Everybody feels like giving up

What are you dealing with today that makes you just want to give up? Is it a relationship? Or a job? Maybe a dream?

If you’re in that place today, don’t think you’re alone. Everyone ends up there at some point in their lives. Even the most optimistic person in the world has a day when they just can’t take it anymore.

And there’s something God taught me yesterday as I was thinking about pushing through the tough times that I thought I’d better share. What’s even cooler is that it’s a lesson I learned from Christmas.

1149769_48728710Today’s verses are Romans 12:2-3.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

As in everything else, Jesus should be the example we follow. He’s the One we should pattern our lives after, and He never gave up. Not even when he faced agony and disappointment and abandonment. Because He knew what was coming, He had the strength to keep going.

God made you with a purpose. He has a plan for you. Maybe you can’t see it right now, but it’s real. God started it, and He won’t stop finishing it until it’s done. That’s a promise. But our enemy does love to throw darts of discouragement at us, and when life is so busy and so crazy and so broken, it’s so easy to give in. It sounds so much easier just to give up.

And in those moments, it’s tempting to think that Jesus’ example doesn’t fit. Because He was God. And you’re not. I mean, after all, you’re just a regular person. You’re not a superhero. You can only take so much.  Right?

Well, let’s talk about the Christmas story, because, yes, Jesus was involved, but the major players were all 100% human. No superheroes present.

Who better to start with than Mary? A young woman. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, imagine life for her in the first century. You think you’ve got it rough? Mary could have been killed. The Law actually would have allowed for her to be stoned to death because no one would have believed she was a virgin and had still conceived a child. Life sucked for Mary, but if she hadn’t stuck it out, Jesus wouldn’t have been born.

What about Joseph? Mary’s husband. Before they were married, Joseph had to deal with the rumors and the whispers and the gossip that his fiancée had been unfaithful. And those whispers probably followed him for the rest of his life. Put yourself in his shoes. God asked him to be the earthly father of the Messiah, but Joseph would never get any credit. Not really. He’s the forgotten figure in your manger scene. He’s just Joseph. How awful is that?

What about the shepherds in the fields? Sure a bunch of angels popped up and told them the Savior had been born, but the angels didn’t give them a lift. The shepherd had to go searching Bethlehem, going from stable to stable until they found the one with a baby in it.

And the wise men? Gosh, I don’t think anyone really thinks about what the wise men had to go through to find Jesus. They’re always pictured in the manger scene with the shepherds, but they didn’t actually arrive until much later. And they had to do tremendous study to figure out when and where Jesus would be born. And then they had to travel for miles and miles and miles and miles…. you get the idea.

Here’s the deal, friends. Life is hard for everyone. Certainly some have it worse than others, and we shouldn’t ignore that fact. But just because you’re tempted to give up today doesn’t mean you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way. You’re not a horrible person. You’re not a bad Christian. You’re just human, and you’re stressed out and pulled in too many directions at once.

So here’s what you need to remember: Even if you feel like giving up, even if you think nothing is going to change, even if you can’t see an end to the difficult road you’re on, don’t give up.

Giving up is easy. Like the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay. He didn’t even try to help them. Maybe life had just gotten in the way. Maybe he was having a tough time. But instead of trying to help a young couple in need, he just gave up and sent them away. And he could have been the one to be there when Jesus Christ was born. Think of what he missed out on because he gave up.

That thing you don’t think you can do? Ask God for help and try it anyway. That job you think is too much for you? Ask God for help and give it your best. That goal you think you’ll never achieve? Ask God for help and shoot for the stars.

Everybody feels like giving up eventually, but giving up is a choice. And with God’s help, you don’t have to choose it.

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A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Everyone wrestles with God at some point

Do you know someone who has turned away from his or her faith? It’s a hard thing to observe, especially if it’s someone you love. Because you can’t do anything about it. You can’t talk about it, because that will make it worse. And you can’t ignore it because you’d rather chop off your arm than cut that person out of your life.

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 1:6-7.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

This passage is talking to the ones at the Church in Galatia who had decided that following someone else’s “gospel” was a better idea than the Gospel that Paul had brought them. But that’s not what caught my eye about this particular passage.

What caught my attention was Paul’s statement of his shock that the Church was turning away from God “so soon.” In the Greek language, the word is ταχεως, which means quickly or hastily.

Paul was shocked that the Church was turning away from God so soon. So does that mean if it had been later in their walk that he wouldn’t have been as shocked?  It wouldn’t have surprised him if they turned away from God after they’d followed Him for a few years or so?

If that’s the case, there are a couple of things we can learn from that statement, the first of which is that it’s not uncommon for people to get turned around in their faith. It’s not unusual for people to get screwed up. It’s not unusual for people to twist off, especially if they are prone to believing lies disguised as truth.

