Where would you be today without your team?

One of the things I’ve always loved about camping is the teamwork. Everyone has a job to do, and as much as possible (when we were younger) we were given jobs that matched our skills. I mean sometimes you just had to wash the coffee pot out, even if you didn’t drink coffee or didn’t like washing dishes. But it was your turn, and coffee pot needed to be cleaned. By doing your part, you helped the whole team.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers forget that we’re on the same team. We hurt each other by what we say or by what we don’t say. We misunderstand each other. We jump to hurtful conclusions. We take sides. We point fingers and exclaim that if the offender was a good enough Christian, he or she would know better than to behave like that. And we forget about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and that without them, we’re just like those who have no hope. And our little team falls apart.

21503D358DToday’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The whole world doesn’t belong to the same family. We aren’t all children of God by birth. We become children of God when we choose to follow Jesus. When that happens, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve done or where you’re going. You are immediately adopted into God’s family. And that means the Christian who’s sitting next to you in the church pew is your brother or sister, and you’re going to spend eternity with him or her.

That’s great news if you like the Christian sitting next to you. But what if you don’t like them?

Oh, unscrew that halo. There are plenty of Christians in your life that you don’t like. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not a sin to dislike someone. But as a Christ-follower, you are called to love them. Period. There’s no discussion. And love means something a little different than our culture believes. Real Love takes a lot more focus and energy and sacrifice and endurance than what our culture calls love. Real Love is only possible with God’s help.

People fail. Even Christians fail. They will disappoint you. They will hurt you. They’ll reject you and betray you and falsely accuse you. And in the face of all that, you are to love them in return. You are to respond to their anger and hurt and misinformation with grace and peace and patience.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you shouldn’t respond with name calling or rumor spreading. You shouldn’t call names. You shouldn’t lash out with angry accusations. And you shouldn’t threaten. Please, please don’t threaten. Threats never help anyone, and they certainly never deepen a relationship. People who are on the same team should never threaten each other.

Instead of threatening, lashing out, trying to hurt your brother or sister in Christ, think of how to approach them with love. Try to consider how they feel. Think about where they are in their life and what might be causing them to act the way they are.

It’s so easy to misunderstand. Are you willing to destroy another person simply because you assume you know what he or she is feeling? Remember, we’re on the same team. Remember, Christ died for that person too. Remember you aren’t perfect, and you’ve probably made as many or more mistakes than the Christian you’re angry at. Where would you be now if the Christians in your life had just given up on you?

Maybe you’re hurting, but don’t hit back. Believe it or not, the whole situation probably isn’t about you anyway. Hurting people hurt people, and none of us are perfect. It’s up to you whether or not to be gracious.

Just know that God has enough of a sense of humor that if you don’t let it go, He’ll make you be next door neighbors in heaven for all eternity. Wouldn’t you rather sort things out down here before He comes back to get us?

We all need each other. So give teamwork a chance. God’s got us on the same team for a reason.

You don’t have to live life alone

I spent last weekend hanging around people who speak my language. I have so many friends, so many wonderful encouragers that God has put in my life, so many incredible people who mean the world to me, but last weekend, I got to spend time with other people who write down what the voices in their heads are saying.

No, we’re not psycho. We’re writers. And we’re all a little weird. I’m just being honest. And while I adore my friends and family here at home and around the world (people who I know love me), I don’t always like to talk about writing with them. It’s not that I don’t want to share. It’s just that writing means something different to me than it does to them.

My brother is an engineer. He’s freakin’ brilliant, and he loves all those complicated engineering type things. He loves talking about them too, but many of his friends aren’t engineers. So he refrains from talking about it so that everyone can participate in conversation. That’s the same thing a lot of writers do. If you know someone who writes, they may not talk about it all the time for fear of coming off as a complete psychopath, but if they’re serious about their craft, it’s all they think about.

So it was really nice to be in a giant room full of writers because we were all on the same page. More than that, this conference is for writers who believe in Jesus, so not only are we wired the same way, we all write for the same reason–to glorify the Lord. Being around so many people who “just get me” was such a blessing, and then this morning I ran across a Psalm that reminded me I don’t have to go looking for a writer when I need someone to understand me.

bench-couple-love-people_1534x1023Today’s verses are Psalm 139:1-6.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

God gets you. You know that, right? He made you the way you are, so He understands how you’re wired. It’s comforting for me because my brain is so very strange. It’s good to know that God understands how the circuitry works.

Everyone feels isolated at some point in their lives, and that’s normal. But if you’re a Christ-follower, you don’t have to live life alone. God will have put people in your life who love you. Maybe they don’t always understand you, but they love you anyway. They’re there for you. Don’t take them for granted.

