Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Timeless New Year Advice

Timeless New Year Advice

By Brenda Black

You've heard them for decades, the New Year's greetings, conjectures and predictable resolutions. They slide easily off the tongue but are evasive in practice. What compels us, then, time and again to venture such hopeless proclamations? Why do we set ourselves up for failure with public announcements doomed from the outset? The answer is good intentions.

Good intentions are dead in the water if we don't intentionally carry out a plan of action. The first step is to select something worth doing rather than the same old New Year song and dance. Here are a few suggestions from old and new, tried and true wise men and women for 2011 goals that have great potential of actually being achieved simply because they are worth it.

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day,” says Sydney Smith. The advice of this English writer and Anglican cleric of the 1800's is even more relevant for the 21st Century. He calculates the simple act to have great and lasting impact. “...in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.” I can do that! How about you?

Benjamin Franklin offered up this sage counsel: “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” Ladies, that doesn't mean out with the old and in with the new when it comes to husbands! Bespectacled Ben offered quite serious and profound instruction. Yet when the new year rolls 'round we tend to take inventory of our weaknesses, then end up coddling rather than annihilating them. We ignore our neighbors instead of getting to know them. Often the better man or woman that's been waiting to rise to the occasion is still buried beneath old habits and stubbornness. I can do better! How about you?

And now from a contemporary, Ellen Goodman, an American journalist and Pulitzer prize winner for Distinguished Commentary. She suggests a new approach to this age-old annual dilemma. “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives, not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

It is there, you know. Something good, something noble, something worthwhile that contributes to society. In every human heart lies the great possibilities to head in a positive direction rather than wallow in the negative. Walk through the rooms. Look for your strengths, open your eyes and see the value of your life and the purpose for which you've been designed, destined and delivered. Then bring it! Make someone happy. Live at peace with your neighbors.

And be the best you – nobody can do it better.

In 2011, our resolutions need not die by January second. If determination is not fuel enough to help you reach your goals, how about this warning from Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” One of the most influential scientists ever in history also offered this brilliant advice: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

I can do that! How about you?

One last piece of timeless wisdom for all ages comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Peace of Christmas

A Peace of Christmas

By Brenda Black

On the night Christ was born angels left shepherds stunned and speechless until they saw the child for themselves. Then they could not help but spread the word. Sheep and donkey and cattle moved over in the stable to make room in their manger. Mary shivered from cold night air and trembled at the thought of the babe she just bore. Joseph shook his head and wondered how he could provide for a king on a carpenter's budget. And the Christ-child, the Messiah Ruler for all ages, rested peacefully.

The greatest gift God sent was His Savior Son who made redemption possible through the sacrifice He offered 33 years later on a cross. Within this package wrapped in miracles and mercy is another blessed treasure. The baby brought peace to those who remain in the center of God's perfect will. A Messiah wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger in the City of David modeled life with the Father, as he slept in perfect peace, even in a dirty barn located in a busy city.

Are you ready for Christmas? Ready or not – it's here! The standard greeting begins about three weeks out and the answers are typically offered with heavy sighs, intense expression and overall dread as days dwindle all too quickly on their race toward the big event. Are you feeling the pressure rather than the peace this Christmas Eve?

How sad that Christmas has become such a chore. Too bad that the simplistic celebrations just won't suffice anymore. We enslave ourselves to hustle and bustle and spend frenzies only to whisk to and through this precious holiday as if it were just another inconvenience. Give me peace for a gift this Christmas. That's all I really need.

Next to headlines that report Christmas bargains and Santa's office hours are those that blare doom and gloom or ugly political turmoil. Crime in the streets, financial nightmares and gross indecency are prime time topics sandwiched between Christmas classics. Horrible assaults on all that is good, holy, righteous and true are common fare in today's society. While sin is glorified and God mocked, give me peace for a gift this Christmas. That's what I really want.

The lights, the lines, the baking, the traffic; the shopping and rushing and headaches are not what the Lord intended. He sent His Son as an infant with basic needs of love and touch and food and warmth. He longed for us to love Him, not lavish him or spoil him. It doesn't take much to give a child what they long for most. Give them peace for a gift this Christmas - your time and tender attention. Read the true story found in Luke 2, as you snuggle for a few moments. That's what they need most.

I love the family gatherings, the church programs, the decorations and cards filled with news from friends far and near. I get weepy and melancholy when I hear of noble acts of Christmas charity. I feel guilty when the gifts I buy seem to fall short of the love I really have for the recipient. The smells and sounds trigger childhood memories even as I attempt to create new traditions for my own legacy. But in all of this, I do not find the one simple element most desired. I cannot find peace wrapped in perfect packages. I will not taste it in sweet delicacies nor hear it in seasonal songs about snow and sleigh bells. I won't see it flashing in bulbs on a tree. The only place where I'll find peace is way down deep inside of me, planted there by the Holy Spirit and longing to be embraced. Give me the gift within – give me peace this Christmas. That's why Jesus came! It's all we really need.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Star Struck at Christmas

By Brenda Black

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a super nova or a comet or the planet Jupiter! Astronomers, astrologers, wise men, scientists and Christmas carolers have pondered and pontificated about the Bethlehem Star since 4 B.C. Ample evidence for such a phenomenon to have announced the birth of Christ and criticism to denounce its credibility abound. I haven't decided whose theories are absolute, but I have discovered some interesting facts about God's celestial lights. Twinkle, twinkle little star, we may never know. But if God tells something to glow, it glows!

“...He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:16b-18)

Stars can range from red to white to blue. Ironically, red is the coolest color, unlike what we were all taught in elementary by the color wheel where blues and greens were imbedded into our brains as the cool range. The hottest stars are blue and mass defines the temperature of a star. The more mass, the larger the star's core is going to be and the more nuclear fusion can be done at its core. More energy equals greater heat. But wait! There's an exception to the rule. A red giant star that has a comparable mass to our Sun would be typically white all its life. But as it nears the end of its life it increases in luminosity by a factor of 1,000 and seems abnormally brighter than a blue giant star that is just big, massive and hot.

In the book of Matthew 2, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem citing a star they had seen at its rising. By the time they reached Bethlehem, maybe a big white spot of a star was nearing death even as Jesus was nearing life on earth. In verses 7-10, the wise men set out to the place where the star has stopped.

“'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.'” (Revelation 22:16)

From Genesis to Revelation, God delivers light to govern the day and the night! And the evil one who feigned imitation of The Christ and discharged his wicked plot against all mankind was on his way to being snuffed out with the birth of the true Messiah. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12)

Christ not only smothered the light of Satan through his humble yet significant birth. He outshone him in brilliant glory when He died on the cross at Calvary and conquered the grave with His purity. Luminosity by a factor of a thousand times was the Lord's radiant beauty most conspicuous at His sacrificial death that absolutely ended Satan's hope for infinite rule. And the big, hot mass realized his days were numbered as well.

