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Where can we find joy in life, true joy that lasts? Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that even though the Thessalonians suffered, they had “joy given by the Holy Spirit (NIV).” This joy was born out of their embrace of the gospel not just as words, “but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (verse 5).”

Because of their devotion to Jesus Christ, The Thessalonians were motivated not by human desires, but a desire to serve Christ. Paul wrote that it was evident their “work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith, love and hope in Christ motivated their actions.

The Thessalonians found true joy in serving Christ despite hardships and trials. They did not do things grudgingly or because of guilt. Paul wrote how word spread throughout the region about how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (verse 9).” People knew their faith was real, that they held eternal truths, not words based on idle human wisdom. May we realize our joy in the Lord. May it motivate all we do so others will see the living God in us.

© 2019 CGThelen

There he was at work sitting at his desk like usual when Jesus walked up and said, “Follow me (Luke 5:27, NIV).” Without hesitation, Levi “got up, left everything and followed him (verse 28).” Jesus called Levi to follow him, but then Levi called Jesus to follow him. He had Jesus follow him to his house where he held “a great banquet” for Jesus with his fellow tax collectors and others (29).”

We often think of Jesus calling people to follow him, but do we think about people calling Jesus to follow them? Like Levi, we should invite Jesus to follow us into our lives and the people we know. Because Levi invited Jesus to follow him into his home for a banquet, his fellow tax collectors and others also met Jesus.

When we ask Jesus into our life, we should invite him to follow us throughout our day. That means bringing Jesus with us into our homes, our work place and our time with friends just as Levi did with Jesus. Later in Luke 15:1 we read, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” I’d like to think they were there because Levi introduced them to Jesus.

How about you? As a follower of Christ do you keep Jesus to yourself and not ask him to follow you into other parts of your life — into your workplace, your school or to meet your friends? Jesus reminded us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Ever had a time when you worked at something a long time and had nothing to show for it? Such was the case with Simon in Luke 5. Simon had fished all night and caught nothing. As he cleaned his nets with the other fisherman along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, Jesus was also there teaching the crowds.

Luke tells us in verse 5:1-3 that the crowd pressed in so Jesus climbed into Simon’s beached boat and asked Simon “to put out a little from shore (verse 3, NIV).” Even though Simon is likely exhausted he shoved the boat off shore. Then Jesus “sat down and taught the people from the boat (verse 3).”

At this point I wonder if Simon sat and intently listened to Jesus, or was he just thinking about going home and getting some sleep? When Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch (verse 4).” Who can blame Simon for responding, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets (verse 5).”

Isn’t that how we respond sometimes to what the Lord asks us to do? “But Jesus, we worked a long time on that ministry and we came up empty.” We put a lot of effort into our work and now Jesus comes along and tells us to give it another try. We reluctantly respond as Simon did in verse 5, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” The difference this time is that Jesus is in the boat.

Luke tells us in verse 6-7 that they proceed to catch so many fish that their nets almost break. When their partners in the other boat come to help, they fill both boats so full that they begin to sink. Simon is humbled by what he sees. He falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man (verse 8)!”

It’s humbling when God shows up and proves our doubts were wrong. It’s embarrassing when we realize we put all that effort into something without inviting Jesus into the boat. Yet Jesus patiently invites himself into our boat, teaching us his ways; showing us how together we can do things we didn’t think were possible.

Simon, James and John are astonished by the catch of fish. Jesus tells them, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people (verse 10).” The result is that they pull the boats on shore and leave everything to follow Jesus. In time they accomplish great things for God. Indeed, later Simon Peter speaks to the crowds after the resurrection of Jesus in Acts 2:41 and “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” As Jesus promised, they became fishers of people. Their boat was overflowing with followers of Christ.

As you seek to follow Jesus, seek to serve him and welcome him into your boat. Sit humbly at his feet and listen to his teaching. When he calls you to do something, you may have your doubts, but put your nets in the water anyways. Let the Spirit of God work within you and let Jesus multiply the fruit of your labor.

