What pleases God

So then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to keep living the way you already are and even do better in how you live and please God—just as you learned from us. Aim to live quietly, mind your own business, and earn your own living, just as I told you. That way you’ll behave appropriately toward outsiders, and you won’t be in need. ~ 1 Thes. 4:1,11-12 (CEB)

1 Thessalonians 4 verse 1 says you ought to live a life pleasing to God. I think that is one of those universal statements that is easily accepted by any of the religions based on belief in God. But then the observation prompts a universal question~

“How do I live a life that is pleasing to God.”

As always, if you keep reading the Bible, answers come to the questions we have.  Starting in verse 11 we begin to find our answers… We are to aspire to live quietly, to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that we can behave properly and be dependent on no one.

That just seems too simple…  another universal question arises, “What does God really require of me?” In Micah I find another simple answer. God requires of me to love Him, to be fair and to be compassionate (Micah 6:1-6:8).

That is pretty simple and straight forward. Sometimes it amazes me when I am looking for the complicated answers to “what pleases God” and “what does God require of me” to find that it is really so simple that even a child can understand it.

Heavenly Father, help me this day to live a life pleasing to you. Help me aspire to the quiet, life minding my own business. Help me to be Your hands and feet to others, loving as You would have me love. May I always be fair in what I do. May I always work hard for myself and others through the strength You freely give. Amen.

Pay attention!

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. ~Matt 5:13-16 (CEB)

One of the dangers of waiting is forgetting to let my light shine while I wait. I have never been one to wait patiently. It almost paralyzes me. I have had several reminders in the past few days that I have been hiding my light. Reading this passage from Bread for the Journey was just another reminder that not only am I to be patient but active in my time of waiting:

“How do we wait for God?  We wait with patience.  But patience does not mean passivity.   Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise.  It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.”  Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants.  Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen

Heavenly Father, help me to shine for You. May I continue to be active in my time of waiting, continually seeking the ways that I can serve You this day. May I pay attention to what is happening here in these moments and live them to the fullest. Amen.

Waiting

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’  “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’  “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’  “Therefore keep alert because you don’t know the day or the hour. ~Matt 25:1-13 (CEB)

“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus, we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting, but it is  waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen.

In my time of waiting, I must still be prepared… looking for the time when circumstances will change. I must be working and preparing myself accepting the changes as the come; piece by piece, moment by moment… alert… finding the joy… active in this journey that God has sent me on.

Heavenly Father, help me to not become impatient in my time of waiting. Help me to feel Your Presence as You make my heart and mind ready. Keep me alert with the Hope You have hidden in my heart. Amen.

Change… doesn’t come quickly

I will give them a single heart, and I will put a new spirit in them. I will remove the stony hearts from their bodies and give them hearts of flesh so that they may follow my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. ~Ezekiel 11:19-20 (CEB)

When my daughter was young she would worry ahead to things that were in the future. For instance, she always worried about the time when she would be grown up and “have to live on her own.” She was nine at the time so I would tell her that she was supposed to want to live with me forever. That was where she was at that time in her life. I would also tell her that when it was time for her to live on her own God would have prepared her heart and she would be ready.

Today, I don’t think she remembers the conversations we had about her wanting to live with me forever and never leave me, but I do. I remember the conversations slowly changing from living with me forever… to buying the house next door where she could still be close by… to buying a farm when she grew up, naturally not next door since we live in a sub-division. And now she does live on her own.

I like the book of Ezekiel because amidst the imagery found, I see God working in the hearts of his people. Among the promise of punishment for apostasy, I see God preparing their hearts for their time of trial. Through the use of imagery, God is showing His people that He is a mobile God not just found in the Temple but a God who can move anywhere in any direction. This was a new concept for the Israelites who felt that God lived and was to be found in His Temple. I also see that He was planting in their hearts even then the seeds that would one day help some of them accept Jesus as that promised Shepherd. That Shepherd who would gather them from among the scattered the nations and make them one nation again.

Change doesn’t come quickly. God must prepare our hearts, our minds and our circumstances for the change. God had promised that He would give the Israelites a new heart a heart of flesh with which they could live healthy and strong in His promises and be His children.

