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Sea Gulls & God’s Provision

I love when the birds return in spring, especially after a long, brutal winter like the one we just had in northern Pennsylvanian. The blessed sound of birds chirping and singing their joyful song reminds me that even the coldest winter will come to an end. Warmth will return to the earth. Spring will always spring again.

But some birds don’t suddenly reappear in late winter because they never left in late fall.

While most birds – robins, blue jays, geese and many others – are “snow” birds, meaning that they head south before winter hits, sea gulls stay put. They are weather warriors, enduring the elements of all four northern seasons – polar vortexes included.

During a northern winter it isn’t unusual to see dozens of sea gulls gathering in snow covered parking lots, causing me to question their habits. Why do sea gulls stay here all winter while other birds go south? How do sea gulls obtain food when the ground is frozen solid and snow is piled high?

While walking along the bay on a late winter’s morning, my questions were answered by a flock of sea gulls perched on a mound of ice. There were at least thirty of these silly birds huddled together in one clump looking, as usual, cold and out of place. But, as I got closer, I realized that the sea gulls were congregating around a break in the ice so they could go fishing.

From my vantage point, the area of broken ice didn’t look like a prime fishing location since the opening was in shallow water. I couldn’t imagine many fish would be swimming that close to land. Not to mention that the icy opening appeared too small to provide fishing space for such a large gathering of birds. Yet, in just a few short minutes, I saw sea gull after sea gull dip into the frigid waters and return to the ice mounds with breakfast in their beaks.

The sea gulls fishing on the ice provided a powerful picture of God’s provision and reminded me of Jesus’ words. “Look at the birds of the air;” He said. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

Watching the sea gulls taught me two important lessons about trusting God.

First, the scene taught me to never assume my way is the best way.

Take, for instance, sea gull migration. If it were up to me, sea gulls would fly south for the winter to escape the snow, sleet and ice. But God has a better way. He specifically designed the sea gulls to endure winter’s storms. Because God is in control, I don’t need to understand the “how’ of the sea gulls’ survival. I just need to trust the “Who” of their survival. And the “who” is God. He who creates the birds, sustains the birds.

The same is true of humans, like you and me. Although with my limited understanding I often think life would be better if I could simply “migrate” away from troubles. I’d be so much happier, healthier and content if only I didn’t have to endure the storms of life – or so I think.

But God has a better way. God knows that it is by way of suffering that perseverance, character and hope are cultivated in His children’s heart (Romans 5:3-4). The fruits of Christ’s spirit grow most hardily when the conditions compel us to cling to the cross in the midst of the most harrowing storms. When we stay faithful through the trials and lean into Jesus, His Spirit transforms us into faith-filled warriors in the Lord’s Army.

Secondly, from the sea gulls, I learned to never underestimate the sufficiency of God’s supply. Although the hole on the icy bay was small, God supplied it with plenty of fish to meet the sea gulls’ needs. He made much out of not much.

In my own life I’m prone to believing I need more to be satisfied. More funds. More strength. More resources. But God says that His grace is sufficient for me because His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s strength and might is best displayed in weak and needy vessels. The more dependent we are on God’s provision, the more miraculous it is when our only hope is for Jesus to show up with His resurrection power (and He always does).

As God’s beloved children, you and I can confidently follow Jesus wherever He goes without fear of provision or concern for the conditions because where God guides, He always provides.  

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Sleep 101

In theory, sleep should be the easiest activity on earth.

Still your body; close your eyes, drift off to dream land.

But sleep isn’t always that simple.

Prior to becoming ill, I was a champion sleeper. But when Lyme took hold of my life it took hold of my sleep too.

The sleep disruption began almost a decade ago with nighttime muscle spasms that attacked my legs. Thank God, a year into my Lyme treatments those nightly disruptions ceased. But that wasn’t the only tormentor troubling my sleep.

