Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thank You God, Twenty Times

Thank You God, Twenty Times
By Brenda Black

Give thanks where thanks is due. Let's start at the top. “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits.” (Psalm 103:1-2) This Psalm of David not only commissions gratitude, it itemizes God's faithfulness, leaving no doubt that the Lord deserves our thanks first.

1. He forgives all my sins (vs. 3)
2. He heals all my diseases (vs. 3)
3. He redeems my life from the pit (vs. 4)
4. He crowns me with love and compassion (vs. 4)
5. He satisfies my desires with good things (vs. 5)
6. He renews me (vs. 5)
7. The Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed (vs. 6)
8. He makes his ways known to man (vs. 7)
9. The Lord is compassionate and gracious (vs. 8)
10. He is slow to anger, abounding in love (vs. 8)
11. He will not always accuse or hold a grudge (vs. 9)
12. God is gracious and does not treat us as our sins deserve (vs. 10)
13. He is love (vs. 11)
14. He removes our sin and sees us as perfect (vs. 12)
15. The Lord is our Father (vs. 13)
16. He knows us inside and out (vs. 14)
17. He is everlasting (vs. 17)
18. God will be here for our children and grandchildren (vs. 17)
19. He is on the throne (vs. 19)
20. He is building a home in heaven for his obedient servants (vs. 19)

Let's get things in perspective! We are BLESSED...BLESSED...BLESSED ! Our sins are forgiven, our diseases treated! We walk in light and no longer have to linger in the pit of despair or decadence or deceit! We are loved and nurtured by a gracious God who is ruler of the universe and yet considerate of man!

God gives good things even when He gets blamed for every bad thing that ever happens on planet earth. He renews us and makes us holy with His righteous, fair and perfect justice. The Lord who is higher than the heavens lowers himself to allow us to enter into His presence and know His will and feel His touch. He longs to dry our tears and ease our pain. He is patient and kind and loving.

Though God Almighty has the authority and right to banish society and hurl the earth's inhabitants into outer darkness, He waits. He forgives. He sacrifices His Son and offers us perfect peace so undeserved. He is love!

How can a God who created light and sees past, present and future be so blind to our faults? He chooses to see us through the blood of Christ! He is our Father who knows us because He created us. He knows us because He watches us. He knows us because He longs to be near us. He knows and He cares. He deserves our respect as well as our gratitude.

If you haven't heard enough, how about we go on forever. He promises forever to be here for us, to be here for our children and grandchildren. How thankful I am that we are never alone. How safe we are knowing that God is on the throne. And how privileged we are to have the promise of heaven!

Our response this Thanksgiving should only be: “Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul.” (Ps. 103:20-22)

We are a blessed people who dwell in a blessed nation only because of the blessings poured out upon us from the Lord who benefits us. Never forget to give thanks where thanks is due. Drop to your knees this Thanksgiving weekend and give God twenty.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beg to Differ

Beg to Differ

By Brenda Black

Vulgar phrases spewed from her mouth as she taunted all who happened down her Brazilian sidewalk. Just as horrifying were her massive deformities that indicated why the verbal assaults from her were self-empowering. The stranger's mouth took the place of arms, hands, legs, feet -- even body. She was a mere stump with a cursing head.

I was a college co-ed on a missions trip. And on the streets of Belem I passed the partial woman with piercing eyes and forked tongue. On every corner beggars pursued me. They graveled and groped or waited to snatch my purse. Our host missionary families warned us and protected our group with wariness and knowledge. But nothing could have prepared me for the shocking site of that pitiful woman, sold into slavery as a beggar and placed out on the street to stare helplessly up at uncaring people who passed her day after day.

The bucket that collected dropping change matched her entire body for size and sat inches from her chest, yet forever out of reach to a limbless, sad life. She did not beg for mercy. She did not endear merciful people. Instead she insulted and cursed them, driving away anyone who might lovingly assist.

Contrary to this woman, a blind man in Jericho found a better way to get the right kind of attention. He was a beggar as well.

“As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus...was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'

“Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'

“Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'

“So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.'

“Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“'What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked him.

“The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.'

“'Go,' said Jesus, 'your faith has healed you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:46-52)

While the Brazilian woman was merely crude, Bartimaeus was desperately bold and his faith was noted by Christ. The fact that the blind man called Jesus “Son of David,” demonstrated his knowledge of Jesus as the promised Messiah. His begging was a confession of belief. And he dared to proclaim in the midst of a large crowd who had disregarded him and presently rebuked him. Yet he “shouted all the more!”