Christ may have cried or cooed in the arms of Mary on that Holy night while lifted from a manger of hay. But as a man who was fully God, he cried out “Father, forgive them!” in the middle of day. Yes! God sent His Light to govern both day and night.

“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining; it is the night of our dear Savior's birth! Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, o hear the angel voices, o night divine, o night when Christ was born! O night divine, o night, o night divine!

“Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. So led by the light of a star sweetly gleaming, here came the wise men from Orient land.” (from O Holy Night, J.S. Dwight & A.C. Adam)

Look up! It's not a bird. It's not a plane. It's not a legend or lie. Christ was born in Bethlehem and sent here to die for our sins. In a flash, you can be filled with the Light of the World. What will you do with the Bright Morning Star this Christmas? Let Him govern your heart so that you might shine like stars in the universe.

This is the most powerful and personal delivery of my favorite Christmas song. David Phelps sings from the depth of his heart with the best of his incredible and gifted talent! I hope it thrills you and moves you to fall on your knees!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Give it Up

Give it Up

By Brenda Black

“The more you give, the more you get. The more you love, the less you fret. The more you do unselfishly, the more you live abundantly. The more of everything you share, the more you'll always have to spare. The more you love, the more you'll find that life is good and friends are kind. For only what we give away enriches us from day to day.” Great advice from David and Claudia Arp, first presented in an article in Marriage Partnership magazine. But their philosophy goes far beyond marital give and take. This generosity is universal in application and especially pertinent this time of year.

First things first: Think outside the money box and holiday mayhem. Giving is time and tenderness, understanding, friendship. Once we get beyond the stifling notion that benevolence only comes in the form of dollars and cents, we find at its core foundation that giving never has strings attached that undermine true charity. Whether you expect anything in return or not, the getting that follows giving is purely fringe benefits, all-the-more sweet when they come unexpectedly. Give whether you get or not and you will get better than you ever deserved.

“'Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap...'” (Luke 6:38)

Once the boundaries are blown open and generosity is no longer tied exclusively with monetary ribbons, you can begin to dole out bounty in some of the most interesting places. Perhaps in a crowded hallway, waiting for a meeting.

I was comfortable in my high-backed, plush chair passing the time while watching strangers mingle and meander their way past me. It felt good to relax. It felt even better when I gladly surrendered that comfy seat to one who would not only enjoy it, but needed it immediately. I saw him slowly approaching and wincing with each step. In a heartbeat I jumped to my far more stable feet and insisted that the older gentleman take my chair. He didn't hesitate and kindly acknowledged my gesture while he painfully lowered himself, gripping the tapered and polished arms for support.

He sighed a few times and gratefully thanked me over and over as he began to feel some relief. We visited of course since each of us was alone and neither had anywhere else to be at the moment. That chair was only the beginning of what we shared. As I leaned against a tall table hovering next to his welcome respite, I learned about his cattle and his career and heard about his service in WWII. More people began to gather in the wide passage and several worked their way straight to this man in the chair. I soon discovered I was in the presence of one quite well-known and regarded.

One after another old-timer stopped to reminisce with my new-found friend. I gave up a chair and I received a half-hour of conversation, a first-hand history lesson, and witnessed warm camaraderie. Yeah, I got back way more than I gave.

The theory has been tested time and again. This principle of generosity has no end. Giving gets. Loving never goes out of date. Unselfish acts result in abundant thanks. The more of everything you share, the more you want to do it again. “For only what we give away enriches us from day to day.”

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

It doesn't take much to give much.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Do Your Will

Two Do Your Will
By Brenda Black

Sometimes folks see eye to eye; stand shoulder to shoulder, against all odds and antagonists. Once upon a time, such staunch loyalty existed between Gospel preachers Paul and Barnabas. When grace was forsaken, they teamed up to make certain grace was extended to the Gentiles.

“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.' This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2)

“...After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them. Just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.'” (Acts 15 6-11)

Together, Paul and Barnabas penned the Good News letter that delivered encouraging words of grace, along with attainable guidelines for the benefit of the Gentile believers.
When God unites, He empowers with wisdom and purpose. Paul's and Barnabas' concerted perspective prospered the church through unselfish and calculated thought, a clear-cut vision and immediate action that inspired motivation.

Often folks see eye to eye and God gets glorified. Other times people go toe to toe and nothing but separation will bring resolution.

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.' Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36-41)

When God divides, He just may enlarge the kingdom. The severance of Paul and Barnabas doubled the Gospel effort. Mark and Silas were added to the team. And Cyprus got a Barnabas sermon out of the deal.

Barnabas the encourager. Paul the wise one. And still they couldn't see everything alike. But they each loved the Lord. Both were saved by grace. Two men, torn apart by differences, yet used by God by design. The very notion that both were right stands to reason.

Differences don't necessarily sift to right and wrong exclusively. Sometimes the chasm is the best route to divide and conquer for the cause of Christ. Two wrongs never make a right. But two rights can turn the world right side up!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

As a Matter of Fact, You Matter

As a Matter of Fact, You Matter
By Brenda Black

“There are 6.8 billion people on the planet,” says a Forbes headline in its Nov. 22, 2010 issue. “These are the 68 who matter.” The opening paragraph on p. 76 begins: “We are fascinated by power. We stand in awe of those who apply it adroitly – and in fear of those who abuse it. We lust for power. Everyone would rather be a hammer than a nail. The people on this list were chosen because in various ways, they bend the world to their will. They are heads of state, major religious figures, entrepreneurs and outlaws...”

What a sad indictment for the remaining billions of us! I despise the pugnacious assumptions and arrogant overtones of such a declaration because I've read something elsewhere that trumps Forbes' editorial angst. You'll find it written in red in the book of John, chapter 3: “'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) You matter. When the world screams insignificance, remember God's lavish attention toward all of us on this planet – not just the proud or powerful.

If you have fallen prey to such hollow mandates telling you fame and fortune are the determining factors for a life to have purpose, think again. Charles Schultz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip challenges that perspective with a quiz. You don't have to actually answer the questions below. Just read straight through, and you'll get the point.

1) Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 2) Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 3) Name the last five winners of Miss America. 4) Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. 5) Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress. 6) Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do? The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. The answers to the above questions are not second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do with this one: 1) List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. 2) Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. 3) Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. 4) Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. 5) Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

These names are right on the tip of your tongue. They dwell in the depths of your heart and reside in the recesses of your mind. The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the grandest credentials, the most money, or the prestigious awards. They are the ones that show you matter. When the world screams insignificance, remember your friends' lavish attention.

