Check Your Baggage

Skycaps stand patiently at the airport’s curbside or near the front doors waiting for you to arrive. You are glad to see them when you are carrying tons of luggage because these porters can get a luggage cart to you quickly. At other times you ignore them because you only have a carry-on bag, or you may be checking in at the kiosk. You also may not want to dig out the cash for a tip. Regardless of your reason for handling your own luggage, the skycap’s job never changes. In airports that still provide the service, the ever-present offer is, “May I check your baggage?”  

This reminded me of a recent sermon which encouraged us to stop carrying our load of unconfessed sin and ask God to forgive us. In addition to that, we have other brothers and sisters in Christ who can help us with our accountability. This will help us get rid of weighty stuff that is impeding our progress. Scripture tells us to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). But doing so requires us to admit our shortcomings. Paul says it this way: “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body” (Ephesians 4:25).

Checking your baggage is an integral part of Alcoholics Anonymous. Participants consistently confess their addictions and are immediately supported and encouraged by other AA members. This accountability process continues throughout a recovering alcoholic’s life. It is a tremendously positive step when we confess a weakness that has been hindering us. Truthfully, what we may be trying so desperately to hide is often already obvious to others. James 5:13-16 tells us that the prayers of OTHERS can heal, lift, and save. The hands of OTHERS can touch and bless. God expects us to stop at the curbside of a fellow Christian brother or sister and check our baggage with them so that we can make our flight with ease. Ask God to give you the humility you need to confess your sins to Him and unload your baggage so that you can soon help carry the baggage of someone else in need. 

Revised from a devotional published originally by Ardella in Words of Hope www.woh.org 

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Too Much Stuff

If you were about to be inaugurated as president, what would you be doing before the ceremony? Likely, you’d be involved in some kind of prep for your appearance or for your speech. But there was this guy in the Bible who was nowhere to be found when he was about to become the first king in Israel. After a search, Saul was found “hiding among the baggage” or as another version of the Bible says, he was “hiding among the stuff.”  

I’m not sure why Saul thought he had to hide. He had already been selected by God, so there was no concern about counting votes. He’d gotten the message in person from the man of God, and had already experienced a spiritual anointing. Therefore, Saul should have been ready to go. But like so many of us, he still had trepidation, which could have been connected to the stuff or baggage in his life that he was trying to hide behind. 

We also sometimes carry emotional baggage from previous experiences and relationships – or the lack of them. And if you ever want a wake-up call on how much stuff you have, start packing to move to another location. You will find out that your stuff even has stuff – like all the gadgets or plugs we need for our electronic devices. Could Saul’s baggage have kept him from walking in his anointing? Was he too connected to his material things?

Something was off the mark because Saul didn’t follow the directions he was given and soon lost the kingdom. The advice the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy would have helped Saul: I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (I Timothy 1:5-7, NLT).

 If you are being held back by your own baggage or issues, ask God to help you rekindle the spiritual gifts He has given you. Reflect on the spiritual seed that has been sown into your life and step away from the stuff or baggage that is making you fearful. Identify what you are trying to fill your life with instead of being who God has called you to be. It’s time to stop hiding so that you can walk in your anointing and giftedness. 

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The Rest of the Story

Sometimes we miss important pieces when we retell a story. Many times, I have used the passage in Luke 24 as an example of how Jesus walks alongside us when we are grieving. It is the story of an encounter the resurrected Jesus had with two of His disciples as they walked to Emmaus. The disciples were upset that their friend had died and told Jesus (Whom they didn’t recognize) all that had happened. I would often make the application that Jesus doesn’t criticize people in their grief, but He reveals Himself to them when they are ready to process it. But that’s only part of the story.

A closer look at the passage shows that Jesus did chide them, but it is for their lack of faith in His Word. God expects us to remember His Word and His promises no matter what we are experiencing. He then can begin to open our understanding and comfort us through His word. When Jesus started to walk away from the disciples, they invited Him to dinner. It is during this time of fellowshipping with Christ that they recognized Him. They understood that Christ was with them the whole time. He ministered to them by explaining His Word and providing His presence – even when they were unaware of it.  

This event teaches us that for whatever type of loss we are experiencing, we need to turn to Christ and fellowship with Him. We have to stay in the Word of God to walk the road to recovery. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Christ understands our grieving because He experienced loss and disappointment too. But the complete story is that He is waiting for us to turn to Him and allow Him to heal us as only He can. 

