#tbt – Good to the last drop!

(Originally written 8/28/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22,23)

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.  They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.  The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Psa 14:1-3)

Goodness is one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit that I’ve found difficult to understand, thus the lateness of this next installment.  One of the toughest things to wrap my mind around is that, if we’re to take the Bible as truth (which I do), we are to believe that a person who doesn’t follow God is incapable of being good.  But, how can that be?  We all know of many people who are atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans who do good deeds.  There are many philanthropists who want nothing to do with Christianity.  So, how can the Bible claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in and follow God is not good?

See, this used to be a sticking point for me before I became a Christian.  I saw myself as a good person.  I hadn’t killed anybody, I tried to be nice to people, and, sure, I told the occasional lie, but that didn’t make me a bad person, did it?

My problem was that I was comparing myself to other people.  I put myself somewhere in between Hitler and Mother Teresa, as a lot of us probably do.  What we don’t realize is that, being judged under the goodness of God, our goodness accounts for nothing.  This point was brought home to me by an effective illustration.  This girl was on a farm and happened to see a sheep.  She was amazed at how white the sheep’s wool was.  At that moment, it started to snow, and when she saw the wool compared to the pure whiteness of the snow, she saw how dingy and gray the sheep really was.  That’s how we compare ourselves.  We look at each other and measure ourselves against each other’s goodness.  “Well, we’re better than our neighbors, who yell at their kids all day long.”  “I’m better than my coworker, who cheats on his timesheet.”  Here’s the thing.  There is none that does good.  No, not one.  Suppose I handed you two glasses of water.  I told you one of them only had a cup of mud mixed in it, while the other had four cups of mud mixed in.  Which would you drink?  I know I would drink neither and go look for some pure water.  Well, we all have some mud in us.  None of us is pure.  Every one of us has sinned.  If you’ve told a lie, if you’ve lusted after someone else, if you’ve hated another person, those are all sins.  How many good deeds can you do to counteract those actions?  How much water can you add to muddy water to get rid of the mud?  You can dilute the mud, but the mud will still be there.

So, if there is none good, how can we possibly cultivate goodness as Christians?  Well, that’s the amazing thing.  Jesus forgives us of ALL of our sins.  He takes the mud out of our lives and makes our water clean and pure again.  Unfortunately, since we’re all human, we will stumble, we will sin, and our waters will get muddy again and again.  But Jesus is patient with us and He’s willing to continue to make us clean.  Some people take this as license to sin continually, since all their sins will be covered.  But that is absolutely wrong.  As true Christians, as people who have devoted their lives to Jesus, as people who daily take up their cross, the last thing they would want to do is sin, because they know the price that was paid for their salvation, their freedom from the bondage of sin.  Why would anyone willingly put the shackles of bondage back on?

One of the most important distinctions about the goodness of the world and the goodness of the Spirit is the intent behind it.  People of the world do good things in order to buy their way into heaven.  They think that if they do more good than bad, they will be accepted.  The question that brings up is, how many good deeds does it take to erase a bad deed?  And who’s keeping score?  And how does one know for sure that their scorecard has them on the winning team?

Christians do good deeds because it’s what Jesus wants them to do.  They don’t need to earn their way to heaven; the ticket has already been paid.

I know these are generalities, and there are plenty of Christians who still try to earn their way into heaven, unwilling to trust that the grace of Christ is sufficient, just as there are some non-Christians who do good deeds for the sake of the good deed.  But it’s the bad deeds that will send them to hell, no matter how good they try to be.

Want to see how good you are?  There’s a test at www.needgod.com.  See how well you do.

