Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, And Happy New Year!

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There is a season (a time appointed) for everything
and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven—
Ecclesiastes 3:1 AMP

This is the season of falling leaves and bare trees…when most things green lose their vibrant colors and morph into dismal browns and grays. Perhaps that’s the reason that the celebration of Halloween is scheduled for this time of year. Halloween with its ghosts, goblins, witches, jack-o-lanterns and all things that pertain to the macabre, is not unlike the dead leaves that cover the ground leaving the trees resembling naked skeletons.

Most Christians don’t celebrate Halloween as such, but have Fall Festivals and Trunk or Treat. The attendees are encouraged to dress as characters that don’t necessarily celebrate the dark side as they go from car to car in the church parking lot receiving candy from the trunks. There are often rides and games and face painting…fun times in a safe atmosphere!

The objects associated with Halloween, however, conjure feelings of fear, darkness and demon spirits. Things of which, we as Christians don’t want to be a part. Therefore we have reinvented its meaning to our children and allow them to participate according to our definition. But as I was thinking about all of this, I had an interesting idea come to mind regarding the connotation of Halloween and its placement in the holiday season.

Following closely behind Halloween on our yearly holiday docket is a lovely event called Thanksgiving! Simply enunciating the word “Thanksgiving”, diametrically opposed to Halloween, evokes feelings of warmth and contentment. My first thoughts are of extended family, turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie and lots and lots of chatter and laughter as everyone catches up on a year’s worth of events in a single day! What a contrast to Halloween and its dismal mental pictures of death and destruction. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to have its story rewritten to allow children to participate. On the contrary, it is an uplifting story of adventure, hardship overcome, cooperation, goodwill and overwhelming thankfulness for overflowing blessings from God. How fitting that it should follow behind Halloween and not precede it!

And next on our list, always anticipated immediately after Thanksgiving is the unprecedented holiday that we wait for all year…Christmas! Christmas…the season of brotherly love, giving, jingling bells, carols and intense shopping. But most importantly, it is the celebration of the ultimate gift to mankind…Jesus Christ the Son of God, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace! All things good are encapsulated in this glorious time of year. Its contagion spreads to those who believe and those who do not. Only those who are absolute in their refusal are not affected by this magical time of year. And for Christians, it brings joy unspeakable, as we remember the origin of our faith and the birth of our Savior as we sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!”

We barely and grudgingly let go of Christmas when another holiday sticks its head around the corner and bids us a “Happy New Year”! We look forward to new, bold beginnings as we jot down or make mental notes of our new year’s resolutions. And although many of us don’t keep all of them in the long run, still hope is instilled as we meditate on the possibilities of changed attitudes, changed body shapes, changed monetary situations and a bright future ahead.

So in summary, you might say that “Halloween”, the Holiday of The Macabre, gives way to “Thanksgiving”, The Holiday of Thankfulness that makes way for “Christmas”, The Holiday of Love that ushers in “New Year’s Eve”, The Holiday of Hope. And as the cycle begins again…we hope on and dream on and live on for another year of celebrations!

WATCH OUT FOR THE SPEED BUMPS

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The temptations in your life are no different
from what others experience.
And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation
to be more
than you can stand. When you are tempted,
He will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
I Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

Life is not a bed of roses…and even if it was, you would still have the thorns! There is light at the end of the tunnel…but still you have to go through the tunnel! Every cloud has a silver lining…but a storm usually precedes its splendor!

I could go on and on with the sayings we’ve heard regarding the difficulties of life. But by this time, you’re probably saying, “Stop! Enough of this twisted optimism.” Indeed it is twisted. Since the time Adam sold his birthright to Satan for the knowledge of good and evil, man has been engaged in the same conflict…physical against spiritual. And unless you have the champion of our faith, Jesus Christ on your side, there is no contest! You lose!

Now when I’m speaking of spiritual, I’m speaking of both good and evil…for both exist in the spiritual realm. Some people aren’t aware of that and believe that spirituality only alludes to good and positive things. Not so! Satan himself is a spirit being and represents the most evil of intentions and inventions. It’s important to know that when bad things happen, he was ultimately the instigator. Never allow yourself to think that God brings bad things into your life. On that subject the Bible says, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God” [for temptation does not originate from God, but from our own flaws]; for God cannot be tempted by [what is] evil, and He Himself tempts no one. (James 1:13 AMP)

For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 AMP) “So submit to [the authority of] God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him] and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 AMP)

When we think of temptation, we usually think of the enticement to sin. But you can also be tempted by the adversities of life…tempted to be negative…tempted to give up! “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials [temptations] for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine.”
(I Peter 1:6-7a NLT)

I was talking with a friend the other day, and something she said gave me a perfect illustration of the unavoidable trials and temptations we face in life. Have you ever been traveling on an unfamiliar street and all of a sudden without any warning, there is a huge speed bump ahead? Before you can brake the car enough to make much of a difference, you are suddenly air-born! Your head hits the top of the car, the kids are squealing, the dog is barking and it takes you a moment to recover!