For years my ears have been ringing nonstop. During the day the ringing doesn’t bother me because I can drown out the buzzing/ringing/zapping sounds but when night time comes the ringing becomes a problem. In the silence the noises in my head appear to be turned up a notch or two. I used to keep the TV turned on to drown out the sounds, but the light has its own ill-effects on sleep.

Next, I tried thinking happy thoughts and imagined the ocean waves gently washing ashore on a relaxing beach. But visualization didn’t help me in my quest for sleep.

I’ve even counted white fluffy sheep, like those featured in the Serta mattress commercials. But by the time I’m done counting one hundred sheep I’m more frustrated than when I began.

But, fear not, for my sleep disruption story has a happy ending. I have discovered a remarkable cure for every sleep malady: prayer.

Instead of counting sheep, talk to the Shepherd. Start a dialogue with Jesus. Converse with the Lord. He truly is the ultimate sleep remedy.

There is no specific prayer you need to say or lines you need to repeat. You don’t even need to specifically ask Him to help you fall asleep. You’re in bed and God knows your heart. He knows that you want to sleep.

But perhaps, before He lets you fall asleep, God wants to talk to you. 

The Holy Spirit is known to speak the loudest in the silence. Often times, He is heard most clearly when there is no competing noise and the world around us is quiet.

By turning to God in prayer, my sleep disruptions have been transformed from a bother into a blessing. While lying awake in bed, seeds of prayer have been planted in my heart and mind. When I have stopped trying to distract my mind with empty thoughts, I’ve had the incredible experience of being filled with fruitful revelations and an abundance of Christ’s peace.

So next time you are lying awake at night, unable to sleep, don’t turn the TV on in an attempt to fill the emptiness. Don’t count sheep in an attempt to distract and deter your thought life. Instead, tune into the Holy Spirit and talk to your Heavenly Father.

He’s always listening.

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Old Dog, New Tricks

Pippy is stuck in a rut.

On our daily walks, Pippy insists we stop at exactly the same spots so she can conduct her regular sniffing routine.

First, she demands (via stubborn pulling) that I stop at her favorite corner where the scent of a particular pine tree tickles her nose. Then, one block later, she pulls again next to the tall bush with an earthy aroma. Pippy finds this bush intensely enticing.

After she sniffs for a moment, I give her leash a tug and direct her back to our walk but, less than a minute later, she yanks on the leash again. This time we’re near the rusty mailbox. Pippy loves this rusty mailbox. By her frantic sniffing, I suspect there is gold underneath all of that rust. Or maybe rust just has a tantalizing scent to a dog’s keen nose.

On our short fifteen-minute walk around the neighborhood Pippy encounters at least a dozen of these specific stop and sniff locations. This is her habit and, for years, I’ve allowed it to become ingrained in her doggie brain, controlling the pace and pauses of our walk.

But that’s about to change.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but I’m determined to prove “them” wrong by teaching Pippy how to live free of her routine.

After some at-home dog psychotherapy exercises, I discovered that Pippy doesn’t actually need to stop and smell the same patches of grass every day. She doesn’t use these stops to fulfill the basic needs of her bladder. She just wants to stop because she’s used to stopping. It has become her habit. Routine sniffing is Pippy’s rut.

But Pippy isn’t the only one stuck in a rut. I’m stuck in one, too.

Like Pippy, I do the same things over and over again, day in and day out. I go to the same places, at the same time. I think the same thoughts on repeat. I speak the same words to myself day after day after day.

The truth is, I’m no different than Pippy. I’m trapped in a well-engrained cycle. I’m stuck in a rut.

But I’m confident that this old dog can learn new tricks.

Teaching Pippy to break her stop and sniff habit is helping me get unstuck, too. While walking Pippy I’ve discovered that my will power is key to reforming her behavior. If I am halfhearted and weak, Pippy is bound to pull me back to the same sniffing spots she has a thousand times before. In order to change her pattern and teach her how to walk obediently I must hold firm and keep walking (even when Pippy is pulling so hard on the leash it feels like my arm might pop out of its socket).