Maybe the wide-eyed woman daily watched feet glide past her without promise and their indifference ultimately smashed her hope. But blind had its benefits for old Bartimaeus. Concern for the opinion of others vanquished when he sensed help and hope was near. Blindness closed his eyes to pride and shielded him from the impossibilities. As a result, he jumped to his feet when Jesus called him!

If the destitute woman stationed on hard concrete had a hard heart, maybe it was because she never cried out to the One who could soften it. James 4:2 says, “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”

Bart, on the other hand, got specific. He cried out and spelled out exactly what he desired of the Christ – he wanted to see! And Jesus answered his plea.

The haunting sight of that vile woman swearing at well-intending folks who would drop a coin into her pail still crosses my mind. She did not smile nor did she thank them. She just kept swearing. Are we as ungrateful when people try to help? Are we as prideful when we have nothing to offer but our heart and mind and refuse to yield them to Christ? The blind beggar who met Jesus received sight for his eyes and salve for his soul because he surrendered. And he expressed deep gratitude by following the Savior.

The difference between the beggars is belief. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

The difference between the beggars is hope. “The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”

The difference between the beggars is eternity. “When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun.” (Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1831, public domain)

Believers are all beggars saved by grace. We once were lost, now we're found; we were blind, but now we see.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight Not My Type

Twilight Not My Type
By Brenda Black

This may open up a whole can of worms, but when I was recently asked by a wise Christian woman for my opinion on the Twilight series, I had to be honest.

Here's how I replied:

I have not read, nor do I intend to read the series or see the movies. I draw a bold line in the sand when it comes to obvious conflicts with holiness. So vampires, blood diets, immortal beings, erotic conversation between an "old soul" and a teen, etc. run a lot contrary to my tastes and convictions.

That said, many of the reviews I've read present a justification of sorts from the line-walking Christian community. They seem to have discovered enough abstinence and noble character attributes in the main subjects to accommodate their obsession with the series.

My take on that -- you can find whatever you are looking for in any book or movie and weave your own brand of morality out of it. Does that mean Christian youth should be reading these works of fiction? I would not recommend them. There are too many Scriptural and edifying works of literature without the holiness holes in them to be offered as viable alternatives. Is it fair to keep a child out of the social loop? Definitely. I've never seen the need to be worldly wise or to encourage my children to run with the masses. I prefer living in this world as an alien and shining some light in dark places. We can be in the world but not of the world. Feeling the pressure to be with the in-crowd and read a series of fantasy books is a non-issue for me.

I think the greatest conviction for us as adult women professing faith in Jesus Christ may come from the fact that younger women are looking to us for guidance and or validation for their choices. One reviewer on the Twilight series brought the importance of that aspect in for a landing.

"As a 15-year-old, reading those books was a strange experience for me. I didn’t think they were too bad or morally lacking until I heard my old high-school chaplain (a thirty-something woman, I think. Never dared to ask) praise them. And then something inside me clicked, because it struck me as wrong that a Godly woman would find this series good."

And there you have it. After absorbing dozens of pop culture opinions on the topic, I had my justification for following the book of Ephesians rather than the book of Twilight - this 15 year old's conflict.

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person -- such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

"'Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.'

"Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5:1-17)

Here is one website that had extensive discussion on the topic and presented several viewpoints worth considering. It is from this discourse that I found the young girl's quote.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holy Arguments

Holy Arguments

By Brenda Black

In this corner: God - The Almighty Ruler of the Universe. Creator Extraordinaire. The Powerful Redeemer and Final Authority. And in this corner: Joe Plumber..... While your mind wanders back to intolerance toward inquisition here on earth, my thoughts float to a parallel discourse where mere mortals dare to address true Omnipotence. Unlike arrogant men, God is far more tolerant.

He will be inquired of and argued with. It is His way of blessing those he loves and encouraging communication. Solomon stood and raised holy hands in exaltation. He also bowed the knee and pleaded for mercy, calling God to honor His own promises.

“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to our servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.” (2 Chronicles 6:18-21)

We are to argue our case with God, not to convince Him, but to convince ourselves. In proving to God that, by His own word and oath and character, He has bound Himself to us – we are His people - we demonstrate to our own faith that He has given us the right to ask and claim. He will answer our plea because He cannot deny Himself.

