Friday, 19 November 2010
Family Visits

The great thing about the holidays: we get to spend time with our family.


The bad thing about the holidays: we get to spend time with our family.


Spending time with our family is important to me and my husband. All of our family is out of state, so we spend a lot of time on the road each year going to visit. We have family in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. I come from a large extended family and my husband has a smaller family circle. He's use to just being with immediate family. I am use to being around the extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles, second cousins, third cousins, etc. Our visits are usually very enjoyable, due in large part, I think, to the fact that they are planned in advance at a time that works for all parties. In other words, the visits are on our own terms - we stay long enough to enjoy each other and not so long that we get on each other's nerves.


The holidays make family visits a little more complicated. The bigger the family, the more complicated it gets. For example, you try to get everyone together on one day. That's a tall order in itself. Some people have work conflicts. Others may (GASP) be spending the holidays with their spouse's family. I have had friends who ate two or three Thanksgiving dinners in one day just to please all the family. Others negotiate how to divide their time among family (i.e., the "every other year" rule; alternating holidays; one side gets Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day, etc.).


Some may not be able to afford to travel to visit family. They may not to get to go on the road trip, but they will certainly take a guilt trip for not being able to be there. Since I was four years old, we haven't lived in the same area as our family members. All I have known is either visiting or being visited by family during the holidays. I don't know what it would be like to have all your family living in the same general area and be able to get together without the worries of packing, putting the dog in the kennel, stopping the mail, etc. I wonder if people in that position take it for granted.


Another complication is that you want to have this picture-perfect, Hallmark-moment, Currier & Ives festive gathering where everyone laughs and smiles and gets along. The reality is not so picture perfect, and when it doesn't match our expectations we can become disappointed and disillusioned. If Uncle Joe is loud and has bad table manners as a rule, it's likely he will be that way at your beautifully decorated Thanksgiving table. Yelling at him and correcting him in front of everyone isn't going to change him ... it's just going to give everyone indigestion. And don't forget the children. We mix them in with a bunch of cousins in a sea of family cooped up inside a too warm house and we expect them to behave like little angels. I can't remember making it through a family holiday as a kid without one of us either getting a spanking for our over-activity or getting injured from playing with our cousins.


Proverbs 17:1

Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.


I am not saying don't spend the holidays with your family. But if all you do when you are together is argue and hurt each other, maybe it's time to rethink the situation. I know that I have taken a few years off from spending Thanksgiving with family. I couldn't sit through one more political argument while I was trying to enjoy my turkey and cranberry sauce. And nothing goes with pie like your grandmother asking how much weight you had gained. Even when I tried to divide my time, I felt guilty about not getting to see everyone. So, for the last several years I have cooked my own Thanksgiving dinner and anyone who wanted to come was welcome. Sometimes family would come. Sometimes we would have neighbors and friends join us. Last year, it was just the three of us. There were lots of leftovers for turkey sandwiches, but I have to admit it was too quiet and I missed having at least a little company. Somewhere between the big overcrowded gathering and just our immediate family is the happy medium.


Genesis 13:7-11

And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.


Abram used wisdom to maintain his relationship with Lot. The fact that they went their separate ways to establish their households did not change the love they had for each other. In the following chapter, Abram takes his fighting men out to rescue Lot from the four kings who pillaged Sodom and Gomorrah. Everyone in your family may not always get along, but let something or someone come against one of them!


Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."  Who couldn't use a little more peace at the family holiday dinner? Before you head off to the big family dinner this year, ask yourself what you, as a Christian, can do to make the time with family better.


Do a little advance work. Pray for your family - pray for each person and his or her needs. If it is a person you don't have the best relationship with, pray for a mending of fences and for peace. Pray for yourself, too. Pray that you will have an enjoyable time together. Nothing is impossible with God!


Lower your expectations. I don't think that picture perfect, Hallmark-moment, Currier & Ives family gathering exists anywhere except in pictures, cards and movies. People are people. We have different personalities, even if we are related. We marry or date other people with different personalities and opinions and bring them into the mix. Accept your family for who they are and love them anyway. Isn't that what Christ did for us?


