God never gives up on anyone

loyalty-give-up-stay-true-Ruth_1170x350

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?

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You’ve got family you’ve never met

We’re all adopted. You know that right? If you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve been adopted into God’s family, and you automatically have brothers and sisters in every nation on Earth. You may not know their customs. You may not speak their language. But you both belong to Jesus.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than meeting someone from another country and instantly having a connection because you both love Jesus. Even if you have nothing else in common, Jesus is enough to bridge cultures and bring people together as long as He stays the main thing.

We’re all one family. Have you ever thought about that? So why is it easier to focus on how we’re different instead of how we’re the same?

people-crowd-child-kidToday’s verses are Ephesians 2:19-22.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Family means different things to different people. But to me, my family is one of the central, most important factors in my life, but I’m well aware that family isn’t as important to other people. But family, as it was supposed to be, is designed to be our shelter, our starting point, the place where we experience God’s design.

So what would your life look like if you had a brother or a sister you trusted? What would you be like if you were best friends with your brother or sister? Maybe you’re blessed (like me) and have experienced that relationship. Maybe you’re not, and you’d leap for joy at the thought of having someone in your life like that.

Did you ever think that maybe the person you’re looking for is someone you already know?

That guy you sit next to on the bus? If he knows Jesus, he’s your brother. That woman at the office, the one who drives you nuts? If she knows Jesus, she’s your sister. But it’s easier to focus on the things that you don’t like about them than it is to treat them like family.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about people. Yesterday I was sitting at Mead’s listening to a guy in the corner go off the rails about how much he hates America and wants to change his citizenship and move to Singapore. And I jumped to a conclusion about the man. That he’s not very bright. But that’s wrong of me to say. He could be perfectly bright and just vocal about his opinions. Fair to say I don’t agree with any of his conclusions, but that’s not my job.

Don’t switch your brain off. Obviously sometimes you have to make judgment calls about people or situations, but there’s a vast difference between making a judgment call jumping to conclusions.

If you’re lonely or looking for family, you have one. You have access to family members from around the world. You don’t have to look very far. There are millions of people all around you who know Jesus. We just need to stop seeing them from the outside and hear their hearts instead.

You have family you’ve never met, and eventually you’ll get to see them someday. But there’s nothing wrong with looking for them now. Who knows, they may be just as lonely as you are.

The unexpected treasures you’ll find past the pearly gates

Do you ever think about what heaven will be like? Sometimes I do. When I stop long enough. Honest, if you don’t think about eternity on a regular basis, you might want to reassess your life’s focus. Christ-followers are supposed to be in the world, yes, but we’re not supposed to be of it, which basically translates to living our lives for eternal things rather than things that will eventually pass away.

That being said, I don’t think about heaven as often as I should. It seems so far away, so impossible to comprehend. How can you think about heaven or even imagine it when it’s going to be so wonderful nobody can grasp it?

Well, I believe sometimes we get glimpses of it. Sometimes I believe God lets us experience overwhelming and abundant joy on Earth so that we can get a tiny taste of what heaven will be like. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, you just have to stop and stand in awe.

It happened Sunday night for me. It wasn’t anything particularly special. Just a big (BIG) group of friends getting together for a hog roast. Friends from all over the place, different backgrounds and different parts of the country. But most of them had one thing in common–we all know Jesus. And there was just something in the air, being reconnected with so many people who I love so dearly–people I don’t get the chance to see on a regular basis.

And I think that’s a taste of what heaven is going to be like. We’re going to be together with the people we love the most. We’re going to be reunited with those who’ve already gone ahead of us in Christ. And we’ll get to be together and tell each other stories of all the amazing miracles God has done in our lives.

Can you even imagine anything better than that? Spending eternity with people you love talking about the crazy awesome stuff God has done?

pearly-gatesToday’s verses are Matthew 6:19-21.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

This is one of those well-known verses that people quote often, but I’m not sure we ever really think about what it means. We get this idea that heaven will be full of treasure. And I’m sure it will be. You’ll walk on streets of gold.

But is gold, gold, and more gold really the treasures that heaven will be full of? Will we even care about gold and wealth and status once we get to heaven? Heaven has a way of changing your priorities.

What’s better than gold? What’s more important than wealth? Go look at that family picture on the shelf. Go read that email from your best friend. Take a look at your coworker at the office.

People.

People are better than gold and more important than wealth and power and status. People are the biggest treasure you can find, an inexhaustible source of joy.

Sure that hog roast at my friends’ house was great fun, but how much fun would it have been if a few of us showed up with our piles of gold and sat around talking about them? I don’t know about you, but talking about money exhausts me. I’d much rather hear a story about how God did something great for a friend instead.

And that’s the point. Don’t get wrapped up in what the world says you have to have. Don’t get focused on achieving wealth and status and power and forget that the people around you are worth much much more than any paycheck you can ever earn.

Heaven will be full of treasures, but they won’t be the treasures the world expects.

