Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Driving Like Jesus

It's been a while since I've blogged, and it's because I just started my graduate classes last week and am still adjusting to the new schedule and balancing a slew of responsibilities. My work week has been cut in half, but that just means I have to be even more efficient at work since I'm not there as much. After work, I have been trying to find time for working out and doing homework. I have classes 3 nights a week; Monday's class doesn't get out until 10:20 pm! And when I'm not on campus for one reason or another, I'm fulfilling my role as a wife--helping clean, cook, shop, take care of the pets, and of course spend quality time with the love of my life. And above all these things, I'm trying to keep God at the forefront where He belongs. I admit my time with God has decreased in the last week or so. The best I can say is that I plan to work on it, and I praise God that He has already forgiven me for this lull in faithfulness that I'm showing. While I haven't been studying the Word or spending time in meditative prayer as often as I would like, I can still say that God has been on my mind and heart. In just about every thing I've done, I've thought about it in light of my Christianity. I've found that since my salvation, and even more in times that I have drawn closer to the Lord, my Christian lense for viewing life gets more and more clear. I find that God uses even the tiniest things in my life to teach me something or to make me wonder about something--which in turns draws me back to Him for answers.

Since moving to Portal (about 20 minutes outside of town), I've been driving a lot more lately. I make the 20 minute drive to and from Statesboro just about every day, either for work/class or for church. Saturday is the only day I don't have to go there, but there's usually some reason to do it anyway. I don't mind the drive, it's actually kind of nice to have time to think and focus before going somewhere. When I lived 5 minutes from work, I would push it until the very last minute and spend those 5 minutes sweating, tapping the steering wheel, and checking the clock. This automatically made my entry into work a less pleasant one. Now I allow for the time and can empty myself, talk to God, listen to music, or just zone out (as safely as possible!) before starting another busy day. My only complaint with the driving is the crowd. This year we have 20,000 students at Georgia Southern and they're out in full force! If they're not driving on the roads, they're riding their bikes, walking, running, etc... And all this driving, and all these people, it really got me thinking about our driving attitudes. What kind of people are we when we get behind the wheel?
Here's what I have gathered about myself and other people I've seen drive. We lose our patience much more easily than in other circumstances. Suddenly getting where we're going is the most important thing in our lives and any delays are devastating! If you're walking behind someone who is going too slow, you don't usually walk super close to them until they have the sense to move out of your way. But that's what we do when we drive. And we pair that action with frustrated words or sounds. We groan, sigh, growl...we say things like, "What is this idiot doing?" Some of us say worse things than that. If someone cuts us off, we may shout obscenities, use vulgar gestures, lay on the horn, or if nothing else, we steam on the inside with anger. From what I can tell, most of us become totally different people with different values when we're driving. Not always, but we're almost like time bombs when we're driving...we aren't always crazy, but it could start at any minute. It's like we forget who we are and we forget that people driving around us are people and not just inanimate cars. We may strive to exhibit and embody the fruit of the spirit in our lives, but that is not necessarily evident when we drive. How often do we show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control when we're driving? I feel like patience is often the first to go and the rest just follow along right after. Why do we do that? Does our Christian lifestyle pause when we get in a car? Maybe we don't think about it because road rage is so common and accepted by the world...but so are most of the sins that we try to avoid. Maybe it's because there are no teachings on driving in the Bible, maybe because Jesus himself didn't drive. But I would think (and I got this bit from Carl, who is the leader of the GSU Wesley Foundation), if Jesus came in an era of driving, He certainly would have driven. So, it's that question we should always be asking ourselves: what would Jesus do? If Jesus were driving, how would He drive? Would he transform into a frustrated, angry, impatient, and agressive person when He was driving? I seriously doubt it.

