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 be afraid, even if you can’t see what’s coming

We’ve got a new batch of kittens at Safe Haven Farm–seven of them! And other than several of them having some issues with runny eyes, they’re all healthy and hilarious. Yesterday I went out to play with them, and I had to laugh. It was a particularly windy day, and every time a gust of wind would come along, all seven would scurry into the shadows of the garage again. When the wind would stop blowing, they’d creep out to play some more, until the wind gusted again. Then they’d scatter.

Being afraid of the wind in Kansas is going to limit their experiences, because it’s always windy here. Eventually they’ll learn not to run in fear when the wind blows, but I couldn’t help but think about how strange it must be. If you’d never felt wind before, it would be pretty scary. You can’t see it, but it can knock you clean over if you aren’t paying attention.

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 3:22.

Do not be afraid of the nations there, for the Lord your God will fight for you.

When the children of Israel were preparing to go into the land God had promised them, after they’d been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God turned command of the army over to Joshua. Moses had done his job. And this was one of the messages God left with him: that the people shouldn’t be afraid of what they would encounter on the other side of the Jordan River because God would be there fighting for them.

And that’s a promise God kept over and over again.

We all face moments in our lives when we’re uncertain about what’s coming. In those moments, I always feel like I have some invisible enemy that’s going to sneak up on me when I least expect it. None of us knows what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s difficult to face a day sometimes when you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of it. Some people don’t know if they’ll still have a bed to sleep in. Some people don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.

None of us know what’s coming. Like the Children of Israel who’d never seen the land they were going into, we face troubles and frustrations on a daily basis that go above our heads. There are circumstances and situations that we’re not prepared for. There are confrontations and accusations we have to face that we don’t know how to respond to.

It’s all unknown and uncertain, and there’s nothing more terrifying than the unknown. But what God told the Children of Israel back then is the same thing He’s saying to us know. You may not know what’s coming, but He does. And He isn’t passively sitting on the sidelines judging our performance. God is actively involved in our lives and in our world, and He will fight for us.

Granted, if you want God to fight for you, you need to be on His side, which means you need to be doing what He says is right. If you’re there, then you have nothing to fear. If you’re not there? You might want to think about getting there.

Just because I can’t see what’s coming doesn’t mean I should fear it. Most of my future is completely uncertain, but I will choose not to be afraid for one reason and one reason alone–my God is certain. I belong to Him, and He will fight my battles for me.

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.

Take time to recognize God’s abundant blessings

I ate way too much last night. Americans have this idea that British food is strange, right? Well, it’s not. There may be some strange things here, but hey, we have deep fried Twinkies.

Last night, we had a ladies evening at a restaurant here in Carlisle called The Dutch Uncle. The way the deal had been set up was really fantastic. You came in and sat down with your group, and they just kept bringing food out family style until you couldn’t eat anymore. Pizzas and nachos and platters of meats and cheeses. Pasta with mussels and clams. Olives and fried chicken thighs. And just when we would finish one plate of food, they’d bring another one out.

For two hours. One plate after another. And I couldn’t help but compare the experience to God’s blessings.

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Today’s verse is John 1:16.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

Sometimes God’s blessings are hard to recognize. Sometimes they’re obvious. But whether we actually recognize them or not, they’re abundant. They range from the generic but beautiful sunrises and sunsets to specific answers to specific requests.

We don’t deserve any of them, but God gives them away freely, expecting nothing of us in return. We can’t earn His blessings, but we can be in a position to experience them. That’s the only part that’s up to us. And even when we don’t make the wisest choices, God is still blessing us in small ways, which we choose not to notice most of the time.

Just like those plates of food that kept coming to our table at the Dutch Uncle, God’s blessings just keep coming. Over and over again. But unlike a meal, you never get tired of God’s blessings.

What was really interesting to me last night was that while I was chewing on a delightfully fried chicken thigh, I was having conversations with six British women who’d come to join us. Six wonderful women who are friends with my best friend, who has been living over here for nearly a year now.

I had prayed specifically that God would provide a group of friends in Carlisle for her to fit into, and last night I got to see exactly how God had answered that prayer. And I was so thankful.

