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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God’s not a Magic Eight Ball

When was the last time someone trusted you with a huge responsibility? What did you do? How did you react?

I frequently encounter situations where I end up having to make big, important decisions. But just the other day, one of those decisions that only come around in a blue moon landed in my lap.

I hate decisions like that because no matter how you choose, you always feel like you should have chosen something else. Maybe that’s just me.

So what do you do when you’re faced with a difficult choice? Or even a choice between two good options? How do you choose what’s best? Whether it’s a family decision or a personal decision or a professional decision, those big, scary, intimidating choices always come along when you least expect them. And if you don’t take them seriously, you could have major trouble in the future.

Is there a Magic Eight Ball somewhere you can shake that will tell you exactly what you’re supposed to do with yourself?

Well, not exactly.

8ballToday’s verses are James 1:5-8.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

God is nothing like a Magic Eight Ball. Well, I say that. Maybe there are a few similarities. When you do get an answer, it’s usually terse. Go. Now. Stop. Wait. But God doesn’t just hand out answers because you ask for them. You don’t get to determine when God answers your questions or your prayers, and that’s frustrating.

When we’re faced with a choice we don’t know how to make, we’re instructed to ask for wisdom. The Bible is full of examples of people who asked God for guidance who received it, so God certainly is in the business of sharing His wisdom with us. But the thing about God’s wisdom is that He doesn’t just drop it in your skull because you ask for it. No. In most instances, you have to be willing to seek it—in the Bible.

The Bible is God’s Word to us, and it’s full of His wisdom for how to live and how to think and how to choose. Our culture—and even the church to a certain extent—has convinced us that the Bible is too complicated for Everyman to understand, and that’s a lie. Of course, the enemy wants us to think the Bible is too difficult to understand. The more we read it, the more we know how to live for God, and that’s the last thing our enemy wants.

But one thing is true. You can’t read the Bible by yourself and truly grasp what it means in your life. To truly understand what the Bible is saying, you need the Holy Spirit. You need God to reveal it to you.

That’s what you ask for. That’s how you ask for wisdom. You ask God to reveal it to you.

But then, notice what the rest of the verse says? Ask for wisdom, yes, but then you have to trust that wisdom comes from God. You have to believe that God is the one who gives it and no one else. Not politicians, your teachers, your parents, your pastor, your church, your friends, or yourself. God is the source of wisdom, and He’s the only source you can trust.

It can’t be that you’ll accept God’s wisdom for Problem A but not for Problem B, because you don’t like what God says about Problem B.

No.

We don’t get to pick and choose. We don’t get to tell God when He’s right or not. He’s either right all the time, or He’s not God.

And if you spend your time wavering between two differing opinions—because God’s wisdom is the opposite of what the world tells you is the truth—you’ll be unstable. You’ll be insecure. You’ll be uncertain. And you’ll make unwise decisions.

So do you need wisdom today? Ask for it. And then trust what God tells you through His Word, whether you like it or not.

One of you is God, and the other one isn’t. There’s no middle ground. And the more you try to make middle ground, the more unstable you’ll be. You won’t have time to make wise decisions. You’ll be too busy cleaning up the mess from all the foolish decisions you’ve made.

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Peace always costs something

How much would you pay for peace of mind? If you didn’t have to spend your day worrying about what might happen or what has happened, what would that be worth to you? Worry is one of those issues that everyone struggles with in some form or another, and marketing professionals make lots of money using that particular emotion to sell products.

Worry is an effective tool to use, and convincing people that purchasing a particular tool or service will alleviate their anxieties. But purchasing a product rarely takes worries away. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered. The only way to deal with anxiety is to live by the Holy Spirit, because one of the fruit or the results of living by the Holy Spirit is peace.

You can’t buy this kind of peace. You can’t earn it either. This kind of peace is something God produces in our lives when we live by the Holy Spirit, according to 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!”

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

This is something Jesus told His disciples shortly before He was arrested and crucified, and it’s always been one of my favorite verses when it comes to thinking about the kind of peace that God gives us.

According to what Jesus says here, the world does offer a kind of peace. But the peace the world offers is temporary and often causes more trouble than it solves. The world’s peace is something you buy, something you haggle over the price of, something you control, something you turn on and off. It’s not based in anything but emotion, and it’s not strong enough to stand up under real pressure.

