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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

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

I walk along the ocean shore

Footprints formed in the sand

Behind me each step is erased

As the waves pound the shore

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Thousands before me

Have walked this very shore

Every trace of their steps

Washed away by the waves

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Ships arrived to conquer lands

Armies waded to shore

Empires rose and then fell

While waves lapped the shore

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As the years continue to pass

Buildings rise with sweat and toil

Then slowly crumble with age

As waves reshape the shore

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Vacation houses on the shore

Balconies with ocean views

Mighty storms take them down

As waves crash the shore

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As I walk along the ocean shore

I recall God’s constant love

His eternal voice whispers

As the waves lap at the shore

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)

“Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.” (Psalm 119:89-90)

© 2019 CGThelen

In Luke 3:1-14 John is in the “country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (verse 3).” Luke noted that this was is in accordance with what was written in the book of Isaiah. But it is not just repentance that John preached to the people. In verse 8 he said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our repentance isn’t just an act of verbalizing our faith in Jesus. John warns in verse 9, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” In the next verse the people listening to John ask what they should do and he proceeds to tell them how to live out their repentance. He tells them to share with those who have none. He tells tax collectors not to cheat and soldiers not to exhort money, “to be content with their pay (verse 14).”

We are messengers for Christ Jesus, preparing the way for the Lord in what often seems like a wilderness of unbelief. Yet it is our faith lived out in patient hope that prepares hearts to receive Christ. Our repentance lived out causes us to not cheat others; to be generous with what we have; to be content with what God gives us. This is the straight, clear path of a changed life that stands out in the twisted jungle of a corrupt world.

We need to stay vigilant and not let the overgrowth of discouragement creep in and overtake our path to Christ. We need to focus on making a way for Christ to work in the lives of those around us. We can point the way to Jesus so that the Spirit of God can transform lives. As John said, “But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 16).”

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

© 2019 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

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

A Global Positioning System or GPS is a great tool to help you find your way in an unknown area. But it is only as helpful as the information you put into it. If you give it the wrong starting point or destination you will be just as lost as when you began your journey.

Life is the same way. You travel into an unknown future surrounded by a lot of misinformation about your starting point and where you are going. It can be easy to get distracted from Christ and to start relying on a GPS of another type – Globally Positioning Self. When this happens we begin to focus more on selfish desires in this world instead of Christ. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:7, “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.” (MSG)

That’s why you need a true GPS – God’s Positioning System. When you trust Christ to direct your life, you will always know you are heading in the right direction. Even if you think you are traveling down the wrong road, you can trust that this GPS will help prevent you from becoming lost. “Point out the road I must travel, I’m all ears, all eyes before you.” (Psalm 143:8 MSG)

Like Abraham, there will be times that God will tell you to go a certain direction. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’ So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.” (Gen. 12:1 & 4 NKJV) Hebrews 11:8-10 tells us that Abraham traveled by faith “to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.”

In the same way, we must travel by faith, following our Spiritual GPS. Our purpose becomes helping others see the correct path in life is to follow Christ. We cannot get too comfortable in this foreign land because we know this is not our true home. Like Abraham, we live as strangers in temporary homes, relying on God to guide us. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (Heb. 11:1 MSG)

© 2010 CGThelen

Wednesday Walk Though the Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 & 7:28-29 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an occasional 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 encounters Jesus teaching the Beatitudes.

It was another hot day. The dust swirled around my sandals as I hurried along the path. Small stones crunched under my feet as I walked on the barren dirt. My mouth was dry from the heat as sweat dripped down my forehead and back. I was focused on fetching the baskets my father needed when I caught a glimpse of a large crowd on a hillside. I stopped and noticed the people were gathered around a man. “Why would so many people stand and listen to this man in heat like this?” I asked myself.

I hesitated a moment, curious as to why the crowd had gathered around this man. I knew my father was expecting me back soon with his baskets. “It will only take a moment,” I finally convinced myself as I moved up the hillside and pressed into the crowd. I strained to get a look at the man, but the mass of people made it difficult to get closer. I could barely make out what he was saying to the crowd. I thought he said something about being comforted. I tried to push my way forward, but the people were packed in too tight for me to move any further.

