Monday, December 21, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life



It's a Wonderful Life
By Brenda Black

On one day, two men entered my life and I was singularly changed by their impact. The first appeared to be impoverished. He wore a ragged wool coat and a soiled grey shirt and tattered jeans. Thick, scratched and smudged glasses hugged his weathered cheeks as if they feared falling from his face. The second stranger approached me with a quick step that matched his snappy dress. He was as clever and articulate as the former was fumbling and repetitive. I met two men, I heard one message from God.

Thousands of people passed by the promotional booth I manned. Hundreds stopped to purchase a product or ask me questions. I saw rich, plain, tan and toned, flabby, friendly, grumpy and fancy folks. But those two – well, I remember their faces.

With stammering speech he shared his dream with me, the first stranger. He pulled from his coat pocket a roll of cherished papers. After he perused the clean white pages of my brand new book, he unfurled his faded and stained manuscript and told me he was a writer as well. I read some of his poems carefully crafted by a manual typewriter; I couldn't tell how many years prior. He relished my genuine interest. He shared his hopes for publishing them one day and tapped his rough, dirty finger against the page, while he emphasized what God had taught when he first praised the Lord with his clever prose.

I couldn't tell whether his plans were reality or a dream never conceived. Some of his claims seemed far-fetched. He told me one of his poems hangs in the nation's capitol and no president dares take it off the wall. I doubted that he had the means to complete his apparently long-awaited pursuit. But he never knew my reservations. I patiently listened while he shared his creative process. I grasped his hand and shook it heartily, telling him it was my pleasure to visit with him and meet such an accomplished author. I meant it. He smiled widely, revealing tarnished teeth. With a tear in his eye, he thanked me profusely for talking to him like I had done some remarkable feat.

I nearly cried, thinking after he departed, that maybe no one acknowledges him on any given day. He might feel invisible to the masses that never make eye contact with him or read his works, if indeed they are his. But for a moment, I had the pleasure of being my Lord's hands and heart and I saw this man as he wanted to be known, as a fellow writer full of promise and talent.

In a far briefer moment, the small, neatly attired second stranger popped into my booth like a prairie dog pops from his den. In a matter of seconds, he was gone. Then back again. We had only spoken a smattering of words, but I have no idea how long he had been watching me handle the hoards of people that ebbed and flowed in and out of my zone. I was stunned when he spun and returned with outstretched hand and said, “You have a delightful personality and your smile is engaging. You are perfect for this and I pray God blesses your work.” I was overwhelmed and felt like I was in the presence of Second Class Angel, Clarence, from “It's a Wonderful Life.” I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness. As quickly as he came, he vanished into the throng of people. His warmth and generosity toward me lingered like a special-delivery blessing straight from heaven.

What a contrast of circumstances and characters. What a wake-up call for my soul to remember that it always matters how you treat people because all people matter to God.

At some point during the Christmas season, I will watch again the Christmas classic “It's a Wonderful Life” and think back over my own years of existence. I'll wonder at the ever overlapping circles of events that sweetly complicate my world with thousands of acquaintances. I'll recall the times and places where God's hand altered events or surprised me with strangers and I'll be thankful to have participated. It truly is a wonderful life when you stop to count your blessings and when you take the time to be a blessing.

As Clarence says to George Bailey: “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”

As George realized he impacted others for good, he welcomed a life filled with treasures as well as troubles and said, “I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

No matter your circumstances, whether impoverished or wealthy, whether hungry for attention or eager to give attention; God has a plan and a purpose for you each day of your wonderful life. Be his hands and feet and the bearer of peace at Christmas and always. You never know who needs your encouragement or who is watching.


**Touched by this story? Read more from Brenda in her new book “Were You Born in a Barn?” available online at www.thewordsout-brendablack.com -- order yours today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shepherding the Sheep


Shepherding the Sheep

By Brenda Black


"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:8-20)

While Mary pondered all the miracles surrounding the birth of the Christ child, I wonder if she mulled over in her mind why shepherds were the first to come calling. They lived in a culture fanatical about cleanliness and shepherds were never clean. They constantly walked about in excrement and touched dead things which left them in a state of ritual impurity. Because of their defiled conditions, shepherds were not allowed to go to the temple to offer sacrifices or to go to the synagogues with other worshipers. Even the most pious shepherd was labeled as unclean and could not come into the presence of God. Then why were these outcasts invited first to view the newborn King?

God always has a purpose. The Nativity account in Luke devotes only 253 words to the unnamed night watchers and their reaction to the announcement of Jesus' birth, but God's choice of sheep-keepers was a major foresight of the ministry that Jesus would demonstrate as he walked on earth. Christ the Good Shepherd started as a sleeping child in a stable. Christ the Good Shepherd lived for his flock by loving, feeding and serving them. Christ the Good Shepherd died as a spotless lamb unto slaughter and rose as a the Good Shepherd who will lead the flock home to safety. The Christmas baby was born a shepherd. Who would understand better the necessity for mankind to be shepherded than those who dealt with sheep on a daily basis.

The believers of Christ are called sheep in John 10:15. Before you feel flattered by the moniker, talk to a shepherd. They'll tell you sheep are docile in nature, but timid and terribly nervous. The news of the Messiah was certain to bring anxiety along with delight. Shepherds would know how to settle the nerves with the comforting words of an angel who told them personally "Do not be afraid..."

Sheep exhibit strong flocking behavior and only a shepherd knows how to take them the right direction. The quicker the shepherds got the news to the masses, the better. Good news of a Good Shepherd would give comfort and hope, and deliver the long-awaited announcement of the Messiah's arrival. Those rugged shepherds knew if they got one lamb to listen, the rest would surely follow.

Flock mentality can be good or it can be fatal. Shepherds are keenly aware that they must do everything in their power to protect those in their care. God's people are susceptible to wickedness and danger. Just as sheep are generally less aggressive than goats, so it is in the spiritual realm where saints strive for peace, while demons push for power. Left together in the same enclosure, goats will harass the sheep. Left without a shepherd, believers are prey to evil doers. Thankfully, God inhabits the praise of His people. The shepherds "returned, glorifying and praising God." Their rejoicing rendered satan powerless. No doubt, demons fled the heralding.

Remember this Christmas that Christ is the King of Kings. But first, he was a Shepherd. Those most willing to calm fears, lead with assuring voices and lay down their lives for the flock, are most blessed indeed. When we shepherd, we look like Christ to others.

**For more animal parables, check out Brenda's new book "Were You Born in a Barn?" at www.thewordsout-brendablack.com


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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Yes, Virginia, There is a Savior


Yes, Virginia, There is a Savior
By Brenda Black

What would Christmas look like if The New York Sun editor, Francis P. Church, on September 21, 1897, had been asked whether Jesus Christ were real rather than Santa Clause? And how would thousands of childlike hearts have been changed had he told Virginia the whole truth – Yes, Virginia, there is a Savior.

Only the letters in brackets have been changed from the original text to help us grasp the significance that the son of a Baptist preacher could have had on generations if Jesus were the topic instead of St. Nick.

