Thursday, August 27, 2009

Two Men, One Mission

Two Men, One Mission
By Brenda Black

Batman & Robin. The Lone Ranger & Tonto. Abbott and Costello. George & Gracie. Dynamic duos composed of opposites. Here's another for the list: Cornelius and Peter. Maybe that doesn't ring quite as familiar as the fictitious characters and famous Hollywood performers, but I assure you, their meeting and subsequent friendship would make a great movie.

Meet Cornelius: He was devout, God fearing, generous and respected by the Jews. He prayed regularly. And he was a centurion in the Roman army.

A regiment very similar to his own mocked and scourged the Christ; they nailed him to a cross and crammed into his temples a torturous wreath of thorns. But Cornelius and all his family believed in God. He was known by God. Heard by God. Seen by God. And visited by God.

“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!'

“Cornelius stared at him in fear. 'What is it, Lord?' he asked.

“The angel answered, 'Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter...

“When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and one of his soldiers who was a devout man. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” (Acts 10:3-8)

Enter Peter: “About noon the following day as they were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray...he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'

“'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.'

“The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'

“This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

“While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.'” (vs. 9-20)

Peter was a Jew. Cornelius a Roman centurion. Jews despised Gentiles. But this Gentile was different. He had authority over men and was under the authority of God Most High. Peter learned of Cornelius by way of the powerful man's servants, but it may have been a fragment of their message that captured Peter's heart and moved him to oblige their request. “A holy angel told [Cornelius] to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” (vs. 22c)

The true reason for the reunion Peter would not comprehend until he entered Cornelius' door. Though the centurion received a clear message from God, Peter had to learn that revelation often follows resignation. While one received a clear answer and the other a mysterious vision, God pulled them together for a specific purpose – they each were to teach the other a God lesson.

Peter makes the connection between his dream and his mission. “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (vs. 28b) “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (vs. 34)

The room full of circumcised Jews and searching Gentiles became brothers in Christ! “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

“Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.'” (vs. 44-47)

Two men of fervent prayer; two obedient followers from two separate worlds became one in the body of Christ because they listened and obeyed individual calls from God. Don't think such miraculous messages are reserved only for movie scripts and ancient history. God is counting on you at this moment in time and space! He has someone for you to reach. Someone for you to teach. And when you go in obedience to share the gospel, you'll learn a valuable lesson yourself. Don't miss the call to multiply the kingdom when you subtract doubt and confusion and add faith and acceptance.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alone with the Masses
By Brenda Black

I slumped into the webbed patio chair and faced south. The setting sun warmed my right cheek and a tepid breeze indicated changing weather. With eyes closed, I pictured serenity, then opened them to realize it was before me. Home. Away from the clamor of barking peddlers and whirring carnival rides. Far removed from the cattle fans and generators and incessant PA announcements inviting fair goers to the next scheduled venue. I was free of the pressing crowds and the chaos. Instead I sat quietly with my black lab at my feet. Home.

My bed felt extra soft; my husband's welcome hug engulfing and safe. And the quiet was tangible that first day back at the ranch. I did not realize how stressed my constitution until I merged from State Fair hype to calm refuge surrounded by grass, sky and trees. With an audible sigh and extended push of air over pursed lips, I let the past week of noise, nary any sleep and inconvenient camping in a livestock trailer melt away from my mind and body.

Time alone is healing. Quiet moments, revealing. In this busy world it is challenging to find such solace, especially when it is needed most. At just the moment when you desire solitude, someone will seek your companionship. Mark my words.

After exhausting, hot days of fair duties, it typically bumped 11:00 p.m. before I welcomed the trickling campground shower then my make-shift bed. Ironically, at that same time most evenings, folks would show up at my trailer ready to visit. I stepped out one night to find four teens waiting for my hospitality. Another night, the daughter of an old family friend drove an hour to see us and we crammed in a life-time between 10 and 12 p.m. Night after night, as some got their second wind, mine was going flat.

It didn't change when I arrived home depleted of energy and swamped with dirty laundry and delinquent assignments. People found me – they needed a listening ear or advise. They wanted my attention and had news to share. And I obliged out of love and concern, but mostly because it is what my Lord has done.

