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.

Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A good thing you can’t get too much of

I’m sure you’ve heard that too much of anything is bad for you, even if it’s something that’s good for you. I think that’s one of America’s main problems; we don’t know the meaning of restraint. We lack discipline in every area of our lives. Healthy foods are good for you, but eating too much is bad. Knowledge and education is good for you, but too much can very rapidly turn into an obsession that controls your life. The same with work. Work is good, but living for work isn’t so good.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were something out there that you couldn’t overdose on? Something you couldn’t get too much of?

Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Mark 9:17-27.

One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”

Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.

Earlier this year, I did a month-long study of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), looking deeper into what each Fruit of the Spirit actually is and how we can make sure they’re a part of our lives. The thing about the Fruit of the Spirit is that you can overdose on each one of them and you’ll be better off than you were before. Like Love. You can’t get enough real love in your life. Pick any one of the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance) and adding an abundance of any one of them in your life will only improve it.

The one that I needed to focus on this morning was faith. The Bible is full of examples of faith, but there are a few stories in scripture that deal with people asking for more faith. Today’s set of verses is just one.

I tend to think that faith is something I have to develop on my own. It’s a choice I have to make in my life every day. I’ve heard people describe faith as a feeling or as an experience, but that’s misleading. Yes, faith can include some pretty powerful emotions and can create some overwhelming feelings, but faith isn’t an emotional response. Faith can create an emotional response, but when you get right down to it, faith is a choice you make, to believe no matter what. There will be days you don’t feel like believing, and it’s those days when you need the steel that comes from choice rather than relying on what your broken emotions will tell you.

But is it okay to ask God for more faith? Is faith something God can give you? I believe it is.

I mean, for one thing, faith is a spiritual gift (1Corinthians 12:9). There are some people who just have a lot of faith. Those are the people who don’t have any trouble believing that God can do everything. Even during times when it feels like their lives are falling apart, they hold on to God’s promises and never give up. That’s not normal, folks, in case you didn’t know. For some people, when they accept Christ, they just get that kind of faith.

For other people, they don’t have it. The Spirit has given them some other kind of gift and faith is something they have to build in their own life.

The verses for today tell a story about a man who believed that Jesus could heal his son. But even though he believed Jesus could do it, the man still asked Jesus to help him overcome his doubt and unbelief, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Life beats us down. Circumstances and situations in our lives discourage us and hurt us and tear us up. We face disappointment. We face hopes that are crushed and dreams that will never come true. And for those people to whom faith doesn’t come easily, it’s okay to admit that you don’t have enough faith. It’s okay to tell God you’re struggling to keep believing. He isn’t going to crush you. He isn’t going to be angry at you. He wants to help you.

And on the flip side, if you are a person who faith comes to easily, it’s still okay to ask for more. You can be greedy about faith. You really can’t get enough of it.

So if you’re facing something hard in your life right now and you don’t think you have enough faith to get through it, tell God about it and ask Him to help you have more faith. He’s listening, and He wants to help. Now, I can’t speak to how He will go about increasing your faith. That’s going to be different for every person who asks, but one thing I know for sure: God is good. So everything He does is good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Too much of a good thing?

If the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), what does a life without the Holy Spirit look like? Is it all right to live a life that is not directed by the Spirit? Well, I guess that depends on how you define “all right.” If you’re not following the Spirit, you’re following yourself. Even if you say you’re following someone else or you’re following the teachings of someone else, it still comes down to the fact that you’re doing what you want to do in spite of the fact that God has instructed you to follow Him.

So what does a life following ourselves look like?

Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-26.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and I would like to tell you that I have a fantastic conclusion to this journey. But I don’t. And the last few days of basement floods and storms have sapped most of my strength and focus this morning, which means I’m probably going to need more coffee.

But it comes down to the fact that we all have two options in life, we are either led by the Spirit of God or we aren’t. You can’t have it both ways. And as long as you choose to follow your own path, you are subject to the Law.

No, not the law of the land like paying taxes or speed limits (although you are subject to those too). The Law Paul is talking about here is the Law of Moses. The Law of God. This is the Law that says no one is good enough to get into Heaven. No one is good enough to deserve a relationship with God. If you choose to follow your own way, if you choose to do your own thing, that’s the fact you’re going to have to face when your life is over.

But, if you choose to follow Christ, if you choose to allow the Holy Spirit to rule your life, the Law of Moses has no power over you. Why? Because choosing to follow Christ and be Spirit-led means you are living under grace. It means you’ve chosen to trust that Christ is the payment for your relationship with God, that Christ is the reason why you will get to go to heaven when your time on earth is over.

Throughout this entire study, maybe some of you have noticed the little tag phrase at the end of Galatians 5:23. “There is no law against these things!” The translation I memorized said, “Against such things there is no law” or something like that. I always wondered what that means. Because of course there’s no law against that list of nine virtues. Why would there be a law against those things? So as a child, I always took it as something that didn’t mean anything. But as I’ve gotten older and as I’ve studied the Bible more and more, I’ve learned that God never wastes words.