#tbt — Gentle on My Mind

(Originally written 8/12/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Gal 5:22,23

Gentlenesss — to be gentle is to be considerate and kindly in disposition, according to dictionary.com. It’s a good biblical definition as well. The Greek word chrestotes – the word for gentleness – is defined as kindness and goodness. The word gentleness appears only four times in the Bible, twice in the Old Testament, and twice in the New Testament. 2 Samuel 22:36 says, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great.” David is speaking after he has been rescued from Saul’s clutches. His song is repeated in Psalm 18:35. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Incredible words, but what’s even more incredible is that every Christian, every child of God, can say those same words. It is God’s gentleness, His kindness, that allows all of us to come to Him, to come to the cross, ask for His forgiveness, and, more importantly, to be granted that forgiveness. The third appearance of the word is in 2 Corinthians 10:1, which says, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:” Again, it refers to the gentleness of our Lord and Savior. But what, exactly, does it mean? How do we exhibit gentleness in our lives as proof of the Holy Spirit within us? There are a couple of excellent descriptions in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 says, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.”So, one aspect of gentleness is to care for people as you would care for your children. 2 Timothy 2:24, 25 says, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” The servant of the Lord must not strive. To strive means to quarrel, fight, argue. So, another aspect of gentleness is not getting involved in conflict. That just means with our friends, right? Can’t we still argue with the people we don’t get along with? No. “But be gentle to all.” Even those who cause us grief. Family, co-workers, people who cut us off in traffic. We know we can’t do that on our own. We would like nothing more than to argue about everything. It is human nature to be combative, and it’s only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can allow ourselves to be gentle toward each other. So, what can I do to ensure I’m bearing fruit in this aspect? I can think twice before getting into an argument with someone. I know there will be times when conflict will be inevitable and at those times I will have to make sure I remember to do all I do in love, showing the gentleness to others that Jesus shows to me. Will it be easy? Not always. Will it be possible? Absolutely, as long as I rely on the strength of my Creator and Savior to guide my steps.

#tbt – Patience is a Virtue…

(Originally written 8/5/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

Longsuffering. This is one study I’ve been dreading doing. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been tested on every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit I’ve studied so far, and I was not looking forward to my test in long-suffering.

The Greek word for long-suffering is makrothymia, and it’s defined as patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action. Out of the seventeen times longsuffering is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, ten refer to the patience of God. Four times God’s mercy is tied in with his long-suffering. It’s because He is merciful that He is patient with us. His longsuffering appears throughout the Bible. Many times God was ready to pour his wrath on people who justly deserved it, but his mercy stayed his hand, sometimes temporarily, and sometimes permanently.

1 Peter 3:20 mentions how “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” God intended to destroy the earth and its entire people, for they had become ungodly, partaking in immoral practices. Genesis 6:5 says, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). The Lord stayed His hand for one hundred and twenty years, waiting for Noah to build the ark that would save him and his family.I cant imagine waiting one hundred twenty minutes to do something I want to do, much less one hundred twenty years. Long-suffering – patience – is definitely something I struggle with, along with just about everyone else in the world. This is a rush-rush world, gotta have it now, a minute from now it will be too late. We are a society that needs microwave instructions for Pop-Tarts! We have instant coffee that can be ready in mere moments, fast food drive-thrus so we dont even need to get out of our cars to get food, which, by the way, never really seems to be fast, and can sometimes only barely be called food. Credit cards ensure we never have to wait to get the latest gadget, the 60-inch plasma TV we just have to have. We can’t wait till we can afford to pay for it straight out, because by then, the newest model will be out and we will need to get that one!

We are a society that can’t wait for a webpage to load up on a dial-up service. We need to have DSL – no, wait, too slow, make mine cable! (And yes, I’m guilty of this one. That status bar that shows the progress when a webpage is loading is the bane of my existence!) And heaven forbid there are more than three people in front of you in a line at a store. You’re going to have to spend maybe an extra five minutes waiting in line! About the only place where this rule doesn’t seem to apply is at Disney World. People willingly stand in line for over an hour in order to get on a five-minute ride. As one of those people who do that on a regular basis, it’s amazing to me that you never see the people in this line get frustrated or angry. Most people are talking with friends or family and just enjoying the experience. That might be a good attitude to take with you when you are waiting at the bank. Talk to the person behind you, enjoy the momentary break from having to rush anywhere.

