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Wednesday
Dec072016

Created for Christmas Joy

In this Christmas UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson answers the criticism that Christians make too much of Christmas.

Some Christians are almost apologetic about enjoying Christmas, but they shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy this special celebration.

Christians were created for Christmas joy!

Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the festivities, shopping for gifts, and all the activities that layer stresses and smiles into one jumble of emotions.

There’s no question all the holiday hoopla can be fun, but the Christian’s truest joy is found in Christ, not in Christmas. Joy is based on who Jesus is and what He has done.

Still . . .

I love the wonder of Christmas I see reflected in the faces of young children; but the wonder of Christmas is not just for children.

Adults must never forget the wonder and joy that came on Jesus’ birthday. It’s not something we should ever get used to.

Think of the spectacle of that first Christmas that brought such “great joy” (Luke 2:10, 18).

In God’s timing, the Christ-child—the promised and long-awaited Messiah—broke into history.

John said the Word “became flesh” (John 1:14); Luke said our “Savior” and “Lord” was born (Luke 2:11); and Matthew described Jesus as Immanuel, "God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

At Jesus’ birth, the Father remembered us with love and grace. Peter says Jesus came to rescue us and “bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The joy of Christmas includes a message of reconciliation!

Consider how that miraculous night changed everything. God did not forget His people. God kept His promises.

What a wonder!

In a riches-to-rags story of love and sacrifice, Jesus came to be a servant, and to seek and save the lost” (Matthew 20:28; 1:21; Luke 19:10). Don’t water that down. Don’t get so used to the word “Savior” you forget what it means.

Without a Savior, we would have no reason for hope. We would fear judgment and fear the future.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told the shepherds, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy….” (Luke 2:10). God knows fear can neutralize joy. And He never created us for fear.

When Jesus was born, God’s people felt deep fears about their future under the tyrant, King Herod. But God’s message to them through the angel was, “Don’t be afraid. Your Savior, your Messiah, has come!”

And the Father's message to us today is STILL:

"Don't be afraid. Let go of all your fears.

Give them to Me. Let Me give you My joy instead ... real joy ... joy in Christ!"

This babe who was born became our dying Savior, and is our risen Lord. God is our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). In Christ, we can shout with joy, joining in chorus with the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14).

We were created for this!

We were made—as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says (answer to question #1)—“to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

The wonder of Christmas is a special opportunity to express that joy.

The Word of God can teach us how to glorify and enjoy Him more and better. But so can our Christmas hymns.

“Shepherds, why this Jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong?

What the gladsome tidings be Which inspire your heavenly song?

Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing;

Come adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.”

(“Angels, We Have Heard on High”)

The truth is, our Christmas celebrations are commemorations of joy that lead to adoration and worship.

What can you do during this holiday season to consider the word “Savior” and join the angel chorus for God’s good gift?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Heartsand a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay

Tuesday
Dec062016

7 Ways to Cope with Holiday Dessert Buffets

Danna Demetre is a health coach and wellness mentor who encourages women to discover the path to freedom in lasting weight loss and health. In this Health UPGRADE—which is longer than usual, but so needed—she shares the need for a balanced eating lifestyle and ways to cope during the fat-and-sugar-laden holiday season.

"Hundreds of years ago, people had no choice but to eat food the way God created it," Danna says. "Chocolate chip cookies and corn chips weren't on His list, and the greatest extravagance probably was the occasional feast on a fatted calf."

Actually, the fatted calf sounds pretty good to me (Dawn) right now, but I need help with the Christmas fatted fudge! The truth is, I want to glorify God even in my eating (1 Corinthians 10:31), and I know He promises to "provide a way out" when we are tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13b), so I appreciate Danna offering some "ways" the Lord might use, if we are prepared to pay attention and be proactive.

Danna continues . . .

In days past, the average person burned thousands of calories each day just surviving. Today, our fingers, using all our high-tech conveniences, get more exercise than our feet.

Now, I am not a nutritional perfectionist, although I could teach you how to be one. I just don't believe it is necessary to throw every single empty calorie out of your diet.

I have my own weaknesses. I simply love my Starbucks decaf latte with one "pump" of mocha, which I enjoy several times a week. And a small taste of something sweet after a meal is another indulgence I satisfy on occasion as well.

The key to good health and effective weight management is the frequency and amount of the compromises you allow in your daily diet.

I believe it is possible to nourish your body for excellent health and still enjoy food for pure pleasure, if done in moderation. It is a matter of balance. Try to eat as much natural food as you can as frequently as possible.

If you could actually see what is happening inside your body when you eat too much sugar, white flour and saturated fat, you would be shocked!

We need to retrain our minds and taste buds to crave and enjoy natural foods more than all the decadent snacks we have come to love.

