Airplane oxygen masks are a two-step process

I’m not a huge fan of airplane travel, mainly because it’s far less expensive to drive, but sometimes you have to fly. Like when I went to Ireland a few weeks ago. I couldn’t drive to Ireland (well, I could try, but I don’t think I would succeed).

As I sat and listened to the flight attendants run through their little spiel about airplane safety, I smiled when they got to the place about securing your own oxygen mask first. I was traveling with two other people on the way to Ireland, and I had laughingly joked with my sister-in-law that I’d need to make sure one of my travel buddies had her oxygen mask on if we crashed.

That’s the rule with oxygen masks

First, you secure your own and make sure that you are breathing. Then, you help the people around you, children, the elderly, or generally distracted (but totally adorable) traveling companions. It’s a two-step process. First, take care of yourself. Then, take care of those around you.

Exodus 18:17-18 Always PeachyThe problem I usually have (when I’m not flying on an airplane) is that I skip ahead to step two without doing step one. I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first before seeing to my own needs. I want to help people, and I don’t want myself to get in the way. But it’s too much for one person to do alone, and I exhaust myself. (Exodus 18:14-18)

I’ve spent years telling myself this fact over and over again, but only recently did a new way to think about it occur to me. Using airplane oxygen masks correctly is a process.

A two-step process for an airplane

In an emergency situation on an airplane, you can’t just randomly try to help everyone around you. You’ll be in the way of people who are trained for that situation, and you’ll do more damage than you prevent. You’re supposed to stay seated. The best way for you to help those around you is to first take care of yourself.

That goes against my personal programming, but if I don’t first make sure that my thoughts are clear, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be of help to anyone. The truth is, if I don’t take care of my own needs first in that sort of situation, I won’t be able to help anyone around me.

If we accept that concept on an airplane, why can’t we accept it in our everyday lives?

A two-step process for life

Instagram Airplane MasksI’m talking to myself here. I run myself ragged for the benefit of others. I wear myself down and work my immune system to its lowest point for the sake of those around me. It’s how I’m wired. But I need to start looking at taking care of people as a two-step process.

If I want to help others, I need to take care of myself first. I need to sleep, to eat properly, and take care of my physical and spiritual needs first. Granted, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore people who need help, but before I work myself to exhaustion helping the helpless, first I need to make sure I’m strong enough to be of service. And this isn’t just something I’m making up. This is a biblical principle! (Ephesians 5:29-30)

As Christ-followers, we are called to serve others but not at the cost of our relationship with God or our physical health. Life is a balance between being a good steward of what God has given us and giving sacrificially so that others can share our blessings.

Wearing yourself out helping others may be a noble concept, but it’s not practical or healthy. And it’s not what God intended for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) If you really want to help others to the best of your ability, first take the time to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

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Upset your fruit basket

Did you ever play that old crazy game Fruit Basket Upset? We played it in youth group when I was young. I remember it vividly because it was back when skirts were the order of the day at church, and you haven’t lived until you had to run around the room in an ankle-length denim skirt.

Always Peachy Fruit BasketIt was a pretty awesome game, sort of a cross between musical chairs and Duck Duck Goose. The rules were easy. Each player was assigned a category of fruit (apple, orange, banana, etc.). The leader would announce the category of fruit, and everyone with that category had to get up and find another seat. While they were up, a chair (or chairs) would be pulled out, and whoever was left standing was disqualified. But sometimes the leader could yell, “Fruit basket upset!” and everyone had to find another seat. It was always wild and fun, and you could play with 30+ people.

What’s in your basket?

Every Christ-follower has a fruit basket of sorts. Did you realize that? At the moment you chose to trust Jesus for your salvation, God filled you with His Holy Spirit. That means within you is all the power of the Holy Spirit, free for you to access at any time.

No, not like superpowers. You can’t fly or see through walls or shoot laser beams out of your eyes. But you can love people who don’t deserve it. You can forgive people who hurt you. You can walk away from addictions that have enslaved you. Maybe those aren’t comic-book superpowers, but those are real-life superpowers.

Galatians 5:22-23 Always PeachyA Christ-follower’s superpowers are the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—these are the nine specific character qualities that every Christian has. Just not every Christian chooses to use them.

Which fruit do you need?

Well, sometimes I need more of one than another. Do you know the feeling? Like when I wake up in the morning and all the extroverts I know are talking my ear off, I need patience. Or when I’m having a horribly stressful day and chocolate bars are on sale at the store, I need self-control.

So when I’m facing these difficult situations, I pray and ask for more patience or more self-control or more meekness. I ask God to help me with those individual qualities, but is that the right way to handle it? I mean, I’m not sure it hurts anything, but I’m not convinced that’s the right perspective to take with the Fruit of the Spirit.