But more than that, God understands you. He knows your heart. He knows your thoughts. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing or what you’ve done or what you will do, God knows you and loves you and wants to have a personal, face-t0-face, one-on-one relationship. Imagine that! Having the God of the Universe for a friend! You can’t beat that.

So don’t trick yourself into thinking you can hide from God. It doesn’t work. You don’t want to hide from Him anyway. It’s just kind of silly to even try. And don’t convince yourself that you’re on your own either. You’re not.

The next time you’re feeling lonely or misunderstood, tell God about it. He’s always ready to listen, and He always wants to hear from you. He likes your ideas, and He believes you’re worth listening to. So what are you waiting for?

Life’s too short to live without laughing

 

I laughed a lot yesterday. It’s been a while since I laughed so hard. Long enough that I’d almost forgotten what it feels like–that pleasantly sore feeling in your ribs and stomach, aching from full-body laughter. It’s probably embarrassing when I laugh, because I’m not exactly quiet. But I remembered something yesterday: Real laughter is a natural antidepressant.

It’s hard to be down or discouraged when you can’t breathe because you’re laughing so hard. And after you spend an hour or two of hilarious, uplifting, God-centered conversation, I dare you to walk back into the darkness and think it’s still impenetrable. Laughter lightens your spirit, and that’s why it’s important to have friends who help you laugh.

J13BCL98JMToday verse is Proverbs 17:22.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

Laughing is good for you. It’s a scientific fact. I can’t quote the science, but I’ve read about it, that a life full of laughter helps you stay younger and maybe even healthier. The problem is that life isn’t always fun. It’s difficult to laugh in the tough moments. It’s hard to hold on to that spirit of lightness when just living feels like a burden too heavy to bear.

I’ve been hunkered down for most of this month working on novel revisions, limiting my contact with the outside world to a small number of very close friends. I’m introverted. Very introverted. So the alone time doesn’t really bother me. I actually enjoy it.

But this month has also been extremely trying. Just loads of difficult, frustrating things have happened, piled on top of each other in one big suffocating mass of ugliness. And I really buried in my self-imposed deadlines, and my perspective suffers. I try to keep my eyes on the prize, but when you’re locked away in your office trying to knock out 5,000 to 7,000 words a day? It doesn’t leave a lot of time for listening to others, and that’s a mistake.

Yesterday I got to have lunch with two of my favorite people–friends I haven’t been able to hang out with for a long time. Friends I can pick up with right where I left off and it doesn’t feel like any time has past.

Everybody needs friends like that. People you can real with, who know the real you and–more importantly–who know Jesus and who know that God has everything under control.

If you can’t get your own perspective sorted out, you need to ask for help. Go to someone you love, someone you know loves you, and just spend some time with them. If you need to talk about what’s bothering you, do it. But you don’t always have to. Sometimes you can just have a silly, inconsequential conversation about nothing, and it can still encourage you. Just taking the time to talk to someone who loves you can make all the difference in the world.

Life is far too short to live it by yourself, and maybe some folks can get through it alone, but I don’t recommend it. The journey’s a lot more fun if you go with people. And if you’re one of those privileged people who still get to have lunch with friends you’ve known for 10, 15, 20 years, don’t take that for granted.

So tell stories. Remember good times. And laugh your butt off. I guarantee the weight on your shoulders will feel much lighter if you do.

 

The only thing harder than having a good friend is being one

I couldn’t get away with a lot when I was growing up. I’m the older child in the family, and regardless of how parents try to raise all children the same way, expectations are different for the older sibling. They just are. Not saying my brother got away with a whole heck of a lot either (he was the good child anyway), but even outside of the home, I always felt held to a stricter standard. I was the oldest. I should know better and set a good example.

Talk to other older children, and you might hear the same thing. It’s pretty common. And while it might have been irritating when I was little, as an adult, however, I can genuinely say I’m thankful for it.

I don’t know where we get the idea that going easy on people is best for them. Now, I don’t mean that to promote abuse or cruelty of any sort. But if you have someone you’re raising or someone you’re mentoring, if you make allowances for the things they say and do that are wrong, you aren’t doing them any favors. You’re teaching them that it’s acceptable to stop trying to do their best. You’re teaching that it’s okay to give up.

It’s not easy to do, especially if you have a compassionate streak and want to be kind to people, but you have to see the bigger picture. You can’t make excuses for bad behavior simply because you don’t want to upset somebody.

saltToday’s verse is Matthew 5:13.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

This was a statement that Jesus made in one of His most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s always resonated with me. It tells us a lot about who Jesus is, because He doesn’t pull punches, especially with people who say they follow Him.

What Jesus is talking about here is the fact that salt is both a preserver and a disinfectant. People would pack meat in salt to keep it good for extended periods of time, and doctors would put salt in wounds to cleanse them. And, yes, it hurt. A lot. But when salt got old, it would lost its potency, and when it lost the qualities that gave it purpose, it was no good for anyone’s use.

