You know how, when you’re with good friends, you’ll do a “breath check”? A quick puff out to make sure that garlic from lunch or coffee from Starbucks isn’t stinking it up every time you talk? Those are important. Helpful. People who breathe your air are grateful for the time you took to ask that question.
But, as important as breath checks are, there are other checks that are even more important. A “fruit check” is one of them.
The Bible often uses the metaphor of “fruit” to describe a vibrant Christian life. Christians who are growing in Christ are bearing fruit, and that fruit is noticeable to others.
What, exactly, should we be demonstrating? The Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
This list isn’t there to stress us out or to show us how pitifully inadequate we are. Only Jesus fleshed each of these of these out perfectly every day. But these are our goals. These. Not straight A’s or perfect highlights or a Size 4. Not lots of money or a new car or a promotion.
So, every once in a while, we need to ask a friend how we’re doing in this area. Because just like we can be unaware of bad breath, we can also be unaware of bad actions. We can think we’re really following Jesus, but in reality, we have no fruit. It is so easy to eat the “garlic” of selfish ambition and drink the “coffee” of self-love instead of pursuing “righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22)
So, every once in a while, ask for a “fruit check” – examine yourself and ask others to help you, as well. Because nothing, girls, nothing is as important as serving Jesus and growing in Him. A pursuit of anything else will leave us empty.
What is Good Friday?
It is the day Christians remember Christ’s work on the cross.
On Good Friday, Jesus was led to his execution. He was sentenced to a death so horrendous that it was reserved only for non-citizens of the Roman Empire. Not even the worst Roman citizen would have to endure this. And Jesus was sentenced for one reason:
Because he claimed to be God.
He wasn’t killed for being a good person, for being a wise teacher, for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. He was killed because the Jewish leaders of his day found his claims of deity to be blasphemous. They did not believe he was the promised Messiah. And they understood – rightly – that that is exactly who he was saying he was.
But Jesus was the Messiah. He was God in the flesh, come to earth. He lived a sinless life, qualifying him to be the only one who could pay the penalty for our sins.
Sins separate us from God. But God loves us, and he doesn’t want us separated from him. And so he sent his son to die the death that we deserve so we can have eternal life with him.
This Friday is remembered as Good, not just because Jesus paid the penalty we deserve, but because three days later, He rose from the dead – proving once and for all He is God and has power over sin and death. He is the victor. And through Him, we, too, are victorious. In the words of a beautiful old hymn,
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know who hold the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives
I woke up last Sunday to the news that my mom (age 62) has cancer. Those of you who have gotten news like that know that it is a major perspective-changer.
I know words this Sunday that I’d never heard of last Sunday – words like ‘peritoneal’ and ‘carcinomatosis’. I know about Stages and cancer centers and the fact that not all chemo is the same and wigs cost a ridiculous amount of money and some doctors are just not nice people.
I also know that I have an amazing family – on all sides. I have wonderful friends – ones that I see often and ones I hardly see at all. I know that people who have walked this road before reach out and offer help and hope.
I know that, when you get news like this, life-changing news, what is suddenly most important is relationships. The horizontal relationships are vital, without a doubt. People around you hold you up and buy you coffee and hug your neck. But, even more important is the Vertical relationship.
We are immortal beings. And our eternal life is far more important than our temporal one. One of Mom’s friends recognized that last week. A professed atheist, he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as a result of Mom’s diagnosis!
Because this is still new, we don’t know timelines or percentages. We don’t know where the cancer originated or how far it has spread. We don’t know the exact kind of chemo she’ll need or for exactly how long she’ll need it. We do know, however, that God is in control. He is a God of miracles, a God who loves His children fiercely. He is with Mom and with all of us who love Mom.
This is not a chapter of our story that I would have written, but I know the Author, and I know His purposes are far greater than mine. We will look to Him.
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Ps. 94:19
I just directed “Fiddler on the Roof” at my school. I’ll be honest – I was nervous about directing this beloved show. It was a massive undertaking by all involved. The biggest musical I have ever directed. But it turned out to be amazing! Other than that one cast member who chose not to show up to the performances, it was perfect! (Soap Box moment: folks, don’t ever do that to a director…or an employer…or anyone who is counting on you. You could end up blacklisted, fired, or worse – subtweeted on my blog!).
