Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tough Enough

Tough Enough
By Brenda Black

Think tough! What comes to mind? Steel workers climbing 10 stories into the air, wielding hammers and torches, or a stocky bull rider who gets back up after a hundred slams into arena dirt? Tough can be rough. Maybe your idea of tough is kick boxing agility. Tough may be athletic and lean. And if your image of tough looks more like punks in a street gang, then tough can be mean. I'm not tough it seems.

I'd like to think I can go toe to toe with any physical challenge. The truth of the matter is I run out of steam a whole lot sooner than later. Frankly, I have less to prove when it comes to raw strength and that suits me quite well. It keeps me from heaving cumbersome bales of hay and hauling heavy buckets of water. Well, at least I am licensed to move a little slower. But I'm not tough if it gets rough.

I've noticed my weakness in multiple muscle groups these past several weeks while attempting to exercise. If I call on the abs or back or legs, all they want to do is quiver. But I keep pressing on with the hopes that pushing my body into submission will one day render it stronger. It's going to take a long time I'm afraid before I feel athletic and lean. So far, I am m not a lean, mean fightin' machine.
So I'd rather reason with an enemy than fist fight any old day of the week. I think good manners can alleviate all sort of matters. And if it comes to beating someone into submission in order to elevate myself in power, it's probably not going to happen. So there isn't a chance that tough on me looks mean.

On the other hand, I work at staying tough mentally and I can be pretty mean to me to keep the old noodle agile and lean. I hate forgetting names and numbers or where I parked the car. I push myself to solve puzzles, unscramble words, learn new terminology or master graphics software. And, for the record, I was the only one to solve a young man's mathematical riddle at church last Sunday. Whew! That made my day to outwit the masses of agile teens struggling for the answer.

All these strenuous exercises and the constant challenges to both body and brain cells are meant to strengthen and sharpen. But when it comes to answering some of life's toughest questions, one more area in our lives needs a little training – the spirit. No big bicep will help you wrestle with sin. It takes more than common sense or quick thinking to improve a prayer life. Weights won't prepare you to walk in Christ and jogging can't make you a generous soul.

Just as the body and brain need tough training, so does the part of us that is eternal. Conditioning our hearts to beat in rhythm to God's pattern for right living begins with surrendering it to the Lord Himself. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

As we soften our soul to be pliable in God's hands, we strengthen our stand. When the Lord spoke to the house of David, He warned: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9)

I want to walk and not grow weary, run and not faint. I want to soar like an eagle and be bold and strong for Christ! I want to commit to memory the things that matter most like pearls of wisdom from God's Holy Word. And I want to toughen my faith to be bullet proof and purposeful.

How about you? When you think tough, does a man hanging on a cross and speaking forgiveness come to mind? Does a Heavenly King who humbled himself to an earthen vessel ring any bells? Jesus was tough enough to die for us. Can't we be strong enough to stand for him in this rough old world? Let's get busy training our bodies, minds and souls to go to work for the Lord!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Days

Snow Days
By Brenda Black

Slick-soled cowboy boots make great pond skates. I learned that when I was in elementary school. Not in the classroom of course. Rather, when school was dismissed because of snow!

After Dad approved safe passage, my brother, sister and I swept and shoveled snow that covered the glassy base of our above water, winter city. We created wide, sparkling paths to serve as roads and packed and piled snowballs for houses, walls and forts. We worked up a sweat as we labored so hard at play. Little by little we peeled off layers of coats and scarves until we could move more freely. And that's when we discovered you can slide a long way in cowboy boots across a frozen sheet. We raced, played tag, pretended we were cops and robbers, race car drivers or Olympic speed skaters. We challenged each other with sleds and sped and crashed with great abandon. Just kids clad in stocking caps, gloves, layers of socks and cowboy boots, we spent hours out in the snow.

If not on the pond, we were at the top of a hill located either direction from home. Our hilly road was always the first one closed and the neighborhood took advantage of toboggan runs paved by the city. Moms and Dads and kids alike scrambled and crawled up icy slopes then glided down to the area that leveled out right in front of our driveway. The ride was thrilling on sleds with runners and even more exciting atop inner tubes. Folks flew down on trash bags, tractor tires, inflatable toys or just did a belly flop at the top and went as far as the frozen road would take them. Ah, snow days, what fun!

Maybe the best part was the warm-up after a playful day in the tundra. I can still feel the prickling sensation as my fingers and toes painfully thawed in front of the gas stove. We jockeyed for the best seat in front of the gaping warm mouth of the oven, while Mom whipped up a homemade pan of hot chocolate. She didn't opt for the kind from a paper pouch, but made hers with real milk, sugar, vanilla, cocoa and love. Ah, snow days, how cozy the thought.