So, as Christians, one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, one way you know that you’re heading in the right direction in your spiritual growth, is if you develop patience, if you can exhibit self-control in order to delay an action. In this day and age, that could seem nearly impossible. But of course, nothing’s impossible with God. I’ve had to ask myself how patient, how long-suffering I am. Compared to before I was a Christian, I can tell I’ve grown by leaps and bounds, but by no means have I got the patience thing down yet. I hate waiting, I struggle with self-control, and I find myself in situations I shouldn’t be in. So, does that mean I’ve fallen out of the will of God when that happens? I don’t think so. God is merciful, and He is the ultimate in long-suffering and patience. And if He can be patient with me as I fall headlong into trouble, how can I not be patient with people who stumble across my path? If God is willing to wait for me to get my act together, how can I not be willing to wait on someone in my life who’s making a scene? Our patience is tested daily, whether by someone who cuts us off in traffic or by the person in front of us in the line who can’t seem to make up his mind whether he should go for the Big Mac or the Quarter Pounder. Remember, every single one of those trials is a good thing. Romans 5:3-5 says “We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope, and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

For those long-suffering folks who read this entire blog, I salute you, and I’m glad I was able to help you work patience, experience and hope. God bless you all.

#tbt – Vizualize whirled peas…

(Originally written 7/31/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

Okay, so it’s been a while since I last blogged about the fruit of the Spirit, but it seems every time I’m about to write on one, I get challenges in my life that test the fruit which I’m studying. It was no different with peace. The last week has been anything but peaceful. My mind has been a jumble of thoughts and emotions, and peace has been the furthest thing from my mind.
Continue reading #tbt – Vizualize whirled peas…

#tbt – Joy. It’s not just a dishwashing liquid!

(Originally written 7/20/06)

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. Psa. 51:12

This was going to be a theoretical discussion about joy, but I’m beginning to see that God is going to use this study as a way to test me as well.  I’ve already been tested on love.  I’ve had to come face to face with what I consider to be love, what I do to show that love, and I come up woefully short of the mark.  As I mentioned before, I grew up disconnected from other people, so I didn’t really know what it was like to forge loving bonds until much later in life.  And even to this day, I still think that is one of the toughest things I deal with.  And, of course, since I really don’t understand love here on earth, it makes it that much harder to understand God’s love, an unconditional love that never asks for anything, and yet gives everything.  A love that will always be there, no matter what.  When the love I see and feel here on earth is so fleeting, it’s just hard to grasp the concept of self-sacrificing love, agape.  So, I’m working on it.
Which brings me to joy.  I’m always big on saying I may not always be happy, but I’m always joyful.  The joy is from knowing I’m saved, knowing that my future is secure.  But, just like David, I’ve let the worries of the world steal my joy.  I’ve let trivialities knock me down, forcing me to take my eyes off God.  And if I’m not focusing on God, I forget the reason why I do all that I do.  I’m reminded of Peter, when he walked on water.  As long as he focused on Jesus, he was safe from the storm, but as soon as he concentrated on the storm, he lost faith, was afraid, and fell into the water.  The cool thing about it is that Jesus was right there to pull him up, just like He’s there to pull us all up out of the crashing waves.
David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan for the sins he’d committed.  There was no question that, although David broke every commandment, he was still saved.  But, he was no longer joyful.  He’d let the world intrude into his relationship with God.  Instead of looking to the heavens toward his Creator, he chose to look down to earth where Bathsheba bathed.  I’ve been looking down at the earth for too long.  I’ve forgotten that nothing here on earth matters if I’m not focused on Jesus, on my Creator, my Savior, my King.
Joy is not happiness.  Happiness depends on current circumstances.  Something good happens, you’re happy.  Something bad happens, you’re not happy.  But being joyful is completely different.  1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Rejoice evermore.”  Always be joyful?  How’s that possible?  Things go wrong, life takes a nasty turn, how can you be joyful in times like that?  That’s where happiness and joy are different.  You can be joyful and not be happy.  Happiness is the temporary state, joy is the eternal state.  Can you be happy and not joyful?  Absolutely.  But it’s an empty happiness, almost an echo of happiness and not the real thing.
You can lose your joy.  David did.  Any time you take your eyes off the prize, you lose sight of your goal.  My goal is heaven, and eternal unity with the Lord Jesus.  I forget that goal in pursuit of earthly goals: a good job, a wife, the next good book or TV show or movie.  Those things can make you happy, but they cannot bring you eternal joy like God can.
I’ve been acting a lot like David lately and I realize this.  I know I have sinned and fallen far short of where I should be.  I’ve let my joy wither while I concentrated on the elusive pursuit of happiness which, while a constitutional right, is not as fulfilling or satisfying as the pursuit of joy.  Today, I pray like David did, Lord, restore unto me the joy of my salvation, remind me of the important things, help me to walk the path You have set for me, no matter the price, no matter the consequences.  I’m ready to go wherever You need me, whenever You need me there.  Restore my heart, and allow me to appreciate Your love for me, how deep and eternal and unchanging it is.  Holy Spirit, fill me with joy, fill me with wisdom, guide me today and every day.  Jesus, help me to be more like you, help me to keep the old man dead and buried.  Amen.