Tevye, the main character, watches as his family and his village change before his eyes. His oldest daughter chooses her own husband! Without a matchmaker (*gasp*). Tevye wrestles with this, but decides a matchmaker is just a tradition, not a Truth, so he gives his permission. His second daughter doesn’t even ask his permission to marry. She just wants his blessing. Again, he wrestles with whether or not he can do this. But love for his daughter overrules love for tradition, and he gives both his blessing and his permission. His third daughter, however, chooses to marry outside the faith. As Tevye thinks through this, he realizes this isn’t simply a tradition Chava has broken. It is the sacred Law of God. In the most quoted line from the play, he says, “If I bend that far…I will break.” And he walks away from his daughter forever. In the end, his entire village must leave their homes because of their faith. The Russian government no longer wants Jews in their country.
Folks from all ends of the political and religious spectrum connect with the themes in this show. As a Christian, I feel for Tevye. I understand that some of what I hold dear are just “traditions” — getting dressed up for church, having worship music before the sermon, being clean cut and tattoo-free – ideas that the church has held to for years, but aren’t actually related to righteousness. But much of what I
believe is based on the unchanging Truth of God’s word – the high value of life and marriage, for example – Truth that is becoming less and less acceptable in my “village”. Like Tevye, I can only bend so far. I should only bend so far. Because honoring God’s revealed Truth is far more important than being accepted by the world around me.
As I watched this show, I was reminded of who I am. Whose I am. I was reminded that there are times when I need to let go of traditions that I have held to, and other times when I need to stand for Truth. Even if it hurts. Because God’s laws are for our good, because He loves us.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2
I am, and always have been, “artsy.” Growing up, I was pitiful at athletics and academics, but I excelled at drama and music. Songs speak to me. Standing on stage is fun. Standing on stage with people watching is really, really fun.
There are great benefits to being artsy: I’ve never been nervous going into a job interview. I love being asked to speak to a group of people, and I am fairly adept at speaking extemporaneously. I am confident (most of the time), and it takes a whole lot to embarrass me.
But there are also negatives: I spent a lot of years allowing other people’s opinions of me to determine my opinion of myself. So there were times I thought I was the greatest person on the planet and other times when I thought I was worthless. I also spent a lot of years comparing myself to others, and feeling incredibly antagonistic toward people who were better than me.
In my late teens/early twenties, as I began to get really serious about my relationship with God, I began to be convicted of that sin of pride in my life. But rather than blaming my own sinful thoughts, I blamed the arts. So I stopped doing much of what I loved. Stopped acting, stopped singing anywhere but in church. And, when I did sing in church, I often chose songs out of my range, so I wouldn’t sound very good, thinking that “proved” my humility.
As I grew to know God better, I began to see myself more clearly. God revealed that my pride in my abilities wasn’t gone. It just transferred to pride in my refusal to use those abilities. The sin was still there, waiting to be dealt with.
When I finally dealt with that, God began to show me that those gifts I had were from him. He gave them to me to use. God is a creator. THE creator. Rather than being opposed to the creative arts, He is the author of them. When I learned to recognize that, to give Him the glory for the gifts he has given me, I found incredible freedom. Freedom to use my gifts to the best of my abilities, and freedom to recognize the abilities He has given others. Rather than feeling competitive, I can feel inspired by the many people whose abilities exceed mine. Talk about freeing!
If you’re artsy, own it! Know your gifts are from God. KNOW your gifts are from God. Know your gifts are from GOD. Allow yourself to experience His pleasure in you when you use them. Make your art an act of worship. Encourage other artsy people – be a community, not competitors.
“Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.”
Last year, a tradition started with the class of 2017 that we call “Circle Time”. There haven’t been a lot of Circle Times (I really do teach, I promise!), but when the need arises, we put English or Drama on hold and have a chat about concerns either the students or I have.
A couple weeks ago, I felt God leading me to call a “Circle Time” with my seniors. I was seeing something that I have often seen in seniors – a tendency to be so focused on the future that they miss what is happening right now.
I thought I’d bring this particular Circle Time discussion here, because I am confident that my students aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue.
We can all get “future tense”. For the seniors, it’s the burning desire to move on to the next phase of life (I refuse to call it the “real world” because teens are living in the real world. You can read my blog rant on this if you’d like). And I get it. They’re ready to have more freedom, to be a “college student” instead of a “high school kid”. They want to move that tassle and get on with what will surely be more exciting than the life they currently lead.
