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.

God reveals Himself through stories

I love stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of stories they are, though I do prefer stories with happy endings (some people may doubt that if they’ve read my latest novel, Namesake, but I promise it’s true!). Stories entertain us. They make us laugh. They help us dream. They allows us to imagine a different life or different worlds. But that’s not all they do.

The best stories, the ones that stick with us, always contain a morsel of truth. The stories that resonate in our hearts are the ones that God can use to speak to us in ways normal conversation can’t. So, in a way, it’s fitting to see the Bible and one big storybook.

1A0499C042Today’s verses are Romans 4:20-24.

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d read the Bible more often if it were more relevant to their lives. On one hand, I can understand that the Bible can be confusing, especially if you’re reading a translation that requires a lot of study. But it’s not that the Bible isn’t relevant. It’s that we aren’t actively applying its lessons to our lives.

It’s the same way we apply the truth of stories in our lives, and that’s not a new thing. Remember Aesop’s Fables? People have been telling stories since language was invented, to entertain and to educate. Oral histories of people and culture are all we have left of some civilizations. And in every story, there’s a lesson.

Not much has changed throughout history, though. Our movies, our television shows, our books–they’re all stories. They’re all lessons.

What’s different about the Bible is that it was written by God for us. It’s His Word, the only truth, and it’s intended to show us the meaning of life, our purpose on earth, and to show us who God is and how much He loves us. What I love is how He does it.

God could have written: “Hey, humans. I made you. I made everything. You screwed me over, but because I love you, I’ve made a way for you to be saved. The End.” But He didn’t. Instead, He moved through dozens of authors over hundreds of years to write a collection of stories about how He shows up in our daily lives. God shows Himself through stories. Those moments where something impossible happens? Those moments where everything works out just perfectly? That’s not coincidence. That’s design. That’s God.

We can relate to stories. So that’s why God tells us stories.

So the next time you’re tempted to think that the Bible is confusing or irrelevant to your life, just stop. Take a moment to actually read one of the stories (use a translation you understand), and don’t see it as some ancient historical document. See it as a story that you’d tell around a campfire. See if the lesson doesn’t jump out at you. You might be surprised what you learn.

What’s great about God’s stories is that there’s always something to learn. And those lessons you learn grow and change with you as you get older, because God is always exactly what you need when you need Him. So a story may mean something to you today, but read it again in ten years, and you’ll get something new out of it. That’s real truth, and that’s who God is.

Choosing to glorify God clears up the gray areas

I run a publishing company with two very good friends. It’s a little side business we decided to try last year, and it’s growing. It actually might be getting close to becoming a “real” business soon, and while that’s exciting, it also means a lot more challenges. Some I expected and others I didn’t.

The publishing company has a blog that the three of us update weekly, and we wanted to do TV and movie reviews. No big deal, right? Well, a legal situation in the middle of this year prompted us to start looking into the legality of using images we don’t own. Like stills from movies or television shows. It’s a big, confusing mess of legalese, and really all it amounts to is that the whole thing is sort of gray.

So what does that mean? It means you have to make the best, wisest decision you can with the information you have. Sure, you can wing it. You can guess. But that’s a surefire way of making the wrong choice. You need to think, to look at your goals, study the law, and make your decision.

Ever realized that following Jesus is sort of the same in some ways?

OT37RD9KJNToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The Bible is very clear on the important aspects of following God. Who God is. Who Jesus is. The work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal security. And many others. But there are other areas that aren’t as black and white. There are other areas some people call gray. And navigating the gray areas is often the biggest source of conflict between believers.

The law is very clear about some things, and it’s a bit fuzzy on others. Best example? Modesty. Should women only wear skirts? I’m not sure if this is as big a deal today as it was 15+ years ago. When I was in high school, it was the only discussion (or it felt like it was). Jeans and slacks and trousers are considered by some to be immodest when worn by women. But the other side of that coin? What about women who live in states like Kansas where the wind never quits blowing? Have you ever tried to wear a skirt and work outside in Kansas wind? Modest isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

But there’s no verse in the Bible that says women shouldn’t wear pants. The Bible just instructs us to be modest. And modesty (to a certain extent) is a matter of preference. And that’s where an understanding of the spirit of the law needs to go into effect. What is the point? What is the truth? Why is modesty important, and what should we do achieve it?

That’s when you need to start studying. You need to start digging and asking questions. You need to look for the answers because they aren’t always obvious. And you might not ever find an obvious answer, and it’s at that point when you need to take what you know about the Bible and about who God is and what He expects and make the best choice you can.

Don’t cheap out on this, folks. That’s a quick way to get yourself in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know what to do, study. Read the Bible. Search for the answer. Get council from someone at your church who you trust. Listen. And pray. Talk to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do. And then–choose.

It all comes down to glorifying God in everything you do. That’s how you can clear out the gray areas. That’s how you can figure out what you’re supposed to do when the answers aren’t presenting themselves easily. First and foremost, do everything for God’s glory. That means obeying His Word in letter and spirit–in letter for the instructions that are obvious and in spirit for the expectations He has for our lives.

A light in the dark doesn’t help just you

One of the things I love about living in the country is how much you can see at night. That’s ironic because it’s so dark in the country. You can’t see what’s right in front of you, obviously, but when you have a light, you can see it for miles around. Out in the country where I live, you can see the lights of several small towns, and the very large bright glow on the southern horizon is Wichita far in the distance.

In the daylight, lights don’t make much difference. But at nighttime, when there are no other lights around, a light can’t be hidden.

light_in_dark7Today’s verse is John 12:46.

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

This is something Jesus said to a group of people who had gathered to hear him. It’s a bold claim. I’m not sure if anyone else in the history of the world has ever made such a claim. If someone said this today, very few people would listen, I think.

But the Bible and other historical documents have proven over and over again who Jesus was (and is). And the changed lives of those who follow Him are evidence that He speaks the truth–that He is the light.

We get turned around, though. We get hung up on following other men and their interpretations of Jesus’ words. We prefer this preacher to that preacher. We prefer this church to that church. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with your preferences, as long as your faith is in the right place.

A religion or a denomination has never been the source of light. Jesus has always been and always will be the light that guides us, and if you follow Him, you’ll never be lost. Even when you feel like you’re wandering in circles, you won’t be lost because you’ll be right where He wants you.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to do what He does, to think how He thinks, to live how He lived, and to see life the way He saw it. And how do you know all that? Well, why do you think we have the Bible?

Following Jesus isn’t a mystery. Everything we need to know about being a Christ-follower is laid out in Scripture. It won’t just occur to you. You have to read it. You have to study it. You have to make the Bible an active part of your life.

Then, when the darkness of the world surrounds you, you’ll be a light in the darkness because you’re holding on to Jesus’ light. And the best thing about a light in the dark? It draws others to it.

If you believe in Jesus, why don’t you follow Him? If you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you pattern your life after Him? No, it’s not easy, but living life isn’t easy. It’s far better to live life for a reason, and when the reason is Christ, your life will accomplish far more than you ever could have without Him.

If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.