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Ever had a time when you worked at something a long time and had nothing to show for it? Such was the case with Simon in Luke 5. Simon had fished all night and caught nothing. As he cleaned his nets with the other fisherman along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, Jesus was also there teaching the crowds.

Luke tells us in verse 5:1-3 that the crowd pressed in so Jesus climbed into Simon’s beached boat and asked Simon “to put out a little from shore (verse 3, NIV).” Even though Simon is likely exhausted he shoved the boat off shore. Then Jesus “sat down and taught the people from the boat (verse 3).”

At this point I wonder if Simon sat and intently listened to Jesus, or was he just thinking about going home and getting some sleep? When Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch (verse 4).” Who can blame Simon for responding, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets (verse 5).”

Isn’t that how we respond sometimes to what the Lord asks us to do? “But Jesus, we worked a long time on that ministry and we came up empty.” We put a lot of effort into our work and now Jesus comes along and tells us to give it another try. We reluctantly respond as Simon did in verse 5, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” The difference this time is that Jesus is in the boat.

Luke tells us in verse 6-7 that they proceed to catch so many fish that their nets almost break. When their partners in the other boat come to help, they fill both boats so full that they begin to sink. Simon is humbled by what he sees. He falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man (verse 8)!”

It’s humbling when God shows up and proves our doubts were wrong. It’s embarrassing when we realize we put all that effort into something without inviting Jesus into the boat. Yet Jesus patiently invites himself into our boat, teaching us his ways; showing us how together we can do things we didn’t think were possible.

Simon, James and John are astonished by the catch of fish. Jesus tells them, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people (verse 10).” The result is that they pull the boats on shore and leave everything to follow Jesus. In time they accomplish great things for God. Indeed, later Simon Peter speaks to the crowds after the resurrection of Jesus in Acts 2:41 and “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” As Jesus promised, they became fishers of people. Their boat was overflowing with followers of Christ.

As you seek to follow Jesus, seek to serve him and welcome him into your boat. Sit humbly at his feet and listen to his teaching. When he calls you to do something, you may have your doubts, but put your nets in the water anyways. Let the Spirit of God work within you and let Jesus multiply the fruit of your labor.

© 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

In so many instances where Jesus confronted the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, I am amazed at how they respond to him. How could they reject Jesus, the son of God standing before their eyes, and not accept him as their Messiah? Yet I often see the same response to Jesus occurring today, not just in the world, but in myself as well.

Mark 12:12 is one example that reveals three key insights on how people rationalize rejecting Jesus: “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (NIV).”

The first insight is they “looked for a way to arrest him.” This shows they were trying to use the law to justify their actions. We see the same thing today in the world where certain laws are enacted as a way to stop Christians from sharing the gospel. Legalism in the church can also be a way to justify our actions when God’s plans seem to interfere with our agenda.

The second insight from this passage touches on how we respond to criticism: “because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.” So often when someone speaks against me, I want to justify my actions or my words to prove I am right. It becomes the motivation for the first insight, to support my cause with the law or legalism instead of listening and correcting my action or words. I become more intent on proving I am right than improving my relationship with Christ.

The third insight is: “But they were afraid of the crowd.” In this incident it appears they saw they were outnumbered by those who came to hear Jesus teach. It was a crowd not necessarily friendly to the Pharisees — perhaps a crowd with a lot of Gentiles. This shows they were not comfortable outside of their usual crowd. Too often I find myself more like the Pharisees instead of being like Jesus who mingled with people who were often rejected by the Jewish leaders, the downtrodden of their society. Too often I fear the crowd instead of God; too often I am not willing to step out of my comfort zone and mingle with people who are not like me.

Jesus often calls us to lay aside our personal agenda. At times the words of Jesus can convict us of things in our life we need to change. The challenge is whether we listen to Jesus and his call for our life, or insist on finding a way to justify our actions by hiding behind laws and legalism or siding with the crowd we know.

© 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

As followers of Jesus Christ, how often do we make plans that include his will for our life? In 1 Corinthians 16:5-9, I am struck by how committed Paul is to following the Lord as he made his plans. When he talked about doing certain things, he often deferred to what the Lord might have him do.
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In verse 6 he said, “perhaps” when he discussed how long he will stay and concluded the sentence with, “wherever I go.” In verse 7 he concluded the sentence with “if the Lord permits.” In verse 8 he stated how he wanted to remain in “Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me (NIV).” Each statement expressed Paul’s desire to temper his plans with what the Lord would have him do.
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It is evident that Paul cared deeply about his friends and fellow servants in Christ. This is clear in many of his letters. In 2 Timothy 1:4 he wrote, “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 he wrote, “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.” These are people that shared faith in Christ Jesus with Paul, people he longed to spend time with in their homes.
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Yet Paul remained faithful to where the Lord placed him to share the gospel, even when he faced “many who oppose him (verse 9).” Though he longed to be with his dear friends, he chose to place Christ first in his life. It’s a powerful testimony to what it means to give your life to serving Jesus, a testimony that makes me contemplate the depth of my faith in Christ and my willingness to follow him, even at the expense of things that I hold dear to me.
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Jesus said in Matt. 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Sometimes that means sacrificing our desires for God’s desires. It is part of the process of pursuing a heart after God, a process of acquiring a longing for people to know the joy of the Lord Jesus as their savior.
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Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