The speed bumps of life (trials and temptations) can also cause us untold and unexpected trauma. But just as you don’t park the car and say, “I’m never driving again!!!” You don’t stop believing and trusting and running the race. You continue to persevere, holding fast to your faith and confidence that the Lord will bring you through to the light at the end of the tunnel and to the silver lining on the other side of the cloud!

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope
without wavering,
for He who promised is faithful.
(Hebrews 10:23 NKJV)

The Only Person Who Likes Change Is A Wet Baby!

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God is our Refuge and Strength
[mighty and impenetrable to temptation],
a very present and well-proved help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
and though the mountains be shaken
into the midst of the seas.
Psalm 46:1-2 AMP

Okay, My Friends, the seemingly long awaited fall weather is gradually creeping upon us as the summer stealthily steals away behind the falling autumn leaves. Then following close on its heels, impatient to showcase his “Currier and Ives” splendor, Old Man Winter is waiting in the wings. The only way I can face the prospect of his icy blasts is to fast forward to the inevitable return of spring melting him into cascading waterfalls. And so the cycle of change begins and ends and begins all over again.

You surely must know that this poetic expose is leading to a point…the point being, “Change is inevitable.” The only thing that you can be sure will remain unchanged is the process of change itself. (Don’t analyze that too much, it will give you a brain freeze!) I heard someone say, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby!”

But why are we so opposed to change? What’s the big deal? One reason we are so opposed to change is fear of the unknown. We become comfortable with familiar surroundings, sometimes even if they’re unfavorable, and it is very unsettling to step out into the uncertainty of a new environment. Sometimes we effect our own change and sometimes its chosen for us. For instance in job situations or in an unwelcome divorce or when children grow up and leave the nest. These things bring thoughts of instability which produces fear. But God’s Word tells us, For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” (I Timothy 1:7 AMP) When this fear tries to hold us captive, we have to break the chains by standing on God’s Word and trusting that He will help us make the right decisions.

Secondly, there’s what I call the “what if” factor. Oh my, if I had a dollar for all of the “what ifs” I have uttered in my lifetime, I would have quite a sum! What if…this doesn’t work out? Well, what if it does? Would it really be life-changing to the extent of being irreversible if it didn’t work out as you had expected? Isn’t it worth taking a chance when there is a possibility that it may enhance your life and circumstances? Most of the time we obsess over things, becoming stressed and frustrated to the degree that it keeps us from making the best decisions. Just chill, ask the Lord for wisdom and stop trying to figure it all out in your own strength! Enter into His rest and wait for the answer. But just let me clue you in, He’s usually not early in bringing it, but He’s never too late!

Thirdly, there is the “if only” syndrome. If only I hadn’t made that move. If only I hadn’t said that! If only I had done it this way! If only…if only…if only! If onlys can put you in an unrivaled state of depression. Absolutely nothing can be changed by “if onlys”…that is, nothing but your peaceful state of mind. Once you make a decision to change, don’t turn back. Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t start the “if onlys”. If you made a decision to change and it didn’t turn out right, make the decision to change again…and do it with a positive attitude. Remember, just like the weather, change is inevitable whether we like it or not. We can choose to embrace it or resist it, but we definitely can’t ignore it!

IS YOUR “HOPER” BROKEN?

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HOPE REBUILDS

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago
to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently
for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Romans 15:4 NLT

You may be wondering why I am continuing to write on the subject of Hope after covering it from so many angles. Personally, I feel it’s a subject that cannot be overemphasized. After all, it is the precursor to faith, which is the capstone of those things for which we are hoping. Even the secular world believes in Hope. What is the phrase that we hear most often from people of all cultures, religions and walks of life? “Don’t lose Hope!”

Now if you already have what you’ve been hoping for, you don’t need to hope any longer.  The Bible puts it this way…“We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (Romans 8:25) This particular scripture is referring to the Hope of Jesus second coming. We, as Christians, are still hoping for it because it has not yet manifest. We are waiting patiently and confidently and we must do the same for the other things for which we are hoping.

You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t have what I’ve been hoping for and I’ve been hoping for so long that my “Hoper” is broken! I no longer have any hope.” I once heard a minister say, “If you’ve lost your hope, go to God’s Word and get you some hope!” The grammar is not exactly proper, but the point is well taken. The best place to get Hope is in the infallible Word of God. Look at what the Bible says about God keeping His Word. God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19)   And…I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.(Psalm 138:2) I know those from the older generation remember being taught that “your word is your bond.” Well, without a doubt, God’s Word is His bond! The Bible tells us that He exalts His Word above His name. (Psalm 138:2)

When depression tries to raise its ugly head in my life and scare Hope into reclusion, I have one recourse and only one. I start to quote God’s promises. And as I do, my fainting Hope is revived and breathes deeply once again!