You always have something to talk about

Have you ever had to go to someone’s house for a party or an event where you didn’t know anyone there? If you’re an introvert like me, there’s nothing more uncomfortable or awkward. I don’t do small talk very well.

Now add another level of awkward. You don’t come from the same culture or speak the same language. All you can really do is sit quietly and try to understand everything that’s being said and pray that you don’t say or do something offensive.

Ever been there? I have. On multiple occasions. But you know what has saved me? The fact that the other people in the room are Christ-followers.

Last night I got to go to my best friend’s small group, and in any other circumstance it might have been really uncomfortable. But I knew walking in that many of the people in attendance were Christ-followers. And that makes everything different. That means, walking in, I have something in common with them. That means we’re family.

Pipes from the organ at Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, England

Pipes from the organ at Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, England

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:19-22.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

No matter where you are or who you are, what language you speak or what culture you come from, if you know Christ, you are part of one big family. And you have something in common with the other Christ-followers around you. You’ve got Christ.

You all worship Him. You all live for Him. You all have stories about how He changed your life. And He’s always doing something new.

Having something like that in common is priceless, because it’s something you can talk about that will always change your life and the lives of people around you. And what’s great is that whether you are walking into a room full of Christians or not, Christ will still give you the strength to speak, the courage to be yourself, and the wisdom to know what to say.

So if you’re sitting in a room full of Christians feeling like an outcast, like you have nothing in common with anyone else–don’t. If you are around other Christians, even in a culture that isn’t your own, you have the greatest Person in history in common.

How my t-shirt reminded me about loving each other

I was at the grocery store in Hutchinson last week, picking up a few essentials to stock our pantry up for the duration of the sickness that’s still hanging on at my house. So there I was in the pasta aisle, debating the merits of one brand of whole wheat spaghetti versus another, and this lady comes up to me.

“Hey!” she says.

I don’t know this girl. She’s a complete stranger, though generally I’ve found that people in Hutchinson are pretty friendly.

“I love your Doctor Who shirt!”

And that’s when I remembered what I was wearing. My brother bought me this awesome Doctor Who shirt, and I love it. I wear it all the time.

This complete stranger saw it and immediately identified me as a fan, which I am. So she had no second thoughts about commenting on it and then going on to tell me about a web site where you can find all sorts of cool shirts (I fully intend to check it out).

The Doctor Who fandom is more of a culture than anything else. This encounter with a random stranger makes me smile because I’ve done the same thing before, whenever I see others wearing Doctor Who hats or scarves. It’s fun to spot other Whovians because it means I’m part of a really geeky family, one that understands why bananas are good and bow ties are cool.

But can you really tell all that by what somebody’s wearing? Can you really find common ground with someone just because they’re wearing a silly shirt or a funny hat? With Doctor Who or other fandoms, generally, yes, it’s that easy. But it’s not just fictional universes where this happens either.

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC's Doctor Who

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC’s Doctor Who

Today’s verses are John 13:34-35.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

This is Jesus talking to his disciples at the Last Supper, mere hours before He would be arrested, sentenced at a show trial, and crucified unjustly.

The commandment that Jesus is talking about here is one of the most difficult to keep in all the Bible: Love each other. Not tolerate each other. Not put up with each other. Love each other.

And note that Jesus isn’t talking about loving our enemies here. He’s not talking about loving others who don’t believe. No, He’s talking to a room full of His disciples. Love each other.

In my experience, the hardest people to truly love have been other Christians. Why? Well, there are a host of reasons, but I think a lot of it is that we expect so much from other believers that when they screw up, we think withholding our love will teach them a lesson. But Jesus never says it’s our job to punish another Christian because they can’t be perfect. It’s our job to love regardless.

Granted, love looks different from person to person. In some instances, love means being there for someone. In other instances, love means stepping back. But the motivation always remains the same.

This is so important because it’s the only way the world can identify us as Christians. It has nothing to do with whether or not you go to church. It has nothing to do with how you dress or how you speak. It has nothing to do with whether you’ve been sprinkled or dunked. Do you want to be identified as a Christ-follower? Love each other.

A Christian who loves without hesitation is as obvious to the world as a TARDIS-blue t-shirt to Doctor Who fan. Maybe the world can’t put a name to what you are, but they will know you’re different. You’ll be a shining light on a hill that nobody can ignore, even if they try.

And when you meet someone who loves others the same way you do, immediately you’ll have common ground. It’s happened to me before. I can know nothing about the person I’m sitting next to, but in watching them love other people, I instantly find something to talk about. Sure, I’m shy, but I love to talk about Jesus and what He’s doing in the world and in my life.

So make the choice to love people, especially other Christians. It changes you, and it changes the way others see you.

I had dinner with crazy Italians last night

Seriously. Not making it up. Well, the crazy part maybe. (I know you’re reading, and you know I love you guys.)

I’m a pretty closed person when it comes to being myself around people. I try to be compassionate and pleasant and likeable as a general rule, but there’s a lot more to me as a person that I keep bottled up until I know my ridiculous, loud personality isn’t going to scare you to death.

