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There are a lot of things that separate us from each other in this world. Anger, miles, language, and broken relationships can all create division at home, work, school and in the community. Sometimes the split is so severe that it seems the divide will never be bridged.

At times we may have the same feeling toward God. Events in our life can cause us to feel angry and distant from God. We may feel like we can’t talk to him, that our connection to him is forever broken. But Romans 8:38 tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Like a coiled steel spring, the harder we push God away, the greater his force in reaching out to us. It is only our pressure on the spring that attempts to push God away. No matter how hard we try, we can never separate ourselves from the love of God.

#ThrowbackThursday; this post originally published May 31, 2013.

© 2013 CGThelen

Over the years I have encountered many people who are bitter about life and the things that happened to them. Their demeanor is so sour and angry about the past that it affects their outlook on the present. At times this attitude can cause them to lash out at people.

I thought of this attitude of bitterness when I read 1 Samuel 30. David has allied with the Philistines after fleeing from Saul. After they join the Philistines to fight Israel, they are sent back to their homes in Ziklag only to find their town has been pillaged. David’s men are angry with him when they find “it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive (verse 4, NIV).”

The response to this horrible event reveals the character of David and some of his men. In verse 6 we read that David “was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.” Not only was David upset that his wives had been taken, but now he faced the anger of his men who blamed him.

The second half of verse 6 is instructive for us in how we choose to respond to horrible things that happen to us in life: “each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord.” Because David focused on the Lord instead of the men who were bitter in spirit, he was able to seek the Lord’s guidance and rescue their wives and children as well as everything the raiding party had taken from them.

Bitterness about horrible things that happen to us can taint our attitude about so many things in life. When we are bitter in spirit as David’s men were, it can cause us to be angry with people and lash out at them for even minor injustices. David’s ability to find strength in the Lord, even in the midst of his own loss, enabled him to seek the Lord for wisdom on how to respond to their tragedy (verse 7-8). He follows God’s wisdom and rescues their families.

Bitterness of spirit can be destructive to us and those around us. It can sow seeds of mistrust, revenge and division. Read 1 Samuel chapter 30 and compare David’s response to his bitter and grumbling men. Seek the Lord’s wisdom in your response to bad things that happen in your life.

© 2019 CGThelen

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Thank you God for your infinite love and grace, for giving us renewal. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week.

© 2018 CGThelen

I have read the passage in Mark 10:17-31 many times and heard many sermons about the rich ruler. But this time when I read about Jesus’ encounter with this man, the first sentence in verse 21 caught my attention: “Jesus looked at him and loved him (NIV).” I think too often I have been quick to judge this man who “had great wealth” as someone hopelessly attached to his riches. I think Jesus saw something else in him.

In the opening verse of this passage, the man ran to Jesus “and fell on his knees before him (verse 17).” He addresses Jesus as “good teacher.” This shows the man has respect for Jesus and views him as someone with good advice on eternal matters. I think it’s also significant that the man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said “inherit” instead of “earn” which indicates to me that he desires to be part of the family of God.

This a completely different posture than at the beginning of this chapter where the Pharisees approached Jesus to test him. The rich man seemed sincere in his pursuit of eternal life, but he is misguided in his method of obtaining it. Unlike the Pharisees who seem intent on proving Jesus wrong, this man appears to want a heart after God. Something inside of him is telling him he is missing something and he is excited to see Jesus, excited enough to run to him and to respect him as a “good teacher.”

I think the key point in Mark 10 relates to our attitude toward God. Are you more like the Pharisees where you think you are a mature Christian who needs to test the faith of others, or are you like the man in verse 17 where you desire to learn more; where you respond to the Spirit and fall at the feet of Jesus to ask him, “What am I missing Jesus? Point me toward what I need to change.”

Like this man, Jesus looks at us and loves us. He sees our heart and what we truly desire. Jesus has a way of convicting us with the Spirit of God in what we need to change in our life to have eternal life. He tells us to be sold out to a life in Christ. Like this man whose face fell and went away sad (verse 22), when the Spirit convicts us, it can sadden us as well. The question I like to ask is, “How much more than gravity is holding you to this world.” For this rich man, apparently his riches were holding him back from selling out to Christ.

