Friday, 29 June 2012
The Pitfalls of Life
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The Department of Highways should hire me to be a pothole detector. If there is a hole in the road, I will find it.  Even if I see it coming and try to avoid it, I seem to have a knack for hitting it.  Fortunately, they do a much better job these days keeping the potholes filled and the roads in good shape. In fact, today they were out patching our little rural road. It held up traffic for a few extra minutes, but it’s a small price to pay for pothole-free roads.

Proverbs 22:5
In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.

Unfortunately, I don’t do much better with the pitfalls of life. For example, I will work hard to pay off a credit card debt only to turn around and charge it up again. Or I will get into the same argument with my daughter about the same thing over and over. She really knows how to push my buttons! I will lose my temper over a situation that I can do nothing about, which is just silly. I will say “yes” when asked to do something I really don’t want to do and should say “no” to. If I can’t make the right choices when I can see the pitfall I am facing, then -- have mercy -- what will I do when I don’t see it coming?

2 Corinthians 2:11
lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

A pitfall is a lightly covered and unnoticeable pit prepared as a trap for people or animals. It is an unapparent source of trouble or danger. They are hazards, lures, devices, plots, tricks, deceptions put in our way by our enemy. They appeal to our fleshly nature to draw us away from the spiritual. As the scripture says, we are not ignorant of his devices. He doesn’t have a lot of different tricks, but that’s only because the few he has work so well. We keep falling for them over and over.

Just as a good driver should be scanning the road ahead of him for possible hazards, we should always be aware of what’s going on in our lives and watching out for pitfalls. A distracted driver will hit potholes or succumb to other hazards, which can cause vehicle damage or accidents. A distracted Christian will miss opportunities to share his testimony. In fact, our ugly behavior or reaction to a situation could destroy it altogether. We have to guard our hearts and our spiritual space by keeping Christ in the forefront of everything we say or do. The saying goes that the best offense is a good defense. We need to recharge ourselves daily in the Word and in prayer. We need to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

We all encounter difficult situations along life’s road. The difference comes in how we handle them. Just because you come upon a pitfall, it doesn’t mean you have to fall in. You can go around it. Instead of losing your cool, you can remain calm and resolve things in a better way. Instead of the situation controlling us, we can control the situation, or at least our reaction to it. We can practice the self-control that God has given us. We can learn to say no and mean it. We can refuse to be drawn in to conflicts and disagreements.

Most of our roads are well marked. We have signs to tell us if there is construction ahead or a bump in the road. Signs advise us how fast to take a curve or that deer often cross the highway. We don’t have signs like that as we go through life, but there are plenty of bumps and hazards along the way. We have to keep our spiritual eyes on the road in order to avoid the pitfalls of life.

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Posted on 06/29/2012 5:38 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 22 June 2012
Lost and Found
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Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

It was one of those movies that kept me thinking for days and weeks and even months. When it came out it 1999, “The Matrix” was an exciting action thriller with new special effects that wowed audiences. It was a high tech presentation of a simple message about living free and escaping bondage. At a pivotal point early in the movie, the main character, Neo, has a choice to make. If he takes the blue pill, he will return to the only life he has known, which turns out to be a false reality created by the world’s machines that have enslaved mankind. But if he takes the red pill, he will be freed from the machines and wake up in the real world. Neo chooses red and, for the remainder of the movie and the two sequels, fights to free all mankind.

2 Corinthians 11:3
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

In the movie, after Neo takes the red pill, he wakes up to a harsh reality. He thought he had been living a regular life, but he had really been asleep in a pod and was being sucked dry by the machines of the world. He looks around and sees thousands of other similar pods with people just like him who are living a false reality with no hope of freedom. When you become a Christian, it is a similar experience. You wake up to the truth that Jesus Christ is the only one who can save us – not our works, but His grace because of what He did at the cross. You begin to recognize the false reality that a worldly viewpoint, rather than a Godly one, creates. Once you come to this knowledge, you can see the people around you who don’t know this truth. You see the darkness of the world around them. They are blinded to the truth and hear only what they want to hear.