© 2019 CGThelen

Over the years I have read Luke 9:10-17 and heard many sermons about this passage where Jesus feeds a massive crowd with 5,000 men and likely more. But this morning as I read this passage again a phrase in verse 17 made an impression on me: “They all ate and were satisfied (NIV).”

In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus “called the twelve together (verse 1)” and “sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (verse 2).” He instructed them to “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town (verse 3-4).” Essentially Jesus told them God would provide for their needs.

In verse 10 Luke wrote that the apostles returned and “reported to Jesus what they had done.” Then they withdrew to Bethsaida, but the crowds followed so Jesus “spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing (verse 11). At that point it was late so the twelve told Jesus, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here (verse 12).”

Remember these are the same twelve that Jesus sent off at the beginning of this chapter and told them to bring no food with them and not to worry about lodging. The same twelve that he empowered to “drive out all demons and to cure diseases (verse 1).” But now they simply wanted to send the crowd away. Which leads me to believe is why Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat (verse 13).” All the twelve could see was the five loaves and two fish in front of them.

Jesus proceeded to show the apostles that God would provide all their needs. In verse 16 he took the loaves and fishes and “gave thanks and broke them.” Then he had the disciples distribute them to the thousands in the crowd. Imagine how the apostles felt as they handed out the food and there was enough for everyone — the same apostles who wanted to send the crowd away; the same apostles who Jesus empowered to do miracles. They saw that, “They all ate and were satisfied (verse 17).”

How often do we doubt God’s ability to provide all our needs? Is our tendency to send the crowd away, to send away those God puts in our life because we don’t see how God can provide at that moment? Do we tend to want to handle things on our own, packing a large suitcase of our own provisions instead of relying on God? Jesus continued to teach his apostles to rely on God, to have faith that God will take care of their needs. Jesus continues to teach us the same thing today: “They all ate and were satisfied (verse 17).”

Jesus told his disciples, ‘If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith.’” — Luke 12:28

© 2019 CGThelen

In Luke 3:1-14 John is in the “country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (verse 3).” Luke noted that this was is in accordance with what was written in the book of Isaiah. But it is not just repentance that John preached to the people. In verse 8 he said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our repentance isn’t just an act of verbalizing our faith in Jesus. John warns in verse 9, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” In the next verse the people listening to John ask what they should do and he proceeds to tell them how to live out their repentance. He tells them to share with those who have none. He tells tax collectors not to cheat and soldiers not to exhort money, “to be content with their pay (verse 14).”

We are messengers for Christ Jesus, preparing the way for the Lord in what often seems like a wilderness of unbelief. Yet it is our faith lived out in patient hope that prepares hearts to receive Christ. Our repentance lived out causes us to not cheat others; to be generous with what we have; to be content with what God gives us. This is the straight, clear path of a changed life that stands out in the twisted jungle of a corrupt world.

We need to stay vigilant and not let the overgrowth of discouragement creep in and overtake our path to Christ. We need to focus on making a way for Christ to work in the lives of those around us. We can point the way to Jesus so that the Spirit of God can transform lives. As John said, “But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 16).”

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

© 2019 CGThelen

I have often found comfort in Psalm 91 during traumatic times in my life, particularly verses 1-2: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust (NIV).” Finding refuge and rest under his wing (verse 4) is a comforting image of God’s care and concern for us. But when I read Psalm 91 yesterday, the word “fortress” in verse 2 resonated with me.

As a fortress, God also defends us against the forces of evil. We need not be afraid because the arrows of the evil one bounce off the fortress of God that surrounds us (verse 5). We do not need to fear the evil that stalks us (verse 6). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (verse 11).”

Verse 14 tells us God offers protection to those who acknowledge Him; he answers those who call his name. Declaring that God is your refuge is more than just a place of rest; it is also a declaration that you put your trust in God as your fortress against those who pursue you with evil intent. By declaring, “The Lord is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” we verbalize that we put our faith in God and his eternal purposes, not the temporal ways of the world.

