Pleasing God

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Have you heard of Enoch?

He’s the guy who lived to be 365 years old and then God took him.  He just took Enoch to Heaven.  He never had to die.  Enoch is even listed in Hebrews 11 – the Faith Hall of Fame.  His credentials are not as long as Abraham’s or Noah’s.  They are short and sweet, Enoch pleased God. 

That’s it.  That’s a lot.

He didn’t call fire from Heaven, build an ark, or father a nation.  He simply pleased God.

And what did Enoch do to please God? After all, we need to know how to please God.

He walked with Him.  The simplicity of it bowls me over.  Maybe it’s my legalistic background, but so many times I feel like a hamster on a wheel running and running and wondering if I am doing enough, saying enough, praying enough, being enough to please God.

What freedom in knowing that all God asks of us to please Him is to walk with Him!  Just walk.  Yes, walking with God implies fellowship and obedience, but I don’t need to be Billy Graham to please God.  I just need to be me.  That pleases God because He made me and loves me and wants a relationship with me.

Wow.

St. Augustine once said, “Love God and do as you please.”  At first glance that might look like a ticket to live any old way, even in sin.  However, if we truly love God with all our hearts, then what pleases Him will please us.

May each of us strive walk with God and therefore, please Him.

Genesis 5:22-24 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

 

Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

 

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2008

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I wrote this post on my personal blog in January, 2009. The reason I share it with you today is that I want to encourage and comfort those of you who are enduring a trial.

As you will see as you read this post, 2008 was a horrible year for me. To be completely honest, 2009 wasn’t too hot either. But here we are in 2011, and I can honestly tell you that God has been faithful. He has brought us through. Life is not perfect (never will be this side of Heaven), but in 2008, I honestly felt that I would never smile again or have a reason to be happy. If there is one thing you take away from this post, I pray it is that God truly does work all things together for our good. Don’t give up no matter what you are going through. Keep your eyes on Him, trust Him with all your heart. Let Him hold your heart. He will not let you down.  

Humanly speaking, 2008 kicked my butt.

I can honestly say it was one of the worst years of my life. If the problems of the past year only involved me, I would be able to share more; but there are other people involved and it is their story, too. I don’t have their permission to write about it. Someday I hope to be able to speak more freely, but it probably won’t be for a very long time.

I hesitated about writing what might be perceived as a negative post, because I don’t want to come across as whiny, complaining or that I am begrudging anyone who had a fantastic 2008. Yet, I want to be honest and authentic here.

And I also want to share what God has been doing in my life in the midst of the problems and the pain. I want God’s faithfulness, love, and care to shine in bright contrast to the darkness last year had brought to me. So if I gloss over the hard parts, or merely say, 2008 was a really hard year, you would be missing part of the magnitude of God’s goodness to me in 2008.

There have been nights that I’ve cried myself to sleep and days where it took all I had not to fall apart at work, or in line at the grocery store, or when some well-meaning person would ask, “How are you?”. I learned that my car is a great place to cry and to pray out loud when I want to be absolutely sure no one can hear me but God.

Some of the problems of ’08 have lessened in severity, some have morphed into new problems, and some have improved. In some cases, the only thing that’s changed is my perspective because of what God is doing in my life through all of this. None of the problems has an easy fix or look like they will be going away just because we bought a new calendar. Obviously, these are not the first problems I have had to deal with in my 44 years of life, but they have had a different intensity than the others.

I have been a Christian since I was 9 years old. I have tried to walk with God and serve Him and love Him ever since.  I don’t know if what we’ve been dealing with this year has been a refining by God or a sifting by Satan. One thing I do know is this: even when life seems out of control, God is in control and I can choose to trust Him or I can give in to despair.

I choose to trust.

I trust that God is the almighty Creator of the universe. I trust that He loves me and has a plan for me. His plan is to work all these things for good in my life and to use them to make me more like Jesus. These same things are true for every member of my family. He loves them much more than I do and He wants so much more than I can even ask or imagine for them. He wants that for each of us and for you, too.