This winter we've experienced hassles and headaches with icy roads, sloppy lots and frozen pipes. I know it has been taxing on both man and beast to endure the cold and wet day in and day out. But for a moment, stop and look at the snow in a different way – through the eyes of a child. Run to the window when you first wake up and feel that giddy delight when you hear your school's name on the radio. Notice the sparkling beauty when the sun hits a drift untouched and pristine. Build a snowman, mold a fort, have a snowball fight like you did when you were young. For just an hour or only one day, or five minutes if that's all you can muster, see the beauty, remember the magic, enjoy the privilege of the variety of seasons here in Missouri. Ah snow days, make the best out of them.

Here are some tips for turning snow days into fond memories:
Snow Ice Cream
3 cups loose, clean snow
2 tbsp. milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Mix all the ingredients, sample the result and add more sugar and vanilla extract to taste.

Snow Painting
Mix water and food coloring in a spray bottle. Narrow the stream for fine line drawings and widen the stream for splattering effects and filler color.

Snow Sculpting
The wet, heavy snow we've had lately is perfectly suited for snow sculpting. Much like wet sand, you will be able to pack and create all sorts of shapes. Use the edge of a metal spatula to smooth walls, slope roofs and square up corners. Hollow out windows, doorways and tunnels with a large serving spoon. Bring out the beach toys and put them to work this winter.

If nothing else helps you appreciate the flakes that float and drift, at least acknowledge that they cover over a multitude of ugly this time of year. Barren trees become crystal statues, ruts look like rolls of cotton, dry and dead weeds shimmer like diamonds. And so it is with sinners saved by faith that we too look brand new under a blanket of grace. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Ah, snow days, they remind us of a fresh new life in Christ. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:7-10)

Thoughts of God's goodness toward us should give us joy and warm our souls to the extent we make the best of our lives lived purely for Him.

**Visit www.thewordsout-brendablack.com to learn more about author Brenda Black. Order your copy of “I Stand” or “Were You Born in a Barn?” on line and receive an autographed copy today, schedule Brenda for your next event, or find out where she will be speaking and signing books this spring.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The God of the Past is the God of Our Future

The God of the Past is the God of Our Future
By Brenda Black

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut. I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut though bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.” (Isaiah. 45:1-3)

Cyrus was a Gentile King anointed by God. But did you know these words from Scripture were penned by Isaiah 150 years in advance of Cyrus before he ever existed! Look it up in history.

The king of Persia is mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament, proof in itself that he was a key figure in Judah's history. When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian regime in 539 B.C., he was disposed quite favorably toward the Jews. The book of Ezra makes his loyalty clear in chapter 1, verses 1 and 2.

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and he also put it in writing, saying, 'Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, Jehovah, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.'”

Author Wayne Jackson, M.A., writes for the Apologetic Press:

“Exactly how the Lord 'stirred up the spirit' of the Persian ruler no one is able to say precisely. That God is able to operate in international affairs – to effect His sovereign will – is certain (Daniel 2:21; 4:17), but how he accomplishes these things, using seemingly natural means, remains a mystery. But there is an interesting possibility. Josephus, the famous Hebrew historian who had access to historical records long since lost, stated that Cyrus was exposed to the prophecies of Isaiah (44:26-45:7), who, more than 150 years earlier, had called the Persian monarch by name, and had announced his noble role in releasing the Hebrews from captivity and assisting in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (XI.I.2). It is a fact that Daniel was still living in the early years of Cyrus’ reign (see Daniel 10:1), and he might well have been the very one who introduced the Persian commander to Isaiah testimony. Interestingly, there is archaeological information that lends support to the biblical record.”

I don't know about you, but that just gets me excited! God sees the big picture and knows what, and WHO, is coming down the pike. Nothing is beyond his sovereign reach. That includes you and me. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” (Psalm 139:13) “You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar.” (vs. 2) “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Ps. 147:5)

If God can identify a man and describe his historical and monumental actions 150 years before he is ever born, how much more does he see into the farthest spectrums of each individual life. Though free will mandates our day to day actions, God still knows the outcome.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)

When God called to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?”, He already knew the answer. Adam was the one who needed to get a clue and learn the truth. Today, as in the first days with God as Creator and Companion, man lives and breathes and has his being under God's keen observation. He not only knows the number of our days and the number of hairs on our head, he knows every move we make and longs to stir up the spirit within each of us to fulfill the best of His plans.

***Visit Brenda at www.thewordsout-brendablack.com Be sure to order a copy of “Were You Born in a Barn?” or “I Stand” - both available online.