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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

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

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

How do people know I am really who I say I am? When I enter another country customs asks for my passport. When I check into a hotel in another state the front desk asks for my driver’s license. My passport and driver’s license show my citizenship. But how do people know we are citizens of the Kingdom of God?

In Phillipians 3:20 Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).” Paul encouraged the followers of Jesus to follow his example of living out their faith in Christ Jesus. In 3:17 he said, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” A Christian’s identification is their identity in Christ Jesus, a life lived for Christ.

Paul cautioned the Phillipians about an identity in this world. “Their destiny is destruction,” Paul wrote. “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” An identity invested in things of this world is an identity invested in temporary things that will pass away. How we live our life reflects our identity.

At times I am overwhelmed by God’s love and grace — that he offers us citizenship in his kingdom through his son Jesus. In Luke 6:25-26, Jesus called us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked (NIV).” As citizens of the Kingdom of God, as people whose identity is in Christ, Jesus called us to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:26b).”

© 2019 CGThelen

What’s it like to have a heart for God, to be totally devoted to Jesus? Paul gave us a glimpse in Philippians 1:21-30. In this passage Paul wrote about his longing to be with Christ yet his deep desire to continue serving him. “I am torn between the two,” he said in verse 23.

Paul revealed that it is his “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (verse 23),” but recognized the importance of remaining with the Phillipian church. As difficult as it is was for him at times, he knew his calling was to “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith (verse 25).” For Paul, it wasn’t just about his personal salvation. He had a longing to be with Christ; a deep desire to serve him; a total selfless dedication to being a disciple of Jesus.

This passage caused me to examine my own life and my devotion to Christ. While I may long to be with Christ, I don’t always share Paul’s dedication to be with those who need to be nurtured in their faith in Christ. Am I so totally devoted to serving Christ that I feel as Paul wrote: “so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me (verse 26).”

How deep is your commitment to Christ? Is your faith all about your salvation or does it include a dedication to growing other disciples? It wasn’t enough for Paul to just bring salvation in Christ to the Philippians. He wanted his passion for Christ to be contagious so that their boasting in Christ would overflow into the lives of others.

© 2019 CGThelen

Sometime a certain passage of scripture jumps off the page and sticks with me for awhile. This week Psalm 118:6 stuck with me: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” This verse seems to resonate even more today as we start a new year.

Indeed, what am I afraid of in this world? If I truly believe in Jesus Christ, if I believe he is with me, I have nothing to fear. If I believe my eternity is secure with Christ, what can mere mortals do to me? There is nothing they can do to take away my salvation in Christ Jesus. They can seek to discourage me from sharing Christ, seek to thwart my ministry to others, but God is victorious.

Psalm 118:6 is a call to trust God, to keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus. He showed us how to stand up to opposition to the message of salvation. He showed us how to trust God and his plan for our life. Jesus taught us not to be afraid of mere mortals. May we seek to be bold with our faith in 2019 and trust in the Lord when we face situations that stir up our fear.

© 2019 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

Throwback Thursday – This post was originally published March 8, 2010

In the digital age, it’s easy to follow someone. With one click of a mouse, you can become a follower of most anyone on Twitter. A decision to follow Christ can be the same. Just click on the “follow” button for Jesus and read the scripture tweets each day. But a true follower of Jesus will go much further than that.

When the disciples decided to follow Jesus, they left behind everything to follow Him. Simon (Peter) and Andrew left behind their career as fishermen and followed Jesus’ call (Mark 1:16-18). James and John also left their fishing career behind to follow Jesus and left their father Zebedee and his hired hands holding the nets (Mark 1:19-20). Matthew immediately left his tax collection booth to follow Jesus (Matt. 9:9).

Their choice to follow Christ required self sacrifice. Imagine Zebedee calling after his sons as they walk away with Jesus, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going? There’s work to do here.” Imagine how Matthew felt when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for dining in his home with the likes of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:11). To the disciples, this wasn’t some casual friendship. They left behind their old life and took on a new life with Christ.

A commitment to follow Jesus  means replacing self with Christ. It’s a decision that must be made each day. In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells the crowd, “If anyone of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” (NLT) His promise is that if you give up your life for Him, you will find true life.

© 2010 CGThelen

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