The same principles of determination and will power apply to breaking free of my own rut.

In order to get unstuck I must surrender my will to God and follow Jesus, not my habits and hang-ups, with determination. I must let obedience to Christ dictate my day, not my routine. I must cease trying to take the lead and let Him order my every start and stop.

While trapped in the rut of my routine I will never be a fluid follower of Jesus. As long as I’m caught up in my habits I’m doomed to a life of stubborn rigidity. Like Pippy yanking and pulling on the leash, my walk with God will be unpleasant and short on peace until I release my will and let the Holy Spirit direct my life.

Jesus must be my pack leader. He must be the one who is telling me when I can stop and go. When He says, “pause,” that’s when I pause. When He says, “walk this way,” then I need to be free of my rut so I can heed the call.

Outside the confines of my rut and routine is a great, big, beautiful world and God will show it to me if I will just stop yanking on His leash. As soon as I relinquish control of my habits and hang-ups and let Christ renew my routine, He will amaze me with awe and wonder as He daily rewrites me a new, wonderful normal.

Pippy and I are both getting older but we are never too old to learn new tricks.  

 

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25

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Lyme War

Two years ago, when my war against Lyme began, I was naively optimistic.

Although I knew reclaiming the territory of my body in the name of health would be difficult, I was confident that God would deliver the victory – and fast. In my mind’s eye I saw the paralyzed man walking and the bleeding woman made well. I saw the walls of Jericho falling and the Red Sea parted. I saw the miracle and believed I would receive one, too – sooner rather than later.

But two years have passed, and my Lyme War is not over yet.

Despite many passionate, tearful prayers, begging God to bring an end to my fight, He has yet to fulfill my request for decisive victory. I’m still in the heat of the battle. I’m still in the fight for my life.

In my darkest, most desperate moments, I’ve questioned God’s timing and doubted His love for me. If God is good, why hasn’t He healed me yet? Or at least alleviated my pain?… I love Him and want to serve Him, so why hasn’t He blessed me with a miracle?

Out of all the pills I’ve had to take (and trust me, I’ve taken a lot) the rate of recovery God has deemed best for me has been, by far, the most difficult to swallow.

When I began my war on Lyme Disease, my hope, joy and peace depended on God healing my body. I was hanging the hat of my faith on physical restoration. As I read stories in the Bible about miraculous healing I focused exclusively on the happy ending and missed the decades of sickness and disease that came before, “pick up your mat and walk.”

The truth is, my faith was flawed.

Faith that is conditional on physical restoration isn’t real, true, genuine faith. Real, true, genuine faith requires that all of my hope, peace and joy hang on the cross of Christ, not the condition of my health.

God doesn’t want my contentment to be reliant on receiving a physical miracle. He wants me to be confident and joyful because Jesus has declared victory in my soul and made me whole by the power of His redemptive blood. That is the only miracle I need to live truly victoriously.

Paul wrote in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Paul wrote those words from the first-hand perspective of a follower of Christ who suffered in prison and in flesh due to “a thorn” that God chose not to take away.

Yet, Paul had hope.

Paul, a man who never had a “pick up your mat and walk” moment of healing for his physical affliction, refused to abandon his hope and faith in the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ. Whether he was in chains or in pain, Paul was in love with the Lord and committed to serving Him and persevering for the glory of God’s great name.

Come what may in my Lyme War, the war for my soul is already won. Whether or not I am ever made fully physically well, I can persevere with joy and hope because Jesus won the war for my heart when He rose from the grave. The day I received new life by the power of the Risen Christ is the day I received the only victory I will ever need and the one no sickness on earth can ever take away.

God has made me well in the soul. The rest is just icing on an already delicious cake.

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I Have a Dream…

I was born a dreamer.

As a young girl I dreamt that one day I’d be a married mommy. I imagined four little ones and a minivan.

