Eating Plastic Fruit

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Nate Champneys

FullSizeRender (3)As a father with young children, I spend a lot of time “fake eating” things. My youngest, who is three, will bring me a plate of plastic fruit and an empty cup with pretend tea in it and offer it to me. So I take it and play along. I begin to act like I am consuming her gourmet cooking and say, “MMMM!!! This is so good!” and give her a big smile. She will then take my plate and go and “make more food.” But, as much as I act like I am enjoying eating my plastic food, it’s not real. It’s nothing like a real banana! 🙂

Did you ever stop and think about the fact that, with all our inventions, mankind can’t even come close to manufacturing a real piece of fruit? We can get pretty close to making a fake banana look like a banana on the outside, but, at closer examination, we immediately know it’s a fake. There is no substitute for the soft, creamy middle of a good banana.

The New Testament mentions fruit as a spiritual analogy 44 times, 27 of which are from Jesus Himself. I have realized that, as human beings, we can spend a lot of time manufacturing fake spiritual fruit. And we work so hard at making it look just like the real thing. What do I mean? Let me explain. Many of us say to ourselves, “I need to be more loving,” “I need to be more kind,” or “I need to be more patient.” Then we try harder to do those things. We think that is going to help us grow spiritually. But, in a sense, what we are doing is taking plastic, tasteless fruit and hanging it on our branch and hoping this will make the branch grow stronger; if it doesn’t make the branch stronger, at least it will look better.

Galatians 5 says that the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives. He produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in us. HE PRODUCES IT. It is not attained by trying harder to do these things. I spent so much my Christian life striving so hard to be better. I tried so hard, and sometimes I could muster some of those things for a little while. But, inside, my heart was still hard. On the outside, I was the “good Christian kid” raised in a “good Christian home.” I was really good at making my tree look fruitful, but, if you closely examined my life, you would find that my fruit was plastic.

In Matthew 7, Jesus talks about knowing a tree by its fruit and says that you can identify people by their actions in the same way as identifying trees by their fruit. But, in the verses following, He mentions people who spent their whole lives “faking it.” People who spent their lives manufacturing fruit and hanging it on their tree. He says these people will cry, “Lord, didn’t we do these amazing things in your name?!” but will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says in verse 23, “But I will reply, “I never KNEW you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”

At the cross, Jesus paid the ultimate price to take the barrier of our sin out of the way between us and the Father. Then He gave us His Spirit. When we join together with His Spirit and allow Him to heal our hearts and work through us while in close relationship with Him, He causes us to bear much fruit! The pressure is not on us to work hard to “be better.” Instead, we get the privilege of being able to unashamedly walk with our Father in complete acceptance as He works in us and through us to bear much fruit! The focus is not on the fruit, but on abiding with our Father.

Are you getting tired of striving to be better? Are you ready to stop painting wooden fruit and hanging it on your branch? Are you willing to forget about the fruit and focus on being a branch that is tied into the Vine?

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Wanderlust

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

“Wanderlust” is one of those words I have very mixed emotions about. On the plus side (I think!), I am one of those people who feels drawn to the idea of exploration and road trips and hikes in the wilderness and camping and all those sorts of things. There is a sort of romantic, gypsy feel to the lifestyle of a wanderer. As Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

On the other hand, half of the word “wanderlust” is not so nice. We usually don’t give a positive connotation to the word “lust,” do we? (Although I readily admit I unashamedly lust over chocolate!)

One of the young men in Pulse is a young professional with a serious case of wanderlust. Oftentimes he just launches out in his car, driving to he knows not where. He usually ends up in another state, on the coast or in the forests of Oregon, in the mountains of Idaho or Montana, or sometimes even farther. He just loves to wander. He says it helps him process life. (And eventually, thankfully, he comes back!)