As a matter of fact, God's gracious attention toward us often comes through the love of others. His mysterious desire to dwell in the midst of humanity is beautifully manifested when we love one another like He loves us.

“'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.'” (John 15:9-17)

While Forbes' article featured the rich and famous of the world, God's roster of significant people includes only those who call Him Lord. But the rewards for the significantly saved will not deteriorate. His lavish love is eternal. And that's a fact because you matter.

During the holidays, please remember those who may feel invisible or insignificant or alone this time of year. Be God's friend. Be their friend. Show them in a loving way how they matter to you and to Him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mission to Make a Difference

Mission to Make a Difference
By Brenda Black

I met a man with more than a plan – he is on a mission. Ted Baehr is Founder and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry. His lengthy resume includes: “noted critic, educator, lecturer, and media pundit...with his life’s purpose to be used of God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.”

Dr. Baehr has the goods to back up his campaign. Young men and women ages 12-25 soar up the charts in percentage points when asked if they prefer movies with foul language and explicit sexuality. Before you quickly assume that they must, the data validates quite the opposite. High numbers on this survey mean they don't like it. Baehr presents overwhelming statistical proof from massive data collection that the majority of people in every age category is sick of filth on the big screen.

Baehr's mission is to show movie studios the costly error of their contrary assumptions and present them with powerful tools that will lead to more noble entertainment for viewers and higher box office sales for the movie makers. He is making significant progress. You've probably applauded some of the results of his influence by enjoying films like “Up,” “The Incredibles,” “Blind Side,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and the adorable “Despicable Me” along with hundreds of other family-friendly productions.

Dr. Baehr's positive accomplishments and his prowess are impressive. But having visited with this humble and kind gentleman several times over the course of three days and getting to know him as a brother in Christ, what I love most is that he's real in a world of make believe. Though he rubs elbows with the rich and famous of Hollywood, he is just as comfortable chatting with me. He even wanted to have his picture taken with Pam and me to help promote I Stand. This week he is flying to Korea to share the data one day and meeting with the head of Walt Disney on another. Yet, the glitz and notoriety is not what compels him. Baehr is going to bat for you and me and every generation that longs to be spared from vile, degrading images. He tells top executives, script writers and actors that the best movies are not packed with political agendas, shock and horror. Instead, they have “extraordinary themes of redemption, self-sacrifice, compassion, and love wrapped in fun-filled family entertainment.”

Between lunch and more workshops, I asked Dr. Baehr how he found time to do so much for so many. He smiled sweetly and simply answered, “I just want to help.” He added, “Nothing is beyond God's redemption.” Baehr is a man who knows the mission and is bound and determined to take back territory for God's glory.

Most likely, the rest of us won't be shaking bushes in Tinsel Town, but we can press forward right where we live and work together to claim, reclaim, conquer or guard territory for the Lord. It begins at home. Make wise choices for your family. Use MOVIEGUIDE® before you rent a DVD or buy a ticket to the movies. Make sure you realize your witness matters at school or on the job. Stand up for what is right and decent! Never compromise truth for lies. When we demand decency and behave according to such standards, we can rest assured that we are making a difference.

Dr. Baehr's greatest weapons are the facts he wields when he faces the production giants. Evidence from real people in the real world who want real value in their entertainment is hard to ignore. Likewise, genuine Christians make indelible differences when they live genuine lives of faith in full view of a watching world. The cameras may not be rolling and I may not be a big star, but I must shine like one if I want to help and not hurt God's mission.

Two actors choosing the high road give me hope that more good stuff is about to come out of Hollywood.
Left is Torry Martin - a delightfully hilarious story teller and comedian who loves the Lord. And on the far right is Michael Joiner, who will star in a new release The Grace Card, Feb. 2011.

**Hope to see you at Outback Hair Salon, Butler, MO, Nov. 22, 5-9 p.m. for Ladies' Night Out! I'll have all three of my books available and I'd be happy to autograph and personalize any that you buy as gifts for dear ones on your Christmas list or for yourself! Pam Morgan will be joining me and bringing the Morgans' latest album, recorded live. See you soon!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old Hurts Heal

Old Hurts Heal

By Brenda Black

I once received an anonymous letter with hateful, hurtful accusations that can sting to this day if I visit the memory for more than a minute. I've advanced past the shocking assault and I'm far removed from analyzing it through fitful, sleepless nights as a young pastor's wife. Now I look back on the cruel injury with grateful assurance that God used it to move me and mature me. But what of the person who hid in anonymity behind a manually typed memo and left it unsigned? God knew their jealous motivation then and He knows their heart this very moment. I don't need to remain on duty trying to correct their misguided meanness nor do I need to now be defined by their past erroneous assertions. There comes a point where there's no point to licking old wounds, for some can never be reached by my own doing.

What's the first thing humans do when we get a boo boo? We blow on it, kiss it or lick it. So let's just say you scrape your elbow. Go ahead, try to reach it with any part of your blowing, kissing, licking apparatus. I'd venture to say, you are trying to prove me wrong in this very moment. But I'm right. You can't touch that wound with love from your own lips. It can only be soothed by another.

It was God who healed the ache in my heart, the trouble in my mind that was delivered by the hands and words of another. He alone softened the brutal blow with time and tenacity as He passionately pursued me. My loving Father in Heaven never let go even when I was so wounded I wanted to quit the preaching team, curl up in a ball and be alone. God is an expert at healing and forgiving.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24)

I remember vividly a song that echoed over and over in my mind when I felt so unloved, so helpless to remove the hurt and so sinfully angry that it ever happened. As sin tried to creep into my heart, this song pleaded with me to not hate those who viciously and senselessly attack. The lyrics beckoned me to cling instead to the cross and trust that justice and healing don't have to be parallel or simultaneously wrought. Sometimes justice never comes here on earth. But healing is possible even when the enemy tries to destroy us.

“Keep me near the cross, Near the cross. May I never stray so far, That I cannot see, What flowed down for me, At the foot of the cross... Now I'm not looking back, I've heard your voice.
And Im staying here, I've made my choice. Now it's real, Now I kneel, At the foot of the cross” (“At the Foot of the Cross” - 1996 Shepherd Boy MusicASCAP)

That's where true healing takes place. I wept again as I listened to this powerful song just now and realized how very far I've come. Instead of God desperately holding to me, I'm joyfully clinging to Him. I'm praising Him with arms outstretched and the full assurance that nothing can harm me at the foot of the cross where Jesus' shadow is cast over me. No wicked words, no hate-filled criticism, no jealous immaturity can stop me from being whole and happy.