As a writer myself, I know the importance of clarity when you’re writing. I can’t claim that this blog is necessarily a great example because I write it so early in the morning, but I hope that other examples of my writing are clear. It’s a writer’s greatest challenge to say as much as possible in a few words as they can, using the right words and not just whatever comes off the top of their heads (like this blog always is, lol) and to do that, you can’t waste space on a page. God’s the same way. God is the best writer in history, the most amazing storyteller of all time. He never put anything in the Bible that wasn’t important.

What that little phrase means is simply that the characteristics of a life lived on your own terms are against the law. That list of vices halfway through the passage will characterize the life of someone who lives following their own star, if you will. And any one of those things in your life will make it difficult. Any one of those things, taken to extremes, can destroy you.

But the Fruit of the Spirit is different. You can’t love too much. You can’t have too much joy. You can’t have too much goodness or gentleness or meekness or kindness. None of the Fruit of the Spirit taken to extremes will hurt your life. Choosing to live a life that’s led by the Spirit exempts you from the Law of Moses, but the law of living is still a part of our human existence. And all nine of the Fruit of the Spirit can be taken to extremes in your early life without hurting you.

So make a choice. Either you’re going to live filled with the Holy Spirit or you won’t. Either you’ll let God direct your paths, or you’ll make up your own mind. God is a gentleman, and He never forces Himself on anyone. If you truly want to go your own way, He’ll let you. And, Christian, if you truly don’t want the Spirit in your life, you don’t have to ask Him–although why would you have become a follower of Christ if you didn’t?

It’s my prayer that my life demonstrates the results of Holy Spirit working in me. I want to be Spirit-filled. I want Him to be obvious in my life. I want Him to walk beside me through every moment of every day, and I want His input in my decisions. But to get there, I have to set me aside and trust Him.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

True mastery from within

What does it mean to master yourself? I’ve read books on self-help and 12-step programs, and none of them really say anything concrete. Because I have a fascination with Japanese culture, I’ve also read a book called the Code of the Samurai, which is a modern-day translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu, a guidebook per se for samurai to study. And while many religions promote self-mastery, none of them really explain how or why.

Some say meditation is how to achieve it. Others say service to others is how to do achieve it. Some even promote self-mutilation to a point. But if you read the Bible, you’ll discover that true self mastery doesn’t come from something that you do; it comes from the inside.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Throughout May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and today’s focus is on self-control. In other translations, it’s called temperance. To be honest, I always thought this word meant that a sign of the Holy Spirit in your life meant that you didn’t drink alcohol. But that’s not what the word itself (ἐγκράτεια) actually means. In this context, the word means “true mastery from within” and can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit. And that tells me that we can work all we want to establish good habits, and we should. But when it comes down to mastering ourselves, it takes a power stronger than we are to do it.

Have you ever started to do something you know you shouldn’t do and heard that nagging little voice at the back of your head? It’s the voice that tells you to stop what you’re doing because you’ll be sorry. It’s a still, small, quiet thing, and it’s easy to ignore, at least until you do the thing you’re not supposed to do and the consequences catch up to you. Then, you remember the voice. That’s the way it works with me. I don’t remember that I could have said no until I’m past the point of no return.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit takes practice, like building good habits. None of us are born with good habits. Discipline doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work to achieve it. Painters don’t wake up creating masterpieces. Musicians aren’t born. And writing a novel doesn’t just happen. Just like building a car or losing weight, achieving anything of significance takes design and planning and dedicated effort and focus.

But listening to the Holy Spirit takes something else: Trust.

You have to trust that when He tells you not to do something, it’s for your own good. You have to trust that the things you think will make you happy actually will just make your life complicated. You have to trust Him.

Once you have the Holy Spirit in your life, God begins to change you from the inside out. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important yesterday don’t matter as much today. The pleasures and successes of today don’t seem to be as vital as storing up treasures in heaven. And when you come face to face with temptation, there’s something inside you that gives you the courage and the strength to fight. That’s not an accident. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Fruit of the Spirit showing up in your life as a result of you choosing to accept Christ.

And while it’s a good idea to build healthy habits, sometimes you just have to rely on God to help you through those moments that you’re too weak to handle on your own. You can’t master yourself without God’s help, not truly. True mastery means that every aspect of who you are–every aspect–is under control. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have every aspect of their lives under control.

Health gurus are in great physical shape, but their emotional, mental, or spiritual life is a mess. Spiritual people sometimes aren’t healthy. Yes, I’m generalizing,  but you get my point.

I truly believe that part of Spirit-led self-control is balance. It’s not overly focusing on one area of your life. It’s letting God into all of them. It’s doing what Jesus would do in every situation, not just the ones you want to get His advice on. I’m talking every situation, ranging from “Would Jesus help that little old lady carry her groceries?” to “Would Jesus eat a second bowl of ice cream?” Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but who are we to say that the details of our lives don’t matter to God? It’s often the details that trip me up, so if I want God in any part of my life, it’s in the details.