WanderlustJedediah on his maiden voyage (to Lake Chelan)

I’ve confessed to several people that I’m getting to the point in my professional career where I can see a light at the end of the workday tunnel . . . that light that is sometimes called “retirement.” One of the recent symptoms of pre-retirement, for me, is wanderlust. I spent several months researching and then purchasing a motorhome, and I’ve been getting it equipped to take on the road. I’ve taken a maiden (mushroom-hunting) voyage already, to Eastern Washington with my son Nathan, and Darlene and I took it for a few days to the beach. Two weeks later we had some time with Gordy and Linda at Taidnapam (on Riffe Lake), where they are camp hosts.

But I have dreams of going much farther. Ultimately, we’d like to make our way lazily over to Pennsylvania, for a month or two at a time, where our daughter Mandy, her husband Mike, and our granddaughter Annabelle live. Pennsylvania in the fall is beautiful (full of mushrooms), and there is plenty of space for Jedediah (that’s what we named our new motorhome, after the explorer Jedediah Smith) on their small farm there.

From there, we could even explore the eastern coast of the U.S., or divert up into Canada on our way home . . . or maybe Iceland . . .

Mandy inherited my sense of wanderlust. She and I spent a good portion of the summer of 2006 exploring several nations in Southern Africa, including the Congo. We had a blast, and she went on after that to wander through India and Nepal with a friend. She and Mike also frequently hike places such as the Appalachian Trail, and when they visit here later this summer they want to hike a part of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. (As do I!)

Where am I going with this? I’ve felt vaguely guilty at times about my wanderlust. God calls us to be content with where He has placed us, and I love our home, our family, and our friends. I hate missing Elim, even one weekend service. So I’ve wondered whether my wanderlust may be a sign of ungodly discontentment.

But then I look at my model of godliness, Pastor Martin. There’s a guy with some serious wanderlust. He thinks nothing about jumping on his manly motorbike and heading out into the open highway, bugs splattering thickly across his grinning teeth.

If Pastor Martin has wanderlust, it seriously can’t be wrong, can it?

Pulse is currently studying the book of Jonah, which I’m enjoying very much. Jonah had a serious case of wanderlust. God said, “Go to Nineveh!” The great city was due northeast of where Jonah lived. So he headed out . . . due west, to Joppa. There he boarded a ship for Tarshish, which was WAY west, actually out in Spain, on the westernmost edge of the known world!

Jonah was fleeing God, which he discovered (while soaking in bile in the belly of a big fish, buried deep in the Mediterranean Sea) is actually not possible. As David says in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

In Jonah 2, the reluctant prophet says: “From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,  and you listened to my cry.”

If the belly of a great fish deep in the ocean isn’t “the realm of the dead,” I’m not sure what is! Once the fish barfed Jonah out upon the beach, pointing toward Nineveh, he thankfully started heading in the right direction.

I think the important thing for me (by way of admonition to those who, like me, have a bad case of wanderlust) is this: Are we running TOWARD God, or AWAY FROM Him?

There’s nothing wrong with travel. But when we travel, are we making it a priority to connect with other believers in worship? Are we ensuring that our home church has our financial support while we are gone? And are we staying connected with those (at home) we are in community with, through whatever means are at our disposal? (Ahem, social media, cough, cough . . .)

And is our motivation for running away, getting away from something that God wants us to deal with, instead of simply dealing with it?

Christ frequently wandered into the wilderness, even amidst the pressing demands of ministry. But He was running TOWARD the voice of His Father, who was drawing Him to solitude for the sake of their fellowship together. Does our wandering have the same aim?

Larry welcomes your comments here or on his personal blog. Just don’t let your thoughts wander . . .

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Personal Maintenance

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Brian Sharpe

Cars perplex me. There are some things I have learned how to fix. Still, other problems are just beyond me. What amazes me is when a person knows cars so much that they can just listen to the engine and tell you what is wrong with the car.

My van broke down a couple weeks ago. The good thing is that it broke down near our house. One day after dinner with some friends I had to grab something out of the van for that friend. He asked me if I knew what was wrong with the van. I replied, “I’m not a mechanic and I have no idea.”

