2019 is hours away. Moving into it can be viewed as a portal or gate — imagine a TSA checkpoint at an airport. What if the qualification of passing from our current status to the one we are meant to be in is that we must shed some luggage? — only those who are traveling light can pass through. Would we do it, or would we stay behind, unwilling to comply? What if it was God who defined those terms, and the requirements were personalized? Image result for TSA, person with tons of luggage

I know most people from church culture would say, “Of course, to love God is to obey God, I always do.” But what people say and what people do are often very different. I have traveled many miles, so to speak, with people who claimed God as their priority, and commander and King, but witnessed them unwilling to leave behind their massive pile of luggage at the TSA checkpoint. Had they only left it, as asked and encouraged, they could have passed through to what God had planned for them (plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give hope and a future). 

But alas, their priority was there in their luggage.

Although they begged the TSA agents, and tried to claim, “I’m with him” or “I’m with her”, with intentions to sneak in with someone who willingly shed all that God asked, they were left behind. 

Image result for person with tons of luggageWith their piles of luggage.

Believing they were treated unfairly.

Resenting those who got through the checkpoint and quickly moved out of sight. Inventing something to condemn them, to justify discreditation or dismissal of the forward movers. 

All the while turning a blind eye to the clearly-stated signs at the airport, those personalized stipulations meant for them, too, but conveniently ignored, the posted requirements that those who passed through did comply with.

Deciding themselves victims, not causes of their own circumstances. Dejected and angry, they gather their piles of suitcases and drag them back home. There they unpack the bags to inspect item after item, relishing their worth, reinforcing their decision to hold tight to them. Arguing with God, but not calling it so: believing themselves “right” and the travelers “wrong”. Making themselves feel better by bashing the blameless. Redefining themselves as “the staid”, “the consistent”, “the pillars”, “the holy”, and by compare calling the innocents who traveled forward “rebels”, “flashes in the pan”, “backsliders”, “amoral”.

Which is understandable, perhaps, considering human nature, and maybe not the end of the story for the noncompliant. As long as they don’t settle in where they are and continue to lunge for the future. As long as they look for the Lord’s pillar of cloud by day to guide them on their way, and pillar of fire by night to give them light, as the Israelites wandering the desert did, they may yet come to the passage to their promised land.

But keep in mind, God doesn’t conform to people, people must conform to him. Don’t expect him to change his terms for each person; expect the requirements and enforcements to be unchanged. As long as each is intent on hearing directly from the Holy Spirit and no other voice (including their own), they may yet hear and obey and perhaps even catch up with those who traveled before them.

But why do it the difficult way when it can be done with ease? Why refuse to comply and play all those mind games to hide misplaced idolatry? (It’s not as hidden as you imagine, by the way.) Why forego the good things that would have come with simple obedience and singular godship? 

If God asks us to see it his way, or do it his way, then do it. Do that over and over as often as he asks, and expect to ultimately arrive at portals and gates of things new, things wonderful, things grand, things possible only with God.

We can fake “the promised land”, “blessed”, and “favored” only until the real deal comes along, then the fake is overshadowed by the brilliant light of those who truly loved enough to obey, and who ultimately were planted by God as oaks of righteousness for the display of his splendor.

We can keep all those bags full of our preferred values, ideals, worldview, people, theologies, paradigms, prejudices, material things, and more — whatever it is we value more than him, and stay in the familiar world we like to control. But, don’t fool ourselves that we’ve arrived at the best stuff. 

For those who have been trimmed and thrashed and forged and refined by fires; for those who have loved and obeyed: through the TSA gate they go. They may only have wee little backpacks with next to nothing inside, but they have willingly thrown off everything that hinders. Their eyes are fixed on hope and a marvelous future. They know who God is; they let him be the commander or King or father or coach or any of his many roles in their lives, and they are headed to all things good. 

My friend, if God asks you to drop a suitcase or two or three or fifteen, don’t be a fool. Do what he asks. Travel light. There ain’t no other way to go through to the real deal. Image result for person with small backpack going through airport

Philippians 3:7.  I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.

Jeremiah 29:11 .  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Exodus 13:21 .  By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

Isaiah 61:3   and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Hebrews 12:1-2 . Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 


Your Biography

Just before the financial crisis of 2008, I decided it was time to consult a financial planner. I rolled all my old retirement accounts to his company and chose the most aggressive growth strategy. It was terrible timing. I lost 35% of my hard-earned savings in mere months. I understood the Sunday morning quarterbacking that was rampant at the time, the wish to have safely invested if I’d known what was coming. It seemed everyone was spooked. Many delayed retirement. Some believed their losses would never be recouped.

Widespread fear would have pulled me down with it, had I not summoned the effort to ignore alarmists. It required a conscious choice to think spiritually. I made myself trust God. I didn’t consider Him as just a recipient of tithes, I wanted Him in control of all my resources. If that meant living in a tent subsisting on rice and beans, so be it.

(* In hindsight, the decision to trust spared me needless worry. By 2012 my funds had recovered and they continue to amass.)