My nature tends to be one that wants to fight against the problems, to expend a lot of emotional energy lamenting over the fact that there are problems, and yearning strongly for the time they will go away. I can’t do that in this case. I have had to accept this state of affairs and not try to fix everything, because I can’t fix them; but I am learning how to manage them with Jesus’ help.

I liken it to having a chronic disease that may or may not be cured. You still have to live your life, but you make accommodations for the disease and go through certain measures to care for yourself. With my “disease”, the measures are staying close to Jesus through prayer, reading His word, worshiping Him, and seeking Godly counsel.

Henri Nouwen described it like this:

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains … those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, described it like this in Romans 5:1-5

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

So, I choose to ask God to help me rejoice in whatever suffering I may endure in this life.

And I choose to hope.

Not just hope the way a person may hope for a raise at work, or hope to go on vacation this summer, or hope that their problems will just go away. No, my hope is in something, Someone more sure.  My hope is in Jesus Christ.

Again, it is Paul who wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12 “… Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day”.

What have I entrusted to him for that day? Everything. My life, my salvation, my family. He’s got it all and there is no better place to entrust it all.

So, what have I learned in 2008 that shines so brightly in stark contrast to what we’ve been dealing with?

  • I am not in control. God is. And that is infinitely better.
  • God loves me no matter what. I am not defined by my circumstances. I am defined by my position as a child of God. Period.
  • God’s will is to conform me and all His children into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is using this trial to do that.
  • I have grown closer to God and clung to Him more tightly that I would have if 2008 been a super fantastic year.
  • I have grown closer to my husband. A lot of time stresses can drive a couple apart, but God has used this to bring us closer. Quite the silver lining, I would say.
  •  I have been reminded that this life is not all there is. As a Christian, my eternal home is in Heaven, as it is the rest of my family’s. Even if these problems don’t get resolved here on earth (which would be due to human stubbornness, not God’s lack of faithfulness) they will be resolved in Heaven.

I’m not crying myself to sleep as much anymore, but when I do find myself struggling to hold it together, I know it’s because I have allowed my perspective to shift back to my circumstances and away from the Prince of Peace who is the ultimate Comforter.

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The Care and Feeding of High Maintenance Friends

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A few weeks ago, I got a phone message from an acquaintance with a question about real estate. Fair enough, I am a real estate agent, after all. However, I was not in a location where I had access to a computer or the internet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to her with an answer to her question until the next day. Also, I really wasn’t able to return her call right away to tell her, which I would normally do out of courtesy for anyone who left me a message with a question that would require me some time to get back to them.

However, this nagging voice in the back of my mind kept telling me, “You’d better call her back sooner than later. You know she’ll get her feelings hurt if you don’t call her. She’ll think you’re mad at her and then she’ll get mad at you and think that you’ve been avoiding her.”

The entire situation frustrated me and got me thinking, “Why can’t this person ever extend grace and just give people the benefit of the doubt? Why does she take things so personally? Does she really want me calling her because I’m afraid she’ll be hurt and get mad if I wait until tomorrow? Wouldn’t she rather me call because I WANT to, not because I feel like I HAVE to? Why is she so sensitive and high maintenance?

I’m sure we all can think of someone we know who is over-sensitive. We walk on egg shells around them because we never know when something we say innocently is going to cause a problem. They seem to have a vortex of drama constantly swirling around them and if we’re not careful, we get sucked in before we know it. Perhaps she is a friend or relative.

Or perhaps that person is the one we see when we look in the mirror. Ouch!

I believe there are several reasons a person might be high maintenance. One might be insecurity or low self-esteem. They need to get their validation from others, so when a phone call is returned “too late” or someone pokes a little fun, they internalize it and feel rejection, rather than consider the other possibilities of why a phone call may not be returned right away or laugh at something that might really be funny, not hurtful.

