God never gives up on anyone

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Sometimes I want to give up. I want to stop fighting. I want to walk away from people and situations in my life that make my life more difficult and more dramatic than it has to be.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to give up on people. So-and-so won’t ever wise up. So-and-so won’t ever realize he/she’s being a dummy. So-and-so won’t ever grasp the truth of life. So on and so forth. You’ve got those people in your life too. And you may have walked away from them.

Know what? That’s okay. You don’t have to keep holding on to people. In some cases, it’s better to let them go. It’s better to step out of their lives. Sometimes you’re making it worse. But there’s a difference between investing emotionally in someone and giving up on them.

The truth is, I don’t think we’re supposed to give up on anyone. Step out of their lives? Maybe. Cut off communication? Possibly. Get out from between them and God? Definitely. But none of those things require you to give up hope that a person will one day find his or her way to God.

We’re in a series on the book of Ruth at church right now. Ruth is one of my all-time favorite Bible characters, and one of the things I love best about her is that she never gave up. Not once. Her mother-in-law Naomi was a wrecked shell of a woman when they left Moab to return to Israel. Ruth had every reason to walk away from her, but she didn’t. Some of the most famous words in the Bible are recorded in Ruth 1:16-18:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

What loyalty. What love. That’s how I want to live.

Yes, the Bible does say that the Spirit won’t always keep trying, but that’s between the Holy Spirit and God. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not privy to Their conversations. God has never told me to give up on anyone. Sometimes a relationship has to change, but just because a relationship is different doesn’t mean the relationship no longer exists.

You can disagree with how they’re living their life and still love them, still be there for them, still think the best of them.It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s heartbreaking. But let God give you the strength to keep believing. Draw strength from Him, because He has strength to spare.

They hurt you. They’ve disappointed you. They’ve broken your heart. They’ve left you bleeding at the side of the road. And you have every rational reason to walk out of their life and never look back, never think about them again, never speak to them again. But since when has God called us to be rational?

God calls us to be like Him. And God never gives up on people. So why should we?

Don’t forget to put your armor on

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Samurai were scary people. Many of the popular movies about them have been toned down to make them sympathetic characters, but in reality, they were a brutal, unyielding segment of a society. They had no pity and no mercy, and while I’m sure they had some concept of love, it wasn’t the same as a Westerner like an American would comprehend.

That being said, the samurai fascinate me. They always have. Japanese culture in general is one of my favorite topics, but samurai in particular captivated my interest from the time I was a child. And if you want a really interesting read, there’s a book called Code of the Samurai, which is actually a fast, in-depth read about samurai culture (for any of you culture nerds out there).

A samurai was always ready for battle, always ready to take up arms against an enemy. They were ever-vigilant. And they were obsessed with honor and respect. And nothing is more samurai than the samurai armor, but how long did it take to actually get into one of those rigs? Hours probably. But would a samurai go into battle without his armor? Very unlikely. A samurai’s armor was the symbol of his family, his heritage, his honor, and, honestly, it was just common sense. Who goes into battle without armor?

Unfortunately, I do it every day, and I’m not supposed to.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you have access to armor. And not just any armor—God’s armor. The Bible says in Ephesians 6:12-13, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

There’s a war raging around us every minute of every day, and we can’t see any of it with our eyes. It’s a struggle for our attention, our faith, our belief. Demons and angels. God and Satan. Granted, God already dealt Satan a fatal blow when Jesus saved us on the cross, but Satan hasn’t backed down yet. He still thinks he can win, so he’s throwing everything he has at us.

So God has given us everything we need to fight back. We just have to choose to accept it.

Truth. God’s righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word. God has given these things to us to fight against what Satan throws at us. If we use them, nothing can hurt us. So why don’t we use them?

Honestly? I forget I have it. I get into the groove of living and think that I’m on my own. I think I have to do it all myself, and that’s a lie.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]We are fighting the remnants of a war that God has already won for us.[/su_pullquote]

Christians, remember that every day is a battle, and we’re not fighting against what we can see. We don’t fight against our coworkers (no matter if they annoy us) or our family (even if they frustrate us) or our government (even though The Man is getting a little big for his britches). We are fighting the remnants of a war that God has already won for us.