© 2018 CGThelen

Throughout my Christian life I have taken multiple spiritual gifts inventories, personality tests and aptitude quizzes. They have been helpful to some extent in orienting me toward where I feel God is calling me to serve, yet I have often wondered about God calling me to serve in areas where I feel ill-equipped or where tests show I am not strong in that area. It made me wonder what a spiritual gifts inventory would have shown Gideon prior to God calling him to save Israel.

In Judges 6 we find Israel oppressed by the Midianites because Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord (6:1, NIV).” Verse 6 tells us that the “Midians so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Did God respond with a mighty army to save them; a legion of soldiers who scored high on warrior skills on a spiritual gifts inventory? Not exactly. He sent them Gideon.

Who was Gideon? The angel of the Lord calls him, “mighty warriorand tells him “the Lord is with you (6:12)” To which Gideon responded, that “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (6:13)?” Gideon has doubt about God’s intent to save them and perhaps even more doubt about his ability to lead the charge against their oppressors. The Lord reassures Gideon he has the strength and that he is with him (6:14), yet Gideon still questions God’s judgement. Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family (6:15).”

Sometimes God calls us to do things where we feel unqualified and weak. We can think of others who would be far more qualified in our opinion. Yet God reassures us, as he did Gideon, “the Lord is with you (6:12); I will be with you (6:16).” The Lord who created us often knows us better than we know ourselves. He calls us to fulfill his purpose and asks us to trust him. God sees things in us that sometimes assessments and analysis do not uncover in us. We just need to have faith in God’s judgement of our abilities.

Even though Gideon has doubts, he goes on to accomplish great things for God and brings the freedom from oppression that the Israelites asked for from God — probably not in the way they expected. Read Judges 6:11 – 7:25 and see how God develops Gideon into the mighty warrior he did not see in himself when God first called him. May this passage reassure you that God is with you no matter what he calls you to do.

© 2018 CGThelen

Fear is an interesting thing. It can create great stress in the midst of troubles and cause us to panic. Yet fear can also protect us from harm and create a proper respect for authority. In Mark 4:35-41 we have the familiar story about fear where the disciples are in the boat with Jesus when a “furious squall came up (verse 37).”

At the beginning of Mark 4 Jesus pushed off in a boat on a lake to address the crowds pressed against the shore. Here he taught the parable of the farmer sowing seed where he explained to his disciples in verse 17, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” He continued to teach and then by evening Jesus and his disciples pushed off in the boat to cross to the other side of the lake (verse 35-36).

Here are the disciples with the son of God sleeping in their boat. They’ve just listened to a full day of Jesus teaching to large crowds. Who wouldn’t think it should be smooth sailing ahead with Jesus along for the ride? But in an instant a storm popped up and nearly swamped the boat (verse 37). Their faith is tested and their first response is to accuse Jesus of not caring what happens to them. A moment later Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, then he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith (verse 40)?”

Why are we so afraid of the people and forces of this world? So often we respond like the disciples in the midst of the storms that pop up in life by crying out to God to do something saying, “Don’t you care?” In the calm after the storm, when the disciples saw the power of God at work, then they had a fear of the Lord. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (verse 41)!’”

I find it interesting how in this passage Jesus took the disciples from fear of the storm to being “terrified” of him. They acquired a proper reverence of God asking, “Who is this?” We should have the same awe and reverence of our Lord, placing our fear before the Lord Jesus and resting in him in the midst of the storms of life. Joshua 24:14 tells us, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness (NIV).”

© 2018 CGThelen

#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 a family member in Rahab’s house based on Joshua 2:1-22 and 6:1-25.

I sat in the room with my parents, siblings, inlaws, nieces and nephews. We all barely fit in the small house situated along the outer wall of Jericho. I wondered why I had listened to Rahab. Honestly, what credibility does a prostitute have in knowing about spiritual matters? Yet she insisted we remain in her house if we wanted to survive the impending attack. When I asked her how she knew, she refused to explain as if to protect her source.

