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I dig deep in my soul. I think your ways are my ways; your desires my desires. And yet I can feel distant from you God, not understanding why some things need to be the way they are — why the pain and suffering. It seems so unnecessary. I only desire for them to be free from being enslaved to the lies, to the deceit; free from the sin that only brings misery. I only want them to bask in the joy of your light dear Jesus. Isn’t this also your desire dear God? So much pain, at times it seems unbearable. My heart aches, my soul weeps. I cry out to you God in prayer for change. Help me to grab hold of your wisdom and truth, even in the midst of my doubt. Help me to trust in you.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. – Psalm 46:1-3

© 2019 CGThelen

Life has a way of giving us formidable challenges with seemingly impossible hurdles. “It would take at least six months of work to make that happen,” we say, discouraged as we assess our options. “We don’t have nearly enough here to help all these people,” we cry as we are overwhelmed by the need around us. From our limited perspective we can’t see beyond ourselves and our limited abilities. We do the math and things just don’t add up.

It’s the same type of response Phillip and Andrew gave in John 6:1-13 when Jesus tests them with the question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat (verse 5-6, NIV)?” Jesus specifically asks his disciples the question in response to a large crowd gathering around them. As believers in Jesus Christ, it is the question we are often faced with in our walk of faith: Do I trust God to provide or rely solely on my own means to try to overcome challenges in life? In our head things just don’t add up.

“It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite,” Phillip answered Jesus, with a rational approach of doing the math to determine it would cost more money than they had available to feed everyone. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Andrew replied, only seeing what was available in front of him. These are answers I often give when what I have available doesn’t add up to the need.

But Jesus shows another way to look at the equation: “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish (11).” He shows his disciples that God is able to meet our needs in ways we can’t imagine. When we try it on our own, we come up short, but with God we get our fill: “When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten (12-13).”

© 2019 CGThelen

My heart races

In the tall grass

I make my way

Eyes wide open

Alert for sounds

I hear growling

A twig snaps

I am pursued

By my adversary

Once he held me

Tightly bound

With heavy chains

And a steel cage

Until my savior

Told me the truth

That I had the key

To set myself free

Once unlocked

I fled his evil grip

Feeling freedom

My heart overflowed

With pure joy

Yet his anger stirred

He came after me

Angry I was free

No longer a prisoner

Chained to his lies

He keeps pursuing me

Not wanting to let go

Hunting me in the dark

With flaming arrows

Shouting out lies

Hiding somewhere

In the tall grass

Waiting to pounce

But I press on

With the truth

Close by my side

With the key

Firmly in my hand

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

I had never before heard teaching like this. Who is this man who teaches what the Kingdom of God is like? His words resonate with me like none other. “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

A mustard seed so small yet it grows large to support birds. Could someone like me, so insignificant, be seen as so great in the Kingdom of God? I continue to listen, drawn to his teaching, hanging on every word until evening approaches. Finally I watch as he wraps up and walks away from the crowd. I hear him tell his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”

I don’t want him to go. I see him get into the boat with his disciples and they push off from shore. I see other boats push off from shore to follow them. I quickly run to shore and spot my friend starting to push his boat into the lake. “Let me go with you!” I shout as I run toward the boat. My friend smiles and waves at me as he pauses. I quickly climb onboard and he shoves off.

We start to follow not too far behind Jesus’ boat when suddenly a furious squall comes up. The waves break over the boat so that it is near the point of sinking. We fear for our lives. In the midst of the panic in our boat I catch a glimpse of Jesus getting up. A moment later the wind dies down and it is completely calm. I have never been so fearful in calm water.

We were close enough to the boat to hear Jesus across the still water. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” I was sure he was speaking to his disciples, yet his words penetrated my heart. Across the water I could hear his disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Indeed, who is this man? Is he truly the son of God? I wonder if I, like the wind and the waves, could obey his words.

#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 based on Mark 4:30-41 (NIV), particularly verse 36 which mentions, “There were also other boats with him.” It is written from the perspective of someone who ends up in one of those boats after listening to Jesus teaching.

© 2019 CGThelen

This weekend Lord I saw with my own eyes your restorative power. I saw a man, who I visited only two years ago in a prison, now living free — not just physically free from prison, but living free in Christ Jesus. I watched him interact with his wife and child in a loving way and all I could do was praise you dear God. I pray Lord that you forgive my doubt that you can change seemingly impossible things. May I not lose faith that you can transform lives. Help me Lord to trust your perfect timing; help me to grow in my faith in you dear God; to expand my belief that you are who you say you are. Your promises are true.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

© 2019 CGThelen

“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Many were grumbling in the crowd. They spoke the very question on my mind.