Agree to disagree. I really don't know why the one side of my family chose dinner time to discuss politics and other world issues. We didn't discuss them any other time we were together. I never put in my two cents, because it would have added fuel to the fire. Just because you are family doesn't mean you will agree on everything. You may have to agree up front that certain subjects are off limits during dinner or the entire visit. In Romans 12:18, Paul advises us: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. As far as it depends on you . . . you have choices and you can set the tone.


Don't take the bait. An offense is a baited trap. Satan loves to use offenses to cause trouble. No one can hurt you the way family can. We always hurt the ones we love. Was I offended when my grandma said I was fat? You bet. It hurt my feelings. In hindsight, I see that it was the beginning of what is now her dementia. She lost control over good judgment in choosing her words and now has lost control of her memory. But I know that she loves me and I love her. Now what she says goes in one ear and out the other. If someone says something to hurt you, your first instinct is to say something hurtful back. Romans 12:17 says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone." What does it do for your Christian testimony before your unsaved family members if you are quarreling or having a temper tantrum?


Remember the reason for the season. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or a special birthday celebration or anniversary, there is a reason you have gathered as a family. Try to keep that in the forefront of your thoughts and actions. Remember why it was important for you to see your family. Take the opportunity to love them and tell them how you feel about them. Encourage one another. You never know when it is the last time you'll spend a holiday with them. Many of you have experienced that kind of loss and know what I mean. These holiday memories that you are making are important and need to be cherished.


This blog article has been a little different. Let me say for the record that I don't have an Uncle Joe and all my uncles have excellent table manners. I guess because we are heading into the holiday season, my thoughts have been for my family. I really miss my parents and grandfathers and my cousin, but I have great memories to hold on to. Our family is so big and spread out, it is impossible to give everyone the time and attention that my heart wants to show. I can't be everywhere and I can't be with all of them, but God can. We can only do what we are able to do. I'm not sure where I will physically be for the holidays, but I know my heart will be with all my family. I will be happy about spending time with the ones I am with and I will be praying for blessings and a joyous time for those I can't be with. Nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:39) and nothing can separate me from the love for my family.

Posted on 11/19/2010 6:38 AM by Susan Nelson
Friday, 12 November 2010
Over the Rainbow

Promises are always so much easier to make than they are to keep. We are held to our promises by the people we make them to.  If we can't keep our promise, we lose our credibility.  I've learned to be more careful in choosing my words when agreeing to do something. "I will try to remember to call you tomorrow." "I will do my best to get that to you today, but it may be tomorrow." The smart business person knows to under-promise and over-deliver. Get it the other way around and you have some unhappy customers.


Children love to promise you things, and I believe they mean it at the time. "I'll clean my room tomorrow, I promise!" "I promise I will never do it again." "I promise I will never ask for another thing if you will buy this for me." Learning to keep promises, and the consequences of not keeping them, is just another one of those things you learn as you grow and mature. However, even the most mature person may find he is unable to fulfill a promise. Sometimes circumstances get in the way of our best intentions.


We learn through trial and error who in our lives can keep their promises and who can't. I have people in my life that if they say they are going to do something, I know they will do whatever it takes to do it. I also have some people that I take their promises with a grain of salt and just plan on them not carrying them out. I am not judging them; I am just accepting who they are and doing what I have to do. It's less stressful that way.


Joshua 23:14

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.


God's promises, on the other hand, are a sure thing. If He said it, then He will do it. Nothing will stop Him or stand in the way. The Word of God is full of His promises and is in itself a promise. Whenever I think of God's promises, I think of the rainbow. Whenever I see a rainbow, I get so excited. I have seen some beautiful rainbows over the years, including several double rainbows. Years ago, when I was traveling through Virginia to see my brother, I saw a beautiful tall, arched rainbow in a valley that took my breath away. But there was one rainbow that I saw about a year ago that really made an impression on me.