"Dear Editor--I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no [Savior]. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a [Savior]?” -- Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-fifth Street.

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. Yes, Virginia, there is a [Savior]. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no [Savior]! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. Not believe in a [Savior]! You might as well not believe in [angels]! You might get your papa to hire men to watch ... on Christmas eve to [hear the angels singing], but even if you did not see [the Savior born or hear the proclamation], what would that prove? Nobody sees [Jesus], but that is no sign that there is no [Christ]. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see [angels] dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No [Savior]! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

The response to the editorial was sensational! It became one of the most famous opinion columns ever written and was reprinted annually in The New York Sun until the paper went out of business. Oh, that the information would have been truly Good News and not fanciful legend mixed with theology. Then Virginia and her little friends and every man, woman and child that read Church's exposition would be able to experience genuine Christmas cheer and learn of God's favor.

“But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.' (Luke 2:10-14)

Of course, there is room for fantasy and frivolity in the life of a child. Imagination is a gift not to be pilfered from the minds of young and young-at-heart. But, when the real story is better than fiction and has eternal rewards that outlast seasonal presents and traditions, aren't we giving them the very best Christmas when we keep Christ as the focus.

“Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again.” – Grace Noll Crowell

Now, more than ever the “skepticism of a skeptical age” threatens the reason for this season – Christ the Lord. Keep Christ in Christmas, build faith in the next generation and tell them honestly, yes, my child, there is a Savior.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hybrid Hounds Won't Be Found in Heaven


You've heard it said - they go together like salt and pepper or peanut butter and jelly; chips and dip or Bert and Ernie. Combining opposites or compatibles is often considered an art form in culinary circles and interior design. It is a publicists dream to market a famous team like Dean and Martin or create a dynamic duo like Batman and Robin. But some things, I contend, are still better left as one. Too much crossing can lead to strange outcroppings that will make one wish they had left well enough alone. For example, consider the craze over hybrid dogs or designer dogs as some call them. They are becoming quite popular, but I wonder if we haven't taken the freedom to intermingle a little too far. It looks to me like we've reinvented the mutt.

The word “Hybrid,” when referring to genetics, is the offspring of genetically dissimilar parents or stock, especially the offspring produced by breeding plants or animals of different varieties, species, or races. In general the word means “something of mixed origin or composition.”

Try these newfangled creations on for size and decide for yourself whether it's a mistake or genius. American Bullweiler – this is a cross between an American Bulldog and the Rottweiler. Envision being attacked and killed with slobber. How about the American Eagle Dog. Take an American Eskimo and breed it to a Beagle. Voila' – you get a cold season tracker who can pull the sled down every rabbit trail he whiffs, knocking you off with low-lying branches as you traverse the Great Divide.

If you want to keep the cattle or sheep rounded up in the snow, an Ausky is your breed. The cross of an Australian Cattle Dog and the Siberian Husky will make livestock driving far more lively if the dog pulls you on skies!

In short, a Bascottie is not an English biscuit. It is a Basset Hound and a Scottish Terrier. Here is the plan: Take a sturdy little dog with short legs, a long head and pointy ears and breed her to a short, heavy dog with a large, round head and droopy ears. Since the front feet of the Terrier are larger than her back feet, put some pounds on her rear quarters with a Basset behind. Not only will their pup's ears hang low and its rump be heavy in tow, he'll also have bushy eyebrows and a beard to drag the ground.

Don't be fooled, a Chiweenie is not something on a Taco Bell menu, but it does sort of look like a burrito with tortillas for ears. If this little hybrid can't win by a nose in a dog race, maybe it could fly across the finish line. Asta la vista, puppy!

I discovered countless crosses with Poodles and Beagles and Labs, Oh my! Borders and Shih Tzu and Pinchers and Poms dotted the hybrid hodgepodge. And there seems to be a penchant for turning upland game dogs or waterfowl retrievers into useless doormats by breeding the sport right out of them.

So it goes – different strokes for different folks. But I wonder what the dogs think about the erratic match making. Is a Labradoodle afraid to get its hair wet? Will a China Jack mess up its crest when it chases a rat? Does a Rat-A-Pap feel naked or a Schnekingese miss its schnoz? Does a Sheprador herd the cattle on dry land or drag them by the nape just as they cross the creek? Is a Petite Goldendoodle really ever certain whether to bark in English, Spanish or French?

While poking fun at dog designers, it is no laughing matter when Christianity is viewed similarly. Faith designers try to redefine truth with hybrid formulas comprised of opposing beliefs and “mixed origin.” The outcome is a worldly, man-made, mutt religion. No real accountability exists if my faith system is based on relative morality. I don't need to worry about my eternal destiny because everyone goes to heaven as a hybrid. You see, without a registry, I can be whatever I want to be and call it Christianity.

The Word of God clearly distinguishes true believers from composite Christians and clarifies the purpose and destiny of each. “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Our registry is written in the book of life by the blood of Christ. If we are not covered by His blood and if we do not bear His Name, we are without identity and destined for destruction. “If anyone's name [is] not found written in the book of life, he [will be] thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

Each breed of dog has historically been developed to be an expert at something – Great Danes hunt lions. Border Collies herd sheep. Blue Tick hounds track raccoon. I detect in many of the new hybrids there is no clear purpose for the combination; many look like obvious mistakes or the product of human amusement. Christians take note - there are consequences for watering down true faith with man-made ideas. The result may actually hinder a genuine believer from utilizing his God-given gifts.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ...From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:7,11-13,16)

Heinz 57 no longer means a mixed bag of canine wonder; it factors into mega bucks for the kennel crowds who develop novel and profitable products. Melting pot religions are just as trendy, but they are ultimately worthless and costly. As for me, I think I still prefer the original version in dog breeds as well as Christianity. At least I can pronounce my pet's breed and not sound like I'm sneezing. And I know what my purpose is – to be obedient to the one true Master who loves me, cares for me and bids me sit at His feet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thank You God, Twenty Times

Thank You God, Twenty Times
By Brenda Black

Give thanks where thanks is due. Let's start at the top. “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits.” (Psalm 103:1-2) This Psalm of David not only commissions gratitude, it itemizes God's faithfulness, leaving no doubt that the Lord deserves our thanks first.

1. He forgives all my sins (vs. 3)
2. He heals all my diseases (vs. 3)
3. He redeems my life from the pit (vs. 4)
4. He crowns me with love and compassion (vs. 4)
5. He satisfies my desires with good things (vs. 5)
6. He renews me (vs. 5)
7. The Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed (vs. 6)
8. He makes his ways known to man (vs. 7)
9. The Lord is compassionate and gracious (vs. 8)
10. He is slow to anger, abounding in love (vs. 8)
11. He will not always accuse or hold a grudge (vs. 9)
12. God is gracious and does not treat us as our sins deserve (vs. 10)
13. He is love (vs. 11)
14. He removes our sin and sees us as perfect (vs. 12)
15. The Lord is our Father (vs. 13)
16. He knows us inside and out (vs. 14)
17. He is everlasting (vs. 17)
18. God will be here for our children and grandchildren (vs. 17)
19. He is on the throne (vs. 19)
20. He is building a home in heaven for his obedient servants (vs. 19)

Let's get things in perspective! We are BLESSED...BLESSED...BLESSED ! Our sins are forgiven, our diseases treated! We walk in light and no longer have to linger in the pit of despair or decadence or deceit! We are loved and nurtured by a gracious God who is ruler of the universe and yet considerate of man!