So, to deal with the admittedly frustrating task of all this driving around all these people, I have decided to remind myself that I am a Christian at ALL times. So, I should be acting like Christ. And He would drive with all the Fruit of the Spirit. He would love others enough to not be a rude or aggressive driver towards them, and He would be merciful and loving enough to forgive those who were rude and aggressive towards Him. He would not let worry and anxiety consume Him. If we find ourselves becoming someone we don't like when driving, I suggest turning down the radio, taking a breath, and talking to God. Driving is a great time to pray (with your eyes OPEN!), and I've found it really helps me to drive like Jesus!

"Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." Leviticus 19:18

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Good, Goodness, and Getting into Heaven

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22

I'm a big fan of the Fruit of the Spirit. I know that's a weird thing to say. What Christian isn't? But I really enjoy studying it and praying over it. Today I was thinking about it, and goodness popped out at me. Usually I think about the first bit--love, joy, peace, and patience. I often pray for those, seek those, and wish those upon others. Goodness I never give much thought to. But, in my opinion, it might be the most difficult one to understand. It's kind of vague isn't it? I mean, how often do we use the word good? All the time! "How are you?" "I'm good." "How was your trip?" "It was good." "This burger is so good!" "Good game!" "Good morning!" And the examples could go on and on. So what does it mean to have goodness? And while I was wondering this, I started to think about the claim, or complaint, people often have about "getting into heaven." I've heard many people say, "I don't know if he was a Christian, but he was a really good person. I'm sure he's in Heaven now." Other people, who have heard that you can only go to Heaven through Jesus, have gotten angry and argued that claim with, "If God is so good, how can he send good people to Hell just because they don't believe in Jesus?" And I think the answer to both of these questions, regarding fruit of the spirit and getting to Heaven, can be answered by carefully considering and studying what the word "good" or "goodness" actually means. So, that's what I did.

First of all, the English word good actually stems from the word god. There's a reason for this. The Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) gives us some definitions of good. Some of these include right, suitable, fulfilling expectation and purpose, bringing about a benefit or blessing towards another, holy, and Godly. So, if you think about it, when you say something is good, you usually mean that it is satisfying; it fulfilled it's purpose or your expectation of it. If you say a vacation was good, you mean that you expected it to be a certain way (fun, relaxing, etc...) and it met those expectations. If you've found a good doctor, you mean that the doctor fulfills the purpose and expectations held for that job description. Makes sense. Now the benefit or blessing part makes sense, too. A "good person" is usually someone who does nice things, tries not to be hurtful towards others, and helps people. Most of us think of that when we say someone is "good." These people are benefitting or blessing others by their actions. Okay, next up--holy, Godly, or "of God." The actual origin of "Good day" or "Good morning" meant "God be with ye." So, it was as if you were saying "God be with you this day/morning/night/evening, etc..." The phrase "my goodness!" or "Oh, goodness!" was actually started to replace the word "God" so as not to use His name in vain. Does it make it right? That's another discussion! More examples..."the good book" is the Bible, or more specifically The Holy Bible. Bible is latin for "book." So, "the good book" is actually a trasnlation of "The Holy Bible;" it's not just saying it's a decent read! "Gospel" is actually translated as "good news." You may have also heard of "good tidings." This is all refering to the announcement of the salvation through Jesus and the coming kingdom of God. In other words, the news of God.

