A Watershed Year

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    2019 is now really “the year that was” for all of us. Ready or not. It’s so passé — and much of a cliché — to say that “time flies,” but it’s true. That’s how clichés come to be, after all.

    The common predictables become a fact of life.

    Time flew, indeed, for our family. This year was a watershed year for us. A year of new life and new beginnings. A year of turning and growing. A year of birth and death. A year of unexpected gifts, and of deep loss — welcoming a new grandson into our imperfect world, and releasing a loved one into God’s perfect home.

    Time flies when God puts a lot on our plate. Whether it be a heady run of success or a tailspin of failures, time flies.

    Because we get caught in the whirlwind of things to do. Mercifully, the things we “must attend to” assuages grief. In the same way that the “glorious new normal” which comes with success makes success only sweeter. God is always there, of course, to tell us what to do in any season of abundance or loss, if we’re willing to listen and do His bidding.

    But many times we’re too distracted. We focus too much on the emotions of the moment.

    On our shoddy ambitions and ridiculous insecurities. We measure ourselves by what others think of us. We overthink our impact on others — when most of them don’t even think of us at all. We calculate our wins and losses according to life’s abacus. We compare our lives to others — and end up feeling better or worse. Success is relative. Failure is not permanent. Neither defines us.

    At the end of it all, we forget that it’s God Who ultimately evaluates our lives: what’s going to burn and turn into ashes one day. And what’s going to transform into crowns that we can lay at God’s feet.

    Who cares if we wore bejeweled crowns on earth — if we can’t even lay one at His feet in heaven? In fact, who cares how many crowns we owned on earth — if we never make it to heaven? The only human being who’ll care is us. Because one day, we will personally suffer the eternal consequences of our wrong choices. Everyone else will be preoccupied with their own end-results.

    For those of us who choose to weigh things from God’s perspective, our rewards will be eternal. Not because we’re great — but because God is.

    There’ll be countless sacrifices here, countless cliff-hanger tests, countless eating of humble pie. Just like Job who had to suffer unimaginably even if he was exemplary in God’s eyes. It’s a subtle hint for all of us — never be self-righteous or judgmental if you’re living “a good life” and are looking down your nose at someone who isn’t. No one has a perfect life. “Bad things happen to good people.” And even MORE bad things happen to bad people. That’s a fact of life.

    The Bible says we’re all bad, actually. We’re all like filthy rags in light of God’s holiness. So if we have any delusions that we’re superior to most people in the goodness area, we are so wrong. Like Job’s friends. Not all suffering is a consequence of sin. Neither is the good life a medal for our goodness, so there’s no reason to be proud. Our good seasons in life are purely God’s grace; God’s gift to undeserving people — which includes all of us.

    We forget that to respond well to life’s curveballs or life’s surprise wins, we must always, always look at things from an eternal perspective: What will this mean, in light of eternity?

    To be shortsighted — to merely aim for earthly success — is to fail miserably. For eternity.

    There will be watershed years for most of us. A year when winning and losing will come in the heels of the other. When we will hit the dreaded crossroads, and will have to make major life choices. When we will have to learn to carry success well. To carry grief gracefully. To carry our losses with dignity.

    My heart sinks when I think of people who were born in a garbage dump like Smokey Mountain — and will die there. I wonder what a good year means to them? I shudder to think what a bad year is like for them? What did they do to deserve such a pitiful existence? What did I do to deserve such a favored one? Only God has the answers. His fairness, His justice, are unassailable. It is we who have finite understanding if we think He’s unfair.

    When I find myself wallowing in the depths of self-pity, it takes me less than five minutes to get out of it. Not because I over-spiritualize. But only because I easily remember those “who have nothing to eat,” — one of my Mom’s favorite ways to goad me into finishing what’s on my plate. It jolts me into remembering that the incredible life I now live, with all its big wins and profound losses, is a life that is largely undeserved. What did I do to deserve such a good life, all things considered?

    Yes. All things considered. In light of eternity. Jesus made an incredibly perfect life possible for all of us. The question is — will we accept His gift?

    He says in John 10:10, “…But I came to give life, life in all its fullness.” As it is with all gifts, for it to be yours, you first have to accept it.

    The Bible further defines who can receive His gift of eternal life; and defines who will go to heaven: “But to all who accept Him and believe in Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”

    Contrary to popular belief, we are NOT all children of God. Nice to say we are all children of God. But definitely not true. The Bible says that to become a child of God, you need to fulfill two crucial conditions:

    1) You have to receive Jesus Christ in your life, and personally ask Him to be your personal Savior and Lord. Your religion won’t do that for you. It’s never by proxy.

    2) You have to believe that Jesus Christ completely paid for all your sins (past, present, future); therefore you cannot do anything to gain heaven through your own efforts.

    If this biblical equation seems too easy and oversimplified to you, then congratulations, you’ve just become a Pharisee, the super-religious sect that wanted Jesus dead. Like the Pharisees, you also think you can earn heaven by being “good” and exemplary.On the contrary, Jesus requires that we let go of all notions of self-righteousness. We must believe that only Jesus can bring us to heaven. And we must live as people who can do good, and be good, only by His grace. No credit goes to us. None at all.

    Going to heaven is yours for the asking. But you’ll have to personally ask Jesus Christ to dwell in your life from this moment on. It’s as personal as asking someone to come live in your house because you’d like to enjoy his company; because you’d like to know him better.

    When Jesus comes into your life, He’ll give you the gift of eternal life. The gift of having a mansion in heaven. It’s the best gift you’ll ever receive in this lifetime, and the next.