Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Monkey See, Monkey Do
By Brenda Black

Ask a monkey. He'll tell you that the way people treat you affects the way you feel about yourself. In a study in 2003, researchers required monkeys to hand a small rock to them in order to receive a piece of food. Monkeys were happy to do this to get a piece of a cucumber. However, the bland vegetable became less enticing if one monkey saw another monkey getting a more delicious reward, like a grape, for doing the same job. The one who got the cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, threw out the rock and eventually stopped performing at all.

Let's face it, there's a lot of monkey business in this world that shapes self-image and affects our behavior. Suppose you've worked hard on a project for years. Then, in one sweeping changing-of-the- guard, all your effort and sacrifice for the company is ignored while someone else gets undeserved credit and gladly takes the grape. You react by throwing rocks or tantrums and end up with a cumbersome attitude – all because another human dictated your worth.

If it is not matters of management and money, quite possibly personal value is determined by matters of the heart. After months of dinner dates and sharing your dreams with the one you believe could be “The One,” he or she decides their feelings aren't amorous. Instead of the joy that you've exuded of late, sorrow consumes your heart. Suddenly you see yourself as worthless instead of wonderful because some guy or girl didn't return your affections.

We may feel stressed, shirked, silenced, stupid, or insignificant depending on another's opinion. And those internalized assessments shape our self-image as well as our outward mannerisms. But are they justified.

“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.' So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-23, 4:1-5)

The Apostle Paul wasn't into monkey business. He understood the merit of a man is measured by the standards of God, not mere mortals. God sees us through the eyes of perfect love. He knows our flaws and failures. He believes in our abilities when we doubt them ourselves. He made us and bids us to draw our worth not in works but in the work he is doing in and through us.

The Lord esteems. The Lord encourages. The Lord enlightens. The Lord embraces. The Lord's opinion is accurate and fair. The world's opinion is fickle and fleeting. When you see yourself through the eyes of this world, you'll always feel defeated and never good enough. There is no room for jealousy or self-loathing when the Creator sees you as perfect. If you are a child of the King, walk with the understanding that you are loved. As you view yourself at the foot of the cross, the eyes of your soul reveal true worth. Stop swinging from the trees trying to win the favor of men. Kneel before the cross and find true value in the eyes of the King .

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dodging Death's Bullet

Dodging Death's Bullet
By Brenda Black

Pitcher Slim Caldwell positioned the Cleveland Indians with a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning of a 1919 game against the Atheletics. Then something hit him – a bolt of lightning! History says that “luckily” Caldwell survived the shock. And when he was revived he finished the game to pick up the victory. (

In April of 2009, on a battlefield in Afghanistan, British soldier Private Leon “Willy” Wilson is being described as “the luckiest in the British Army.” A bullet whirred through his helmet, but missed his head by 2mm. The near-fatal impact knocked Pvt. Wilson to the ground, but otherwise left him without a mark.

“It shook me up, but there is not much else you can do but get on with the job you are out here to do,” said the dedicated fighter to BBC reporters. Wilson was back on duty within an hour of the incident.

Historians and main stream media may call it luck, but the reality is something even more amazing. There are unseen hands that guard and guide our lives and we are fools to give anything else the credit.

“The Lord protects the simple hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116:6)

Sometimes the Lord provides miraculous intervention like guiding a bullet or lessening the impact of a lightning bolt. Often his invisible protection is less dramatic, but just as astounding. He conquers our fears with a quiet hush. He removes an invisible mask that darkens our understanding as he opens our eyes to things beyond normal comprehension. He rescues us from dangers we thought harmless and leads us through enemy territory without being touched. He restores our peace with unspeakable words and comforts us in sorrow by wiping tears with gentle, unseen fingers. It is incredible and quite believable that we are in the palm of a Heavenly Father.

Humanity has known it for centuries – we can't take credit that belongs to the Lord Almighty. Even kings themselves knew better. “Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: 'May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.'” Daniel 6:25-27

It's not about luck, it's about heavenly plans that go ahead of us. It is a mystery how often we are protected without our knowledge. The wreck you missed by inches, the boulder that tumbled right after you passed by, the handrail that crumbled just before you took that first step, the tornado that skipped past your house like the plague of death that passed over the Hebrew families in Egypt.

Author, speaker and missionary Elisabeth Elliot always closes her radio broadcasts with Deuteronomy 33:27a. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” She speaks with authority as a missionary to the jungles of Ecuador. Among a fierce group of Auca Indians that killed rather than communicated, she lived peacefully for two years. Unseen hands helped her dodge the death that dozens before had endured. God had a plan.

