Friday, 18 November 2011
Thankful Every Day
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It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night, -- Psalms 92:1-2

It seems fitting to write something about Thanksgiving this week, though I have to say that the holiday has kind of slipped up on me this year. My grandmother always told me that the older I got, the quicker time would fly by, and she was right.  My life right now revolves around the public school calendar, and to me it seems like we just started school yesterday. Here it is Thanksgiving time already and Christmas will soon be breathing down my neck. It’s all going by too fast.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because of its simplicity. It’s about family and eating a lot of good food. There are no presents or cards to buy, and it can be as small or as large a gathering as you choose to make it. It’s also a time set aside to reflect on our blessings and remember what we are thankful for and to whom we are thankful. Credit for this holiday goes to the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony, who had regular days of thanksgiving that were days of prayer. The feast that became known as the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the colony’s first successful harvest. A good harvest meant they would be able to eat during the harsh winter. It meant they could indeed live off the land. They came together as a body to thank God for His provision and blessings on them.

Psalm 107:22
And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.

The pilgrims who hosted the first Thanksgiving, with the help of their new Native American friends, had a lot to be thankful for. They were grateful to be alive. The challenges they faced in forging a new home in an untamed land are beyond what any of us can imagine. We have the picture perfect historical Thanksgiving in our minds, imprinted there by artists’ rendering of the event. The pictures show the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables, along with platters of roasted meat. They depict the pilgrims dressed in neat attire, complete with hats and belts, while the Native Americans are in deerskin clothing, with feathers in their hair. What we don’t see in these perfect replications are the trials and heartaches the people endured. Many of their loved ones had died. They had many hungry days. Too often, it is in our losses that we realize the blessings that we have. We cannot take even the smallest of them for granted.

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Today as families celebrate Thanksgiving, it has become a common practice to go around the table and have each person tell one thing he or she is thankful for. Many of my Facebook friends are updating their status each day with something they are thankful for. Like I said, the holiday snuck up on me, so I didn’t realize what everyone was doing until nearly two weeks into November, so I’ll have to remember that for next year. Five or six years ago, I asked my daughter to make me a list of the things she was thankful for, using each letter of the alphabet. (I was trying to cook and needed her out from under my feet for a while!) I loved her list, and she doesn’t know it, but I get it out and read it every year. I want to share it with you, because it’s a list that only a child could make. So here is the list, with some comments of mine thrown in.

Thankful A-Z:
Air (it makes all the rest on the list possible after all), Baby cousin, Candy, Dogs, Ears of corn, Food, Giving thanks, House, Irrigation (something we don’t often think about but it is important), Juice, Krab (I blame Spongebob for the spelling), Lakes, Melodies, Nose (it goes with Air, got to have it), Organs (I’m not sure if she meant in the body or the keyboard instrument, but both are good), People, Quilts, Rabbits, Sewing Machines, Truth, Understanding things, Viola (the stringed instrument, which she plays), Washing machines (Amen on that one, don’t want to be without it), X-rays, You (and by you, she means me, how cool is that), and Zebras.

What are you thankful for this year? What things have you gone through that have opened your eyes to the importance and the value of the people, things or experiences in your life? It has been the most difficult things that I’ve gone through, such as losing loved ones and losing all my possessions in a fire, that have taught me to appreciate life the most. I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life and take none of it for granted. I thank God for what He has brought be through and where He is taking me. It’s nice to have an annual celebration to remind us to be thankful, but we will truly be blessed when we recognize the value of being thankful every day.
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Posted on 11/18/2011 7:21 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 11 November 2011
Sing With Me
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As a teenager and young adult BC (before children), I was able to see some of the biggest names in country, rock and R&B music perform in concert. I’ve been to shows in small venues, large arenas, and outdoor settings. I’ve had seats near the front row and I’ve sat in the very top row of the nosebleed section. Some of them I traveled out of town to see, but most of the shows were here in Charleston.