I was sitting at a traffic light and saw a beautiful rainbow and thought how pretty it was. I noticed how clear it was and that I could make out the different colors of the spectrum. I told God "thank you" for letting me see it. Then He spoke something into me. He reminded me that the rainbow represented a promise that is still in effect today. It means the same to us today that it did to Noah and his family on the day it first appeared.


Genesis 9:12-16

And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."


God has kept this promise for thousands and thousands of years and will continue to keep it. Sometimes we can't keep a promise for five minutes! When I saw the rainbow as a symbol of God's promises instead of just a beautiful thing of nature created by God, I was filled with a rush of excitement and faith. Each time a rainbow appears, God remembers the promise He made that never again will flood waters come "to destroy all life." I don't know about you, but I am certainly glad for that promise!


This was a faith-building revelation for me. It reminded me and affirmed for me that all of God's promises are real and working for me. Sometimes I get impatient waiting on God, and sometimes things don't happen the way I thought or wanted them to happen, but I know that I can count on God doing what He says He will do. Abraham had that kind of faith when God told him that he and Sarah would be parents in their old age.


Romans 4:18-25

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.


Jesus is both the fulfillment of a promise and the symbol of another. Throughout the Old Testament we have prophecies and promises of the Messiah. Those were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. Even those closest to Jesus didn't realize fully who He was until after the resurrection. Through His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the promise of salvation and eternal life for those who believe.  Every kid who has ever been in Sunday school or vacation bible school has learned John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Jesus is God's promise to us. But Jesus is not just a symbol or a reminder. He is our High Priest who stands before God on our behalf for the cleansing of our sins.


Hebrews 7:20-22

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

   "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever.'"

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.


A covenant with God is unbreakable by God. Psalm 111 says that God will remember his covenant forever. We may not always live up to our end of the deal, but God always lives up to his. Jesus is the guarantor of the new covenant. When God looks down from heaven and sees the rainbow, He remembers that He will never again destroy life with flood waters. When God looks at our hearts and lives and sees the blood of Jesus applied, He sees a life that will live forever with Him and not be destroyed in the lake of fire. Christ is the fulfillment of all of God's promises.


2 Corinthians 1:20

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.


I don't look at rainbows the same way anymore. I still get very excited and am awed by their beauty. Just like in the song from "The Wizard of Oz", I think about that place "somewhere over the rainbow" where "troubles melt like lemon drops." God has given us the promise of heaven, where He will dry our tears and there will be no more death, sorrow, or pain. But we have to live up to our end of the covenant. We have to believe and accept Jesus as our Savior and walk in the ways of God. He knew we would have a hard time with keeping promises and that we would sin. That's why He sent us Jesus.


1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


We sing a song about standing on the promises of God. His promises are the foundation of our faith. We can be sure-footed when we stand on them. Our faith in them will be credited as righteousness to us. We can be sure that those promises will be fulfilled. God has promised us victory over all things, including death. All we have to do is step out in faith and stand on those promises.

Posted on 11/12/2010 6:25 AM by Susan Nelson
Friday, 5 November 2010
Self Worth Balance

About every other week I work in the nursery at church, either in the morning or the evening service. Working the evening service is nice when you've had a busy week. The kids are usually a little more tired (like me) and ready to settle in for the evening. We usually put on a movie and have a snack and get comfortable.


Last week's movie was a Veggie Tales cartoon called "A Snoodle's Tale."  I love Veggie Tales, but I had not seen this particular story. A young snoodle named Snoodle Doo is "born" on the fourth Tuesday. He discovers he has wings and has been given a backpack filled with art supplies and a kazoo. He guesses that he must have artistic and musical talent and makes his first efforts with both. Older snoodles who see his first artwork and hear his first attempts at music laugh and criticize him. Like a baby bird, he tries out his wings for the first time and doesn't get far. The older snoodles again laugh and ridicule his effort. They even draw pictures of his failures and put them in his backpack for future reference in case he forgets how bad he is at these things.


