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.

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Remember who God is

I taught a workshop in Midland, TX, last September. It wasn’t anything super spectacular, although the feedback I got confirmed that my explanation of plot structure was enlightening. But I remember standing up in front of a room full of authors and asking myself how I’d gotten there.

Yes, I’ve been writing for a long time. Yes, I’ve been a successful writer for many years. But I’m still learning. I learn something new about writing and storytelling and editing every day, and I feel like the least qualified person to stand up and teach a room of writers about plot structure.

Have you ever felt that way?

Like you’re the last person who should be teaching others? But the way life ended up working out taught you things that other people wanted to learn. That’s kind of how I feel about my teaching. Except I fully believe that life doesn’t just work out. Nothing about life is random, and the moments that feel random don’t last long because there’s a bigger story unfolding in the background.

Nothing happens to God’s children by accident (Isaiah 46:9-10). Everything He allows into our lives and our experiences is something He has already seen coming. That doesn’t mean He is the cause of the negativity and the badness we experience, but it does mean that He’s already seen the end of it and knows how to turn it into something beautiful.

Remember who God isGod is big enough to take the darkest moments of our life and change them into something that brings light to others. Sure, it stinks while we’re going through some of those tough moments, but if we can hold on to the truth of Who God is and what He does, we’ll thrive even in seasons of drought or fire or darkness.

God redeems. He takes broken things and makes them beautiful. He takes empty vessels and fills them with treasure. He takes someone with a collection of seemingly random experiences and makes them a expert that others seek out for knowledge.

Throughout the entire length and breadth of the Bible, that’s the story God tells. That’s the role He plays in the story—the Redeemer (Isaiah 48:17). The one who buys back the broken.

But He doesn’t stop there.

He could only buy back broken things, and He would be the greatest Hero in the universe. But He takes it a step further. He not only redeems. He restores. He takes those years you think you wasted and turns them into something that can help other people. He takes the never-ending time you spent waiting on something and makes it into valuable experience you can use in a career or a relationship. He uses the hurt and the pain and the scars you thought had no purpose to bless others.

He buys back the broken, yes, but He makes the broken beautiful too. That’s who God is. (Isaiah 61:3)

So if you’re in a dark season right now, remember who God is. If you’re waiting, embrace it and enjoy the season where you’re totally relying on God. If you’re hurting, recognize that God isn’t the one hurting you, and that He can turn your mourning into joyous dancing. If you’re struggling with a load that’s too heavy for you to bear, remember that God’s shoulders are wide enough to carry all your troubles.

Psalm 113:7-9Remember who God is. He honors the poor, He carries the weak, and He provides for those in need without reluctance or discrimination (Psalm 113:7-9).

Dark seasons don’t last forever, and when it’s over God will make beauty from the ashes. That’s a promise, and He always keeps His promises.

Truth hurts enough without our help

I never wore expensive clothes when I worked at the library at Wichita State University. It wasn’t that we were unprofessional. I always looked nice. But we worked with ink daily, and no matter how hard you tried, you always ended up covered in it. So there was no point to spend money on expensive clothes when you were only going to ruin them.

It never failed. I’d help a patron at the desk, and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Smack dab on the tip of my nose would be a big smudge of ink. The person I was helping could have told me at any time. I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have been grateful. But people don’t like to speak up in those situations because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or making you feel inferior in some way.

Telling people an uncomfortable truth is never fun, and it’s rarely easy. But truth, unpopular or not, should never be intentionally hurtful. Truth hurts enough by itself; it doesn’t need us to make it worse.

Everyone knows the verse about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We quote it back and forth to each other all the time, but is it even possible to do?

I’m not an expert. But one thing I’ve learned about confronting someone with Truth is that your motivation matters.

I have known Christ-followers who have beaten me half to death, using Truth as a sledgehammer to pound me into submission. And on the other hand, I’ve known Christians who are willing to overlook the worst sins just to make me feel better about myself. Where’s the middle ground? Can you speak uncompromising Truth without doing lasting damage?

