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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

Editor’s note: This post originally published March 31, 2018.

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

© 2018 CGThelen

A constant connection with God

A life aligned with His will

Selfish ambitions cease

Harmonizing my life with God

No longer out of tune

Shedding the burdens

God lightens the load

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).”

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16

© 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

David had it in his heart to build a dwelling place for God. Psalm 132:3-5 expresses this desire:

“I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob (NIV).”

Yet David never built the temple. God left that task to David’s son Solomon. It reminded me of the deep desire I have to build a temple for the Lord within the people I know who have not accepted Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst.” I want them to experience the joy of the Lord; to experience the peace that comes from the Spirit of God dwelling within. Yet like David, sometimes God tells me “no,” that someone else will build it and I will not see it in my lifetime.

That does not stop me from praying for the people God places in my life. I continue to try to sow seeds, praying at some point they will sprout and grow with deep roots, yielding “a crop, a hundred times more than was sown (Luke 8:8);” hoping they will build a dwelling place for the Spirit of God within their heart.

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

© 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

A friend of mine introduced me to a friend of his from his church. As we talked, I learned that this man had a very successful business in finance. I immediately judged this man who likely made more money in an hour than I made in a year. How could someone so wealthy possibly have faith in Christ? The two seemed at odds with each other.

However, as we talked I soon learned that this man had a passion for Christ Jesus. He began to tell me about all the orphanages he funded with his income; how he was helping to spread the gospel to these children in need of hope. Then he said something to me that made me regret my quick judgement of him. “I believe God has gifted me with the ability to make money for his kingdom,” he said.

I quickly realized I was ill-equipped to judge a person’s commitment to Christ. In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul reminded us that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (NIV).” He explained that we are all one in Christ, that our worldly labels are replaced by our identity in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Through Jesus we are descendants of Abraham “and heirs according to the promise.”

© 2019 CGThelen

On this New Year’s Eve, I want to thank all of you for taking time to read this blog. Throughout this year I have been encouraged by your comments and uplifted by your words. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:15-16: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (NIV).”

It is my prayer in the new year that you will grow in your faith in Christ. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 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, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Eph. 1:17-19).”

Blessings to you.

This is the time of year when some of us get Christmas letters talking about all the great things accomplished during the year. But there is one letter I read recently that boasted about weaknesses and hardships — Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I doubt I would ever use language in a Christmas letter to my friends and family using language like Paul used in verse 10, telling people how “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NIV).”

At the core of living a life for Christ there seems to be a constant battle between self and selflessness; between a life in the Spirit of God and the flesh. Paul wrote about this struggle in 2 Cor. 12, reminding the Corinthian church to not boast about themselves, but to boast about Christ; to boast about their weaknesses. This is something that seems counterintuitive in our world. Afterall, who goes around bragging about how weak they are or their failures in a resume?

Yet humble people are often praised in this world and the arrogant often despised by others as being filled with self. When we empty ourselves of self we make room for the Spirit of God to work within us. We learn to rely on strength in Christ Jesus. As verse 9 reminds us, the Lord’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It seems simple enough that we are strongest in Christ when our selfish motives are weakest. But to put It into practice is a daily struggle. Can I honestly delight in weakness as Paul writes in verse 10? It seems my first response to insults and persecution is to defend myself; my response to hardship and difficulties is to become envious of those who seem to have the perfect life. I am more inclined to boast about myself at the expense of Christ.

In the church when we admit our failures, our weaknesses, we humble ourselves before each other. This helps to open us up to allowing Christ to not only strengthen us, but the body of believers as well. Maybe it’s not a letter bragging about all your weaknesses, but rather sharing one of your struggles with some close friends “so that Christ’s power may rest on” you (verse 9).

© 2018 CGThelen

In so many instances where Jesus confronted the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, I am amazed at how they respond to him. How could they reject Jesus, the son of God standing before their eyes, and not accept him as their Messiah? Yet I often see the same response to Jesus occurring today, not just in the world, but in myself as well.

Mark 12:12 is one example that reveals three key insights on how people rationalize rejecting Jesus: “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (NIV).”

The first insight is they “looked for a way to arrest him.” This shows they were trying to use the law to justify their actions. We see the same thing today in the world where certain laws are enacted as a way to stop Christians from sharing the gospel. Legalism in the church can also be a way to justify our actions when God’s plans seem to interfere with our agenda.

The second insight from this passage touches on how we respond to criticism: “because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.” So often when someone speaks against me, I want to justify my actions or my words to prove I am right. It becomes the motivation for the first insight, to support my cause with the law or legalism instead of listening and correcting my action or words. I become more intent on proving I am right than improving my relationship with Christ.

The third insight is: “But they were afraid of the crowd.” In this incident it appears they saw they were outnumbered by those who came to hear Jesus teach. It was a crowd not necessarily friendly to the Pharisees — perhaps a crowd with a lot of Gentiles. This shows they were not comfortable outside of their usual crowd. Too often I find myself more like the Pharisees instead of being like Jesus who mingled with people who were often rejected by the Jewish leaders, the downtrodden of their society. Too often I fear the crowd instead of God; too often I am not willing to step out of my comfort zone and mingle with people who are not like me.

Jesus often calls us to lay aside our personal agenda. At times the words of Jesus can convict us of things in our life we need to change. The challenge is whether we listen to Jesus and his call for our life, or insist on finding a way to justify our actions by hiding behind laws and legalism or siding with the crowd we know.

© 2018 CGThelen

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