Another possibility is self-centeredness. Perhaps they feel that the world really should revolve around them. When they say jump, the rest of us better respond with how high? They don’t take into consideration the fact that someone else might be having a bad day, or previous plans that kept them from jumping at that moment.

Closely tied with self-centeredness may be control issues. They like to control their world and when others don’t cooperate with their plan, someone is going to pay.

I have to admit, when I was younger, I was much more sensitive than I am now.  My poor husband can vouch for that! The main thing that helped me “get over myself” was God’s Word and what He had to say about what He thinks of me.

So what do we do when we find ourselves feeling slighted, hurt, and insecure more often than we’d care to?

John Maxwell says, “When we are 20, we worry all the time what people think of us; when we are 40, we don’t care what people think of us; and when we are 60, we realize that people don’t really think of us that much anyway.”

I think he hit the nail on the head. We need to stop worrying what other people think of us and focus on the only One who can and should define us – Jesus.

So what does Jesus think about us?

He loves us. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” Eph. 3:17b-19a

Nothing can make Him love us less. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Romans 8:38-40

He saves us. ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”. Romans 10:9-10

I could go on and on about all Jesus has done for us and how much He loves us. I challenge you to search out verses on your own and study and ask God to impress on your heart how much you are loved.

When we begin to grasp the love of Christ for us and realize that He is enough, what other people think of us suddenly becomes much less important. Yes, people can and will still hurt our feelings, but it’s easier to just let the petty things go when we understand that the Creator of the universe is madly in love with us.

So what do we do with the high maintenance people in our lives?

Again, the answer is love.

Proverbs 19:22 says, “What a person desires is unfailing love.”

Not too long after I received the phone call from my acquaintance, I got the opportunity to spend some time with her. It was the first time in a long time that I got to catch up with her and find out about what’s going on in her life. I got to encourage her and understand her better and I felt convicted for my initial frustration at my perceptions of her demands on me. Once I got the chance to “love on her” a bit, I realized that even though she still had “high maintenance” tendencies, she wasn’t trying to control me. What she really wanted was to know that she was loved.

Which is all any of us really wants.

While we can’t be all things to all people, we can be “Jesus with skin on” to those around us, showing His love and pointing others to the One whose love makes all the difference.

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I Saw a Man Today

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, Hawaii

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join my husband, Phil, on a business trip to Hawaii.  I almost didn’t go because he would be working most of the time, leaving me to my own devices and because it is such a long flight (eight hours each way from Denver).  Since I could only stay for a few days, I wasn’t sure that a total of 16 hours in a plane was worth the trek.

About a week before the trip, my husband said to me, “I can’t believe you don’t want to go to Hawaii with me.”

When I heard him say those words out loud, I realized that I was CRAZY for not jumping at the chance to spend a few days in the warm sun in one of the most beautiful places on earth with my man – even if I had to share him with work.  So, we packed our bags and off we went!

The first night we were on Oahu, there was a welcome dinner for my husband’s colleagues and their spouses. After enjoying a sumptuous dinner on a poolside patio overlooking the ocean, we all walked as a group back to our hotel along the street that runs parallel with Waikiki Beach, taking in all the sights and sounds around us as we strolled.

Between Waikiki Beach and the sidewalk we were walking along, there is a grassy area with park benches so folks can sit and enjoy the view of the surfers by day and the sunset by nightfall. That’s the direction I was looking when I saw him. A homeless man reached into one of the public trash receptacles and pulled out a “to go” box that contained the remains of someone’s discarded meal.

The man opened the box and examined the contents. He tossed part of it aside with a flick of his wrist, but the rest of the leftovers would do for his dinner as he eagerly started eating whatever it was in that box.

Immediately, my mind recalled the meal I had just enjoyed. The smell of salt air, the sound of live music, the laughter of new friends, and, of course, the taste of delicious food – of which there was more than enough for all of us.

The sight of that man eating out of a garbage can haunted me the rest of that night and for the next few days. Of course, I have seen homeless people before, but the stark contrast between our two meals that evening shocked me to reality.