It's pretty simple to eat right. Most of us just need to get back to the basics.

You know, all the stuff your mom used to tell you, like "Eat your friends and veggies. Drink lots of water. Go easy on the junk food."

I love what Dr. James Balch says in his book, The Super Antioxidants:

"When God created humans, He also provided all the nutrients we needed to maintain a healthy body. He did not hide those nutrients from us, and He didn't package them separately and write a book to explain exactly how each one functions. He simply put an abundance of nutrients in the foods that we would eat."

I couldn't agree more. Just take some time to ponder all the variety of foods God has created.

That doesn't mean that we can never enjoy a decadent sugary treat or calorie-laden favorite food now and then.

During the holidays, we get bombarded by lots of empty calories almost daily, and sometimes we just give up and give in until January. That's a really dangerous strategy when you realize that many women gain close to five pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

So what can you do?

Here are 7 tips to avoid holiday weight gain.

1. Put on your bathing suit once a week during the holiday season and look in a full-length mirror.

I'm not kidding! Something about an honest reality check helps us avoid the denial that is so easy during the winter months when we're wearing heavier clothes and pretending that the extra goodies aren't being layered onto our thighs and tummies.

2. Get daily exercise.

You already know that. However, many women get so busy this time of year that they exercise less. If you added 4,000 steps per day to your activity, you can actually burn off more than 20 pounds of fat in one year.

3. Give yourself an early Christmas present and get a FitBit or other form of activity monitor.

Make it your goal to reach at least 10,000 steps per day! Wear it at the mall while you're Christmas shopping and get motivated to grab that parking space way out in the "back 40."

4. Always take a healthy treat or snack to every party or activity.

Ensure there is something you can nosh on that is satisfying and not too fattening. One of my favorites is Nearly Naked Popcornopolis Popcorn made with Coconut Oil and Sea Salt at only 130 calories for three cups.

5. Skip the eggnog and sweet drinks and opt for a sparkling cranberry drink.

It can actually boost your metabolism! You can find the one-minute recipe here.

6. Be intentional with your indulgences.

Consider every decadent piece of fudge, small shortbread cookies, or various fat-laden snacks as about 100 calories each.

Ten indulgences add up to about 1,000 calories. (No wonder we gain weight so fast this time of year!) So choose the very best from all the good and savor them slowly!

7. Practice a 'Delay Strategy" when faced with that decadent buffet table or plates overflowing with goodies.

The moment you are tempted to grab a morsel, make a decision to wait at least 10 minutes. If you still want it after the delay, go for it. Then practice another 10-minute delay before you sneak another treat. Maybe try for 20 minutes during a longer party or gathering.

During your "delay," it is really helpful to step as far away from the treats as possible.

Those who hover near the goodies usually eat more!

Did someone say healthy chocolate?

Did you know that coconut oil is not only packed with tons of nutrients that feed your body and brain, but also is a very unique fat that is immediately used by the brain and liver, and therefore does not get stored as fat if you eat too many calories? Now, that is my kind of fat!

Here is a link to the Ageless Woman "Chocolate Bliss Truffle" recipe and video from Danna and her business partner, Robyn.

(Note: Danna says you can serve them right out of the freezer, or, if they have to sit out a while, set them on a plate or dish on top of a shallow container of ice.)

The holidays are going to be full of temptations, but if you're intentional in how you choose to indulge, you don't need to gain weight this year. I highly recommend choosing one week right after Thanksgiving to remove all grain and sugar from your diet as a pre-holiday jumpstart. It will help you drop a pound or two of fat—shed excess water weight—and give a great sense of well-being that may keep you motivated through December.

No matter how many ounces or pounds you gain or lose this holiday, I wish you the most blessed and healthy celebration of Christ's birth.

Danna Demetre is a former registered nurse and fitness professional with over 30 years' experience coaching others toward healthier lifestyles. A popular conference speaker, Danna has authored several books, including Scale Down, What Happened to My Life, and The Ageless Woman Jumpstart Diet. She and her business partner, Robyn Thomson, produce weekly videos and podcasts on their website, Ageless Woman Living. You can also learn more about Danna's speaking ministry at DannaDemetre.com.

Graphic of tarts and hot chocolate, courtesy of Pixabay.

Thursday
Dec012016

Building on the Memories

Cynthia Ruchti's novels and novellas brim with hope, and in this Christmas UPGRADE, she writes of the hope we can build into our lives as we "reclaim" the past for a brighter future.

Cynthia asks, “How can we knock off the barnacle-like debris and use what once was ugly or hurtful to build new, God-honoring, family-preserving memories?”

This is one of the most beautiful concepts the Lord has taught me (Dawn) through the years, and Cynthia expresses it in a hope-filled way. Someday, the Lord will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), and we often see His hand of restoration at work today.