Sometimes in the waiting, for my circumstances to change I forget that my heart and mind must be readied so that when new circumstances come I will be strengthened for the task. It is not that God has abandoned me in my trials, He is mending, heart, mind and soul, those places unseen so that I will be able to walk forward with my head held high into those Promises He has made me.

Heavenly Father, grant me patience for my circumstances, a peace that although I don’t see changes happening that You are doing a good work in my heart, mind and soul so that I may walk into Your Promises with the confidence of the daughter of a King. Amen.

No longer two, but one

At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.” ~Mark 10:6-9 (CEB)

Today my husband and I celebrate our 25th anniversary. In celebrating today, it is hard not to think about our wedding day. When vows are exchanged I think most people do mean them when they are said, but there is a lot to “for richer or poorer”, “in sickness or in health”, and “to death do us part.” There is a lot of living in these words. Words that are hard to comprehend until you have lived them.

It is beyond our comprehension what richer or poorer means when we first start out as a young couple. In sickness and in health is far beyond the common cold. And death? Well, who knew there could be “living-deaths”? There can be a lot of hurts collected in living through rough times. It is no wonder that 50% of marriages end in divorce. So when you look at a marriage that has lasted 10, 20…30 years you have to know that it was not because of “happily ever after” that they survived. It was work that kept them together.

The day I married my husband, I am sure there were stars in my eyes. I didn’t know then that living life would cause me to love my husband even more than I did that day. I didn’t know that our love was simply a seed and that living and loving and forgiving would cause us to grow closer and to love even more deeply.

There are many things in life that we can’t begin to grasp the full meaning of until we begin to live it out. When the disciples began their journey with Jesus they had certain expectations in mind. With Jesus’ death on the cross, their expectations were shattered. This was not the happily ever after they had had in mind when they followed after Christ. But once the pieces of their shattered expectations were collected and thrown away the reality of just what they did have begun to shine through. Being a disciple of Christ was different than what they had first understood it to be but far more wonderful than they had imagined.

Expectations can be hard to overcome. When they are shattered it is not the end, it is the beginning. Once we sweep away what we think should be we can then truly begin to live in the way that God intended.

Heavenly Father, I thank You this day for my husband and my family. I thank You for all of my life, the first part and the second. Continue to bless us with many more years to come. Amen.

On to perfection

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God,  of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. ~Heb. 6:1-2 (CEB)

In the United Methodist Church, the second question of a series of questions a minister is asked before being admitted into full membership in an annual conference is “Are you going on to perfection?”

“Where are you going? If you continue on the course you have charted, where will it all end? So often we discount Christ’s return, forgetting that in many ways Jesus Christ has never left. Or we begin reasoning that since Christ has not returned yet, why think about it? But the truth is that at the very best, our lives are short and soon we will have reached out destination, whether Jesus Christ will have returned in a cosmic unfolding or not. Are you going on toward God? If not, where are you going? It is always a good time to review and if necessary redirect your life toward God.” ~From A Guide for All Who Seek Prayer, Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, help me to sort through and decide where I am going. Help me to move ever forward on my path toward You. Amen.

Be my vision

This is the confidence that we have through Christ in the presence of God.  It isn’t that we ourselves are qualified to claim that anything came from us. No, our qualification is from God. He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not based on what is written but on the Spirit, because what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life. ~2 Cor 3:4-6(CEB)

It is not enough that we behave better; we must come to see reality differently. We must learn to see the depths of things, not just reality at a superficial level. This especially means we need to see the nonseparateness of the world from God and the onesness of all reality in God: the Hidden Ground of Love in all that is. Prayer is a kind of corrective lens that does away with the distorted view of reality that, for some mysterious reason, seems to be my normal vision, and enables me to see what is as it really is. ~From Silence on Fire by William H. Shannon

Heavenly Father, be my lens as I look into the world. Provide a true view of reality, so that I may be clear in my vision. Be with me in all I say and do this day. May the world see You in me. Amen.