But, teens, as I told my seniors — this temptation to live in the future will always be there. When you finish high school, you’ll be tempted to look forward to finishing college, to getting married, to having kids, to getting a promotion, a new car, a nice vacation…It never ends! You could find yourself at the end of your life realizing you’ve spent far too much time fantasizing about the future instead of living in the present.
So acknowledge this temptation for what it is and battle it.
God has plans for you today. He has lessons to teach you, people He wants you to impact, good work He has prepared for you to complete. Don’t miss out on the joys that are before you today because you are dreaming about the joys that you hope will come in the future. Because, to be honest, the future never turns out the way we expect! Not that it’s worse – it’s often better than we imagined. But it’s always different. Faith means we trust God with everything – even the future – knowing His ways are better than ours.
Ever been asked that question? I know my answer… Judy Garland.
She is my favorite entertainer and has been for as long as I can remember. I have watched all her movies, listened to all her music, and read every biography I can get my hands on. If you don’t know who she is (I am clutching my heart in pain at the thought), maybe this will help…
If you still don’t know, then we just can’t be friends.
Judy Garland was an amazing, one in a BILLION talent, but her personal life was disastrous. There are many reasons for that, the biggest of which seems to be that she was constantly seeking approval. She was happy when people liked her and depressed when they didn’t. When she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — her trademark song sung from the time she was 16 until her death at 47 — I believe she meant every word. She longed for a place where “troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops.” She truly questioned, “if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?”
If you listen to recordings of her singing this song in her later years, you can hear the longing in her voice, feel the pain. She wanted what the song promised: a better life than what she had.
I wish, for many reasons, that I had been able to meet Judy Garland. More than anything, I wish I could have told her that what she longed for was possible. There is a place beyond our imaginations that is so much better than what we have here. Heaven. God placed in all of us a desire to be there. And, through Jesus, He made it possible to go. And that longing for approval? It cannot be met by any human, but it can be met by her Creator – a God who cares for her more than she can imagine. A Savior who can carry her burdens, free her from her addictions, forgive her for her sins, and give her the unconditional love she so desperately wanted.
I can’t say that to Judy Garland, but I can say it to YOU. Though her talent was exceptional, her struggles are common. They aren’t just the struggles of superstars. So many people are seeking to find fulfillment for their God-given longings for eternity with what is temporary. Reaching out for approval among the sinners instead of accepting it from the Savior. Medicating their pain instead of surrendering it to the One who can trade it for joy. I wish this amazingly talented woman could have known that. I wish I could have sat down to dinner with her and told her this.
As a teacher, I recognize tests are important:Tests in my class, standardized tests, AP exams…None are perfect, mind you. But they do assist educators in understanding where our students are and where they need to be.
But did you know that God tests us, too? And, unlike tests we humans devise, God’s tests are perfect and accurate and always necessary.
As I look back on this year, I realize it has been a series of tests. And, if I am perfectly honest, I have not done so well. I have chosen to complain when I should have chosen to rejoice. I have cried into my pillow when I should have cried out to God. I have blamed my feelings on others when I should examined myself. I have seen, in short, that I’m not nearly as “great” a Christian as I thought I was. Without the testing this year has brought, I would have continued in a self-righteous kind of mindset, blind to my faults and hyper-aware of everyone else’s.
Thankfully, God doesn’t test us simply to show us where we are failing. James 1 tells us that the “testing of our faith produces perseverance” and when that work of perseverance is finished, we become “mature, complete, not lacking anything”. Maturity, I believe, means that I can overlook insults and criticism. ‘Complete’ means I am so fully satisfied in God that no one and nothing can steal my joy. ‘Not lacking anything’ means just that – not allowing myself to dwell on the “if only’s…” but recognizing that, in Christ, I have all I need and more.
I am so thankful that God is a gracious teacher. One failing grade doesn’t mean I’m out of the class. My friend, Jennifer, is a lot like Jesus in her math classroom. When students fail a test, she calls them back and allows them to retake it, discussing the parts that they misunderstood, clearing up confusion, encouraging them that, yes, they can do math. Students are encouraged, not to simply pass a test, but to mature in their understanding of the subject so they’re better equipped to go onto the next level. I wish I had a teacher like her when I was in school!
