Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hindsight in the Future

Hindsight in the Future
By Brenda Black

Mamas have eyes in the back of their heads. What kid has not learned that the hard way. A mom's intuitive abilities are real, even if a bit exaggerated, so why not name a month after them instead of a mythical deity. Early Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and guardian of doors and entrances. Janus sported two faces affording the ability to simultaneously look back while seeing forward. Some ancient Roman most certainly based the divine character on his mother.

Regardless of the real or imagined insight and foresight of moms and gods, the uncanny knack for looking back while looking forward is a trait we might all aspire to acquire. Consider what mistakes we could eliminate if we looked back for a better view ahead.

The top ten New Year's Resolutions from a survey of 300,000 responses are posted on Gary Ryan Blair's site GoalsGuy.com . Blair believes “that a single resolution can positively and profoundly create lasting change in a person's life and make the world a better place.” Let's see if some of the top ten wield such power.

Number 1 – Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape. Researchers in Britain have carried out a study and found that obesity is more dangerous than smoking as it can cut life expectancy by as much as 13 years. If you could look ahead and know your length of days on earth, what would you do to add 13 more healthy years?

"We may only put on a bit of weight a day but there are 365 days in the year," according to lead researcher Professor David King. Prof King, the British government's Chief Scientific Adviser, and his team of 250 scientists published their study in a report, titled “Foresight”.

Will your weight loss make the world a better place? That depends on what you bring to the world in those additional 13 years! Leave the bad habits behind and live lighter in 2009.

We'll combine Numbers 2 and 3 – Stick to a Budget and Debt Reduction. Crash of 2008 ring any New Year bells! If we have half a brain, we are all looking back at waste and strategizing for wiser money management in the upcoming year. As the headlines have reported for weeks on end, how you manage your dollars and cents can affect the entire modern world! Wake up to worldliness and waste and live smarter than you did in 2008.

I love Numbers 8 and 9 – Learn Something New and Volunteer and Help Others. “People throughout the world are realizing that a strong resolve to lifelong learning is more than just education and training beyond formal schooling. A lifelong learning framework encompasses learning throughout the life cycle, from cradle to grave and in different learning environments, formal, non-formal and informal,” says Blair.

The world is our classroom and access to understanding just about anything under the sun is within easy reach thanks to technology. When you look back on what you know, will you venture to add wisdom and new information to keep your mind strong in 2009. I hope so.

An honest look at our own personal history will reveal the truth about our destiny. Are we self or servant driven. Are we gluttonous and greedy or disciplined. Are we eager to stretch our minds and narrow our waists, tighten our budget and pay off our debts. Any attempt to be a better person makes the world a better place. But choosing to help others guarantees a resolution success because it is the best help you can give yourself. Mama probably already told you that.

2009 is the time to meet goals for the greater good. My utmost goal is to look back a year from now and see how far I've come and know I made a difference with the first of my extra 13 years. May the Lord bless your New Year's Resolutions as well!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Faith Debate
by Brenda Black

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who live by faith and those who live by sight. Before placing judgement, remember Christ contended that it is more blessed to believe without seeing, but to be more blessed means the “show me” crowd must be blessed as well. Let's face it – both types are necessary and provide balance. Mary and Elizabeth from the Gospel of Luke are perfect examples of blind-believing faith and sight-seeing faith that demonstrate God's joy for each.

Meet Mary – a humble, young teen who knew very little about normal pregnancy and even less about the supernatural kind. It strikes me that Mary didn't deny what the angel Gabriel told her, she just wanted to know “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Young, humble, and inquisitive. Sounds like a teen to me. And when she received ample explanation - radically unusual, absolutely miraculous, completely foreign to her understanding – she accepted it without further question.

Enter Elizabeth - an older, wiser woman already in the midst of one miracle. She's an elderly, barren woman six months pregnant. “When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:41-42) Then she asks her own nagging question - “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 43)

Elizabeth's tangible encounter confirms what Mary already has accepted in innocent faith. Elizabeth is blessed because of her in-sight. Mary is blessed because of her fore-sight. “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” (vs 44-45)

Two perspectives intertwined to tell the greatest story in history. One from the outside, looking in and seeing God's hand, feeling his Spirit and being blessed. The other in the midst of the miracle, trusting God's purpose, expecting his Spirit and being blessed. The best part of the whole picture is that they bless one another!

For the practical who need proof, there is plenty of it in this universe. And we are blessed that they continue to dig for the evidence and render documentation that points to divine creation and intervention. For the dreamers and ponderers who couldn't care less if there is an ounce of tangible proof, we are blessed for their joyous abandonment to follow their hearts instead of their heads and demonstrate incredible living faith.

There is probably a little bit of both in each of us if we look closely. At times we need to see the data for ourselves. Other days, we simply accept it with grace.