God gives good things even when He gets blamed for every bad thing that ever happens on planet earth. He renews us and makes us holy with His righteous, fair and perfect justice. The Lord who is higher than the heavens lowers himself to allow us to enter into His presence and know His will and feel His touch. He longs to dry our tears and ease our pain. He is patient and kind and loving.

Though God Almighty has the authority and right to banish society and hurl the earth's inhabitants into outer darkness, He waits. He forgives. He sacrifices His Son and offers us perfect peace so undeserved. He is love!

How can a God who created light and sees past, present and future be so blind to our faults? He chooses to see us through the blood of Christ! He is our Father who knows us because He created us. He knows us because He watches us. He knows us because He longs to be near us. He knows and He cares. He deserves our respect as well as our gratitude.

If you haven't heard enough, how about we go on forever. He promises forever to be here for us, to be here for our children and grandchildren. How thankful I am that we are never alone. How safe we are knowing that God is on the throne. And how privileged we are to have the promise of heaven!

Our response this Thanksgiving should only be: “Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul.” (Ps. 103:20-22)

We are a blessed people who dwell in a blessed nation only because of the blessings poured out upon us from the Lord who benefits us. Never forget to give thanks where thanks is due. Drop to your knees this Thanksgiving weekend and give God twenty.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beg to Differ


Beg to Differ

By Brenda Black


Vulgar phrases spewed from her mouth as she taunted all who happened down her Brazilian sidewalk. Just as horrifying were her massive deformities that indicated why the verbal assaults from her were self-empowering. The stranger's mouth took the place of arms, hands, legs, feet -- even body. She was a mere stump with a cursing head.

I was a college co-ed on a missions trip. And on the streets of Belem I passed the partial woman with piercing eyes and forked tongue. On every corner beggars pursued me. They graveled and groped or waited to snatch my purse. Our host missionary families warned us and protected our group with wariness and knowledge. But nothing could have prepared me for the shocking site of that pitiful woman, sold into slavery as a beggar and placed out on the street to stare helplessly up at uncaring people who passed her day after day.

The bucket that collected dropping change matched her entire body for size and sat inches from her chest, yet forever out of reach to a limbless, sad life. She did not beg for mercy. She did not endear merciful people. Instead she insulted and cursed them, driving away anyone who might lovingly assist.

Contrary to this woman, a blind man in Jericho found a better way to get the right kind of attention. He was a beggar as well.

“As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus...was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'

“Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'

“Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'

“So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.'

“Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“'What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked him.

“The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.'

“'Go,' said Jesus, 'your faith has healed you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:46-52)

While the Brazilian woman was merely crude, Bartimaeus was desperately bold and his faith was noted by Christ. The fact that the blind man called Jesus “Son of David,” demonstrated his knowledge of Jesus as the promised Messiah. His begging was a confession of belief. And he dared to proclaim in the midst of a large crowd who had disregarded him and presently rebuked him. Yet he “shouted all the more!”

Maybe the wide-eyed woman daily watched feet glide past her without promise and their indifference ultimately smashed her hope. But blind had its benefits for old Bartimaeus. Concern for the opinion of others vanquished when he sensed help and hope was near. Blindness closed his eyes to pride and shielded him from the impossibilities. As a result, he jumped to his feet when Jesus called him!

If the destitute woman stationed on hard concrete had a hard heart, maybe it was because she never cried out to the One who could soften it. James 4:2 says, “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”

Bart, on the other hand, got specific. He cried out and spelled out exactly what he desired of the Christ – he wanted to see! And Jesus answered his plea.

The haunting sight of that vile woman swearing at well-intending folks who would drop a coin into her pail still crosses my mind. She did not smile nor did she thank them. She just kept swearing. Are we as ungrateful when people try to help? Are we as prideful when we have nothing to offer but our heart and mind and refuse to yield them to Christ? The blind beggar who met Jesus received sight for his eyes and salve for his soul because he surrendered. And he expressed deep gratitude by following the Savior.

The difference between the beggars is belief. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

The difference between the beggars is hope. “The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”

The difference between the beggars is eternity. “When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun.” (Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1831, public domain)

Believers are all beggars saved by grace. We once were lost, now we're found; we were blind, but now we see.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight Not My Type

Twilight Not My Type
By Brenda Black

This may open up a whole can of worms, but when I was recently asked by a wise Christian woman for my opinion on the Twilight series, I had to be honest.

Here's how I replied:

I have not read, nor do I intend to read the series or see the movies. I draw a bold line in the sand when it comes to obvious conflicts with holiness. So vampires, blood diets, immortal beings, erotic conversation between an "old soul" and a teen, etc. run a lot contrary to my tastes and convictions.

That said, many of the reviews I've read present a justification of sorts from the line-walking Christian community. They seem to have discovered enough abstinence and noble character attributes in the main subjects to accommodate their obsession with the series.

My take on that -- you can find whatever you are looking for in any book or movie and weave your own brand of morality out of it. Does that mean Christian youth should be reading these works of fiction? I would not recommend them. There are too many Scriptural and edifying works of literature without the holiness holes in them to be offered as viable alternatives. Is it fair to keep a child out of the social loop? Definitely. I've never seen the need to be worldly wise or to encourage my children to run with the masses. I prefer living in this world as an alien and shining some light in dark places. We can be in the world but not of the world. Feeling the pressure to be with the in-crowd and read a series of fantasy books is a non-issue for me.

I think the greatest conviction for us as adult women professing faith in Jesus Christ may come from the fact that younger women are looking to us for guidance and or validation for their choices. One reviewer on the Twilight series brought the importance of that aspect in for a landing.

"As a 15-year-old, reading those books was a strange experience for me. I didn’t think they were too bad or morally lacking until I heard my old high-school chaplain (a thirty-something woman, I think. Never dared to ask) praise them. And then something inside me clicked, because it struck me as wrong that a Godly woman would find this series good."

And there you have it. After absorbing dozens of pop culture opinions on the topic, I had my justification for following the book of Ephesians rather than the book of Twilight - this 15 year old's conflict.

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person -- such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

"'Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.'

"Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5:1-17)


Here is one website that had extensive discussion on the topic and presented several viewpoints worth considering. It is from this discourse that I found the young girl's quote.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holy Arguments

Holy Arguments

By Brenda Black



In this corner: God - The Almighty Ruler of the Universe. Creator Extraordinaire. The Powerful Redeemer and Final Authority. And in this corner: Joe Plumber..... While your mind wanders back to intolerance toward inquisition here on earth, my thoughts float to a parallel discourse where mere mortals dare to address true Omnipotence. Unlike arrogant men, God is far more tolerant.

He will be inquired of and argued with. It is His way of blessing those he loves and encouraging communication. Solomon stood and raised holy hands in exaltation. He also bowed the knee and pleaded for mercy, calling God to honor His own promises.