I am grateful I have a God who is the Master Teacher, whose tests are always for my good, and who allows retakes. He isn’t testing me – or you – to punish us or make us feel unworthy. He is testing us because He wants us to be “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Better than any diploma or degree I can imagine!
So, as I look forward to 2017, I am resolved to seek some “re-takes”, to go to extra tutoring, and to sit at the feet of my Teacher and learn from Him. I am resolved to seek maturity and rejoice “whenever [I] face trials of many kinds, because [I] know the testing of [my] faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
Yesterday, we were almost at Disneyland.
For those familiar with the Disneys, Disney World in Florida is truly a “world” in itself. You have to park, walk/ride a tram to the ticket booths, then take the monorail or ferry into the park itself. Disneyland, however, is smaller. You can, as we did, park at the Downtown Disney lot, walk around, then go right up to the front gate. All for $0 (if you leave the parking lot within two hours). We were right there – we caught glimpses of Main Street, heard strains of “It’s a Small World”, smelled the cotton candy. But we did not go in. Not this time. We’re putting our extra money towards helping our oldest pay for college next year. So we enjoyed the beauty of Downtown Disney, but we remained outside the gates of the park itself.
Downtown Disney is just a “taste” of Disney. Like the appetizer before a seven -course meal. It’s nice. But it isn’t the “meal” itself. It draws people in, lets us see, on keychains and ornaments and scaled-down models, what’s inside. Thankfully, we have amazing kids, and there was no grumbling or complaining about not getting to go into the park. But we all recognized that, though we were “almost” there, we did not get the actual Disneyland experience. However, knowing we live just a couple hours away, we have hope that, someday, we will get a picture inside those gates!
This morning, my bible study took me to the middle of Romans 8. In this, Paul talks about the reality of heaven and how it pales in comparison to life on this earth. I thought of our time at Downtown Disney yesterday. I realized that too often, I expect more of this world than I should. This world is like a “Downtown Heaven”. We have glimpses of the Kingdom here, tastes and smells and scaled-down models of the the real thing. But this world is not heaven! Unlike Downtown Disney, which was quite pleasant, this world is filled with the unpleasant, sinful, and sometimes horrific. We suffer and groan and work. We get frustrated because we expect this to be heaven, we expect perfection and ease and sinlessness.
The good news is that we are longing for a real place – there really will be a time (eternity!) where we will experience pure joy and endless worship, no tears, no pain, no disappointments. Until then, “we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance, we wait eagerly for it.” (Rom. 8:25b)
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am challenged to remember why He came – to redeem a fallen world, to offer hope, and to provide a way for us to join Him in heaven forever. May we choose to rejoice, choose to remember why we are here and what waits for us just beyond the “gate”. May we enjoy this life, but not live it in the expectation that this is all there is. There is far more, my friends! Let us “wait eagerly for it”.
Go to any bookstore – online or in person – and you will find rows and rows…and rows and rows… of shelves housing books devoted to “self-esteem.” Most seem to focus on loving yourself, forgiving yourself, being good to yourself. Because we just don’t think enough of ourselves.
Here’s what I think: our problems with self-esteem aren’t that we don’t think enough of ourselves. Our problem is that we think of ourselves WAY too much.
At least I do, anyway. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think about myself, my needs, my wants. When I don’t feel frustrated that I am not being treated well enough. I look at people and wonder what they are thinking about me – do they like me? Are they talking about me to their friends? Are those conversations positive or negative? They better not be saying bad things because, believe me, I know some stuff about them…Yeah, um, you get the idea.
But plenty of days go by when I don’t think about others: the needs of others, the wants of others, whether or not I am treating others well enough. I am an expert on being self-centered. In fact, I could write a book about that! But being others-centered? I need some help there.
I have help there: it’s called the Bible, and it is SO much better than any self-help book on any real or virtual bookstore on the planet. The Bible has a whole lot to say about how we should think about ourselves. The verse I need to be reminded of most often is this one:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” ~Phil. 2:3-4
The English teacher in me has to point out that those verses are imperatives – the “bossy” sentence. That’s Paul (lovingly) sticking his finger in our faces and saying, YOU – that’s right YOU – stop being so selfish! Worry more about others than you worry about yourself. The rest of the chapter (which I highly recommend reading) goes on to demonstrate how Jesus lived out this principle. He set the example for a selfless life, and we will experience great joy if we follow that example.
So if I really want to make ME happy, I should think about ME less.
Because my self has enough help