Inner silence

Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. ~Matthew 8:5 (CEB)

August can be so busy. During such a busy time it seems good to remind myself of the need for silence… the inner kind of silence.

Inner silence is the absence of any sort of inward stirring thought or emotion, but it is complete alertness, openness to God. We must keep complete silence when we can, but never allow it to degenerate into simple contentment.

“Silence is the state in which all the powers of the soul and all the faculties of the body are completely at peace, quiet and recollected, perfectly alert yet free from any turmoil or agitation. A simile which we find in many writings of the Fathers is that of the waters of a pond. As long as there are ripples on the surface, nothing can be reflected properly, neither the trees nor the sky when the surface is quite still, the sky is perfectly reflected, the trees on the bank and everything is there as distinct as in reality.

Another simile of the same sort used by the Fathers is that of that as long as the mud which is at the bottom of a pond has not settled, the water is not clear and one can see nothing through it. These two analogies apply to the state of the human heart. ‘Blesses are the pure in heart for they shall see God’ As long as the mud is in motion in the water there is no clear vision through it, and again as long as the surface is covered with ripples there can be no adequate reflection of what surrounds the pond.

As long as the soul is not still there can be no vision, but when stillness has brought us into the presence of God, then another sort of silence, much more absolute, intervenes: the silence of a soul that is not only still and recollected but which is overawed in an act of worship by God’s presence; a silence in which, as Julian Norwich puts it, ‘Prayer oneth the soul to God’. ~From Living Prayer by Anthony Bloom

Heavenly Father, help me to quiet my soul this day so that I may reflect Your love to those around me. Settle the restlessness inside of me from too much activity. Quiet my heart so I may hear Your wisdom in the space. Amen.

To flow with the river

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” ~Mark 8:34-37

“Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it. The life is lived within us, and we learn how to say yes to that life.” ~From Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Today I am going to try to not swim against the current. Today I am going to rest and let the river do the work. When I try to get places by my own power, I just wear myself out. I think I will lay back and see just where this river takes me.

Heavenly Father, You say in Your Word that Your yoke is easy and Your burdens are light. Help me to make the right choices this day so I can step out in faith and not feel overly weighed down. Help me to flow better with the currents of life so that I can look up and see Your glory around me. Amen.

By faith

 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful. So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. ~Hebrews 8:8-12 (CEB)

It is hard for me to relate this passage. I don’t have the long family history, those stories that tell me who I am. It is hard for me to understand what it was like for Abraham to leave all he had known, to leave his family behind and step out on faith. I have a confession to make. I never thought twice about leaving all I had known or my family to move 6 hours away after I finished college. I didn’t inquire with God whether I should go or should stay. I just went. I wasn’t thinking of my future much less of children and grandchildren when we packed up the moving van and headed to East Tennessee.

Now that I have lived away from immediate family and have raised my family with only my husband to help out, my view of a family has begun to change. The examples laid out for me had been getting married and move off. That is what my parents had done and their parents before them. The whole idea of living in an area surrounded by extended family is completely foreign to me. But as I have gained friends who have that family history, stories, and support I have begun to understand just what it might have meant to leave all I had known behind.

In Abraham’s time, it appears that he was a well established “city dweller” living in his family estate. Here was his inheritance. Here was his history. Here was his support. God called to Abraham, asking him to give up the security he had. God wanted him to have something more. This was a new concept to look to your Heavenly Father for your inheritance. When the Jews heard this story, they knew what sacrifice Abraham was making, what dreams he might be giving up. They understood the risks that Abraham was taking to head out from an established home into the wilderness to roam. Abraham believed God when he said that he had something more in mind for him than Abraham had for himself.

I am at a point in my life where I feel that God is asking me to let go of what I have banked my securities in. He has something more in mind for me than the little niche I have carved out for myself. Can I have the faith of Abraham? Can I blindly go where He calls me to go? Can I believe enough in a promise to find something more than I hold in my hands now? Abraham did.

Heavenly Father, give me the strength to stand up when You call. Guide my steps so they go with a purpose. Keep me from wandering too far from Your promises. I believe the scriptures when they say You have my good in mind. I claim this day all the promises You have for me. Amen.

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