Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Resurrection Relay

Resurrection Relay
By Brenda Black

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

“The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.'

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. 'Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'

“While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, “his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Matthew 28)

An earthquake had occurred. An angel did descend. He rolled away the stone and there he sat watching mighty guards tremble in their boots, disabled with immobilizing fear. When they gathered the strength, they cowardly fled to seek help and alliances that would spare their lives from certain death for a job poorly managed.

An earthquake had occurred. An angel did descend. He rolled away the stone and there he sat greeting meek women who stood in awe. When they were comforted with the angel's calming plea, they courageously crept forward to see the place where Jesus lay.

While the guards dickered for their safety, accepted bribes and vowed to lie in order to save their own hides, the women, likewise alarmed and astonished, carried out a more noble plan with “fear and joy.” They hurried to their task and delivered good news.

The contrasting responses to one single, historical event made the difference. The resurrection calls for faith in action, not ignorance, nor indifference, nor antagonism!

You see, the crucifixion was a finished event with continuing consequences. And when the angel stated that the Lord was risen, he indicated that the act was merely a simple, undefined action. No big deal to the God who is able! God did the work and all we have to do is report the truth.

“Go quickly and tell,” the women were instructed. And they followed the edict without hesitation.

Why are we more like the soldiers who have far greater interest in guarding our reputations instead of humbly submitting? Why aren't we more like the ladies who risked accusation of insanity in order to speak the truth? What do we have to fear? “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matt. 10:28) Be not ashamed of the gospel, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

The God who formed man from dirt could easily breathe life into a corpse. That same God who sent His Son as a ransom still keeps His word. If He did this, will He not be faithful to every other promise? The angel assured the women that Jesus was going ahead of them into Galilee, which meant he was leading them forward – out of the tomb, away from the grave and toward life eternal. Just as soon as they consented to believe the promise, they met Jesus face to face and fell at His feet to worship! He does the work and all Christ asks of us is to trust Him and tell others the truth so that they may be led out of death and into life too.

The Resurrection is a relay race, not a one-shot jump religion. God's only plan for spreading hope eternal is entrusted to us, as it was to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. “Do not be afraid. Go and tell...” Then, others will see me. Why not begin this Easter.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bracket Busters and Other Troubles

Bracket Busters and Other Troubles
By Brenda Black

Take one spring weekend in the middle of March. Mix in, basketball upsets, a foot of snow and historic votes and what do you get? Failed dreams, frozen tundra and bum-fuzzled fans and citizens. Brackets busted and hearts broken. Spring fever escalated and snow plows shoveling. A country divided and more and more fear and distrust for anything that has to do with government.

Hello, spring! Not quite its typical entrance, but then, what is normal any more in America. Actually, the March madness–turned–insanity is a fairly good picture of our country these days. A blizzard on the tail of 70-degree sunshine is pretty zany. But accusatory slurs, screaming oppositions and a vice president who whispers profanities into the ear of our nation's president in front of the media very near a microphone is absolute stupidity! No wonder so many natives are restless and feel ashamed of the way our nation is headed. If the high offices can overlook simple respect and decency when the world is watching, who knows how badly they misbehave off-camera.

And speaking of poor judgement, how about this comment from a radio DJ this weekend. The radio personality was quizzing his guest about a legal incident. His question: “If a guy wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun goes into a convenience store to rob it, but since the attendant is not there, he aborts his plan, is he still guilty of attempted robbery?” The law student defended his answer of yes and then the DJ proceeded to enlighten his listeners with this idiotic advice. “If you're going to rob a store, at least do it right or don't do it at all.”

Did he just condone robbery as long as you do it “right”? What's the right way to hold up a clerk? Shoot first, ask questions later. Take all the money and a hostage? Good grief! This is just another example of March madness to the nth degree!

In case any of the people in Washington are listening, we have bigger problems than any sweeping, uncertain health care reform can fix. Our society is sick from the grotesque and growing disease of selfish disrespect and careless indifference. America's cancer can't be fixed with chemotherapy. It has to be healed with humility.

This spring, a few things need cleaning to alleviate the madness that is escalating – the heart of man needs to be swept of selfishness. And the mind of man must be cleared of rubbish. It's time to get back to the basics of human decency and good manners. It's time to act with integrity instead of shoving our own policies onto others. It's time to deny ourself and see the bigger picture.