We may never fully understand His ways, but there is nothing else we can do except “get on with the job you are out here to do.” Live life ready for death. For while these survivors experienced miraculous protection, a day will come when escaping death will not be an option. In as much as God has the power to protect, He also has the power over the length of each life and the span of every breath. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12)

Superman may be able to stop a bullet and Captain Marvel whip out a lightening bolt and cry, “SHAZAM!” Still, it is the God of the Universe that holds your life in his unseen hands. Live it for him and death will be welcome when it comes rather than feared. Our inability to dodge death's bullet can be the threshold to perfect, eternal life if we know Who holds it in His hands.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Connections Recover The Lost Art of Community
By Brenda Black

There was a time of back porch singing. Aunts, uncles, cousins and kinfolk of every generation gathered regularly. Relatives grew up in the same neighborhood or trickled throughout a county. Family and childhood friends remained near, available to lend a hand when needed. The modern era looks considerably different. It is one of isolation and intentional independence. Families scatter across the globe and cousins are those people you meet every ten years at a dreaded reunion of strangers.

Sure, there are means of immediate contact no matter the geographical distance. Still, a warm hug or firm handshake is hard to acquire through cyberspace. A reassuring look or knowing advice often comes after the fact, diminishing it's timely significance. Spontaneous laughter or a trail of conversation that meanders through family jokes and legacies is hard to recreate apart from direct contact and in-the-moment opportunities.

Humans were created to connect. Science confirms the necessity of community and some have determined that survival of the fittest is not all it's cracked up to be if it means you are left alone in your particular species. LiveScience's Human Nature Columnist Meredith F. Small explains the conflict in her article, “Single Parents: Not What Nature Intended.”

“For decades, evolutionary biologists have claimed that all organisms are basically selfish. The game of reproductive success, they have explained over and over, is won by those who are successful at passing their genes onto the next generation. As such, every animal, including humans, should be self-centered. At the most basic, the biologists say, our selfish genes compel us to stay alive, find the best mates, and have the most babies, and to always think of ourselves before others.”

Small refers to Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's new book, “Mothers and Others; The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding” (Belknap Press), when she refutes the evolutionary mindset. “Hrdy, a staunch evolutionist, is the first to admit that this now traditional view of individual behavior is ready for revision. The new view, she and others claim, must include the fact that cooperation, not just competition and selfishness, is also part of our nature.”

It took a thesis, and a group of neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychologists years of study to discover one of God's fundamental aspects of creation – our need for others. He designed us to desire fellowship. God established the bonds of marriage and instituted the network of family. Christ modeled fellowship and friendship, while the Holy Spirit offers constant companionship.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Community is critical in days of convenient tehno isolation. Interaction is a fleeting social skill being lost by a generation that would rather bond with a blog than play catch with the neighbor kid or learn from a grandparent. Loneliness is the consequence for indifference toward family ties and the people next door. When you need someone in a moment of tragedy or triumph, who are you going to call? With whom will you share your sorrow and grief? How can you celebrate exciting news if you don't have people – crucial, important, loving people in your life.

Here are three actual circumstances that I think emphasize the obvious necessity for community. They also demonstrate areas of ministry.

Situation one: A young family is searching for a church home. They think it is important to attend a church with lots of other children the age of their own. At the same time, an established church longs for younger families to attend their aging congregation. But when visitors discover they may be the only ones under 30, they hesitate to commit.

Suggestion: Young families need to consider the loving influence of older adults in their child's life. There's more to learning than what same-age peers can provide. Sports and school and scouts can fill the void for youthful interaction while senior saints can embrace young families and provide a support system with eternal benefits. Take a second look at not only what you get from a church, but what you bring. The affection and attention of a child to a lonely widow may be the best thing in her life. True community is mixed generations not just cookie-cutter families of one age and status.

Situation 2: This young family is out on their own as brand new parents thousands of miles from home. With fear and anxiety and no relatives nearby, a new mommy needs a mentor.

Suggestion: The Scriptures say it best: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children...” (Titus 2:3-4) Years ago, when I was far from close family help, the Lord provided godly “moms” and “grandmas” when I needed them most. I'll always be grateful for their love and influence.

One final situation: A friend is facing an empty nest. She's been a mother most of her life and is struggling to face with joy what comes next.

Suggestion: Again, let's consider God's perfect advice. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) Women who have walked the road and discovered their destiny beyond children at home need to assure those who follow in their footsteps that life does indeed go on.

Robert Roy Britt makes a powerful statement in his article Kids are Depressing. “Community is critical to successful parenting.” I would add: Christian community is the key to balanced living in every generation. We are a body, we are family and we need each other desperately.

Monday, April 6, 2009

High Noon

High Noon
By Brenda Black

High Noon - The 1952 movie starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly is a western classic. Cooper plays Marshall Will Kane, a lawman torn between the love for his Quaker wife and duty to the town he swore to protect. But he faces the task alone as “cowardly townspeople flee like rats from a sinking ship,” describes one Netflix review. The entire story takes place in only 85 minutes as the clock ticks along toward the showdown at high noon.