My dreams were so detailed that I even pictured how I’d dress my kids for Sunday morning church. The girls would be in ruffled dresses with bows in their hair. The boys would be in seersucker suits with bowties.

I dreamt in Gap Kids ads. 

Then I got older and my dreams shifted. But only slightly.

Instead of dreaming of a minivan I switched to a large SUV.

By age twenty my dreams became a bit more realistic. Sunday dresses might end up with stains before the service even started. The large SUV might have spilled milk in the car seat. Home might not be as spotless and pristine as an HGTV décor magazine.

The number of kids varied, too. Maybe there would be three adopted kids or even five? I let go of the precise number and left that detail in God’s hands. But the fundamentals of my dream never changed. Husband. Kids. Home.

I was confident that by age thirty my dream would be well underway to coming true. According to my dream timeline, I would be a wife, homeowner and mother to two before I entered my fourth decade of life.

But this year I’m going to turn twenty-nine and not one single detail of my childhood dreams have been fulfilled.

In my mid-twenties I came to the realization that the fantasies I grew up holding in my heart may not unfold the way I’d hoped. It was a tough pill to swallow. I’d spent years day dreaming about my future picture-perfect life. But the reality of my early adulthood hasn’t look anything like my picture.

A few years ago, I wrote about letting go of my dreams. It was like holding onto a bundle of balloons and, one-by-one, releasing them into the sky. The kids. The house. The husband. The adorable little family attending church together. I had to let go of my death grip on my dreams and let them float away.

But, truth be told, I’ve never let those balloons out of my sight. I’ve tried. Trust me, I’ve tried. But I keep looking up into the clouds, trying to spot my dreams dancing around in the wind. All along I’ve been hoping God will let them gently descend back into my life.

But God hasn’t fulfilled my returned dreams desires. Instead, He’s made a special delivery and sent new balloons into my life. He’s given my dreams brand new life.

The dreams God has given me are unlike any I had as a child. The dreams I had for myself appeared achievable. God’s dreams appear impossible. The dreams I formulated sounded realistic. God’s dreams sound completely intimidating.

God’s been sending me dreams so lofty I’ve been afraid to speak them out loud for fear of sounding foolish. I’ve been holding them close to my chest, too overwhelmed by their magnitude to admit they are real.

But God won’t let me stay silent any longer. He wants me to proclaim the dreams He has delivered and believe that, because are His, they will come true.

So, in obedience to God, this is my God-delivered dream:
To have a worldwide ministry that encourages people to surrender their entire lives to Christ, trust God to be their sustainer and obediently follow Him wherever He leads.

I have no idea how God plans to make that dream a reality but I do know He can do it. I am not sure how it will be accomplished but I know it won’t be accomplished by my own ability and power.

And I believe that’s exactly why God’s given this dream to me. His desire is that I be totally reliant on His power to do the impossible. He is calling me to step beyond the limits of my weakness and live by the indwelling of His limitless strength.

Declaring the dream God has given me is the first step in trusting Him to make it happen. He has not given me this dream to abandon it. He has given it to me because He is going to show up and make it a reality. God, the deliverer of the dream, will be the fulfiller of the dream.

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

– 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Perhaps, one day, God will bring back my old dreams to unite with my new dreams. If so, I’ll be there with open arms, ready to receive the gift of a husband, kids and home.

But, until then, I’m going to stop scanning the sky for those old balloons and let my eyes rest on these new, glorious God-given balloons. I am going to stop shrinking back with fear and doubt. I am going to bolding grab hold of God’s dreams and begin confidently and joyfully praising Him in advance for fulfilling them.

God, I can’t but you can. What is impossible for me is entirely possible for you! I know that you have given me this great dream to bring you glory. I am standing confidently in who You are and what You are going to accomplish. Lord, Here I am, send me. Here I am, use me. Take my life and use it to make Jesus known.

Amen

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Jesus, our Warrior King

If you’re a friend of God’s, you’re automatically an enemy of satan.