Okay, so we have a solid idea of what the word "good" means and how it's often used. So, then, what does it mean to have "goodness" as part of the Fruit of the Spirit? In other words, what does it mean to be a "good" person in the eyes of God? Well, it means to be God-like. To have the qualities and characteristics of God. To be Holy. To benefit and bless others. And to be exceptable and pleasing to God, fulfilling His purpose for you in His kingdom. And what are these characteristics of God? Well, it's the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." I've found in my studies and talks with God, that the Fruit of the Spirit is one thing. My pastor once explained this saying, "that's why Paul says 'the fruit of the Spirit is' not 'the fruits of the Spirit are.'" This means you can't have one without having them all. It's a package deal. They're all connected and you can't fully understand one without considering another. We've all heard "love is patient, love is kind..." Paul uses patience and kindness to describe love. And in the same way, I would use all the other fruits to describe goodness. So, to have goodness is to have all these other fruits--the attributes of God himself. It also means to be holy. In order to be holy we must have the Holy Spirit living within us. We only have this because Jesus came and died on the cross. He did this not only to cover our sin and save us from death, but to give us the Holy Spirit so that we have a living God inside of us, growing fruits and working in our lives. So, the Holy Spirit inside of us (meaning, we are Christians) is what grows goodness within us. Good people bless and benefit others. They are kind, loving, and patient towards others. You cannot be good without these actions because it's part of what being good is. This is why faith without works is dead, but I digress... And lastly, if you have goodness you are meeting the standards of God. You are exceptable to Him and are fulfilling His purpose for you. God's standards are nothing short of perfection. His standards are for you to be like Him.

This brings me to my next point. Why do "good" people go to Hell? Well, the short answer is--they don't. But if you know me, you know I'm going to give you the long answer, too! Bearing in mind what we just discussed as the definition of goodness, we have to recognize the impossibility of it. We all know that humans aren't perfect. We're definitely not like God. We sin, we make mistakes, we have impure thoughts and desires. We're not always going to exhibits all those other fruits. We become angry, we're unkind, we lose self-control, we're demanding, greedy, and impatient. The list of our imperfections goes on and on. No one can claim to be completely perfect by their own will. But these are the standards that God has set for going to Heaven. You must be like Him! You thereby must be perfect! But we can't be. That's why we need Jesus. Jesus has interceded for us and taken the wrath of God for us. Now justice for our sins has been met. It's just that we aren't being punished for them, Jesus was. As a saved Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. The Holy Spirit grows the Fruit of the Spirit in us and it becomes evident in our lives. This is where the goodness comes in. God lives within us, growing us towards perfection. We are forgiven for the mistakes and we're being pushed towards the standard of perfection, always growing closer and closer. Growing in goodness is becoming more and more spiritually mature--that is, more and more like God. To have goodness is to have the other fruits of the Spirit, and to be actively fulfilling our purposes by building and benefitting the Kingdom of God. We are gaining His holiness, thereby meeting His expectations of perfection and being truly "good." So, if that's what it means to be good, then if you aren't a Christian, if you don't believe in Jesus as the risen savior, if you don't have the Holy Spirit living in you and working in you, then you are NOT good.

Now, people may be good by the world's standards. The world's standards are far lower than God's. We're okay with lying, cheating, sexual immorality, alcoholism, drug addictions, and so on. We may say someone is good because they always seem nice. Or they may even be involved in charities and help a bunch of people. But without Jesus, they simply are not good enough. Good enough for the world maybe, but not for God. And Galatians 6:7 says, "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." If people got into Heaven based on our standards of goodness it would be like saying it doesn't matter what God wants or believes. We think it's good enough so we're coming on in! No. We cannot mock God. When it comes down to it, He is more powerful and greater than any of us. His standards are perfection and that's what counts. And since none of us fallen creatures are capable of perfection, we can only get to Heaven through Jesus. And while this may anger some, let me assure you, this is GOOD news! He has saved us from our helpless states and is giving us eternal life through Jesus! Let us rejoice and embrace that love and mercy and grace! Hallelujah! God IS good; and He is growing goodness in me! And through the blood of Christ I am going to heaven! Amen!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Money's Just a Number

Today Scott and I paid bills. We balanced our checkbook, and set to writing various checks and paying several online bills. As I wrote my checks, clicked "submit payment," and subtracted the amounts from our checking account total I thought of how it seemed like nothing more than a math problem. Our total increased when I added in our paychecks on Friday, and now it was quickly decreasing. I was adding and subtracting. I was typing in numbers on a website and clicking "ok." I was signing sheets of paper with numbers written on them. Never once in any of this did I touch cash. We rarely use cash and when we do, I consider it play money. I almost feel like it doesn't count when I spend cash. Oh, goody, I have a dollar in my wallet! I'll buy a coke!
I realized in all of this that money is really nothing more than a number. It's not really an exchange of any sort, it's just changing around the numbers in various accounts. I looked at my online account for my student loans, and briefly thought how it seemed like an awful lot of money, but I quickly dismissed the fact. It's just a number that we're gradually subtracting from. Eventually it'll be gone. It will probably take a long time, but eventually the number will be zero. And in that moment I realized how insignificant money really is. It's just a number.

