Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Working to Win

Working to Win
By Brenda Black

Towering teenagers quietly walked onto the basketball court a full hour before the national championship game. The long white pin stripe down the side of their black warm-up suits accentuated each players lean and lengthy stature. They moved through stretches and drills in unison, barely uttering a word. Solemn faces clarified the serious business ahead.

With admirable athleticism, these 15 to 18 year old boys demonstrated their preparedness for a man's high-speed game that would demand quick thinking, grit and grace. As they moved through their drills with fluid strides and accuracy, their coach stood calmly to the side, offering instruction. He watched with pleasure as the young gentlemen carried out his commands.

Their contenders arrived ten minutes before tip-off, scrambling into jerseys as they haphazardly took one end of the court and rushed through some individual warm-ups. They sauntered in as a pack, chattering and seemingly indifferent to their tardiness.

Each team was equally talented. All the players were remarkable athletes and good sports. Though evenly matched in ability, I found myself cheering for the team that honored the privilege of that moment. The game began a full fifteen minutes late thanks to the dawdling team as thousands of spectators fidgeted in their seats.

In the end, a mere couple of points transformed game faces into broad grins when the tall team in black took home the trophy, title and deserved respect from a crowd of cheering fans.

Some would contend the better team won. Others would vow that a little more time may have swayed the scoreboard the opposite direction. I believe it was justice plain and simple. The team that honored the committee, respected the audience and applied diligence, won the championship.

True winners are just as obvious in the workforce. As more and more folks face unemployment, the competition grows fierce for fewer paying positions. This summer, out-of-work managers may be filling out applications right next to the freckle-faced teen trying to hire on at the local convenience store or theme park. Who will the boss hire and on what will he base his criteria? I'd like to think that quality will count once again. I would hope that dependability and responsibility would be valued and justly compensated.

While so many scramble for their free handouts and think society owes it to them, there are those who admirably still demonstrate a strong work ethic. Some still strive to be creative and productive even when unexpected lay-offs and company closures push them out the door. Their regard for diligence has earned them the respect they deserve and I pray they will draw on that during these difficult times.

In this age of entitlement, true champions in the labor force stand out. They show up on time. They work hard. They listen to their superiors and cooperate with fellow employees. And they take the job seriously.

It's time to remember that what made our nation great were hard-working citizens, not bureaucracies and red tape. Dreams were built by undaunted drive, not a fairness policy. Homes and happiness were established by the hands of gifted craftsmen and pride. America's working class once again needs to see the benefits and satisfaction for a job well done rather than wait for charity. It's time to think outside the box, discover ways to survive and thrive by using our untapped talents instead of withering from laziness and indifference.

Whether we win or lose in this economic clash is based on how we respect the privilege of employment and how we apply ourselves to the game. Made in America needs to mean something again. May the Lord bless those who are willing to do their best and supply all their needs. They are the true champions who will make our country great again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Look Like an Angel

You Look Like an Angel
By Brenda Black

“All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts. 6:15)

Chubby cheeks, wispy bangs, fluttering wings and harps. Our iconic image of angels is likely off in left field when it comes to an accurate depiction of God's noble messengers. I highly doubt Stephen looked like the front of a Valentine's card. Modern culture has diluted the significance of a heavenly army reducing it to fluff and fantasy. But there was a time when angels struck awe in the hearts of men and gleamed of eternal mysteries. Even a hard-hearted group of dogmatic religious leaders acknowledged the essence of angelic countenance when they “looked intently at Stephen.”

Oh, to look like an angel. It must be blissful to gleam with innocence – refreshing, pure and lovely. Or it might feel empowering to strike shock or reverence in the hearts of fellow humans. Whatever these men saw when they gazed at Stephen stopped them in their tracks for a brief moment.

What's more impressive than their abbreviated respect is that Stephen looked like an angel in the midst of such hateful, false accusations when he stood in a hostile environment. I admire him greatly for that. It begins when Stephen is seized.

“Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by which he spoke.

“Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.'

“So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, 'This fellow never stops speaking against the holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.'”

Then they saw it – the angelic mark God uses to set Stephen apart from the insincere. As God defines his chosen spokesmen, the Sanhedrin excludes him by distinguishing their superiority over him pronouncing that the customs of Moses were “handed down to us.” (Acts 6:8-14)

Stephen counters their prejudice with inclusive terminology and graciously embraces this sect of condemners as fellow descendants of Abraham, even as they plot and press for his execution.

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to OUR father Abraham...” (vs. 2) Then Stephen recounts their unified history including his full and detailed knowledge of Moses. He also uses phrases like: “our fathers”, “our people”, “our forefathers”, and “Moses who led us out.”

If they didn't have a leg to stand on when they heard his wisdom and felt the Spirit by which he spoke earlier, how in the world could they disregard his sure words now. Nevertheless, they did. When they would not listen and they would not hear, Stephen called them to account.

“'You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.'”

And we've come full circle. They don't feel compelled to listen to the man with the face of an angel because they're accustomed to ignoring godly instruction, even when actual ministering spirits deliver God's words of wisdom. They don't get it because they don't want to get it. They would rather be dead wrong and have their own way, than be right with the Lord.

Have you ever talked with someone so stubborn and set in their ways that they refused to see God's will or wisdom. They denied his power, his existence. They mocked his authority and insulted you for extra measure. How did you look at that moment? Fuming mad with flushed cheeks and a throbbing forehead. Did you ruffle your wings, want to pull your cherubim bow and fire an arrow right through them! Or did you have the face of an angel, radiant with God's mercy. Did your Spirit reveal heavenly wisdom.

In the middle of hate and inhumane treatment, Stephen glowed godly. At the sound of lies and slander, he stood solidly and spoke the truth directly. And in the face of death, he looked and saw eternity.

“...Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'

“At this they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him...While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts. 7:54-60)

In spite of the circumstances, God called Stephen and calls us today, to respond in heavenly ways. Be wise, be full of the Spirit and radiate an angelic countenance that leaves any accuser without excuse. That's our mission as ministering spirits.