Last weekend I experienced my first “Christian” concert. I haven’t been to any kind of concert for years, but when I heard that contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin was coming to Charleston, I knew I had to go. Other Christian artists have been here, but I never had a desire to go hear them. I wasn’t even sure that “Christian” and “concert” were concepts that went together. But this felt right and so I made plans to go with some of my friends from church.

With all the other concerts I have been to, I went because I wanted to see that performer or group live and in person. It was all about them. But this was a Christian concert, and for me it was about the music and not the artist. Before the show, I couldn’t tell you what Chris Tomlin looked like or anything about him personally. I had to look him up on the internet to find out anything. The draw for me was the songs. We sing a lot of his songs in church and they all glorify and praise the name of God. But I wondered how that would play out in a concert setting.

Matthew 23:12
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

My concerns were immediately put to rest after the first song. Tomlin welcomed the crowd with the usual “Thank you, fill in the blank with the city you are in” shout out. Then he let everyone know that he hadn’t come to sing for us or to us, but to God. And he didn’t want our applause, but he wanted us to sing and clap our hands for Him.  This set the tone for what would become a great evening of praise and worship. It may have been billed as a concert, but as far as I am concerned, we had church.

As I was taking it all in, I thought about the ways this “concert” was like and different from mainstream concerts. Here are some of the ways it was alike:

• The crowd was on its feet through almost the entire show.
• The show was sold out.
• There was a fog machine on stage, special lighting, and giant screens to enhance visibility.
• About midway through the show, there was a song that had the obligatory guitar, drum and keyboard solos.
• The crowd knew the songs so well that at any time, the singer could stop singing and the crowd could continue the song without missing a beat.
• Despite the many signs and announcements to the contrary, people were taking pictures and video. (That’s so much easier now with smart phones!)
• It was stuffy and hot in the room, and I felt a little faint a couple of times.
• The best song – most popular, best selling – was saved for last. In this case, it was Tomlin’s song “How Great is our God.”

I was surprised by how many of the songs I knew and that I didn’t even realize that Tomlin was the artist on some of them. Again, it was about the songs and not the singer. It was about praising God and not the performer. That was the biggest difference in this show compared to a regular concert. But there were additional differences in this show and others I’ve attended.

• I didn’t smell pot being smoked.
• No one waved a lit cigarette lighter. (But I do think there is an app for that, you smart phone people.)
• No one spilled beer on me.
• There weren’t any fist fights.
• I didn’t hear any cursing.
• There were children at the show. In fact, there were people of all ages.
• Halfway through the show, they brought out a speaker – Louie Giglio. He spoke about how all the heavens and earth and all creation sings and praises God. He used a computer tablet to create a mashup of the sounds of stars and whales singing “How Great is Our God”. That’s not something you’d see or hear at any other concert.
• There were no encores.
• You could feel the presence of God in the room.

Psalms 9:1-2
I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

What struck me the most about this show was the overwhelming feeling of unity and being with like-minded people. I was on the far left and as I looked to my right and looked up into the balcony, I saw a sea of people on their feet with their hands in the air. All had the same thing on their minds: Jesus. I didn’t see Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc. I saw the body of Christ. We are bigger and stronger than anyone realizes. The world would like us to think that we are a dying breed. We can put aside our denominational differences and come together as one in praise and worship. There are some who would prefer we bicker and fight among ourselves. What great things could we accomplish for the Lord if only we could come together in one mind and one accord?

Psalm 96:11-13
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth.

Psalm 40:3
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.

Now that I have experienced the “Christian concert,” I may be open to attending more of them. I can’t say that I have a list of “stars” that I am dying to see perform. But I would look forward to another opportunity like this one to come together with my brothers and sisters in Christ to sing and praise and worship.

“How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God.”

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Posted on 11/11/2011 8:13 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 4 November 2011
Call of Duty
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Life handed me the perfect example of what I was to write about this week. Late last night (Wednesday) my daughter told me she needed to make brownies and get a 2-liter of pop (or soda as they say up north) for her Spanish class on Friday. It sounded easy enough. I could throw a brownie mix together and have them done in no time. She could even do it herself, as she has gotten pretty good in the kitchen. Oh, if it were only that easy. Unfortunately, it had to be brownies from a specific recipe, which would require a trip to the grocery store for ingredients, as well as extra preparation time. I asked if we could just make the box mix and I got “the look.” Apparently she will get extra credit for bringing in the brownies. (Don’t even get me started on that!)