Well, what about the ink incident at the library? Why would you tell me that I had ink on my nose? To make me feel bad or to help me not look like a moron?

If your desire is to help me, you aren’t going to address me with self-righteous bravado. You aren’t going to insult me as you point out the ink on my nose. No, you’ll gently mention to me that I’ve got ink on my nose. And you might even relate a story about when something similar happened to you.

Gentle. Kind. Humble. And still true.

Confronting someone with Truth should never be about you (Philippians 2:3). It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself as an example to follow, and it should never be intended to humiliate them. Even if you’re talking to another Christ-follower, if the language you use doesn’t build them up or encourage them (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6), you aren’t drawing them back to God. Instead, you’re forcing them away.

Maybe what you’re saying is absolutely true. But if the truth you’re speaking is mixed up with cruel judgments, baseless assumptions, and biting sarcasm, you aren’t being kind. You’re being mean.

God expects us to live justly, yes (Micah 6:8-9), but we’re also supposed to love mercy and walk humbly. That means you look for opportunities to extend grace to people. It doesn’t mean you can compromise what God says is right, but it also doesn’t justify being mean-spirited.

That’s how you speak truth in love. It starts with your attitude toward God and your perspective on yourself. Before you confront anyone, before you take God’s Truth into battle, get those two things on the level. Make sure you and God are on the same page. Otherwise, it’s not about Him. It’s about you.

Any time you make life about yourself, you don’t leave any room for God to work.

But if you make it about Him, He’ll work it out. He’ll bring beauty from ashes. He’ll redeem what you forfeited. But you have to leave it in His hands first.

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?

Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special

During the end of the year, people start talking about everything they’ve accomplished. I do it. Most people I know do it. And it’s really easy to hear about everything that’s going right for people and feel a little bit left out. Do you ever get that feeling? Like you haven’t done as much as you could have? Or that somehow God is doing more for someone else than you?

It’s okay to admit it. That’s a normal feeling. Not a true feeling but a normal one.

When you start looking at people and comparing yourself to them, it’s easy to start thinking that God loves someone else more than you, because all you’re looking at is them rather than God’s work in your own life. I take God’s work in my own life for granted. It can seem small and insignificant to me. And I begin to wonder why other people are so special that God would show up in their lives when He doesn’t in mine.

33E58C5499Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 7:7-9.

The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

The truth is, you aren’t that special. Sorry to break it to you. But God didn’t pick you (or me) out of a crowd because we had some special skill or unique talent. The only thing that makes us special is God’s work in our lives. It has nothing to do with us.

Sort of like Israel. It wasn’t even a country. It wasn’t even a family to start out with. It was just Abraham and his wife, and they weren’t even able to have children. But God made them a promise. And He kept it. And He’s still keeping it to this day. Israel wasn’t special. It was God who was special, who chose to do something miraculous. That’s how it works with us too.

Now don’t misunderstand. We are loved and unique and priceless. God made each of us, so by that token we are special, individually crafted by God Himself. So that by itself makes us special in comparison to the rest of creation, even in comparison to each other. But I don’t have anything that would make God love me more than someone else. Neither do you. We’re all poor and weak and powerless, and it’s God who comes along and gives us strength and success and victory.

God promises to be our salvation, our rock, our healer, our guide, our light. He promises that when we’re weak, we’ll be strong through His power. He promises that even in our darkest moments, He has a plan that He’s working out for our benefit. That’s not on us. That’s all on Him.

God doesn’t play favorites.

So don’t get into the habit of comparing yourself with other people. When the year-end accomplishment letters start coming in and the personal goals for the year grace your inbox, choose to rejoice with your friends instead of comparing yourself to them. Choose to marvel at God’s workmanship in people and realize that God is working in your life too. It just looks different than it does with other people.

God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special. He picks people He can use. So if you want God to be visible in your life, if you want His blessings to be obvious, be the kind of person God can use. Be humble. Be honest. Be genuine. Trust Him. Follow Him. Honor Him. And if you’re doing all that, He’s probably more visible in your life than you think.

You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.