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Are You Expecting Trouble?

We read in Psalm 97:10-12 of God’s protection, rescue, light, joy, and happiness for those who are godly and who do what is right. Our self-focused minds take that to mean that there will be no problems, no financial needs, no death, no loss, or no illness for those who are serving the Lord. The list could go on. We think problems and peace can’t exist in the same space. Therefore, we conclude that if we are Christians and do what is right, then we won’t have problems. Right? Wrong. 

Scripture doesn’t tell us won’t have troubles. But it does tell us what our mindset needs to be at all times. Verse 12 of this Psalm says, “May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord and praise His holy name!” That little phrase, “in the Lord” tells us how we need to rejoice. We are to always rejoice and praise God for Who He is – not just get excited about what He has done for us. Troubles are just a part of life. For example, everyone has car trouble at some point. You will not find a shop that lists one price for Christians and another price for sinners. 

Many things happen over which we have no control. It is especially tough to keep praising God and being at peace when we have health challenges or when we watch the deterioration of a loved one’s health or even their death. There is no “why” answer with which we will be satisfied. I was asked recently asked how a mother could explain to a child that God did answer his prayers even though a beloved relative still died. Like that child, we all struggle with life’s problems, and quite honestly, we wish we didn’t have them. Yet, we can ask God to change our mindset so that we don’t expect to live a trouble-free life. Instead, we can ask Him to help us live joyfully and to praise Him regardless of what comes our way. 

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There and Back Again

Psalm 73 begins with a praise, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.” But it quickly moves into the thoughts of a person who is about ready to give up. It seemed to the writer as though life was working out for people who didn’t even try to obey God, and he envied their success. He was having a real pity party. And as my brother likes to say, Satan caters pity parties for free. The Psalmist questions whether he had wasted his time doing right when all he got in life was trouble.

But one day he finally stopped whining and went to church. God showed him the true future of those who disobeyed. The writer also realized his own bitterness and senseless ranting and began to calm down. He says to God in verse 23, “Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand.” God does not leave us to ourselves when we are fumbling and fussing. He stays with us until we can hear Him whispering in our ear that He has never left us. When we truly listen, we can move from pain back to praise.

The Psalm ends with several verses of praise that remind us how God cares for those who stick with Him. God doesn’t mind us going through times of difficulty and doubt. But the operative word is through. Don’t stop in your moments of doubt – go all the way through them, from pain to praise.

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Spiritual Griots

Daddy, what is that? Where did it come from? How did you get it? Why are you doing that? It seems that children have an innate ability to ask about anything and everything for endless amounts of time. And that is the way God made them. It’s how they learn. Unfortunately, too many adults get irritated with their persistent questions and send the children away.  

But God wanted children’s questions to be answered. After the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River, God had them set up stones of remembrance. He told Joshua, “When your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?Then you shall answer them…” by providing the history of how they had miraculously crossed the Jordan river on dry ground in a time when the river usually flooded.

It is the sharing of history that helps shape the mindset of future generations. According to Wikipedia, A griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition. The psalmist asked God to help him be a spiritual griot when he said, “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psa. 71:18, NKJV).

God wants each of us to make the same request of Him. We are to tell the next generation Who God is and what He has done in our lives. Our children are overloaded with information that does little to help build character or faith in God. It is our responsibility to do our part to change that.

Photo: Ardella’s son and grandson

Newsworthy Lives

I once had a small business creating programs for funerals. The biggest challenge was to write an obituary when the family knew very little about their loved one’s life. Such customers were nothing like my elderly friend, Mother Steward. In an interview with the local newspaper about a year before she passed, she talked about how she had planned ahead.  “I’ve made up my funeral program. I’ve been with folks who passed, and I didn’t know what to put in their obituary. So, I wrote my own. I know what songs they’ll sing. I know who my pallbearers will be. It’s good to have that done.” (www.daily-journal.com)

She was telling the truth because I had the files to prove it. Because of her longevity, Mother Steward would periodically tell me to replace someone in the program she had outlived. She stayed so busy that everyone who knew her called her the roadrunner, thinking she would certainly outrun death. She had even given me a bag of photos to create a slideshow for her services. Therefore, she had the luxury of watching it and approving it years before it was needed. The Lord called her home a few weeks before she would have turned 98, providing that last piece of information to record in her obituary.