Be prepared, because he is going to attack you. Members of the Lord’s army who have taken a position at the foot of Christ’s cross are in satan’s cross hairs.

Picture a bulls eye on your back. Your enemy number one.

The Bible says that we do not fight against flesh and blood but against the rulers and authorities of the unseen, dark world. (Ephesians 6:12). There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. As followers of Christ, we are in a fight and the fight is always against satan. He is out to kill, steal and destroy with weaponry of fear, confusion, disappointment, anxiety and doubt. Just to name a few.

The enemy’s aim is to annihilate our faith and confidence in Christ.

To accomplish his goal, satan twists emotions so that God’s children are deceived and tricked into believing they stand on the battle field alone. The enemy knows that if he can make us feel separated from God, he can disconnect us from Christ’s power.

But the good news is satan cannot separate us from God. He doesn’t have that power.

As Paul wrote in Romans 8, nothing on earth can separate us from the love of God because Jesus already conquered the grave and rose to life again. There is nothing that can defeat the reigning Lord our God. There is nothing that can rip us away from His overcoming life.

But, in the heat of the battle, this truth can feel far away. While being taunted by defeat and hopelessness, it becomes tempting to focus exclusively on the attacker and lose sight of the Victor. Feelings of failure descend and cloud the facts of our faith.

In order to fight with the strength and power of God we cannot trust and rely on feelings. Taking hold of Christ’s victory must be done on the basis of faith.

If you and I wait till we “feel” like the battle is already won, we will spend our entire lives feeling defeated. The enemy is a liar and he regularly hijacks our feelings, making liars out of them, too.

This is what happened to Jesus’ followers in the days immediately following His crucifixion. As Luke recounts in his gospel, as the two men were traveling on the road to Emmaus they were overcome with grief because they believed their Savior was dead.

Even though these men were told by Jesus that three days would pass before He left the grave, they didn’t understand the warning. Even after the tomb was found empty, his followers were still doubtful that their Savior would return. They hadn’t seen Jesus yet and they didn’t feel like they ever would.

As the two men traveled along, they were downcast. They felt like their Lord was gone forever. They felt like Jesus was still in the grave.

But we all know how this story ends.

Jesus came and walked with them, although they didn’t recognize that it was Him at first. They told him about their defeated feelings and He restored their hope with the facts of faith.

Using scripture and the words of the prophets, Jesus recounted everything that was predicted would come to pass regarding His life. He reminded them that what God said about the Messiah. That He would suffer before He would rise again. The events that unfolded on Calvary had to occur for the sake of salvation. This trouble was to be expected.
Jesus’s followers were restored to hope and revived with the joy of Christ’s overcoming life by returning to truth.

War-weary travelers, take heart. The truth that Jesus shared with His followers on the road to Emmaus is still true today.

Jesus is victorious.
Jesus is risen.
Jesus is the eternally ascended Lord.
Jesus is triumphant!

When we focus on the facts of our faith, our feelings of failure are dispelled. By fixing our thoughts and hearts on who is fighting for us, the enemy who is fighting against us cannot get the upper hand.

We need never feel defeated because we are never on the battlefield alone. We have the truth, the way and the life fighting for us. And He has already won.

Today, when the enemy comes to attack, return to the truth of God’s Word. Stand on the firm foundation of scripture as you sound the trumpets of triumph for Jesus Christ, your Warrior King.

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New Life Resolutions

“I hate new year’s resolutions,” the man said to his wife with a gravelly, sneering tone that conveyed absolute contempt for the annual tradition. In five forceful words he made his feelings known. Convincing him to change his mind would have been a waste of time – a fact his wife must have known because she didn’t even try. Silence followed the man’s statement and the conversation abruptly ended.

The exchange that unfolded between the man and his wife is a common new year’s scene. People tend to either love or hate new year’s resolutions. The pro-resolution crowd believes it is good to at least make an effort to better one’s self. The anti-resolution crowd says it’s a silly tradition especially since 80% of resolutions fail.