One of the verses that I have memorized and personalized is Isaiah 41:10. It is usually the first promise that comes out of my mouth when my Hope is compromised. As a matter of fact, I have put it to music and sing it as a chorus. I state it this way…I will not be afraid…You are my God. I will not be dismayed…You are with me. You will strengthen me! You will help me! You will uphold me with the Right Hand of Your Righteousness!”

This is what the Psalmist David said in Psalm 43:11 (The Message Bible). “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!”

Don’t sit around without any Hope! Proclaim these verses or find others to which you can relate. And now, My Friend, I leave you with this prayer…I pray that God, the source of Hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident Hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

A PRISONER OF HOPE

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Return to the stronghold [fortress], You prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare that I will restore double to you.
Zachariah 9:12 NKJV

Have you ever been a prisoner? Personally, I have not been, in the sense of being incarcerated. Usually that is what we think of when the word is mentioned. I looked up the meaning of “prisoner” in Miriam-Webster Dictionary and these were the definitions: 1. a person deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraint, confinement, or custody; especially one on trial or in prison 2. someone restrained as if in prison [a prisoner of her own conscience].

Am I reading this wrong or does it imply that someone can be a prisoner, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally or spiritually as well? We all know the answer to that. Have you ever known someone who seemed in bondage to fear, anger, depression, worry, alcohol, drugs or any number of other things we could name. Many people are incarcerated in a prison of their own making. Now, I’m not saying it is deliberate. Oftentimes the bricks are laid by other people who hurt us, even in our childhood. But we supply the mortar by our reactions to those hurts in the form of anger, resentment, low self-esteem, fear, etc. And each time we put on a layer of mortar, someone places another brick until the prison is completed and we are captive to its seemingly impenetrable walls. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why am I acting this way? What is wrong with me? I want to stop doing this…I want to stop reacting this way but it seems beyond my control.” Let’s face it, you’re not just in prison, you are in solitary confinement and it’s very lonely and restricted there! Let me help you find a way out. I say “help YOU” because just like you supplied the mortar for the bricks, it is you who will have to tear down the walls, perhaps one brick at a time. God will help you. God will guide you if you just lean heavily on Him one day at a time. May I give you some guidelines that have worked for me. They say, “Experience is the Best Teacher”… and believe me, I am the voice of experience on this subject!

(1) Don’t lose Hope! You may be thinking, “I lost hope a long time ago. I’m just surviving now.  Well, if that’s the case, go back and find Hope!!! You didn’t lose it. You just misplaced it. You CAN find it again! In my experience, the place to get hope is in the promises in the Bible, the infallible Word of God. Remember what David said, “I would have been without hope if I had not believed that I would see the loving-kindness of the Lord in the land of the living.

(2) Run to God and hold fast to Him!The Lord is my Rock, my Fortress, and my Savior; my God is my Rock, in Whom I find protection. He is my Shield, the Power that saves me, and my Place of Safety.” (Psalm 18:2)

(3) Have faith (fully believe) in the promises in God’s Word! There are those who say that Hope has nothing to do with faith and if you’re hoping, you’re really not believing. Well let’s see what the Bible says about it. “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1) The Lord explained it to me this way…“Hope is the Outstretched Arm of the Hand of Faith.” Hope must first reach out in order for Faith to grasp the desired result. Flex your muscle of Hope until it is strong once again. Then reach out and grasp your dream with the Hand of Faith! You can do it with God’s help! I know you can! I believe in you and so does God!!!

And if you’re going to be a prisoner of anything…be a Prisoner of Hope!!!

INFINITE HOPE

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I would have been without hope if I had not believed
that I would see
the loving-kindness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Psalm 27:13

I know I’ve used this saying before in my devotionals, but it is surely one of my favorites and worth repeating. “I am never down. I am always up or I’m getting up!” This is my confession. This is my mantra so to speak. And this attitude, along with the Word of God and His great promises, is what keeps me from giving up in this fight of depression and the challenges of life.

You may be thinking, “Well you just don’t understand how bad it really is. You don’t understand what I’m going through!  You don’t understand what I’ve been through!”

Oh, I beg to differ with you, My Friend. I do understand…for I have been there, done that and have more than one t-shirt! Twenty years ago, after going through a divorce after twenty years of marriage, I was severely depressed. Not only so, but aside from the clinical depression, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. In other words, I had a complete physical and emotional breakdown. I didn’t have the strength to get off the couch except for short periods of time. I had to get on disability because I couldn’t work to support myself. I was about as low as I could get without just laying down and quitting. If it had not been for the help of my precious family and friends, and my belief in the goodness of God, my hope would have been gone.