Fear Knot

It’s been about a week since I’ve returned from Europe, and I’ve got lots to talk about. But before I get into that, there’s another subject I wanted to discuss – fear.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’ve spent most of my life afraid. When I was younger, I was afraid of everything. I was shy – a nicer term for afraid – and had trouble talking to people, especially girls. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was afraid of looking like a fool. I was afraid of rejection. When I almost drowned, I became afraid of water. I wanted to be an author/artist/celebrity, but I was afraid of failing. Paradoxically, I was also afraid of succeeding. I was afraid of – and still am afraid of – snakes. Actually, most wild animals, I suppose. I was born and raised in a big city, so wilderness definitely scares me. I’d much rather face a crowded city street than a desolate forest trail. By the same token, I was raised to be afraid of getting mugged or attacked in a city environment. In short, I spent most of my life in fear. Afraid to die, and afraid to live. I built myself a comfortable box, and I stayed in it for a long time. While the box has gotten bigger as I’ve gotten more comfortable with some changes, it’s still a box. I have overcome my fear of water, even though I still can’t swim. I’ve mostly overcome my fear of talking to strangers, although I still can get a little tongue-tied around women. I’ve opened myself up to new experiences, especially since my last birthday, which is when the whole “Jax out of the Box” experiment began. But, I learned that I still have plenty I fear. The week before I was supposed to go to Europe, a part of me was hoping that plans would fall through, because the thought of going to a whole new continent was very scary. If my flight attendant friend wasn’t going to be able to get me on a flight, or if my boss wouldn’t be able to schedule my time off, well, then, at least I could say I tried to go, and things just didn’t work out. There was so much to be afraid of. What if something happened to the planes? What if I got robbed? What if I couldn’t figure out how to get around? What if I got stranded? What if I couldn’t access my money?

And yet, none of those things happened. That reminds me of the saying that F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. That is so true. We fear things that, very often, never come to pass. I’ve heard many pastors say that the Bible says “Fear not” 365 times, one for each day of the year, as a daily reminder. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, having never counted them myself. (And what about Leap Year? Are we allowed to be afraid on February 29th? In that case, I had reason to be afraid about the upcoming Europe trip!) But I do know there are plenty of times the Bible does tell us to have no fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Hebrews 13:6 states, “The Lord [is] my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” And my favorite: “The LORD [is] my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD [is] the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) One night, when the apostles were on a boat and saw Jesus walking toward them, they thought he was a spirit and were afraid. Jesus responded, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) Peter went from fear to trust, enough trust to step out of the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus.

