Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Face Value

Face Value
By Brenda Black

Perspective artists use optical illusions to fool your perception and make you believe that a painting is actually 3D. Angles, color, and shading are all employed to mislead the mind. While most artists use optical illusion to make their art more believable, others take it to the next creative step with the intentional purpose of duping the onlooker. Often, there is more to the image than first meets the eye.

Artists M.C. Escher created his piece Relativity with that in mind. His picture challenges the brain to see different versions of the painting at once, including people going both up and down stairs at the same time, indoor and outdoor scenes tag-teaming, and mind-boggling trickery that leaves you wondering where to look first and what to believe. His skills as an artist and illusionist helped him master the impossible by changing perspective, creating implausible scenarios and incorporating 3D, all into one work of art. It goes to show how easy it is to get fooled with information you take at face value.

An old adage says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Artistic illusion is entertaining. Intentional deception – not so much. It is unethical and potentially devastating. Our world is filled with both and it behooves each of us to take a second look before we venture our emotions or invest our savings into anything.

I don't know about you, but I am weary of empty promises and underhanded agendas from two-faced politicians. I long to be able to trust charitable organizations that purport good intentions. And I sure don't want to be duped by a business that sells me a bill of goods rather than a good product. Lately, I've wondered where are the ethical? And why are we so ridiculously gullible?

Is it our own greed that has us elect someone to office who promises what we want to hear? Is it our indifference that keeps us from finding a worthy cause to support? Is it ignorance that prevents further research before we purchase?

Warnings abound concerning the 2010 Census – “Be careful how much you divulge,” “Look for credentials,” “Don't be duped!” That in itself tells you which way our moral compass is pointed – S - for “SCAM”. Maybe it's time we take a second look.

At a time when Haitians are devastated and in desperate and legitimate need, we'll need to be wise where we contribute, but don't let fear keep you from helping. There are credible missions and worthy organizations getting your generosity to the right places. Ignorance is no excuse for bad decisions in elections or matters of charity. Step back and view the scene from every angle. Distinguish reality from fantasy, truth from fiction. Don't let your mind be tricked by smoke and screens. Get the facts, all the facts, before you fall prey to deception. Then follow your heart, knowing it goes forth in wisdom.

When it comes to more tangible investments, remember just because something looks good, doesn't necessarily mean it is good. I recently purchased a phone. I was told it was new. When I got it home and began personalizing features, it was apparent that someone had been there before. The vulgar song title for the first ringtone choice made me suspicious. But it was the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the little electronic with a big stink that settled the matter in my mind. I was a little ticked at both the purveyor and myself. How could I be so misled and why would they be so deceptive? I'm still searching my own shortcomings, but I'm pretty certain that their motivation was dollars and cents.

I'm a little wiser from the lesson; I've erased the song and the stink has disappeared and life goes on. I've gained perspective.

When we get the right perspective, it is empowering. We're equipped to make right choices.

“This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'” (Jeremiah 6:16)

Open your eyes, engage your brain, enlist your senses and embrace sound judgement. You don't have to be fooled. You can be certain.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Helping Hands of God

Helping Hands of God
By Brenda Black

On any given day, there is tragedy and triumph somewhere in the world. Often it is in the midst of horrific circumstances that victories are significantly more visible. On an island a mere 1,975 flight miles from the U.S., more than 3.5 million people have endured a nightmare that only grows more grotesque in the face of daylight. But one week after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, miraculous stories are emerging. Determined rescue workers unearth remarkable survivors from the wreckage. Compassionate people offer tenderness and a cool drink. Yes, good can rise out of tribulation if we will open our eyes and hearts and minds and be the hands of God. When the task is overwhelming, heroes step up to the challenge and evoke goodness in the face of mayhem and dismay. Here are two examples.

