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After the triumph of Easter morning, after the joyous celebration of your resurrection Jesus, it is Monday morning, the start of another week. Back to the work week, back into the world. This morning I feel like i am being thrown into the lions’ den. This morning I hear rustling in the tall grass — Satan on the prowl looking for someone to devour, devious eyes watching me (1 Peter 5:8). The reality of the world waits. I am being tossed into the lions’ den. I think of the king’s words in Daniel 6:16, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

Lord Jesus help us this day as we go out into a hostile world. Help us to focus on you, not the prowling lions with their hungry look. Let us reach out to you for strength and courage, trusting in you and not our own ability to defend ourselves. Help us to wait on you to close the mouths of the lions.

May we be found righteous in your eyes dear Lord and in the sight of others. At the end of the day may Daniel 6:22 be the words we share with those who ask: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

© 2019 CGThelen

I was reading Luke 21 when verse 37 and 38 caught my attention: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple (NIV).” I wonder what was going through his mind each night he spent on the Mount of Olives, the place where Judas betrayed him days later (Luke 22)? I believe Jesus spent much of this time in conversation with his Father; spending time in prayer after a tiring and grueling day.

During the day when he taught in the temple courts, the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders questioned him in hopes his answers would give them a reason to have him arrested (Luke 20:1). People were flocking to Jesus and the Jewish leaders were jealous of him. These were full days for Jesus, tending to the people, silencing his opposition, and trying to prepare his disciples for what was to come — knowing they were not quite ready. Jesus took time each night to retreat and spend time with his Father, to prepare for what was to come. Yet this very routine of evenings on the Mount of Olives seemed to make his disciples unprepared for what was about to happen.

The disciples were used to Jesus’ routine of going to the Mount of Olives each evening. Luke 22:39 tells us, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.” Which is why I think they seemed so casual about going there, despite Jesus’ warnings. In the next verse Jesus tells them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He was telling them that this wasn’t just another night on the Mount of Olives.

My take-away from these verses is that we need to be careful that the routine does not become too familiar — to the point where we get lulled into complacency. God is very much at work in the everyday. Significant things can emerge unexpectedly from a day that seemed very routine. May we take Jesus’ words to heart: “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”

How many times has God called you to do something that seems impossible, yet you move forward in obedience? Then almost immediately opposition arises to attempt to make you question what you are doing. You become discouraged, even doubting your ability to complete what God has called you to do.

There is a lot we can learn from Nehemiah about overcoming opposition to your work for the Kingdom of God. In Nehemiah chapter 4 and 5, Nehemiah has returned from exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As he and the Israelites work, they are heckled and threatened by others. Sanballat ridicules them with lines like “What are those feeble Jews doing?” and “Will they finish in a day (Nehemiah 4:1-2, NIV)?” His companion Tobiah added, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones (Nehemiah 4:3)!”

Opposition to their project continues to grow to the point where Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Nehemiah 4:8).” Isn’t that what happens to us when we pursue a ministry or task for God? Opposition pops up and the more progress we make, the stronger the opposition becomes against us. But Nehemiah does not rely on his own strength and wisdom to stand against those opposed to rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah relies on God and the faithful working with him. “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat (Nehemiah 4;9).” He prayed to God and used the people working with him to guard their work. He did not go it alone. Nehemiah encouraged the people to stay focused on God. “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes (Nehemiah 4:14).”

Nehemiah also instructed the people working on the wall to not fight opposition by themselves. He kept them focused on acting as a team. “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us,” he said (Nehemiah 4:20).” He also made sure they were focused on working for God and not enriching themselves. When he learned some of the Israelites were impoverishing their own people, he immediately confronted this disparity. “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies (Nehemiah 5:9)?” He made sure his workers were not divided, that they were unified in their mission and determination to rebuild the wall.

When you make a bold move for God, know that opposition will come. Voices will rise against you and even within your own ranks, Satan will try to create division. Nehemiah provides us with guidance on how to stand up to opposition and stay focused on the task God wants us to pursue.

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” – Nehemiah 6:9

© 2019 CGThelen

I must confess that many times in my life my mouth has gotten me into trouble. Not necessarily because of some remark uttered out of anger, but by a response to a temptation or sinful desire in my heart. The mouth vocalizes our thoughts whether good or bad; it responds to temptations with a “yes” or “no.”

Psalm 141:3 tells us, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” It is a great prayer that treats our mouth as a fortress that determines if good or evil enters our life. The guard at the door to this fortress determines what comes in or goes out of our life and what better guard than the Lord.

Even though evil doers approach and ask to enter, our door remains closed. Our lips do not welcome them. With the Lord’s wisdom we can defend our life with how we respond — with what we say. With our mouth we can humbly pray Psalm 141:4, “Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.”

© 2019 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 at the stoplight watching cars pass through the busy intersection. That’s when I noticed the vacant church sitting at the corner with a large “For Sale” sign in front of it. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this congregation? What would cause people to vacate a church and leave it empty for another purpose? I wondered if their faith was real,  not only inside the church but inside the people.

It struck me how this empty church could easily be a symbol of our lives in Christ. Are we just going through the motions with a works-based faith or are we a sincere follower of Christ? As Matthew 6:22 says in The Message: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Like that church, do we let the light of Christ light up our interior or are we more prone to board up the windows and not let Jesus Christ into our life?

If we are not careful, we will be so focused on leading a clean life and doing good that we miss the power of the Spirit to transform our life for Christ. In essence, our works create a vacant church that looks good on the outside, but is empty on the inside. Christ warned us about this condition in Matt 12:43-45: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation (NIV).”

Like the vacant church on the corner, an empty life has a For Sale sign on it. If every square foot is not filled with the Spirit of Christ, it becomes available for anyone or anything to fill it. The advice of Proverbs 4:23 is worth noting: “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust (The Message).”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 14, 2011.

© 2011 CGThelen

I recently gave my friend a multi-tool which included a level. After he unwrapped it, he immediately laid it on the kitchen counter to ensure the level was accurate. It may sound strange that he checked the accuracy of the tool against his counter, but I knew that most everything in his house was level. As a craftsman, he would not accept anything less. He was checking this tool against what he knew to be right.

Life in Christ is the same way. Each day we are bombarded with many different belief systems and ideas not always aligned with Christian values. If our life is on the level of the Word of God and aligned with Jesus Christ, we can check the accuracy of these beliefs and ideas. We will quickly know if they are correct based on how they align with God’s truth and avoid using something misaligned as our benchmark.

We should take to heart God’s truth and be vigilant about letting it guide our life. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV). Proverbs 3:5 also reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (NIV).”

© 2018 CGThelen

It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

© 2017 CGThelen

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