Because they aren’t Fruits of the Spirit. They are Fruit. Singular. They act as a unit. One whole instead of nine pieces. You don’t get one without the others, and I’m not sure you can display one without displaying the others too.

And in the end, is it better to ask for just patience or just self-control? Shouldn’t we ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us up instead? Shouldn’t we be focused on becoming more like Jesus? After all, I’m dead (Galatians 2:20). When I chose to follow Jesus, I chose to die to myself, my own selfish desires, my own flawed perspective. (Colossians 3:3)

So the next time life throws you a curve ball and you’re tempted to lose your cool, don’t just ask for one of the Fruits to help you get through it. Instead, upset your fruit basket. You don’t have to ask for them. You already have them. So use them.

You don’t need more patience or more self-control. You need more Jesus.

When you only want half of Jesus

Imagine you walk into the grocery store and fill your shopping cart with essentials. Not the name brand products either. Just what you need to get by. Then, when you go to pay for your cart of groceries, you present the sales clerk with half a credit card. Do you think you’ll get to go home with your groceries?

Instead, what if you gave her half the amount of money you owe the store. Your groceries would cost $50, but you only have $25. Do you think you’d be able to take home the entire cart of groceries? No, of course not.

In the case of the half of a credit card, you wouldn’t get to take anything home. In the case of half the cash, you’d have to take home half of what you wanted to purchase. And that’s a silly example maybe, but why do we think that following Jesus is different? Why do we expect to get all the benefit of belonging to Him if we only want half of Him?

Everybody loves Jesus, right?

He was a great teacher, an amazing role model, and he stood up to the oppressive religious leaders. He encouraged His followers to forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek and be patient with each other.

All of that is true. But it’s only one side of the coin. And trying to force this politically correct portrait of Jesus into the mold of human society is like trying to pay for your groceries with half a credit card. It doesn’t work.

Because, no, not everybody loves Jesus. Not everybody is supposed to. And if you’re truly a follower of Jesus, not everyone will love you either (Matthew 10:22).

Jesus is a paradox. He’s impossible. He came both to unite people with God (Romans 8:15-17) yet divide people from each other (Luke 12:51). He came to offer a way to salvation (John 3:16), but that means facing the truth that the world is condemned without Him (John 3:17). He is God. He is Man. He died. He lives today. He is. And if you think you can explain Him with a few quaint platitudes that fit your definition of Christianity, you’re wrong.

You can’t have half of Jesus. You can’t follow half of Jesus. If you try it, you’ll always be confused and at odds with the Bible. Because Jesus didn’t come to discredit the Bible (Matthew 5:17). He came to complete what’s already there.

Yes, Jesus loves everyone, but no one deserves to be loved.

Yes, Jesus saves everyone who comes to Him, but not everyone will choose to be saved.

Yes, Jesus forgives anyone, but you can’t be forgiven if you don’t ask for it and admit that you are wrong.

Jesus isn’t this pale-hearted milktoast literary figure who blesses people in flowery language and always smiles with a shining halo around his head. Nor is He a religious zealot intent on tearing down the government or protesting every action of a country’s leaders just for spite.

You can’t label Him. You can’t stereotype Him. And if you think you can, you don’t know Him.

During His life on earth, Jesus was the most compassionate, most loving, most tender-hearted man alive. But that didn’t mean He refused to stand up against tyranny, against oppression and persecution. But He didn’t riot and damage property. He stood for truth and justice peacefully, calmly, meekly. He asked questions instead of demanding answers, and He gained a reputation for being someone who spoke with authority instead of someone who demanded what He was owed.

American Christians could learn a lot about how to handle life from Jesus. Ironic, isn’t it?

You can’t separate Jesus’ love from His righteousness. You can’t separate His mercy and His justice. You can’t separate His compassion from His holiness. You can’t separate Jesus from God because They are the same Person.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. Jesus has always made people uncomfortable, and the day He stops, is the day we’ve truly forgotten who He is. He should always make us think about what we believe and why we believe it. He should always make us realize how unworthy we are, yet how valuable we are to Him.

So where does that leave us? How do we press forward in this exhausting, emotional, conflicted existence when we don’t understand? How do we decide what is right and what is wrong and how to live?

It’s not as complicated as people make it seem. It’s cliched, but what did Jesus do? How did He live?

He loved everyone, yes, but he didn’t make excuses for them. (That’s not love, by the way.) He accepted everyone, but that didn’t mean He dismissed what was true. He spent time with people who disagreed with Him, but He never compromised what was right. He lived sacrificially to serve other people, but even He still paid His taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25).

