Lessons from the Produce Aisle

aisleI often work with and write for churches and ministries. Sometimes, lessons and reminders come in some odd places…like the produce aisle. Walking through the store’s produce aisle can be filled with a variety of colors, textures, and aromas. However, not every color, texture, and aroma is pleasant. Let’s take a stroll together and perhaps learn something about ourselves, our ministries, and the people we live and serve alongside.

The Mushy Apple. Sometimes fruit is picked too early or left on the shelf too long. The result is a tart, grainy, unpleasant fruit that is past its prime. In ministry, people live and serve in their prime when they’re in the center of God’s will, but it involves constant vigilance and adjustments. Discovering who God created us to be is a continual process. Even when we know the gifts He has poured into us, God will often instruct us to use them in different ways with various situations and people. Life in ministry isn’t predictable, because God wants us to rely on Him through an ever-deepening relationship.

The Limp Lettuce. Sometimes fruit is mishandled. When attention isn’t given to the proper temperature, storage, and transportation, the end product isn’t as excellent as it can be. In ministry, something similar happens when we mishandle people, including ourselves. Even good intentions of forming teams can negatively affect the outcome when we quickly assign people to roles without listening to their passions or when we fail to consistently evaluate and make necessary adjustments. We must be disciplined in the process of ministry, and we must be intentional in disciplining people.

The Infested Plum. Sometimes fruit is exposed to something that feeds and breeds on a vulnerability. Once fruit flies find the fermenting sugar in a piece of fruit, they quickly multiply and infest the entire box, crate, or shipment of fruit. In ministry, even the slightest vulnerability can attract a small issue that initially goes undetected but soon multiplies out of control. In order to avoid infestation, we must commit to vigilant examination. Focusing on spiritual health involves detecting anything that’s potentially unhealthy. Early detection is key.

The Leaky Watermelon. Sometimes fruit is damaged but still looks good on the outside. A hard bump against each other might create a small crack in the rind. It looks fine at first, but with each jostle along the journey to the produce shelf, the crack slightly shifts until the inside begins to leak. In ministry, people often look fine on the outside, but bumps along life’s journey can create problems when undetected. Just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean the inside is okay. We need to pay attention to and care for people around us.

The Baseball Peach. Sometimes fruit hasn’t been given enough time to develop, so even when it’s on the produce shelf, it’s not ready to be savored. In ministry, we need to trust God’s timing. We often want to be ready for something more quickly than God’s timing. We sometimes want to put off something longer than God intends. We don’t’ decide God’s perfect timing. We simply respond in obedience every time.

The Grape Cluster. Sometimes fruit seems to multiply. We don’t find just a single grape hanging on the vine. Grapes grow in clusters. When a vine is damaged, an entire cluster of grapes suffers. When the growing conditions are excellent, the entire cluster of grapes is scrumptious. In ministry, we need to cluster with others. We need to pay attention to how those around us are doing, because we affect one another. The growing conditions we’re in are similar to the growing conditions of those closest to us. We want to grow healthy together.

The Needy Strawberry. Fruit needs tender-loving care and attention. Strawberries are time-intensive fruit. In ministry, we tend to label time-intensive people as “too” needy, yet in reality, each of us needs time, tender-loving care, and attention. God knows the perfect growing conditions for each of us, and we can trust Him through the process. Being needy isn’t necessarily bad. When we trust God for our needs – and for others’ needs – we grow in His timing and care.

The What-Do-I-Do-With-This? Some fruit is lesser known and used: goumi, loquat, rowan, medlar, guarana, and so on. Fruit doesn’t have to be “common” to be delicious. In ministry, we often limit ourselves by the best-known programs, people, and approaches, but God’s creation is rich in variety. He gives purpose, beauty, and taste to everything He creates. Explore the variety among and within the people around you, including yourself.

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. (Luke 6:44)

A Lame Christmas

Christmas celebrations and seasons have changed throughout the years, but one thing in my childhood home has remained the same: the nativity. It is one of my favorite parts of Christmas but also a favorite part of “home.” As a child, I stared at the details of the nativity for hours. When I was old enough to touch it, I would rearrange it, deciding which king should present his gift or how far away the shepherds might stand.

©2014 PurePurpose.org

©2014 PurePurpose.org

One flaw to the nativity has been there as long as I can remember. The lamb is missing a leg.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s missing the plaster on the leg. The wire frame is there, so it can stand up on its own…with a bit of teetering. My mom knows how special the nativity is to me, and she was thrilled to come across a old-looking sheep that was about the same size as this one and would fit well with the other figures. She bought it without hesitation. When she got home, she discovered something.

