Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Flashback on Freedom

Flashback on Freedom
By Brenda Black

“In free governments, public celebrations serve to excite a spirit of emulation. By extolling the deeds of valor and virtue, we direct that ambition into a beneficial channel, which, left to itself, would seek advancement by intrigue. They afford the fittest occasion to pay the tribute of gratitude to national benefactors; to inculcate those maxims by which freedom is supported, and to point out the dangers which menace its destruction. The mind of man, soaring on the pinions of curiosity through the regions of hope, in pursuit of higher attainments and more exalted pleasures, loses sight of present enjoyments. National blessings, grown familiar, are forgotten, and their existence endangered. From this disposition to neglect whatever has not the stamp of novelty, arises the necessity that peculiar privileges should be frequently brought to view, and the dangers which threaten their destruction often pointed out.

“Such, fellow citizens, are the principles which should induce us to commemorate, with at least one annual celebration, the great, the peculiar, and preeminent liberties and blessings we enjoy. Let us then, my friends, on this hallowed anniversary of that Day which proclaimed us a Free, Sovereign, and Independent People, prostrate ourselves before Him in whose hands are the destinies of Nations; and adore that Providence, which in a dark and eventful hour, led us safely through a perilous revolution, and enabled us in infancy to triumph over an ancient and powerful nation. May we, on every return of this auspicious day, swear at the Altar of Liberty, that we will live true to those principles which gave birth to our Independence...”

Who delivered such stirring words of patriotism? One of the famous George presidents from the beginning or more recent? A freeman or slave? An activist or preacher? None of the above. His name was Joseph E. Sprague and his words are more famous than his own name. Sprague challenged his audience on July 4, 1810, in Salem, MA. His oration was met with high regards and elicited a note of appreciation:

“Sir, The Committee of Arrangements present their unfeigned thanks to you for your elegant and spirited Oration, delivered before the Republicans on the fourth day of July instant, and respectfully ask a copy for the press.”

The manuscript is now part of a compilation of pamphlets of addresses made on Independence Day from 1791-1925. How do such words outlast time and ignore party differences? Why have they withstood wars and been preserved through countless social upheavals? Because they are just as relevant 199 years after they are spoken. They are passionate and honest and down deep that is what every generation longs to hear – and needs to hear.

“That we will remember with gratitude, and bless with our latest breath, the Sages, the Patriots, and the Warriors, who conceived and effected that glorious Revolution which gave us a name and a standing among the nations of the Earth, and which freed us from a Tyrant who sought 'to bind us in all cases whatsoever.'

“That all men are born free and equal; that they have the right to worship their Creator according to the dictates of their own consciences, and that governments were instituted for the benefit of the the governed, are axioms which are not called in question in this country, although practically contradicted by all other nations. A firm conviction of the truth of these maxims, and a fixed determination not to submit the modes of their belief to the regulations of the government... Rather than sacrifice their integrity and bend to the mandates of arbitrary power, they tore asunder the ties of society, friendship and country; they abandoned their comfortable homes, in the dead of winter, and after traversing the tempestuous ocean, settled on the barren coast of Cape Cod...The same spirited opposition to oppression which induced our ancestors to quit their pleasant homes and settle in a savage wilderness, descended uncontaminated and undiminished to their children...That spirit of liberty which had descended undiminished from sire to son, revolted...

“After the cup of reconciliation was exhausted, after humble petition on petition, and remonstrance after remonstrance was treated with contumely and contempt, the sages of the revolution, on the 4th of July, 1776, published to the world the Manifesto of Independence. This monument of human virtue, wisdom of valor...will be regarded with veneration by the remotest ages. This Declaration, like a decree of Omnipotence, fired every bosom and nerved every arm. America rose in the majesty of her strength – she endured fatigue, want, and misery – she fought, she bled, and she conquered.

“Our first duty, fellow citizens, on the return of this eventful day is to pay the tribute of our gratitude to the God of Battles, and the instruments of his providence in accomplishing the revolution. Let it not be said that the subject is trite and uninteresting. To those who venerate liberty, who prize the boon bought with the best blood of the country, the subject can never cease to be interesting, the repetition of the deeds of valor of that time can never prove tedious. The bosom that beats with a single pulse of affection for the rights of man will always throb with renewed pleasure at the recital of the valor that won our liberties – and the eye of every patriot will yield the ready tear of commiseration at the tale of persevering toil and suffering virtue by which our revolution was accomplished.”

Celebrate your freedom like never before. Need I say more.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Because I Said So

Because I Said So
By Brenda Black

I vowed I would never say it. Surely I would be smarter, more articulate. Shear determination would trump any momentary weakness to spew those predictable, hollow words. Then I had children. And on more than one occasion I sharply spouted the parent mantra “Because I said so!” in shrill frustration.

