Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a Wonder You Are

What a Wonder You Are
By Brenda Black

I wonder – Does the Lord who never sleeps wait each morning to dip His finger into the sea. With the color from the coral reef, does He swirl them across dawning horizon with grandiose brush-like sweeps. Or does He set things in motion from the dawn of time, knowing each day ahead of its arrival for a million and beyond. Will every sunrise sky-scape He's designed appear across the vast universe right on time. He is, remember, omniscient. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Or does the God of Wonders commission sun, wind, moon and water each new day to be at the ready. He lets them shine and blow their way into fog, heat, breezes and tempests and watches expectantly. Though He allows the fare and stormy weather to come as circumstances beckon, are they lengthened or averted as man glorifies or cries out in prayer. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;...The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:15, 17)

I wonder - Are the sunsets assigned marching orders so that somewhere in the world each evening one should be so breathtaking as to compel worship for its General. Are twilights bottled somewhere beyond the heavens in a celestial warehouse and delivered on schedule. “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” (Ps. 50:1) He calls extravagant clouds, blackened downpours and spontaneous rainbows, this artist behind ever-changing heavenly masterpieces that grace our world. Oh, what a wonder you are!

“Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.

“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. You covered with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.

“The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return to lie down in their dens. Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.

“How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures...I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” (Ps. 104:1-25, 33-35)

While we watch the evil loom larger and destruction of a planet perfectly made, may we look to the heavens and find God faithful in all of His ways. His mercies are new every morning and His creative touches are forever before us. To ignore so great a testimony of divine orchestration is simply ignorant and dangerous. “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

One day, the heavens will roll back, the sun and moon and stars will shine no more, for the light of the Holy One will take their place. In that heavenly city, it “does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 21:23)

I wonder - Who will you acknowledge then – when you stand before the Master Painter who graced your days with beauty and privilege only to watch man take it for granted and wallow in self-praise. “'Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End...I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David and the bright MORNING STAR.'” (Rev. 22:12-13, 16)

No wonder the sunrise sings His praise. No wonder the sun sets without fear of darkness. No wonder the winds and waters obey. All of nature knows better than man himself – the God of Wonders is worthy of honor and glory every morning, noon and night.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whaddya Know

Whaddya Know
By Brenda Black

An upright man wronged must still do what is right. That's not an old proverb. It's the plot for a 1956 Hitchcock classic, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” James Stewart and Doris Day encounter international espionage, fight to find their kidnapped son and thwart the assassination of a foreign diplomat. And it's all done as innocent tourists. Had Stewart's leading character not been so trustworthy, their Moroccan vacation may have been considerably less eventful and far more safe. But along with upright living, comes responsibility.

From the movies to current events, a few leading headlines easily communicate that standing for something in the real world demands one be prepared to fight for it. Persecution and political pressure compels Christians to take the high road. Sometimes at great cost.

Headline: “Officials Cleared in Prayer Injunction Case.” This story comes from The Washington Times writer Julia Duhin, who recounts the trial of two Florida school officials. “The ACLU complained to Judge Rodgers after Mr. Lay asked Mr. Freeman to offer mealtime prayers at a Jan. 28 lunch for school employees and booster club members who had helped with a school field house project. The judge then issued a contempt order for the two men.

“When asked Thursday why he agreed to give the prayer, 'It was just out of reflex,' Mr. Freeman told the judge, according to the Pensacola News-Journal. His testimony was part of a 10-hour hearing involving several witnesses.”

If the men had been found guilty, their penalty would equal six months in jail and a possible loss of their retirement benefits and $5,000 each in fines.” For thanking God for the booster club!

It gets worse: “Christian Hotel Owners Hauled Before Court After Defending Their Beliefs in Discussion with Muslim Guest.” This story takes place in England, but sounds frighteningly probable right here in the U.S. According to reporter Jonathan Petre of the London Daily Mail, the hotel owners do not believe they were threatening, abusive or insulting. David Whiting, their defense attorney said “They are committed Christians and it is the defense’s contention that they have every right to defend their religious beliefs and explain those beliefs to others who do not hold similar views.”

The article goes on to say, “The use by the police of the Public Order Act to arrest people over offensive comments has dismayed a number of lawyers, who say the legislation was passed to deal with law and order problems in the streets. Neil Addison, a prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law, said: ‘The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.
“‘It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed. If someone is in a discussion and they don’t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.’ He added that the police had a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech ‘and I think they are forgetting that.’”