“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to our servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.” (2 Chronicles 6:18-21)

We are to argue our case with God, not to convince Him, but to convince ourselves. In proving to God that, by His own word and oath and character, He has bound Himself to us – we are His people - we demonstrate to our own faith that He has given us the right to ask and claim. He will answer our plea because He cannot deny Himself.

The holy boldness that causes us to present our plea at the throne of grace, is evidence of God's faithfulness to do what He has promised. It denotes His justice not to exact from the sinner a penalty already borne in his behalf by His own Son. God is Almighty, but He is not Arrogant. He is Holy, but He is not Haughty. God is Supreme, but so very Sincere and focused on developing what is best inside of His simple children.

George Mueller perfected holy arguments by actively living out his days as a prayer pleader. “He moved in 1832 to Bristol, England, to pastor a church. There his famous work with orphans began when two young children were thrown upon the church's care. Mueller had only two shillings to his name when he began the orphanage work, but over the next sixty years God sent more than $7,500,000 to supply their needs. New buildings were built or purchased, staff was hired, and the hundreds of children never missed a meal. Many times prayers were said over empty plates only to have food arrive at the last moment. Mueller resolved never to tell anyone what his needs were. He told them to God and confidently expected them to be met." (Information obtained from Preacher Biographies at http://www.swordofthelord.com)

Mueller stored up arguments for God's intervention. As he came upon promises, authorized declarations of God concerning Himself in Scripture, or names and titles He had chosen to express and reveal His true nature and will, he committed these arguments to memory. He found biblical invitations which gave the believer the right to pray boldly in supplication. Then on occasions of great need, Mueller brought out these promises and commands of God and spread them before a prayer-hearing Father. His argumentative pleadings were presented as though he would so order his cause before God as to convince Him that He must interpose to save His own name and word from dishonor!

"Only let it be trust in God, not in man, not in circumstances, not in any of your own exertions, but real trust in God, and you will be helped in your various necessities... Not in circumstances, not in natural prospects, not in former donors, but solely in God. This is just that which brings the blessing. If we say we trust in Him, but in reality do not, then God, taking us at our word, lets us see that we do not really confide in Him; and hence failure arises. On the other hand, if our trust in the Lord is real, help will surely come. 'According unto thy faith be it unto thee.'” (George Mueller of Bristol – And His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God, by A.T. Pierson--from Appendix N: "The Wise Sayings of George Mueller,”1899)

Let Him have it! God can handle it and He wants to hear your holy arguments. Hit him with your best shot and He will be faithfully in your corner when you need Him most in your life. Both sides win as God is proven true to His Word.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Prayer Applause


Prayer Applause
By Brenda Black

Stand up! Throw back your head and open your eyes. Raise your hands in surrender and praise. You are talking to an awesome God!

Most often, this is not the first choice for prayer posture. Head bowed, hands folded and eyes closed is usually the image we muster when “Let us pray” is uttered. The traditional posture for requesting favors from a king is ideally suited for prayers of repentance or supplication. Kneeling signifies humility and submission as demonstrated in Matthew 18:26.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.”

Even our Lord himself adopted such a posture when he pleaded with his Father for release from the horror of crucifixion. “[Jesus] withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke: 22:41-44)


There is a time and a place for kneeling and bowing, and even lying on one’s belly, hands up, with the head up and eyes open or head down and eyes averted. Different prayer postures convey a variety of interaction with a holy God.

So why did Solomon stand before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands? He adopted the oldest tradition for prayer, called orans, from the Latin word for praying. In this posture, he acknowledged God as external and transcendent. His was an act of thanksgiving, praise, blessing and benediction for an inimitable and unrivaled God.

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it – as it is today.” (2 Chronicles 6:14-15)

Where is our fervor for this true God who still keeps his promises? While we position ourselves in prayer quietly, yes – even discretely, so as not to be noticed, are we in a posture of humility or ho-hum indifference. There is a time to be still and somber, repentant and submissive. And there is a time to be bold and proclaim the greatness of our God and King.

“I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers...For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord...

“Here is a trustworthy saying: 'If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 1:3,6-8a, 2:11-13)

Stand up! Throw back your head and open your eyes. Raise your hands in surrender and praise. You are talking to an awesome God!

Our kids need to see us pray like that sometimes. Our churches need to pray like that sometimes. Our nation needs to pray like that sometimes. Yes, we need to humble ourselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chron. 7:14) in order to obtain an audience with the King and receive forgiveness of sin and healing for our land. But we also need to lift up sincere and joyful praise that causes the angels in heaven and the saints on earth to applaud the Almighty. Our God is worthy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boo!

Boo!
By Brenda Black

I buried my head between tall, broad shoulder blades and wrapped my arms around my friend's waist. With one eye tightly closed and the other slitted just enough to capture a peek at my feet, I shuffled through the haunted house, trembling and weak. I was about 15 years old. I haven't entered another since.

I paid for a ten minute tour through garish costumes, dark rooms, spooky sounds and silicone cobwebs. For what? A racing heart, sweaty palms. Shivers and shakes and creepy crawly memories. Back then, a fake scare for a teenager may have been the cool thing come the end of October. Today, I know better that true evil lurks year round and fake blood and rubber masks are a tame imitation for real demonic presence. Instead of cowering in fear, now I come out fighting with both eyes wide open and the name of Jesus as my spear. That's how I say “Boo!” to the enemy.

Since his fall to earth, Satan has attempted to fool mankind into thinking that evil is either overwhelming and impossible to defeat or just kid's play like a seasonal haunted house and is really no threat at all. Both are lies! We can have the power of Christ to immobilize the devil. But we need to remember that we are messing with fire. To prove my point, I give you Acts 19. This ghost story reveals the difference between those who fight fire with faith and those who flee in fear when they stand against Satan in their own strength.

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, 'In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.'

“The evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” (Acts 19:11-13, 15-16)

When false witnesses attempt to call out evil spirits in the name of Jesus, demons offer no respect. It takes more than empty magical phrases to combat a supernatural enemy. It takes faith and an I.D. I want to make demons tremble at the mention of my name, don't you. We may not have the particular anointing that enabled Paul to work such miracles, but if you know Christ as Savior, you have the same Holy Spirit power to conquer evil.

Don't deceive yourself though. The Father of Lies knows a liar. If you plan to whip the devil, you had better be wearing God's true armor and not just playing the part. You think about that for a minute. Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweaty? Satan has an army here on earth that operates covertly in the spiritual realms. Drug addicts catch glimpses of them in their chemically-induced hazes. Murderers hear their whispers of hate. Fornicators are wooed by their sensual lies. Don't kid yourself for one minute if you think the devil isn't at work in the real world. Nearly 80 times, Scripture talks about demons or demon possession. It's real! And Satan and his legions will destroy you if he doesn't recognize Jesus Christ in your life because he is the only One who has authority over this fallen angel. He cowers to no one but the Lord himself who defeated death at the cross. But, oh to the Holy One, he completely must submit.

“Then [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

“In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 'Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!'