We expect our kids to just do what we tell them, without debate. We long for compliance not “tude”. Instead, we get stubborn opinions and temper tantrums. Now tell me, how do you think God feels? Not about our kids' reverence towards us. Rather – what does the Father of mankind think about our lack of submission to his authority.

I would hate to think that my God stands with his loving arms folded tightly across his chest, fuming out a mandate through clenched teeth while I protest peevishly. Yet, I must admit, I have done just that. I stubbornly deny his guidance. I question his purpose or wonder out loud about his timing.

In order to cease this on-going and amply immature power struggle, I must first rightly define my humble place and God's marvelous omnipotence. In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly at the temple of the Lord and declared the difference.

"'O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.”

"'But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.'" (vs 6-12)

Here it is in a nutshell: God is the Father and Ruler of All. He is Powerful. The Lord is our Leader, Savior, Friend, Protector and Judge. And where does that leave us? Under his authority and dependent on his provision!

That is a great place to be whether we realize it or not. For the Lord is able to win the wars we encounter if we follow his leadership without question. Just as he did for Jehoshaphat, the Lord will do for us.

“He said: 'Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow march down against them...You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.'” (vs. 15-17)

Now what if Jehoshaphat whirled on his heels and flipped his Jewish locks in the face of God as he refused to do what was just told him. I hate to think of the outcome. For the sake of the Israelite nation and for our sake each time we read the story, he did not.
“Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice.

“Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa...Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Listen to me...Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.'” (vs. 18-20)

Jehoshaphat's obedience rendered the Lord's miraculous rescue instead of inviting a disgruntled God's chastisement for a wayward son. As his army began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against their enemies and they were defeated. “And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.” (vs. 30)

Our God's wise counsel is sufficient. When he speaks the instruction “Because I said so,” we ought to heed and obey. The only good thing that will come of such submission is blessed protection and peace. Isn't that why we want our children to obey as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are We There Yet

Are We There Yet
By Brenda Black

Pack the mini van! We're going to the Grand Canyon! Summer vacations are more than sibling warfare over window seats. They go beyond sing-along's with “The Wiggles” to keep little Timmy tame. A family's trek across Kansas Plains in a hunk of metal that registers 110 degrees on the surface is but a small price to pay for memories that last a lifetime. Summer vacations are opportunities to grow in patience and appreciation for family while breathing in the touch of God – especially when you head to the mountains or deserts of our America's West.

As you prepare for your journey, keep this story in mind: Three people were visiting and viewing the Grand Canyon -- an artist, a pastor and a cowboy. As they stood on the edge of that massive abyss, each one responded with a cry of exclamation. The artist said, "Ah, what a beautiful scene to paint!" The minister cried, "What a wonderful example of the handiwork of God!" The cowboy mused, "What a terrible place to lose a cow!"

Some folks see what the Lord has made and determine they can improve upon it with their own creative twist. A few will marvel at the Lord's sovereign touch and accept it with thanksgiving. And then, there are others who view God's mastery as mere inconvenience and prefer their own path. Which are you?

We can't possibly embellish what the Lord has molded from the depths of his omniscient mind. When he spoke to Job, he made it perfectly clear that he alone is the Creator of all.

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: 'Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

“'Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“'Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”?'” (Job 38:1-11)

God's amazing formations will never be better than in their original form. Try capturing the vastness of the Rockies with the lens of a camera. Attempt to describe the oranges, blues and pinks of a vibrant sunset across a Texas desert. It can't be done – not perfectly - because our equipment and capabilities are limited in comparison to God's infinite design.

The wise acknowledge such worthiness of praise and know their place in relationship to God.

“I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations...

“The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.

“O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them...The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.” (Psalm 89 selected)

The foolish go forth with their own agenda and depend upon their own ingenuity. They see the world as canyons of cares and valleys of greed and grief instead of focusing on an omnipotent God. Wandering desperadoes who scorn God's touch upon mankind not only lose a few cows from their herd, but travel a selfish and destructive path.

Job realized his rightful place under God's authority.

“Then Job answered the Lord: 'I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.'” (Job 40:3-5)

This summer, wherever you travel across this great nation and whatever amazing scenery you encounter, pause and give credit where credit is due – “he is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5c) May you see the hand of God and pass along gratefulness for such beauty to the next generation while you pass the time in your mini van. Have a wonderful trip!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Midday Darkness

Midday Darkness
By Brenda Black

A disconcerting darkness groped its way nearer my sunny yard and I became acutely aware that my home sits higher than most of the properties within five miles. When threatening clouds seem to kiss the grass and lightening winks wicked, I feel terribly exposed in my wide-open spaces with normally serene bird's-eye perspective. As I surveyed the distinctively black blanket that surrounded my perch on this knoll, it appeared to encircle the house like a gigantic mushroom cap. Straight up - black. For miles every direction, a smokey, slick mass with a precisely chiseled hem. I was dead center under a brewing, menacing storm.

