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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

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

There is a natural rhythm to life as expressed in Ecclesiastes 3, “a season for every activity under the heavens (verse 1, NIV).” As you read verses 2-8, it’s hard not to feel the emotion that Solomon describes in so many of these life events — the sorrow and the joy. We can readily identify with so many of the seasons of life that are expressed in these verses, but we don’t always understand the purpose behind them.

In the verses that follow 2-8, Solomon provides a clue for the reason for the rhythm of joy and sorrow we feel in life. In verse 9 he related to our frustration at times in trying to understand what we gain from our toil, the burden to find purpose. It is that desire to seek meaning that should point us toward God. We cannot “fathom what God has done from beginning to end,” but we can begin to see “how he has made everything beautiful in its time (11).” To “find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (13).”

It is a gift from God to be able to see how he makes everything beautiful in its time. We can feel the joy of new birth and smile holding a new born baby, but the sorrow of death is hard to understand (2). We can feel the pride of constructing a new home, but feel sad when we watch our grandparents’ home torn down to make way for the new (3). We can smile at a keepsake given us, but cry when we must sort through and throw away sentimental things we have accumulated through life (6). Without God we cannot understand these rhythms in life, but with God we are able to trust he has a purpose for everything under the sun.

Solomon told us in verses 3:12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” May we receive this gift from God and accept his purposes, the rhythms of the seasons of our life.

© 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

This morning Lord I seek purpose. My heart is heavy. This world continues to frustrate me. Help me Lord to seek you, to sing you praises in the midst of my sorrow and hurt. Help me to remember Jesus knows our pain, felt our pain when he walked the earth. Help us to remember we are your creation. Praise God that you consider us family, your child given an eternal inheritance.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:13-14, NIV).”

© 2019 CGThelen

Envy. It is the one word that is hard to avoid in our world. Even if you try to not be envious, it still stalks you, seeking to dig its claws in you. Everywhere you go, it’s there waiting for you, waiting to take root in your heart.

It’s not just the nice house, the perfect lawn or the fancy car that passes your broken down car on the side of the road. It’s not just the perfect family always smiling on social media. It’s not just the person at work who always gets the praise and promotions. But it’s also the person at church who seems so holy, sings beautifully to applause, or preaches with power and conviction that impacts people. You feel forgotten while others have praise heaped on them. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 that we all play an important role in the body of Christ. “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1 Cor. 12:18, NIV).”

Envy is that fiery dart that the evil one uses to pierce you, to pierce your heart. Left inside of you, the dart causes an infection that can lead to strife, jealousy and even anger. It can drive us to pursue things not out of our love for God, but out of our desire to show others that we are better than other people. Solomon sums it up well in Ecclesiastes 4:4: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (NIV).”

Meaningless. Chasing after the wind. Can you really capture the wind if you chase it? You can try, but it will slip through your fingers and blow right by you no matter how hard you try. When envy stalks us, we must remember we are made in the image of God for a special purpose. God gave us unique talents and abilities for the tasks he lays before us. We are to pursue God’s plan for our life, not someone else’s journey. Psalm 139:13-14 tells us: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16).

© 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

Help us this day dear Lord to do your will; to do what is pleasing to you; to bring honor to you dear Lord. May we rely on you to equip us this day, to fill us with your purpose, to seek your ways. Help us to be a light for you and your Kingdom dear God.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV).”

© 2019 CGThelen

In the deepest pit of sadness, as sorrow overwhelmed me, I cried out to God to somehow free me from the suffering. When tears flowed seemingly from no where, I cried out to you Lord, “Let this pass.” When my body tensed, my breathing quickened and my heart rate increased, I cried out to you God. Tears flowing, filled with sorrow, I cried to God to let this pass, but you gave me the words of your son Jesus instead: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (Luke 14:36, NIV).”

God has created us for a specific purpose. He has uniquely crafted us, chosen us to do his will. Our obedience, as difficult as it is at times, is essential to carrying out God’s plan — to help others find the path to salvation through Christ Jesus. Through our struggles God deepens our faith. He uses our pain to help build empathy for others who experience pain. In the Kingdom of God nothing is wasted; fruit is born out of our suffering.

When I feel alone and full of grief, I recall the words of Jesus: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (14:34).” Even though Jesus shared with his disciples the deep emotional pain he felt, they ultimately abandoned him in his time of need. Jesus understands the feeling of loneliness; he understands suffering for God’s purposes. In Christ Jesus you are not alone. He will never forsake you.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” – Mark 14:32-36

© 2019 CGThelen

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