© 2018 CGThelen

I had anxiously waited for this day to come. With great anticipation I approached the building where I would finally get to tour the Hall of Fame. All the great heroes I had read about from young on were memorialized here.
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My guide greeted me at the door with a warm smile and presence that made me feel like we had been close friends for a long time. “Welcome,” he said as he opened the large ornate door and motioned for me to enter. I stepped through the entrance into a large lobby area with a polished marble floor and vaulted ceiling with a painting of the universe.
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“Ah,” my guide remarked as he observed me gazing upward. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:3, NIV).” I nodded. “It’s important that you understand what we recognize here as greatness,” my guide continued.” I looked at him and said, “The great things they did for God.” My guide shook his head no. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” he explained. “This is what the ancients were commended for (11:1-2).”
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I frowned wondering what he meant. How could someone be commended for just having faith? All the other hall of fames I had visited recognized people for their deeds, their great accomplishments. My guide smiled and motioned for me to follow him through a modest wood door. We entered a dimly lit hall with small gallery lighting illuminating signs with names printed on them. “That’s it?” I exclaimed. “I came all this way to see a bunch of names on a wall?”
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My guide gently smiled and said, “Come, follow me.” As we walked past the names of so many of my heroes, my guide would stop at each one and explain. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (11:8).” At Moses, my guide said. “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (11:27).” 
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We continued down that long hallway as my guide told the stories of all the great names of the faithful. At the end of the hallway we walked around a corner into another long hallway and stopped. I stared at the walls, confused. “These walls are blank. Why?” My guide smiled at me with a gleam in his eye. “These walls are reserved for the faithful yet to come. There is a place for you if you choose to follow God in faith.” I frowned as he continued, “If you choose to persevere and run the race marked out for you (12:1).” He paused and placed his hand on my shoulder, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (12:2).”
#WednesdayWalk through the Bible — Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3.

© 2018 CGThelen

For as long as I have been a Christian I have sought to have a heart after God. I have questioned God about many things in my life including many traumatic events, but I have never questioned my belief in God. But last week a fellow believer posed a question to me that I have wrestled with since then: “Do you believe God is who he says he is; do you believe his promises?” She was encouraging me to let go of all my efforts, my own ideas of serving God, and to rest in him. She described it as a funnel where I keep running around the outside trying to do things on my own. Then she asked me, “What happens if you stop running?” I looked at her and said, “I fall into the dark hole at the bottom of the funnel, the unknown.” She nodded, “Exactly.”
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She pinpointed my greatest fear — the fear of the unknown. What I viewed as efforts to serve God were more driven by not wanting to fall into the unknown; of not wanting to fall completely into the hands of God. “Do you trust God to take care of the things you are trying to fix on your own?” I hesitated to answer. The revelation that I did not completely trust God brought tears to my eyes. I thought I was totally devoted to God, to following Christ Jesus, but her words revealed I was still clinging to the sides of the funnel with my own selfish motives and my works.
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She went on to explain that falling into the unknown, falling into the hands of God, releases us to let his Spirit work fully within us. Our efforts become a response to God’s call, a nudging of the Spirit. A heart after God is the first step, but God calls us to a deeper relationship with him. He asks us to trust him and his ways even when they don’t make sense. “Just be still,” she advised me. “He is calling you to still waters, a place of rest.” It is a place where you can hear God’s call.
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Running around the funnel on my own is tiring. Resting by still waters sounded attractive, but was it enough for me to stop running around the funnel? My fear of falling into the unknown still caused me to cling to the edge of the funnel. Even though I know God is there at the bottom with open hands to catch me, I can’t seem to let go. I feel God’s tug on my life, yet I still keep running around the funnel, too scared to fall into his hands.
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This seems like a crisis of faith I am in. Will I let go of my own efforts and fall into a deeper relationship with the God of the universe who is patiently waiting for me; am I willing to die to self so I can fully live for Christ? It is not so much a question of belief, but a question of if I will give all I am to follow God even if I don’t know where he is leading me? Can I really let go of my efforts to control my life and let the hand of God guide me?
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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. – Gen. 12:1 (NIV)
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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. – Matt. 16:24 (NIV)
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Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Matt. 4:19-20 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

Throughout my Christian life I have taken multiple spiritual gifts inventories, personality tests and aptitude quizzes. They have been helpful to some extent in orienting me toward where I feel God is calling me to serve, yet I have often wondered about God calling me to serve in areas where I feel ill-equipped or where tests show I am not strong in that area. It made me wonder what a spiritual gifts inventory would have shown Gideon prior to God calling him to save Israel.

In Judges 6 we find Israel oppressed by the Midianites because Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord (6:1, NIV).” Verse 6 tells us that the “Midians so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Did God respond with a mighty army to save them; a legion of soldiers who scored high on warrior skills on a spiritual gifts inventory? Not exactly. He sent them Gideon.

Who was Gideon? The angel of the Lord calls him, “mighty warriorand tells him “the Lord is with you (6:12)” To which Gideon responded, that “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (6:13)?” Gideon has doubt about God’s intent to save them and perhaps even more doubt about his ability to lead the charge against their oppressors. The Lord reassures Gideon he has the strength and that he is with him (6:14), yet Gideon still questions God’s judgement. Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family (6:15).”

Sometimes God calls us to do things where we feel unqualified and weak. We can think of others who would be far more qualified in our opinion. Yet God reassures us, as he did Gideon, “the Lord is with you (6:12); I will be with you (6:16).” The Lord who created us often knows us better than we know ourselves. He calls us to fulfill his purpose and asks us to trust him. God sees things in us that sometimes assessments and analysis do not uncover in us. We just need to have faith in God’s judgement of our abilities.

Even though Gideon has doubts, he goes on to accomplish great things for God and brings the freedom from oppression that the Israelites asked for from God — probably not in the way they expected. Read Judges 6:11 – 7:25 and see how God develops Gideon into the mighty warrior he did not see in himself when God first called him. May this passage reassure you that God is with you no matter what he calls you to do.

© 2018 CGThelen

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