What’s the sweetest freedom in the world?

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”— John 8:32 (TLB).

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Do you consider yourself free? I guess it depends on your definition of freedom.

Dictionary.com offers these seven definitions:

  • the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.
  • exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
  • the power to determine action without restraint.
  • political or national independence.
  • personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery.
  • exemption from the presence of anything specified (usually followed by from): freedom from fear.
  • the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc.

The very word “freedom” resonates with so many, especially with Americans who will be celebrating our nation’s independence this weekend. For those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, the same word denotes a more powerful meaning.

“To serve God, to love God, to enjoy God, is the sweetest freedom in the world.”

Almost 15 years ago, I discovered that Jesus loved and wanted a personal relationship with me. When I did, I found a freedom no man can take away. Before that day, I lived in bondage to other people’s opinions of me. I wasn’t free. Although I wasn’t confined behind the physical bars of a jail cell, I was still a prisoner.

Will You Leave Your Comfortable Pew?

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross”— Philippians 2:6-8(NLT).

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I can recall the day as if were just yesterday. Almost 15 years ago, an emptiness I couldn’t explain began chipping away at my heart. I was in my late 40s. I was lost and even if I didn’t know it, God did. He wouldn’t give up on me.

On a sunny October afternoon, I prayed aloud for the very first time. My simple prayer was, “God, help me. I need some direction in my life.” Since that day, I have been on a journey, a quest you might say, to know my Savior and Lord more deeply, to understand God’s will for my life and to use my gifts for His glory.

Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.

Trying to fully comprehend the sacrifice that Christ made for mankind is mind-boggling, sometimes even for those who believe. Still more breath-taking is what happened three days after his cruel death on the cross.

For those who doubt, I wonder where or in whom they place their hope. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says, “Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity.”

Make 2016 a Positive One

“But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you”—Matthew 6:33(NIRV).

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After reading many New Year’s posts on Facebook, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are trying to remain positive in spite of personal trials and the constant spate of negative news with which we are bombarded with daily. However, I’ve noticed that most of those who have a confident outlook have one thing in common. They are believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

In a recent sermon, our pastor made the following statement, “The future is different when you have met the Living Christ.”

Faith + Optimism = Possibilities

One important lesson I’ve learned since I sought a serious relationship with Him is that being a Christ follower does not automatically insure you are free from trials. In fact, I can attest that my trials have increased. But, those trying times have stretched me spiritually, teaching me to trust Him even more.

How can we stay positive in a negative world as a New Year begins? How can we awaken each day in joyful anticipation instead of troubled doubt?

Just Let it Go

“Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new”— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEV).

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Although I’ve not seen it, I’ve heard the lyrics to the song associated with Disney’s popular animated movie, “Frozen.” Sung by little girls who have seen the film, the song’s title is “Let it Go.”

As I was thinking about the New Year, I looked up the lyrics to the catchy tune. When I read them, I thought, “How appropriate for anyone who wants to let go of the past and embrace the new?”

Recently, I was having lunch with a couple of friends. As usual, we shared several belly laughs when we revealed some of our deepest desires and thoughts—just girl talk. While I can’t recall how the subject led to our past, I found myself confessing some of the more “ornery” things I’d done before moving to Claremore 10 years ago.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to examine our lives.

Since my friends have only known the person I am now, they were surprised by my confessions. While those escapades weren’t necessarily earth-shattering, they were definitely a part of the person I was before Jesus got ahold of me.

When we belong to Him, we become a new creation. He forgets our past. Everything becomes new. Even the Old Testament reminds us in Isaiah 43:18 to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past (NIV).

The beginning of a new year is a good time to examine our lives and let go of those things holding us back from spiritual growth. Growing spiritually requires us to be intentional.

No room in the inn; what about your heart?

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn”—Luke 2:7(KJ21).

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With a few exceptions, most babies today enter the world in our country in sanitized surroundings at a hospital. However, over 2,000 years ago, a young couple named Mary and Joseph didn’t have that choice. Expecting the birth of God’s Son, they were even turned away from the inn.

Even if you’ve never read the Bible, the story of Jesus’ birth in a stable is familiar to most. The scene of Christ’s entry into this world was not sanitary. The stable would have been dirty and the smells unappealing. According to scripture, His bed was a wooden feeding trough for animals.

 

His purpose for being is reflected in the simplicity of His holy birth.

 

While most nativity displays depict a quaint, pastoral scene, the reality is our Lord Jesus was actually homeless that first Christmas. There was no room at the inn.

About 25 years ago, two friends attending a Christmas party in Camarillo, California, were discussing their varied collection of nativity scenes. As they talked, they realized their vast collections could be used to benefit others, especially the less fortunate. Remembering the first Christmas and the homeless couple expecting the birth of their firstborn Son, they decided it would be appropriate for the proceeds to go to the homeless.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”—John 3:16 (NIV).

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Slipping a $10 bill inside the last card, I sealed the envelope and prayed my grandchildren would be as enthusiastic as I was about my new Christmas tradition. The idea to give each one $10, along with a letter telling them the cash was not to spend on themselves but for someone in need, was born out of a discussion in my Sunday school class.

Lamenting the fact their grown children bought gifts they didn’t really need, one class member said, “Tom and I have everything. We’d rather them use the money they spend on our gifts to help others.”

She added, “I’m also going to use the money I normally spend on the adults’ gifts to help others. My children don’t need anything.”

Another class member spoke up, sharing a memorable Christmas when he and his adult siblings decided not to purchase gifts for each other. Instead, using their gifts and talents, they made presents for each other that year. “It was the best Christmas ever,” he said.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

At this time of year, I love reading and hearing stories of how others seek to help the needy. “Cooper’s Hope,” the headline on a recent “Tulsa World” news story grabbed my attention. Six-year-old Cooper Andrew spied a homeless veteran holding a sign, asking for help. Viewing the rain-soaked man, the first grader asked his mother, “How do people become homeless?”

After his mother explained, Cooper said, “How about we help them, instead of talking about them?”

Escape this Season’s Madness with a Simple Christmas

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires”—Romans 8:5 (NIV).

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Since the phenomenon known as Black Friday became synonymous with snagging bargains on everything from electronics to toys, I have never participated. Not once. Nada. Never.

Why? While I love a bargain, I dislike crowds. I also dislike what that day symbolizes to me: materialism. Bah Humbug!

My curiosity led me to research the origin of the term Black Friday. It’s long been a popular belief the name originated from the idea that the holiday shopping season—which kicks off the day after Thanksgiving (at least in the past)—moved retailers from being “in the red” or experiencing losses to being “in the black” (showing profits).

True giving comes from the heart.

 

However, according to MoneyCrashers.com and several other websites, the term originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s when shopping traffic was so bad, police officers had to work 12-hour shifts. Hence, they gave the “bleak” day a negative name.

Because retailers didn’t like the negativity surrounding the official first day of the Christmas shopping season, they started offering deeply discounted prices to lure shoppers into their businesses. Now, it’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I’ve just become disillusioned with the hype surrounding it. I know I’m not the only one who detests Christmas décor displayed in stores before the end of September—and sometimes earlier. While not begrudging retailers a profit, I feel it diminishes the real meaning of Christmas.

What is the answer to this holiday madness?