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A constant connection with God

A life aligned with His will

Selfish ambitions cease

Harmonizing my life with God

No longer out of tune

Shedding the burdens

God lightens the load

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).”

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16

© 2019 CGThelen

In 2 Chronicles 1, after the death of David, Solomon “established himself firmly over his kingdom (verse 1, NIV).” That evening, after making sacrifices to the Lord, God appears to Solomon and asks him: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you (verse 5-7).” This is the ultimate test of someone’s heart.

Stop and think for a moment. If someone with the ability to give you anything you wanted asked you what you wanted what would you say? Pose that question to anyone on the street and how many would say they want wisdom and knowledge? How many would request the things God lists in verse 11: “wealth, possessions or honor… death of your enemies.” These are the desires of the flesh, selfish desires.

But Solomon, humbled by the task before him, asks for “wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours (verse 10).” God said to Solomon in the next verse, “Since this is your heart’s desire.” Solomon didn’t just want wisdom and knowledge for himself, but to faithfully perform the task that God laid before him.

When God gives you a difficult task that overwhelms you, a task you feel ill-equipped to handle, how do you respond? Do you seek the counsel of this world and follow your own desires or do you seek wisdom and knowledge from God? Is your heart’s desire to faithfully perform the task he has given you, humbly admitting you feel ill-equipped without his guidance? May you continue to seek the wisdom of God in prayer and His word — in honor and praise of our Lord.

© 2019 CGThelen

A Journey of Faith With the Magi  Part 6

Matt. 2:7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Herod has a secret meeting with the Magi. It’s interesting that he meets with them in private. He does not want people to think he’s concerned about the magi and what they are saying around town. Herod does not want to give the magi any credibility or even hint that there might be some truth in their question about a new born king. He is more concerned about how it might affect his prestige than about the reason the magi made their journey.

Instead, Herod wants to get to the bottom of all this talk about a King of the Jews. From a selfish perspective, he likely asked himself, “Is this another plot to overthrow me? Are these guys spreading rumors to stir a rebellion by telling the Jewish people their Messiah is born?”

Notice Herod asks the magi when the star appeared. It seems no one in Jerusalem is aware of the star. He goes to the source of the rumors around town and interviews the magi. He pretends to be interested in what they are saying, implying he too wants to worship Christ while plotting to protect himself. He’s more concerned about himself than the fact that the savior of the world has been born.

The magi bring the most important news in the world to Herod, yet he misses it because he focuses on himself. It begs the question, “What are we missing in our lives because we are focused on ourselves instead of Christ? Who in our lives is missing Christ because we are more focused on our own needs than the need of others to hear about Christ?”

Often the biggest barrier to putting Christ first is that we want to look out for ourselves first. If we are to be willing to sacrifice; willing to act on our faith; willing to not worry what others think about us; then we must put Christ first in our lives.

Next Post: Listening to God Instead of the World

Originally published Dec. 17, 2010.

© 2010 CGThelen

This is the time of year when some of us get Christmas letters talking about all the great things accomplished during the year. But there is one letter I read recently that boasted about weaknesses and hardships — Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I doubt I would ever use language in a Christmas letter to my friends and family using language like Paul used in verse 10, telling people how “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NIV).”

At the core of living a life for Christ there seems to be a constant battle between self and selflessness; between a life in the Spirit of God and the flesh. Paul wrote about this struggle in 2 Cor. 12, reminding the Corinthian church to not boast about themselves, but to boast about Christ; to boast about their weaknesses. This is something that seems counterintuitive in our world. Afterall, who goes around bragging about how weak they are or their failures in a resume?

Yet humble people are often praised in this world and the arrogant often despised by others as being filled with self. When we empty ourselves of self we make room for the Spirit of God to work within us. We learn to rely on strength in Christ Jesus. As verse 9 reminds us, the Lord’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It seems simple enough that we are strongest in Christ when our selfish motives are weakest. But to put It into practice is a daily struggle. Can I honestly delight in weakness as Paul writes in verse 10? It seems my first response to insults and persecution is to defend myself; my response to hardship and difficulties is to become envious of those who seem to have the perfect life. I am more inclined to boast about myself at the expense of Christ.

