Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hot Potato Prayer

Hot Potato Prayer
By Brenda Black

As the banter over national prayer heats up in the count down to next Thursday, I am reminded of the children's game “Hot Potato.” Everyone wants to briefly hold the prayer tater-topic, then quickly toss it to someone else for fear they might get burned. And maybe they have a right to regard public opinion on such a hefty matter as risky. After all, the innocent parlor game developed in the 1880's began not with a safe potato, but a lit candle; and players chanted a strange little saying:

“Jack's alive, and likely to live. If he dies in your hand, you've a forfeit to give. The one in whose hand the light expires has to pay the forfeit.”

A heavy concept for frivolous entertainment, but a perfect picture of the high cost of throwing the one, true God out of our affairs and the solemn consequence for such arrogant behavior. If an extinguished candle flame rendered payment, how much more the repercussion for snuffing out the Light of the World. Prayer is not a game. Neither is it a legal issue; it is an ethical and moral responsibility. Prayer is a matter of life and death. It has been key to the success of this nation since its inception and is more relevant and essential than ever before in history. And those who want to ban it, condemn it or de-emphasize it's importance will bear the shame of squelching God's blessing the U.S. of A. There will be a price to pay if we do not humbly seek the Almighty's will and mercy.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln knew the necessity of beseeching God. He offered a three-tier solution for a divided nation. His complete package called on citizens to not just offer lip service. He didn't suggest that they pray as an afterthought. He intended that every person commit their mind, body and soul to the task. His penitent words and pleading voice are just as relevant today as during the Civil War.

“Whereas the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation; and...”

Wait- stop right there! The Senate of the U.S. “devoutly recognizes the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations”? And so did their forerunners who framed the Constitution! Let's read on:

“Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;...”

Duty to God, humble sorrow, genuine repentance, mercy, pardon, truth, Holy Scriptures, the blessings of God – these words backed by a Senate and proclaimed by the President. Yes, sir! This is no generic, pluralistic, politically correct or politically corrupt media stunt. This is a heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the only One able to deliver.

“...We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us...”

How much farther has America advanced in more than a century? And how much farther we have descended from the God who deserves honor and glory for the great things He hath done. “David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, 'Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.'” (1 Chronicles 29:10-13)

Lincoln knew as King David, in whom we should place our confidence.

“It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power. To confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

“Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this my proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

“All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace...”

The hot topic from nearly 150 years ago is sizzling once again. The difference – Lincoln appealed to people who believed in praying to the One, True God and our country was healed. In 2010, God is still God but we must acknowledge that He is still head of our states. If we don't handle this potato carefully, we could get burned terribly.

“God's alive, and likely to live. If he dies in your hand, you've a forfeit to give. The one in whose hand the light expires has to pay the forfeit.”

Check out Jim Daly's (Focus on the Family) comments concerning prayer at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/jim_daly/2010/04/a_day_of_prayer_for_judicial_common_sense.html

1. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69891)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Turkey Talk, Trot and Plot

Turkey Talk, Trot and Plot
By Brenda Black

Turkey talk. The term was first recorded in U. S. history in 1824, but may have initially been spoken during colonial shindigs with the original Americans. It's meaning shifted slightly down through time, first meaning to speak agreeably or to say pleasant things and later indicating frankness, hard facts or getting down to serious business.

I'm pretty certain the evolvement of the word had something more to do with hunting the wild turkey than handling boardroom decisions, since I've been in the woods this week listening to my sons trying to talk turkey with the natives themselves. Purrs, clucks, putts, gobbles and raspy old squawks rattle the timber and shake up nerves at the crack of dawn. After listening to a flock of hens offer their assorted, and often grating, cacophony, the big boys themselves reply cordially with thunderous gobbles that rumble one's stomach like a big bass drum if you happen to be sitting quite near their roost.

My sons have talked to the turkeys with gadgets in every shape and size. Diaphragm calls they wet and waller, then cup their mouths and belt out a song. Box calls were their beginner tools a few years back and I suffered through the fingernail-on-chalkboard screeches they produce. There are button-push plastic calls that creak and catch and slate calls made of glass and aluminum across which one drags a carbon stick. I used to think they sounded awful as they practiced under my roof, until I heard the real deal delivered by a real hen. Even a flub up sounds pretty accurate to the range of calls vociferated from the woods.