Don’t forget to put your armor on. Cling to truth. Hold tight to what God says is right. Seek peace and faith. Trust God’s salvation and His Word. And don’t listen to what the devil whispers in your ears. The devil has already lost this war, and when we draw on the power of God’s armor, we’ll win the battle too.

God’s great key to ultimate success in life

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When I was in third grade, my brother and I would do math speed drills. We were homeschooled, so Mom just decided to give him one of my speed drills, even though he was a year younger. I think he finished in half the time it took me.

Well, I couldn’t have that. I was older. I needed to be better, smarter, faster. So the next time we did a speed drill, I rushed. We finished closer to the same time, but all of his answers were right. Practically none of mine were.

I stink at math. True story. I can do it, but I have to go very slowly and think about every equation three times before I decide on an answer. And for those of you who know my geekwad, nerd-faced little brother, you know he’s faster and more efficient than some calculators.

Eventually, Mom convinced me that I didn’t have to be brilliant at math. I was great at writing, so that’s what I needed to focus on. (Props to Mom. I did!) But my drive to beat my brother at math speed drills didn’t come from a desire to be better at math; it came because I thought I already was better.

And that’s kind of how the world sees it, isn’t it? I was the older sibling, so I was supposed to be more advanced. Or, like in a work place, maybe you have a degree, so you’re supposed to be a better employee than someone who only has a high school diploma. There’s always something about us that makes us better than the next person, right?

That’s not what the Bible teaches. Probably one of the most confusing verses in all of Scripture (practically speaking) is James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” Does that even compute?

God’s great key to ultimate success: Let someone else go first.

Really? What sense does that make? We can’t go out into our cutthroat world and let others go ahead of us. We can’t walk out into the savage landscape of commerce and think of others as better than ourselves. We can’t forfeit our rights to make our own decisions and expect to succeed. Can we?

[su_pullquote align=”right”]God’s great key to ultimate success: Let someone else go first.[/su_pullquote]

The straight facts are pretty simple. The Bible is true. All of the Bible has to be true, or none of it is. So if I believe one part of it, I must believe the rest of it. And that means, God is right, and humility is the key to getting ahead in life.

No, that doesn’t mean you have to let people treat you like a doormat, but it doesn’t mean you get to think you’re better than everyone else for any reason. Nobody is better than anyone else. Some people are gifted in areas others are not, but that’s because we all have different functions. God made us each unique and perfect just the way we are, and instead of competing with each other, we should be more concerned about helping each other.

So be humble. Do what God says is right. Give up your place in line to help someone who needs it. Say nice things about your competitors and treat them with respect.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense in our perspective, but since when have God’s rules ever made sense to our broken world? God is the one who is responsible for exalting us. Success comes from Him. Yes, we can work hard. Yes, we should work hard. But if we succeed in life, we do it through His strength, His grace, and His gifts.

Don’t forget it. Recognize God’s authority in your life, and He’ll take care of the details.

Remodeling is never easy and always messy

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I have never built a house or a commercial building, although I know quite a lot about their plumbing systems (how many people do you know who can say that?). But one thing I do know is that there’s a major difference between new construction and renovation.

In a lot of ways, new construction is easier. You can begin from the beginning. You can establish a new foundation. You don’t have to worry about working around existing systems that are already installed. Oftentimes new construction is cheaper for that reason. But even though building new sometimes is easier and cheaper, it’s not always the best option. And that’s true for things other than houses and buildings too.

In relationships (romantic or otherwise) or even in your own life, you can’t just start over. You can try, but you’ll often find that past experiences have left scars you have to work around. Building new isn’t an option, and you have to renovate instead. And the honest truth about renovation is that it’s messy. You have to clear old stuff out of the way to make room for new stuff. You have to rebuild foundations. You have to fill in cracks. You have to make a bigger mess before you can start making it better.

The Bible talks about this in Hosea 6:1-3. The prophet says, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.