If you ask the world about a lifestyle like that, they won’t know what to do with it. It makes no sense to them, and if you don’t know Jesus, it won’t make sense to you either.

Don’t accept the world’s view about Jesus. Don’t even accept the Church’s view on Jesus. Read about Him for yourself. And then spend some time with Him. Get to know Him personally. I promise, you won’t ever be the same. And that, my friends, is the point.

Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

Choosing to be faithful when you don’t understand

Have you ever obeyed a rule when you didn’t understand it? Personally, I’m not one for blind obedience. I like to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I like to understand the ins and outs, the possible repercussions, the potential for success, before I commit to doing anything. But sometimes we don’t get that luxury. Sometimes as Christ-followers, all we know is that God said it so we have to do it. And we do it because God is good.

Ever been there? You’re faced with this choice between doing something the world says is nuts or doing what God says is wrong. Those are your choices. The world will tell you that God’s ways are outdated, irrelevant, and will leave you vulnerable. But God comes along and tells you to do what He says is right, regardless of the outcome. How are you supposed to handle that?

EPRUD1TPG0Today’s verses are Psalm 119:25-32.

I lie in the dust;
revive me by your word.
I told you my plans, and you answered.
Now teach me your decrees.
Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.
I weep with sorrow;
encourage me by your word.
Keep me from lying to myself;
give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.
I have chosen to be faithful;
I have determined to live by your regulations.
I cling to your laws.
Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!
I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.

That last line always stops me short. How does pursuing a command expand understanding? I mean, what does it even mean to pursue a command? Think about it. It doesn’t say obeying God’s commands helps our understanding grow. It says that our understanding will increase if we pursue God’s commands.

That means chasing them down. That means reading the Bible, looking for God’s commands, and learning how to apply them in everyday life. The more we look for the ways God asks us to obey Him, the better we’ll understand why.

The longer I follow God, the more I understand why He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to the world. That doesn’t mean I always understand. And it certainly doesn’t mean I always obey. But He’s let me fall on my face often enough that I don’t take Him for granted as much as I used to.

God’s rules and laws and commands aren’t just lists of good ideas and bad ideas. I mean, you can treat them that way if you want, but if you do, you’re missing the point. God’s laws, God’s Word, brings life.

You need to understand why Christ-followers are supposed to do what God says is right. Don’t just accept it because your parents did or your teachers did. You have to understand it for yourself. But realize that sometimes life is just not going to make sense. And sometimes neither with God. And it’s in those time when you have to cling to His Word, to His promises, because then there’s only one thing you need to know.

God is good. All the time. And regardless if we understand or not, we are to do what God says is right, because we aren’t responsible for the outcome. We’re only responsible to obey. He’s the one who works out the details.

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Everybody needs to laugh more

When was the last time you laughed until your sides hurt? Have you ever laughed that hard? I did. Last night. I laughed until I cried, until my ribs were sore, until I could barely breathe and when I did breathe I ended up coughing. The reason why? Drama team meeting.

I’m so blessed and so fortunate to be a part of an awesome drama ministry at NewSpring Church. It’s amazing to have so many people who don’t care about the spotlight. That’s what makes this drama team amazing. Other dramatic groups I’ve been a part of always had prima donnas or the really super talented folks who demanded attention. There’s nobody like that in our drama team. Everyone is there because they want to use their gifts to tell others about Christ.

Last night, we laughed ourselves silly, and I left the meeting feeling lighter on my feet than I have in ages. As I was driving home, I got to thinking (I do a lot of thinking in the car, mainly because I do a lot of driving) about how beneficial laughter is. I don’t think I laugh enough. Now, you people who know me may think that’s a silly statement because I’m always cheerful and always happy and always laughing about something. But I’m not talking about generic laughter or sarcastic laughter or laughter for the sake of avoiding tears. I’m talking about real laughter, the laughs that shake you head to toe, the ones you can’t keep inside, where you throw your head back and forget how ridiculous you probably look and sound because you just can’t help it.

Have you ever laughed that hard? I recommend it.

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:22.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

I didn’t plan to post about this today, sort of like yesterday. I was just struck by how much better I felt about life in general after our two-hour-long laugh fest at our drama team meeting, and I thought I’d share my revelation.

Laugh more.

We all need to laugh more. We all take life so seriously all the time, and Christians are the worst about this. We focus on the doom and gloom. We focus on everything that’s wrong in the world, wrong in our lives, wrong in other people’s lives. We hide in our pews and prophesy that the end is coming soon. We crack our whips and teach people that God values service and humility and a sober-minded work ethic. And I’m not saying that He doesn’t. Of course, He values those things. But who says service and humility and work have to be solemn things?