When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.'

“Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.'” (Matthew 14:13-16)

In the midst of terrible grief, when Christ wanted most to be left alone to deal with the shocking news of John's heinous execution, he is called to have compassion on the masses. My heart goes out to Jesus in this circumstance. He lays aside his anguish and weariness to meet the needs of others when he needed rest himself.

After feeding 5,000 with two fish and five loaves, “immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” (vs. 22) He had clean up duty, bid adieu to the guests and sought once again refuge and rest. “After he had dismissed them, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (vs. 23-24)

I wonder how long Jesus got. Was it five minutes or an hour? Had he just found the perfect stump to be alone and spotted from atop the mountain the sea-tossed dingy filled with his friends in jeopardy. In the middle of the night, between 3 and 6 a.m., he trekked down that mountain and walked on water to help people again.

My Lord is hospitable. He is accommodating and kind. Christ is compassionate while grieving, a servant while weary and always a Savior, even when we call upon Him in the darkest span of night.

Sure, I like some quiet time for myself. I grow tired and sometimes the last thing I feel is compassion or patience for those who demand my time and energy. But then I look at my Jesus and I see the significance of service in spite of self. God will supply the energy. He will impart the wisdom or tenderness necessary to minister to those who need hospitality even when you think you don't have it to give. And when you get the opportunity to steal away with the Lord again, he'll whisper in your ear, “If you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto me.”

Peace comes in many forms. A gentle breeze, a tree frog serenade, a pet curled at your feet. And it also arrives in mysterious ways, such as serving others when you must depend fully on the Lord to provide the strength.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Communication Cumshaw

Communication Cumshaw

By Brenda Black

I know what I think you know you said, but what you said is not what you think you know you said. The basis for every argument. The reason behind office conflict, sibling rivalry and continental warfare - misunderstanding. Though words pack a powerful punch in person, they often leave readers assuming when lifted from a page because there is more to language than just words. Communication is actually only 7% words. Non-verbal messages constitute 55% and tone makes up the remaining 38%.

Face to face and within earshot, most folks get the point whether it is spelled out or not. They see the warmth in your eyes or sense the agitation in your quivering lips. They hear the escalating volume and notice clench fists stiffly poised at your side. Leaning forward, folded arms, darting glances each send a message of attentiveness or disregard.

So how does someone make absolutely sure they are interpreted correctly when we instant message, email, facebook and twitter all day long. In cyberspace there is no face to face or human touch to measure the meaning behind each phrase. Are we getting the right point across when the best we have to offer is a colon, dash and bracket to convey smiles or frowns.

The fear beyond faceless conversation these days is that those who communicate mostly in cyberspace can leave a permanent paper trail. Numbed by the constancy of instant accessibility, computer communicators may forget that what they type or twitter could end up documented for infinity. My advice: choose words wisely.

With moment-by-moment posts and the quick click of “share,” comes the responsibility to be just as quick thinking and careful about vain speech. The Scriptures caution the use of vile words. They also warn against wasted words.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven...A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b NASB)

It is not necessary to tell the world everything. The pressure to expound every little detail in your life may eventually come back to haunt you. Consider a law student who lost a job because of photos of her wilder days shared on a community billboard. Think about the number of politicians ground through the media sieve of dirt-digging. I'm not suggesting double standards nor hypocritical personas. I am in the favor of tasteful honesty and even more importantly, ministry.

Rather than blow up or blow off steam through computer communities, I prefer to hold out hope, write out prayer, offer a blessing or comfort with sincerity. Can readers comprehend the emotion behind those gestures. I think they can. There is a marked difference between pat answers and heart-felt prayers. Encouragement is easily recognized by positive terms.

Communication may consist of words, body language and tone, but nothing speaks louder than genuine love and concern in person or on a page. And God abides in that kind of conversation. “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.” (Proverbs 22:11)

To the younger generation that is caught up in the computer communication craze, I offer the same council that Paul gave to Timothy: “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,” he begins. But rather than have his charge believe he deserves respect, Paul teaches him how to obtain it through careful example. “But set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)