I have a terrible spring fever not only for sunshine to warm the air and daffodils to bloom. I have a maddening need to believe that this land of the free and home of the brave is not ruined.

I'm glad Easter is upon us soon. Maybe, just maybe, we'll look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and be reminded what real leadership looks like. Love at all cost. Humility and heart. Christ set the example that breaks all brackets of sinful selfishness. It casts all votes for what is best, not what pleases the elite. The Lord's sacrifice blazed a trail to the throne of grace. It did not leave us out in the cold with no hope.

Easter is the perfect time to take a good, long look into the heart and search the mind. Because if ever we needed a Savior, it is at this moment in our history, when men are as arrogant and rude as those who spat upon Jesus and cursed Almighty God. We are crucifying Christ all over again in America. He died once for all time, but unless we repent, each one in honest humility, we are without a future or standing.

When Jesus looked down upon his tormentors, he pleaded compassionately, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) We know better today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

True Test of Loyalty

True Test of Loyalty
By Brenda Black

One thing that ends a friendship the quickest in my book is disloyalty. My greatest hurdle to forgiveness is getting past broken trust. I pray about it and grapple with it and try to move past it. For me, it takes time and God's poignant conviction as the two ingredients that deliver freedom from the wound inflicted by a friend who stabbed me in the back or foolishly passed along what had been discretely shared with them in confidence. Don't lie to me and don't gossip about me behind my back. I can get along with about any personality, but it takes everything in my power and the Lord's supernatural strength to get me past broken trust.

I found a kindred spirit in the man of King David. I discovered his staunch adherence to forthright loyalty in 1 Chronicles 12. David has been banished from the presence of Saul and is holed up in a cave at Ziklag. He has only a small army of thirty chiefs, his “Mighty Men.” Make no mistake - his small troop of warriors was fit to serve.

“They were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed; they were kinsmen of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin.” (1 Chr. 12:2)

These men had proven their faithfulness time and again. They were strong supporters of David's right to the throne and three of them accomplished tremendous feats of selfless bravery in order to protect or accommodate their king.

These men were more than mighty, they were trustworthy. Safety in friendship is essential and familiarity breeds confidence, especially when life depends upon it. So when a new group of Gadite defects and more Benjamites search out David in his desert stronghold, he has every reason to question their intention in verses 8-17. “They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains...

“These Gadites were army commanders; the least was a match for a hundred, and the greatest for a thousand. It was they who crossed the Jordan in the first month when it was overflowing all its banks, and they put to flight everyone living in the valleys, to the east and to the west.

“Other Benjamites and some men from Judah also came to David in his stronghold. David went out to meet them and said to them, 'If you have come to me in peace, to help me, I am ready to have you untie with me. But if you have come to betray me to my enemies when my hands are free from violence, may the God of our fathers see it and judge you.'”

Stop right there. David has a mere 30 men and he's faced with commanders and fierce fighters and he hesitates to take them into his confidence. Get real! In David's desperate circumstance, how could he pass up such offers? Because taking a deceiver into his camp was more deadly than fighting with a faithful remnant.

Not until they decried fierce loyalty were they accepted. “We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you!” (vs. 18b)

That's what David was waiting to hear. Loyalty to both himself and to the God he served. Trustworthy friends are not in the relationship for only what they can get out of it. They are in the friendship to insure that the other achieves the best as well. Looking out for the interest of others should be a prerequisite for true friendships. More importantly, a common trust in the Lord God insures that the relationship is built on TRUTH!

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)

As for me, I often need reminding that love also “keeps no record of wrongs.”

It takes trust to build trust. It takes love to forgive when trusts are broken. It takes God to offer a Son sacrifice who would lay down His life. And it takes God to build an army that would lay down their lives for one another. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Truth in Prayer

Truth in Prayer
By Brenda Black

Charles Spurgeon once said that true prayer is:
“an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds and a revelation of hidden poverty.”
If you think about it, the needs urge us to seek God's help. When we count only what is necessary, useless pursuits seem less important. The hurts help us depend on God. The acknowledgement of our impoverished condition compels us to long for the Lord's riches. True prayer humbles us, challenges us, comforts us and completes us. I believe the fiery preacher got it right.