When you can't lick your own wounds, let the Savior kiss your boo boo. His loving touch is all you need for healing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thank God for America the Beautiful

Thank God for America the Beautiful
By Brenda Black

By the time this column is published, we will be enjoying a few dozen less robo-calls per day. We'll be free of the onslaught of blaring political TV and radio ads. The campaign trail once dotted with red, white and blue yard signs will give way to beige patches of dying turf. And the lonely, quiet and bland milieu will be welcome...just in time for the hectic holiday commercials to replace political barking with screams to “Buy, Buy, Buy!”

My, my, my! Why? Why? Why? I'm ready for some silence and some sanity and some sensitivity. How about you? A little Thanksgiving before the hyper-holiday lime green and glaring red banners go up would be a nice change of pace. A wiener roast over a warm, glowing fire near the pond bank on a cool November evening sounds like paradise. A stroll through the changing timber or a roll in a pile of raked leaves seems like a great escape from the pushy commercials and shallow slogans that pitch piles of stuff we don't even need.

November should be a time to treasure the beauty of the greatest country on earth and remember how blessed we are to call this nation home. A majority of Americans will know the first verse of the 1913 patriotic classic, America the Beautiful, by Katherine Lee Bates. It highlights spacious skies, amber waves of grain and majestic, purple mountains. Many will recall words about pilgrim's feet and liberty in the second stanza. My guess is the familiarity weakens by verse three when Bates proclaims heroic acts of men “who more than self their country loved” and challenges all patriots to see the only success worth having be filled with nobleness divinity! God's grace and man's brotherhood bears witness in repeated refrains to the unity it took to form one nation under God. And verse four promises heaven past the high price of sacrifice ventured for freedom here on earth.

But do you know verse seven? “O beautiful for glory-tale, Of liberating strife, When once and twice, for man's avail, Men lavished precious life! America! America! God shed his grace on thee,Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free!”

Selfish gain has left it's stain on freedom. People rant ugly, hateful things at a young soldier's funeral for their own moment of shameful fame. Elected officials have lost face and sacrificed trust to pursue their own selfish gain rather than be a true civil servant. Credit card companies selfishly offer plastic money to people who can't afford to pay the bill, all the while heaping unending, outrageous interest rates. Crime and cruelty are culprits of selfishness. And the list goes on of ways one person's freedom infringes on the rights of another, as long as that person practices no moral conscience.

Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 6:12 - “'Everything is permissible for me' - but not everything is beneficial.” In a country built on sacrifice and nobility, we malign the very freedoms fought for when we forget that our freedom is not license for indecency.

The elections are over. The outcome history. It's time to get our American act together and cease disgracing the blood it took to give us such opportunity to speak our minds, whether in ignorance or knowledge; to cast our vote the same. November is a time to remember – veterans and pilgrims and
God's role in our nation's history and in the blessings we know as families.

Before you go mad over the election outcome or get busy hitting the stores and get swept up in the Christmas chaos, I challenge you to stop as often as you can in this eleventh hour of the year and give thanks. Quite possibly, if we were truly thankful, we wouldn't be so miserable, hateful, divided, incited or narrow minded in this amazing country. We'd be grateful to be American. And we'd stop and count our blessings this November instead of disregard them.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, does not change the historical relevance of God's divine intervention for this nation. In case you wonder what it will take to insure a similar future glory, let me leave you with the closing lines of verse eight of America the Beautiful: “America! America! God shed his grace on thee, Till nobler men keep once again, Thy whiter jubilee!” Remember in November that it's God's grace which washes our sins so we're whiter than snow and His grace alone sets us free.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just Pain

Just Pain
By Brenda Black

The pain was horrific! Stabbing, gripping, searing agony that came not in waves, but in shocking bolts! I would drift to sleep between the regulated intervals, exhausted from hours of relentless torture. Then finally it stopped. I sighed from relief while the baby I just delivered cried with life.

A few seconds later, as I gazed at that wrinkled and pinched little face, I ventured words that some in the room thought insane. Having just experienced the worst physical anguish I had ever known, I sweetly talked about having another one. Might have been the pain meds that numbed my memory. Could have been the overwhelming love and solace of holding a little person I had waited so long to meet. Whatever the motivation, all I know is the suffering ended in great satisfaction and that was enough to make me forget the pain and rejoice in the prize it rendered.

The mother of all, the first mother, set the bar. For it was Eve who declared at the birth of her firstborn son, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” (Genesis 4:1b) Keep in mind, Eve was the first to experience such a miracle. And the first to endure the curse God mandated as a result of her disobedience in the Garden.

Let's look back at the indictment before we go further. “To the woman [God] said, 'I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.'” (Gen. 3:16a)

Obviously, God meant what He said! Now go forward again to the statement of faith that Eve proclaims: “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Eve's curse was labor and pain in childbirth, yet here we see her acknowledging the very God who pronounced such judgment as her comrade and help in time of trial. Eve knew her curse was self-inflicted. She did not accuse her creator or turn away from God in the midst of the anguish. She praised Him instead for remaining faithful to a sinner.

Eve gets hammered on a regular bible-study basis. And she is guilty of garden crimes for which all of society continues to pay. But here's an instance where she gets it right. She glorifies God instead of despising Him when it would have been easy to lash out and cry: “Unfair!”

How often, we first blame God before we own our part in the problem. Certainly the Lord is just and true. He cannot deny right percipience. David sang of God's righteousness in Psalm 7 and clarified God's fair discernment between the wicked and the faithful.

“My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows. He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head. I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” (Ps. 7:10-17)

Sometimes we get our “just” dessert. Sometimes we get mercy. Always, we can be sure that God judges rightly. Who are we to question His fairness policy? Mere mortals who sin and fall short of His glory are blessed beyond measure to receive grace. A grace that God extends because of the blood of Christ who paid the penalty that we might escape deserved punishment for our disobedience.

Eve bore pain when she bore children because she sinned. Christ bore our sins that we might be called children of God. “The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Ps. 9:7-10)

It could have been the overwhelming love of seeing the desperate needs of the people God had created. Whatever the motivation, all I know is Christ's suffering ended in great satisfaction and that was enough to make Him endure the pain and rejoice in the prize it rendered – the hope of heaven for his beloved children. Just pain paid the price.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Burn Prevention

Burn Prevention
By Brenda Black

Last week I confessed about a backyard sizzler that scorched the lawn and charred my pride when I was younger. In the midst of that trash fire gone hay wire, at least one key thing prevented anyone from getting burned. We kept our heads and developed a strategy to beat those flames into submission. Thankfully, with the help of neighbors each doing their part, all succeeded without injury.