And to be completely transparent with you, I am very confused about what my response should be.

The “experts” on television tell us not to give the homeless money because it just prolongs their stay on the streets keeping them from getting the help they need. Then there is also the possibility of it being used for drugs or alcohol.

For a while, my response was to ignore those standing at the exit ramps and entrances to the shopping center in my neighborhood with cardboard signs asking for food or money. The problem is too big and overwhelming, plus I don’t want to be contributing to an alcoholic’s binges or a druggie’s fix.

But the knowledge that each one of these people is God’s child, dearly loved by Jesus as much as you or I am weighs on my heart.  I don’t know what the answer is.  Anything I can think of to do falls so short.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen is a wonderful thing and a great opportunity to expose our children to the idea of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Yet, that still doesn’t address the man on a corner asking for something to eat.

I thought about programs like Habitat for Humanity that helps those who are willing to help themselves. I may look into volunteering with them. There is something about that program that speaks to my heart and seems like a more permanent solution for those who seek their help. But I still don’t know if that’s enough.

I realize that in many cases, mental illness plays a huge role in homelessness. And, yes, so do to drugs and alcohol.  There are many shelters and programs “out there” for the homeless and that is great. My question is what do I do when I come face to face with another human being asking for my help? What would Jesus have me and you do to help “the least of these”?

I’d love to hear your ideas and ways you have helped others in the comments section!

Only You Can Save by Chris Sligh

I saw a man today, his whole world across his back
A living monument opposed to my success.
I tried to look into his eyes as his shuffled past my car
Sweat beading on his skin, his clothes and hair a mess.
As the light turned green and I pulled away, he slowly disappeared
Just a memory of another chance I failed to show your love here.

I wanna love because You love
I wanna give because You gave
I wanna reach my hand out to the lost
because I know Your hand can save
Only You can save
Only You can save

Sometimes I have to wonder if I really want to know
The struggle and the pain that others feel.
Do I want to hear the stories I see echoed in their eyes
Or is this love I say that I’m reflecting even real?
As the light turns on inside my head and I slowly disappear
I steel myself cuz what you call for me is to show your love here…

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I Believe I am Now Banned from the Bike Shop

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My husband, Phil,  is an avid biker. Or should I say bicyclist?  What I mean is he likes to ride bikes.  A lot.  Not the kind with motors, the kind that you have to pedal with your own two legs. 

For the longest time, Phil only rode mountain bikes.  I use the word bikes because somehow what started out as one bike in our garage has multiplied to… let’s just say more than one. I don’t know what those bikes do out there in the garage, but I don’t want to know because every time I look out there, it seems we have another bike.

But I’m rambling. 

Phil has wanted me to join him in his mountain biking adventures.  That’s very kind of him and great in a relationship-building, meaningful-time together kind of way.  There’s only one problem with that idea.  Phil rides his mountain bike in places where no man has gone before.  He goes over logs, through streams, over and around boulders, and through pricker bushes.  He walks in the door after an afternoon of biking with his buddies with a big smile on his face and blood dripping from more than one location on his body and too many bruises to count.

Then he’ll say, “Carol, you have got to come with me next time.  That was a blast!”

Yeah, I’m convinced. 

Call me crazy, but one of my main goals each day is to keep all my body parts intact.   

Soon, much to my husband’s dismay, some of his friends realized they were getting older and that it took them longer to recover from all their mountain biking injuries.  But rather than give up biking altogether, they decided to add another dimension to their biking experience.  They bought road bikes.  Phil was not at all happy.  He felt road bicycling is for wimps.  Or at least for those who like to keep all their blood inside their bodies. 

But my husband quickly made a discovery.  His buddies who were roadies as well as mountain bikers, developed more stamina and did better at mountain biking than the ones who were not roadies.  Apparently, long uphill climbs on a road bike are very good for developing your leg muscles as well as endurance.

