Friday, June 18, 2010

The Question of Happines

Too many times I've heard Christians say "But God wants me to be happy, right?" Well, frankly, no. Despite what I would like to believe, my happiness is not all that important to God. Why? Because if I only did things that made me happy, I'd be in continual violation of God's commands.
When I hear a Christian try to justify their actions by saying that "God would want me to be happy", I just know that the thing they're trying to justify is wrong. How many Christians use that as an excuse to get a divorce? "Well, God wouldn't want me to stay with my husband/wife and be miserable. God wants me to be happy, so I have to get a divorce." This isn't something that's generally taught in churches today so I think a lot of Christians are stunned if/when they find out God isn't all that concerned with their happiness.
I know the question is out there so I'll answer it for you. No, that doesn't necessarily mean that God wants you to be miserable. But then that begs the question; well, what exactly DOES God want? The answer is found in 1 Peter 1:15-16 "But just as He Who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do; for it is written: 'be holy, because I am holy.'"
The next logical question is, what exactly is holiness? According to webster, holy means "exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness or righteousness; devoted entirely to the deity." So, in other words, be as like Jesus as you possibly can. Do you think Jesus was "happy" when he was being spit on, flogged, or crucified? Somehow, I doubt it. Jesus didn't strive for happiness... so why do Christians think that they can or should?
As I think about my life, I know that, in pursuit of holiness, sometimes I'll be happy and sometimes I'll be miserable. But see, happiness in and of itself isn't something that I want to pursue anyway. I don't want to be miserable of course, but happiness is so fleeting that it's pointless to seek after it. The thing that Christians are commanded to be is joyful. Joy is much deeper than happiness and, unlike happiness, you can be joyful even in the midst of bad circumstances.
Proverbs 7:24-26, though talking about foolishness and adultry, could apply to happiness. "Now, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Don't let yourself be tricked by such a woman; don't go where she leads you. She has ruined many good men, and many have died because of her." Happiness will ruin you if you follow wherever it leads.
Let me conclude by saying, I like being happy and I'm a generally happy, upbeat person. But my happiness or lack thereof doesn't dictate my actions. My pursuit of holiness does.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Love You

First Corinthians 13: 4-8 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
As I sit here and ponder how much I love my husband, it angers me to think of how often the words "I love you" are used either for manipulation or to ease one's own conscience. What many people don't seem to understand is that love is not words, love is actions. If you are not patient, you do not love. If you are not kind, you do not love. If you are selfish and only seek your own, you do not love. Now obviously, no one can love perfectly except God, but I'm not talking about those people who really try. Every day I try to love my husband but there are times I still get angry and say hurtful things. The difference is my actions all the rest of the time. If I'm ALWAYS angry and saying cruel things, than I do not love my husband. If I'm always thinking about myself and ignore the needs of my husband, than I don't love him. But (hopefully) he can see that I try to love him everyday. I go to work everyday so the weight of paying all the bills doesn't rest on him alone. I come home and make supper and do laundry and clean so he doesn't have to do it between his 1.5 jobs and school. I take care of him when he's sick. Now, I'm not trying to brag about how good I am (because there are days when I don't do all the things I should) but I know that if I don't do these things, I don't love my husband. If I don't show him through actions that I love him, than I don't love him.
So what about these other people? Well, think about cases of domestic abuse. In a lot of those cases, the abused women will finally go get help, and what do they say is the reason they stayed in an abusive situation so long? Most of the time, their story sounds like this: "Yeah, he'd hit me sometimes, especially when he was drunk and angry, but he'd always come back and say how sorry he was and that HE LOVED ME." And the woman would stay, sometimes because she really thought there was nothing she could do, but a lot of times because she really believed that he loved her and she didn't want to leave him. And you know what? He knew he could say those words and she'd stay, no matter how badly he treated her.
The other people of which I speak also use those words without meaning them but in a different way. They use them because they think that by saying "I love you", they can do whatever they want and it doesn't matter. That they can act in ways that are completely unloving but as long as those words are used, it excuses and even justifies their behavior... and eases their conscience.
Think of the situation where a girl is dating a guy, but then another guy catches her eye. She starts dating the second guy and then the first guy catches her. Her excuse for not telling him she was dating someone else is "I didn't want to tell you because I love you and I didn't want to hurt you." There's something inherently wrong with that. And inevitably, she'll part with "I love you and I always will." I'm sorry, but cheating, whether within marriage or not, is not love. But by saying it, it in her mind, excuses what she did and she can feel good about herself because, after all, she did it "out of love". A spouse that divorces the other but afterwards says "I love you; I guess I'll always love you." Yeah, whatever. It makes me angry when I see that because those people make a mockery of those of us who truly are trying to love another person.
The thing about saying and acting out "I love you" is, it's not necessarily supposed to make you feel good... it's supposed to make the other person feel good. A couple lines that could've been added to the above verses: "Love is work. Love is hard. Love is not words or feelings, but actions. Love is a decision that is made every single day. Love can only be lived out if we have the power of God's love in our life."
I'm not perfect, by any means, and there are others who are light years ahead of me in this area. But I know my love for my husband is genuine because I don't just write about it - I act it out every day, to the best of my ability. What about you?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Letter