Once the airline tickets to Europe were purchased, though, my fear became something else. Yes, I was still nervous, but I was also beginning to look forward to the trip. A friend of a friend posted something on Facebook which I’d never heard before, but really liked. She posted that “the only difference between fear and excitement is your attitude about it.” As far as the Europe trip, that proved true. Once I changed my attitude from worrying about what can go wrong to thinking what an amazing opportunity this was going to be, the fear was gone, and it was replaced with excitement. I took a giant leap out of the box, and I got to experience so many wonders that would not have come to pass had I let my fear take over.

I know from experience how hard it is sometimes to let go of the fear. But if we never let go of that fear and step out of that boat, or that box, we may miss out on some amazing experiences. I came close to postponing, or even canceling, my travel plans, but, after the wonderful time I had, I’m glad I felt the fear and did it anyway. How about you? Is there something you might be missing out on because of fear? “Fear not.”

Back from Hiatus

A little less than six months ago, an idea was born. I was about to celebrate my 43rd birthday, and I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone, to step out of my box, and to embrace new experiences. During the first six months, I got quite a few experiences. I tried out for several shows, and actually was on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I got to spend a week in New York as a tourist. I got to see myself on national television. I tried new food, although that one did not go so well. I took a painting class. In short, I would say the first six months of JOOTB were quite successful, and if my life were a TV show, we would just now be done with the winter hiatus and moving into the second half of the season. Now that I have a little “funding”, the experiences should be more frequent and hopefully more ratings-worthy. Some of the things I’m hoping to accomplish include: traveling to a foreign country, learning to swim, and taking cooking, dancing, and photography classes. (not all at the same time-although that would make for quite an interesting class…) Between moving, working, and studying, I haven’t given myself any time for new experiences lately. That will soon change. By the end of this month, I will have finished packing and moving (yet again!) and will be comfortably settled for the foreseeable future. And in just five weeks, I will be graduating with a Bachelors degree, which will free up a huge chunk of my time. But I’m not waiting. The out-of-the-box experiences will begin anew as of tomorrow.
Starting tomorrow, I will be taking kickboxing classes, three times a week, at six in the morning. For those who know me and know how much I LOVE my sleep, this is extremely out of the box. I found a personal trainer who will hopefully be able to get me on the right track as far as getting fit and losing weight goes. Some of the things I would like to experience require a smaller me. For instance, skydiving and horseback riding. I’ve let myself go for too long, and it’s time to reclaim myself, body, mind and soul.
Speaking of soul, one piece of unfinished business from the first half of the “season” is my thoughts on the fruits of the Spirit. I left off with my old blog on goodness, and I have not been able to get back to that. I will finish those soon, as well.
So, to recap, JOOTB is back, with – More Action! More Adventure! More Alliteration! So, step out of that box and join me, won’t you?

Good to the last drop! – 8/28/06

As my long-time (and maybe even my short-time!) readers know, I’ve been spending the last few weeks revisiting a study I had done on the fruits of the Spirit five years ago, and comparing my thoughts back then with my thoughts now. Here, for your reading pleasure, is my blog on goodness from 2006.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22,23)

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.  They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.  The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Psa 14:1-3)

Goodness is one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit that I’ve found difficult to understand, thus the lateness of this next installment.  One of the toughest things to wrap my mind around is that, if we’re to take the Bible as truth (which I do), we are to believe that a person who doesn’t follow God is incapable of being good.  But, how can that be?  We all know of many people who are atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans who do good deeds.  There are many philanthropists who want nothing to do with Christianity.  So, how can the Bible claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in and follow God is not good?

See, this used to be a sticking point for me before I became a Christian.  I saw myself as a good person.  I hadn’t killed anybody, I tried to be nice to people, and, sure, I told the occasional lie, but that didn’t make me a bad person, did it?