I don't like thunderstorms. Never have. I remember as a child repeated spring trips to a dark, damp bomb shelter that doubled as our storm refuge. On a cheerful day, it was merely a cool place for canned goods and extra storage. But when the winds blew and the rains pelted and a huge yellow speaker just near our house blared siren warnings, it personified dread and fear.

Mom and Dad were cautious and protective and ushered the family to safety at the slightest indication of a tornado. They cleverly masqueraded their concerns by entertaining us with games, flashlights and music. As amusing and distracting their efforts, I was always relieved when the brick-sized, battery-powered radio issued the "all clear."

We would march up the concrete steps,blinking off the darkness and gaze upward toward mottled skies that divulged remnants of the former threat mixed with dots of present sunshine-- A welcome sign that the storm had passed.

Today, I nearly jumped out of my skin as lightning pierced the thick shroud that hovered above, slicing heaven open and touching earth. Though warned by the bolt, I still trembled at the grumbling thunder that hammered the atmosphere and rattled house windows immediately following its usher.

I felt like I was seven again and wishing for my daddy. In one heart-pounding moment of shock, I instantly and simultaneously felt fearful and helpless.

I don't like feeling out of control. Never have. But this storm reminds me that so many things are beyond our command. And fear accomplishes nothing. When dark circumstances cloud our vision and threaten our peaceful existence, sometimes all we can do is hold on to our Heavenly Father and trust him as we seek shelter and wait for the storm to blow past.

While we at times feel trapped beneath tangible darkness, it is there where we can also find ways to abide safely. The Lord is able to provide a sanctuary in the midst of dark, uncertain surroundings and, moreover, even evoke joy in his children by his creative, caring intervention.

“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:11-12)

God's comforting touch, his wisdom and strength are worth investing our trust. It sure beats living fearfully or jittery in the face of looming storms.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

The skies are clearing a bit now. Once again, I'll blink back the shadowy and unnatural midday darkness in exchange for a peek at dappling sunshine and perhaps even a rainbow to reassure me that the Lord is quite in control -- even when I am not.

And once again, I will remember when clouds overtake, when lightning strikes, when thunder rolls and fear seizes the heart, I can rest in my Savior's presence.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress. I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Road Ramblings

Road Ramblings
By Brenda Black

A sufficiently level, predominantly straight mile stretches like a white rocky ribbon past my front door. If I face right, I look west, and if I turn left, I'm headed due east. I stepped to the right and “took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” as Robert Frost similarly attested. I've repeated the journey daily for several weeks and discovered more than the sun in my face or gravel grit on my teeth. I guess you could say where the rubber meets the road, I found the difference is made in which direction you gaze.

Look down and behold rocks, gravel, sand, and swollen, blistered feet which ache bearing the weight of earth's gravity on me. Look down and I see a shadow, a dark and distorted representation of reality. While I cast my eyes toward toes and tennis shoes, I have no idea how far I need to go or whether I'm still even on the right road.

Once in a while, I may catch a sparkle amid the rocks that shimmers like diamond or gleams like a nugget of gold, only to find it is just another ordinary stone. If curiosity killed the cat, shiny vain hope for instant riches will, at the very least, cause one to kneel in the dust. Where I think there is value, turns out to be only an edge chipped away, severed by crushing tires or the friction from dozens of rocks colliding with each other.

Look down and we see what is, not what can be. Our vision is limited to a radius of inches instead of open to the miles ahead.

Look ahead and enjoy textures, hues and shapes in the variegated fields and rolling ridges. Branches bend from twittering movement and suddenly I'm aware of birds singing more than gravel grinding beneath my feet. Look ahead and the breeze greets my flushed cheeks offering a subtle reprieve from the sun's bright heat as it cools the sweat beads accumulating across a formerly-bowed head.

The road that seemed mundane when all I could see were like-colored stones step after step, now meanders with mystery and interesting twists. Tints and hints of natural beauty are the sights of a creative God who makes our journey more pleasant if we'll only look ahead and fix our eyes on a destination. Watch it draw near rather than stare at your feet and you won't lose sight of the goal – onward and upward.

Look up to blue skies, eternity, infinity and destiny. An azure veil thinly conceals a whole new world that I would never notice if I stared down as I walked life's road. Beneath my feet, those fleeting glints of gold are pale imitations merely produced by geological geometry and sunshine. But real streets of gold are beyond that canopied blue screen.

Look up and there's no way to measure the distance. No time to pace our pace. No worry for weariness. There's no slippage under foot to blister our feet. No scorching or freezing wind to burn or chaff our face and hands. Pure peace, clear sight, winged flight – when we look ahead and look up instead of staring down.

“You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:11b-14)

Your choice of the narrow way that is less traveled by makes all the difference in the world.