But it takes more than talk to get a gobbler interested. It takes outsmarting a dumb old turkey. And that's hard to do when they rule the roost and we have to spot them before they spy us. Now a turkey can detect motion at about 100 yards in the daylight. However, the human eye can decipher 7,000,000 colors and can see an almost unlimited distance. Why, on a very clear night, we can detect the Triangulum Galaxy that's positioned about 3.14 million light years away. The Andromeda Galaxy is also sometimes visible and it hangs out in heaven 2.5 million light years yonder. Granted, what our human eyes truly see is the light from the far away objects rather than the items themselves, still, that light has come quite a journey by the time it hits our optic nerve. One would think with such adeptness, humans would have the supreme advantage.

We forget to factor the fright and flight mechanism innate to the largest North American game bird. Turkeys can take off like a helicopter, nearly straight up. They can fly forward as fast as 55 miles per hour! Even on the ground, they can outrun an Olympic athlete at 18 miles per hour. I'd sure like to see “Dancing with the Stars” contenders take a stab at that fast of a “turkey trot.”

After the talking and the tracking and the calling and the planning, it comes down to this during turkey season – the birds have home court advantage. Their plot is survival and they play the game well with coy disappearing acts where striking feathers and vibrant flesh magically disappear into green-carpeted, giant wooded hollows and glens.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin may have eaten turkey in foil packets for their first meal on the moon. Big Bird may don the donation of 4,000 turkey feathers dyed yellow for his costume. And six hundred seventy-five million pounds of turkey may be eaten each Thanksgiving in the United States. But I'm pretty sure those space snacks, fowl feathers and juicy slices didn't originate in my neck of the woods where the turkey population does a superb job of winning at being elusive.

The win or loss of a turkey trophy does not change the wonderful memories amassed while traipsing through tall, wet grass at pre-dawn with someone you love and with whom you enjoy spending your time. It won't diminish the strategic planning whispered or the rapid breathing heard from your shooting partner as he anticipates his aim. And nothing is sweeter than knowing that it's worth three 4:00 a.m. mornings to be there when your hunting buddy achieves success and tells you it means just as much to him to have shared that moment.

God is good. His creation incredible! He dazzles us with ebony nights dotted with shimmering stars and wakens His world with a brilliant, glowing ball. God gifted a million different birds with individualized melodies to wake the world in harmony. He designed the deer to stand elegantly silhouetted against that morning light. And He taught the turkey how to trot and spit and drum and fan his feathers like a Broadway dancer. But best of all, he gave our family time to enjoy it together and I am supremely grateful. It was a day I would have missed if I had stayed in bed. Christ came to give us life and more abundantly. I think three days this week were some of the sweetest yet.

**Special Note: With the pleasure of enjoying God's creation comes the responsibility to help manage it. Yes, on day three, my youngest son harvested a 24-pounder! A species that was once nearly banished from our land is now so well established that the population needs to be thinned in order to keep the birds healthy and prolific. Thanks to Missouri Conservation laws, turkey hunting in our state is both a treat and a challenge under such premier wildlife management.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let Go of the Grudge

Let Go of the Grudge
by Brenda Black

Ancient Rome, slaves had no rights. Neither did they receive any mercy if they defied authority. They were property and like any other commodity, viewed as disposable. But not before the master demonstrated his superiority with terrible punishments devised to inflict as much pain and humiliation as man could imagine. Slaves were crushed to death or had their hands, ears, feet, nose and lips cut off and their eyes cut out. Under Roman law, the owners of slaves were allowed to inflict whatever treatment or punishment they wanted on a slave without consequence.

In the tiny book of Philemon, probably written around AD 63, the apostle Paul begs for mercy for a runaway slave converted to Christianity. Philemon is a fellow laborer we're told in the very first verse. He has blessed many with his love and generosity. But Paul requests one greater display of Christ like compassion. He pleads with Philemon to forgive and take back a runaway slave, who accepted Christ under Paul's teaching.

“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you.” (Philemon 1:10-12)

Before you begin to think “what's the big deal,” understand that runaway slaves were branded for such an offense. A class of persons called Fugitivarii made it their business to recover runaway slaves and then brand them on the forehead with the letters “FUG” denoting their insolence. The deliberate breaking of the joints or bones was also a punishment inflicted on runaway slaves. And the master had every right to retaliate.

Paul's request is no trivial matter. He is asking for a master to humble himself for the sake of the slave – a posture unheard of in Ancient Rome. He challenges Philemon's depth of love and shakes the very core of his faith by suggesting that the runaway's crime was for the better. This is the same Paul that himself used to inflict heinous torture on believers. This is the same Paul who was a Roman citizen and benefitted from the class-based society that ignored the poor so the rich grew more gluttonous. Yes, Paul had walked in Philemon's shoes in a fashion. His own eyes were opened and he learned about forgiveness and compassion when God became master of his heart.