My problem was that I was comparing myself to other people.  I put myself somewhere in between Hitler and Mother Teresa, as a lot of us probably do.  What we don’t realize is that, being judged under the goodness of God, our goodness accounts for nothing.  This point was brought home to me by an effective illustration.  This girl was on a farm and happened to see a sheep.  She was amazed at how white the sheep’s wool was.  At that moment, it started to snow, and when she saw the wool compared to the pure whiteness of the snow, she saw how dingy and gray the sheep really was.  That’s how we compare ourselves.  We look at each other and measure ourselves against each other’s goodness.  “Well, we’re better than our neighbors, who yell at their kids all day long.”  “I’m better than my coworker, who cheats on his timesheet.”  Here’s the thing.  There is none that does good.  No, not one.  Suppose I handed you two glasses of water.  I told you one of them only had a cup of mud mixed in it, while the other had four cups of mud mixed in.  Which would you drink?  I know I would drink neither and go look for some pure water.  Well, we all have some mud in us.  None of us is pure.  Every one of us has sinned.  If you’ve told a lie, if you’ve lusted after someone else, if you’ve hated another person, those are all sins.  How many good deeds can you do to counteract those actions?  How much water can you add to muddy water to get rid of the mud?  You can dilute the mud, but the mud will still be there.

So, if there is none good, how can we possibly cultivate goodness as Christians?  Well, that’s the amazing thing.  Jesus forgives us of ALL of our sins.  He takes the mud out of our lives and makes our water clean and pure again.  Unfortunately, since we’re all human, we will stumble, we will sin, and our waters will get muddy again and again.  But Jesus is patient with us and He’s willing to continue to make us clean.  Some people take this as license to sin continually, since all their sins will be covered.  But that is absolutely wrong.  As true Christians, as people who have devoted their lives to Jesus, as people who daily take up their cross, the last thing they would want to do is sin, because they know the price that was paid for their salvation, their freedom from the bondage of sin.  Why would anyone willingly put the shackles of bondage back on?

One of the most important distinctions about the goodness of the world and the goodness of the Spirit is the intent behind it.  People of the world do good things in order to buy their way into heaven.  They think that if they do more good than bad, they will be accepted.  The question that brings up is, how many good deeds does it take to erase a bad deed?  And who’s keeping score?  And how does one know for sure that their scorecard has them on the winning team?

Christians do good deeds because it’s what Jesus wants them to do.  They don’t need to earn their way to heaven; the ticket has already been paid.

I know these are generalities, and there are plenty of Christians who still try to earn their way into heaven, unwilling to trust that the grace of Christ is sufficient, just as there are some non-Christians who do good deeds for the sake of the good deed.  But it’s the bad deeds that will send them to hell, no matter how good they try to be.

Want to see how good you are?  There’s a test at www.needgod.com.  See how well you do.

Gentle Pen

There’s nothing like taking a good long look in the mirror to really see the areas you might be lacking in. These last few weeks, I’ve been doing just that in revisiting Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” So far, I’ve examined how much love, joy, peace and long-suffering there is in my life and, I hate to admit it, but it’s not as much as I would have hoped. Of course, that should go without saying. Until the day I die, I will always be trying to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, gentle, good, faithful, meek and temperate. And I will succeed on some days better than others. I found, though, that gentleness may be one of the traits I most need to work on. I discovered that, when put to the test, my first response to most people is to be sarcastic and cutting – a far cry from gentleness. I know that I developed my sarcasm as a defense mechanism when I was younger, but the question put before me is, does sarcasm have any place in my life now that I’m an adult? I looked up the definition of sarcasm and found it is defined as “harsh or bitter derision or irony” and a “sneering or cutting remark.” It is derived from the Greek word “sarcasmos”, meaning “to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.” Harsh, bitter, sneering? Tearing flesh? Those are not words that should be used to describe my Christian walk. And yet, I find myself constantly opening my mouth and “tearing flesh”. Some would say, me included before this past week, that sarcasm is harmless fun and a form of humor. In some cases, it can be. Saying “lovely weather” when it’s storming out is sarcasm, and it is harmless sarcasm. The sarcasm I’m referring to is the comment that comes at the expense of another person, even if the person being poked fun at is the speaker of the sarcastic comment. And that leads me to my second revelation this week.

