Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Conflict of Conscience

A Conflict of Conscience
By Brenda Black

Visions of Tweety Bird's Grandmother beating off Sylvester popped into my mind when I scanned a recent headline: “Thief Mugs 90-Year-Old, Gives Back Purse.” In the movie Madagascar, Granny's contemporary cartoon cousin just as fiercely wallops Alex the Lion in the middle of Grand Central Station. Though the two animated nanas slung their purses and wielded their canes, this real-life 90-year-old Kansan wisely called for back-up when a man grabbed her purse and ran.

The woman called a neighbor and told him what happened. They returned near the scene of the crime and spied the robber going through her purse. The neighbor called police, then started honking his horn at the man. The mugger walked over to the car and after a brief conversation, handed over some of the victim's personal items before running. Police said all of the 90-year-old's personal property was recovered and she was not hurt, but the criminal has not been caught.

Wouldn't you love to know what was said through that car window. What compels a man to wrangle a purse from a little old woman? Is it depravity or cowardice. And what drives him to undo the damage? Conscience or bravery. Did he apologize. Did he tell her of his dire needs and plead for mercy. I'd sure like to know.

Our times are desperate for many people. Even the good can go bad when they reach a point of fearful frustration. But there is a moral compass. No matter what new age religiosity or faith of the day teaches, mankind is accountable and created to know the difference between right and wrong. Those standards are not based on personal gain. They are not established in philosophy think tanks. The fundamental absolutes are mandated by God himself. He is truth.

Somewhere in the conscience and heart of this criminal, that compass spun out of control. After vibrating nervously between poles, the magnetic force of good pulled him due north. Hopefully he will not waiver again. Hopefully he will see his mishap as motivation to stay the course with good moral judgment. Hopefully, the reason for his desperation will be met with provision by honest means. And hopefully he will seek Christ Jesus for forgiveness.

We are all susceptible to wavering from what we know is right. In an instance, we can go against our best moral judgment. In a moment of frustration, we too can react improperly. After stewing and brewing over mistreatment, we can retaliate on an innocent bystander, taking from them what we have had stolen from us. We would all be depraved and desperate without God's divine moral compass, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

Our hope for honest living comes by submitting to God's rules. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
(1 Corinthians 10:13)

Sure, this robber was caught in the act. In the glare of a car's headlights his sins were revealed. The blaring of a horn announced to the world his dastardly behavior. But he faced the light and walked to the car and laid his sin in the lap of the lady.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:11-14)

If you want a clear conscience, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5b)

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Cold, Kind Reality of God's Love

The Cold, Kind Reality of God's Love
By Brenda Black

Good morning and God bless you today! The sun is shining and the birds are singing even if it is a bit crisp. I have always been fascinated with the resilience of God's creatures and their adaptability to all kinds of harsh conditions. Oh, that I would be so pliable. Just last night I was tossed about in a whirlwind of emotions and various levels of comfort and discomfort while I sat on a cold metal folding chair.

There just isn't anything quite as dreadful as the portable contraptions that feature a protruding back rest that shoves into your shoulder blades and causes your bum to slide forward. Eventually, no matter how many attempts you make to correct your waning posture, you still end up looking lice a spinal "c".

My night in the not-hot seat was filled with adventure. First, I was a loyal mama shouting cheers for my son on the basketball court. Secondly, I was a defensive mother hen when the poor sports from the other team taunted and harassed our players. We're talking parents here. One lady hissed, chanted air-ball, and even mockingly whined when one of our players fouled out of the game! Everything in side of me wanted to confront that awful woman and tell her to grow up! But the Lord pinned me to my frigid seat.

And I'm so glad he did. For next to me, my loving God placed the warmest piece of sunshine. Her name was Lois and she has just returned to the states from 47 years as a missionary in Japan. What a delightful, godly, charming lady. We had a wonderful visit between roaring cheers and applause from our supporters and equally loud cheers and jeers from the opponents. She was new to basketball and I detailed the game and answered her questions as they surfaced. In the midst of the chaos, I learned about her love for the Lord, her work with the Japanese, her family, her faith, her goals, her dreams. And when she spoke, the wretched shouts of that hostile voice one row and down a dozen cold chairs behind me,disappeared into the warmth of Lois'soft and gentle and encouraging words.