©2014 PurePurpose.org

©2014 PurePurpose.org

Somewhere between the store and home, the sheep’s leg was broken. It, too, was lame.

I took it home to incorporate into my own nativity.

We don’t have to be perfect to approach Jesus. We need to come as we are. Humility is difficult, because it reveals our weaknesses. But that’s where He meets us. That’s where He serves us. That’s where He saves us.

He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.

“But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He also said to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:7-14)

When You Could Do More

“But I could do so much more.”

11.6.14 Bridges for Peace at WIZO (78)

©2014 PurePurpose.org

As we sat in my room the first night we served in Israel, we reflected on the day. After training, we slowly eased into serving and primarily painted murals on preschool walls. It was the simple kind of painting…sort of like paint by numbers. The artist mixed the colors and told us where to paint.

We were minions.

But not really.

Once someone make the comment, “But I could do so much more,” there was a brief pause before the discussion of other perspectives began. We talked about what joy the colorful walls would bring to the teachers and young children for years to come. We talked about how closely we were able to serve among the school staff and children, which meant they would see our sacrifice. They would notice our attitudes and joy as we served. Maybe we weren’t minions after all. When we thought about the responsibility of serving in God’s name, we felt honored and humbled.

We often think we can do “more,” but what if the “more” is in the service we’re facing right now? How often do we miss out on the impact we can have with what is right in front of us because we think of other opportunities?

We want to be important, but God wants us to be willing. What seems important to us doesn’t usually match God’s criteria for importance. We do what is most important when we focus on knowing and serving God.

Maybe you think you could do more, but are you pouring your everything into what is right in front of you? It’s what God is giving you today. When you serve Him well, your efforts are multiplied through Him. You may never know the ripples effects of your sacrifice, but you can be certain God will use your humble willingness beyond your imagination and beyond your understanding.

Serve Him well. Give Him your all. It’s the most you can do.

“Not Much” Is More Than Enough

We received a list of items need by Bridges for Peace, where we served in Israel.

  • New baby clothes
  • Children’s toys
  • Toothbrushes
  • Backpacks for kids for school
  • School kits (pencils, erasers, crayons, glue stick, scissors, pencil sharpener, etc.)

We gathered as much as we could pack, and we lugged around our extra suitcases for the first several days until we began serving. We combined our bags and packed them on the bus. We rolled them into the building where they would sort, store, and distribute the items, and we started unpacking.

11.4.14 Bridges for Peace (5)

©2014 PurePurpose.org


Little by little, those working and serving at Bridges for Peace that day came to see what all the commotion was about. They found an explosion of suitcases as we filled bins.

And they had tears in their eyes.

We started with a list, but what we didn’t know was donations were down because of the change in airline baggage fees.

We didn’t know they had been out of baby clothes for three months.

We didn’t know the baby clothes we had brought were enough for six months.

We didn’t know they had been praying for provision and witnessed God’s answer.

They cried for joy, hugged and thanked us.

11.4.14 Bridges for Peace (23)

©2014 PurePurpose.org


11.4.14 Bridges for Peace (24)

©2014 PurePurpose.org


We cried, too…partly for joy, and partly because we wish we had known. We wish we had done more.

It was pretty easy to gather items, pack them, and roll them on and off our planes and buses. What we thought was “not much” was an abundance for those in need.

Yes, we could do more, but what we did was…something.

Look around. You are surrounded by needs in your home, church, community, and world. You can’t solve every problem or meet every need, but you can do something. Don’t let “not much” stop you. It might just be more than enough.

Be Open, But Not Absorbent

The older and newer rock met with a drastic line.

11.3.14 Capernaum Synagogue (12)

©2014 PurePurpose.org


Despite the images of the white stones of present day Israel, much of biblical Israel would have been darker stone, lava stone. It was (and still is) used for many things, because it is porous but not absorbent. It allows good aeration but don’t easily absorb water, food particles, and tastes and scents.

That’s confusing to me. Porous but not absorbent?

It’s like living in the world but not being of the world. Being open but not easily influenced and swayed. Being able to show compassion in the trenches without getting stuck.

Sometimes, living in the world but not being of the world is confusing. I’m not sure of the line of my motivation for serving. I don’t know how much others are influencing me, even in negative ways, more than I’m influencing them, hopefully, in positive ways. I don’t know how much I should share, give, or sacrifice.