Cynthia continues . . .

He sat in the encroaching cold, the collar of his work coat turned against the wind, his right hand wrapped around the handle of an ancient pick, his left holding a brick encrusted with crumbling mortar. The brick was one of hundreds piled next to him.

By the end of the day, he’d cleaned a dozen bricks of barnacle-like debris. By the end of another day, the pile of unusable bricks shrank measurably as the stack of “now what?” grew.

Before they’d tumbled into a messy pile, the bricks had formed the walls of a storage shed on the man’s parents’ farm. When the man was a small boy, the storage shed held garden tools, his father’s grimy work bench, and dark memories of abuse the father had renamed punishment.

The boy had dropped an egg on the way from the chicken coop to the house. An endless round of wallops with his father’s leather strap.

The boy left his jacket at school. More welts.

The boy lingered too long at a friend’s house. The cost was a night alone in the locked shed—no lights, no food, no blanket.

As the barnacles of unkindness and cruelty fell away now with each tap of the pick, the memories crumbled, no longer holding power over him. He owned the house now. The brick storage shed had been torn down.

He was paving the walkway through the garden to the house with the bricks that had once represented pain.

When finished, the project drew tears, not because of the once solid memories, but because of the beauty of a firm, well-lit, soul-pleasing path.

That’s what restoration experts do—take the crumbling, useless, broken, tired, ugly, rotted elements of a home or a life and remake them to create either a better version of what once was, or something entirely new. Like walls of an emotional prison turned into a pathway to freedom.

It wasn’t until I was well into writing Restoring Christmas—a book with the restoration of an old fieldstone farmhouse as its settingthat the full impact of the connection struck me.

Christmas and restoration. Synonymous in so many ways.

  • Jesus came to restore the relationship with God that hadn’t been possible since sin entered the world.
  • The gift of God’s Son restored hope for mankind.
  • Jesus coming in human form restored our faith in God’s indescribable, unfailing-no-matter-how-long-it-takes love.

Do some Christmas memories bite into your soul like a whipping strap bites into fragile skin?

An uncle refuses to come to the holiday celebration if his brother will be there.

A grandparent’s obvious inequality in gift-giving for a favored grandchild sends a wave of discomfort through the whole family—oldest to youngest—every year?

Christmas celebration has lost its luster in light of the medical crisis the family’s facing? The memories won’t be the same in the assisted living center that now substitutes for the family home that once served as the gathering spot?

Unforgiveness is an unwelcome guest at every holiday meal?

How can we knock off the barnacle-like debris and use what once was ugly or hurtful to build new, God-honoring, family-preserving memories?

  • In some instances, the only option is to let it go—the unfairness, the inequity, the resentment. Humanly impossible? Yes. But the Father sent the Son to be the restorer of relationships.
  • Old traditions that spotlight the pain of uncomfortable memories may have to be reworked to become something new. It’s not the same without Grandpa reading the Christmas story? What if the new tradition were hearing the story through the sweet voice of the youngest reader in the family? The Father sent the Son to give us a new story to tell.
  • Uncle Fred refuses to attend the family Christmas? Pray for restoration but pass the potatoes. Christmas isn’t a celebration of earth’s perfect families but of the Son who was sent to make restoration possible because anything of earth isn’t perfect.

What is an important but previously painful or uncomfortable Christmas memory that you can reclaim from the rubbish heap and watch God turn into this year’s restoration project for your family?

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in Hope through her award-winning novels, novellas, devotionals, nonfiction, and through speaking events for women and writers. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren. Her recent novel—Restoring Christmas—shows the parallel between a couple restoring a fieldstone farmhouse for a reticent homeowner and God’s restoration work on human hearts.  You can connect with her through cynthiaruchti.com or hemmedinhope.com.

Tuesday
Nov292016

Make Your Life Count: Dream God's Dreams!

Poppy Smith urges women to "go for it" when it comes to dreams, but she encourages them to seek out God's dreams for their lives first. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she offers five action steps to help us create a life that counts for the Lord.

"You have one life," Poppy says. "Make it count by following God's dreams, desires and direction for you!"

This may be a new concept to many, and it took me (Dawn) many years to understand God wants to give me the desires of my heart, but He wants to fill my heart with a desire to please Him first! (Psalm 37:4).

Poppy continues . . .

I didn’t grow up with dreams. My English parents were content with their lives and never urged my two sisters or me to aim high.

The only aim we had was to find good-looking, kind husbands who had decent incomes.  And, of course, to each have several pink-cheeked English babies.

After becoming a Christian, however, I discovered something that radically changed me.

As I grew in my knowledge of the Word I discovered that God had purposes for my life—and the lives of all who follow Him. He had plans for who I was to become, and what I was to do.

To my amazement, I found that how I lived and how I used my time and talents was NOT up to me!