I started thinking about how much we let money rule us. God warns us against this several times in the Bible, and for good reason! It's extrememly difficult to not let money rule your decisions. So much of the world seems to run on money and you need it for almost everything. People decide where to live based on money, when to get married, where to go to school, what career to choose, how many kids to have, what to eat, what to wear, what to drive, how much to give....the list goes on and on. So, how do we regard it? How do we biblically approach the concept of money? I think it's something that we all struggle with--believers and unbelievers alike.

Before continuing, I must admit that this is all a hodge-podge of ideas in my head right now, and I should probably take some time to plan this out so that it's more coherenent and thorough, but because this is a blog and only a handful of people will read it anyway, I'm jumping right in!

First of all, we are told that we should not love money and that we cannot serve both money and God:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will love the one and hate the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth." Matthew 6:24
"keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have." Hebrews 13:5

We immediately throw up our defenses, don't we? "I don't love money! I'm just being practical!" "What am I supposed to do? Just not pay my bills and go to church all day?" It's hard in this world where we're expected to pretty much live to make money (working) and spend money (the fun times...when we aren't working). Of course we need to pay our bills and we do have to work in order to do that. And no we shouldn't go spending our money all willy-nilly making crazy claims like "money's just a number!" ;-) But seriously, where is the line?

And I think the sin comes not from the money itself. There is nothing evil about paper money, nothing evil about checks, debit cards, or credit cards either. I used to be scared to get a credit card. I had heard so many horror stories of college students going into major debt. It wasn't until I finally broke down and got one that I realized the card didn't make you go into debt, it was your mentality towards the card. Some people see the card as endless magic money that gets them things they otherwise couldn't have. So, they charge up a bunch of debt and later blame the card. But the card didn't make them do it, their thoughts about the card did. And money in itself isn't evil and it doesn't make us slaves to it, it's our mentality about it.

It's the love of money that is a sin. It's the fact that desiring money and stressing out about money CONSUMES us! It completely takes our focus and trust off of God, which is really the problem with all sin. So many people are scared to do anything because of money. They won't give to others or the church because they're afraid they'll run out of money they need for themselves. They completely disregard the point that if we're faithfully giving, God will provide for us. Some will stay in jobs they hate, jobs where they aren't fulfilling the potential God created them for, simply because they make good money. And even if they aren't doing it because they claim to love money, they may be doing it because they feel like they need the money to survive. This fear/desire associated with money prevents them from taking a leap of faith and trusting in God to guide them and provide for them accordingly. And as I've said before, if we're stressed about money we don't have, we're essentially saying God isn't able to provide what I need in life. And I admit, it's definitely a challenge when funds are low to stay calm and trust in God to pull you through. But if you talk to God about it, and spend time in His word, you are guaranteed to feel better about it...no matter how challenging it is for you: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ." Philippians 4:6-7 It may seem impossible to you to not let money get you down, but God promises that, though it's hard for you to understand or fathom, He will give you peace if you talk to Him about it.

And if you are always looking for money you will never be satisfied: "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless." Ecclesiastes 5:10. Not only will you always be left wanting more, but should you end up in a challenging financial situation, you will be left devasted, anxious, and afraid. Those who trust in God know that He is bigger than money and will take care of us.

After all, if God can create the entire world and set it into motion, change a sinner's heart, heal diseases, and on and on and on because we believers know nothing is beyond God, then how is it so hard to believe that He can control money? After all....it's just a number.
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