In times of need, a cry of prayer banishes the loneliness and fear. “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” (Psalm 116:5-6)

I find it easier to be on the supplier end rather than the receiver when it comes to meeting needs. I'd rather fill a void instead of be devoid. It's hard to accept help because it blatantly exposes our desperate demand of it. But that is exactly what God wants us to see – our absolute dependency on the Almighty. Self-sufficiency is a certain path to despondency. The more we rely on our own strength, ability, power, knowledge or any other claim of superiority, the farther we fall from true wisdom and adeptness.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31) True prayer humbles us.

True prayer challenges us to discern between pleasure only or our only purpose. We're not here to work and get rich or pilfer our lives away at play. We're not here to be model parents or rich and famous celebrities. God didn't create man only to fly to the moon or dive into the depths of the sea. He made man for His good pleasure and for fellowship. And he purposed that we live all our days with Him.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

We are here by design to worship the Lord willingly and lead others to the King of Kings. If you catalog your necessities, you might easily see that little is much in the eyes of the Lord. All he wants is our affections. And all we need is His love.

One beautiful aspect of prayer is its privacy. Without a word, without a witness, without any worry, I can send my deepest hurts or my greatest joys heavenward and be assured they reach the ears of my Lord. Every pain or horrifying sin will be seen and heard by the One who can mend broken hearts and permanently forgive. Prayer is a comfort greater than any soothing this world has to offer.

“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (Job 36:15)

Once we can accept that God cares for our needs, He clarifies what is necessary and He comforts those who weep, then it should be easy to understand that the Lord completes us. Apart from His great mercy, outside of His will, there exists a vast emptiness that many mortals have yet to recognize. In each of us there is a God-sized hole in need of a God filling. We are wretched and impoverished until we are complete in the Holy Spirit, covered by the blood and controlled by the one true God.

Let us pray: God, live in us and give us Your Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in us and we in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God, You are love. If we live in love, we live in You, and You in us. Your love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like You. Help us understand our need of You. Challenge us to live out your decree to go and reach the world. Hear the cry of our hearts and heal our secret wounds. And Lord, reveal just how very much we need you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Matter of Math

A Matter of Math
By Brenda Black

Painted faces and high pitched rants; frenetic cheers and threatening jeers all at once – No, it's not an Indian war dance. It's March Madness! Whether you are among the college enrolled, faithful alum or have no university affiliation at all, it makes no difference when it comes to NCAA basketball.

And speaking of differences, the road to the Championship is more about subtraction and division than about adding up national titles.

It starts with more than a thousand teams and quickly gets whittled to 64 through records and committee votes. That number is pared to 32 after only two days of tournament play. Divide again and your down to 16 who count it a sweet thing to miss the chopping block. In just the second week of competition, those 16 are slashed to four and the other 12 go home without a shot for the big banner. In the third and final week of basketball battles, only ONE of those Final Four will be crowned next month!

Off the court, the real world is filled with striving for superiority as well. We compete for jobs on every rung of the corporate ladder. Limited time offers, coupled with limited supplies, force shoppers to act more like half-crazed maniacs than wise household managers. All too often, we are grappling to be king of the hill or top dog and if we arrive at the pinnacle, we discover that being one can be pretty lonely.

I'm so glad that God's economy is more about addition and multiplication instead of subtraction and division. The more the merrier is the Lord's strategy. He sent his disciples out with the mathematical mandate to multiply.

“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness...These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:...' the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.'” (Matthew 10:1-8 selected, emphasis mine)

And then the Lord suggests a whacky formula: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (vs. 39) Now that's upside down mathematics! With God, even losses render compound interest.

Still have a problem with God's digits? Then it's probably more a matter of the heart than a mathematical hindrance. Because the road to the Final Day is lined with potential winners. Our challenge is to multiply the kingdom through ministry and prayer.

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against those of the Aramaic-speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.'

“This proposal pleased the whole group...They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts. 6:1-7)

We all win if we follow the game plan. And one more thing when it comes to God's championship. Even those who were beaten down or completely out of the game still have an opportunity to win.

“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-21)

Freely, you have received. Freely give. God wishes for none to perish and all to win!

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