Do you ever wonder what people will say about you after you die? Are you leaving any kind of imprint on someone else’s life that is memorable? More importantly, if God were to write your obituary, what would He say about you? Would He call you His friend as He did Abraham? Twice in the Bible, David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” (Not because of David’s behavior, but because of David’s commitment.) 

God gives four descriptions of us as Christians, along with our life’s purpose in this verse: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (I Peter 2:9).  Are you living up to His expectations? Can He write at length about how your life matched His description or plans for you? Or will He sit at the keyboard for hours trying to figure out what to say about you? Give Him something to write about. 

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Dried Up or Dried-Out?

A poem by Langston Hughes questions how we respond to life’s challenges. Think about yourself as you read his words:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

This poem, “Harlem,” is also known as “A Dream Deferred.” It was the catalyst for Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.” Soon after it first appeared on Broadway, the play became an award-winning movie for its actors and directors in the early 1960s. Hansberry’s award identified “Raisin” as the best-written American drama. The portrayal of the Younger family’s struggle to keep believing in the American dream and to obtain it in the face of discrimination and poverty is easily identifiable by those who have faced similar challenges. 

Yet, whatever the challenge, we have to ask ourselves how we react when life is not going as we planned or imagined. What do we do when that job isn’t quite as progressive as we had hoped? What about when a relationship is not developing as we want it to? Or when there is no relationship at all, and the likelihood of anyone showing up on that white horse is waning?  Is there anything in Hughes’ poem that describes you? Have you withered up and given up or become something sweet?

A raisin that remains in the sun can become dried fruit with the proper care. And dried fruit has many health benefits. I like to think of it as dried-out fruit because it has gotten rid of the excess water and kept the essentials. As we face life’s challenges, we soon learn that we can’t control our circumstances. But we can only control our responses. We can spend our time bemoaning what is not, or we can spend our time enjoying what is. It’s a choice. Will you be dried up, bitter and useless, or changed into someone beneficial to yourself and to others?  

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Keep the Change (Another Meaning)

For the first time in a long time, I decided to observe Lent this year. I gave up bread, sweets, meat, and sugar. Since having a sweet cup of coffee is part of my morning routine, adjusting to the taste has been interesting. On top of that, I love to bake bread, cakes, and cookies, so it is an equal challenge to not taste the batter or sample the finished products. 

The 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and wrestling with temptation have become the basis for the annual season of Lent. It is a period when some believers opt to fast from certain foods or practices to focus more on prayer and their relationship with God.   

Surprisingly, I have been successful so far. But the other day as I was counting how far I still had to go before I could get back to “normal,” I asked myself why I fasted in the first place. After reviewing the reasons I had put in my journal, I wondered, “Why not keep the change?” When God has given us victory in any area of our lives, why not stay in that place of victory and keep the change going? Why be so willing to move back to what may seem more comfortable?

Does that mean I’ll never put sugar in my coffee again? No. But the change I want to keep is knowing that I can deny myself of things I thought I had to have. If I can walk past the cookie jar for six or seven weeks, I can certainly pass it more often than I usually tend to. 

So, whatever new thing God is working on in your life, ask Him to help you keep the change going. Remember that the power is in Him, and He gives it to us graciously so we can say with assurance, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). 

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Keep the Change

The old expression of putting in your two cents worth is a way of saying you are offering an unsolicited opinion on a topic or issue. I cringe at the number of times an older woman pulled me aside and said she had something to “share” with me. She would then proceed to give me her two cents on something she felt I should or should not be doing. I wish I could have told her to keep the change. 

The truth is, sometimes people really don’t need our two cents. For years I replicated the same behavior of “sharing” with others my thoughts about what I thought needed to be corrected in their lives. I doubt that my little opinion did much good. But there was another older woman who modeled a better way. She took notice of everyone and everything; so any problem or irritation she encountered was on its way to the altar. She spent more time praying than she did reprimanding others because she knew prayer is what people need. 

 She followed the directive of James 5:16. “…Pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Because of that, she was rewarded with the promise in that same verse, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  Certainly, there are times when another believer has to be approached because his/her behavior is out of character. But I have learned to pray first and wait for God’s guidance on how and when to do so. I especially ask God to reveal the scripture He wants me to give to them. I know now that it is the word of God that changes people, not my words. So, we have to keep the change; hold onto our little two cents, and pray.  

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