What’s a blessing that God has given you today? How about a second blessing? Or a third? He hands them out all over the place, so sometimes they’re easy to miss. But take a moment and recognize them, because He doesn’t have to bless us. He just does. Because He’s that awesome.

Simple thoughts about a complicated subject

It’s nearly 10:00 Wednesday night in the city of Carlisle in northern England, where I’m writing tomorrow’s devotional. It’s weird because it’s only 4:00 in the afternoon back home in Kansas, but I’m going to try to sleep after being up since 4:00 a.m. Tuesday (I didn’t sleep much on the plane).

But I just felt led to post something that’s pretty awesome that God reminded me of as I was walking down the ramp of the Carlisle train station this afternoon: I’ve been gifted with tremendous friends.

Me and Katie

Me and Katie

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends are priceless. And if you have good friends–real friends–hold on to them. Because the real ones will last forever. And no matter how many miles might separate you, you’ll be able to pick up again like you never left off.

I have friends around the world, and I’m so blessed to be able to say that they are as close to me as a family.

I haven’t been in the same room with my best friend since last October. She lives here in England. We Skype, of course. We text. But after so long an absence, you’d expect that there would be hesitation in getting used to each other’s company again. There wasn’t. It was like we hadn’t even been separated.

If you’ve got a friendship like that in your life, don’t sell it short. Don’t discount it. And, whatever you do, don’t let it go. Friendships like that are worth fighting for.

Just a simple thought for this morning … or evening … or whenever it is.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you ever throw away a priceless gift?

Think of a friend in your life, someone you know well. How long have you been friends? How long did it take for you to get close? How long did it take for you to develop inside jokes and code words and funny stories? How long did it take for you to get to the place where you felt like you could share everything, where you were closer than family, where you could finish each other’s sentences?

Not many friends get to that place. If you have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know just how much work and sacrifice it took to get there. Friendships like that don’t just happen. They take a long time. But they’re worth it.

Oh, they are so worth it.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:10.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.

I spent four hours at a birthday party last night. I was there with my brother, and also in attendance were two friends that my brother and I have known for 20 years.

20 years.

That shocks me to realize. It doesn’t seem possible that 20 years ago the four of us were running around getting into all sorts of trouble, making each other laugh, sharing life and telling crazy stories. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we did last night. Some things–and some friendships–never change.

And as I stood and listened and laughed with my friends last night, all I could think about was how thankful I was. Thankful because we didn’t have to still be friends. So much has happened in those 20 years that could have broken us up. And I’m not going to tell you it was easy.

You try being friends with someone for 20 years and see how easy it is. Try being friends with someone for five years first.

With so many friendships that I hear about today, I’m just not sure if they understand what friendship is about. I get the feeling that today’s friendships are about self. They’re about getting in with the right crowd to accomplish something. They’re about social status or opportunity.

And that’s a generalization. Many friendships don’t start like that. But many of them end because of selfish reasons. One friend hurts another friend, and neither (or both) will let it go.

And that’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last 20 years. It’s probably better if some don’t.

But I can tell you I’m glad these friendships did. I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that I still have these two people in my life. They’re two people I know I could turn to at any moment–any day of the week, any time, with any request–and know that they would help me however they could. Because they’re more than family. They’re my friends.

Have you got a friendship in your life that has lasted for a long time? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take advantage of it. If you don’t take care of it, it might not always be around. Friendship takes work–hard work.

What about the opposite side of the coin? Have you got a friendship you’re getting ready to walk away from? If you really feel like that’s the best choice, then do it. There are some friendships that aren’t healthy. But take the time to find out what a healthy friendship is supposed to look like before you give up. If you’re walking away from a long-time friendship because you got your feelings hurt or because you didn’t get your way about something, reconsider.

Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s exactly what it is. You can’t force someone to be your friend. And if they love you and trust you enough to call you a friend in return, please don’t ever take that lightly. And please think twice (or more) before you throw it away.

And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets the opportunity to celebrate a birthday party with a friend of 20 years, you won’t even remember the bad times. And if you do, you’ll just see them as stepping stones to a closer relationship.

Nothing worth having was easy to get. That goes for friendship too. And friendship is worth having.