I guess a respect for the flames and a healthy fear caused me to engage without drawing too near the source of danger. But that short-lived battle with a wild fire ended in only a matter of minutes and was nothing even close to the ordeal of those miners in Chile, who are still on my mind this week. I'm still wondering if the fear of dying was daily on their minds. And if they pondered the possibility of never seeing daylight again, just what kind of calm assurance would keep 33 men sane in a dark cavern nearly a half mile under the soil? How did they not panic? The answer is prayer and order.

According to news coverage, the miners created a highly structured civilization with each survivor assuming specific roles in their temporary community. Daily prayer was led by Jose Henriquez, named official “pastor”. (See God goes deep into the earth and into the heart of man.) An electrician wired up lamps to provide 12 hours of light each day. Three miners were in charge of the food deliveries and distribution. They had a media team in charge of phone lines, cameras, and video conferences. Jonny Barrios was a miner with training in advanced first aid; logically he became the resident doctor. Some patrolled the cave and watched for signs of another rockfall. One miner acted as environmental assistant, using devices to measure oxygen, Co2 levels and air temperature. The group as a whole was divided into three categories and the leader of each of those reported directly to Luis Ursua, the shift foreman on Aug. 5, when the men entered the mine.

Their half-day shift ended 69 days later and the world watched in amazement as men were elevated to loved ones and appeared healthy, clean shaven and well nourished. That's because they took showers daily and brushed their teeth, slept on air mattresses and “Dr. Barrios” vaccinated the entire group against diphtheria, tetanus and pneumonia! Apparently, the miners were just as busy beneath the ground as those atop preparing for their rescue.

We can learn a lot from these noble South Americans about what real community looks like, whether 700 meters below the desert or right in our hometowns. The Chilean miners modeled citizenship that needs to be implemented in civic clubs, local schools and sports teams; in corporate offices, families and all the way up to national government. They also provided a glimpse into how the body of Christ is meant to work.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ...Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body...there should be no division in the body...its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26 selected)

Each miner brought his strengths; they kept their heads and worked for the benefit of everyone. And they prayed every day. Now that's a strategy for success and a way to keep rampant anxiety in check.

But I fear that the Hollywood world pounding on the doors of their humble homes will ruin the hearts and heads of the men who managed to keep their wits for nearly 70 days, when most humans would totally freak. Formerly unknown to those beyond the local mining town, these men are now world famous. They are being pursued by opportunistic authors and movie producers and others who promise riches for the scoop on their adventure. I hope their calm intelligence prevents rash decisions in light of so much temptation. And I pray that the faith they relied upon way down deep in the heart of the earth remains intact up here on the surface.

If indeed they manage to maintain the sanity that they knew in their mining fraternity under the worse of circumstances, maybe we will be blessed to have true contemporary heroes among us. Let's just pray that they keep using their heads so they don't get burned in the days ahead.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


By Brenda Black

I set the yard on fire one time. I had an accomplice. Of course we didn't intend to torch the lawn. My newlywed husband and I were merely burning trash. But the wind began to blow and scattered burning rubbish a half dozen different directions before we could say “Hot!” With frightening speed, glowing fragments of refuse turned to tall, licking flames that merged together to form a fast-moving, fiery line racing for the pasture. I know what tongues of fire look like. I've felt the heat and cowered from their power.

Acts 2:1-13 speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles with fiery symbolism. How appropriate when I remember back to that close encounter. The fire, the speed, the overwhelming feeling are quite suitable to this Pentacost occasion.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'

“Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They have had too much wine.'” (Acts 2:1-13)

Isn't it odd how one group can be amazed by the flames and another pack of people foolishly amused? It may seem odd, but unfortunately it is more the rule than the exception for mankind to scoff at God things than to stand in wonder at His amazing feats. To be awed is humbling. To debunk something beyond human explanation is egotistical.

We see it all the time. God heals and modern medicine is credited. God restores a relationship and enemies-turned-lovers say it was destiny. God instills animals with fascinating instincts and science explains away the mystery with godless probabilities.

“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)

As I watched one Chilean miner after another be lifted to safety from the depths of the planet, I had to wonder, just who will get the glory for such a salvation as this. Will the incredibly brave men who kept their wits and bore the heat from near the heart of the earth be regaled with honors? They have already been invited to presidential palaces, offered all-expenses-paid vacations and are being wooed by countless TV shows, book and movie deals. Certainly they deserve reward. Will the families who never gave up hope be acknowledged for perseverance and commitment? They kept vigil and paid a high psychological and emotional price. Will the technicians and mechanics, psychologists and physicians, captains, managers, and mining specialists be praised for their diligent and historic rescue? As Ryan Saylor, one of the designers behind Center Rock, Inc's specialized drill bit told reporters, “Being part of saving 33 miners is overwhelming.”

Behind all of the hype and the glaring lights and drilling equipment that chipped away for 69 days to free these underground heros, were family, friends and neighbors; foreigners and strangers across the globe, praying for their safe return to the surface. Those men were closer to hell than most of us ever dare to envision and one miner possibly best portrayed the real power behind such a blazing salvation.

The ninth man up, Mario Gomez, who at 63 is the oldest miner, dropped to his knees after he emerged, and bowed his head in prayer. And no one made fun of such lavish, humble faith or God's mighty hand in that moment. God's Spirit still moves today. Only a fool would deny the flame.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where's the Justus?

Where's the Justus
By Brenda Black

Quickly! Name the winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2009... If you guessed Susan Boyle, you'd be wrong. She was runner up. But Boyle was catapulted into infamy not only for her haunting, ethereal voice and penchant for timeless music selections, she broke records as well as performed on them. The Guinness World Records cemented her status as one of music's biggest singing sensations with three titles: Fastest-selling Album by a Female (UK), Most Successful First Week UK Debut Album Sale, as well as Oldest Artist to Reach No.1 with a Debut Album (US & UK). In just 21 days, she sold more than a million copies of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

I'd venture to say that you could name faster the vice presidential candidate who lost in the 2008 election before you could name the VP currently in office. And you are sure to recognize one of the greatest names in golf, Jack Nicklaus. But did you know that 19 times he ended up in second place in championship play.

Now – tell me the name of the runner up disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot after his treacherous betrayal and death. I'm waiting. Still waiting. If you are having trouble with his name, maybe it's because he had three - “Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus)...” (Acts 1:23b)

Before you write off Justus as the first loser in the contest, keep in mind that he was selected as one of two noble contenders from at least 70 devoted men for the honor and was one who walked with Christ and knew him as Lord and Savior. Luke recounts the criteria for nomination: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

Joseph Barsabbas knew the Lord and the Lord knew him. He didn't bear the name Justus without reason either. Some have suggested that the name was given to people in adult life because of their righteousness. For example, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (p. 1134) discusses the name "Justus" and writes, "This epithet, implying obedience and devotion to the Jewish Law, was perhaps given to him (Joseph-Barsabbas) by other Jews." Justus was eligible, he was loyal, he was available, he was honorable.