I listened as best as I could, concentrating on the words I could make out. The tone of his voice was gentle yet forceful. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did I hear that right? How could the meek be blessed? How could they inherit the earth? His words became clearer as I closed my eyes and listened.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Those words resonated within me. Oh how I hunger for righteousness in this unjust world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How could I receive mercy for being merciful? I processed his words. “Who is this man?” I asked myself as I continued to soak up his words.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How could a mortal man see God? My heart began to long for more of what this man said. I had never heard anything like it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” How could someone like me, someone of such low status, be considered a child of God? That’s when I noticed a man adjacent to me, wearing fine clothes, staring at my ragged appearance with disapproving eyes. I closed my eyes and listened for more.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted for doing what is right? That happens everyday around here, yet he said those who are persecuted for righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could that be?

Who is this man who speaks with such authority? I strained to get a look at him. My soul stirred deep within me. For the first time I felt that perhaps there was hope for a poor, forsaken person like me.

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 20, 2010

What was it like to be a disciple with Jesus; to hear the crunch of rocks under your feet as you walk the dusty roads with him; to hear his voice as he spoke to the crowds that followed him; to witness the miracles? What was it like?

Imagine being in the boat when the storm arose (Mark 4:35-41) and feeling panic as the boat fills with water. Fearing for your life, you cry out to Jesus who is sleeping in the stern. Imagine the awe you feel as you watch Jesus rise and instantly calm the sea and the wind. “Who is he that even the wind and waves obey him?” (NKJV)

Imagine your amazement as you collect 12 baskets of scraps left over from feeding five thousand men. (Mark 6:33-44) Earlier you questioned how to feed all the people gathered around – if bread should be purchased for them. Yet Jesus took a mere five loaves and two fish and somehow it was more than enough to feed everyone.

Imagine marveling with the crowds (Matt.15:30-31) as Jesus heals the lame, blind and the mute who are brought to him by the multitudes. The reports of these miracles spread throughout the land. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 NKJV) “Who is he?” you ask yourself.

Yet you do not have to imagine experiencing Christ. He is alive today. When the storms of life start filling your boat with water, call out to him and he will calm your fears. When you are crowded by the demands of life, turn to him and there will be baskets left over. When the sickness and death in this world burden you, be reassured that because you believe in him, you will walk with him some day. (John 3:16)

Today we can still be in awe of Jesus and the power he gives us through the Holy Spirit. We can show the same compassion he did to the crowds who are searching for him. We can still marvel at his power to overcome. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)

© 2010 CGThelen

Wednesday Walk, Acts 27:13-28:10

Today I introduce #WednesdayWalk, an occasional 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 another prisoner shipwrecked with Paul.

Who is this man? Were it not for Paul I would’ve been slaughtered on the ship by the soldiers who wanted to stop us from escaping. Were it not for his words of wisdom, we would’ve all been lost at sea in that violent storm. Were it not for him, we would not have eaten anything on the ship and would not have had strength enough to make it to the beach. This Paul has knowledge of a god seemingly so powerful, yet so personal that he prepares him for future events. What kind of god shows such love and grace to a mere man?

I thought for sure Paul was a dead man when I watched in horror as a viper latched onto his hand as he tossed brushwood on the fire. Yet I watched in awe as he shook off that deadly snake from his hand, showing no panic or fear. He has such peace about life. It is a peace I long to have in my life. It is that lack of peace in my life that put me here with these other criminals.

After surviving the snakebite, then he cured the father of Publius who suffered from fever and dysentery for who knows how long. That in and of itself was astonishing enough to hear about. Of course word spread quickly and soon all the sick on the island came to Paul. I was skeptical as I watched the crowd of sick people form around Paul. I told myself, “There is no way he can cure all these people.” Yet he did.

Who is this man? Paul talks of a Jesus from Nazareth. He talks of Jesus being the son of God. How can a man be the son of a god and walk among us? He talks of this Jesus being crucified, dying and rising from the dead. I am a condemned man who boarded the ship in chains. Now this man Paul has shown me a different life, a different way. Could there be freedom for me even in chains?

© 2018 CGThelen

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