Not one to be left in the dust by his friends (I forgot to mention Phil is a tad bit competitive),  he soon made the move to the dark side and purchased a used road bike to give it a try. And surprise of all surprises, he liked it.  I also noticed that he would come home from a road ride just as happy, yet without all the cuts and bruises. 

So, the next time he suggested that I take up biking, I said, “Sure, as long as I can get a road bike”.  He agreed and off we went to the nearest bike shop. 

Since Phil is an experienced biker who does a lot of his own repairs, he is very familiar with bike components and for someone at his level of biking those things do make a difference. But for me, not so much.  I just wanted an entry level road bike that I could get used to and have fun while getting in shape. 

The very friendly sales guy in the bike shop showed me just that. It was an entry level bike just the right size and height.  I was sold.  Phil was not.  He was unconvinced that I wasn’t picking the bike just because it was purple and affordable.  He wanted me to try one the next level up with a few more bells and whistles.  My mind was already made up, but to make him happy, I agreed to try another bike.

That was my big mistake.

The next bike didn’t fit as well. I felt awkward on it.  The seat was positioned at an angle to put your upper body more forward over the handle bars.  While Phil and Friendly Sales Guy chatted about all things biking. I decided this was not the bike for me and attempted to remove myself from said bike.  Because of the strangely angled seat, my leg did not clear it all the way while getting off the bike and before I knew it, I and the bike were heading quickly towards the ground.  In my attempt to save myself and my dignity, I put out my left arm to break my fall. 

All I ended up breaking was my left wrist.

A trip to the emergency room confirmed that I would need to be in a cast for the next six weeks.  Since I didn’t end up with the purple bike, I chose a purple cast.  And for a while, I chose to feel very sorry for myself.

This took place on July 9th, 2007.  I wouldn’t be getting the cast off until the later part of August.  During the six weeks I’d be wearing my cast, we already had a vacation to a lake planned, but there would be no swimming or water sports for me.  Doing my usual activities one-handed was extremely frustrating, never mind painful for the first few weeks.  I soon found myself wishing for the time to go by quickly so I could just get this darn cast off and be back to normal.

The problem with that thinking was that on Aug. 12 our 18 year old son was leaving for college over 1000 miles away from home. So wishing away my time in my cast was also wishing away the last few weeks with our son at home. In order to enjoy the last few weeks with our son, I had to accept my cast and actually embrace that time as a sweet time with our family because I knew things were going to change drastically when he left.

That experience taught me that, not only do I not really want a bike, but also that I need to be content in the here and now no matter what my circumstances may be.  So many times I am so looking forward to “the next thing” that I overlook what is right in front of me. Yes, some days are better than others, but they all are a gift from God.

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

 

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Don’t Be Afraid, Just Believe

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Mark 5:35-36

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

These are the words Jesus spoke to a man whose daughter lay dying at home in her bed.  The man had sought Jesus out to beg Him to heal his precious child.  Just as word came that the girl had died, Jesus ignored what they said and told the man “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

As a parent, I can only imagine how that man felt at that moment.  He had a choice to make.  He could look at the reality that his child was dead and let his heart fall further and further into despair, or he could look at Jesus and accept His invitation not to be afraid and believe.

Jesus offers us the same choice every day as we live our lives in this fallen world.  We can look around us and see the reality that bad things do happen.  People get sick and sometimes die way too young.  Husbands get laid off. Wives have miscarriages.  Engagements get called off.  Friends betray us.  Teenagers make poor choices.

Jesus was able to tell Jairus not to be afraid in spite of the fact that his daughter had died because He knew what He was going to do.  He knew that before the end of that day, He was going to go to Jairus’ house and raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus knew the end of the story.

Jesus knows the end of our story, too.  He knows that for the Christian, death has already been conquered.  He knows that Jeremiah 29:11 is still true. ”For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”

I know that before this day is over, things will happen in my life and yours that could lead us to fear and despair. The same invitation Jesus gave to Jairus is offered to us.  Trust Him, don’t be afraid, and just believe that He has all situations under control.

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