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.