Whenever I think about the concept of failed peace, I think about the Treaty of Versailles. For those of you who aren’t history buffs, the Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties signed at the end of World War I that ended the state of war between the Allied Powers (including the US) and Germany. On the surface, the Treaty of Versailles was a wonderful document. Hey, any document that brings an end to war is great, right?

But here’s the problem: The Treaty of Versailles included some controversial parts, including the fact that Germany had to accept the blame for starting World War I, had to make territorial concessions and pay large sums of money. Maybe some people thought it was fair, but the result of such a heavy punishment on an already-struggling country was that more and more people grew more and more desperate. And the more desperate people became, the more angry they grew. And people who probably wouldn’t have gone to war before started gearing up for round two.

Was it right? No, but desperate people do desperate things. One of the reasons World War II came so soon after World War I was the unfair treatment of Germany in the peace negotiations. Again, that doesn’t excuse it, but in my mind, I understand it to a certain extent. Because if peace isn’t fair, it won’t work.

But that’s like the world’s peace. The peace the world gives us may stick around for a little while, but it costs somebody something they aren’t willing to keep giving.

Peace always costs something.

So how is God’s peace different? Well, like the other fruit of the spirit, God’s peace depends on God. God’s peace is a gift. It cost Him the life of His Son, but He gives it to us free of charge. It’s not something that can be taken away (although we ignore it frequently), and it never runs out no matter how many times you draw on it.

And the beautiful thing about God’s peace? If you have the Holy Spirit, you already have it. God’s peace is in you.

God’s peace is always fair because God is fair. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t feel like He is, but we’re the ones with a limited view of justice. He invented justice. And He will never tire of giving us peace.

So whatever situation you’re facing today, physical, emotional, spiritual, remember that if you have God’s Spirit, you have God’s peace. If you know Christ, you can draw from an inexhaustible supply of peace. You don’t have to worry. Worry is a choice. Like joy, it’s a response to circumstances, and you can choose.

So choose peace. God already paid for it. Everyone who follows Him has access to it. And it’ll do wonders for your attitude, for your perspective, and your hair color.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving those who don’t deserve it

I usually learn best by example. If someone can give me an example or tell me a story about a concept, I can usually grasp it. That’s why I love Jesus’ method of teaching because He was (and is) a storyteller. That’s one of the reasons why I’m wild about stories, because they do more than just entertain. Stories teach. And it’s the best way for me to learn something.

So this month, I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as explained 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.” For the moment I’m studying love. But not just any love–agape (αγαπη) love. It’s the kind of love that we can only have when we are following Christ. It’s 1 Corinthians 13 love.

But it’s one thing to tell me what this kind of love is. It’s something else to show me.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:30-37.

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known stories that Jesus’ told, but you really have to understand the historical context for the truth of the story to sink in. The nutshell version is that the Samaritan people weren’t well-liked at all among the Jews. They weren’t Jewish. They were a mixed race people, and the Jews just despised them. Something else we need to understand is who Jesus was telling this story to.

If you look a bit farther back in the chapter, you’ll see Jesus used this story as an answer to a question an expert in religious law asked. The expert had asked a question, trying to trap Jesus, wanting to know what the greatest commandment was. Jesus, of course, had the perfect answer (Love God, Love People), but the expert wanted to justify himself and wanted to know which people he could love and which people he didn’t have to love. This was Jesus’ answer.

I can’t wait to get to heaven so I can talk to people who were there for this moment. One of the joys of my life is sharing movies I love with people who haven’t seen them. I love the huge plot twists that make people gasp, and I love being able to share great stories with people just because I love watching their reactions. And that’s what I imagine happened when Jesus told this story. Because it wasn’t uncommon for a Jewish man to travel between Jerusalem and Jericho. It wasn’t uncommon for someone traveling alone to be attacked by bandits, especially along that particular road. The priest and the temple assistant might have been expected to stop and help, but none of them expected the Samaritan to help.

Samaritans were bad. They were hated. So I’m sure when listeners heard Jesus say a Samaritan was coming, they thought he would finish the poor victim off. But he didn’t. Not only did he stop and take care of the man, he carried him to where he could heal and paid for him to rest, all the while knowing that if their situation had been reversed, the Jewish man would have let him die.

That is agape. That is love.