In a matter of minutes our hearts merged. Midway through the game we were snuggled under my coat, this elderly saint and me. By the end of the game we embraced and I received a loving Christian kiss on the cheek.

Oh it was right down blissful to become her friend. She asked me to pray for her sister, still on the mission field. She asked me to pray for a Buddhist priest she knows over there who understands the truth of Christ but will not leave the temple. She asked me where she could find out how to minister to women in her new location. Then she offered her prayers for my husband and me in our ministry.

I can already feel them.

I think I've answered my own dilemma over the fowl and friends who live outside. The birds of the air and beasts of the field tolerate fluctuating environmental discomforts because they feel the power and presence of their Almighty Creator who said, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them..." Matthew 6:26"

He makes harsh things habitable when we listen to His voice and share His love with those right next to us.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where did you find love this Valentine's Weekend

This weekend, I found love. I saw love on some dear faces and through innocent embraces. I felt love through selfless service and rediscovered true love from my sweetheart. After you hear where I found love, tell me where you witnessed love in action this Valentine's!

My husband and I visited with a sweet lady Friday night in the hospital, while she recuperated from a terrifying and near fatal bout with fluid around her heart. She told of the suffocating panic she experienced and then her emergency trip by helicopter. But when I looked into her eyes and held the hand of this incredible woman, I saw love. She focused on the bright side with delightful grace and thanked God for each little detail that helped her survive. She warmed my soul and showed me loveliness in its truest form.

We dined at a nice seafood restaurant after our hospital visit and loitered near the lobster tank with a standing, hungry crowd. While most of the adults avoided eye contact by staring at the floor, shuffling their belongings or talking on their cell phones, three little girls opened their arms and demonstrated unashamed love in the company of strangers. In a matter of seconds, the mini misses became bosom buddies by sharing their exuberance for claws and tails and the attention of one another. One embraced her companion and declared - "She's my best friend!" When the squeeze subsided, the third girl out asked, "Can I be your best friend too?" And all agreed. How lovely.

I watched a busy mother of five pack away four pans of homemade cheese cake she took the time to bake and deliver to the church. I watched a youth advisor slop spaghetti sauce for an hour and a worship leader inspire a group of teens to master music, comedy and compassion all for one night of worship. I witnessed a building filled with generosity and gratitude to support a youth missions trip and saw teens serve their elders. I saw love in action.

I just gave my hubby a silly card and we giggled as we plopped across the bed, not quite ready for the day to end. Then I opened a pastel pink and beautiful, lacy, white card filled with tender sentiment and honest devotion from my husband of 23 years. I melted into his arms where it felt safe and warm knowing he still thinks I make him complete. I'm glad I found true love.

Your turn!!!! Where did you see love?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wanted: True Love

Wanted: True Love
By Brenda Black

Some say love it is a river; some say love it is a razor. Others claim love is a hunger or a flower. Opinions vary, hinged on personal experience. If you've drowned beneath raging, rough love- waters or felt stabbed in the heart, you may hold to the river/razor analogies. If you've been dismissed, jilted or forsaken, you could think love just leaves you gut empty. But if you've found the seed that makes you blossom, most likely you liken love to a fragrant, long-stemmed beauty.

Scientist say that kind of love doesn't have to fade. A university study in New York discovered a small number of couples respond with as much passion after 20 years together as most people only do during the early throes of romance. Researchers scanned the brains of couples together for 20 years and compared them with results of new lovers. About 10 percent of the mature couples had the same chemical reactions when shown photographs of their loved ones as those just starting out. Before such findings, the common belief held that romantic love fades within 15 months of the wedding and, after 10 years, it has gone completely.

In colonial America, marriage was less about romance and more about men finding a woman who could bear children to help share the heavy frontier work. By the mid-1800s, a shortage of women out West forced men to place ads for capable companions. One ad read:

“Any gal that got a bed, calico dress, coffee pot and skillet, knows how to cut out britches and can make a hunting shirt, knows how to take care of children can have my services till death do us part.”

