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Some days the heat seems too intense to bear. The struggles in life are like a white, hot furnace that seeks to scorch us; to burn and scar us. It is hard to see that these struggles are refining us, deepening our faith and trust in God.

Burning off the dross, the impurities in our life, is a painful process, but the result is a more pure life with God. As we are refined in the fire, the sin in our life becomes more evident. We seek to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles;” seek to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).” In God’s refining fire he is sanctifying us, shaping us into a vessel for the Kingdom of God.

“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.” – Malachi 3:2-4 (NIV)

© 2019 CGThelen

What does it mean to seek the Messiah? The birth of Christ as told in the gospels shows us people who sought to see the Messiah, sought to be with Jesus, sought to follow him. As we enter the Christmas season, it’s good to ask ourselves what are we doing to seek Jesus, to deepen our relationship with him?

Psalm 25:1-10 tells us how to seek intimacy with our savior. “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust,” the Psalm opens. How much trust do we put in Jesus or are we more inclined to go it alone in life? “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths,” verse 4 offers. If we seek guidance from Jesus, he will teach us how to find the right path. He won’t necessarily give us a road map, but he will help us discern the correct route.

In seeking the Messiah we need to have an attitude of selflessness that places Jesus first in our life. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way,” verse 9 tells us. In order for us to follow Jesus, we must trust him to show us the right path; humbly let him lead us. Take some time today to read Psalm 25:1-10 and meditate on how it can prepare your heart for seeking Jesus.

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:13

© 2019 CGThelen

I have a hard time waiting. In our instant culture, minutes seem like hours. A five minute wait at a fast food place seems like an eternity. That concept of minutes seeming like hours makes it hard for me to grasp God’s perspective on time.

2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This makes me glad the Lord isn’t as impatient as I am. It’s humbling to think because he was patient with me, I had time to accept Christ into my life. As Peter adds in verse 15, the “Lord’s patience means salvation.”

Yet that doesn’t mean we should be complacent about our faith, thinking we have lots of time. Peter warns us, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” We should have a sense of urgency about living out our faith, about ministering to others. Judgement will come when we least expect it.

However, we also need a balanced perspective like God. As Peter tells us in verse 8, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” We should have a sense of urgency about living our life for Christ — like a thousand years passing in a day — but we should also be patient with those who don’t know Christ — like a thousand years in a day.

Likewise, we should not be panicked about judgement, to the point of behaving irrational. Instead it should make us serious and intentional about our faith in Christ. In verse 11, Peter asks the question, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” To which he answers, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.” Peter adds in verse 18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

© 2019 CGThelen

If people had to describe you, what would they say about you? In Daniel 6:3, Daniel “distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities (NIV).” Because of Daniel’s character, the king planned to promote him over his coworkers. This made his coworkers jealous so they look for something bad to say about him in order to get him demoted. But that wasn’t easy.

Verse 6:4 tells us that “the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” Daniel was someone you could trust to do what was right. It’s also interesting they note he was not negligent.

God calls us to be faithful to him, to do what is right in his eyes. But he also calls us to not be negligent in our earthly duties; to responsibly manage what we have been given; to exemplify quality work in all we do. Like Daniel, our conduct in the workplace should not hinder people from seeing God.

It is ironic that Daniel’s jealous coworkers try to discredit him by using his loyalty to God. Daniel 6:5 tells us: “Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’” May it also be true of us — that we will be of such strong character in our earthly duties that they are left with attacking our faith. May God grant us strength to endure such attacks.

© 2019 CGThelen

In the last verse of Daniel 4, there is a line that grabs my attention: “And those who walk in pride he is able to humble (4:37, NIV).” What is it about pride that tempts us to inflate our ego and take credit for accomplishments that belong to God? Why must we be humbled before we learn to give God credit for all we have in this life?

In Daniel Chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar is humbled after he surveyed his kingdom and said: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty (29).” Some time after making this remark, God humbled the king by driving him away from people where he lived and placed him with animals where he ate grass like an ox (31). Only after the king “praised the Most High”and “glorified him who lives forever (34)” were his “honor and splendor (36)” returned.

God desires us to acknowledge him, to praise him for all we have. It is our pride that often draws us away from crediting God for our accomplishments. We long for praise from other people even for things we do in the church. But John wrote in John 12:42-43 that many leaders “would not openly acknowledge their faith” because “they loved human praise more than praise from God.” The antidote to pride is to publicly acknowledge that God is the source of our accomplishments, for everything we have in this life.