Jesus is comparing His followers to salt. We are here on Earth to preserve what is good and “cleanse” what is bad. Cleanse is probably not the best word. More like irritate what’s bad. Because it’s not that a Christian is supposed to walk around wiping out bad elements from society, but we aren’t supposed to run away and back down when society tries to get us to do what God says is wrong.

It’s tempting to be an undercover Christian in our world today. It’s so much easier just to keep our mouths shut. That’s usually the road I take, but I’m not sure that’s the road I’m supposed to be on. But what’s worse is a Christ-follower who’s forgotten what it means to follow Christ. A Christ-follower who follows the world is confused and uncertain and practically indistinguishable from those who don’t follow Christ.

And what I love about Jesus is that He loves us enough to tell us this. He knows the kind of life that we need to be living, and if we say we’re His followers, shouldn’t we do what He says?

Jesus is our Lord and our Savior, but if you follow Him, He’s also your friend. And it takes a strong person to stand up to friends and tell them they’re going the wrong direction. If that’s you, don’t take it as criticism or meanness or some of threat. It’s not. It’s words from a friend telling you that if you don’t change your mind, you’re going to be in trouble.

It’s a hard thing, to be a good friend. It’s also hard to have a good friend, especially if they’re the ones who can keep you on the straight and narrow. But those are the people you want in your life. Those are the people who you’ll look back and thank later on down the road.

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.

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.

Someone who has walked in your shoes understands how you feel

I’m planning a trip to England. I will be crossing the pond in May to visit my best friend and see some sights. I’ve been once before in summer 2013, and while that trip was a riot, I’m more excited for this return trip.

Why? Because I’ve experienced London already. I know what it’s like to ride the tube and to look the “wrong” direction for oncoming traffic. I know that the first floor of the British Museum is really all that’s there worth seeing and that the Museum of London is better overall. A lot of the peculiar little quirks of British culture won’t be such a shock this time around.

But what’s interesting is explaining it to my dad, who is coming with me. You can’t really explain London or any of the surrounding areas until you’ve actually been there. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s something else to visit. That’s what I learned the last time I was there. It was something my best friend could describe, but I couldn’t really understand it until I’d lived it.

in-mums-shoesToday’s verses are Hebrews 2:17-18.

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Life is hard sometimes. Everybody knows that. But there’s something really comforting in talking to someone who’s walked a mile in your shoes.

If you’ve lost someone you love, friends can tell you they understand, but they don’t really. If they haven’t experienced the same loss you have, they can’t. It’s like someone with a full-time, paying job with benefits trying to console a part-time, minimum wage earner that rising grocery costs are a part of life. They mean well, certainly, but they can’t actually comprehend the terror of an empty cupboard and a failing bank balance.

Having a friend in your life who has been where you’ve been, who’s walked where you walked and felt the same hurt you have is priceless. If you can talk about how you’re feeling and your friend truly does understand the same emotions, there’s comfort you can’t really quantify. Especially if that friend experienced the same hurts you have and they’ve come out shining on the other side. You walk away from the conversation with hope. If they survived, so might I.

You realize that Jesus went through the same struggles we have, right? Maybe not specifically. I mean, there’s no evidence in Scripture that Jesus was ever laid off, but He most certainly struggled to make a living. He wasn’t a property owner, and He wasn’t always sure where His next meal would come from. Maybe the circumstances in His life are different from yours, but I guarantee He experienced the same emotions you have.

That’s why He came. Jesus chose to become human so that He could be made like us in every way, suffer in every way, struggle in every way, so He could understand. So that He could bridge the chasm between us and God the Father.

When someone knows what you’ve been through, they can speak for you. They can explain how it feels to stand where you stand, to live how you live, what the world looks like from your eyes. They can speak to it because they’ve lived it too, and that’s what Jesus does for us.

Jesus experienced fear and loss. He knew what betrayal felt like. He knew what failure felt like. He knew what it was like to lose friends and family–and to have friends and family turn their backs on Him. Everything we struggle with on a daily basis, Jesus experienced Himself. Maybe the circumstances weren’t identical, but the emotions were.

And you know what? He came out shining on the other side. He lived through all of that pain and abandonment and hurt and frustration and didn’t once turn against God. He still lived a life that was pleasing to the Lord, and because He did it, so can we. And when we struggle, we can turn to Him and ask for help.

When you’re on the edge of making a really stupid decision, ask Jesus for help. Tell Him about what you’re going through. He’s listening, and He’s been there. He had the strength not to go down the road to stupid, regardless of how much He was hurting, and He’s still there to help us make the wise choice too.

Jesus experienced life before we did, and He survived. He actually did more than survive. He thrived. And we can too. We just have to be willing to talk to Him about it and ask Him for help.