“'Be quiet!' Jesus said sternly. 'Come out of him!' Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

“All the people were amazed and said to each other, 'What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!' And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.” (Luke 4:31-37)

Fear God if you don't want to be afraid of the devil. With the Great I Am in your corner, every slimy, sinful, slithering ghoul must go when we we say “Boo! In the name of Jesus!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scared Stiff

Scared Stiff
By Brenda Black

An eery, orange blob peered through gangly and gnarled trees, penetrating increasing darkness. Like one enormous eye, it glared down on my hiding place behind a rambling sticker bush. I hunkered lower and tried my best to blend into the mottled forest floor. Day's end crept nearer and the eye shrank and cowered with each passing minute. I turned my back to its foreboding presence and concentrated on the gusts of rushing winds that roared through timber tops. Just as quickly as they came, they abruptly stopped or slowly exhaled ghostly breaths through quivering amber leaves and upraised, pale branches. Though the wood seemed haunting, it failed to frighten me. For nothing could be more scary than the scene I beheld just moments earlier.

I stood staring up the length of a 40-foot, scaly creature and watched helplessly as my son ascended and conquered it. I'd sent him and his brother to the woods before at this time of year and worked at not worrying. But this time, I witnessed why mothers pray so much during deer season – the hanging of the tree stand.

In former seasons, I spent my energy fretting over boys already perched on a two-by-three-foot square, suspended 15 feet off the ground, and didn't give much thought to the preliminaries. As a result, I hammered in rules for safety harnesses and keen observation for opening morning. This was my first experience to see the real danger of installing said equipment.

The first three or four steps didn't bother me; I knew he could drop and roll if necessary with nary a scratch. But, as I stood on tip toes and precariously suspended sharply pointed metal bars up to my son-turned-monkey, my nerves were tested. He grappled and clung to loosening bark and I ducked from falling twigs and acorns. Methodically, Cooper drilled and tightened each step precisely placed for ascension.

If that wasn't horrifying enough, he then strapped himself to the tree that I had since noticed was missing a big chunk of itself on the backside, hollowed from lightning, disease or insect infestation. My doubts fell on his deaf ears, now a convenient five yards above my craning neck and counsel. So I squelched my reservations and continued as ground support by half hitching a rope around the metal contraption that he slowly hoisted to his tree-hugging side.

He wiggled and clamped and chained his pending perch and tested it for stability while I rubbed my aching neck and prayed with head bowed low or chin raised heavenward, depending on how bad the neck kink was at the moment. Then the worst came when he loosened the belt from the tree and wriggled his bottom to the seat. I efficiently moved all equipment encircling the base of the tree and, while holding my breath, began strategizing how I could catch that big boy if he took a wrong step. At one moment it even occurred to me that his safe landing would probably break my back, yet I would still do it.

I was scared stiff … and also very proud. He was cautious and methodical and performed his feat with expertise. Come to think of it, he probably knew better than me from his vantage point just how great the risk. And while I spent my time on solid ground in a mental frenzy, he stayed calm and clear-headed way up in a tree. You tell me, which one of us was more stable.

When the “hearts of his people [shake] as the trees of the forest shake with the wind,” the Lord says “...Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted...” (Isaiah 7:2, 4)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keep Your Eye on the Eight

Keep Your Eye on the Eight

By Brenda Black


A big, green monster lived in our basement for years. It beckoned teens to come near its hard, yet hollow sides and gulped down giant gum balls they'd feed it on Friday nights. We tamed the beast with clever shots and soothed it with giddy laughter. Years of unintentional jabs left scars on its hide. A few cola spills stained its velvety fur. Still the beast endured and celebrated with each warrior who chanted over its head, “Eight ball – corner pocket!”

The calls of confidence bounced off basement walls and affirmed the popularity of the game of Eight-Ball where the ultimate object of play was to legally drop the eight ball into a specified pocket. The game has relatively straight-forward rules - designate which pocket you plan to sink the eight ball and then successfully hit that ball into that pocket. Only, don't drop it until you've cleared the table of all the other stripes or solids.

Simple enough – right? Just keep your eye on the eight. That time-honored strategy has proved effective not only in billiards. I've found other places where we need to focus on the eight if we want to be victorious. Nehemiah 8 for instance.

“So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” (Neh. 8:2-3)

In any game, the rules must be understood in order for fair and fruitful play. Ezra read the rules for life and it benefitted the hearers. “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” (Neh. 8:12)

One who heeds instruction has a far better chance of winning. Which leads me to our next important “8's” - Proverbs 1:8. “Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching” and Proverbs 8:11 “for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”

Eight-Ball experts listen, apply and appreciate God's wisdom. They know that even if they engage physical senses – eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, tongues to taste – true understanding still comes from the Lord. “I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, 'My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?'” (Daniel 12:8)

All too quickly, a game of Eight-Ball can end in ruin if we don't seek the Lord's wisdom. Drop the ball prematurely. Sink the ball in the wrong pocket. Scratch in that final play and every good intention culminates in defeat rather than victory.

So keep your eye on the eight. John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” Don't try to get ahead of the game; follow the Lord and walk in his perfect ways.

Keep your eye on the eight. Proverbs 21:28 “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” If you aim for heaven and end up landing in hell, it's because you went the wrong direction. The saddest part is you can take someone down with you when you get misdirected. Psalm 68:20 “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” Don't scratch by serving anyone but Christ.

Keep your eye on the eight. Ecclesiastes 7:8 “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Win the game cleanly by persevering to the end. Follow the rules, know your target and aim carefully so you won't put anyone else out of contention for the prize. Luke 8:15 should be our motto: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Here's to shooting straight for heaven with a little help from all those words of wisdom hidden behind the eight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Play Ball


Play Ball
By Brenda Black

Major League Baseball Division Series play is underway! For the faithful fans of America's iconic sport, here's one....two.....three....striking stories to commemorate the finish of our nation's summer addiction.

FAST BALL: The Minnesota Twins had acquired a new pitching coach, Johnny Sain, back in 1966. During spring training he silently watched pitcher Jim Katt perform. Then called him in for a personal chat.

"Jim," said Sain, "I've been watching you pitch. Tell me, what are your four best pitches?"

Kaat responded, "My best pitch is my fastball. Then comes my curve. My slider and changeup are third and fourth."

"What pitch do you spend the most time practicing?" asked Sain.

"My slider and changeup," said Kaat. "If I can improve on those two pitches, I know I'll have a good season."

Sain looked at Kaat, pondered his comments, and then responded, "I see it a little differently, Jim, and want you to take a different approach. Work on your fastball. I know it's your favorite pitch, so go out there in practice, warm-ups, and during games, and concentrate on your fastball. Throw your fastball 80 to 90 percent of the time all year, and you'll win a lot of games."

Kaat left Sain's office stunned. He had expected expert tips for improving his changeup or slider. At least Sain could have provided some advice for smoothing out his second-best pitch, the curve ball! Telling him to do more of what he already did best didn't make much sense.