The black and white epic is purportedly an icon of western genre movies and critics have heralded its cutting-edge theatrics to be well ahead of its time. Yet the intensity of 1950's Hollywood flick pales to the real life drama historically documented in Luke 23:44-45.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.” (Luke 23:44-45a)

The expression "sixth hour" refers to high noon! From the time of Jesus' abduction by the armed guard of the Jewish leaders, at about 11:00 PM of Nisan 13, till His final agony on the stake at 3:00 PM of Nisan 14, when He died, there is a total of 40 hours that Christ suffered. He endured 40 hours of imprisonment, judgment, trial, mockery, lashings, beatings, scourging, and painful waiting for final crucifixion.

Josephus, a first century historian, called it "the most wretched of deaths." I can't begin to even imagine it, but a prophet visualized it hundreds of years before it ever happened. “Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--.” (Isaiah 52:14)

Isaiah also foretold of a future crowd's reaction: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Ish. 53:3-5)

In the title song from the High Noon soundtrack, Tex Ritter sings: “I do not know what fate awaits me. I only know I must be brave. And I must face a man who hates me...” Marshall Kane may not have known the outcome of his famous dusty road show down, but the Savior of man knew His destiny at Calvary's crossroads. He gravely anticipated the rejection of friends and His Father's forsaking. He walked the road alone while cowardly believers fled like rats from a sinking ship.

As the Light of the World faded, darkness covered the whole land. The sun hid its face for three hours and the world curled up in stifling silence. The tangible color of black and a muted creation was lit and awakened by one voice of courage and commitment when Christ uttered eight final words.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46b)

Jesus faced his divine task alone. He faced the Enemy and gunned him down by giving His life instead of having it taken. His last words are not a cry of surrender to Satan or the sinful soldiers who gambled and snickered at his feet. His dying statement reveals the authority He held to give himself back to the God who sent Him to fulfill a promise to his creation. He gave away what they thought they were taking away from him, and the whole scene was altered by the One who could see ahead of His time and counted that time by divine calculations. In one moment there was a stand-off in the streets of Jerusalem between the good guy and the bad guy. The next moment Jesus simply opened his hands and dropped his weapon of supernatural status, leaving those who thought they had him red-handed and hung, shaking their heads in awe and wonder.

As the clock on eternity's wall clicks, the One who gave himself for you waits to forgive. He stands in the street alone, laying down his life to preserve yours. Christ proved his sacrificial love on a day when the sun stopped shining so you could experience eternity where night never falls.

This Easter weekend, please remember how Christ fought for you on Good Friday at High Noon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who Do You Say That I Am

Who Do You Say That I Am
By Brenda Black

“Who do you say I am,” Jesus asked his disciple. Peter passed the exam with flying colors, but I wonder how modern-day disciples might answer. It seems the farther we advance in history from the cross, the faster the facts about Christ get altered. There have always been false religions and misinformation dispensed concerning Jesus. But in my lifetime, I've never seen more disregard for the truth. I have a theory: some people still think that ignorance is bliss. Not necessarily.

Current research says that only 9% of American adults hold a biblical worldview. Even among born again Christians, evidence reveals that many have indoctrinated their own version of absolute truth. How have we wandered so far from knowledge? However we arrived at this dubious place, the danger of losing more ground with each generation leaves Christianity in America hanging precariously by a thread. The less we know about the Word of God, the more blurred the lines of right and wrong become. Now, more than ever, it is time to know what you truly believe, who you honestly serve and be able to clearly define God's principles. As Jesus said, "It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’" (Luke 4:4)

Daniel Webster, the great American statesman, offered this warning concerning the importance of biblical knowledge: "If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity" (Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 18)

George Washington, the nation’s first President, preceded Webster with his own succinct observance: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" (Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 18)

A young man came to Jesus and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Did Christ flippantly say, "You don’t have to do a thing"? No! Jesus said to him, "‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘"You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matthew 19:16–19).

I contend that Jesus knew best. How blessed we are that we still have his thoughts and examples after which to pattern our lives. And it is by those standards that we weigh the world's advice. When ignorance and indifference encourage false arguments and say the Bible is archaic or hatefully intolerant, do you believe the loud enemies of God. When powerful politicians down to the peanut and beer man at the ball park say the commandments are not valid for modern, cynical society, will you follow their lead. Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross—His commandments were not! The commandments continue to define the sin that put him there and provide our measuring rod.

It is not the first time in history, mankind has forsaken the Scriptures. Time and again, the Israelite nation fell away and followed pagan gods. For one generation, it took the strength of youth and strong conviction to stand up for the truth. Josiah was a mere child when placed on the throne in Judah. His father certainly had not provided a good example for godly living, but this youngster somehow found his way back to holiness. By the age of 26 his mission to rid the territory of Assyrian idols, unearthed the secret to righteous living.

“Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets – all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.” (2 Kings 23:1-3)

Almost 200 years later, after the hot-then-cold, then hot-again faith of the Israelite nation, Ezra the priest introduced the key to life once again. “Ezra opened the book...and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:5-6)

Here we are, a fickle nation with the history of an ebb and flow faith that strengthens and wanes. We're running out of time to impart God's promises and warn of his pending vengeance. Who do you say that Jesus is? Answer that question based on truth, then teach the Bible to the next generation so they can do the same.