Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year's resolution for a happier new you

Every year on December 31st at exactly 12:00 o'clock midnight fireworks light up the night sky, champagne corks pop, horns and whistles blow, hugs and kisses are exchanged and well wishes for a Happy New Year greet people all over the world. Most people view this annual end of the year ritual as a chance to start the New Year with a clean slate.

Habitually, some people make New Year's resolutions every year. But I wonder how many of these New Year's resolutions are actually holdovers from previous failed attempts? We seem to regurgitate the same resolutions from year to year (i.e."This year I will lose the weight.") hoping for a different result. According to Clinical Psychologist and researcher John Norcross:
Approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Sound like you? Well, you are not alone. Millions of people are stuck in this perennial revolving door of making New Year's resolutions, only to break them a few weeks or months down the road, reverting to the same old way of doing things or to the same habits they promised to change. Let's face it, our human efforts at self-improvement are at best superficial, external, and destined to fail every time. Psychology professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are often a form of cultural procrastination :
[In] an effort to reinvent oneself, people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. People [really] aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.
Then, there are those who believe that all it takes is willpower to succeed in keeping resolutions (And how's that been working for you?). If willpower alone is all that's needed, you would have succeeded with that first diet or the first time you tried to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs or whatever else you tried to will yourself to stop or start doing. New Year's Resolutions by themselves have no power, says author S. Michael Houdmann:
Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity.
For resolutions to succeed, it takes more than proper motivation. Once you decide you want to make a change, you need a specific plan, organization, time management, peer or professional support to make it work. In "10 Worst New Year’s Resolutions (And How to Make Them Work)," writer Ann Pietrangelo lays out a partial recipe for success. However, Pietrangelo's formula leaves out one key ingredient --- spiritual resolve.
True, we are creatures of habit. Spiritual resolve acknowledges that we are also creatures created by a loving God for a purpose. As such, we are ultimately accountable to our Creator. Spiritual resolve must undergird any desire we have for a changed life. Without spiritual resolve and God's help, our human efforts are nothing more than a house built on sand. The Bible explains it this way:
When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB
It takes spiritual resolve to surrender your old life in exchange for a new life in Christ. When resolutions fail, God alone has the power to change you. You don't have to go it alone anymore trying to make life work, you have a helper to guide you. Likewise, you don't have to wait until next December 31 at 12 o'clock midnight to take advantage of the offer. You can begin this new year with your sins forgiven and a chance to start your life over. Believe me, it doesn't get any better than that. Happy New Year, happier new you!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The rumor that has been spreading around the world for more than 2,000 years

Who have you told?
We all know how rumors are spread. One person hears or sees something and tells someone else. That person tells another person who tells another, who tells another, who tells another, and so on. Rumors can travel like wildfire through neighborhoods, cities, towns, countries, across oceans, and nowadays, over the Internet. Long before you or I was born a rumor got started that is still being spread around the world more than 2,000 years later.
The rumor is that shepherds were in a field one night watching their sheep when suddenly an angel appeared to them saying: "Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:11 NIV)." After the initial shock of this unexpected heavenly visitation, one of the shepherds said: "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing [check out this rumor] that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (Luke 2:15 NIV)." So, off they went to Bethlehem leaving their sheep behind.
When they arrived days later, they found the mother Mary, father Joseph and the promised baby just as the angel had said. Now these shepherds had a choice, they could have just observed the happenings at the stable, hung around worshiping and getting their praise on and then returned home to the fields. After all, they had busy jobs with a flock of hungry, needy sheep to feed and care for. Instead of going home and keeping what they had witnessed to themselves, these transformed shepherds set out across the land to "spread the word [rumor] concerning what had been told to them about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:17 NIV)."
Today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this rumored birth of Christ Jesus, the savior for all humankind, which the shepherds spread thousands of years ago, is still being spread around the world on every known continent by Christians everywhere. Perhaps you too are a believer today because somebody told somebody who told somebody, who told somebody, and that somebody told you about the Good News that a Savior called Christ Jesus was born into the world to save us from ours sins. The question now is, "Who have you told?"