Matthew 13:13-15
Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’

Sharing the gospel of Christ in today’s world is a challenge. As Christians, we talk about reaching out to the lost, and we understand what that means. However, the problem is that most of the people we are trying to reach don’t realize they are lost. They are living their lives -- going to work, paying their bills and taxes, having families and enjoying the many creature comforts this world has to offer. They are good people who do good things for others and believe that’s enough. If you talk to them about being lost, they look at you like you are nuts. And it’s hard to save someone who doesn’t think he needs saving.

John 8:34-36
Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

I think that most Christians forget what life was like before they were saved. Titus 3:3 reminds us that: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” We were once blind to the things of God. We were once lost. But somewhere along the way, someone took the time to tell us about Jesus. Or we saw Him in someone that we knew and yearned to have for ourselves the kind of peace and joy that they had. (Never underestimate the importance of living your Christian life before others.) We know that it is His will that none should perish, but all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

At some point in his or her life, each person has the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, like the character Neo, they have a choice to make. Our Heavenly Father didn’t create us to be obedient machines. He gave us freewill, which means we may choose to accept Him and take our place in eternity . . . or not.  It is a life-changing decision either way. After Neo starts to see the big picture and the magnitude of what is at stake, he asks his liberators, “I can’t go back, can I?” Once you know the truth, you can’t go back. In the same way, those who have come to the knowledge of Christ cannot go back. It is one thing to not know who Christ is and what He did for mankind. It is another to know this truth and turn your back on it.

Luke 4:18-19
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

We read in the Bible where Jesus healed some people who were physically blind, which was a good thing for them. But more importantly, all who follow Him are healed of their spiritual blindness. Like Him, we are to reach out to liberate the captive and the oppressed. But they aren’t necessarily sitting around in jail cells. The lost and found coexist. They are sitting next to us at work or they are in line behind us at the grocery store. Or they are sitting down next to us at the dinner table at home. And much like a lion in zoo, they don’t realize they are captives and they won’t know unless someone tells them. They might not understand when you tell them they are lost, but we can at least begin to plant the seeds. We must do our part to help the lost, but at some point, they have to want to be found.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you and give you praise. If the person who is reading this doesn’t know you, then Lord I pray in the Name of Jesus that you would open their spiritual eyes. Let them no longer be blinded by the things of this world. I pray for their salvation and freedom in You. Amen.
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Posted on 06/22/2012 9:06 PM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 15 June 2012
Put on Your Son-screen
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Last week, we visited my brother and his family in Maryland to celebrate my niece’s graduation from high school. It’s hard to believe that precious little girl has grown up and will soon be off to college. Though the long-weekend festivities were all about her, we did stop everything for a couple of hours and give our attention to her younger brother. We all watched him and his teammates win a playoff game in baseball. He played catcher, and it was déjà vu for me. It was like I was 10 years old again and watching my brother play.

The day was bright and hot, and we all huddled with our lawn chairs under the only shade tree. Fortunately, it was a big enough tree to give off a lot of shade and a nice breeze was blowing. I was on the end of the row and apparently close enough to the edge of the shade that parts of my arm and leg were not protected. After the game, I noticed several sunburned patches just on my right side.

Proverbs 22:17
Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your heart to my knowledge;

It hadn’t occurred to me that I might need some sunscreen. Sunscreen is one of those things that I know I should wear, but often forge ahead without. Sometimes I remember to take it with me when I am going to be out and about, but I still forget to put it on. Certainly, we have all been enlightened in the last decade about the importance of wearing sunscreen. We know the dangers to our health if we allow our skin to be burned. Several years ago, I lost a friend to cancer that started out as skin cancer and spread to other areas. I understand the risk and should do more to protect myself.

Sunscreen comes in a bottle or can, but it can’t do anything for you while it sits in its container. It only works when you open it up and apply it to your skin. Then it covers you and protects you from the sun’s harmful rays. However, you can’t just put in on once, because after a while it starts to fade. You have to keep applying it on a regular basis in order to get the maximum protection.

James 1:22-24
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

The same can be true about the Word of God. I would say that a majority of homes in our country have one or more Bibles in them. But how many of those are actually read on a daily basis? More importantly, how many people are reading it and actually applying what they read to their daily lives? The Bible is our life instruction manual. Ephesians 5:15-16 advises us: “Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” This is a tough world we live in today. There are more stresses and pressure than ever before. Just as we should put on our sunscreen before going out in the sun, we should study and remember the Word of God before we head out each morning to face the day. Think of it as Son-screen for your soul!

Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

It is so easy to get caught up in the things of this world. Even something as simple as participating in office gossip can leave its mark on you. Gossip is ugly, mean and not pleasing to God. But when we remember what God’s word says about loving one another (Matthew 22:39), treating each other as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12) or using our words to build each other up and not tear each other down (1 Thessalonians 5:11), we can apply it to our life and avoid these pitfalls.

If you haven’t read your Bible in a while, it’s time to wipe the dust off the cover. I know it isn’t always the easiest read, but the more you read, the more you will understand. I recommend a good study Bible with lots of notes. My favorite Bible is called, appropriately enough, Life Applications Study Bible. It helps because not only am I reading God’s Word, I am figuring out how to apply it in my life. In Acts 8, Philip comes across an Ethiopian man reading the Word and asks him if he understands it. The man says, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Once he learns who Jesus is, he understands and wants to be baptized. He immediately begins applying what he has learned. That’s why it’s nice to attend a Bible study or Sunday School class, or have a good study Bible to help us understand. And certainly, the Holy Spirit will bring understanding if you are truly seeking the Truth.

The Word of God offers us much protection from this world. Does that mean our life will be perfect? Jesus tells us in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Life will indeed bring us troubles, but if we have the Word of God hidden in our hearts, we will have what we need to get through them.

When we were teenagers, we would sunbathe every day in the summer. We listened to the radio, and on the half hour they would play a little jingle that said, “It’s time to turn, so you don’t burn.” How about you? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Are you applying His Word to your life? If not, perhaps it is time to listen to that prodding in your spirit and turn to Him. It’s not enough to say that we know that what’s in the Bible is good for us. We have to open it up and apply it to our lives. One day our time on this Earth will be up and we will go to one of two places. I hope that each of us has on our Son-screen when that day comes.

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Posted on 06/15/2012 5:35 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 8 June 2012
A Picture of Kindness
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In preparing to move, I ran across a portrait that had found its way off the wall some years back. It has prompted me to write down the memory it evokes. -- Michelle Tyler
One Saturday, as I was entertaining my children at home, I heard a knock on the door. The local Volunteer Fire Department was running their annual fundraiser. The man asked me if I had a donation that I would like to give and, in return, I would receive a free family portrait. At the time, I had nothing to give. Feeling embarrassed, I told the man I just could not help this time. Then I heard a young voice saying, “I have money, sir. I can help.” I had no idea that my oldest daughter was even there. However, she heard what the man said and decided she wanted to give her five dollars to the fire department.
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.
The fireman was touched and looked at me with surprise. As she gave him the money, I was overwhelmed with pride and love, and I began to tear up. The fireman smiled and proceeded to tell me that we now have the option of a family portrait. I was so touched by the event that had just taken place that I could not answer. After giving me the date for the portrait sitting, he left.
As we went on with our day, my thoughts kept going back to this act of kindness my daughter had displayed. At some point in the day, I had an idea. The child had given freely with no expectations. She deserved this portrait to be anything she wanted it to be. I pulled her aside and told her that this was her picture and she could make it whatever she wanted it to be. She thought about it for a while and proceeded to tell me just how she pictured it. I asked her, “Are you sure?” She said yes, she was sure. I laughed secretly at how I thought this would turn out, but this was what she wanted. 
Matthew 6:3-4
But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
When the portrait was taken and it was delivered, she proudly displayed it in her room, fixing it to the wall with a pushpin like it was a poster. It spent some time there on that wall, but as she grew it became less important to her. When it came down I put it away for a keepsake. My daughter is now grown and well on her way in life, and I am still as proud of her as I was that day. And I feel I must share this portrait with you, for without it you cannot appreciate what a precious memory this really is. Here is the portrait:
                                                            
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Posted on 06/08/2012 8:00 AM by Michelle Tyler
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Friday, 1 June 2012
Clogging in Heaven
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Revelation 21:4
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

We knew this day was coming, but it came much quicker than expected. A little denial on our part didn’t hurt either. Of course, if we had our way, it would not have come at all because of the hurt it has caused us. But that is our selfish desire, and it would have kept her here with us in pain. Instead, she is healed and home with Jesus, and I know she is clogging in heaven for Him.