In the church when we admit our failures, our weaknesses, we humble ourselves before each other. This helps to open us up to allowing Christ to not only strengthen us, but the body of believers as well. Maybe it’s not a letter bragging about all your weaknesses, but rather sharing one of your struggles with some close friends “so that Christ’s power may rest on” you (verse 9).

© 2018 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

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

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

I was reading Psalm 67 and verses 1-2 convicted me: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (NIV).” Too often I desire God’s grace, his blessing, for myself. I seek to have his face shine on me so that I can feel his presence surround me and strengthen me. Yet in this Psalm, verse two tells us the purpose is so that God’s ways can be known on earth, that salvation would be “among all nations.”

I am reminded of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30. After he came down from Mount Sinai with the “covenant law” his face was “radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” This caused Aaron and the Israelites to fear Moses. It was apparent to them that he had been with God. It demonstrated what Israel was to be to other nations. The blessings that God bestowed on Israel were not for their own enjoyment, rather it was so that other nations would know God and his salvation. As the last verse of the Psalm 67 states, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

It makes me wonder if people look at me and see God’s radiance on my face, “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Do they sense God is at work in my life and feel a proper reverence, a fear of God. The blessings in my life, the abundant grace he gives me should flow into the lives of those around me so that “the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you (Psalm 67:5).”

© 2018 CGThelen

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.” – 1 Peter 2:11 (MSG)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 1, 2010.

On a recent trip I watched people coming and going from the hotel where we spent the night. It was morning and it was apparent we were there for different reasons. Some dressed for a wedding; some carried baseball equipment for a tournament game; and some were on their way to a family reunion. Some were there for a brief stay and checked out that morning while others were there for an extended period of time. While many of us headed in different directions, the one thing we had in common was that for one night we all shared this temporary home.

Life in this world is a lot like that hotel. We all share this temporary residence called earth. Like the hotel, we come and go each day for different activities and events like work, weddings, school, ball games and family reunions. Some of us are here for a brief stay while others will stay for an extended period of time. No matter how hard we try to make this hotel feel like home, we cannot deny the fact that it is a temporary residence. One day we will all check out and stand before God.

As Christians, it’s easy to get caught up in this world and act as if this hotel we call earth is our permanent home. When we do that, we attempt to build a palace for ourselves on earth instead of focusing on building God’s eternal kingdom. I Peter 2:11-12 tells us “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives (MSG).”

If we start thinking this hotel called earth is our permanent home, we risk investing our lives in things that will not last. We become vested in the world. 1 John 2:15 warns us to not “love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

We must get to the mindset that our real home is with Christ, a mindset that focuses on living for Christ and not ourselves. This is the mindset that helps point the way for others to walk with Christ to our eternal home. As Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:6-7, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

© 2010 CGThelen

My old push lawnmower is nearing the end of it’s useful life, but for now it is still getting the job done. It needs a little oil added each time I fuel it up and it coughs white smoke when I start it up, but it still runs. I can see that a new mower might be in my future.

In preparation for that fateful day, I started to research replacement mowers to look for the best deal. I also researched electric versus gasoline powered mowers, studying up on the advantages of both. I had done my homework and I was prepared to make a wise choice when I needed a new mower. Problem is that I left God out of the whole process.

It never occurred to me to lift my situation to God in prayer. “Surely he can’t be bothered with something as small as a mower and the need to keep my lawn trimmed,” I thought. Apparently I had forgotten Matt. 10:30 that told me God knows the number of hairs on my head, that I am worth more than sparrows. But does he care whether I have a working mower? Apparently he does.

A few weeks ago we came across a mower outside a garage with a “free” sign on it. We were walking to church with some friends and I decided I would take it home after church if it was still there. “Certainly somebody needed it more than I did,” I thought. After church we walked back home and the mower was still there. God had provided a deal that surpassed all my research. I wheeled the mower home and started it up. It was a vast improvement over my old mower.

This was a good lesson for me to take everything to God in prayer. No matter how small or insignificant our needs may seem, we should lift everything up to God. By praying to God for our needs we take ourselves out of the equation and rely on his wisdom instead of our own. This week as I mowed the lawn with my new mower I praised God not just for his provision, but also for the lesson to take everything to the Lord in prayer.

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matt 6:8 (NIV)

“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Matt. 10:30 (NIV)

© 2018 CGThelen

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