© 2019 CGThelen

When I was in high school, I would often work for my uncle on his dairy farm after school and on weekends. One time we were working on his tractor when he asked me to get a specific tool hanging on the wall in his workshop. I dutifully hurried into his cluttered shop and searched the wall amidst dozens of spare parts and tools hanging on the walls. To my dismay, I could not find the tool he requested. Several minutes passed when my uncle appeared and grabbed the tool from the wall right in front of me. “It’s right here,” was sall he said, but I’m sure he was thinking, “Are you blind?”

I thought about this incident when I read John 9:13-41 where a blind man received sight from Jesus and the Pharisees refused to believe it. Just like me in my uncle’s shop, they could not see what was right in front of them — a man born blind who was now able to see because of Jesus. Amidst all the clutter in their life, they could not see past his claim that Jesus gave him sight. All they could see was that Jesus broke the Sabbath, that he must be a sinner. Like my uncle, the former blind man stood before them and pointed out the obvious, “I washed, and now I see (15).”

In the course of our life we accumulate a lot of clutter that can prevent us from seeing what is right in front of us. The Spirit of God keeps pointing out Jesus at work in our life and some days we just can’t see it. “It’s right here,” the Spirit tells us. What you need is right here.” Jesus patiently rubs mud on our eyes and tells us to go wash. As living water washes away our earthly blindness, we are able to see our creator more clearly through the clutter in our life. His light penetrates our soul so Christ’s work becomes more evident to us.

© 2019 CGThelen

I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 29, 2017.

© 2017 CGThelen

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

The gravel crunches under my shoes as I step out of the batters box with bat in hand. I notice the outfielders moving in as I take my stance at home plate and face the pitcher. “Easy out,” someone shouts from the infield. My confidence evaporates as I steady the bat, poised to swing. I glance at the stands filled with parents cheering, but my father isn’t there. He’s never made it to even one of my games, but I still hope someday he will.

The pitcher delivers a fast ball across the plate. I swing the bat. Nothing but air. “Strike one!” The umpires snaps in a gruff voice. I want to glance at the stands again, but I force myself to concentrate on the next pitch. “Strike two!” The umpire yells. I just want to get on base for once. “Wait for the pitch,” the coach yells. I restrain myself on the next pitch. “Ball one,” the umpire calls to my relief.

But I can’t hold back on the next pitch. I swing and feel the ball clip the bat, then rise toward the sky. The bat slips from my hands as I instinctively sprint toward first base, unaware that the ball is sailing straight up, past the foul line. I run with all my might, but my heart sinks as I hear the ball smack a glove. “Out!” The umpire shouts. I drop my head and return to the bench. I know this will be my last time at bat.

A few innings later the game ends. We lost again. Our opponents smile and give each other high fives. All I could think about was being a loser on a losing team. I trudge toward the now empty bleachers to wait for my brother to pick me up. He’s usually late. I pass parents reassuring my team mates, “It’s okay.”

I start to climb the rows of seats on the bleachers when I notice an older man sitting on the top row. “Dad?!” I utter. He gently smiles and motions to me to join him. I climb the bleachers and sit next to him. He gives me a hug and says, “It’s okay, son.” I look at him in disbelief. “How long have you been here?” He gives me a loving grin. “For the whole game, he replies.” I shake my head, “But I didn’t see you.” I look into his eyes and feel a warmth I’ve never felt before. “I’ve been here for every game,” he says.

I’m skeptical about his comment, but his face speaks truth. “This is part of your journey, son; part of making you into the man I want you to be.” Such wisdom, but It doesn’t make sense to me. “But I’m no good,” I insist. He smiles and puts a hand on my shoulder. “I made you to be so much more than a baseball player.”

Suddenly a car horn blares. I turn to see my brother pull up with the car. “That’s my ride,” I say as I turn back to look at my father, but there’s no one there. Tears well up inside of me as i step down from the bleachers. I climb into the car with my brother. He turns to look at me. “Who were you talking to on the bleachers when I pulled up?” I close the car door and look at him, “My Father.” My brother frowns. “Dad? Dad’s at home!” I smile at him, “I was talking to God my father. He hasn’t missed a single one of my games.”

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14 (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


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