Curious about how I was faring in the midst of that market crash, one of my sons asked about my investments. While he was at it, he also wondered about my long term plans with my job as a physical therapist, remaining in our home or moving, and whether or not I thought I would ever remarry. I told him I had learned to be content being single but always felt it was temporary. I might stay with my job or do something entirely different. I might stay in my home or end up moving far away.

I must have sounded noncommittal to my son that day, but the truth is I don’t make important decisions without guidance from God, and I didn’t have it yet. I’m all too aware of my very limited understanding. I want His direction regarding finances, vocation, health, where to live, the people in my life … everything.

(* In 2011, I did leave my job to do something entirely different — writing. What next? I don’t know yet. He is a light unto our paths. As mine becomes illuminated, I’ll walk forward on it.)

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Several years ago, I met a young man who expressed his deep regret for not patiently following God after a divorce. He’d quickly remarried, and had just been left by his second unfaithful wife. He felt like a failure, was deeply depressed and without hope in himself. In his view, divorcing twice was proof that he was the cause and destined for failure. Buried under his demolished dreams, he was convinced that this was who he was, this was what he deserved.

I saw it much differently. I agreed with him that his humanity and weaknesses contributed to getting into something that God likely didn’t want for him, but he wasn’t the cause or doomed to failure. If he trusted God and followed Him, he would be led through and out of crises, and as a bonus, would extract benefits from his troubles.

(* He has since married a wonderful woman. They have a baby now and a happy, secure life together. The guy radiates joy and gratitude!)

Romans 8:28 – And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

While we are overwhelmed by troubles, God is up to complex designs behind the scenes. We may be miserable and suffering from injustices or our own wrongdoing, but He is shaping and molding us at the same time. He is creating possibilities for us. We usually aren’t even aware of His tireless work to give us a hope and a future.

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The enemy of us all intends harm. One effective scheme is to convince us that our current sub-par life is the end of the story. Those who rely on God and keep expecting good things from Him will be positively affected even by evil in the end. From the rubble of our demolition arises patience, wisdom, desire for righteousness, hope, and ambition to live fully and meaningfully if given another chance to do so.

Romans 5:3-5 – We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 

All those good things happen in the suffering. Whether it’s suffering we did nothing to deserve, or suffering we caused, it doesn’t matter — suffering is useful to shape qualities within us for a better future.

DSCN2313What a tragedy it would be to voluntarily stop the story of our lives in the middle of our most pitiful chapters. We shouldn’t accept that our biographies will conclude in defeat. The ending needn’t be “my losses will never be recouped”. If God has His way, those painful chapters will be exploited to ultimately adorn us with splendor. If we expect and allow it, our worst chapters can yet be converted to exceptional, satisfying, victorious biographies.

Isaiah 61:3 … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

When we’re in chapters of discouragement and lack, we must look for our future chapters to improve, and realize God wants to illuminate extraordinary paths to each of us. We need to discern when a devil’s advocate is at work, claiming our biography will close in depressing style without ever arriving at happiness and excellence. Devil’s advocates come in the form of unsuspecting or willing human vessels of harm, or as unwanted circumstances that are thrust on us. Sometimes it inhabits our own thinking.

The man in his second divorce temporarily believed that he deserved a minimal life. He thought that his life was at odds with God’s nature and ways. Based on his punishing circumstances, he expected more of the same ahead. Had his errant self-condemnation persisted, he would have written the final chapters of his own biography far short of the enviable life he now has.

When my son was home from college one holiday, he told me, “When I’m away, I feel like I won’t get a job, and can’t manage simple chores even. When I’m at home, I feel like I can do anything … I’ll go to grad school in Berlin! Or I can find a great job anywhere right now!” I don’t know how or when self-doubt and defeatism came to obscure his thinking. It wasn’t rational. He was in the top 15% of his college class and had a great work ethic. How did the truth of his potential get buried under a dark blanket of lies?

1 Corinthians 4:5 – Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness …

I’m grateful the light displaces the blanket of darkness for my kids, even if only intermittently for now. I expect it to shine increasingly brighter for them over time. What a shame if they were permanently deceived into expecting their life stories to be of defeat, apathy, underachievement and non-effectiveness, when all along God had opportunities reserved for them to enjoy the opposite.

What if God has unwritten pages of everyone’s biographies reserved for the fulfillment of their desires, expectations, and needs, but most life stories read as nothing more than mundane existences? What a shame!

1 John 1:5 … God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

When all we can see is darkness, we have to seek God’s light in our lives. Equally crucial, we must pursue total light when we’re in dim light. We’re being fooled to the point that we’re satisfied because “it could be worse”. We’re living in gray, when all along we could have lived in vivid colors had we only kept expecting it.

God alone knows how our futures will be written, but we do the writing. He doesn’t coerce. He gives each of us free choice. I want mine to be penned the way He hopes for it. I don’t want him sadly saying, “What a shame,” when he thinks of me. As a parent, I want as much for my sons. As a parent to all, God’s desires for us exceed our imaginations.

I hope for light to dispel others’ darkness, and to witness God’s delight as their lives take a turn to the vivid, colorful, expansive lives He intended. I want Him satisfied that biographies were averted from sagas of turmoil and defeat, to accounts of maximized lives — impacting, purposeful, unique, joyful lives lived to the utmost.