As Jesus points out, earthly riches can make it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God (verse 23). Jesus said in verse 25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” But we have to be careful we don’t fall in the trap of saying, “At least I’m not rich. I’m doing all the right things to enter the Kingdom of God.” That is exactly what the man told Jesus in verse 20, that he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.

It’s easy to slip into the thought that our good deeds make us a good Christian. That’s why we need to focus on having a heart for God, a deep desire to follow Christ. Praise God that he looks on us with love and compassion. When we are convicted by the Spirit to address things that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus, it can make us sad like this rich man. As God reveals more and more of our failings, we can feel like the disciples who remarked, “Who then can be saved (verse 26)?” To which Jesus responded in the next verse, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

To be sold out to Christ Jesus requires us to rely on God, not ourselves or our riches on this earth. Kneel at the feet of Jesus and ask him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What he tells you might make you sad; it might seem impossible, but remember, nothing is impossible with God.

© 2018 CGThelen

For the last year I have been watching my granddaughter grow and develop. It is amazing to see how she has matured from a helpless infant to toddler. She is walking now and able to explore so many more things that are now within her reach. In a world we have known for so long, everything is new to her.

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This is what I think of when Jesus said in Mark 10:15, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (NIV).” A little child is curious about the world and wants to learn about it. They don’t walk around and analyze everything they see or question its existence. A little child is full of wonder and amazement at the world. They hunger to learn about it.

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So many things prevent people from receiving the Kingdom of God. Approaching God as a child means we trust him to care for us, to provide for us. It means depending on him to protect us, knowing he will guide us away from dangerous things that affect our faith. It is that childlike wonder at the vastness of the world God created and his infinite love for us.

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Don’t let others hinder you from approaching Jesus with your childlike faith. Run to him with wonder and amazement at the grace he gives us, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:4).” Let Jesus take you into his arms; let him place his hand on you and bless you.

© 2018 CGThelen

One verse I like to read in the morning is Psalm 92:2, “proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night (NIV).” I like how it recognizes God’s love as the day begins, a love that will not fail no matter what the day brings. It is a recognition of his care and the need to rely on him.

Equally important is the second part of verse 2, “proclaiming… your faithfulness at night.” At the end of the day we should take time to reflect on how God’s love helped us through the day; how he carried us through good and bad events. Verse 4-5 tell us God’s deeds make us glad; that we should “sing for joy at what your hands have done;” that we should recognize his great works and profound thoughts.

Without this proper orientation toward God at the beginning of the day, we are likely to not see his hand at work in our lives during the day. We are more likely to focus on the bad things that occur and miss opportunities to join God in his work. The danger is that we will become like the senseless people who “do not know” in verse 6, the fools who “do not understand.”

Take time this morning to proclaim God’s love for you. “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High (verse 1).” Each day we start by seeking God is a day we equip ourselves to serve him and not our own agenda.

“They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” ⁃ Psalm 92:14-15 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

I sat with her as she lay dying. The machine behind me pulsated, providing oxygen to sustain her in these final moments. She could no longer swallow and her voice was barely audible, yet occasionally she was able to say a few words. I held her hand and told her, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Even though she was very weak, she managed to lightly squeeze my hand. The cancer had ravaged her body, taken away all her strength, and now it was taking her life. She was no longer able to sit up and had been bed-ridden for more than a week. But now I sensed the end was near.

I gently pulled the hair away from her face and slowly caressed her head, trying to sooth her. “Water,” she managed to utter. She was no longer able to drink with a straw. I picked up the small sponge on a stick, dabbed it in the cup of water by her bed, and moistened her mouth with it. She sucked on it and I could see the relief on her face as the water refreshed her parched mouth. I set the sponge down and held her hand. “Thank you,” she managed to say with a raspy voice. “It’s okay,” I repeated to her with my mouth close to her ear. “God loves you,” I added.

As difficult as it was to sit with her, I had a sense of peace. I couldn’t help but think of this as an image of God and how he tends to us with a loving touch. In the midst of our difficulties in life, when we feel weak and helpless, he is there holding our hand saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He dabs our parched soul with living water to refresh us. He is there by our side each step of the way, gently caressing our head, soothing our weary soul. We only need to take his hand and say, “Thank you.”