We were all scared, melting with fear at what seemed like an inevitable attack on our city. Years ago we heard how the God of the Israelites dried up the Red Sea for them to cross and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Recently word came that they totally destroyed Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan. Now they had crossed the Jordan and were at our doorstep.

I stared out the window and watched the scarlet cord blow in the breeze. I wondered who Rahab was signaling with this impromptu flag. I felt vulnerable looking out the window perched high on the wall as I watched the Israelites approach the city again with priests carrying a golden box and trumpets made of ram horns. Armed men in front and back of them escorted the procession of priests.

I checked the marks I made on the wall to keep track of each time they marched around the city. This would be the seventh time. I tired of this game they were playing with us. I was done hiding in this cramped house with my family so I made my way to the door. I reached for the latch, but a hand stopped me. I turned to see Rahab looking at me with an intense stare. She didn’t have to say a word. She told us when we first entered the house that we could not leave — that the door was all that stood between us and certain death. She told us the God of the Israelites is Lord God in heaven above and on the earth below.

I stood a moment at the door with my hand on the latch. All eyes in the room were upon me. No one said a word as we heard the priests blow the trumpets once again as they circled the wall. The city gates were shut tight, the wall that enclosed the city stood between us and the Israelite army. I thought about who I had more faith in, this God my sister the prostitute talked about or this fortress called Jericho where I lived most of my life.

Suddenly I heard shouting coming from the group of Israelites who were marching around the city. This startled everyone in the room. Several members of our family went to the window to see what was going on. Then I heard a rumbling sound, at first distant, then growing louder. Soon I felt the whole house shaking. Someone shouted, “The wall is crumbling! It’s coming down!” I panicked, “This house is part of the wall!” I reached for the door latch to flee the inevitable.

Rahab stopped me again and looked into my eyes. The sound of the crumbling wall was deafening. We could hear the shouts of the Israelite army entering the city. Judgement day was upon us. If Rahab said something to me, I could not hear it. I stared back at her and nodded. I had to trust; I had to have faith we would be saved from certain death.

Suddenly the door flung open. I turned to see two Israelite men standing in the doorway. “Rahab!” One said. “Have your family follow us.” We exited Rahab’s house and followed the men. As we climbed over the debris of the city wall I glanced back at the chaos, the screams of people and the rising flames. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how close I had come to being part of that death and destruction. We followed the two men to a place outside of their camp. In the distance we could see the dark smoke rising from our former life.

“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.” Matt. 1:5-6 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

The following was sent to me by my friend. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

A few days ago my daughter and my granddaughter were here for a brief visit. Just before bedtime I got out my green laser light to show my granddaughter. She loved it, precotiously exclaiming “This is really ‘mazing!'”

After she went to bed I went outside to check on my herd of frogs and toads. Yes, you read that right. You see, the light on the north side of the garage attracts a lot of bugs. Every warm night three to six tree frogs perch around the light for a meal, and two to three large toads sit on the ground below waiting to pounce on any careless flyby.

The herd was in full force! Six tree frogs and three large toads; a new world record! The thought then occurred to me, “I wonder how they would react to my green laser light?” I tried the tree frogs first. They did nothing. Then I shined the light on the ground about 6 inches in front of a large toad. He immediately pounced! For the next 5 minutes I was leading toads all over the driveway as they aggressively hopped in pursuit of the shiny green meal.

Those toads reminded me of our pursuit of shiny green nothings. The toads were obviously hungry. But the truth was there was nothing in what they were so aggressively pursuing that could give them nourishment or satisfaction. It was a worthless waste of time and energy on their part, but it was immensely entertaining on my part!

When we spend our time and energy pursuing shiny green nothings, I wonder if the enemy is like me with those toads. He is fooling us, and is immensely entertained by our foolishness. The toads remind me of God’s leading with His people in Isaiah 55:2-3a, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live…”

Let’s learn the lesson from these toads and pursue the satisfying soul food of a deeper relationship with Christ and His people!

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