Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, And Happy New Year!

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christmas-tree

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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speed-bump
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)

MAKE SOME LEMONADE

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LEMONADE
A miserable heart means a miserable life;
a cheerful heart fills the day with song.
Proverbs 15:15 MSG

When life gives you lemons…make lemonade!” How many times have you heard that saying? I have heard it most of my life and I’m not really fond of it. Over my lifetime I have made lemonade many times and drank it too…sometimes without sufficient sugar! Yes, life can get tedious at times and even have a sour taste to it. That is when we have to become resourceful…thus, the lemonade! The degree of sweetness depends on our attitude. If our attitude is sour too, there is no hope for lemonade, only juice that is almost impossible to drink!

When you’re squeezing lemons, do you squeeze out only half the juice and throw the rest away? No, of course not! You squeeze and squeeze until you’ve gotten the last drop of mouth-puckering nectar and when you add the sugar, it’s a refreshing concoction that can hardly be rivaled!

And so it is with life. When we’re young and full of life, hopes and dreams and aspirations, lemonade is not even on the menu! We don’t have to squeeze out the good times, they just happen naturally. We just show up and the party begins! As the old (very old!) song goes… “Those were the days, My Friend! We thought they’d never end …” It’s when the years slip by like a sleuth in the shadows that we start to realize that there is only so much juice left in this fruit of life. Oh my!!! What happened?! Where did the years go? I feel like Rip Van Winkle! Did I sleep through most of them? Somebody pinch me! I must be dreaming! Is that ME in the mirror?! No, It can’t be!

At this point we can do one of two things: We can sit down in a rocking chair on the front porch and watch the rest of life pass us by or we can pick up that blooming lemon and squeeze out every last drop of juice! Now I realize that some folks have physical problems and can’t do that, but as long as my gracious Heavenly Father gives me health and strength, that’s exactly what I’m going to do! And I’ll give Him all the glory!2

Perhaps you can’t do that. Maybe you are confined for one reason or another. Can you move your lips? Then you can pray. Pray with all your might…for our government, for the sick, for the oppressed…I could go on and on. When it is your time to stand before the Heavenly Father, don’t let it be said that you gave up. Let it be known that you squeezed that lemon until there was nothing left but a shriveled rind! Do what you can do. Make the difference you can make in the years you have left. Don’t spend them in anxiety or worry about things that have happened, should happen or could happen! Spend them making things happen. Spend them making good things happen for you and for others!

And if you’re still young, don’t say, “Well, this doesn’t apply to me.” Yes, it does! Learn to be wise sooner than I was. Learn to face life without limiting yourself by small thinking. Have faith in God! Know that He made you unique and wonderful! And most of all, know that it’s never too soon OR too late to pursue the dream that God has put in your heart!

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.
“They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

HOLD ON!

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DON'T LET GO GOD'S HAND
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but Your unfailing love,
O Lord , supported me.
When doubts filled my mind,
Your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
Psalms 94:18‭-‬19 NLT

Have you ever been in a situation where you lost your footing for whatever reason and someone near you grabbed your arm to keep you from falling? Did you welcome the help of that person or did you push them away? How foolish you would be to do such a thing! And yet at times we reject the help that is so readily available to us through our Loving Heavenly Father. Sometimes He extends His hand and we slap it away, choosing rather to fall into our pit of self-pity.

When we already have a tendency toward depression it is more difficult to resist when the trials of life come…especially when they persist like relentless waves pounding one after the other eroding our hopes and washing them out to sea. Let me give you a personal example, lest you think I don’t know what I’m talking about.

In October of last year I was visiting with friends in Florida where I stayed in their basement apartment. The day before I was to leave for home I fell on the stairs and broke my wrist and ended up having surgery where they inserted a permanent plate and nine screws. At the same time I injured my shoulder which caused me constant pain. The day before Christmas Eve I had rotator cuff surgery which resulted in twelve-plus weeks of physical therapy. It is now May and I recently had to go to my orthopedic doctor because my knees were bothering me. I had fluid on my knees and I had to have injections for three weeks in a row to draw off the fluid and insert gel. Now the orthopedic doctor says I need to go to therapy for my knees! Nooooo…not more therapy!!! Lord, what’s going on? Help me…I’m slipping!!!