Resolution haters have a point. Every year like clockwork the resolution resolve that was so strong on New Year’s Day wanes by Martin Luther King’s holiday and is ancient history by Valentine’s. After a few slip ups (and who doesn’t slip up?) the resolution feels more burdensome than beneficial. The promises made get trapped in the ruts of life and rarely do they make it out before December 31st.

New Year’s resolutions have earned their bad rap. They have a horrible track record for producing lasting change which is why this year I’m promoting a whole new kind of resolution: A New Life Resolution. A promise to make a spiritual change with eternal significance.

My new life resolution for 2019 and beyond is to pursue Christ…and nothing else.

For my entire life (up until now) I have pursued Christ AND something else. Christ and education…health….a miracle healing modality…a career…a killer business idea…a calling…a livelihood….a passion….a purpose. I believed it was acceptable to seek what this world has to offer while still honoring God.

Turns out I was wrong.

Seeking the world’s offerings made me more like a frenetic squirrel than a faithful follower of Christ. Like a wild, bushy tailed animal that scurries up every tree in search of a tantalizing nutty treat, I frantically searched for purpose and usefulness in this world. I thought if I could just find the right tree bearing the treat I’d be happier, more content and fulfilled.

What I’ve discovered is that I can’t pursue the world in addition to Christ. The result is a life of dissatisfaction, confusion and distraction. Balancing two lives, one lived for God and one lived for the world, doesn’t work. God requires my full, undivided attention be given to knowing Christ and making Him known.

In order to fully obey and glorify God I must put an end to my frantic search for a place in this world. I must surrender my former life of dual quests so I can live exclusively in pursuit of Jesus – His way, His truth and His life.

As I embark on my new life resolution it is important to acknowledge that the key to success does not rest in my own power. If I bank on my own resolve I am doomed to fail as miserably as most new year’s resolutions. The only hope I have of realizing my resolution is to rest in the truth and assurance of Christ’s resurrection. All the strength I need is available at the foot of His cross and to receive it I must stay put, resisting the temptation to be the squirrel that goes scampering off after every distraction. I must continue in the way of obedience, constantly surrendering myself to Jesus and God’s will for my life.

Jesus said in Luke 9:24 that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” With the Savior of the world as my sole pursuit in this world I have no idea what the year ahead will bring but I know who will bring it. And knowing Him is enough for me.

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Redeemed by Belief

December 2018 was a bust – well, almost.

The first twenty-three days of my December were short on Christmas spirit and high on Christmas angst. The dominating thoughts in my mind revolved around shopping and sulking. If I wasn’t on a frustrating hunt to find the perfect present for every person on my list, I was most likely in a depressive funk. My mood was more melancholy than merry. Sadly, I must admit I was more prone to crankiness than cheeriness. To those who had to share a roof with me this Christmas season, I’m sorry.

Sadly, I know I’m not alone in experiencing a depressing December. When Christmas lights come on and jolly tunes are turned up every sadness and heartache gets magnified. Smiling Santas betray the despondent, mocking them at every festive turn. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” doesn’t ring true. “I’ll have a Blue Christmas” sounds more appropriate. For those who have an identifiable “reason” to be sad it’s easy to slip into a season of sulking come Christmastime.

And so, on December 1st, that’s precisely what I did. I entered into a twenty-three day season of sulking.

While out shopping I was hopeless, unable to find the perfect gift for the loved ones on my list. While at home I was discontent, trapped in the sadness of my not-so-perfect life. Staring me in the face was the heavy weight of grief born out of a life sidelined by sickness. Although there was much to celebrate since last Christmas – more healing, vitality, improved health – I was blind to the many healing victories. All I could see were a lifetime of dreams and plans destroyed by a decade of sickness.

But then the light of God pierced into my darkness on December 23rd by way of a simple children’s Christmas play.