The young snoodle feels the pain of their rejection, counts himself a failure and leaves the community. He can't get past the things that they said about him. Their words and their view of his abilities weigh him down and he can barely move forward. Then he sees the finches flying over Mt. Glinches and decides to climb the mountain. At the top, he discovers a cave which turns out to be the home of the snoodles' Creator. After Snoodle Doo shares his story, the Creator takes away the mean-spirited pictures the older snoodles had drawn and throws them in the fire. He shows the young snoodle a picture of how He sees him. In the Creator's picture, Snoodle Doo is soaring in the sky and using the talents the Creator has given him. An encouraged Snoodle Doo tries out his wings again. He begins to fly and soar and returns back to Snoodleburg with a new confidence.


The story was subtitled "a lesson in self worth."  Self worth is one of those areas where you want to maintain a healthy balance.  If you have too much self worth, you can become conceited, judgmental and overconfident. You run the risk of thinking you don't need anyone - including God. Too little self worth can be equally as bad. You can become depressed, defeated and unsure of yourself. You might start to believe that you aren't worthy of anyone's love - including God's. Somehow we have to walk in that middle ground where we are both confident in who we are in God's eyes and yet humble enough to know that we can't do anything without Him. It can be pretty tricky.


Hebrews 3:13

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.


Think about your self worth as a bank account. When we have encouragement and positive interactions with others, it builds up our account. It is invested in our lives and we can invest it in others by being encouragers, as well. In doing, so we maintain a healthy balance in our account.


Then one day, someone comes along who is not so encouraging or we have a negative encounter. If we are not careful, we can let that wipe out our balance and perhaps even overdraw our account. It knocks our feet out from under us. It takes our breath. Like the little snoodle, it weighs heavy on our hearts. The hurt immobilizes us. We can't get over it and we can't move on.  We forget who we are, and instead, we believe someone else's report. Why is it if 10 people saying we are doing great and one person thinks we shouldn't have bothered getting out of bed that day, we listen to that one person?


Job 20:2-3

"My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer because I am greatly disturbed. I hear a rebuke that dishonors me, and my understanding inspires me to reply.


Our first reaction to someone's harsh words is to return fire. That usually doesn't work out very well. If you add fuel to a fire, you get a bigger fire. Learning how to respond in situations where someone is being negative or confrontational isn't easy. It takes time and a growing maturity. But if you have built your self worth and invested it properly, nothing anyone says can take it away from you.


We take on the labels that other people give us instead of handing them back and saying, "no thank you, that's not who I am." I see this often among the kids in our after school program. Child A comes to me and says that Child B called him a liar. I ask Child A if he lied, and he says that he didn't. I tell Child A that if he didn't tell a lie, then he isn't a liar, regardless of what Child B says. Then we go find Child B and the two of them talk things out. Five minutes later they are playing together like nothing ever happened. If it were always that easy with grown-ups!


James 3:9-10

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.


It was no coincident that I watched that particular Veggie Tales show that day. I had spent the previous several days nursing the wounds of a verbal confrontation. Through a little snoodle's tale, God reminded me of how He sees me. He reminded me to check my self-worth balance and see all the blessings that were deposited there. I began to recall scriptures about how no weapon formed against me shall prosper, that I am the head and not the tail and that nothing can separate me from the love of God. I started to feel better and stronger.


As long as there are people, there is going to be conflict. There are going to be people who hit below the belt with personal attacks, name calling and maligning of character. (Sounds like the writers of this year's political ads, doesn't it?) However, when we respond in a Godly manner, we can protect our self-worth and bring peace to the situation. It is way harder than it sounds. It means doing things like forgiving those who hurt us. It means praying for them and doing good for them. That's usually the last thing on our minds when someone is in our face and telling us off. Remain calm, and remember who you are in God. Remember how He sees you. You are worth everything to Him. After all, He gave His only Son -- that through His death and resurrection you may have eternal life. Deposit that in your account!

Posted on 11/05/2010 6:31 AM by Susan Nelson
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