Friends, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re going under for the third time. I know the feelings of hopelessness and despair. And I know how difficult it is to come up again for another gasping breath. Sometimes you just think it would be so much easier to stay down and experience that lasting peace, morbid as it sounds. Perhaps it would be for you…but not for those who know you and love you! I don’t want to leave that kind of legacy for my children and grandchildren. I don’t want to leave behind that message of defeat for my friends and acquaintances. I want to be a “Rocky Balboa”…a fighter to the end! The only one who can keep me down is me and I refuse to tap out! I want to be like the man who said, “I’m never down! I’m always up…or getting up!”

But I can’t do it by myself! Yes, I am a very strong-willed person, but sometimes my will to “get up and go” has “gotten up and gone”! Sometimes doubts fill the corridors of my mind like floodwaters overflowing river banks. I need the strong arm of the Lord to help me…to keep me from slipping. I need the comfort that only He can give…a comfort that gives me renewed hope and cheer. But how do I get it? I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve confessed my sins, I’ve asked for a sign!  Nothing is working!

Have you tried letting it all go and giving it to Him, fully relying on Him to work it out? You may have to do it many times. The enemy of your soul won’t give up easily, but don’t you give up either! Be tenacious! Hold on to the promises in God’s Word like a drowning man with a life raft, and keep holding on until the storm has passed! His unfailing love will support you. And I’m telling you, if you’ll do this…it WILL pass!  Wow!  Look up!  Is that a rainbow I see?!!!

Lord, when doubts fill my mind,
Your comfort gives me renewed hope and cheer.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

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IN TOWEL 2
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.
Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them
and will last forever!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now;
rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.
For the things we see now will soon be gone,
but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:17‭-‬18 NLT

This verse just came to my remembrance this morning as I was taking care of my little dog, Lucy. If you’ve read many of my devotionals, you know that the Lord often speaks to me through my interactions with my pets. I have written many a devotional about Rosie, my cat who has gone on to kitty heaven now. But…back to Lucy, my little four pound Yorkie, who was a recent gift from friends who thought she would be a perfect companion for me. And they were right! What a blessing she is!

Lucy lost a toenail on her right foot recently and had to be treated for it. I have to give her antibiotics twice a day and soak her paw in Epsom Salt for five minutes three times a day. Now I can say without any exaggeration that Lucy hates taking the antibiotic and from the look and smell of it, it certainly is justified! The only up-side is that she gets a treat afterward. She doesn’t really like the foot soaking, but does tolerate it much better than the antibiotic. I keep telling her that this ritual is going to make her paw much better. (Don’t tell me you don’t talk to your pets!) But I’m certain she thinks that I must be punishing her for some unknown sin, although while the foot is soaking she does gets to cuddle in my lap on a fluffy towel.

It was while this was going on that the Lord brought the verse in Corinthians to my mind. Lucy doesn’t like what’s going on right now. It seems harsh and hard and is very uncomfortable. She doesn’t understand! Why would her master who purports to love her allow such things?! Do you see where I’m going with this?

Many times in our life things happen that we don’t understand…troubles come, depression comes, heartaches come, disappointments come. We don’t understand! We’ve been doing the best we can. We search our heart for some unconfessed sin. Is God punishing us? There must be a reason! But let me tell you, My Friend, sometimes the only reason is that we live in a fallen world full of chaos brought on by the enemy of our soul. Sometimes there is no reason except this…“Life Happens!” Lucy didn’t do anything wrong, nor did you. Lie back in your Master’s lap on the fluffy blanket of His love and just chill for a while.

We have to encourage ourselves with this tried and true phrase…“This too shall pass!” The trials and adverse circumstances that are affecting my life now won’t last forever, although they are quite uncomfortable. I can’t let myself get bogged down in the mire of self-pity and hopelessness. God is ALWAYS for me and never against me! I refuse to look at the present troubles, rather I will “fix my gaze” on Jesus, Whom I know is working behind the scenes to make a way of escape for me! I’ll keep traveling down this bumpy road of life with its potholes and sinkholes and manholes…and I will do it in joyous expectation that my deliverance may be just around the next corner!

A CHRISTMAS STORY

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NATIVITY
A Christmas Story by Sherry Evans

The cool air swirled around her feet giving her an unwelcome chill. The animal beneath her bristled. She wondered about the unknown. The babe kicked from inside the womb, a gentle reminder of what was to come. “Am I ready for this?” she pondered. “God will be my strength,” was the assurance from within. The journey was far. Joseph tirelessly walked onward even though last night he was the watchman. The caravan was slow. The large robust group had made good time and were probably already in Bethlehem. Joseph had insisted they stay behind with the stragglers, the elderly, the sick, and those expecting. The trip would take twice as long but Joseph was right not to take chances with such precious cargo.