At New Life Community Church, the home of my church family, a small group of children performed a short and sweet Christmas program that shared a powerful and profound message. With bed sheets for costumes and a simple Bethlehem set, the kids told the story of Jesus’ arrival into the world. Mary and Joseph entered the manger scene followed by angels who appeared to shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. After telling them the good news about the Savior’s birth the young shepherds excitedly declared their desire to travel to Bethlehem and see the promised King of Kings.

As the play came to a close the audience’s attention was drawn back to the narrator as he said, “In believing, they found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, their Savior. And tonight, just as it was in Bethlehem so many years ago, God has chosen you to hear the good news and believe.” That one line changed the spirit in the room – or at least it changed the spirit in me.

Belief transformed my heart.

Belief in Christ, who He is and what He came to do transformed my December bust into a beautiful time of celebration. By returning to Jesus Christ and fixating on His life from the cradle to the cross, my depression lifted and quickly disappeared. In the Savior’s presence the sadness I had experienced all season long was replaced by abundant joy and overwhelming peace.

Whether it be Christmastime or the middle of July, when we approach the manger throne believing in Christ and the salvation He delivers, we will encounter His peace, comfort and joy. By seeking the Savior and entering into His presence our hearts will be renewed by redeeming love.

Come to God bearing your bust of a month. Surrender your sadness and sorrow so He can transform it. God is faithful. He will redeem and restore you. Come to the manger and God will revive you with an eternally abiding Christmas spirit.

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Christmas is a Box of Chocolates

Tucked in the basement of an old church in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania is the fellowship and dining hall used by the Upper Room, a local homeless shelter.

The windowless space is dim and the kitchen’s appliances are ancient. The long, rectangular tables have seen better days and the hard metal chairs aren’t particularly comfortable. But, on Christmas morning, there’s no place I’d rather be than that humble dining room.

For the homeless, Christmas can be one of the loneliest and most depressing days of the whole year. While families congregate and celebrate the day with delicious meals and carefully wrapped gifts the homeless go without, often spending the holiday alone. Even places they usual gather (McDonalds and soup kitchens) are usually closed, making Christmas not only one the loneliest days of the year but one of the hungriest, too.

It was this lonely, hungry thought that inspired the Christmas Morning Brunch at the Upper Room. Five years ago members from around the community began what would become an annual tradition of hosting a meal for those in need. At the morning meal guests are invited to indulge in a spread of home cooked food complete with fluffy egg casseroles, a variety of muffins, juicy Honey Baked Ham and freshly cut fruit. There is hot coffee on tap, second helpings and even the finest chocolate in all of Erie, PA – Stefanelli’s melt-aways.

Of all the delicious food and baked goods at the Christmas brunch – and there was lots – the box of Stefanelli’s chocolates  was by far the most treasured delight. The white box filled with luscious chunks of rich chocolate was purchased from a local company in town and placed conveniently by the coffee pot where everyone could grab a piece . As guests happened upon the chocolate I watched as their faces lit up. They immediately recognized Stefanelli’s candy – everyone in Erie does. It is considered a luxury and a rare treat, especially for those who often go without daily meals. So it was no surprise when everyone that passed by the box stopped in amazement before scooping up a piece – or two – of chocolatey treasure.

Watching the reception of the Stefanelli’s chocolate struck me as profound. What I witnessed was so much more than men and women being offered chocolate to freely enjoy. What I was watching turned out to be a sweet picture of how God offers us the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. 

Like the special box of chocolates offered at the Upper Room on Christmas morning, God made Jesus accessible to all. He sent His most precious gift, His Son, into the lowliest of circumstances – a humble stable with only a manger for a bed. Although God could have delivered the Savior into a guarded palace or high, lofty estate, He didn’t. He could have kept Jesus far away for the people and out of reach but He didn’t. Instead, God delivered Jesus right into the middle of our broken world where He could shine His light of life in the darkest places and to the most desperate of people. He made Jesus approachable, knowable and conveniently within our weak and feeble reach.