What do you know? If a Christian invokes a blessing it is a crime. If a Christian defends his faith it is a crime. And still an upright man wronged must do what is right because we ultimately count it all loss for the sake of Christ.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Christ was upright. He was crucified. We are called to carry His cross every day we live.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Soft Place to Land

A Soft Place to Land
By Brenda Black

Currents of sparkling clear water broke and swirled as our blue speckled gelding powered his way through deep pools on the far side of the river. The giant Appaloosa we called Blue Mountain Music always had wide, white eyes that made him look a little spooky. Though he still sported that wild look, he seemed to enjoy his swim within cool rapids that lapped at his chest and belly. I know how his muscles labored to paddle, how his nostrils flared infusing fresh air into working lungs, because I straddled his bare back, holding to nothing but a braided lead rope snapped and knotted to a nylon halter on his head.

The longer we swam, the slicker he got. My suit was soaked from dipping lunges that splashed Missouri river water over my lap. His satiny hide turned slippery when wet. I gripped thin strands of the remnant of his mane. It was all that was left at his withers after a roaching buzzed the crest hairs and left him clipped and crisp like a Marine in boot camp. And I giggled with delight like a young girl should on a summer vacation with a powerful steed beneath her who felt like a porpoise at sea.

When Blue began to tire, we paddled toward shallow waters. His sweeping strides eventually struck loose river rock that gradually felt like solid ground beneath his shod hooves. I wrapped my short legs tighter as he lunged his way toward the shore where his legs grew longer and more stable. As they lengthened, they also accelerated.

With only the cotton rope in one small hand, a wisp of mane in the other and a slick seat beneath my equally slick bottom, the ride quickly transgressed from serene to scary. With each step closer to shore, the tall and lanky horse became more determined to keep going. He was bound for the campground and the trailer. And there was nothing I could do to stop him.

One last surge found us on dry ground. It was the kind of sun-baked hard soil that sits on top of Ozark Mountains. Sandy on the surface and hard as rock just beneath. His stride graduated from a rapid walk to a bouncing trot to lope, then full out gallop as he purposed his way past pines and oaks and over rough rocks and fallen limbs, beating a path to his equine buddies and feed bucket. I hunkered down and held on for dear life, hollering whoa and pulling back with all my miniscule might.
My commands fell on deaf ears and a powerful nose that would not yield.

On one last, heart-stopping bend around a huge pine tree, Blue dumped me right in the middle of a sawdust pile. I rose just inches from the base of a hundred year old spruce, covered with reddish dust and feeling like one big cedar chip. And there he stood, looking innocent, munching on hay at the trailer between Jack and Slim.

He could have slipped me off in a rapid current. I may have lost my grip and plummeted to nail-hard soil. In any number of places between the river and the trailer, I might have met my head with the likes of a huge branch or jagged rock. But I landed in a soft pile of safety right next to the camper. Now that's what I call timing.

How quickly our circumstances can change from enjoyable to frightening. Suddenly we go from feeling in command of our destiny to clinging to anything solid for a glimpse of certainty. The ride is scary, often whirring and blurry. And then one final blow lands us in the lap of safety and then we know that the Lord was with us through the entire ride.

Give us eyes to see from the beginning. Gives us strength to hold tightly to truth even when we feel it slipping away in the midst of danger and fear. Keep your saving hand upon us so when we fall, we fall into the arms of grace that covers us with forgiveness and helps us walk away changed.

Even at a young age, I knew I had been protected. I was aggravated with my horse, but delighted with God's unseen hand. I've thought of that ride countless times over the years. I can still see the river, feel the rapids. I remember the round pebbles that slipped away beneath Blue's hooves and I see the path littered with less friendly stones. I smell the sawdust and remember the salty tears that mingled with the fresh river water that dripped from my braids. And I still stand amazed that I walked away.

“There is no one like the God fo Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where Did You Get That Glow

Where Did You Get That Glow

By Brenda Black

I've seen blushing brides, glowing mothers-to-be, and beaming daddies. None of them, as I recall, ever frightened me. But in Exodus 34:29-35, Moses' afterglow shocked onlookers!

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Ex. 34:29-30)

After spending 40 days and nights basking in the Almighty's brilliance, Moses descended the mountain with his own face glowing! Obviously, the twinkle in his eye was more than just a glimmer. The flush in his cheeks far greater than any sun-kissed, wind-burned, ruddy tan. His face was painted an ethereal hue as if he were from heaven himself. And that frightened even those who knew him best. Not until Moses assured them of his humanity by speaking their names did they stop to take a second look.