I am so fortunate to have friends who know the ridiculous, loud me and love me. I’m even more fortunate to have friends who love the real me who don’t hesitate to tell me when I’m making a really stupid decision. So when those friends (the real ones, who won’t feed me a bunch of lines about positive thinking when I’m acting on a truly dumb idea) get excited about something I feel God leading me to do, I jump for joy.

It’s one thing to have a friend’s words of encouragement when you’re undertaking a big challenge. It’s something else to have a friend’s actual support, knowing they’re behind you 110%.

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 13:20.

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

I’ve posted about friends a lot on here, mostly because my friends are such a vital part of my life. I’ve really tried to be wise about the friends I choose because so many of them play a role in helping me make decisions, and if my inner circle of advisors aren’t wise and don’t live their lives according to Scripture, they won’t give me counsel that will help me do it either.

I have been so very blessed to have such a variety of friends from all corners of the world, all cultures and backgrounds, all personality types. I have friends who are as introverted as I am. I have friends who are insane crazy people. I have friends who occupy high-ranking corporate positions and friends who work minimum-wage. And the most beautiful part about all my close friends is that they love Christ, and in the dark moments of my life, they help me remember how much I love Him too.

Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? If you don’t, you really ought to look for some. Just remember that the best friends you can have don’t always say yes to you. The best friends you can have are the ones who love you for who you are but don’t want you to stay the same. Yes, that’s a paradoxical statement, but I believe it’s true.

The best friendships I have had in my life are with people who love me for who I am as a person, but they love me too much to let me plateau in my growth—both professionally and spiritually. If you have a friend who just agrees with you all the time, that could be nice, but do you ever get to really know that person? The best friends you can have challenge you to grow and love you regardless.

My friends are patient people because I’m stubborn. Compared to me, donkeys are easy to get along with. I’m set in my ways, and I don’t like change. But you can’t go through life without changing. Everything changes. Granted, the things that matter don’t, but it’s how you grow to survive the little things that don’t matter that help you determine the real things that do.

Is there a friend who is open and honest with you in your life? Is there a friend you trust to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it? Is there a friend who loves you too much to let you make a foolish decision?

Find that person. Because that person is worth his or her weight in gold. And the more you hang out with wise people like that, the wiser you will become if you’re willing to pay attention.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

The best gift you’ve ever received

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? Do you remember it? A friend asked me that this weekend, and the answer popped into my head almost immediately. It would have been Christmas of 1992 or 1993, and I remember coming down the stairs to see a beautiful wooden dollhouse, made by my grandparents. It was the coolest thing I ever got, one of those gifts that just means so much because of all the work and care that went into it. I still have it, and someday, if I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter of my own, I’d love to pass it on.

But sometimes the best gifts we’re given aren’t physical. They aren’t the gifts you find under the tree. They aren’t in the boxes you unwrap. They aren’t stuffed at the bottom of a stocking. And I guess if you want to be literal about it, what made that dollhouse so special to me (both then and now) isn’t the fact that it was a dollhouse; it was that my grandparents took the time and effort to make something so beautiful for me.

I honestly think the most amazing gifts we’ve can receive are intangible.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I know I’ve posted about this verse before, but it struck me today as I was sitting to write this post that the best gifts I’ve been given in my life are the irreplaceable moments with the people I love. Those moments aren’t tangible. They’re not something I can reach out and touch. I can’t grab it and put it in a box and wrap it up to give to someone else.

But just because I can’t touch it or see it necessarily doesn’t mean it’s not real. On the contrary, it’s more real than the presents currently under my tree.

I try to be thankful for those moments. I try to appreciate them. But I don’t think I can do a good enough job of it.

This weekend my best friend who’s been in England since January came out to my place with her sister. We ended up getting snowed in for a bit longer than we planned, but that was okay. We just made more hot tea and watched more movies and talked more. And I couldn’t help but be absolutely astonished how nothing had changed. A year of separation ocean and it felt like we had just been in the same room a few days ago, like no time had passed at all.

That kind of friendship is priceless. That kind of relationship where someone knows you so well that you don’t have to explain what your heart is feeling–that’s beyond amazing. That’s a gift.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have so many people who I love so dearly, people who have changed me, people who have helped me keep my head on straight, people who’ve pointed me in the right direction over and over again. Parents and friends and teachers and pastors. And no thing wrapped up in a bow with pretty paper could ever mean more to me than a moment with any of them.

Christmas is almost here. People are going to be gathering together soon to spend time as a family or as a group of friends. And believe me, I know the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming, but let me encourage you to take a moment–just a moment–and be thankful for the people in your life. Think what your life would look like without them. Think who you would be without them. And do yourself a favor? Tell them.

Outside of our salvation through Christ, I don’t think there’s any greater gift in our lives than time with the people we love. Make the most of it this Christmas. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the gift your loved ones this year.