But did Philemon pass the test? I don't know. And if we don't know if he learned the lesson, then why is this priceless little letter part of God's Holy Word? Because it is timeless and it is written to you and me that we might adopt such a gracious manner.

You see, Jesus went to the cross and suffered as a slave criminal. Roman law crucified a slave for almost any reason. The slave was first scourged, then stripped of his clothes and nailed to a cross. The nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm or driven through the wrist. When nailed to the cross, there was a massive strain put on the joint that often resulted in dislocation of the shoulder and elbow. The slave couldn't breathe when he could no longer force his body up to inhale and he would die of asphyxiation. Crucifixion meant painful and lingering death, taking hours or even days to complete its barbaric results.

We know that Christ willingly died undeservedly as a common criminal. How can we still hold to grudges that His death covered? Did He die for nothing? No! He died that we no longer would be slaves to sin. He died that we would not let hate and retaliation and cruelty master us. He died so that grace may abound toward all – slave and free, Gentile and Greek. When sin reigns in us, it is we who become the slaves after all! And that makes Satan our ruthless master with the arrogance and vengeance to torture us with his lies and assaults and Hell itself.

I thank God, that as my master, He welcomes me back even when I fall. He does not indict or punish just because He has the authority. Instead, He forgives because He is full of mercy! I know that He “will do even more than I ask.” (Phil. 1:21)

My master doesn't hold grudges. Do I?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Front Porch Hospitality

Front Porch Hospitality
By Brenda Black

Once upon a time, folks used to sit outside on a spring evening and talk. Neighbors knew one another and the front porch was public domain whether you lived in its attached house or two doors down. A swing, a chair, a rail and steps fashioned a gathering place. Often, those who assembled would sing or pick guitars and each one would find their part – on the porch and in the music. That's where harmony was born and that's where harmony flourished.

I was reminded of those Andy Griffith days as I pulled up another chair to join a throng of college kids all sitting serenely in front of my home and postponing their departure back to campus and studies. The social circle concluded a busy and fun weekend filled with sunshine, horseback rides, Easter egg hunts and wonderful worship. I loved their chatter as well as their silent company. Just having them in my home for a couple of days brought life and laughter and loads of singing from this group of co-eds who'd just returned from a choir tour in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Little sleep, rich family recipes and plenty of sweets rendered me sluggish in body. But my soul was at peace, content with the final quiet moments of reflection and camaraderie. There's something melodious in witnessing a group of friends so comfortable with one another. Their friendship seemed as harmonious as their voices I'd heard blended together when they blessed our family with tidbits of their choir's repertoire. There was a sweet, sweet spirit on my porch. And I know it was the presence of the Lord in each of these delightful young adults.

How quickly the Lord has meshed their hearts and lives together along with their voices. They've come from all over the U.S. and ended up in a huddle where they feel safe enough to be themselves. What a blessing to observe their love and respect for one another and to watch them appreciate their differences. Harmony of hearts. Harmony of happiness. Harmony of hilarity. Harmony of back scratches and hugs and hopes and dreams. Their song of friendship was beautiful to hear and see.

Spending a few hours with them sent my mind back to a time when I brought home a Christian band from college. My mom welcomed the troop and made room for each in her heart and home. I'm glad I learned the importance of hospitality or I would have missed most recently one of the sweetest Easter weekends I've ever experienced.

As I pondered the Christ of Easter who died with outstretched hands on a cross, then rose from the grave to extend his loving grace, it dawned on me that He did all that in order to one day welcome me home. I have no doubt there will be a porch on my mansion and there will certainly be singing – perfect pitch and harmony – all waiting for me because of God's amazing hospitality.

In Romans 12:9-13, the Apostle Paul talks about such open-arm sentiment that we are to emulate while still here on earth.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Like the folks in Mayberry who positioned themselves available on a front porch, we are fortunate to have quality companionship when we open our lives to others and welcome them in. After an extended winter of repetitive cycles of isolation, it's time to get back out there and invite people to come visit. Make your home a haven. Sit on the porch and talk and laugh and sing. Listen to the silent comfort of togetherness between friends. Most importantly, share your faith and the love of Christ with any who grace your threshold or step onto your porch.

The song of life is so much sweeter when we merge our voices and venture our affections with one another. A bunch of college kids taught me that this Easter.