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What motivates you each day to do what you do? Are you driven by a sense of personal gain or by a desire to serve God? Do you seek to glorify God or self? In John 7:14-18, the Jews were amazed at Jesus’ teaching and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught (15, NIV)?” They were not amazed by what he was teaching, but by who was teaching.

You can sense the admiration in the crowd. People are impressed with Jesus. This man, a carpenter’s son, is teaching like a scholar. But Jesus is quick to divert them from focusing on the person. “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me,” he answered them (16). Jesus continues in the next verse, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

When we are in the will of God and seeking to glorify him, we speak for God and not ourselves. It is a humbling responsibility to be a messenger for God, to represent him in a world that elevates self. The words of Jesus in verse 18 are instructive to us today: “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

© 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

Years ago our friends were building a house and they gave us a tour of the roughed-in frame. As we walked through each room, I noticed they had scripture written on the beams and door posts throughout the house. “What a great idea,” I told them. They explained that they wanted their new home surrounded by the word of God. I decided to copy their idea, but never thought about the impact it might have years later.

In the 23 years we lived in our old house, I occasionally wrote scripture on the wall as we remodeled or repainted a room. Sometimes it wasn’t painted over if I scrawled it on a wall where a cabinet was placed or fastened to the wall. It was good to know God’s word was throughout our home. I didn’t consider its impact beyond that.

Three years ago we sold our house to my nephew and moved to another home. As we started to remodel our new home, I again started to write scripture on the walls to continue the tradition. Last week I was surprised when my nephew texted a picture to me showing some scripture he found written on the wall after he removed the old mirror above the bathroom sink. You can see in the picture below it is a passage from James.

“Looks like you left me an inspirational verse?” He wrote to me. He didn’t realize I scrawled that verse on the wall several years before we sold the house to him, but it appeared we left the verse for him. I took the opportunity to share more scripture with him in my response, praying his family would continue to deepen their faith in Jesus. It made me wish we hadn’t painted over other verses, that we had left more of them visible. I did tell him how we wrote scripture on the walls and usually painted over it, but he found one that was visible. “Now you know God’s word is all around you,” I added.

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

– James 1:23-23 (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

Typically in a game of hide and seek, the goal is to hide so as not to be discovered by the seeker. But in the case of Zacheus in Luke 19:1-9, he chose to put himself in a place that made him visible to Jesus. Scripture tells us Zacheus wanted a better look at Jesus. He didn’t settle for trying to get a peek at him through the crowd. Zacheus is determined to get a full look at the man he had heard about.

I wonder what was going on in Zacheus’ life to cause him to climb a tree like a child to get a better look at Jesus. Perhaps there was a hunger in his heart to see if what he had heard was really true. Maybe he was growing tired of his lifestyle and sought something better. Whatever his motivation, it appears that he did not anticipate that Jesus would see and seek him. He sought Jesus and then Jesus sought him.

Imagine how Zacheus felt when Jesus stopped below him and looked up at him. I picture his heart beating faster as he stared into the eyes of Jesus. When Jesus asked Zacheus to take him to his house, he responded immediately and took Jesus to his home.

Sometimes we may feel like playing hide and seek with Jesus. Our struggles and our sin might make us feel like hiding from him. But Jesus seeks us no matter how much we try to hide from him. Like Zacheus, we should place ourselves in full view of Christ. When he asks to come into our home, we should welcome him. Like Zacheus, we should repent of our sins, offering restitution to those we have harmed; demonstrating our new found life in Jesus to others.

© 2019 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published March 30, 2018.

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

© 2018 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

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” – Jeremiah 29:11-12

Lord Jesus at times I feel like I am in exile in a foreign land. Yet you oh Lord know the plans for my life. You know me intimately. Help me, dear Lord, to listen to you, to call out to you for direction. May I rely on your wisdom and the wisdom of the faithful you place in my life, not the counsel of worldly wisdom. Lord fill me with your strength. May your Spirit fill me to overflowing; fill me with a desire to serve you where you send me. May your desires be my desires. May my hope be in your future. All praise to you Lord Jesus for your obedience, for what you did for us. All praise to God who we humbly serve.

© 2019 CGThelen

As much as we desire to stay at the feet of Jesus and worship him, sometimes he asks us to not remain there. As much as we enjoy the fellowship of other Christians, God calls us to go beyond the walls of the church. As much as we relish sharing with other believers the great things God has done in our life, he calls to share this good news with others outside of the church.

Such was the case in Luke 8:26-38. In this passage Jesus demonstrated God’s power over demons in a dramatic way. They had just arrived in the region of the Gerasenes across the lake from Galilee, when “he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town (verse 27, NIV).” The man immediately fell at Jesus’ feet and acknowledged him as the son of God.

Jesus commanded the demons to come out of this man, but they begged Jesus to not torture them. Instead they asked Jesus to let them go into pigs grazing on a nearby hillside. Jesus gave them permission and the demons entered the pigs. Immediately the pigs ran down the hill into a lake and drowned.

News of this event spread quickly and soon people from town and the countryside came and saw the once demon-possessed man seated calmly at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind (verse 35).” When the people heard what had happened, they were filled with fear. They asked Jesus to leave because they were afraid of him. They had just seen the power of God to overcome demons. Jesus left, but he also left behind a powerful example of God’s truth.

The formerly demon-possessed man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him, “‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (verse 39).”

Imagine this man sharing his story in his home town. People who knew the man when he was demon-possessed could not deny he had changed; could not deny Jesus had changed his life. God calls us to do the same.

We are so grateful for what Jesus has done in our life that we want to remain at this feet and worship him — to remain with the community of believers and worship him. But Jesus calls us to share what he has done for us, to spread the good news to others we know outside the church; to those who knew us before Jesus entered our life and can now see the change in our life.

© 2019 CGThelen

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