Other times, it makes sense. I know where the line is, and I respect it. But if I’m honest, I often think I know where the line is more because of where I want it to be or expect it to be than where it actually is. I base the line on my experiences or my preferences. Instead, I need to ask God to take me to the line.

The line changes. Well, my experience of it changes. I’m not saying God ever changes. He doesn’t. But He changes me. He leads me to different experiences that I can handle at the time but that also change and prepare me for the future. So, the next time, the boundary might seem a bit different, because I’m in a different place. Living in the world requires more of me, because I give more of myself for God to use in the world. Not being of the world requires more of me, too. I don’t become more isolated. I become more sensitive to the needs, dangers, and opportunities around me.

I have given them Your word.
The world hated them
because they are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
I am not praying
that You take them out of the world
but that You protect them from the evil one.
They are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them by the truth;
Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world.
I sanctify Myself for them,
so they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:14-19)


Time to Serve

As I sat in the airport, excited to start my journey to Israel, I wondered about all the people around me. Where were they going? What would they be doing? What were their passions, struggles, and needs?

do somethingI anticipated getting to serve people in Israel, but looking around and noticing the people around me in the airport reminded me I need to serve people everywhere. The people around me were diverse in many ways. We weren’t all speaking the same language. We didn’t share the same shade of skin. We didn’t dress the same, look at people the same, or even eat the same. But we weren’t very different from each other in the ways that matter most. We all have issues, concerns, and  anticipations. Instead of separating ourselves, we can find our commonalities, and serve each other through them. We don’t have to let the differences divide us. After all, many of us travel to serve people who are different from us just to find we have much in common. We choose what we focus upon. We choose who we serve. Why do we pay less attention to a neighbor, a stranger on a corner, or a person we don’t get along with? Do we feel they’re “too close” to us? Do their needs make us uncomfortable?

It’s time to serve. Do something. It doesn’t have to change the world. It just has to serve someone. In the process, God will change you.

As I continued my travels, I found an opportunity to connect with many people through a simple gesture. Something people everywhere have in common is…sneezing. I heard people in every airport, restaurant, and restroom sneeze, and it was my invitation to simply say, “Bless you.” Every single time, whether or not I shared a language with the person, he or she knew what I said and responded with a nod, thank you, or smile. I got to look many people in the eyes as I traveled because of those simple words. And each time, I was blessed with someone’s smile and connection.

Be a blessing to others no matter where you are.

You will be blessed.

Meeting Needs in Church

needsGod wants us to meet needs, but He’s the one who determines what the needs are.

In ministry, we often ask, “What kind of classes would you attend? What could we offer than would help you get involved? How can we offer you a chance to serve in an area you’re comfortable or passionate about?”

It’s important to engage people, asking questions and getting to know them, but giving the impression that we will meet any needs people think they have perpetuates a consumer-focused culture, which has no place in the church. Faith is not about what we can get out of it. That’s a result of faith because God is generous, but if it’s our motivation of faith, we’re selfish, which in and of itself, is in direct opposition of faith.

What do you want because of your selfishness? What do you want “your way”? Maybe it doesn’t look as if you’re selfish. You might be able to get others to believe you’re seeking and following God’s will. You’re being firm about something, not because of what you want, but because of what you’re sure God wants. How sure are you? Are you deceiving yourself, too? Do you want so badly for your way to be God’s way that you’re closing your eyes, ears, and heart to any other possibility?

How are you encouraging others to take the same “me” perspective by asking them what they need or what would pull them into the church community? It’s not just about what you say but how it can be perceived and misunderstood. You might have pure motivations, wanting to meet people where they are, but here’s another possible approach:

Instead of asking for someone’s needs, then having to adjust to meet them, what if you help someone see how their needs can be met by some existing opportunities? When people are hesitant to get involved, they will find the differences between what is available and what they want. You can’t meet every need the way it is presented. But God can meet every need, even the ones you can’t identify. He knows people’s hesitations. He knows your motivations. He knows your willingness to connect and serve. He knows others’ sensitivity and baggage. He will work with it all.

Do you trust Him enough to listen…really listen…and let Him guide, even when you don’t get to decide what to ask, how to respond, and what to plan? Do you trust Him to meet your needs, as well as others’, even if you don’t completely “get” how it all fits together.

He’s a lot more trustworthy than anyone else’s assessment, including your own.

Lord God, You are God; Your words are true, and You have promised this grace to Your servant. (2 Samuel 7:28)