It is one day past Christmas. The pageants and carols and packages and symbols will soon fade into memories or disappear into storage boxes. What will you do with the evidence of Christ's miraculous birth once again remembered this December? How will you look ahead with your heart and anticipate his presence in the new year? May I suggest that you go forward with your eyes wide open, watching for confirmation of Immanuel. Proceed with your eyes shut, trusting in a God who is with us even when we cannot see his face or touch his hand. We are blessed because whether we see or simply believe, we can feel his Spirit and leap for joy that we have the gift of faith!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Give Versus Get

Give Versus Get
By Brenda Black

He arrived at the back door bearing a small cardboard box. Snow plastered his jacket as he patiently stood in the cold while I fumbled with a stubborn lock. He seemed unaffected by the shocking blustering wind that bit at his back. Kind brown eyes and a genuine smile framed an ever reddening nose and all he said was Merry Christmas.

I received my unexpected gift on a dark winter night. A stranger delivered it across miles of blacktop and winding gravel roads. As I returned to a hot supper in a cozy house, he still had miles to go and numerous stops to make before ever seeing the lights of home. Sure, it's his job and a sense of duty may render the package's arrival. But the courier's gracious patience says he takes pleasure in bringing good news to the people on his route.

I'll admit, special gifts are fun to receive, but joy lingers longer when we become the bearer. Quite possibly, the uniformed trucker has learned like the prophet Isaiah, the privilege of sharing encouragement.

“The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn...” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Most of the time, prophets have the doleful duty to administer warnings of pending doom. Isaiah must have been thrilled for the contrasting departure! In fact he tells us of his elation.

“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Ish. 61:10-11)

The question remains: Is it more blessed to give than receive? Decide for yourself. Receive a gift and think affectionately of the giver - Versus - Give hope to the poor and feel empathy. Bind up the brokenhearted and feel whole. Proclaim freedom for the frightened captives and feel unspeakable peace. Comfort those who grieve and feel purpose.

This time of year, we dwell on material goods that demonstrate meaningful emotions. All that bowing and bestowing is par for the festivities, but beyond the bags and boxes this Christmas, we can give a gift that truly makes a difference. While you sit down and fill out the name tag for gleaming packages and stocking stuffers, stand in the gap and lift up others in prayer before the Provider and Healer and Savior. Paul instructed Timothy to do likewise.

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Christmas is the perfect season for sentimentality. It is a time when tangible evidence reveals intimate thoughts. The traditional exchange of gifts is an example of generosity and conveys appreciation or commitment. More importantly, Christmas giving models Christ.

The Savior of the World came as a gift-giver. He arrived on a dark cold night and warmed hearts with His presence. Across eternity, from unseen heavens, a lowly stranger delivered a message of hope and salvation. He was and is Good News. He imparted sincerity, touched lives, and graciously gave of his life to fulfill a covenant.

In Him we are both blessed to receive and give. For when we share the miracle of a Messiah by giving His love to others, we receive the blessing. Give the greatest gift – the hope of heaven, the love of the Lord, the promise of forgiveness. And get the warmest feeling on earth. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Patience Pays Great Dividends

I do not have to imagine any longer. I do not have to wait and wonder. I will not be worried because my beautiful pet is home safely! The joy and relief permeates the air as much as the smell of wet dog hair.

And once again, I know God hears our prayers. Why should I be downcast ever, when whatever the outcome, the Lord knows best. And sometimes he surprises me by granting exactly that for which I prayed. Hope is renewed for the marvelous things He has yet in store for those who wait on Him in awe and wonder.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Patient Hope

Patient Hope
By Brenda Black

I imagine the velvety feel of her black ears as I stare into penetrating warm, brown eyes in a picture of our black lab. I hear her seldom, one syllable bark reserved only for a stranger, or cat that gets too close to her feed pan. I see her heavy tail thumping rapidly and two front feet prancing when I call her “My pretty girl.” It's all a memory since I haven't seen her for a week now.

She disappeared last Sunday roaming unknown territory. We've searched and called and canvassed the area to no avail. The Scriptures say “Hope deferred makes the heart sick...” (Proverbs 13:12a). I truly believe it. Every day that I fix binoculars on the miles of open pasture, prairie and wooded acres in hopes of spying our pet, my heart weighs heavier and my hope wanes.

Then, I have to wonder, is it hope I've lost or patience I lack. And if I still hope for things not yet seen, but don't have the patience to wait for its appearing, I'm sure to miss many miraculously ordained events.

“Patience is the best remedy for every trouble,” says Roman comic dramatist Titus Maccius Plautus. Saint Augustine adds, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”

These philosophers tell you of Patience' virtues, but I think Helen Keller better conveys how we come to learn and adopt a patient personality. “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”

In the trial and in the sadness, we have no choice but to wait for better days. When answers come slowly to questions that gnaw through our brains, we can only wait.
Hope and patience. Patient hope. Hopeful patience. Is one possible without the other. The book of Lamentations ties them closely together.

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

“It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.

“To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land, to deny a man his rights before the Most High, to deprive a man of justice – would not the Lord see such things? Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:19-38)

Sometimes life is sad and often it is hard. But, as Helen Keller taught, the absence of joy at times can be our closest encounter with the fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul told the Romans:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of child birth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:22-25)

From missing pets to a mansion in paradise, patient hope profits me best.

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Brenda's Beginning Blog

Hello! Welcome to Brenda's Blog. I look forward to hearing your comments on my columns and insights on all sorts of topics we'll discuss. I have only one important requests for all posts. Absolutely, no profanity. Let's keep it clean and keep it constructive! My desire is to encourage and bless.
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