Maybe some people will read that and think negatively of God, but is it really a negative statement? How many times do we need to have our lives torn apart before we realize what really matters? How much agony do we need to experience before we get our heads out of our backsides and start paying attention?

If you’ve got a splinter in your finger, you have to dig it out, and often that hurts more than the splinter itself does. If you’ve got an organ that’s not working or a growth that needs to be removed, the process of surgery usually causes more pain than the organ or growth did. But you’ve got to get it out.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You can’t just wipe the slate clean. You can’t just build new. You have to remodel, and remodeling is messy. [/su_pullquote]

If a relationship in your life is causing you pain, don’t just give up on it. Don’t just walk away from it. If your perspective on life or God or people or work or whatever is making you bitter and resentful, don’t just give up. Your emotional response to a bad situation is an indication that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Sometimes it’s the people around you. Many times it’s your own self.

You can’t just wipe the slate clean. You can’t just build new. You have to remodel, and remodeling is messy. But when you’re finished, isn’t it amazing? Once you complete a remodeling project, it’s incredible to see it, compare it to what it used to be, invite people in to marvel at it.

That could be your life. That could be your relationships.

If it feels like God is hurting you today, don’t walk away from Him. That means He’s working on you. That means He’s remodeling your life. Instead of running away from Him, work with Him. Find the spots that need attention and get your hands dirty. Get the old stuff out. Make room for the new. And get ready to invite people inside to show them what God has done with a space you thought was hopeless.

Faith is a process you have to repeat

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My roommate is training for a marathon. Well, it’s not specifically a marathon. It’s only a 5K.

“Only a 5K.”

Ha.

I don’t run. The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me. And the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse gets here, I don’t have to run the fastest. I just have to run faster than the guy next to me. So I’m set.

Running is one of those things you don’t just go out and do if you haven’t done it. I mean, you can, but you’ll probably hurt yourself. If you want to run for any length of time, you have to work up to it. You have to train for it. If you don’t, your body won’t be able to handle the strain.

But lots of things are that way in life, not just running or physical activity. You have to work up to them. If you try to accomplish something without preparing yourself first, you’re likely to fail. So is it really surprising that faith is the same way?

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” That’s what the Bible says in James 1:2-3, one of the shortest, most practical, most painful books on the New Testament.

You don’t start out with strong faith. Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. But it can’t grow until it’s tested.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. [/su_pullquote]

What does a test of faith look like? That varies from person to person, but some tests of faith are financial (do you trust God to provide?). Some are relational (do you love God more than your significant other?). Some are physical (do you believe that God has your best interests in mind whether He heals you or not?).

Tests of faith come in many forms, but they’re always about the same thing. Do you trust God?

That’s what faith is about, following Jesus, trusting that He knows best, trusting that He’s got everything under control even when it doesn’t feel like it.

But God doesn’t drop you into these situations until He believes we’re ready. Looking back on my life, some of the tests He gave me as a child seem pretty insignificant. But I chose to trust Him then, and He came through for me. So I learned that I could always rely on Him, no matter what I needed.

So do you want powerful faith? Start small. It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just do one day of training and expect to run the whole race without stopping.

Trust God for something small. And when He comes through, trust Him with something else. And something else after that.

Just like anything else you have to get better at, faith is a process you have to repeat. You won’t always see immediate results, but neither do runners.

The more God answers you, the easier it is to trust Him. The more you trust Him, the bigger you’ll realize He is. And before you know it, those giant problems that seem overwhelming to you today will just be a tiny blip on your radar that God helped you overcome.

If you want to see stars, get away from the distractions

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You can see the universe from the front yard of Safe Haven Farm. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not far from the truth. Out in the country, the Milky Way stretches out across the sky in all its hazy glory, and even the Pleiades is easy to spot.

I’ve always loved stars. Maybe it was the influence of Star Trek so early in my life, or maybe I’ve just always been a nerd, but I love studying the constellations and the names of stars and who discovered them. I love studying the planets and their moons. I’m so nerdy that I even follow NASA and read about new discoveries and the ongoing programs trying to get to Mars.

