Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Hot Place to Find Humility

By Brenda Black

Puberty punctuates immaturity as much as it ushers in adulthood. And impertinence is all the more exaggerated when there is an audience. Tough teen Ishmael counted it entertainment to tease and mock his baby step-brother Isaac during his big “coming-out” party. Not his wisest decision.

“The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'” (Genesis 21:8-10)

One too many caddy remarks can land you smack dab in the middle of a social desert. And a smart alec kid will drag his parents right along the barren, sandy slide if they don't put a stop to it. Nobody likes rudeness, especially in the form of disrespect. Sometimes, it takes a swift kick in the pants to temper a sarcastic tongue or at least a few minutes in a time out, away from all the attention, for humility to have a fighting chance.

And that's where we find Ishmael and his mother Hagar – out in the desert, humbled and scared.

“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

“When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

“God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer...” (14-20)

Ishmael was a teenager, 14 years old, and we find him reduced to the ways of the baby he mocked days before. Hagar herself despised her mistress and now weeps alone in the desert, longing for her companionship. On that hot desert, they found humility in the midst of harsh reality.

No matter how far we move away from God, he is able to find us. Under a tree, dying. A bowshot away, weeping. He meets us in our gravest situation, not with judgement, but compassion. He lifts us from our sinfulness and sorrow and shame. He opens our eyes and restores our dignity. Some will accept such grace and walk onward full of faith. Others will never comprehend the love they could have within and the joy they could bring if they would humble themselves and stop living in slavery to sin. Ishmael's legacy leaves no doubt that he disdained the Lord's rescue. He did not receive the inheritance and “his descendants...lived in hostility toward all their brothers.” (Gen. 25:18)

I don't know what became of Hagar, but Galations 4:25 says “Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.”

Did she go the way of her wild, rebellious son or was it her own example that taught him the kind of sarcasm that would cast them away from everyone. All of her history and the uncertainty of her destiny teaches us one sure truth. If we don't accept God's salvation when he offers a living drink, we are in just as much danger as this woman and child lost in the desert. Worse yet, we're lost forever. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible clarifies the difference between sin slavery and salvation. “There is a well of water near them in the covenant of grace, but they are not aware of it, till the same God that opened their eyes to see their wound, opens them to see their remedy. Paran was a wild place, fit for a wild man; such as Ishmael. Those who are born after the flesh, take up with the wilderness of this world, while the children of the promise aim at the heavenly Canaan.”

Don't wait until you are humbled in the heat of a desert. Choose today to live as a child of promise rather than a slave to sin.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Begin and Finish Faithfully

By Brenda Black

Human error, grammatical oversight or divine intervention? You decide.

The U.S. Constitution includes in the presidential oath a specific statement in which the newly elected Commander in Chief is supposed to swear to "faithfully execute the office of president of the United States". But Chief Justice Roberts reordered the phrase, moving the adverb “faithfully” to the end. Mr. Obama detected the faux pax and hesitated. It's one of the drawbacks of being such a polished speaker. Rote memorized speeches leave little margin for error. One tiny word can throw the speaker and leave him stammering as was the case with Mr. Obama. He obviously had rehearsed the sequence of promises hundreds of times since November. Yet, when faith was misplaced, it left two powerful men at a loss for words.

Certainly, the million people moment would cause the nerves of even the most stoic of public figures to err. But I have to wonder if a higher power than the president or a chief justice addressed the crowd on Tuesday. The God of our nation, the creator of the world might have something to say about how the next president performs his duties. Based on the number of times that faithfully was mentioned and where it was positioned in the oath of the highest office in the world, leads me to believe, the Lord expects loyalty.

He blesses those who faithfully adhere to His plan and listen to His wisdom. “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle , and you will eat and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-15)

I heard one seasoned farmer say recently, “No matter how bad times may get, people still gotta eat.” If we are going to get through these tough challenges, he believes we need to “faithfully” insure that America's agriculture remains viable and profitable. Invoking God's blessings is a great way to begin since 90% of farming is in His hands.

We need his provision and we need his indwelling to faithfully imitate his pattern of love and forgiveness if we expect God to bless these United States. “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:12)

The president included in his inaugural address more than once the words “new age”. He said the world is changing and America must change with it. But according to the Holy Scriptures, some things never change, like the Lord himself who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End and is the same yesterday and forever. Remaining faithful to Jehovah God in every shift of politics and in every age is a great way to begin, to live and to finish.

“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers...” (Dt. 11:16-21)

The Lord demands from us what He has already offered himself – an oath of loyalty. One tiny phrase that speaks volumes of hope and warning. In the case of a U.S. constitutional promise, our freedom to believe and worship begins and finishes with faith. Let us pray that our new president faithfully executes the office of president of the United States – full of faith."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Football, Faith and Footprints

By Brenda Black

I heard the name from sports commentators throughout the National Championship Game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Florida. I had not paid much attention to the Heisman winning quarterback since my alma mater's Chase Daniel lost the 2007 bid. Yet, I found myself enamored with the onslaught of compliments toward the iconic leader of the Florida Gators, Tim Tebow, each time they mentioned his name. Because of this impressive student, God received more credit in a three hour football contest and pre-game show, than in an entire year of broadcast on network t.v. My hat's off to Tebow for his exemplary reputation and my heart is warmed by his story that reveals the Lord 's amazing touch in his life.

The 6-3, 240 pound dynamo helped deliver answers to Gator prayers with the 2008 national title, but his performance last week doesn't hold a candle to the miracle God performed in his life off the field. Tebow never would have been born, if his mother, Pam, would have listened to the doctor who advised her to abort in order to survive amoebic dysentery. She contracted the illness while serving alongside her husband, Bob, as missionaries in the Philippines in 1987. They prayed instead. And 22 years later his life is a living witness.

Just as this rising star gains more and more opportunity to share his faith with sports fans, another God-fearing football notable is stepping off the field. Coach Tony Dungy leaves a big faith-in-action footprint to fill. His genuine Christianity is already documented in a hardback book, while Tebow's total impact remains unwritten. But where the young and old football heroes merge is in their desire to make a difference somewhere other than between two goalposts.

Tebow spends his summers ministering to orphans and the impoverished. He visits the imprisoned and offers them Christ. Dungy has a desire to reach young men for the Lord and help them learn how to be godly fathers for it is his own dad's positive Christian influence that Dungy admires most.

I know of yet another man, Brady Black, who is playing in the game of his life and winning the respect and admiration of thousands for his faithful witness. He once played football and is still a huge fan, but the real contest is being played not in a stadium, but in a hospital in Texas and in the body of his little boy. One day, Brady's son will carry the torch of Christian testimony because of such great faith in a God who delivers miracles. Because of his parent's prayers, my great-nephew, Kobe, will grow to know about the miraculous touch of the Lord. And who knows...maybe some day, the commentary on his life will convey great respect when his parents' faith becomes his own. And the story written will tell of his far-reaching impact on the world.

That's what happens when we put faith in action. We leave a legacy and we lead others to the Lord. I know God is getting the credit he deserves every time I hear Kobe's name and I watch miracles take place. God's gracious answers to prayer will always be bigger than a national championship. These three men know that full well.

**Note – Kobe is four years old and recuperating from three successive surgeries in the past two months to remove thyroid cancerous tumors including one on the brain. Each procedure has produced miraculous results and rapid resiliency. Radiation therapy is scheduled in February to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. To learn more about Kobe's journey and God's touch, visit Thank you so much for the loving prayers lifted for Kobe. You are part of the miracle.