After a few hours of sitting with her, a family member arrived and took over the vigil. A few hours later she died. I thought of what a privilege it is to serve God; how he calls on each of us to serve him in a special way. No one act of service is any greater than any other in the Kingdom of God. We all have our own calling to convey God’s love to others in need of a loving touch; people who need their parched soul moistened with living water. As followers of Jesus Christ it is a privilege to be his hands and feet in a world full of need.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28 (NIV)

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 4, 2010.

Living a life for Christ means building the character of God inside of you, letter by letter, word by word, page by page. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph 4:22-24 MSG). As you grow in Christ, your life changes from a collection of misspelled words that don’t make sense to characters that spell out a holy life in Christ. When you break down the word Holy into its individual letters H-O-L-Y, it shows the characters you need to bring glory to God instead of yourself:

H: Honor

The tendency of the world is to bring honor to self instead of Jesus. When we follow Christ, we seek to bring honor to God. John writes in 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, My Father will honor.” (NKJV) It is by God’s will that you were created and it is He that deserves honor by living your life for Christ. Remind yourself each day that God is worthy of honor and praise with Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things and by Your will they exist and were created.”

O: Offer

Do you offer what you do each day to God, or is it all about you? When we act on our faith and offer our time and resources to Christ, we are working to build his kingdom instead of riches in this temporal world. “You also, as living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).” It is a life that replaces self with service to others for Christ. “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Phil. 2:17).”

L: Love

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” When the love of Christ permeates your entire life, he becomes the focal point, not your selfish desires. Love for Him gives you the ability to do things you could not do on your own. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43).” The love of God is shown through you and your love of Christ. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”

Y: Yearning

With Christ as the love of your life, you yearn for others to know Him; you yearn for fellowship with God. Before Jesus was crucified, he said to his disciples, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).” Paul repeatedly expressed a yearning to spread the gospel. “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thess. 2:8).” In Romans 10:1 he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

By bringing honor to God, offering your life to Him, loving God and yearning for fellowship with Him, you will have the character to live a holy life.

© 2010 CGThelen

Wednesday Walk Through the Bible, John 11:1-45, particularly verses 29-45 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, 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 person who went to mourn with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

I arrived at the house to help console Mary and Martha about the loss of their brother Lazarus. A somber mood greeted me as I entered the crowded home. As I made my way through the front room, I tried to locate Mary and Martha. A few minutes later I spotted Mary near the doorway and watched as she quickly left the house. The room emptied out as everyone followed Mary. It appeared she was going to the tomb where her brother was buried.

I followed the crowd for a ways when suddenly everyone stopped. That’s when I spotted Mary bowing at the feet of a man. I asked the person next to me who Mary was bowing to and was told the man was Jesus. I had heard about this man and his miracles, but had never seen him in person.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I heard Mary say to Jesus. She began to weep. Indeed, if it was true he could heal the sick, he could have prevented the death of Lazarus. But now it was too late for him to do anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the pain on Mary’s face. “Where have you laid him,” I heard Jesus say with a troubled look on his face. There was murmuring in the crowd as some responded, “Come and see, Lord.”

For a moment we all stood stood still, silent as we watched the tears stream down the face of Jesus as he wept with Mary. It was obvious that he loved Lazarus. Some people in the crowd were saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” I thought the same thing, but now there was nothing he could do. Who could overcome death?

A moment later we made our way to the tomb. I noticed it was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. That’s when I heard Jesus say something that shocked us all. “Take away the stone,” he said. Martha being the practical one advised Jesus, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” To which Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

What did he mean, “if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Then, to my surprise, against Martha’s advice, they actually took away the stone. I held my nose as I watched it roll away, prepared for a strong stench. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

For a brief moment we all stared at the open tomb. I would not have believed what happened next if I had not seen it myself. To my amazement Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. I stood frozen as Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” I could see it was indeed Lazarus as the cloth was removed from his face.

I whispered to myself the words Jesus said only moments ago, “that they may believe that you sent me.” Could this be the Son of God as some people had told me before this day. How could I not believe in him after seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead?

© 2018 CGThelen

I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

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