So if you want to achieve true mastery of yourself, stop reading the 12-step books or following the latest fad diets or whatever your particular issue is. The best way to get control of yourself is to get to know Jesus better. Let Him become your best friend. Study how He lived, pattern your life after His, and have conversations with Him about everything. Maybe you think that sounds funny, but I guarantee you aren’t talking to yourself. If you know HIm, He’s listening. And He always answers. Maybe not in the way you expect, but He never fails.

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nobody wants to kill a pansy

I don’t know when, but something happened in our culture that changed our perspective of what a Christian is supposed to act like. People look at the way someone acts and determines from their behavior that “they’re not very Christian” or they’re not a “good” Christian simply by merit of how they behave, when the truth is that being a Christian has less to do with our behavior and more to do with the state of our heart.

That’s not to say that our actions are meaningless. That’s the not the case at all. The distinction should be made that a Christian never loses his or her temper or never gets angry or never demands anything. The distinction comes with why and how. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never be angry. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never get upset. And part of me agrees with that, especially when you consider the reasons why most people get angry or upset.

Most anger in our world comes from petty unimportant things. We lose our tempers over the smallest problems, issues that don’t mean anything. And as Christians, we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be angry about things that are worth it.

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 21:12-13.

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

This passage out of Matthew is one I’ve turned to many times when I feel angry about something, strangely enough. It reminds me that being angry isn’t a sin, especially when that anger is just. But there’s a lot happening in this passage. This marks a time when Christ returned to Jerusalem, and what He found in the Temple was shocking. Culturally, I’m not sure if we can understand what’s going on here without taking a lot of time to do an in-depth study, but basically what’s happening is that the market people inside the Temple who were supposed to be fair when they sold animals for people to sacrifice were cheating people. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.

And it made Jesus angry. The Temple was supposed to be a sacred place where people came to worship God, and because of greed and selfishness, people had turned into something it was never meant to be. Notice how He handled His anger, though. He didn’t curse. He didn’t lose control. He didn’t direct His anger at one person. He simply righted the problem, and He backed up His actions with Scripture.

Okay. Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as recorded in Galatians 5:22-23 (But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). The Fruit I’m focusing on today is gentleness (πρᾳότης). But what does that have to do with anger?

The version of the Bible that I learned this passage in didn’t use the term gentleness. It used meekness, which honestly isn’t a term you hear in 21st Century America often. A more accurate definition is: “displaying the right blend of force and reserve, strength in gentleness, avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.”

Meekness is quiet strength. It’s inner calm and humility that doesn’t hesitate to bash skulls when it’s needed. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that you take conflict lying down.

Too many times I think Christians get this idea that being gentle, humble, meek means that we don’t get to stand up for what’s right. Too many times I think we embrace this concept that Jesus was this soft-spoken pansy who never challenged anyone. And anyone who believes that hasn’t read the Gospels. Jesus challenged everyone. He challenged everything. He took the preconceived notions of how life was supposed to be and turned them on their heads. He angered the religious leaders to the point where they conspired to put Him to death.

Let’s face it, folks. Nobody wants to kill a pansy. If anything, people like that are ignored, written off, neglected. They’re easy to push to the sidelines. And nobody was able to do that with Christ.

Christ was a blue-collar worker. A carpenter. An average man like anyone else. Isaiah tells that He wasn’t even handsome, unlike the beautiful glowing portraits people have painted over the years. I guarantee He didn’t look like that.

But He wasn’t a zealot either. Christ is the best example of meekness in Scripture. He’s called the Lamb of God, but He’s also called the Lion of Judah. How can one person be both a lion and a lamb? That’s meekness. Maybe it sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s a Fruit of the Spirit. It’s evidence that God is working in your life.

So what does that mean for us today? How do we demonstrate meekness in our lives? What’s worth getting angry about? And how do you show anger without sin? Because anger on its own isn’t sin, but anger can drive us to sin, and we need to deal with it before it gets to that point.

It comes down to Scripture and having a relationship with Christ. It’s okay to be angry when the church doesn’t line up with Scripture. It’s okay to be angry when God is misused in culture. It’s okay to be angry when Jesus is mocked and openly misrepresented, whether by believers or nonbelievers alike. But our response needs to be Scriptural too. Now, I don’t really think any of us can walk into a materialistic church and start kicking people out and turning over tables. I don’t think that’s necessarily a scriptural response, especially in our culture right now.

But there’s nothing wrong with speaking out. There’s nothing wrong with getting to the bottom of why people are doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re doing these things out of ignorance, and then it becomes our duty to teach them. But however we choose to deal with a situation that makes us angry, we need to remember meekness. It’s that balance between anger and love. It’s the balance between standing up for what’s right and speaking truth in love, and that’s not something we can do on our own. That’s something God has to do through us. That’s something He has to speak through us.

And so when you get angry, first make sure it’s not coming from some unresolved issue in your own heart. And then, when you choose to act, make sure you ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Because while anger is a useful tool, it has done more damage in the church and in lives and in relationships than anything else. When we turn our anger over to God, He’ll take care of it, and when we trust our actions to the Holy Spirit, He’ll help us say what we need to say and do what we need to do.