So why wasn't Justus appointed as one of the twelve? Because God called Matthias. The results were not produced by men, but born of God who “knows everyone's heart.” When the apostles prayed, “Lord, show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry...” God delivered an answer. Without God's confirmation, the appointed man would most certainly fail.

“The great thing the apostles were to attest to the world, was Christ's resurrection; for that was the great proof of his being the Messiah, and the foundation of our hope in him. The apostles were ordained, not to worldly dignity and dominion, but to preach Christ, and the power of his resurrection. An appeal was made to God... It is fit that God should choose his own servants; and so far as he, by the disposals of his providence, or the gifts of his Spirit, shows whom he has chosen.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible)

Losing a talent contest provided Boyle the opportunity for worldwide fame. Losing an election launched international status and 2,257,946 facebook friends for Palin. Losing his signature game for nearly 20 years still rendered Nicklaus the beloved "Golden Bear". If this is possible, then I have no doubt that Justus made a difference in spite of his non-appointment. It is completely probable that this second fiddle apostle with a noble heart positively impacted the world!

Where's the justice? It is written on the faces of the widows no longer forgotten when deacons were appointed to care for their needs in the early church while the apostles devoted themselves to teaching the Word. It is written in the pages of history where believers went out two by two and spread the gospel to every nation.

Not only those preferred by humanity accomplish greatness, it is also the ones who come in second. Just ask Susan Boyle or look up Justus when you get to heaven.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God Answers

God Answers
By Brenda Black

What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? What is the secret of happiness? What is love?You just read four of the top ten “Unanswerable” questions according to Ask.com search engine. Seems to me it is not the questions that beg solution. The real question is why don't people accept the answers?

The search engine, originally known as Ask Jeeves and launched in 2000, claims to be able to answer 16 million questions a month. “...occasionally there is going to be a question where there is no simple answer, so we're letting our users do it themselves," said Nadia Kelly, spokesperson for the site in a press release announcing their 10th anniversary poll.

Though he hasn't yet weighed in at Ask.com, one scientist-turned-author, Stephen Hawking, brashly claims he has the lowdown on the higher up. His book, The Grand Design, asserts that the existence of God is not necessary to explain the origins and mysteries of the universe. The theoretical physicist states that creation needs no God.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist,” reads an excerpt from Hawking's work.

The BBC News Magazine explains in an article dated Sept. 21, 2010, “His new book The Grand Design uses something called M-theory to claim that the laws of physics created our universe unaided. The cosmic fireworks of the Big Bang needed no supernatural spark to set them off. They can apparently light themselves, in an endless succession of universes...”

Dr Thomas Dixon, author of the BBC article and senior lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London asks, “So, is Prof. Hawking's denial of the deity just one more example of an age-old conflict between science and religion?”

While Hawking hocks his platitudes, other noble and intelligent thinkers remain steadfastly resolved that science and creation, fact and faith fit together in a world established by Intelligent Design.

Brian Thomas, MS, writes for the Institute for Creation Research:

“Extraordinary information also characterizes this vast universe. The three-dimensional placement of heavenly bodies in space and the particular--and peculiarly life-enabling--universal parameters, such as the speed of light and electromagnetic strength, are some examples of fine-tuned information...

“Since concerns over gravity and energy do not address the more obvious question of information...then statements about gravity or energy alone form insufficient grounds to reject a supernatural origin for the universe...

“A classic argument for the existence of God holds that since something exists (say, the universe), and since something cannot make itself (without violating the first principle of causality), then a cause outside that thing must exist (God). In essence, Hawking has attempted to refute this reasoning by simply denying the second premise!

“Did the oak tree come from an acorn? No, Hawking would say--it was just the result of 'spontaneous creation' and there it is. Such reasoning makes no sense. Hawking's illustrious predecessor, Sir Isaac Newton, formed a more reasonable and accurate assessment of the universe's origins: 'This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.'”

The meaning of life has no meaning if you eliminate a loving God. Happiness has no measure if there are no moral standards. And love no motivation or satisfaction if we fail to comprehend its true value as modeled by a sacrificial, providential, merciful God. Spewing arrogant, godless philosophies does not undo truth. It does not remove God from the picture. It merely removes the man who embraces such fallacies from the blessings and mercies of the Creator and leads him and his followers down a deceitful path.

Hawking is not a prophet. He is not a priest. He is neither angel nor demon. He is a mortal with a brilliant mind given to him by the very God he denounces. When he dies, he will discover far more than any laboratory would ever prove on planet earth. He will face The Creator of the Universe and answer the most important question ever – “Who do you say that I am?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman
By Brenda Black

I quickly turned the channel the other night. I didn't want to see a woman dismembered by the cranking, torturous pull of winched chains secured to shackles that clamped each of her arms and legs. The set-up for the illusion employed brave volunteers with strong stomachs to buckle down the apparatus and stand nearby as witnesses. I watched the prep and the promise of the magic man, but decided I could live my life without seeing the trick fully played out under stage lights and before a live and gullible audience. I don't have a strong stomach.

A few of the mourners who accompanied Mary to the tomb of her brother, Lazarus, probably felt the same way when they heard Jesus ask them to roll the stone away. It's going to stink, warned the practical Martha. But others, no doubt, crept in closer to see all the gory details.

Over the next few days, the novelty of the born again Lazarus beckoned crowds to come and see. They wanted to meet the magician, but they also wanted to see this man he raised from the dead. And between the two of them, their fame presented the Pharisees with a perplexing problem in need of a strategic remedy.

“So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” (John 12:10)

Here in John 12 is a passage of Scripture filled with the miracle of a man brought back from the dead and a woman anointing the Lord with expensive perfume and wiping his feet with her hair. We hear the Lord predict his own death and learn of people enamored with the One who has power over the grave. Christ directly challenges the crowd to “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (vs. 36)

Still, even after all this, most did not believe in him.

The Lord's latest attempt to save foolish and hardened hearts came just prior to when the Christ would ride into Jerusalem to the sounds of cheers, but also to the leering looks from those who despised him. While some shouted “Hosanna!” Other were thinking hang him! As his adorers pronounced blessings on him as King of Israel, his enemies cursed him beneath their breath.