She is Lesley Meadows. For the past seven years she has been my daughter’s clogging teacher. We first met Lesley when she transferred to our school to teach kindergarten. My daughter joined her kids clogging team, the West Virginia Kickers, when she was in third grade. Lesley taught them clogging and so much more. She instilled in them a love for this form of dance that spoke to their Appalachian heritage. She made it cool. She made it fun. Every Thursday afternoon, they gathered in her basement to practice. She praised, encouraged and pushed them to be the best they could be. She was a friend who listened when they needed someone. The hard work paid off and the Kickers danced at many annual events, including the Bob Evan’s Farm Festival, Symphony Sunday and Charleston’s Good Night on New Year’s Eve.

About four years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, ironically enough, in her leg. While it kept her from participating on her own women’s clogging team, it didn’t deter her from directing them or the Kickers. As long as she felt up to it, she worked with them every week. When she had to be away for weeks at a time for treatment or wasn’t feeling well, she had former clogging students or members of the adult team come in to work with the girls. Even in the last month or so when she was mostly confined to bed, she wanted to have the girls there practicing. I think she loved hearing their taps clicking on the basement floor beneath her. I think it was one of the things that helped keep her going.

Something else that kept her going was her faith. I marveled at her bright outlook and hopefulness. She praised God when she got a good report and she praised God when she didn’t. When it comes to faith, a lot of us talk a good game, but you wonder how you would do in the face of real adversity. Lesley walked the talk. Her faith was unshakeable. It came through in her conversation, as well as her many posts on Facebook and her online CaringBridge journal. One of her entries reads: “I just can't say what this journey has meant to me. Cancer is not good to have it -- is scary, stressful, bad, but there are good things that do come from this...GREAT FAITH in GOD...is one. If this touches one person it is worth it...and it has. My prayer chains have done this -- the love that is felt around me....”

A couple of years after Lesley was first diagnosed, she thought that she had beat the cancer. For a while we were able to celebrate and relish in her return to health and dance. But then it came back and it shook us all. Again, her strength amazed me. She got up to fight once more. She wrote: “So I am giving it to God and letting him worry and take the wheel on this because it is out of my hands.... Keep me in your prayers…next week. God is looking out for me through your prayers.”

Psalms 118:24
This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

There is one journal entry in particular that spoke volumes about Lesley’s faith and her outlook on life. “Please continue to pray for a treatment plan that will work...the goal is to keep going until something else comes along. I love you all my prayer warriors. I am reading a great book called "Off Script" written by Cary Schmidt. It talks about when God sends your life off script and you weren't ready for this and how you can deal with it. He has cancer also; it hits home in many places. He feels the same way I do -- you can pout and feel sorry for yourself or you can live life the best you can. I plan to live...the best I can.  People ask what they can do. . . just be my friend and pray for my kids and Tracy. I am sure there will be a time we will need help and we will call. Thank you so much for being there. Love you all, Lesley”

In today’s society, there aren’t many heroes for children or adults. Lesley was that to both. She faced every day with a smile and a positive attitude. She wrote: “Prayers have kept me here and I ask that they keep coming. She [the doctor] told me I could do whatever I feel like as long as counts are good. God came through financially as well and I praise him for letting me be able to go to MD Anderson and pay the bills. Praise to him always. Please keep praying for me. I know it has been a long time but I know that is why I am here.”  In another entry she writes: “Please keep prayers going. I praise the Lord for all he has given me during this illness. I am so lucky I have so many prayer warriors and friends. He sends people and money to help when he knows we need them and it. There are so many angels out there that really help us.” And her last entry says: “Please pray this goes away. I love all you and your prayers. I know I am here through God’s Grace.”

Lesley’s Facebook page is filling up with stories from people whose lives she touched. She was a loving wife and mother, dedicated teacher and loyal friend. She may have been my daughter’s teacher, but I also found myself learning from her. Her faith, perseverance and love for life have been an inspiration to me and many others, and it is a legacy that will live on in all of us who had the privilege of knowing her. In Psalm 149, it says “Let them praise His name with the dance”.  I know that’s exactly what she is doing. She is home and healed and clogging in Heaven.

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Posted on 06/01/2012 8:16 AM by Susan Nelson
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