So how do we demonstrate that in our own lives? Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often run across men who’ve been beaten and stripped laying by the side of the road. But I do encounter people who are hurting. So maybe it’s not the physical symptoms we need to be looking for but the emotional ones.

Too often we are caught up in our own problems and we don’t notice how much people around us are hurting. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget why I’m here–to bring glory to God. And it’s not that I can’t bring glory to God by dealing with my own issues. I absolutely can. But if I reach the end of my life and the only person who I’ve improved is myself, what’s the point?

The trouble with reaching out to people is that we make ourselves vulnerable. People are mean. Let’s just face it. People are selfish. People are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and hurtful, and opening your life to them makes you a target. But it’s worth it.

I love sequels. Even if they aren’t well done sequels, a part of me still enjoys seeing the next step in a character’s growth, and I always have wondered if the Good Samaritan ever met this Jewish man again. That would have been a meeting I would have liked to see, because if the Jewish man was a typical Jewish man of the time, he wouldn’t haven’t given the Samaritan the time of day. And see there’s no indication that the Samaritan wanted the man to know who he was. They could have met on the street, and the Jewish man would have had no idea who he was.

That’s what this kind of love looks like, Christian. It’s the silent servant who catches people when they fall and never asks for recognition.

Don’t hesitate to share this kind of love with people around you. It makes a difference, and it’s something God can use. Look for opportunities to share this kind of love. Be on the lookout for people who are hurting. If you are willing to love people like this, God will change you and He may even change them. You never know what God will accomplish if you simply let Him.

Best friends have to speak the same language

How important is it in a relationship to be able to speak the same language? What would happen in a relationship if you had a person from Japan trying to be best friends with a person from France. Nothing against either country. I’m just trying to find two completely different language roots and cultures to compare.

Now, if the person from France spoke Japanese, that would be one thing. And if the person from Japan, spoke French it would be the same. But what if neither of them spoke each other’s language and neither had any interest in learning? Would they even be friends at all, let alone best friends? I don’t think so.

Closeness in a relationship comes from being able to communicate with each other. And if you can’t communicate with each other, how do you expect to be friends?

This is the principle that came to mind when I read today’s verse, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.

Has someone who wasn’t a follower of Christ ever made fun of you? Have you ever been called foolish or ridiculous for believing in Christ? Have people ever looked at you strange when you share your faith and expressed that you aren’t making sense? If so, then you understand this verse.

A nonbeliever and a believer trying to understand each other is impossible. They can get along superficially. They can make friendship work on a basic level. But they are driven by two different motivations and part of being close friends is sharing what drives you.

Someone who follows Christ has the Holy Spirit. When someone believes in Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit as a guide and a comforter and as a link between Himself and us. Since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden, our own spirits stopped working. They are stillborn in us as we are born and live our lives without Christ. But when the Holy Spirit comes into us, our relationship with God is restored.

And the most amazing thing happens. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, our lives start to make sense. Granted, there are still things that happen that we don’t understand, but the Holy Spirit whispers that God is working everything out for our good. So even when the world is turning upside down, we can still believe that God will figure things out.

Beyond that, when you have the Holy Spirit, the Bible also makes sense. Did anyone ever try to read the Bible before they were a Christian? Did it make sense to you? Yes, there are portions of Scripture that make sense historically and logically (even though some people disagree), but the really deep truths of Scripture sound like foolish sentiments to people who don’t have the Holy Spirit. Because part of what the Holy Spirit does is to act as interpreter between God and us.

I was a hearing impaired interpreter in a second grade classroom for a semester. Talk about hard work! And the girl I interpreted for was only in second grade! It was my job to make sure that little girl understood everything the teacher said. Without me interpreting, she wouldn’t have grasped any of the concepts in the classroom because she couldn’t understand them.

Without the Holy Spirit interpreting the wisdom and the truth from the Scripture, we wouldn’t understand it either.

So where do we get the idea that a Christian and a non-Christian can be best friends? Now, am I saying that they can’t be friends? No. I have many friends who I love and respect and enjoy spending time with who have chosen not to follow Christ. That’s their choice, and I respect it. But are we going to be best friends? No. I live my life a different way than they do, and just as it’s their choice to live how they think is best, it’s my choice too. And they are my friends because they respect my choice, just like I respect theirs. But I can’t express the things I believe to them because they don’t understand.