Lindsey & Bowin Tichenor recorded a “Not A Fan” testimony video less than a year ago and shared their emotional call to go to the Dominican Republic as Christian missionaries to work on water purification with a group called Edge Outreach. They are now in the streets of Haiti making a difference in the Lord's name. The latest update: "We helped distribute food to...10,000 people in two hours. We had the ...UN troops helping with security. The people were so happy and thankful to finally have their first food in six days!"

These heroes answered the call and sold everything they owned and surrendered to God's will long before they had any inkling of a catastrophic disaster. They stepped up to the challenge and were right where they were needed at just the right time because they obeyed God months in advance.

FIVE water purifiers and a team of eight workers headed to Haiti on Jan. 20, as part of the first phase of EDGE OUTREACH water relief! If you want to contribute to their efforts, visit . All funds raised in response to the Haiti earthquake will be used immediately to provide clean water for children and families affected by this crisis.

Beyond the necessities of life, others are also providing emotional and spiritual support to the traumatized. Clifford Shaw, a relative of former pastor of Nevada's First Christian Church, Eldon Shaw, is in Pignon Haiti (about 75 miles from Port-au-Prince). In a letter, he said his only contact with the outside world lasts about an hour a day when a generator powers a satellite internet at the home of Dr. Acene Jean Pierre. The medical doctor has a children’s home, Haiti Mercy Mission, where they are caring for 50 orphaned children.

Dr. Pierre’s wife and a medical student from the orphanage were in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake. They were on a third floor, when the first two floors collapsed under them. They escaped, but spent the next two nights in the street. On Thursday they, with a group of refugees, walked 10 miles to the first transportation they could find and went to Pignon. Friday morning, they were told that at least 500 from Pignon, that were students in Port-au-Prince, were among the dead.

Shaw said, “The hardest part is seeing the emotional pain on the face of these people in their time of loss.” He is there with a group of Americans ministering to the grieving and working on arrangement for food to feed the refuges that are coming. If you want to contribute to their efforts, please make checks out to TLC International and mark it “Haiti Fund” and mail it to TLC International, PO Box 22722, Billings, Mt. 59104.

These heroes of the faith, already working in a harsh environment, are now stretched to do so much more in the face of such human tragedy. Yet, they don't hesitate to step up to the challenge because they walk in obedience to God who says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:7-8)

We never know what we are being prepared for in the Lord's work. But no doubt He equips his faithful followers to be ready when earth-shattering turmoil hits. Answers to life's hardest questions rest in the peace of knowing Christ, living by his power and under his conviction. We are called to love Him and obey. We are called to trust Him and obey. We are called to serve Him and obey. We are called to put faith into action.

“Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matt. 22:37-39)

When the task seems overwhelming, may we be inspired by these examples of self-less living so that we can face anything, knowing God goes ahead of us and calls us to step up only when and where He is already at work. We simply have to heed His call and help any way we can.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shining Life

Shining Life
By Brenda Black

Lindsay's lemon yellow scarf matched her sunny smile as she sat across from me in a busy college cafeteria. In the midst of all the chaos, we talked about goals and God and life and lessons. And when we departed, I said good bye to a twenty-year-old woman who knows exactly what she wants out of life.

I have yet to encounter this vivacious coed when she is not overflowing with joy. I first met Lindsay when she came home from college with my son and a group of their friends last summer. She captured my heart with her eager desire to try anything with great abandon and enjoy it thoroughly! On that initial visit, she thought the grilled burgers were the best, she giggled with delight when she rode our blue roan mare and she hopped like a frog on the living room floor to win over the affections of my five-year-old niece. Yes, I understood instantly why Lindsey was so adored by her buddies. She brings sunshine into the world.

On a day six months beyond our first meeting, summer weather was replaced by a frigid morning. The journey to the campus was blanketed by an icy fog that hung cold and heavy. But as the sun began to burn through the crystal vapors, pastures of snow shimmered and frosty trees sparkled with diamond clusters. I watched a gigantic orange ball race mile for mile with us, peeking through patches of misty fog and latticed tree limbs. The temperature rose in its presence and the fog vanished. I didn't know how symbolic that would be until I sat and talked with Lindsey.