Doesn't get much more romantic than that!

Not only cowboys were looking to lasso a lady, city gentlemen petitioned through the papers as well. Their focus tended to be more on the financial worth of the woman rather than her work ethic. The Matrimonial News, a San Francisco matchmaking newspaper of the late 1800s carried such notices. “Aged 27, height 5 feet 9 inches, dark hair and eyes, considered handsome by all, his friends unite in saying he is amiable and will make a model husband. The lady must be one in the most extended acceptation of the word since the advertiser moves in the most polished and refined society. It is also desirable that she should have considerable money.”

His competition got even more specific: “I am 33 years of age, and as regards looks can average with most men. I am looking for a lady to make her my wife, as I am heartily tired of bachelor life. I desire a lady not over 28 or 30 years of age, not ugly, well educated and musical. Nationality makes no difference, only I prefer not to have a lady of Irish birth. She must have at least $20,000.”

Ah, love was in the air!

This is the one that tugged most at my heart and made me wonder just how desperate and lonely she must have been. “Young lady of good family and education, considered handsome, would like to correspond with some gentleman of means, one who would be willing to take her without a dollar, as she has nothing to offer but herself.”

And the man who wisely selected her, surely got the best deal!

Love isn't a river. It is not a razor. It has nothing to do with the stomach and you can't grow it in a rose garden. Love can't be measured by brain scans or bought through want ads.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

If you want true love that never fails, check your heart instead of your brain waves. Look to feed the soul of the other instead of demanding they meet all your needs. Genuine compassion and courtesy are precursors to life-long passion and romance. Ladies and Gentlemen, it goes both ways, if you expect to find true love on Valentine's Day and twenty years and beyond after the wedding.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reagan Reflections

Reagan Reflections
By Brenda Black

Nearly a century ago, on Feb. 6, 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan entered the world. He won the admiration of movie-goers and two leading ladies, then the favor of the nation when he became the 40th President of the United States. Reagan died on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93, but is still remembered for his landslide victory, more extreme than the most recent with a 489 electoral win over Jimmy Carter's 49. He was loved for his vast appeal and his indelible charismatic and colorful quotes still echo through history and bear the weight of wisdom that we might do well to heed in this generation.

“Facts are stubborn things,” Reagan said.

I would add that ignorance is not necessarily bliss. In order to realize success in any area of life, it is truth that is our greatest ally. The psalmist David put it this way: “Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (Ps. 119:29-32)

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Reagan said. “We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

The fact is, the truth which is found in Christ is our greatest freedom. The challenge is to instill that truth into the hearts of the next generation so that our freedom will not be lost. Reagan said, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” It's time to wake up and shake up the world with the Word of God!

It begins at home. As Reagan said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Our children must see faith in action as we offer thanks to God, not the government for our provisions. Our families must be taught the importance of honesty, hard work and purity and the advantages for living a life of integrity. It is up to parents to impart truth, not teach tactics for getting something for nothing or lying to get ahead or taking without giving. It begins by demonstrating personal faith and devotion to the One True God of all creation.

“If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God,” the 40th President said, “then we will be a nation gone under.”

This surge forward in American history will be only as progressive as it is purposeful. And our purpose is to live for truth, not self-serving or worldly ambitions. Our eyes are supposed to be fixed on things eternal. Reagan said, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

When times are tough, when temptations are tantalizing, when solutions to problems come from temporary fixes instead of time-honored truths, choose the better. Opt for truth.

“'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

“'Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.'” (John 3:24-30)

God is truth. “We are never defeated unless we give up on God,” Reagan charged.

On Feb. 6, 1911, Reagan was born. He left his mark on history by encouraging a nation and inciting Americans to seek God's wisdom and truth. Our purpose is no less historically critical. We are called by the Lord himself to walk in truth and lead others to do the same. A landslide victory for faithful living looks like heaven.

“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.” (Psalm 15)