It just “happened” that my neighbor whom I hadn’t met before was getting something out of his car. He said. “I am a mechanic; I can help you.”  He went inside his house and returned with some diagnostic tools. He spent a little time that evening and the next day helping me diagnose what was going on with my van.

Every time I work on the car or even on the house, I am constantly reminded that, when doing a job, it is always helpful to have the right tools!

This struck me as I was thinking about our spiritual walk. We are like cars. We need maintaining. Sometimes we even break down and need someone to help us get running again.

I was sitting in some meetings this past February, and one of the things that was introduced is doing some “personal care.” The question was asked, “What practices do we need to do in order for us to be healthy spiritually, relationally, and physically?” This is a maintenance question.

Our cars need the oil checked. They need the tires filled. We need to sleep and eat. We also need to do things that are life-giving for us. For me, I need to listen to music. I need competition. I need physical activity. I need time with God. If I have these things in my days or weeks, it helps me stay healthy in my relationship with God and others. It’s a maintenance thing.

Sometimes, though, mere maintenance isn’t enough. Sometimes I need a mentor or counselor to come and help me diagnose what is broken in my life or relationships. Good maintenance or self-care can help me go longer times between breaking down, but we all break down at different points, and we need someone to come in and help us figure out what is going on.

I was sitting at a conference several years ago and a guy I was listening to said that we are like airplanes. We are built to go through the turbulence of life, but, like planes, we need maintenance or we will start to break down and crash.

Do you know the things you need in your life that help you connect with God?  Do you know the things in your life that help keep you physically and mentally sharp?  We all need Jesus. God created us to need time with Him. For me, some of my best times with Him are when I am just listening to music, praying through the words. I need that time.

God created each of us to need different things. Some of us need time by ourselves. Some of us need to run or work out. Some of us need time with friends, just processing life. Some of us need to play an instrument. The great thing is, God knows what we need and He meets us in those needs. When we run, He is running with us. When we play our instrument, He is listening with joy, like a parent listening to their kid’s recital. When we are not maintained well, or when we are broken down on the side of the road, we are limiting how God can use us.

We all need maintenance. We all need a mechanic. We all need to take care of ourselves by doing maintenance and sometimes (more often than we like to acknowledge) we need a mechanic to help us diagnose what is going on in our hearts and minds. Are you taking care of yourself because you love God and want to be used by Him?

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Anger

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

JonahWe’re living in a day and age where an outflowing of national anger and disillusionment with broken government promises, increasing bureaucracy, and taxation are having a significant impact upon presidential politics. Whether that impact will be negative or positive for our country is hotly debated and beyond the scope of this Last Word.

What I am concerned about here is the impact that anger has on us personally. And I speak from that of which I know. I was raised by Christian parents, but the general mood in our household was often very angry. My parents fought a lot. Usually they were angry with each other, for a variety of reasons; and sometimes they were angry with us kids. I remember once my mom was very angry with my brother and me about something (I don’t remember what; I’m sure we deserved her wrath). She went for the belt to administer a whipping, which she rarely did. As the oldest, I was, unfortunately, first in line. She was so angry she didn’t realize she was holding the wrong end of the belt when she hit my backside with it. The first (and, as it turned out, only) blow landed with the metal buckle coming in contact with the target.

My mother was instantly horrified when she realized what she had done in anger; she burst into tears and ran off sobbing. It was the last time she ever took a belt to any of us five kids, as far as I know.

The fortunate part of the story for me is that my mom wasn’t very strong, and even in her anger the metal belt buckle, while it stung a bit, didn’t do much damage!

Some of this anger transferred to me. As a young father, I had a hard time not getting angry at my kids, particularly my son, who was very good at goading me. By the time he was 17, he knew exactly what buttons to push to get me pretty much out of control. Once he sent me into a blind rage, and I was so angry I grabbed a telephone (the cordless kind) and launched it at him with all my might. Fortunately, he had good reflexes and ducked the missile, which punched a hole right through the drywall of our staircase.

