did for us. All praise to God who we humbly serve.

© 2019 CGThelen

As much as we desire to stay at the feet of Jesus and worship him, sometimes he asks us to not remain there. As much as we enjoy the fellowship of other Christians, God calls us to go beyond the walls of the church. As much as we relish sharing with other believers the great things God has done in our life, he calls to share this good news with others outside of the church.

Such was the case in Luke 8:26-38. In this passage Jesus demonstrated God’s power over demons in a dramatic way. They had just arrived in the region of the Gerasenes across the lake from Galilee, when “he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town (verse 27, NIV).” The man immediately fell at Jesus’ feet and acknowledged him as the son of God.

Jesus commanded the demons to come out of this man, but they begged Jesus to not torture them. Instead they asked Jesus to let them go into pigs grazing on a nearby hillside. Jesus gave them permission and the demons entered the pigs. Immediately the pigs ran down the hill into a lake and drowned.

News of this event spread quickly and soon people from town and the countryside came and saw the once demon-possessed man seated calmly at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind (verse 35).” When the people heard what had happened, they were filled with fear. They asked Jesus to leave because they were afraid of him. They had just seen the power of God to overcome demons. Jesus left, but he also left behind a powerful example of God’s truth.

The formerly demon-possessed man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him, “‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (verse 39).”

Imagine this man sharing his story in his home town. People who knew the man when he was demon-possessed could not deny he had changed; could not deny Jesus had changed his life. God calls us to do the same.

We are so grateful for what Jesus has done in our life that we want to remain at this feet and worship him — to remain with the community of believers and worship him. But Jesus calls us to share what he has done for us, to spread the good news to others we know outside the church; to those who knew us before Jesus entered our life and can now see the change in our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

How many times has God called you to do something that seems impossible, yet you move forward in obedience? Then almost immediately opposition arises to attempt to make you question what you are doing. You become discouraged, even doubting your ability to complete what God has called you to do.

There is a lot we can learn from Nehemiah about overcoming opposition to your work for the Kingdom of God. In Nehemiah chapter 4 and 5, Nehemiah has returned from exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As he and the Israelites work, they are heckled and threatened by others. Sanballat ridicules them with lines like “What are those feeble Jews doing?” and “Will they finish in a day (Nehemiah 4:1-2, NIV)?” His companion Tobiah added, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones (Nehemiah 4:3)!”

Opposition to their project continues to grow to the point where Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Nehemiah 4:8).” Isn’t that what happens to us when we pursue a ministry or task for God? Opposition pops up and the more progress we make, the stronger the opposition becomes against us. But Nehemiah does not rely on his own strength and wisdom to stand against those opposed to rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah relies on God and the faithful working with him. “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat (Nehemiah 4;9).” He prayed to God and used the people working with him to guard their work. He did not go it alone. Nehemiah encouraged the people to stay focused on God. “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes (Nehemiah 4:14).”

Nehemiah also instructed the people working on the wall to not fight opposition by themselves. He kept them focused on acting as a team. “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us,” he said (Nehemiah 4:20).” He also made sure they were focused on working for God and not enriching themselves. When he learned some of the Israelites were impoverishing their own people, he immediately confronted this disparity. “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies (Nehemiah 5:9)?” He made sure his workers were not divided, that they were unified in their mission and determination to rebuild the wall.

When you make a bold move for God, know that opposition will come. Voices will rise against you and even within your own ranks, Satan will try to create division. Nehemiah provides us with guidance on how to stand up to opposition and stay focused on the task God wants us to pursue.

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” – Nehemiah 6:9

© 2019 CGThelen

“Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6, NIV)

Praise you, oh God. Praise your holy name. Praise your good works. Thank you for the love and grace you pour upon us. May we be attentive to your will for our life. May our life bring you praise. May the works of our hands bring your truth to others. May our lips bring your truth to those in need of salvation. You are worthy of all praise. We bow before you as your humble servant dear Lord. May our actions this day exalt you.

© 2019 CGThelen

I noticed a man standing alone, anxiously waiting to hear his name. He was on standby in the gate area of the airport, waiting to see if he would be able to board the plane parked outside. If his name was not called he would not be able to board the plane and it would leave for its destination without him.

Such is life. We may have our own itinerary for our life, but in the end if our name is not on the right flight we will miss the destination of heaven. Revelation 20:15 tells us, “Anyone whose name was not found in the book of life was thrown into the Lake of Fire.” To get your name on the right flight, you need to go through the travel agent called Jesus Christ. Dedicating your life to Christ means you will not be left behind, tossed into the Lake of Fire because your name was not found in the Book of Life.

A life in Christ means living a life in the Spirit and catching the flights he reserves for you instead of settling for standby on the flights of your choosing. It is putting aside our agenda and focussing on serving God instead of the desires of the flesh. Revelation 21:27 tells us, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the book of life.”

Don’t just settle for standby in life where you anxiously wonder if you’ll make it to the destination of heaven. Secure your ticket today by committing your life to Christ.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published Jan. 16, 2013.

© 2013 CGThelen

Sweat poured down his face as I watched the man pedal the stationary bike as if his life depended on it. His shirt was soaked with sweat and his breathing heavy as the muscles on his legs propelled him nowhere. No matter how hard or how fast he pedaled, he remained stationary, in exactly the same place as when he mounted the bicycle.

While staying physically fit has its benefits, it cannot help us to live forever. Eventually our bodies will break down as we age. Spiritual fitness, however, does have eternal value. Paul frames this concept in 1 Timothy 4:7-10 where he instructed Timothy to, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (verse 7-8, NIV).”

This made me think about the man on the stationary bicycle. What if I put that same amount of effort into living a godly life? I picture myself going to the “Godliness” gym each morning and doing the heavy lifting of reading God’s word that is weighty with spiritual wisdom. On the treadmill, God stops the chaotic running, the striving, and tells me to stand still and know that he is God. On the track, He instructs me to run the race laid out before me; to stay in my lane and run with endurance. Sweat pours down my face, my shirt is soaked yet I feel my spiritual muscles strengthen. My breathing becomes less labored. I feel eternally fit.

It’s important that we stay healthy and physically fit so we take care of the body God has given us to serve him. But Paul reminds us of the importance of godliness, that spiritual training has value both now and in eternity. He told Timothy that they “labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe (verse 10).” And don’t forget that membership in the “Godliness” gym has already been paid by Jesus. So accept the gift of salvation that Jesus offers to you and start your godliness workout today. You’ll be forever grateful.

© 2019 CGThelen

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 10:10, NIV)

Show us your way, Lord. Teach us this day the path to follow. Fill us with your wisdom. Let us fear you and not people. Give us understanding of your holiness dear God. Help us to pursue your righteousness this day. Reveal to us the false truths that abound in this world. Fill us with a knowledge of your truth. May we be filled with the joy of the Lord today, a joy that surpasses all understanding. You are the one true God. All praise and glory to you.

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