Indeed, what he taught was very hard to accept. It drew a line between my life as a Jew and one following this new teaching. There was no middle ground. To choose one meant leaving the other. Apparently others felt the same.

There was an awkward silence among us casual followers of Jesus. I waited for his response. So often his words pierced me like a sword, to my very soul. He touched me deeply in a way I could not explain. There was something different about him. Yet I wrestled with what following him meant to my life. Already my family and friends were making comments about how much time I was spending with Jesus.

“Does this offend you?” Jesus said. “Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

How did he know? Once again he cut to the heart of the matter. I questioned myself if I really believed he is the Messiah. Could he be the Son of God like he claimed to be? I could feel his words penetrate me. “They are full of the Spirit and life,” I whispered to myself. Somehow he knew who was struggling with fully committing to him.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” I could feel something stirring in me to commit to follow Jesus, yet what would my family and friends say? I feared they would abandon me.

I watched as several of his followers turned and walked away. His teaching is hard. There is no middle ground. It caused people to choose — a new life with Jesus, or a life without him. I watched a couple of my friends start to leave. They stopped and motioned to me to follow them. I sighed and started to walk with them.

From behind me I could hear Jesus say to the few remaining followers, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Then I heard one of them reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” A surge of regret filled me inside, yet I continued walking with my friends.

#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 casual follower of Jesus who hears Jesus’ challenge in John 6:60-69 (NIV).

© 2019 CGThelen

The windmill vanes

Turn to the wind

Desperately grasping

Trying in vain

To capture the wind

The wind blows past

Spinning the windmill

Gears creak and turn

The pump rises and falls

Water emerges and flows

The wind passes through

We cannot see it

Yet we know it’s there

Building windmills

To capture its power

God’s presence is evident

His Spirit blows through

May we turn to face him

Let him turn our life

To let living water flow

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way” might remind you of an old church hymn, but for me it also sums up my struggle with the GPS on my phone. It’s one thing to trust the GPS to navigate me to my destination, but a very different thing to actually obey its directions. When it alerts me to a traffic backup ahead that I can’t see and gives me an alternate route, I struggle to believe what the GPS is telling me and ignore the instructions. It’s only when I am stopped in traffic a few miles down the road that I find myself frustrated that I didn’t obey. That’s when I tell myself, “to be happy in GPS, is to trust and obey.”

The same is true about my relationship with Jesus. It’s one thing to say that I trust Jesus with my life, but another thing to obey him. Often I have a destination in mind. I’ve mapped out my day and proceed to go through the day as planned. But then there’s that thought or random encounter with someone that tells me to take a different route, to deviate from my plans, to express my faith in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Too often I press on as planned and later I regret that I did not obey.

The old hymn tells us: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” The song was written more than 130 years ago by John Sammis, but it still rings true today. True happiness can only be found in Jesus Christ. In Him we find the strength to navigate the rough roads of life or to take the scenic route and discover the beauty of God’s creation. There is “no other way” in life.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” – Psalm 84:11-12

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.”

⁃ Isaiah 50:10 (NIV)

You can read the lyrics of the hymn trust and obey at: https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Trust_and_Obey/

© 2019 CGThelen

“What are you doing next Thursday?” I open my calendar and respond, “Let me check. Oh, I’m open that day.” Without a second thought, I add another appointment to my calendar. I make plans without consideration to God’s plan for my life.

But James reminded us in chapter 4, verses 13-15, that we should not take the future for granted. In verse 13-14, he wrote: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (NIV).” Its a sobering statement that reminds us we have no guarantees for tomorrow.

In the next verse, James wrote: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” I don’t think it is James’ intent to have us be morbid all the time and say with every appointment or plan, “We will do this if we’re alive tomorrow.” I see it as more of a reminder for us to engage God in our plans; to seek his counsel; to have a willingness to change our plans to pursue what God puts in front of us each day. It is a recognition that God holds your life in his hands.

Telling others, “God willing,” when we plan for the future reminds them that we are not the master of our life. It communicates our openness to letting God work in our life, our willingness to set aside our plans for his will. It is a statement of our faith in God, an admission that we actually don’t control our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

This morning dear Lord my heart is heavy with those I know who struggle through life without you. They seek false hope from spiritual things that are not from you. I plead with you to transform their heart, to open their eyes to you God, yet they continue to reject you. I do not understand why you don’t act now to change them.

We know you are able Lord. We know your word has the power to change lives. Yet you remain silent as we plead our case for those we love. Help us to trust in your timing, in your wisdom. Help us to lean on you and not our own ability. Fill us with your peace in the midst of our worries. Thank you for your grace and your patience as you gently teach us to trust you, to follow you, to rest in the wisdom of your timing.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

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