My best, closest friends are Christians, either Christians who are my same age maturity wise or older. My best, closest friends are people who have walked with Christ for years and have faithful, deep, one-on-one conversations with God through the Holy Spirit on an hourly basis. And if in the unlikely course of events I am supposed to marry, my husband is going to have to be the same way . . . because that’s the language I speak.

It’s not about being smart enough. It’s not about being friends for long enough. It’s not about even giving Christianity a try or accepting that someone else is a Christian when you aren’t. It’s about speaking the same language.

And just like that person from France and that person from Japan, if they don’t speak the same language, there will be misunderstandings and they will eventually walk away from each other hurt because they tried to cultivate a deep friendship where there was neither common ground nor communication.

Cornelia Marie. Time Bandit. Northwestern. Discovery Channel geeks already know what I’m blogging about today.

Does anybody watch Deadliest Catch? I’ve seen it a few times, and though I’m not into reality television, I think that show is incredibly well done. Imagine doing that sort of job for a living. Going out on a boat in absurd conditions in the middle of the ocean where anything can happen. Relying on your crew and your wits to save you from danger when something goes wrong.

Who knew fishing was such dangerous work?

Strangely enough, I thought about that show when I read the verse of the day today (actually, after I read most of the chapter because the single verse by itself didn’t make a lot of sense).

Most of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. That’s what they did for a living. Granted, they didn’t fish in ice storms, but I’m sure their brand of the profession had its dangers too. And I haven’t seen Deadliest Catch enough to know about the education level of the captains and the crew, but how much schooling have they had? Not that I’m speaking against a lack of education. Not at all; some of the smartest people I know only have high school diplomas. It would just be interesting to know because Jesus’ disciples had very little educational background. The Bible even calls them “unlearned and ignorant men.” And where the Gospels put the disciples after Christ’s death on the cross is anything but flattering.

The disciples ran away. They left Him to be arrested and killed. A few were there (recorded) when He died, but for the most part, they had given up. And even when they heard that He’d risen from the dead, some of them didn’t believe it (even though He had told them He would).

My point is that the disciples were pretty cowardly. The disciples were a lot like us, in all honesty.

So . . . .if the disciples were cowardly, petty, uneducated people, who the heck are the men in Acts 4:1-22? (sorry for the long passage, but trust me; it’s worth it)

 1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. 2 These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. 3 They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. 4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.[a]

 5 The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. 7 They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,[b] the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

   ‘The stone that you builders rejected
      has now become the cornerstone.’[c]

 12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

 13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. 15 So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber[d] and conferred among themselves.

 16 “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. 17 But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” 18 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

 19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

 21 The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God 22 for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.

Peter and John got in trouble because they had healed a lame man in the name of Jesus and they were telling people about Jesus in the streets. Okay, first off, since when could any of the disciples do miracles? And since when were they gutsy enough to preach in the streets to people who didn’t believe what they believed, let alone stand up to the religious establishment of the day?

Something changed Peter and John.

Peter — the loud-mouthed, brazen, impetuous fisherman who spoke before he thought about it and acted before he considered consequences. The disciple who loved Jesus but denied Him when push came to shove.

John — the youngest of the disciples who stayed in the background until he had an opportunity to argue about who was more important, who had the gall to ask Jesus if he could have a position of authority in heaven.

Something changed both of these men, like something changed the rest of the disciples. Being with Jesus, living with Him, walking with Him, talking to Him, made them into different people. And after the Day of Pentecost (you’ll have to read the beginning of Acts for that), the 11 remaining disciples became a force for Christ so unstoppable that the world is still recovering from their influence. Did you realize that of the 11 disciples (Judas is not in this count), only one of them died of natural causes? John. An old man. Exiled on the Isle of Patmos after he’d been burned alive in oil. He died naturally anyway after he wrote the Book of the Revelation. The rest of the disciples were killed in horrible ways for their faith.

Aren’t we talking about unlearned, ignorant, cowardly men?

We absolutely are. But we’re talking about unlearned, ignorant, cowardly men who knew Jesus. And that makes all the difference in the world.

And if God can take an unlearned, ignorant, cowardly fisherman and use him to turn the world on its head, what can He do with me? What can He do with you? We just have to figure out what the disciples eventually did: Jesus is all we need and any suffering we face in this world can’t possibly compare to the life He has planned for us when we leave.