He grabbed some things out of his room and left the house, announcing that he was going to report me to Child Protective Services. I probably deserved that. I was appalled and dismayed and spent three days just pleading with the Lord to help me get my anger under control. At the end of that time, realizing that through the Lord’s empowerment I indeed did have control, if I only had the discipline to exercise it, I vowed I would never be goaded into that kind of anger again. And I have kept that vow to this day, some 15 years later. As a result, my relationship with my son has vastly improved. (Not that he hasn’t occasionally tested the limits!)

I realize now (and I probably realized then, to some extent, at least) that my anger was holding me back from becoming the kind of father, and the kind of disciple, God wanted me to become. I am so grateful to be able to look back and see how God has helped me get some victory over this particular broken and sinful aspect of my life. I am hoping that it has made me not only a better dad, but also a better husband, employee, brother in Christ, and citizen. (Now, on to the next big project!)

A Prophet with a Problem

At worship on Sunday, I mentioned what I am learning from the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet who had a problem with anger. And the Ninevites deserved his anger! They were among the most brutal people ever to inhabit the planet. The records of their horrific brutality, if you read about them in the history books, make you feel ill even now, thousands of years later. I won’t go there; I’ll just assure you that whatever your imagination can conjure up, what they did to their enemies was worse.

And they didn’t like the Hebrews. And the Hebrews didn’t like them. Which is why many people think Jonah ran in the opposite direction when God told him to go and deliver His message to Nineveh. Wa-a-a-ay in the opposite direction!

But the real reason Jonah ran is revealed in Jonah 4:1–4.

But it [God’s mercy on the Ninevites after they repented] displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

The answer to the Lord’s question was, of course, “No.” But instead of answering, Jonah just sulked. He went and staked out a position on the hillside overlooking the huge city of Nineveh, hoping against hope to see God rain down fire and brimstone on it while he ate popcorn.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the reason for Jonah’s anger was the kindness, grace, and mercy of our steadfastly loving God! In his anger against the Ninevites, Jonah wanted vengeance. He was only all too happy to preach God’s simple message: “Forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed!” No love lost there, as far as he was concerned.

So Jonah set himself up on the hill, and verse 6 says “the Lord God appointed a plant” that provided shade over Jonah and gave him relief from the heat. And Jonah was glad for the plant. (He’d apparently had enough of discomfort after spending three days and nights in the gastrointestinal tract of a large fish!)

But then our merciful, gracious, and loving God did something very interesting. Verse 7 says that at dawn of the next day, God “appointed a worm” that attacked the plant so that it withered, and Jonah lost his comfy shade. (For the fascinating biblical story behind the worm, check out this blog post.) After the sun rose, “God appointed a scorching east wind” to make Jonah really uncomfortable. And, once again, Jonah was angry and “asked that he might die.” (You can almost hear him thinking, “I’ll show God! We’ll see how he feels after His prophet has died of heat stroke.”)

The discomfort was, of course, intended by God as an object lesson for Jonah. “Do you do well to be angry about the plant?” God asked him in verse 8. And Jonah replied, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

I hope Jonah saw the divine humor in this. God was under no illusions that the Ninevites were model citizens. His view of them was that they did “not know their right hand from their left.” Not very flattering, eh? And to drive his point home, God adds, “And also much cattle.” Come on, Jonah, at least feel for the cows!

(Something about this reminds me of that strangely hilarious scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “Oh, George! Not the livestock!”)

I continue to be blown away by a recognition that I probably share with Jonah that God is so good at love, and I am so bad at it. He is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Thank God He often (probably more often than we know) “relents from disaster,” even though we certainly deserve it!

What do you do if you struggle with anger?