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas miracle: When death took a detour

Miracle - A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.— Webster's dictionary

Not only do I believe in miracles, I expect them to occur in my life in answer to my prayers. Although we don't hear about divine miracles as often nowadays (probably because bad news pushes them off the front page) they do still happen. I know because I was the recipient of a divine miracle on Christmas Day. The following is a true account of my miracle and the events as they occurred that night.

In December 2002, I had been caring for my 83 year old mother throughout her 22 year battle with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By far, that year had been the toughest for mother and me. MS had robbed her of the ability to speak and had made eating and swallowing difficult. At the same time, she started having seizures, which gradually became more persistent, progressive, unrelenting and eventually, life-threatening. As a result, mother was hospitalized and given high doses of phenobarbital to quell the seizure activity. We left the hospital 12 days later, just three days before Christmas.

Even though mother couldn't speak, her eyes told me that she was glad to be back home. We both were. After I made her comfortable in bed and checked her feeding tube, I went to bed exhausted. Next morning, the home care nurse came by to check mother's vital signs. That morning, mother seemed oddly detached from the goings on around her. I noticed that she was focused intently on the bedroom window across the room.

After the nurse left, I bathed, dressed, and transferred mother to her wheelchair. She was happy to be out of bed after being in the hospital for so long. We may have lost some ground in our fight against MS during this latest exacerbation, but I told mother that we were not going to let MS get the better of us. We were in this fight together to the end. Sometime later that same afternoon, mother closed her eyes and slipped quietly into a coma. It was Christmas Eve.

For sure, things were not looking good at that point. Nonetheless, I continued to hope that mother would pull through as she had done so often in the past. Taking her back to the hospital was not an option, so I called my sister, and waited for her to come. During the long hours we were alone, I held mother's hand and talked to her. I believed that even in her comatose state, she could still hear me.

Later that evening, my sister joined me in a bedside vigil for our mother. We stood watch as imminent death seemed poised to take our mother from us. I don't remember why now, but for some reason, I needed something from the drugstore. My sister volunteered to go. It was after midnight when she left for the 24-hour pharmacy a few blocks away. It seemed like she was gone for a long time. I wondered if she was somewhere crying? I looked out the window, it was snowing. It was Christmas Day.

Returning to mother's bedside, I reached in to hold her hand. I was startled by how cold her skin had become, like the life blood had suddenly drained out of her. I checked to see if she was still breathing, and she was, but just barely. I hurried to the other side of the bed where hung her 1,000 ml drainage bag. It should have been full since she was still taking in fluids through the feeding tube. Instead, it was empty except for a reddish-brown residue at the bottom. My immediate thought went to her kidneys—could they be shutting down? For the first time, I allowed myself to entertain the real possibility that mother was slipping away. In desperation, I cried aloud,
Mom, it's Christmas Day. Please don't die on Christmas.
As I leaned over mother's bed, I got a sudden urge to use the bathroom. When I returned moments later, I grasped mother's hand again, but something was different. She felt noticeably warmer. Surprised by this, I began feeling for her arms, her legs, her feet, her forehead—her entire body was feverishly hot. I went quickly to the other side of the bed to check her drainage bag. It was filled to its 1000 ml capacity with pale, yellow urine after having been empty only moments before.

Seeing this, I knew without doubt that it was God's doing. God had heard my cry and performed a miracle stopping death in its tracks.
Only God can make death take a detour. Knowing mother, I can only imagine that a negotiation took place just outside Heaven's gates between mom and God early that Christmas morning. I can imagine mother holding up one finger, and pleading with God,
Please God, can I go back for one more day? That's my daughter.
Mom died, but not on Christmas Day. She died the day after on December 26 sometime around 1:00 pm. My sister and I were together when mother breathed her last. This might have been the end of the story were it not for Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, life doesn't end at the grave. Who everbelieves in Christ is assured of eternal life. I can't wait to see mother again to find out what really happened on that fateful Christmas Day.
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. John 3:16 CEV