“But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.” (vs. 31)

The touch of God is rightfully a little scary. We're talking about the Creator of the Universe who deserves reverent fear at his approach! The people of God should likewise evoke a sense of wonder. We ought to look a little different as well since we're filled with the Holy Spirit who ministers in invisible and mysterious ways within our hearts, minds and souls! People should notice a change when a Christian spends time with their Savior. They should see radiance and detect His presence and wonder if the beaming believer is from this world or another.

Instead of causing folks to fear and flee, the reflection of God in us should draw the curious closer. Our transformation before the Heavenly Father can be positively contagious if first we embrace how he changes us so that we illuminate the benefits of his will in our lives.

“Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.” (vs. 32-35)

Unveiled before God. What a terrifying and terrific experience. How enlightening to be completely transparent before our Lord and bare our souls to the One who abides within us. What a marvelous way to lay aside humanity and absorb divinity. Fling off the coverings of pride or insecurity. Drop the pretenses and phony phrases we employ in prayer. Cast off the cliches. Forget protocol. Just come into the presence of the Holy of Holies knowing that He loves you unconditionally and wants to light up your life! God is waiting. He has wisdom to impart. He holds out healing. He offers grace and mercy, forgiveness and hope.

When we walk away from that kind of encounter, we are bound to affect this world with radiance. How can we hide the Light of the World once we bask in His presence. We shouldn't try. And maybe this is where I differ with Moses. I don't think I would want to cover what my God has created in me. I want everyone to see that He reigns in me and is the source of my “glow.”

Take off the veil that keeps you at arm's length from the Almighty. And keep it off when you walk away from prayer and back into the real world. Show that glow! When someone asks about your radiance – tell them you've just been with God and He is waiting to meet them too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Will Meet You in the Morning

I Will Meet You in the Morning
By Brenda Black

“Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain...When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Ex. 34:2, 29)

Get up, get ready! You are meeting God in the morning! I wonder how Moses slept that preceding night. In my pre-dawn hours, I hear everything, and imagine what I do not hear. Last night, I heard the dog howl every time a pack of coyotes yodeled. Their high-pitch cackling grew louder and more frantic as they congealed choruses from every direction of the house. I heard the deep rumbling of far away thunder and tuned in to determine whether I needed to start unplugging appliances. I heard my common sense command me to rise at 4:15 and put the frightened pooch in the garage. He had managed to keep his coyote cousins at bay, but couldn't stop the storm's heady approach and his helplessness made him whine and whimper pathetically.

When I wasn't listening intently to the night sounds, my mind wandered to internal dilemmas. How would I function the next day? I mentally perused floating lists of jobs that awaited a well-rested me and feared how they might suffer at the hands of a sleepy head. I fitfully bargained between mind and body for sleep. Then just as I nodded off it seemed, the alarm clock shocked me back into a conscious state of reality – it was morning.

Even with the load of chores I face, I must admit I am sure I do not have the pressure that Moses bore that night before he climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God. He surely did not sleep! Nevertheless, the sun rose and the day greeted him with a divine appointment. It made me wonder, how does one get ready to meet God in the morning? Fretting? Dreading? Enthusiastic anticipation? Or calm assurance?

Someday, I hope to ask Moses. Until then, I must believe that while God scheduled a morning meeting, he was with Moses all through the night. How else could Moses have mustered the courage to face the God of the Universe? What would keep him from dying in fear before he opened his eyes to the Author of Life? The God of the morning was already God of his night, whether he knew it or not.

With that advantageous understanding, we each can confidently face the dawn ready to meet with the Master. Get up! Get ready! You are meeting the God who already knows your name and sees the to-do list tacked to your refrigerator door. He knows the kids have football and volleyball practice and he understands that your boss is demanding more. He heard you and your husband talking last night and has a plan on how to pay off those bills. The Hand that Heals has hope to impart to the hurting you'll encounter this day. He offers words of wisdom and gentle compassion for each unknown mission you'll face.

And after you meet Him in the morning, others will know with whom you've opened your day. It will show on your face! Moses' afterglow made him radiant. Post entering into the presence of the Almighty, Moses shone with glory.

It's your turn to get a Mount Sinai makeover. No more dark circles under your eyes from worry all night long. No grumpin' around from a rumpled bed that brought no rest. No moaning and dreading a perfectly good day because of a lousy night. When you meet God in the morning, He brings new energy. For his mercies are new every morning and he promises strength to the weary. He saw you wrestle with anxieties last night and is waiting to help bear your load today. Just meet Him in the morning and feel the glow! God can turn an un-surrendered night into radiant light if we just get up and invite Him to reign over our day.

**After you meet God, I'd love to meet you! Join me for area book signings or to visit about any of the entries you've read here on "Blessings from Brenda" Go to www.thewordsout-brendablack.com for event times and locations.