Every time I visit my son's college, I get to meet more of his friends and get to know them better. I always pick their brains and love hearing them tell about their majors, their career plans and their families back home. So my visit with Lindsay was pleasantly typical. I asked her about some of those big life decisions and she answered gladly.

When the topic of a future career and marriage merged at the table, I sat amazed by her definitive answer. Surrounded by peers, she boldly declared, “It doesn't really matter what my husband does for a job, it matters that he is whole-heartedly in love with the Lord.” I smiled and nodded, deeply aware of the importance of her mandate, as I sat next to my godly husband. “You are so right,” I chimed and grinned.

Lindsay has the answers even if she has yet to face all the questions that she'll confront. And a few more young, eager students that chattered and dined on that sunny, winter day possibly had it confirmed in their minds as well. As they pursue higher education, one solid truth never changes. The greatest commandment is putting God first no matter what you pursue or dream or plan in life.

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'

“'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.'” (Mark 12:28-31)

Like thousands of other college students, Lindsay may not know exactly where she wants to work or if and when and who she will marry, but she knows Who she wants supervising her career and all of her life. She wants Christ as her CEO and life planner and intends to keep Him as the leader.

Maybe it wasn't her radiant smile or contagious enthusiasm that drew me to love Lindsay instantly. I think it must have been the Son inside of her that beamed as bright as any summer day and warmed my soul on a frigid one as well.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:3-6)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Two Years to the End

Two Years to the End
By Brenda Black

Chicken Little couldn't hold a candle to throngs who wail the sky will fall in 2012. Movies abound concerning the end of time on planet earth, derived from secular, Christian, New Age, Indian folk lore and Nostradamus concepts. Though socially and religiously as different as the beginning is to the end, many of these diverse groups have cinematic productions that share the belief that something monumental will happen in December of 2012. That leaves us just two years!

Certainly prophets and lunatics, evangelists and scientists have predicted the end of the world since it's inception. Whether the final curtain falls in 2012 or not is not the question. The question is are you ready to meet your Maker. If people spent more time living today as if there were no tomorrow, our world wouldn't be in such a hullabaloo over dates and disasters.

Think of it this way: If you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you had only two years left in your life, how would you live it? Would matters we spend so much time mulling over truly matter? Would we contribute strife if we had limited time to make a difference with our lives? Would we revel in nonsense rather than hunger for insight? Would we dwell on the temporary or contemplate eternity?

I believe eternity will arrive right on time. And I intend to be ready! Whether it comes in the middle of this night or two years from now; five weeks or three decades into the future is of no concern to the signed, sealed and ready-to-be-delivered believers of Christ Jesus. My Chicken Little cry is victory for the saved and warning to the lost. “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2c)

If nothing else comes of the doomsday herald, at least folks are facing their own mortality. One website devoted to highlighting big-screen buzz put it this way: “We believe that the upcoming movies about 2012 will bring a new level of awareness of topics that ordinary people haven't explored, but esoteric and mystical people have been aware of for centuries.” (

I don't think special interest groups have a corner on the topic since believers of Christ have been anticipating the Day of His Return since the hour Christ departed. The Holy Bible addresses end times without setting specific dates. Still, God's Word provides ample commentary on the topic over which the Lord Almighty has complete authority. Jesus specifically instructed his disciples on the matter.

“He replied: 'Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and “The time is near.” Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.'

“Then he said to them: 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven...

“'There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your head, because your redemption is drawing near.'” (Luke 21:8-11, 25-28)

You see, it doesn't matter when the end. It does matter who you know and how well you trust in the One who holds the keys to eternity. “'Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.'” (Revelation 22:12-13)

Don't live in fear even when the earth seems at its worst. Live by faith that in the end, those who follow Christ, leave heartache and disaster to dwell in glorious paradise.

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Don't live for 2012, live each day of 2010 as if it were the end.