God made Jesus available to all – the worst of sinners, the sickest of individuals and even the dead. When Jesus went out into the world, He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus didn’t come for only the people who had their act together or who had a stellar pedigree. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the hopeless and the “too far gone.” His gift of salvation was and is for anyone and everyone who will come to Him bearing broken lives, believing He is the Son of God who rescues sinners by way of the cross.

God gave Jesus in endless abundance – just like the box of chocolates.

By the end of the brunch we’d run out of a few breakfast foods. Certain casseroles were all gone and the hash-brown potatoes were no more but the box of chocolates was still half full. Somehow even though nearly every guest had indulged in the rich, meltaway chocolate the supply never ran out. There was enough for everyone and then some.

And so it is with Jesus. In Jesus Christ we have the one and only gift that will never run out and is always fully stocked. Anyone who approaches Jesus’ manger throne in search of the richest mercy and sweetest, most amazing grace will always find that the storehouse of His Salvation is full. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is abundant in boundless love, limitless grace, unfailing forgiveness and abiding peace. His goodness knows no end. There is always more than enough of Jesus to go around…and then some.

On Christmas morning it was a box of chocolates that delivered a special message: that God sent Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all, into our broken world to offer us salvation through His sacrifice completely free of our charge. All He asks is that we come as we are from wherever we are and partake of heaven and earth’s sweetest, richest, eternally abiding gift: God’s one and only Son.  

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How Moods Go: By Kicking

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Moods never go by praying, moods go by kicking.” And he’s right. “Gently” isn’t an adjective that can be applied to mood-removal. Moods must be eradicated by force.

Although I’ve read Chambers’ words countless times and heartily agree that what he wrote is undeniably true, I must admit that I’m often reluctant to kick my moods – especially “sick” mood.

When chronic illness gets me down and I become trapped in a dark and gloomy pit I call it “sick” mood. In an emotionally sick state I feel too low to rise and too hopeless to try. I reach the end of my rope and all I want to do – all I can think to do – is sulk. Tears are usually shed as I cry over my physical maladies and question why God has allowed this debilitating illness to plague me for so long.

Self-absorption is key to “sick” mood. Fixation on the self is at the heart of it. While trapped in a “sick” mood I am entirely consumed with my chronic illness, my pain, my suffering and my personal disappointments. My every thought revolves around me, myself and I.

The very last thing I want to do in a “sick” mood is kick myself – even if only metaphorically. I want the exact opposite of a kick. I want a hug. I want to be coddled, indulged, justified and humored. I want to be told that my feelings are understandable; that it is okay to get down in the pit; that I should lay low and feel my pain. I want to vent to God and lament my lot in life.

But “sick” mood always makes me sicker – physically, mentally and emotionally. When I give “sick” mood an inch it takes a mile and, before I know it, I’m completely paralyzed by pain and suffering. By indulging the mood I issue an open invitation to sorrow and sadness. Every negative, depressed, hopeless feeling receives a boost of discouraged energy and I get dragged deeper into the dark pit.

There is only one way out of “sick” mood: a round-house resurrection kick.

Even in the midst of pain and suffering Christ’s light and overcoming life is available to me but I can’t experience it if I’m unwilling to kick my mood. Until I reject the sadness of sickness and take hold of Christ’s resurrection power the mood won’t flee. I cannot capitulate to chronic illness and claim the joy, love, peace and hope of Jesus at the same time. One must go for the other to thrive. “Sick” mood must die for the Risen power of Christ to survive in me.

Jesus stands at the ready, willing and able to provide all the strength I need to kick “sick” mood and it can be mine the moment I surrender my will, ways and self-absorbed wallowing. The second I deny myself at the foot of the cross and claim the truth and life of the Holy Spirit “sick” mood is defeated.

When “sick” mood gets kicked abundant life is ushered in. Overcoming, spirited, energetic joy is revived. Restful, calming, comforting peace is restored. Hope makes a comeback and all is well with my soul.