I knew we would be at church Thursday evening, which left Thursday morning the only time I could make the special brownies (read “special brownies” with a sarcastic tone as that is how I thought it). Thursday mornings I usually try to write and work on my Sunday School lesson before I have to go to work. The last thing in the world I wanted to do today was make homemade brownies from scratch. But I did it because I am her mom and she is my daughter and I love her.

2 Corinthians 9:7
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

We all have moments when we really don’t feel like doing what is expected of us or what we have obligated ourselves to do. For example, I love going to church. I don’t mind getting up early on Sunday and I look forward to being there . . . most of the time. But like anyone else, there are some days when I want to pull the covers over my head and turn off the phone. When I start to feel that way, I usually push myself to go anyway. The results can vary. Sometimes when I make myself go, I find that I am glad that I went because we have an awesome service that really touches me. Other times, the mood follows me there and I am watching the clock until I can get back home.

This is the exception, rather than the rule, for me. I love to be in church, and I love to teach and learn. I go to church because I love God and my church family. There is a certain amount of “duty” involved. I have committed to teaching Sunday School, so I need to be there every week or arrange for someone to cover if I have to be away. I have committed to being on the Praise &Worship Team, so I need to attend all the practices and be there for all services, unless I have to be out of town or it’s an emergency. But I can’t fulfill those obligations just to please the people. They are gifts and callings of God, which are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), so God expects me to use them. Whether I am teaching, singing or mopping the floors, I have to be doing it because I love God and not because I am trying to please or impress people. When those “I don’t feel like it” moments come on me, I just press through them. I do it because I love Him, just as I made the brownies because I love my daughter. But He loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to give our time and talents to Him because we love Him. However, we have our moments and sometimes we pout and grumble. As my “friend” Joyce Meyer says: “Carnal, carnal, carnal.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

To have those “I don’t feel like it” moments every now and then is pretty normal, and you can get through them. The danger comes when you feel that way all the time. You might be able to fool your friends, your family or even the pastor into thinking that everything is fine, but you will never fool God. He knows the intentions of your heart. You could be the most industrious worker in the church. You could be the first one there on Sunday and the last one to leave. But if you don’t have the right motivations and you don’t have the love of God as your inspiration, what have you accomplished?

I have heard numerous stories of men and women who have spent all their lives – 40, 50, even 60 years – in church and then one day realized that they did not have a relationship with God and weren’t saved. This was a shock to their family and friends. After all, they had faithfully attended church and been active in all church activities. Others in the church looked up to them as examples of what it meant to be good Christian men and women. But they had responded to what they saw as a call of duty with their “outer man” and had left their heart out of the process. They had committed to a certain behavior but had never committed themselves to God. They had put up a good front, but there was no substance to sustain them. Thank God that they came to this realization and asked Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. Imagine the joy they felt when their love for God lined up with their faithful actions. Imagine how effective they became. And it proves that it is never too late to give your heart to God.

Colossians 3:23-24
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

This scripture says “whatever you do”. That means anything you do, and not just church things. Whatever you do, do it for God. Let the love of Christ shine through in your words and actions. You’ll be surprised how much more you enjoy what you are doing when you approach it with the right heart. Don’t work just to please people, because you will be disappointed. He wants you to always give your best and give it cheerfully, that people may see Him in you and He will be glorified.

I didn’t want to make brownies Thursday morning, but I did it anyway. I made sure I followed the recipe carefully and did my best, and I pray that they will taste good for my daughter and her classmates. I am going to cut them and put them in a nice container for her to take to school on Friday morning.

Now I just have to keep her dad out of them.

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Posted on 11/04/2011 7:51 AM by Susan Nelson
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