The days were grueling with frigid temperatures, rain and sickness all around. Mary’s heart went out to the suffering around her. Mary wished for an end to the days but the nights were worse. Hungry animals prowled the edge of the camp each evening. And rumors of bandits floated throughout the camp from terror stricken lips. Mary knew God would protect them but unwelcome fears still lurked in the background. The days stretched on. Mary dreaded giving birth on the road. Her heart silently plead, “If only we can make it to Bethlehem before the babe arrives.”

When the first birth pangs began, Mary feared they would not make it in time. By the time Bethlehem’s gates were visible the regular spasms caused her to catch her breath…people everywhere, noises and smells. Nausea made her dizzy as Joseph paced determinedly from house to inn in search of a resting place. He could see she was in pain. The furrowed lines etched upon her brow told him that time was short. There was no room. Would No one show any kindness to a young girl when her time had come?

The last innkeeper opened to the knock of Joseph’s shaking hands. “Sir, my wife…” Joseph pled. The desperation in his voice caused the innkeeper to look beyond the man to the young girl atop the mule gritting her teeth amidst the pain. This innkeeper was not known for kindness. He was a business man. But the haunting eyes of the girl in such straights caused him a momentary pause. “You can take her to the Livery. It’s dry and warm there. I can do no better. GO!”

Joseph stood in shocked silence, then quickly gathered his charge and entered the mouth of the cave. Mules with servants milling around parted and made a path when they saw the young girl. The atmosphere was quieter and more serene in this alcove, sheltered from the outside chaos. Female servants hurried over when they realized the state of things. Joseph now searched for a midwife. Time was short. Things were happening too quickly for Mary. This was not what she’d envisioned. The babe was coming in a stable. This was no place for a king! The pains were strong and unlike anything she had ever known. She wished for her mother or sister’s comfort. And then it was finished. Cries echoed into the cavern. Mary’s eyes watered at the first sight of this babe. The babe cooed softly and with wide eyed wonder he stared out into the world. His mother searched his eyes. She felt an electricity, an intangible force felt by all present. This babe knew her soul.

The midwife returned with Joseph just in time to see that all was well. Joseph felt the power in the room and timidly approached. Gingerly taking his adopted son in his arms for the first time the weight of the responsibility hit him hard. Joseph searched the eyes of the child and wondered if he was able to provide for this small babe of wonder. His eyes were mesmerizing. A peace filled his soul. He was comforted.

Joseph placed the babe in the arms of his mother and looked up. Everyone could feel a slight tremor in the air. Everything was changed in the short span of time since the babe had come. People spoke in hushed tones of reverence. The activity of angels was unknown yet overpowering, causing the air to be electric and alive. The babe saw the angels about and giggled aloud sending chills throughout the group of onlookers as his mother smiled at the sound. Outside a solitary star outshone the moon guiding others to share this vision. Shepherds entered the cavern in search of the truth. Unbeknownst to all, after this night the universe would never be the same.

ANGELS WATCHING OVER YOU

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ANGEL, SHEPHERDS
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields,

keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord
stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid,
for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ
the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped
in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was
with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
       “ Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Luke 2:8-14

When most people think of angels, they imagine some nondescript being that has no form or feelings just floating around in the clouds. And in the background they picture God sitting on a golden throne holding a joystick and controlling their every move. (I know…I get a little carried away with my descriptions!) But can you relate?

However, angels are real beings (although created beings) who think and have emotions. If that were not so, Satan could not have talked one-third of them into rebelling against God. I Peter 1:12 says, “Even angels long to look into these things (salvation).” So apparently angels have desires and even curiosity, although their primary desire is to serve God. Angels can appear as men, as they did to Abraham on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah. He prepared a meal and they ate with him. And of course, we know that the Bible is full of instances where Angels defended and protected people. “For He will give His angels [especial] charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways [of obedience and service].” (Psalm 91:11 AMP)

But did you know that the Lord also assigned them to be servants to those who believe in Him? “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) Many a time I have called upon Angels to help me with something or do something for me. Now let me make this clear, I do not pray to angels. Angels are not to be worshipped. And whenever I feel that angels have assisted me in a situation, I give thanks to God, not them. You make think I’m a little “flaky”, but I believe help from Angels is readily available to us according to the scripture.

And of course, in the passage in Luke above, we see that they rejoiced at the birth of Jesus. They displayed joy and gladness. So from biblical accounts, Angels are actual beings which were created by God with emotions and thinking capabilities. We can’t normally see them, although some people say they have. But we can be assured of their existence and their interaction with mankind…especially if you believe!