The holy boldness that causes us to present our plea at the throne of grace, is evidence of God's faithfulness to do what He has promised. It denotes His justice not to exact from the sinner a penalty already borne in his behalf by His own Son. God is Almighty, but He is not Arrogant. He is Holy, but He is not Haughty. God is Supreme, but so very Sincere and focused on developing what is best inside of His simple children.

George Mueller perfected holy arguments by actively living out his days as a prayer pleader. “He moved in 1832 to Bristol, England, to pastor a church. There his famous work with orphans began when two young children were thrown upon the church's care. Mueller had only two shillings to his name when he began the orphanage work, but over the next sixty years God sent more than $7,500,000 to supply their needs. New buildings were built or purchased, staff was hired, and the hundreds of children never missed a meal. Many times prayers were said over empty plates only to have food arrive at the last moment. Mueller resolved never to tell anyone what his needs were. He told them to God and confidently expected them to be met." (Information obtained from Preacher Biographies at http://www.swordofthelord.com)

Mueller stored up arguments for God's intervention. As he came upon promises, authorized declarations of God concerning Himself in Scripture, or names and titles He had chosen to express and reveal His true nature and will, he committed these arguments to memory. He found biblical invitations which gave the believer the right to pray boldly in supplication. Then on occasions of great need, Mueller brought out these promises and commands of God and spread them before a prayer-hearing Father. His argumentative pleadings were presented as though he would so order his cause before God as to convince Him that He must interpose to save His own name and word from dishonor!

"Only let it be trust in God, not in man, not in circumstances, not in any of your own exertions, but real trust in God, and you will be helped in your various necessities... Not in circumstances, not in natural prospects, not in former donors, but solely in God. This is just that which brings the blessing. If we say we trust in Him, but in reality do not, then God, taking us at our word, lets us see that we do not really confide in Him; and hence failure arises. On the other hand, if our trust in the Lord is real, help will surely come. 'According unto thy faith be it unto thee.'” (George Mueller of Bristol – And His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God, by A.T. Pierson--from Appendix N: "The Wise Sayings of George Mueller,”1899)

Let Him have it! God can handle it and He wants to hear your holy arguments. Hit him with your best shot and He will be faithfully in your corner when you need Him most in your life. Both sides win as God is proven true to His Word.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Prayer Applause

Prayer Applause
By Brenda Black

Stand up! Throw back your head and open your eyes. Raise your hands in surrender and praise. You are talking to an awesome God!

Most often, this is not the first choice for prayer posture. Head bowed, hands folded and eyes closed is usually the image we muster when “Let us pray” is uttered. The traditional posture for requesting favors from a king is ideally suited for prayers of repentance or supplication. Kneeling signifies humility and submission as demonstrated in Matthew 18:26.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.”

Even our Lord himself adopted such a posture when he pleaded with his Father for release from the horror of crucifixion. “[Jesus] withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke: 22:41-44)

There is a time and a place for kneeling and bowing, and even lying on one’s belly, hands up, with the head up and eyes open or head down and eyes averted. Different prayer postures convey a variety of interaction with a holy God.

So why did Solomon stand before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands? He adopted the oldest tradition for prayer, called orans, from the Latin word for praying. In this posture, he acknowledged God as external and transcendent. His was an act of thanksgiving, praise, blessing and benediction for an inimitable and unrivaled God.

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it – as it is today.” (2 Chronicles 6:14-15)

Where is our fervor for this true God who still keeps his promises? While we position ourselves in prayer quietly, yes – even discretely, so as not to be noticed, are we in a posture of humility or ho-hum indifference. There is a time to be still and somber, repentant and submissive. And there is a time to be bold and proclaim the greatness of our God and King.

“I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers...For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord...

“Here is a trustworthy saying: 'If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 1:3,6-8a, 2:11-13)

Stand up! Throw back your head and open your eyes. Raise your hands in surrender and praise. You are talking to an awesome God!

Our kids need to see us pray like that sometimes. Our churches need to pray like that sometimes. Our nation needs to pray like that sometimes. Yes, we need to humble ourselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chron. 7:14) in order to obtain an audience with the King and receive forgiveness of sin and healing for our land. But we also need to lift up sincere and joyful praise that causes the angels in heaven and the saints on earth to applaud the Almighty. Our God is worthy!