But he listened. That season Jim Kaat threw fastball after fastball. Kaat said he thought his arm was going to fall off! But, he heeded the advice of his coach-- and thanks to his fastball, Jim Kaat won 26 games that year, and was named pitcher of the year in the American League. ("Speaker's Source-book 2" (Prentice-Hall), pp. 7-8)

FOUL: From a perfected pitcher to a sloppy hitter, the next story documents the messiest foul ball in baseball history. When a pitch was fouled over the Boston grandstand in 1903, no one thought much of it----at first. But the ball bounced onto a neighboring factory and lodged itself in the shutoff mechanism of a steam whistle. When workers at other factories heard the non-stop noise, they assumed there was a fire somewhere and they fled their factories. In a factory that made baked beans, an evacuating worker forgot to shut down the giant vat in which the beans were cooking. Minutes later, the vat exploded, blowing the roof off the factory and showering fans in the ballpark with tons of Boston Baked Beans!

FAN FAIR: Fans may have needed spoons and napkins in 1903 when it rained baked beans, but humble pie was served along with some kleenex during one of Babe Ruth's final professional games. In his career, Babe hit 714 home runs, but toward the end, the aging Babe racked up errors in field play that turned fans into foes. During one of his last games as a pro, he fumbled the ball several times. In one inning alone, his errors were the main reason the opposing team scored five runs. As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout, a crescendo of derisive yelling and booing reached his ears. It was a humiliating moment for that great athlete who had been the number one idol of baseball fans for so many years.

At his lowest moment, a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he knelt before his hero and threw his arms around his legs. Ruth took the boy's hand and lifted him up. He hugged him, then set him on his feet, patting him gently on the head.
Suddenly there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. The Babe and the boy melted the hearts of the crowd. ("The Preacher's Illustration Service," Jan/Feb 1997)

Just like the game of steals and hits, curves and fastballs, life off the field can be unexpected, comical and compassionate. Bring your best, laugh when the baked beans blow up, and offer grace to those who need it most. That's how you play ball like a pro and win in life.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom...the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peace-makers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:13, 17-18)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a Wonder You Are

What a Wonder You Are
By Brenda Black

I wonder – Does the Lord who never sleeps wait each morning to dip His finger into the sea. With the color from the coral reef, does He swirl them across dawning horizon with grandiose brush-like sweeps. Or does He set things in motion from the dawn of time, knowing each day ahead of its arrival for a million and beyond. Will every sunrise sky-scape He's designed appear across the vast universe right on time. He is, remember, omniscient. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Or does the God of Wonders commission sun, wind, moon and water each new day to be at the ready. He lets them shine and blow their way into fog, heat, breezes and tempests and watches expectantly. Though He allows the fare and stormy weather to come as circumstances beckon, are they lengthened or averted as man glorifies or cries out in prayer. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;...The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:15, 17)

I wonder - Are the sunsets assigned marching orders so that somewhere in the world each evening one should be so breathtaking as to compel worship for its General. Are twilights bottled somewhere beyond the heavens in a celestial warehouse and delivered on schedule. “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” (Ps. 50:1) He calls extravagant clouds, blackened downpours and spontaneous rainbows, this artist behind ever-changing heavenly masterpieces that grace our world. Oh, what a wonder you are!

“Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.

“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. You covered with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.

“The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return to lie down in their dens. Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.

“How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures...I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” (Ps. 104:1-25, 33-35)

While we watch the evil loom larger and destruction of a planet perfectly made, may we look to the heavens and find God faithful in all of His ways. His mercies are new every morning and His creative touches are forever before us. To ignore so great a testimony of divine orchestration is simply ignorant and dangerous. “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

One day, the heavens will roll back, the sun and moon and stars will shine no more, for the light of the Holy One will take their place. In that heavenly city, it “does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 21:23)

I wonder - Who will you acknowledge then – when you stand before the Master Painter who graced your days with beauty and privilege only to watch man take it for granted and wallow in self-praise. “'Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End...I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David and the bright MORNING STAR.'” (Rev. 22:12-13, 16)

No wonder the sunrise sings His praise. No wonder the sun sets without fear of darkness. No wonder the winds and waters obey. All of nature knows better than man himself – the God of Wonders is worthy of honor and glory every morning, noon and night.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whaddya Know


Whaddya Know
By Brenda Black


An upright man wronged must still do what is right. That's not an old proverb. It's the plot for a 1956 Hitchcock classic, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” James Stewart and Doris Day encounter international espionage, fight to find their kidnapped son and thwart the assassination of a foreign diplomat. And it's all done as innocent tourists. Had Stewart's leading character not been so trustworthy, their Moroccan vacation may have been considerably less eventful and far more safe. But along with upright living, comes responsibility.

From the movies to current events, a few leading headlines easily communicate that standing for something in the real world demands one be prepared to fight for it. Persecution and political pressure compels Christians to take the high road. Sometimes at great cost.

Headline: “Officials Cleared in Prayer Injunction Case.” This story comes from The Washington Times writer Julia Duhin, who recounts the trial of two Florida school officials. “The ACLU complained to Judge Rodgers after Mr. Lay asked Mr. Freeman to offer mealtime prayers at a Jan. 28 lunch for school employees and booster club members who had helped with a school field house project. The judge then issued a contempt order for the two men.

“When asked Thursday why he agreed to give the prayer, 'It was just out of reflex,' Mr. Freeman told the judge, according to the Pensacola News-Journal. His testimony was part of a 10-hour hearing involving several witnesses.”

If the men had been found guilty, their penalty would equal six months in jail and a possible loss of their retirement benefits and $5,000 each in fines.” For thanking God for the booster club!

It gets worse: “Christian Hotel Owners Hauled Before Court After Defending Their Beliefs in Discussion with Muslim Guest.” This story takes place in England, but sounds frighteningly probable right here in the U.S. According to reporter Jonathan Petre of the London Daily Mail, the hotel owners do not believe they were threatening, abusive or insulting. David Whiting, their defense attorney said “They are committed Christians and it is the defense’s contention that they have every right to defend their religious beliefs and explain those beliefs to others who do not hold similar views.”

The article goes on to say, “The use by the police of the Public Order Act to arrest people over offensive comments has dismayed a number of lawyers, who say the legislation was passed to deal with law and order problems in the streets. Neil Addison, a prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law, said: ‘The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.
“‘It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed. If someone is in a discussion and they don’t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.’ He added that the police had a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech ‘and I think they are forgetting that.’”

What do you know? If a Christian invokes a blessing it is a crime. If a Christian defends his faith it is a crime. And still an upright man wronged must do what is right because we ultimately count it all loss for the sake of Christ.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Christ was upright. He was crucified. We are called to carry His cross every day we live.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Soft Place to Land


A Soft Place to Land
By Brenda Black

Currents of sparkling clear water broke and swirled as our blue speckled gelding powered his way through deep pools on the far side of the river. The giant Appaloosa we called Blue Mountain Music always had wide, white eyes that made him look a little spooky. Though he still sported that wild look, he seemed to enjoy his swim within cool rapids that lapped at his chest and belly. I know how his muscles labored to paddle, how his nostrils flared infusing fresh air into working lungs, because I straddled his bare back, holding to nothing but a braided lead rope snapped and knotted to a nylon halter on his head.