To me, stars represent entire worlds that I’ll never see, aspects of creation that are so much bigger than I am, reminding me that I’m just a tiny piece in the overall puzzle of God’s great masterpiece.

It makes me think about how Christ-followers are supposed to live. Not distant and mysterious–but like little pieces of God’s big plan, the evidence of a life beyond, proof that there’s something more amazing out there than what we have on our little old planet Earth.

In Paul’s amazing letter to the Church at Philippi, he talks about how Christ-followers can shine in a world covered in darkness. In Philippians 2:14-15, he writes, “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]There are just as many stars in the sky in the city as there are in the country. It’s just that in the city too many things get in the way.[/su_pullquote]

Isn’t it interesting that Christ-followers can lose their shine just like stars? And it’s not that they aren’t Christ-followers. It’s just that other things get in the way. We complain. We argue. We stumble and fall. And before you know it, any light we had is muddied, and we look exactly like the people around us.

Living out in a rural area, you cut out all the distractions that the noise of the city throws into the sky. The pollution and the big buildings and the trees and the bright lights all take away from the beauty of the heavens. It’s not that the stars aren’t there.

There are just as many stars in the sky in the city as there are in the country. It’s just that in the city too many things get in the way, and they block out the stars that can be seen with other things.

I want to shine for Jesus. I want to be a light in the dark that points people to Him, because He’s done amazing things in my life, and I didn’t do anything to deserve any of it.

Christ-followers aren’t called to complain or criticize or argue with each other. We’re called to points of light in a world of darkness, showing people that there’s more to life than this broken existence.

If you want to see the stars, you have to get away from the things that distract from them. If you want to make a difference for Jesus, you need to get away from the things that steal your light.

So don’t complain. Don’t argue. Hold on to your faith and your trust in God, and let the world see you do it. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to believe.

 

The value of being genuine and the cost of being fake

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Most Monday nights, my roomie and I grab our fleece blankets and watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Sometimes we color, and other times we just watch, but we always marvel at the array of valuable items people hang on their walls or use for storing spare change.

And then sometimes we grimace in sympathy for the poor folks who bring in priceless artifacts that turn out to be reproductions. Items these people spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on are worth only pennies in comparison.

That should tell us something about the value of being genuine, not just in living but in living for Christ.

I like genuine people. I like knowing that the person I’m talking to is real, honest, transparent. I like knowing that they’re telling me exactly what they feel, because then there’s no surprises later. But how many genuine people do we really know? How many genuine Christ-followers do we know?

We can find a definition for being a genuine Christ-follower in 1 John 4:20-21. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

You don’t get much clearer than that. If you want to be a genuine Christ-follower, you need to love people. What I find interesting is that this passage says we’re supposed to love other Christ-followers. Shouldn’t that be easy?

Have you ever been around a church?

Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. I’ve been blessed with so many awesome Christ-followers in my life, and they are priceless to me. But I’ve also been surrounded by Christians who aren’t so nice.

Religion and church people have torn me up inside. They’ve cut me to ribbons and left me bruised and broken at the side of the road. And other church people have seen me lying there and kept on walking. The people in my life who have dealt me the deepest wounds are people who claim to follow Jesus.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.[/su_pullquote]

It’s not okay. But if you’ve been there, you’re not alone. And you can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.

Jesus didn’t save us because we’re smart or funny or pretty. He didn’t save us because we’re popular or the best at something. Jesus saved us because He loves us for who we are. He’s the only one who really knows us that well anyway.

So why not be real? Why not be genuine? Sure, it’s a little scary to reveal your heart and your soul to other people. Believe me. I’m an introvert. I know.

Why not love people? Loving others can be dangerous, yes. You always risk your heart when you love, but focus instead on loving God more than you love people. And He’ll give you the love you need to share with others.

Being genuine, loving people, doesn’t really cost you anything. Being with people costs you less in emotional damage than the price you pay by hiding your heart.

You want to be valued? Be genuine. You want to be genuine, Christians? Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s words. Not mine.