A Life Pleasing to God

“And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

Three things the Father said of Jesus: You’re my Son.† I love you.† I am pleased with you.

By grace in faith, I am an adopted son.† God loves me.† I can not earn His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy or His salvation. (I say “His salvation” rather than ‘my’ because “salvation belongs to our God.”)† I have earned His judgment, His justice, and His wrath.

But is it wrong to live as though I can–through, by and with Him–earn His pleasure, by which I mean work towards His pleasure?† I know it is pleasing to Him for me to trust, hope, believe, submit, rely, etc.–all the generally passive stuff, though more active than we think.† We are so scared of “works righteousness,” though, that maybe we think (or maybe just I think) that exerting effort to “please” God implies we think we can earn righteousness through righteous behavior.

Now, pleasing God isn’t going to happen with just external behavior.† External behavior no matter how outwardly good can be displeasing to God if done out of selfish ambition, greed or pride.† It might be pleasing to God to the extent that it genuinely helps another or accomplishes good in the world, but it will never be well pleasing by itself.† And internal change, though pleasing to God, will remain shallow and incomplete if faith does not act in love and gratitude and therefore not well pleasing to God by itself.

That said, I want to live my life in such a way that God can say: “You are my adopted son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflections on a Yard Sale

Yes, I confess.† I used to dread our biannual church yard sales, which are always on a Saturday, but take two days to set-up.† A lot of my distaste for them was the pressure of time while raising kids, the neglect of my own home and yard that would still have to be made up, and the tedium.† Iíve noticed a gradual and growing shift in my attitude over the years, and while my reflections are fresh in my mind from our most recent one today, I thought Iíd share some of them.

We live in a consumption driven, acquisitively orientated society.† No doubt about it.† I lament it oftenójust ask my kidsówhile knowing full well I am implicated in it.† Itís tempting to look at all the donations we have at our yard sale and think ďWhat a shame.† All this stuff people acquire and discard.† We live in such a disposable society, buying stuff we donít need and then tossing it out.Ē

I used to do that, and maybe Iím just projecting onto others; maybe no one else looks at it that way.† Without a doubt thereís some truth to it.† I see it differently now, though.† I look around and I see a high chair parents used to feed their baby in.† I see couches people used to snuggle on as they rested at the end of the day.† I see kitchen tables that people used to fellowship around, pray around, laugh around and sustain themselves with daily bread.† I see toys and games a child once opened with delight under a Christmas tree or unwrapped for a birthday.† I see clothes that protected people and kept them warm or cool or dry as they worked, played, worshipped or even hurt, hungered and grieved.† I see exercise equipment that at least represented hope if not reality, cups that helped quench thirst, pictures that used to hang on walls and brighten a room and vases that held beautiful flowers that brightened a day.† I see books that educated, fascinated and entertained.

Itís all there, and more, much more.† Above it all I see love. †We all know that the most precious gifts we have to offer are not tangible.† But, being the frail creatures of the tangible world of sense that we are, when we freely and joyfully give tangible gifts to one another, we are able, by doing so, to also give them intangible gifts.

Not all, but some of the donations were once gifts given or received in love.† Some of them were probably things that used to belong to departed loved ones that their family is finally able to give away as they struggle to move through their grief.† Some of them were originally purchased as a way to care and provide for someoneís family.† Some were bought in hopes (perhaps misplaced, but who knows?) of being better people.† Some were bought to do good work, to better care for creation, to spend time in genuine activities of re-creation.† Some, yes even some, were probably bought wisely, on a budget, when something else nicer, better, lovelier, but more expensive, would have been preferred, but the person wanted to save more for generous, cheerful giving or necessary provision. ††And now they have given them away, in hopes that others may find some value in them, rather than toss it in a landfill.

Of course some of the stuff was unneeded, was charged with money one did not have, was bought in an attempt to satisfy a selfish desire, or was put to bad use, but not all, probably not most.† Many of the donations we had to offer were bought by people seeking to fulfill real needs or to give as the best gift they could to someone they dearly love, and maybe even to save money to give more to God or to others, and the donations helped them to do just that.

On yard sale weekends, our fellowship hall is packed with shared humanity: our memories, hopes, generosity, longings and love as well as our greed, acquisitiveness, envy, discontent and self-inflicted pain.† Itís packed with the image-bearers of God and the fallen, broken, prideful rebels those image-bearers have become.

And itís packed with another kind of humanity, too: the humanity of church family fellowshipping and serving.† I say serving because I believe most of the people who come are sincerely glad and genuinely needful of the things they buy, and knowing itís not ideal, it truly helps our church continue to serve and worship God.† It would be nice to not have to use the proceeds for the budget, to give it all away to Lutheran Services for the Aging or ELCA World Hunger or Disaster Relief, or to Synod benevolence, and thatís a good goal worth striving for and remaining mindful about, but God knows our frame; He knows our need; and He understands our fears and weaknesses.

Iím not willing to concretely say that we have not been faithful in giving.† I only know that I havenít always, so itís likely in the abstract that others have sometimes also not been as faithful as they should.† But this too I know:† God is always faithful, and He provides in our unfaithfulness without ever approving of it, always prompting us to more faithfulness and more generosity.† We need, nay, we must move towards that with the help of Godís grace and the power of His Spirit, but we must also give thanks to God for His provision now.

I also say fellowshipping because thereís a chance to get to talk to church family you may not get to talk to that often, the sharing of stories and memories, and even a good laugh or two.† Most get the chance to sit down and share a meal with someone.† Thereís also the natural fellowship of shared labor, which doesnít always include words, and the appreciation one gains for the willingness of others who do all the setting up and preparing.† To top it all off, itís intergenerational fellowship!

One also meets members of the community.† Some of the same people come year after year, and many of them will stop and talk if you give them an opening.† In the slow part of the afternoon this past Saturday, I spoke to a man who seemed hesitant to say more than hello, but I pressed a little and the next thing I knew we had a 20 minute conversation.

Itís a different world for me than it was 5-6 years ago when I begrudgingly started working at them.† Go to one sometime and see for yourself.† Bring a fresh pair of eyes.† They really help!

Perseverance, or What’s It All About Alfie?

Sometimes I think the harder you fight the more resistance there is such that more energy is expended to accomplish the same amount.† It’s like jogging 3 miles, but every time you increase your pace the wind blows back in equal proportion, so that you still only jog 3 miles, and you do it in the exact same amount of time, but you’re more worn out and exhausted at the end.

Even if you increase in strength and stamina from the extra exertion, so that each time you jog you can run faster and faster, the resistance is just going to increase proportionally. Like Sisyphus pushing that damn bolder up the hill every day.† You gotta know by the 1000th year of that he was exponentially stronger than when he started.† Didn’t matter.† Push rock up; rock rolls down (lather, rinse, repeat, buy more shampoo).

Of course the analogy breaks down because we don’t move a fixed distance, and what looks like getting nowhere builds character and hope (if we have eyes to see), but that is hard.† Especially when most people in your life only have a snapshot of you.† You come into their picture only regarding specific expectations and needs.† For them, those expectations must be met in full, to their standards, on their timelines, and are all high priority, front burner, world-ending-if-not-done-right-and-on-time issues, and your value to them is based on how well you meet those expectations, no matter how unrealistic, and they do not see the depth and density of your life, care what else you’re doing or about healthy balance.

Our lives are motion pictures but we see one another in still frames.

Let us now praise Crony Capitalism and its offspring: rapacious consumption, driven workaholism, false identity, burn out and debased culture.

“I believe in love, Alfie.† Without true love we just exist.”