Then, nearly almost to the end of this same chapter we find a very revealing and humbling truth. No matter how great the King or how marvelous his exploits, man will only believe as far as they do not bear any risk. “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (Jn 12:42-43)

In my tiny corner of the planet, I have been privileged to live my entire life in places where people are unashamed to profess their faith in Christ, though not everyone I know, knows the Lord. I was in college before I ever met a self-proclaimed atheist. I'd love to find out if she's still breathing since she never thought their was Anyone behind that very basic variable of life.

Though I still live pretty much in the same small space we call the Midwest, the world is now at my fingertips. With changing technology and changing times, it is obvious that more people than that one bitter chick in college have issues about God. And they are free to spew their hateful, irreverent comments on blogs and talk shows, and in articles and sit-coms. I shudder at the audacity of some of the crude and ignorant verbiage. And then I remember what else John 12 warned: “'He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them.'” (vs. 40)

This is not about God ostracizing a group of religious leaders. This is not about eliminating their opportunity for salvation. These are the words of a prophet who saw in advance that this is how they are going to treat HIM. Christ's actions and perfection left them faced with a life-or-death dilemma: Believe or kill him!

They killed Him. But, like Lazarus, He was risen from the dead! And now what do the haters and naysayers, the pagan and perverse, the atheists and agnostics have as a back-up plan? They kill the messengers like they wanted to kill Lazarus.

The following is just one of their most recent schemes according to The Voice of the Martyrs at http://www.persecution.com :

Neshan Saeedi, a 27-year-old Christian, has not been seen since his arrest by government authorities in July, according to the Farsi Christian News Network.

On July 24, Saeedi was at home with his wife and young daughter in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, when plainclothes security officers entered his house and arrested the family. Security officers searched the home and seized personal belongings, including a computer, CDs containing films of Christian seminars and teachings, Christian books, Bibles and family photo albums.

The family was taken to the Chaharshir detention center in Ahvaz, where they were interrogated for several hours before Saeedi’s wife and daughter were released. Officers threatened Saeedi’s wife, saying if the family continued its Christian activities their daughter might be taken away. The family was accused of threatening Iran’s national security by participating in anti-government activities. They were further accused of being spies of foreign powers and of leading people to a pro-Israel ideology.

The house church that Saeedi’s family attended has stopped meeting out of fear for their lives and the possibility of further arrests. Government authorities are thought to be actively seeking the arrest of two of the house church leaders.
This incident is the latest arrest of believers in Iran in recent months. VOM encourages you to pray for Neshan Saeedi’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Ask God to protect his wife, daughter and the other church leaders, and pray that God will grant courage and boldness to all Iranian believers.

Pray for those who are persecuted for the cause of Christ. They die every day somewhere in the world.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's a Matter of Math

It's a Matter of Math
By Brenda Black

“The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.” ~S. Gudder

Take the passage in Luke 10:1-20 for example: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“'When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“'When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you.” But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.”...

“'He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.'

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'

“He replied, '...do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'”

The God who spoke creation into existence did not haphazardly scatter whomever was handy to reach the world with his salvation story. He intentionally initiated a strategy steeped in perfect purpose and commissioned a specific number of recruits to get the news broadcast – 72 to be exact.

Think about this: The languages of the Holy Bible are Hebrew and Greek. The most prevalent language used in history for the spread of the Gospel is English. Hebrew has 22 letters. Greek has 24 characters. English has 26 letters. 22+24+26 = 72. You say that might just be a coincidence, but Christ did say to his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved...”(Mark 16:15) Guess what, at the time of Christ’s death, there were 72 nations known to man.

Good old 72 shows up elsewhere in Scriptures. In Numbers 11:14-17, 70 elders were chosen to assist Moses. Add Moses and Aaron to the total count; guess what, 72. There were 72 ornaments on the Menorah in the Tabernacle. There were said to be 72 separate pieces of the veil in the Temple which separated the Holy place from the Most Holy Place. There were also 72 members of the Sanhedrin.

Additionally, the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, was said to have been translated by 72 Hebrew Scholars (six from each tribe) in 72 days.

Even with all of the intrigue surrounding 72, there's another number just as integral to Christ's commission. He sent them out two by two.

“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! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Still the most important number is that invisible component of the three-fold cord. The ONE Holy Spirit that accompanied sheep among wolves, provided food through the hospitality of others, filled their hearts with peace in unpredictable places, dominated demons and filled obedient disciples with joy and a safe return.

The Messiah didn't complicate matters with his specific plans. Instead, He solved the world's sin problem by dying on a cross. He sent out willing servants to tell the Good News. He simplified access to the Gospel by taking it to every being on the planet.

He still calls his believers to go out and share his love story. We are each commissioned and empowered to do such bidding and we never go alone. The Holy Spirit will always accompany the faithful who stick to the plan. It really is that simple.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'd Rather be Broken

I Would Rather Be Broken Than Crushed
By Brenda Black

My brother was only eight years old when he broke his arm riding a bull in a junior rodeo. His elbow snapped under the pressure of holding tightly to the flat braided rope wrapped around the bull's girth. The break was clean and doctors pinned bone and ligaments back into place and counseled their young patient to give it time to heal. In a matter of weeks, the arm was nearly good as new. And almost 40 years later, he thankfully retains full use of the limb, even if he still bares the shrunken railroad track scar as a reminder of his young rodeo days.

Though my mom was distressed over her boy's injury, she didn't have to worry about complications. Her biggest concerns were keeping the cast dry, and preventing my sister and I from bumping our brother on accident or on purpose. She felt certain Brent's injury would mend and he would be better. It did; he was.

Had the calf fallen on my brother and crushed his arm, the risks would have been much different. While crushing injuries don't appear life-threatening, they can result in death, making them far more alarming than a fracture. Such is the case with victims of earthquakes or mining cave-ins. People pulled out alive from rubble, under which they have been pinned, risk a medical emergency that occurs subsequent to the trauma. Days after an accident, crush injuries can cause kidney failure, then death. The condition is known as rhabdomyolysis and occurs when muscles have been crushed. The muscle ruptures, releasing its cellular content, including particles called myoglobin, into the body. These particles get caught in the kidneys. They can jellify and block the kidneys. If not hydrated regularly, the person is unable to flush out the myoglobin, leading to systemic toxicity.

If that's not bad enough, crushed limbs can also cause other medical complications. The release of potassium and phosphate from the ruptured muscle can result in hyperkalemia -- too much potassium in the blood stream which causes heart problems -- and sudden cardiac death.

The remedy is harsh. For the most extensively damaged limbs, amputation may save a life.

So, which would you rather suffer -- a blow with immediate pain, but a promising outcome if you follow the physician's orders, or a slow and silent side effect from a crushing injury that has left you numb to its deadly danger?