Do you struggle with anger? Be honest. I don’t think I’m alone in this one. We know there is a “righteous anger,” an anger at sin and its effects on innocent people, and injustice, and man’s inhumanity to man, and so much else that has resulted from the Fall. But how often can our anger truly be counted in this category? Or how often is our anger instead a result of the fact that we haven’t gotten what we want or think we are owed? Our anger blinds us. We think we are concerned about a mote in someone else’s eye, when our anger has blinded us to the log in our own.

And our anger separates us from the blessings God wants to bestow on us, and through us, to others. My advice is: Deal with it! Lay it before the cross. Recognize how the blood of Christ absorbed the righteous anger of God, anger at the sin we so willingly partake in. If you need help, get it. Ask brothers and sisters around you to pray for you and hold you accountable. Get professional help if you need it. Please don’t wait for God to give you a loving sunburn to drive His point home, as He did with Jonah!

Larry welcomes your comments and questions, either here or on his personal blog.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Are You Healthily Sick?

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Nate Champneys

FullSizeRender

Are you healthily sick?

“What do you mean?,” you might ask. “How can you be sick in a healthy way?” As human beings who live in a world that is soaking in the depravity of sin, the effect of the Fall is all around us and within us. I used to think that eventually I would “arrive” and I would be completely healthy at some point. I would look at certain people in my life, where everything looked good in their lives and I would think, “Maybe someday I will be able to be like them.”

However, the longer I live, the more I realize that even the people who came from “good” childhoods and seem like they have it all together are broken. Every single one of us has fractures in our heart as a result of own sin and being sinned against by others. So every one of us is “sick.”

The good news is that we have a God who can and does bring healing to our broken hearts, but, until we get to Heaven, we will always have fractures in our hearts that need God’s healing. Is there a healthy way to deal with our brokenness? What does it look like to be healthy in the midst of our sickness? I would like to share four principles of being healthily sick.

Let me be clear. These four characteristics are not “Nathan Champneys’s four steps to spiritual success.” They really aren’t steps, but they are all simultaneously part of the healing process. In my own life, I feel like I am constantly going deeper into all of these. None of us ever “arrives.” So life becomes a process of working through these items. Don’t read these steps and try to place yourself into one or another. You will focus on these in different measures as you go deeper and deeper into allowing God to heal your heart. As we embrace these four principles, even though we are still “sick” because of our sin nature, we are living in a healthy way as Jesus continually brings healing to our hearts.

  1. Embrace the truth that you are accepted and loved exactly the way you are. God is not surprised by the fractures in your heart. He loves you right now, even with all your problems. There is nothing you can do to change that fact. This is such a hard truth to internalize, and it’s one that we have to keep relearning. I find it helpful to verbalize the truth to myself in prayer. I pray, “God, I thank You for being a good Father and completely accepting me. I thank You for loving me in my brokenness.”
  2. Own your brokenness. It has been said that the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. This really isn’t the first step; it’s the second. Until we understand how loved we are by God, we tend to feel insecure about our weaknesses and thus feel a need to live in denial about them. You are broken. You are a piece of work. But you are okay! You are loved!
  3. Intentionally discover your brokenness. The next part of being healthy in your brokenness is intentionally seeking out the areas that need healing. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You.” David asks God to point out the offensive areas of his heart. David is not afraid to acknowledge his faults. Instead, he is actively working with God to discover the broken areas.
  4. Ask God to heal you. David ends Psalm 139 with this line, “Lead me along the path of everlasting life.” David was asking God to help him thrive in his relationship. The reality about our God is that He is a really, really good Father. The only way that real relationship can truly happen is for there to be freedom for both people in the relationship to have free will to participate. Therefore, God will never violate our free will. To do so would make us robots and make any relationship with us fake. If we don’t invite God into the process of healing our hearts, He doesn’t force it on us. But he has promised that as we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we choose to bring our sickness to Him, He is more than willing to bring healing to us.
If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.