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In Ezekiel 40-47:11. Ezekiel is shown visions of the temple of God. What struck me about this passage was the description in Ezekiel 47:1-12 where Ezekiel is shown water “coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar (verse 1).” The water starts as a trickle from the altar and soon becomes a mighty river. Ezekiel is told the water eventually flows into the Dead Sea where the “salty water there becomes fresh (8).”

Because of the fresh water, there are a lot of fish and “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows (9).” The passage describes fruit trees growing on both sides of the river because of the water from the sanctuary. Verse 12 tells us: “Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” I find this passage as a vision for what our churches today should be in this world.

Like the water from the altar, we should flow out of churches each week and press into the Dead Sea culture around us. Our fresh water faith in Christ should push back the brine with living water. Where ever we flow, we should support trees that bear fruit, bringing nourishment and healing to people we encounter during the week. With the living water we carry, “Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail (12).”

© 2019 CGThelen

A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop.

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small.

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

© 2017 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 15, 2017.

In the midst of late summer, I see the fruits of my labor in my garden. Ripe, red tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers all appear on lush green plants. Flowers blossom bright hues of reds, orange, pink and purple. The grass is a blanket of soft green carpet that feels soft under my feet. I can say that all of this is a result of my work, but I know that none of it would be possible without God’s hand.

We are the benefactors of God’s creation. He could have chosen to place us in a stark and sterile world void of color and a variety of plants and animals. Yet he created a world full of color, beauty, and awesome splendor — a world that soothes our troubled souls with the sound of waves lapping the shore, the fresh smell of rain and the vast display of a mountain range. God offers us so much more through life with him, but like Adam and Eve we often opt to pursue selfish desires.

Psalm 147: 8-11 reminds us of who sustains us and this world we live in: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

If we only look at the world around us through the eyes of our accomplishments and selfish desires, we will miss seeing the true author of life. God’s love for us is evident in the world he has placed us in. His hope and peace can be found in the life and purpose he has given to us.

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published June 30, 2015.

© 2015 CGThelen

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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 29, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

I feel scattered, tossed upon fertile soil. The master gardener tells me I have been purposely positioned in this specific spot. Yet I feel out of place in this cool, moist soil. I question if anything can grow here as snow flurries cover me with a chilling wind.

I pray to God for strength, seeking his light and warmth, but the long night endures. “How dear God can all my effort here possibly bear fruit? Nothing will even germinate here?” In due season he tells me.

Faithfully I continue to pray, trusting the hand of the master gardener. He lovingly encourages me to wait. He tells me one day in the warmth of spring his purpose will be revealed, blossoming for all to see. Patiently I wait, praying to God for strength to see it through.

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.” – Psalm 1:3

© 2019 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

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

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

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

Fear can be a powerful motivator or hinderance in our commitment to following God, particularly when we are called to go to a new and unfamiliar place. The most difficult part is often the journey, the transition between your old place and the new place. There is a tension between the uncertainty about where you are going and the familiarity of where you have been. It is this in-between place where doubt and fear can take hold of us, where faith and facts compete with one another. This is where the Israelites were as they approached the land God promised them.

In Numbers 13 and 14 God instructed Moses to “send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites (Numbers 13:2, NIV).” The spies spent 40 days exploring the land and reported that the land “does flow with milk and honey (13:27).” But they also reported that “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (13:28).” This is the moment where fact and faith present themselves to the Israelites.

God has laid out a plan for your life, a journey that will lead you to “a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8).” With each new step, he asks us to follow him in faith. The challenge is to not do what the Israelites did and take your eyes off God, to not let fear take hold of you. In Numbers 13:33 there is a telling phrase where some of the spies say, “in our own eyes.” They could only see that they looked tiny, like grasshoppers, compared to a foe who appeared “stronger” and “of great size (13:31-32).” They were scared they would be crushed like bugs even though God assured them they would take the land.

God asks us to view things through his eyes, not the world’s eyes of things like power and riches. Sometimes he asks us to take a step of faith even when the challenges look insurmountable. That’s when we need the advice of faithful followers of God like Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 14:6-9 they tell the Israelites not to be afraid, that the Lord will give them the land; that it is a good land; that the Lord is with them and they should not be afraid. Numbers 14:24 tells us that Caleb “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” This is the type of counsel we need to encourage us on the path that the Lord has laid before us. If we let fear instead of faith dominate our actions, we may miss what God has in store for us.

Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. – Numbers 14:30-31 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

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