I tend to use sarcasm to put myself down. That has also become a habit that grew out of self-defense in my younger years. I was made fun of, a lot, as a kid, so I learned that if I made fun of myself first, it could lessen the blow and, more importantly, take the fun away from those making fun of me by showing that I wasn’t bothered by the taunts, even if I really had been bothered by them. That has become the way I deal with a lot of things about myself, and I was reminded this week of a speech I heard from someone about the way we internally talk to ourselves. I wish I could remember where I heard the speech and who gave it, so I could give credit where credit is due, but all I can remember is what was said. We are kinder and gentler to strangers than we are to ourselves. We would be hard-pressed to go up to someone and call them fat, or ugly, or stupid. And yet, we would have no problem internally saying that about ourselves. I find that, even though I feel I’m not as gentle to others as I should be, I’m much less gentle to myself. The speaker asked his audience, “If you were standing before yourself as a child, would you say half the things to him or her that you say to yourself as an adult?” The answer for most people would be, of course not. Then he asked why should it be any different for us as adults?

Before people get the wrong idea and think I’m saying that we should ignore our faults, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that we need to deal with our shortcomings with the same gentleness we would – or should – use towards others. What would you say to a friend who’s struggling with weight issues? (Hopefully, something encouraging!) Then, if you’re struggling with weight issues, why would you be so much harder on yourself? What would you say to a child who’s having a hard time grasping concepts at school? Then, if you’re having trouble learning something, why would you think less of yourself than you would that child?

While they may seem unrelated, these two revelations are inextricably linked. Being gentle to others is easier when I’m gentle to myself, and vice versa. Will it be easy changing habits that have developed over many years? The cliché “old habits die hard” is a cliché for a reason. But is it possible? Of course it is, especially with God’s help, with whom all things are possible. (Mat. 19:26) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for a nice, encouraging chat with my inner child…

Gentle on my Mind – 8/12/06

This week’s study is on gentleness, and I find that I am being put to the test again. I had to reread this myself today, in order to put things in the proper perspective. Here for your reading pleasure is my blast from the past on gentleness.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Gal 5:22,23

Gentlenesss – to be gentle is to be considerate and kindly in disposition, according to dictionary.com. It’s a good biblical definition as well. The Greek word chrestotes – the word for gentleness – is defined as kindness and goodness. The word gentleness appears only four times in the Bible, twice in the Old Testament, and twice in the New Testament. 2 Samuel 22:36 says, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great.” David is speaking after he has been rescued from Saul’s clutches. His song is repeated in Psalm 18:35. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Incredible words, but what’s even more incredible is that every Christian, every child of God, can say those same words. It is God’s gentleness, His kindness, that allows all of us to come to Him, to come to the cross, ask for His forgiveness, and, more importantly, to be granted that forgiveness. The third appearance of the word is in 2 Corinthians 10:1, which says, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:” Again, it refers to the gentleness of our Lord and Savior. But what, exactly, does it mean? How do we exhibit gentleness in our lives as proof of the Holy Spirit within us? There are a couple of excellent descriptions in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 says, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.”So, one aspect of gentleness is to care for people as you would care for your children. 2 Timothy 2:24, 25 says, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” The servant of the Lord must not strive. To strive means to quarrel, fight, argue. So, another aspect of gentleness is not getting involved in conflict. That just means with our friends, right? Can’t we still argue with the people we don’t get along with? No. “But be gentle to all.” Even those who cause us grief. Family, co-workers, people who cut us off in traffic. We know we can’t do that on our own. We would like nothing more than to argue about everything. It is human nature to be combative, and it’s only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can allow ourselves to be gentle toward each other. So, what can I do to ensure I’m bearing fruit in this aspect? I can think twice before getting into an argument with someone. I know there will be times when conflict will be inevitable and at those times I will have to make sure I remember to do all I do in love, showing the gentleness to others that Jesus shows to me. Will it be easy? Not always. Will it be possible? Absolutely, as long as I rely on the strength of my Creator and Savior to guide my steps.