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I am fascinated by abandoned buildings. I look at the crumbling brick walls and think of all the work that went into carefully building those walls brick by brick. I notice rusting metal beams and think of all the hours of labor that went into forging the beams and welding them into place. I see crumbling plaster with drooping wallpaper and think of the hours spent carefully selecting colors and installing the walls and wallpaper.

It doesn’t take long to see in our world what Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless (NIV).” He makes a great point about the purpose of this futility — that it is meant to point us toward God. “This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment (verse 24-25). Without God in our life, our work in this world will amount to nothing.

If our purpose and meaning in life is centered on God, then all we do will be meaningful, our efforts will be invested in the eternal Kingdom of God. Our work on earth, our toil, will become centered on God’s purposes, not our own. Our work becomes a way to invest in the lives of those around us, to be a light for them in a dark world.

© 2019 CGThelen

When I attended college there were many buildings on campus that bore the names of people from generations before me. I had no idea who these people were and why they were important enough to have their name on a building. To me the name was just a reference to the building. Unless there was a plaque on the building about the person, no one would know them or their accomplishments.

I thought of this as I recently sat at a dedication ceremony where someone I knew was having a building named after him to recognize his accomplishments in the city. This was the third person I knew who would now have their name emblazoned on a building. To me, the building would always be associated with the person I knew, but to coming generations the name would be just a building to them.

Solomon reminded us of this in Ecclesiastes 1. “Meaningless, meaningless” he wrote in verse 2 about the result of all we do on this earth. “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun (verse 3, NIV)?” Like the people I know who had buildings named after them, ultimately their accomplishments will be forgotten and eventually the building that bore their name will be torn down to make way for the new. “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever (4).”

Solomon cautions us not to ignore the eternal in our work here on earth. It is the only thing that will truly last forever. All our accomplishments in this world, as great as they may seem, are meaningless unless they help build up the Kingdom of God. “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them (11).”

The only thing that matters in the end is if our name is in the book of life. “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:5).” We may have our name on an earthly building, but it won’t matter if our name is not in the book of life. “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).”

© 2019 CGThelen

I have been contemplating for some time now what it means to be part of the family of God versus the family I was born into on this earth. This is a question Jesus also faced during his time on earth. People in his hometown of Nazareth spoke well of him, but knew him as Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22). They couldn’t see beyond him being a local boy, the son of a carpenter.

In Mark 6 we read how the people in his hometown were amazed at his teaching and his miracles (verse 2). They recognized he was doing amazing things, yet they could not see beyond his family ties. They remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us (verse 3, NIV)?” They heard his teaching and saw his miracles, yet could not see beyond his local identity.

The blood lines of family can be strong, yet they can also create problems for us. Sometimes it is hard for us to get beyond the identity of our earthly family and to embrace that as believers in Jesus we are part of the family of God. Jesus said, when told his mother and brothers were waiting outside for him, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice (Luke 8:21).”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of a different bloodline, the blood of the cross. The sacrifice Jesus made for us, the blood that ran down the cross on the day he was crucified, enabled us to be part of the bloodline of God. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).” We are part of the family of God. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).”

© 2019 CGThelen

We live in a world of the seen, the visible. Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight all give us a sense of this world we live in. Yet it is the unseen that guides us — our conscience, our emotions, our thoughts deep within our being. Our mind directs our actions, our beliefs.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (NIV).” Ultimately we must acknowledge the unseen, feel the presence of God, know that he is in our midst. We must take that step of faith and earnestly seek him. Yet doubts can persist.

In John 20:24-29 we read about Thomas doubting Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord (verse 25).” Yet Thomas’ doubts persist and he replies, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe (25).” A week later Thomas is with the disciples when Jesus again stands among them. Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (27).”