Everybody struggles. Everyone has something about their faith they don’t like or that they can’t understand or that they wish were clearer. Some people can just accept that God is God and He does what He wants. Others struggle. Others want to know why. And if they aren’t grounded in Scripture, if they aren’t close to God, and if they aren’t really seeking God with everything they are, it’s easy to be led astray.

Because it’s so nice to believe the prosperity gospels. It’s so comforting to believe that we never have to struggle or fight. It’s so much easier to fit in. And it’s so much more fun to do what we want instead of doing what God says is right.

God asks for a lot. His expectations are high. Not for salvation,  because that’s a free gift and we can never afford to pay for it. But the Christian life isn’t easy. It never has been, and it’s not supposed to be. We don’t belong in this world, remember.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when people turn away from their faith after they’ve had it for a while. It shouldn’t shake us. It shouldn’t frighten us.

Maybe someone has some into their life with “gospel” that isn’t really the Gospel, and it’s their choice to believe it or not. But that choice is up to them. That choice is between them and God.

And it may not even mean that they don’t believe it anymore. It may just mean they’re wrestling with God over something they’re being stubborn about.

And the thing about a wrestling match is that more than two people can’t wrestle at a time. More than two people wrestling is a fight. You can’t get between them. You have to let them battle it out.

But what you can do is never stop loving them. Don’t ever turn away from them. And know that if they really belong to the Lord, He won’t let them go. And He’s never lost a wrestling match.

If someone turns away from their faith soon after accepting it, that might be a sign their conversion wasn’t real. But that’s not for us to say either. That’s a heart issue, and only God knows the heart. It’s our job to love regardless and share our faith with everyone we meet.

The one thing we can know for sure is that everybody struggles. We may not know why, and we don’t have to. But we don’t have to stand there gaping with our mouths open when we hear that someone is struggling with their faith. Loosen up those halos, Christian, and admit that you do too.

Don’t be afraid to share those struggles. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the places where you falter and hesitate. Your struggle and your life and your victory may be just what someone else needs to hear to keep them in God’s fold, instead of wandering off with some other shepherd.

 

Music ornament, Haven, KS

More than just a Christmas carol

I love Christmas music. True, I prefer to avoid a steady diet of it until after Thanksgiving, but even in the time outside the brackets of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, sometimes I just have to stop and marvel at the lyrics. Have you ever truly stopped to think about the words in Christmas songs? No, I’m not talking about “Jingle Bells” or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” I mean the classic Christmas carols, the ones that even secular shopping locations play this time of year.

I got to thinking about music after yesterday’s post. I don’t think music plays as big a role in any other part of American culture as it does during the Christmas season. I mean, we don’t really have Easter songs. We sort of do, but in my experience many Easter-themed songs are still sung during other parts of the year. Likewise with Thanksgiving or with New Year’s or with any other popular holiday. The only season that has its own music is Christmas.

But that didn’t start with modern culture. Singing has always been a part of celebrating Christmas.

Music ornament, Haven, KS

Music ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 2:8-14.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Luke 2 is probably one of the most well-known chapters of the Bible, at least among Christians. It’s the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. This passage today is only a small part of it, where a group of shepherds got to hear the first news of it. Can you imagine being in their shoes (er…sandals)? Remember, this was before special effects on television. This was before television. They’d never seen anything like it.

And, just being honest here, even with all our vast knowledge about the world and everything in it (yes, I’m being sarcastic), if a sky full of angels appeared to you and started singing at the top of their lungs, I’m pretty positive you’d wet yourself. I would.

Music is an integral part of the Christmas story, so I think it’s altogether fitting that our entire godless culture still stops and sings “Silent Night.” No matter how far away we’ve fallen, we still get misty eyed at “O Holy Night” or “Away in a Manger.” Some parts of the United States are trying to ban religious Christmas songs, but I’m not sure how successful they’ll be.

Every time I hear “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” I cry. Why? It’s the theme of my heart. The song is about crying out to God, asking for the Savior to come and save us, to bring light to our dark world, to bring life to the lifeless. And it’s what our world needs. It’s what I need, not just today or during the Christmas season but every moment of my life.

So the next time you hear a Christmas carol on the radio or on the street, stop for a moment and just listen. Really listen to the lyrics of “What Child Is This?” or “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Listen and think about them and let them sink into your heart and remind you what Christmas is about. What’s ironic is that so many of those songs were penned so long ago, but they’re still relevant, still wonderful, still a blessing to so many people.

Don’t be silent this Christmas. Sing out, even if you can’t sing. Remember that a joyful noise doesn’t have to be beautiful; a joyful noise is beautiful to God whether it’s off-key or not. Let the songs of the season make a difference in how you experience Christmas.