The longer we swam, the slicker he got. My suit was soaked from dipping lunges that splashed Missouri river water over my lap. His satiny hide turned slippery when wet. I gripped thin strands of the remnant of his mane. It was all that was left at his withers after a roaching buzzed the crest hairs and left him clipped and crisp like a Marine in boot camp. And I giggled with delight like a young girl should on a summer vacation with a powerful steed beneath her who felt like a porpoise at sea.

When Blue began to tire, we paddled toward shallow waters. His sweeping strides eventually struck loose river rock that gradually felt like solid ground beneath his shod hooves. I wrapped my short legs tighter as he lunged his way toward the shore where his legs grew longer and more stable. As they lengthened, they also accelerated.

With only the cotton rope in one small hand, a wisp of mane in the other and a slick seat beneath my equally slick bottom, the ride quickly transgressed from serene to scary. With each step closer to shore, the tall and lanky horse became more determined to keep going. He was bound for the campground and the trailer. And there was nothing I could do to stop him.

One last surge found us on dry ground. It was the kind of sun-baked hard soil that sits on top of Ozark Mountains. Sandy on the surface and hard as rock just beneath. His stride graduated from a rapid walk to a bouncing trot to lope, then full out gallop as he purposed his way past pines and oaks and over rough rocks and fallen limbs, beating a path to his equine buddies and feed bucket. I hunkered down and held on for dear life, hollering whoa and pulling back with all my miniscule might.
My commands fell on deaf ears and a powerful nose that would not yield.

On one last, heart-stopping bend around a huge pine tree, Blue dumped me right in the middle of a sawdust pile. I rose just inches from the base of a hundred year old spruce, covered with reddish dust and feeling like one big cedar chip. And there he stood, looking innocent, munching on hay at the trailer between Jack and Slim.

He could have slipped me off in a rapid current. I may have lost my grip and plummeted to nail-hard soil. In any number of places between the river and the trailer, I might have met my head with the likes of a huge branch or jagged rock. But I landed in a soft pile of safety right next to the camper. Now that's what I call timing.

How quickly our circumstances can change from enjoyable to frightening. Suddenly we go from feeling in command of our destiny to clinging to anything solid for a glimpse of certainty. The ride is scary, often whirring and blurry. And then one final blow lands us in the lap of safety and then we know that the Lord was with us through the entire ride.

Give us eyes to see from the beginning. Gives us strength to hold tightly to truth even when we feel it slipping away in the midst of danger and fear. Keep your saving hand upon us so when we fall, we fall into the arms of grace that covers us with forgiveness and helps us walk away changed.

Even at a young age, I knew I had been protected. I was aggravated with my horse, but delighted with God's unseen hand. I've thought of that ride countless times over the years. I can still see the river, feel the rapids. I remember the round pebbles that slipped away beneath Blue's hooves and I see the path littered with less friendly stones. I smell the sawdust and remember the salty tears that mingled with the fresh river water that dripped from my braids. And I still stand amazed that I walked away.

“There is no one like the God fo Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where Did You Get That Glow


Where Did You Get That Glow

By Brenda Black


I've seen blushing brides, glowing mothers-to-be, and beaming daddies. None of them, as I recall, ever frightened me. But in Exodus 34:29-35, Moses' afterglow shocked onlookers!

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Ex. 34:29-30)

After spending 40 days and nights basking in the Almighty's brilliance, Moses descended the mountain with his own face glowing! Obviously, the twinkle in his eye was more than just a glimmer. The flush in his cheeks far greater than any sun-kissed, wind-burned, ruddy tan. His face was painted an ethereal hue as if he were from heaven himself. And that frightened even those who knew him best. Not until Moses assured them of his humanity by speaking their names did they stop to take a second look.

“But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.” (vs. 31)

The touch of God is rightfully a little scary. We're talking about the Creator of the Universe who deserves reverent fear at his approach! The people of God should likewise evoke a sense of wonder. We ought to look a little different as well since we're filled with the Holy Spirit who ministers in invisible and mysterious ways within our hearts, minds and souls! People should notice a change when a Christian spends time with their Savior. They should see radiance and detect His presence and wonder if the beaming believer is from this world or another.

Instead of causing folks to fear and flee, the reflection of God in us should draw the curious closer. Our transformation before the Heavenly Father can be positively contagious if first we embrace how he changes us so that we illuminate the benefits of his will in our lives.

“Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.” (vs. 32-35)

Unveiled before God. What a terrifying and terrific experience. How enlightening to be completely transparent before our Lord and bare our souls to the One who abides within us. What a marvelous way to lay aside humanity and absorb divinity. Fling off the coverings of pride or insecurity. Drop the pretenses and phony phrases we employ in prayer. Cast off the cliches. Forget protocol. Just come into the presence of the Holy of Holies knowing that He loves you unconditionally and wants to light up your life! God is waiting. He has wisdom to impart. He holds out healing. He offers grace and mercy, forgiveness and hope.

When we walk away from that kind of encounter, we are bound to affect this world with radiance. How can we hide the Light of the World once we bask in His presence. We shouldn't try. And maybe this is where I differ with Moses. I don't think I would want to cover what my God has created in me. I want everyone to see that He reigns in me and is the source of my “glow.”

Take off the veil that keeps you at arm's length from the Almighty. And keep it off when you walk away from prayer and back into the real world. Show that glow! When someone asks about your radiance – tell them you've just been with God and He is waiting to meet them too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Will Meet You in the Morning

I Will Meet You in the Morning
By Brenda Black

“Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain...When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Ex. 34:2, 29)

Get up, get ready! You are meeting God in the morning! I wonder how Moses slept that preceding night. In my pre-dawn hours, I hear everything, and imagine what I do not hear. Last night, I heard the dog howl every time a pack of coyotes yodeled. Their high-pitch cackling grew louder and more frantic as they congealed choruses from every direction of the house. I heard the deep rumbling of far away thunder and tuned in to determine whether I needed to start unplugging appliances. I heard my common sense command me to rise at 4:15 and put the frightened pooch in the garage. He had managed to keep his coyote cousins at bay, but couldn't stop the storm's heady approach and his helplessness made him whine and whimper pathetically.

When I wasn't listening intently to the night sounds, my mind wandered to internal dilemmas. How would I function the next day? I mentally perused floating lists of jobs that awaited a well-rested me and feared how they might suffer at the hands of a sleepy head. I fitfully bargained between mind and body for sleep. Then just as I nodded off it seemed, the alarm clock shocked me back into a conscious state of reality – it was morning.

Even with the load of chores I face, I must admit I am sure I do not have the pressure that Moses bore that night before he climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God. He surely did not sleep! Nevertheless, the sun rose and the day greeted him with a divine appointment. It made me wonder, how does one get ready to meet God in the morning? Fretting? Dreading? Enthusiastic anticipation? Or calm assurance?

Someday, I hope to ask Moses. Until then, I must believe that while God scheduled a morning meeting, he was with Moses all through the night. How else could Moses have mustered the courage to face the God of the Universe? What would keep him from dying in fear before he opened his eyes to the Author of Life? The God of the morning was already God of his night, whether he knew it or not.