Because Thomas saw Jesus in the flesh, he replied to Jesus, “My Lord and my God (28)!” It will be the same for everyone someday when we stand before Jesus. Romans 14:10-11 tells us that one day we will all stand before God’s judgement seat where there will be no doubt. Then “‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God (verse 11).” Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Years ago we were at a conference with other Christians and during the break we struck up a conversation with a couple we had never met before. They soon learned that my spouse and I were in the middle of moving and our new home would not be available for a few weeks. “This may sound strange,” the older gentleman said. “I know we just met, but why don’t you stay with us. I feel like we’re family.” We reassured him that we had a place to stay nearby with family, but thanked him for his generous offer.

Even though this happened years ago, I have often thought about it when I consider who is my family. In Luke 8:19-21 Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but the crowds prevent them from getting close to him. Someone informs him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you (verse 20, NIV).” To which Jesus replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice (verse 21).”

We are born with an earthly family yet as Christians we are children of God our father. Romans 8:14-15 tells us, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” We are adopted into the family of God so we can cry, “Abba, Father.” Only those who believe in Jesus and follow him will be part of the family of God. It pains me to think some in my earthly family are not part of God’s family because of their disbelief.

Praise God, however, that he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).” Even though we are sinners, he welcomes those who believe in Jesus into the family of God. In John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” There is hope for my unbelieving family members, I just need to continue to pray and reach out to them.

© 2019 CGThelen

Editor’s note: This post originally published March 31, 2018.

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

© 2018 CGThelen

“Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6, NIV)

Praise you, oh God. Praise your holy name. Praise your good works. Thank you for the love and grace you pour upon us. May we be attentive to your will for our life. May our life bring you praise. May the works of our hands bring your truth to others. May our lips bring your truth to those in need of salvation. You are worthy of all praise. We bow before you as your humble servant dear Lord. May our actions this day exalt you.

© 2019 CGThelen

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 10:10, NIV)

Show us your way, Lord. Teach us this day the path to follow. Fill us with your wisdom. Let us fear you and not people. Give us understanding of your holiness dear God. Help us to pursue your righteousness this day. Reveal to us the false truths that abound in this world. Fill us with a knowledge of your truth. May we be filled with the joy of the Lord today, a joy that surpasses all understanding. You are the one true God. All praise and glory to you.

At times I wonder if I will ever be able to convince some people I know that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6, NIV). No matter what I say, I cannot get them to understand my life in Christ. In Ephesians 4:17-25, Paul wrote “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God (verse 18, NIV).” Paul attributed this to “ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (verse 18).”

My desire to share Christ is not to convert them to a religion, but a desire for them to have life to the fullest (John 10:10). I want them to have the same peace in Christ that I have in my life. Yet no matter how much I try, how much I pray for them, it seems their hardened hearts will not budge. Sometimes I feel I am the barrier to them seeing Jesus as the way to salvation.

I want them to see Christ Jesus, not the flawed person I am who still has struggles in life. I want them to know that I am not perfect, that I still wrestle with my old self seeking to corrupt me with “its deceitful desires (Eph. 4:22).” I want them to see that I am following the “truth that is in Jesus (verse 20).” The same truth they can have.

I don’t want them to merely come to church, nor do I want to just win a theological argument. My deep desire is for them to have the hope of a new self, to see that they are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).” I want them to be truly changed by Christ Jesus, to share the richness of life I have in Christ Jesus.

© 2019 CGThelen

David had it in his heart to build a dwelling place for God. Psalm 132:3-5 expresses this desire:

“I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob (NIV).”

Yet David never built the temple. God left that task to David’s son Solomon. It reminded me of the deep desire I have to build a temple for the Lord within the people I know who have not accepted Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst.” I want them to experience the joy of the Lord; to experience the peace that comes from the Spirit of God dwelling within. Yet like David, sometimes God tells me “no,” that someone else will build it and I will not see it in my lifetime.

That does not stop me from praying for the people God places in my life. I continue to try to sow seeds, praying at some point they will sprout and grow with deep roots, yielding “a crop, a hundred times more than was sown (Luke 8:8);” hoping they will build a dwelling place for the Spirit of God within their heart.

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

© 2019 CGThelen

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