Good grief, Christian. Lighten up.

I’m talking to myself here because I take myself way too seriously. Maybe it’s my genetic predisposition to a perfectionist mentality. When I screw up (which happens frequently), I beat myself bloody. And I keep beating myself bloody until long after everyone else around me has forgotten it. When I don’t perform to my own standards, I call myself a failure. When I don’t meet up with God’s commands (which rarely ever happens), part of me is afraid to even approach Him because I’d rather hide myself in shame than face His disappointment.

Yes, God is scary. Don’t ever tell yourself anything different. We should never lose sight of Who He Is.

But, by that same token, we should never forget what He gave for us. He gave Jesus for us. He sent Jesus to die for us. And because of what Jesus did for us in paying for our sings, we can call God our Daddy. The last thing God wants is for us to distance ourselves from Him because we can’t meet His righteous standard. Of course, we can’t meet His standard. That’s the point. That’s why He sent Jesus!

So what’s the point in all this? Yes, it’s important to be serious about things you need to be serious about, but in turn you are allowed to be silly about silly things. You can relax and have fun. Or do you think God giving you a sense of humor was an accident? Do you think the gift of laughter just happened? No way. We need to laugh. Spend time laughing, and you’ll see a difference in your entire perspective.

Schedule some purposeful time to meet with like-minded friends and go do something fun. Whether it’s serving at a soup kitchen or going to see a movie, give yourself permission to relax. Let your hair down. Be yourself. And enjoy what you’re doing. It’s okay to enjoy what you’re doing. You don’t have to be a solemn-faced Christian quoting Scripture 24/7.  I mean, if that’s what makes you happy, go for it.

But whatever you do, give yourself permission to play. Go outside. Have fun. Run around. Be a kid again. Don’t worry about what’s coming tomorrow. Don’t fret over what happened yesterday. Just enjoy having a relationship with your Daddy, and if something funny happens, don’t hesitate to laugh yourself into an asthma attack. Once you can breathe again, you’ll be glad you did.

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Follow your heart?

What does it mean to follow your heart? I’ve started hearing that a lot recently and not just from secular movies and television shows. I expect it from them. But I’ve started hearing it from Christians. Christians have started saying “follow your heart” when faced with a difficult decision. But I’m afraid it’s turned into one of those statements that everybody says but nobody really understands what it means.

In my understanding, following your heart or being true to your heart means that you should make the choice that reflects who you are inside.

Okay. Well there would be nothing wrong with that if our hearts were trustworthy. But they’re not.

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 17:9-10.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

The heart is a Western euphemism to refer to the seat of the emotions. The Western world uses the heart to describe the core of a person, who they are, what they’re about, etc. So if you tell someone that they have a kind heart, you’re telling them they are a kind and compassionate person. And if you tell someone to follow their heart, you’re telling them to judge a situation for themselves and make a decision based on what they think is right.

I think I understand what Christians are trying to say when they tell me to follow my heart. They’re telling me to do what I think is best. But I’ll be honest, if I’m involved in a difficult situation, and if going to do what I think is best, it won’t turn out for the best. If I’m going to do what I think is right, the whole situation will all come crashing down on my head. Because on my own I don’t know what’s best. Because on my own I don’t know what’s right.

If I want to know what’s right and what’s best, I need to consult with God. Not my heart. Not my inner self.

And yes, I’m redeemed. So is my heart. But I can’t trust my heart. My heart will tell me that I want something that God has already told me I shouldn’t have. My heart will tell me to react harshly in conflict where God will tell me to be kind and humble. My heart is never satisfied where God calls me to be content.

Christians, we shouldn’t follow our hearts. We follow Christ.

Your heart won’t rest until you’re ruined. And even then, it will still try to keep you down. Our hearts are dangerous, dark things. They can’t be trusted at all.

Does that mean you can’t be who you are? No. Not at all. Who you are isn’t dependent on your heart. Who you are isn’t dependant on your physical body or your actions anyway. Who you are depends on who God made you to be. And no one knows you better than God does, so He won’t guide you to do something that contradicts His plan for you.

If you don’t know what to do in a situation, don’t look deep inside yourself for the answer. You don’t have it. If you don’t know what is right, ask God. If you follow Christ, the Holy Spirit lives inside you anyway. He’s right there. So just ask Him what to do. Read Scripture. And if you can’t think of a good Bible story that matches your situation, Google it. And if that doesn’t work, ask a trusted mature Christian friend.

But whatever you do, don’t follow your heart. You’ll end up in deep trouble. You’ll cause more problems than you solve. And in the end, your heart will only dig you a deeper hole to fall into rather than lighting the path for your escape.