With that advantageous understanding, we each can confidently face the dawn ready to meet with the Master. Get up! Get ready! You are meeting the God who already knows your name and sees the to-do list tacked to your refrigerator door. He knows the kids have football and volleyball practice and he understands that your boss is demanding more. He heard you and your husband talking last night and has a plan on how to pay off those bills. The Hand that Heals has hope to impart to the hurting you'll encounter this day. He offers words of wisdom and gentle compassion for each unknown mission you'll face.

And after you meet Him in the morning, others will know with whom you've opened your day. It will show on your face! Moses' afterglow made him radiant. Post entering into the presence of the Almighty, Moses shone with glory.

It's your turn to get a Mount Sinai makeover. No more dark circles under your eyes from worry all night long. No grumpin' around from a rumpled bed that brought no rest. No moaning and dreading a perfectly good day because of a lousy night. When you meet God in the morning, He brings new energy. For his mercies are new every morning and he promises strength to the weary. He saw you wrestle with anxieties last night and is waiting to help bear your load today. Just meet Him in the morning and feel the glow! God can turn an un-surrendered night into radiant light if we just get up and invite Him to reign over our day.


**After you meet God, I'd love to meet you! Join me for area book signings or to visit about any of the entries you've read here on "Blessings from Brenda" Go to www.thewordsout-brendablack.com for event times and locations.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Two Men, One Mission


Two Men, One Mission
By Brenda Black

Batman & Robin. The Lone Ranger & Tonto. Abbott and Costello. George & Gracie. Dynamic duos composed of opposites. Here's another for the list: Cornelius and Peter. Maybe that doesn't ring quite as familiar as the fictitious characters and famous Hollywood performers, but I assure you, their meeting and subsequent friendship would make a great movie.

Meet Cornelius: He was devout, God fearing, generous and respected by the Jews. He prayed regularly. And he was a centurion in the Roman army.

A regiment very similar to his own mocked and scourged the Christ; they nailed him to a cross and crammed into his temples a torturous wreath of thorns. But Cornelius and all his family believed in God. He was known by God. Heard by God. Seen by God. And visited by God.

“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!'

“Cornelius stared at him in fear. 'What is it, Lord?' he asked.

“The angel answered, 'Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter...

“When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and one of his soldiers who was a devout man. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” (Acts 10:3-8)

Enter Peter: “About noon the following day as they were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray...he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'

“'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.'

“The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'

“This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

“While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.'” (vs. 9-20)

Peter was a Jew. Cornelius a Roman centurion. Jews despised Gentiles. But this Gentile was different. He had authority over men and was under the authority of God Most High. Peter learned of Cornelius by way of the powerful man's servants, but it may have been a fragment of their message that captured Peter's heart and moved him to oblige their request. “A holy angel told [Cornelius] to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” (vs. 22c)

The true reason for the reunion Peter would not comprehend until he entered Cornelius' door. Though the centurion received a clear message from God, Peter had to learn that revelation often follows resignation. While one received a clear answer and the other a mysterious vision, God pulled them together for a specific purpose – they each were to teach the other a God lesson.

Peter makes the connection between his dream and his mission. “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (vs. 28b) “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (vs. 34)

The room full of circumcised Jews and searching Gentiles became brothers in Christ! “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

“Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.'” (vs. 44-47)

Two men of fervent prayer; two obedient followers from two separate worlds became one in the body of Christ because they listened and obeyed individual calls from God. Don't think such miraculous messages are reserved only for movie scripts and ancient history. God is counting on you at this moment in time and space! He has someone for you to reach. Someone for you to teach. And when you go in obedience to share the gospel, you'll learn a valuable lesson yourself. Don't miss the call to multiply the kingdom when you subtract doubt and confusion and add faith and acceptance.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alone with the Masses
By Brenda Black


I slumped into the webbed patio chair and faced south. The setting sun warmed my right cheek and a tepid breeze indicated changing weather. With eyes closed, I pictured serenity, then opened them to realize it was before me. Home. Away from the clamor of barking peddlers and whirring carnival rides. Far removed from the cattle fans and generators and incessant PA announcements inviting fair goers to the next scheduled venue. I was free of the pressing crowds and the chaos. Instead I sat quietly with my black lab at my feet. Home.

My bed felt extra soft; my husband's welcome hug engulfing and safe. And the quiet was tangible that first day back at the ranch. I did not realize how stressed my constitution until I merged from State Fair hype to calm refuge surrounded by grass, sky and trees. With an audible sigh and extended push of air over pursed lips, I let the past week of noise, nary any sleep and inconvenient camping in a livestock trailer melt away from my mind and body.

Time alone is healing. Quiet moments, revealing. In this busy world it is challenging to find such solace, especially when it is needed most. At just the moment when you desire solitude, someone will seek your companionship. Mark my words.

After exhausting, hot days of fair duties, it typically bumped 11:00 p.m. before I welcomed the trickling campground shower then my make-shift bed. Ironically, at that same time most evenings, folks would show up at my trailer ready to visit. I stepped out one night to find four teens waiting for my hospitality. Another night, the daughter of an old family friend drove an hour to see us and we crammed in a life-time between 10 and 12 p.m. Night after night, as some got their second wind, mine was going flat.

It didn't change when I arrived home depleted of energy and swamped with dirty laundry and delinquent assignments. People found me – they needed a listening ear or advise. They wanted my attention and had news to share. And I obliged out of love and concern, but mostly because it is what my Lord has done.

When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.'

“Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.'” (Matthew 14:13-16)

In the midst of terrible grief, when Christ wanted most to be left alone to deal with the shocking news of John's heinous execution, he is called to have compassion on the masses. My heart goes out to Jesus in this circumstance. He lays aside his anguish and weariness to meet the needs of others when he needed rest himself.

After feeding 5,000 with two fish and five loaves, “immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” (vs. 22) He had clean up duty, bid adieu to the guests and sought once again refuge and rest. “After he had dismissed them, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (vs. 23-24)

I wonder how long Jesus got. Was it five minutes or an hour? Had he just found the perfect stump to be alone and spotted from atop the mountain the sea-tossed dingy filled with his friends in jeopardy. In the middle of the night, between 3 and 6 a.m., he trekked down that mountain and walked on water to help people again.

My Lord is hospitable. He is accommodating and kind. Christ is compassionate while grieving, a servant while weary and always a Savior, even when we call upon Him in the darkest span of night.

Sure, I like some quiet time for myself. I grow tired and sometimes the last thing I feel is compassion or patience for those who demand my time and energy. But then I look at my Jesus and I see the significance of service in spite of self. God will supply the energy. He will impart the wisdom or tenderness necessary to minister to those who need hospitality even when you think you don't have it to give. And when you get the opportunity to steal away with the Lord again, he'll whisper in your ear, “If you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto me.”

Peace comes in many forms. A gentle breeze, a tree frog serenade, a pet curled at your feet. And it also arrives in mysterious ways, such as serving others when you must depend fully on the Lord to provide the strength.