Ben Stein, a television personality and writer, wrote this for an Army newsletter, The Stryker, out of Ft. Lewis, Washington. It was addressed to one of the wives of the soldiers.

Dear Karen,

I have a great life. I have a wife I adore, a son who is a lazy teenage but I adore him, too. We live in a house with two dogs and four cats. We live in peace. We can worship as we please. We can say what we want. We can walk the streets in safety. We can vote. We can work wherever we want and buy whatever we want. When we sleep, we sleep in peace. When we wake, it is to the sounds of birds.

All of this, every bit of it, is thanks to your husband, his brave fellow soldiers, and to the wives who keep the home fires burning while the soldiers are away protecting my family and 140 million other families. They protect Republicans and Democrats, Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists. They protect white, black, yellow, brown and everyone in between. They protect gays and straights, rich and poor.

And none of it could happen without the Army wives, Marine wives, navy wives, Air Force wives - or husbands - who go to sleep tired and lonely, wake up tired and lonely, and go through the day with a smile on their faces. They feed the kids, put up with the teenagers' surliness, the bills that never stop piling up, the desperate hours when the plumbing breaks and there is no husband to fix it, and the even more desperate hours after the kids have gone to bed, the dishes have been done, the bills have been paid, and the wives realize that they will be sleeping alone - again, for the 300th night in a row.

The wives keep up the fight even when they have to move every couple of years, even when their checks are late, even when they have to make a whole new set of friends every time they move.

And they keep up the fight to keep the family whole even when they feel a lump of dread every time they turn on the news, every time they switch on the computer, every time the phone rings and every time - worst of all - the doorbell rings. Every one of these events - which might mean a baseball score or a weather forecast or a FedEx man to me and my wife - might mean the news that the man they love, the man they have married for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, is now parted from them forever.

These women will never be on the cover of People. They will never be on the tabloid shows on TV about movie stars. But they are the power and the strength that keep America going. Without them, we are nothing at all. With them, we can do everything.

They are the glue that holds the nation together, stronger than politicians, stronger than talking heads, stronger than al Qaeda.

They deserve all the honor and love a nation can give. They have my prayers, and my wife's, every morning and every night.

Love, and I do mean love, Ben.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Last Year

It’s been a very long since I’ve written… in the beginning, it was because I was too busy to write (what with buying a house and starting a new job and all) but after awhile, I was just out of the habit and didn’t really think about it. I figure I should get back at it though.