Ephesians 2:10 taught me: “We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God had prepared in advance for us to do.” 

I had no idea.

Philippians 2:13 showed me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” 

Now I saw where my longings and dreams of serving Him came from. He was behind those tugs and urges to speak, write, encourage, listen and love.

Our culture urges women to dream big. Aim high. Push forward at any cost. Achieve all you can.

But, unless those dreams, desires, and direction are of God, they can amount to a wasted life.

What are God’s dreams, desires, and direction for you? 

Here are five actions to guide you in creating a life that counts for Him.

1. Value your life as significant to God

It is a gift, a treasure, an opportunity to impact your world for Him. Are you investing it or wasting it?

2. Choose to walk worthy of your calling.

Pursue God, ask for insight: what does He want to touch in your life?

3. Ask God what dream He has for you.

Is it an old dream, or a new one? What is holding you back from saying YES?

Refuse to be scared—don’t cower in fear and miss God’s power in your life. Choose to put your faith in God and move forward.

4. Trace God’s direction of your life.

Remember how He has worked in you, shaping your personality, experiences, capabilities and longings.

Whatever your age or season of life, allow Him to stretch and use you in new ways today, and tomorrow. 

5. Fill your heart and mind with Him.

Seek His face. Delight in His Word. Meditate on it, be nourished by it.

Let the Word and the Spirit touch and transform your heart and your dreams.

Another year is almost gone. As you think about next year, what dreams, desires, or Spirit-given nudges do you sense in your soul?  Don’t IGNORE them—EXPLORE them! Say YES to His will and His ways, pray for direction, and Go For It!

Poppy Smith is British, married to an American, and has lived in many countries. A former Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader with a Masters in Spiritual Formation, she is a multi-published author. Her most recent release, Go For It! Make Your Life Count for God, uses Scripture, personal stories and insightful questions, motivating readers to find God’s purpose for their lives. Poppy speaks widely, challenging audiences to make their lives count by deepening their delight in God. Learn more about her and her ministry at her website and blog.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Dollarphotoclub / Graphicstock.com.

Wednesday
Nov232016

I Can (Thanks to Jesus!)

In this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to be thankful for all the things we can do ... in Christ.

I was one of those bratty kids who stomped her feet and pouted with an obstinate, "I CAN'T!"

Mom would hear none of it. She promptly showed me how quickly I could, with a little "backside encouragement," do what she asked.

Old habits die hard. I still tend to say, "I can't," whenever the Lord asks me to do something.

God says, "Invite that woman to church."

"I can't. I'm afraid."

Or, "Teach that class."

"I can't. I'm not as smart as so-and-so."

Sometimes my "can't" really is a stubborn "won't," but most of the time it's because I think I'm not enough.

Not good enough, smart enough, young enough, connected enough. So many excuses.

You'd think I would have learned by now that God is my sufficiency in all things—especially those things HE calls me to do.

It's not that we are necessarily qualified to do anything on our own, but our competence and sufficiency come from the Lord—"It is God who makes us able to do all that we do" (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

It's amazing how scripture can cut through all the "I can't-because-I'm-not-enough" excuses.

Here is another verse that is often quoted (and seldom fully embraced):

"I can do all things," it says in Phillipians 4:3, "through Christ who strengthens me."

All things.

Through Christ.

Believing that truth frees me to choose wisely, grow strong and be faithful to all God calls me to do.

I've learned that:

1. In Christ, I can DO it.

I can do the hard things. The things I've avoided, made excuses about or feared.

I can even do the thing the enemy keeps throwing up to me as "impossible," because "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

2. In Christ, I can FACE it.

I can face my ugly past—and we all have one, from God's perspective. I can do this because God has forgiven me and made me righteous in Christ and right with God (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

I can face tough circumstances now because the Spirit of the Lord is with me (Psalm 118:6; 23:4; Matthew 28:20b).

I can face an uncertain future with hope and confidence too! (Psalm 23:6; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8; Romans 8:28). 

3. In Christ, I can OVERCOME it.

I can take heart because Jesus, who has already overcome the world (John 16:33), can help me overcome my sins and addictions. God is faithful to help me, and when I am weak, He is strong (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

By faith, I can overcome, because Jesus in me is greater than the enemy Satan and his hoard of demons (1 John 4:4; 5:4). I can CHOOSE not to be overcome by evil, but instead CHOOSE to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I am an overcomer, because I am no longer a slave to sin. God's light has shined into my darkness and changed my heart (John 1:5; Romans 6:6, 6:18; Galatians 4:7).

Why did I make this "I Can" post my Thanksgiving praise today?

I praise the Lord for all the BLESSINGS that have come into my life because of this great truth: I CAN ... in Christ! 

When have you said, "I can't"? What is God telling you today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.