I'd rather be broken. Jesus taught his disciples that brokenness was better than being crushed pertaining to the spirit. “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:44)

The stone is the infallible truth that Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Those who surrender to that truth will be chipped, chiseled, possibly shattered, and certainly altered from their present state. There will be scars that mark the change and it takes time to be fully useful for God here on earth. We have much to learn. But we will heal and we will be better.

I'd rather be broken by truth than damned by a stubborn denial that leaves me thirsty and bruised and destined to die. If I'm not willing to go to the Rock of Salvation, or part with the sin in my life that is slowly killing me, I will be crushed by Truth. For one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I want to be one who bowed willingly.

The only way out of eternal death is to cut off that which is polluting the body. Recognize the silent enemy that steals and kills and destroys. Denounce him in the name of Christ. Fill yourself with life-giving refreshment from the Word of God. Sever your ties with worldly wisdom. Fall on the Rock in order to live.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Leopard Frog Vs. Lawnmower

Leopard Frog Vs. Lawnmower
By Brenda Black

It takes guts to be a leopard frog, often more guts than sense. The aptly named amphibians depart their aquatic habitat during warm, summer months and venture into fields, pastures and backyards to forage. How silly to leave cool, clear waters in the middle of August scorchers and head to hot turf. Still there's another reason they'd be better off in the pond than in the pasture. In their quest for spiders and other insects, they forget to factor one giant enemy – the lawnmower.

What should seem to be horrifying to them, marginally stirs the brown-spotted species. They barely escape with zigzag hops away from the frog-squishing rubber tires on cast-iron front axles. They, narrowly dodge whirring, razor-sharp steel blades that just demolished their green grass cafe. One would think it would freak out a frog! But they seem no more shaken than if they had just jumped in front of a lily pad.

I wonder if that isn't part of the problem with people these days. They think they're invincible and do not fear true threats. Is it self absorption that blinds humans to danger? Or are people so arrogant to think that they can save themselves at the last minute.

Wake up America! There's a big freedom-chopping movement taking place in our nation. And if we don't take the danger seriously, we're hopping right into a death trap. Piece by piece, law by law, one mowed down path at a time, we are flippantly acting like leopard frogs, out of water and oblivious to horrible threats.

In about an hour of yard wacking, I spied at least a half dozen of the froggy rebels. And every one of them behaved predictably. They escaped by a frog's hair on their wee chins. I pray that's not your attitude in matters of freedom in our country or matters of eternity. There is an urgency to safeguard our nation and to ensure our eternal destiny.

“As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.

“There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones.” (Ecclesiastes10:1-3, 5-6)

Solomon's words from the Bible basically say frog foolishness reveals stupidity. Quite frankly, I think we are being weed-whipped with some “folly that outweighs wisdom and honor” when it comes to the leadership of our nation. With all due respect to the office and utter disappointment with the one who holds it, a fool is wining and dining and smoking in the White House, while those rich in common sense are working desperately trying to stay afloat. As we veer ever farther from the safe and sensible statutes of a Christian nation and the attitudes and wisdom that evoke God's blessings, we run the risk of being totally mowed down!

God won't tolerate this sort of nonsense. He cannot bless where there is blatant and foolish, self-imposed moral ignorance and other gods are worshipped. God doesn't change. Go read his resume. But since I'm not a doomsday sort of gal, I do want to offer a sliver of a silver lining. So, here's the upside of all this stupid, legalized immorality and insensitive face-slapping: Judgment is coming! Stand for God through it all and we shall see glory!

“'So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,' says the Lord Almighty.

“'I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5-7)

Look before you leap, my fellow citizens. And if you are still enamored with change for change's sake, then I hope you know how to hop really fast.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Slippery Slope of Retaliation

The Slippery Slope of Retaliation
By Brenda Black

I'm feeling better about walking away from an arrogant computer salesman since reading about a disgruntled airline steward who stomped out of the room with a far greater fit. Though I'm not sure I condone JetBlue Fight Attendant Steven Slater's libation or swearing, or his dramatic exit down the emergency slide, I certainly agree that courtesy is a lost art. And there comes a time when enough is enough of being treated like a door mat. What's our way out if not down an airplane chute?

He experienced meltdown following an altercation with a rude passenger. I came close after listening to a pompous, pushy store clerk repeatedly treat me like an infant and elevate himself to superiority. Everything in me wanted to give the oversized, but under-mannered toad a swift kick in the rear, but instead I just told him I didn't appreciate his tactics and would be doing business elsewhere. Then I walked. I think he thought I was bluffing, but discovered differently when he stepped out the front doors of his famous office supply store and scanned the city parking lot. I stayed my course and pulled away. He lost a sale, but I kept my cool -- thankfully, so that I didn't end up in the headlines the next day.

I wish I could say that I've never caved to the rude and slid down the slippery slope of retaliation as Slater did. Life would be grand if I could claim a perfect record for patience when people really rubbed me the wrong way. The reality is I've lost it more times than I care to recall, but I always regret that feeling of being out-of-control and rue the things said or done in anger.

The difference between rude indifference, retaliation and regret might best be defined by the testimony of an out-of-towner. I met this woman last weekend, one day after my computer confrontation. She was a transplant to the Midwest from Maryland. We visited briefly and she volunteered her cultural assessment of the Heartland. “People are so friendly here. Back home we're not. We're just rude.” What a sad claim to fame, but what a transparent confession. Maybe she didn't even know what courtesy was until she saw it in action.

By and large, I think folks around our parts are pretty good natured. When we meet a car, it's country protocol for an index finger or whole-hand wave, whether traveling black tops or gravel roads. I always acknowledge a farmer when he cautiously maneuvers a massive piece of farm equipment just off the shoulder then waves me around, first checking for oncoming traffic from his bird's eye perspective. Our banks still offer suckers and bubble gum to kids in the drive through. And how about those Wal-mart Greeters! People, for the most part, know what nice looks like around here.

But do we practice hospitality in public on a regular basis? Do we offer courtesy when we're in a hurry? Are we patient and kind even when someone treats us like dirt? Those are the times when courtesy counts most. While melting in the heated fury of the offender, are we able to walk away and not fall prey to anger?

“A fool gives way to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11) It may at the very least cost Slater $25,000 to fix the deployment chute on the plane, $2,500 to post bail and who knows how much more to fight his pending battle in court. That's a high price for losing your temper. Yet a higher price is paid when we disregard what's right in the sight of God.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Courtesy counts. The way you treat another may lead them down a slippery slope of unrighteous behavior. Self-control pays off. When you are the offended, take my advice – walk away and don't turn back.