Lots has happened since the last time you heard from me. My husband and I bought a house and moved in, I got a new job, we celebrated our one year anniversary by going on a trip to Wyoming and Colorado and we got two new kittens. The most exciting thing, obviously, is that Daniel and I have been married for a year. As I think about what our lives were like one year ago, I’m amazed at how much God has blessed us. When we got married, neither of us had a job. We were living off the little savings I had, the little savings Daniel had and Daniel’s student loan money (since he gets way more in loans than what he actually needs to pay for his classes). Of course, our first order of business was to find jobs. Since Daniel was looking for a more specialized job than I was, he had a much harder time. After a month or so, I got a job as a checker at Dillons. Daniel finally got a job a few months later through a temp agency as an accountant for SCKEDD (South Central Kansas Economic Development District – a government subsidized business that weatherizes the homes of very low-income people). Between our two jobs, we barely had enough to live on. It was discouraging at times, but we kept praying and besides, as newlyweds, we were happy just being together. At the beginning of this year, SCKEDD hired Daniel permanently (instead of him working for SCKEDD through the temp agency). Besides the relief that came with Daniel finally having a permanent job, he also got a pay raise. Well, we were doing okay financially. We had talks about the future and I started thinking about a house. I knew that owning a house was an impossibility at that time, since we didn’t have the money for a down payment, but it didn’t stop me from thinking and hoping. I kept hearing about the First Homebuyer’s credit that the government was offering and I kept thinking… and thinking. Finally, I came up with an idea of how we could get a house with no money for a down payment. We’d borrow money from the bank or a family member, use that loan for the down payment and closing costs, file our revised tax return to get that money from the government, than pay back whoever we borrowed the money from! It was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself! My parents agreed to let us borrow the money from them so we started looking for a house (this is March). We finally found the perfect house… by chance. We’d spent the afternoon looking at five or six other houses, none of which we liked. We called it quits for the day and were on the road heading away from the last house we’d looked at when our realtor (who’s also a deacon at our church) honked for us to pull over and said that there was another house for sale that was real close to where he lived. It wasn’t in the location where we were looking (we were looking at houses outside the city and this one was in the city) but we agreed to go look at it. As soon as we walked in the door, we fell in love. Daniel kept saying “I think this is it…” Needless to say, we bought it and are very happy there.

At the same time that we were looking at houses, I got a job at Exacta Aerospace. I got hired by them through the temp agency that Daniel had used… they liked Daniel so much and thought he did such a great job working for them that they recommended me for the first job opening they had, even though I had no experience in that area. Somehow, I got the job. And, I should be hired by Exacta next Monday (instead of working for them through the temp agency) which will mean benefits and, hopefully, a pay raise.

As I think back over this last year, I’m amazed at the blessings that have been showered upon us by a God Who’s obviously taking care of us… but I think it’s more than just blessing. We remained faithful to Him and He rewarded us for that. In our most difficult times, we still tithed and helped others who had less than us. I firmly believe that’s why we’ve been so blessed. The Bible is clear “He who sows sparingly, will reap sparingly, but he who sows generously, will also reap generously.” If we show that we can be faithful when we have little, God will reward us for that. Our challenge now is remaining faithful when we have much. Somehow, it seems much harder to give when 10% is a lot more than $50 a week. Now that we have a house, the hoard mentality is stronger than ever. I can just hear the devil whispering “ya know, you better save every penny you can… if either of you loses your job now, you won’t be able to make your house payment and will end up foreclosing.” That’s a very scary thought, but it’s superseded by the evidence of this past year. We have nothing to worry about. As long as we remain faithful, God will take care of us. That’s why I feel so strongly about giving (whether it be to our church, to charities, to people we know who need money, or even sending care packages to soldiers). I don’t want God to regret blessing us. I want Him to see that we took what He gave us and used it to help others.

One last thought: our money isn’t really ours anyway – it’s His. Ever notice that it’s a lot easier to give money away when it’s someone else’s? If we just keep in mind that it’s not our money, it’s makes the giving a lot easier.