But I absolutely refused to stay down! Believe me, it was tempting. It’s hard to get up when you’ve fallen so low, but“I am never down! I am always up or I’m getting up!” I started pumping myself full of the Word of God regarding my healing, both physical and emotional. I listened to sermons. I exercised to praise music (for all of five minutes!). I believed as much as my believer was capable and left the rest to God. Although negative thoughts pounded my mind like the fists of a prize fighter in the final round, I refused to tap out! I was still on my knees and God was still on His throne directing my life.

I know you’ve heard the saying, “It’s not over, ’till God says it’s over.” That is a truth, but in my opinion, it is not an absolute truth. If you give up…if you say it’s over…God will not make you get up. He will extend His hand but He will not override your will. So my advice to you is, get in God’s corner and YOU say, “God is on MY side and it’s not over ’til HE says it’s over! I’m never down! I am always up or I’m getting up! End of discussion, Devil! End of discussion negative thoughts! Negative thoughts, I can’t keep you from passing through, but I won’t allow you to move in and rearrange the furniture! I will immediately show you the exit door. Trouble is inevitable, but misery is optional! It is my decision to be powerful, rather than pitiful! I will overcome this by the Blood of The Lamb and the word of my testimony!”

And let me tell you, My Friends, I did overcome by His grace! I gradually started getting my physical and emotional strength back. I started working a part-time job for a few hours a day. At first I would come home, go straight to my recliner and fall asleep. But I got up a little bit at a time until I was standing tall once again…self-sufficient and off disability! To God be the glory!!! And if I did it, you can do it too! God and I have confidence in you!

But this is not the end of the story by long shot. The saga continues daily. I wake up every morning and I must decide, “Will I follow Jesus or believe the negative thoughts that pass through my mind?” I emphatically say, “No! I’ll never give up! I am never down, I am always up or I’m getting up!” And though it’s not the end of the story, it IS the end of the discussion!

Be blessed, My Friends! And if you would like me to pray for you in this area or any other area in which you’re struggling, please leave a note in the comments and I promise you, I will pray!

DEPRESSION…THE BATTLE IS REAL

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HOPE
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!
Now I am deeply discouraged,
but I will remember You—
Psalm 42:5-6

I have decided, after getting a favorable response from my readers, to continue to provide insight from my personal experience on the subject of clinical depression. It is something with which most people don’t want to readily identify themselves. Therefore, it is rarely discussed in a candid manner by the people who suffer from it most. The majority of the time it is treated like the magician who throws his cloak over a subject and makes it disappear. It is like the masquerade party where the mask keeps the true identity of the subject from being known or at least being easily recognized.

Clinical depression, especially in the past, has been strongly identified with mental illness, which is definitely not the case. Do we associate those with diabetes with a food disorder? No, we know it is the result of an organ that doesn’t function properly. In the case of clinical depression, the brain does not function properly in releasing the chemicals that cause our moods to be stabilized. One may try with all their might, but without medical help, the problem won’t go away on its own, other than a divine miracle, which I am certainly not discounting.

Clinical depression is not to be confused with simple depression which is brought on by unfavorable circumstances or disappointments. That type of depression can easily be corrected as the circumstance changes or the disappointment has abated.

A person who fights clinical depression cannot control its existence. It just exists…in them! They can only control the extent to which they allow it to control them. It is a constant battle that never ceases. The depression is almost like an entity that co-exists in the same body. However, there is one factor that gives a ray of hope. The human body consists of three parts…spirit, soul and body. The soul is made up of the mind, will, and intellect. Depression is manifest and abides in the realm of the soul. Although it does effect the body, it cannot penetrate the spirit! Herein lies the key to victory over this enemy of our soul brought on by “THE enemy of our soul.” When our human spirit is transformed by the Holy Spirit, though the battle continues to rage, there is always hope for victory…one battle at a time!

Sometimes the battle is just a battle and sometimes it’s an all out war! Speaking for myself, I may be able to win the battles on my own by reading my Bible, thinking positively and exerting my faith, but the wars…no way! There is no way I can win the wars without the help of Jesus Christ, My Lord and Savior. When the battle is raging and I am losing ground, He will come in like a flood and lift up a standard against the enemy. He will fight for me when I don’t have the strength or courage! He will go before me AND He will be my Rear Guard. He is a very Present Help in time of trouble. He is my Refuge and Fortress…my Strong Tower! He covers me with His Feathers and hides me under the Shadow of His Wings. He upholds me with His Righteous Right Hand so that I don’t stumble or fall. He keeps me as the Apple of His Eye! When I am weak, He is strong! He is my Light and my Salvation…my God!!!

If you don’t have that relationship with Jesus. You can have so easily. “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Just declare, “Jesus, I believe that you are the only Son of God. I believe you died and rose again to pay for my sins and I accept that sacrifice now. I make YOU the Lord of my Life!”