Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Do Your Will

Two Do Your Will
By Brenda Black

Sometimes folks see eye to eye; stand shoulder to shoulder, against all odds and antagonists. Once upon a time, such staunch loyalty existed between Gospel preachers Paul and Barnabas. When grace was forsaken, they teamed up to make certain grace was extended to the Gentiles.

“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.' This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2)

“...After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them. Just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.'” (Acts 15 6-11)

Together, Paul and Barnabas penned the Good News letter that delivered encouraging words of grace, along with attainable guidelines for the benefit of the Gentile believers.
When God unites, He empowers with wisdom and purpose. Paul's and Barnabas' concerted perspective prospered the church through unselfish and calculated thought, a clear-cut vision and immediate action that inspired motivation.

Often folks see eye to eye and God gets glorified. Other times people go toe to toe and nothing but separation will bring resolution.

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.' Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36-41)

When God divides, He just may enlarge the kingdom. The severance of Paul and Barnabas doubled the Gospel effort. Mark and Silas were added to the team. And Cyprus got a Barnabas sermon out of the deal.

Barnabas the encourager. Paul the wise one. And still they couldn't see everything alike. But they each loved the Lord. Both were saved by grace. Two men, torn apart by differences, yet used by God by design. The very notion that both were right stands to reason.

Differences don't necessarily sift to right and wrong exclusively. Sometimes the chasm is the best route to divide and conquer for the cause of Christ. Two wrongs never make a right. But two rights can turn the world right side up!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

As a Matter of Fact, You Matter

As a Matter of Fact, You Matter
By Brenda Black

“There are 6.8 billion people on the planet,” says a Forbes headline in its Nov. 22, 2010 issue. “These are the 68 who matter.” The opening paragraph on p. 76 begins: “We are fascinated by power. We stand in awe of those who apply it adroitly – and in fear of those who abuse it. We lust for power. Everyone would rather be a hammer than a nail. The people on this list were chosen because in various ways, they bend the world to their will. They are heads of state, major religious figures, entrepreneurs and outlaws...”

What a sad indictment for the remaining billions of us! I despise the pugnacious assumptions and arrogant overtones of such a declaration because I've read something elsewhere that trumps Forbes' editorial angst. You'll find it written in red in the book of John, chapter 3: “'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) You matter. When the world screams insignificance, remember God's lavish attention toward all of us on this planet – not just the proud or powerful.

If you have fallen prey to such hollow mandates telling you fame and fortune are the determining factors for a life to have purpose, think again. Charles Schultz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip challenges that perspective with a quiz. You don't have to actually answer the questions below. Just read straight through, and you'll get the point.

1) Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 2) Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 3) Name the last five winners of Miss America. 4) Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. 5) Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress. 6) Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do? The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. The answers to the above questions are not second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do with this one: 1) List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. 2) Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. 3) Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. 4) Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. 5) Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

These names are right on the tip of your tongue. They dwell in the depths of your heart and reside in the recesses of your mind. The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the grandest credentials, the most money, or the prestigious awards. They are the ones that show you matter. When the world screams insignificance, remember your friends' lavish attention.

As a matter of fact, God's gracious attention toward us often comes through the love of others. His mysterious desire to dwell in the midst of humanity is beautifully manifested when we love one another like He loves us.

“'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.'” (John 15:9-17)

While Forbes' article featured the rich and famous of the world, God's roster of significant people includes only those who call Him Lord. But the rewards for the significantly saved will not deteriorate. His lavish love is eternal. And that's a fact because you matter.

During the holidays, please remember those who may feel invisible or insignificant or alone this time of year. Be God's friend. Be their friend. Show them in a loving way how they matter to you and to Him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mission to Make a Difference

Mission to Make a Difference
By Brenda Black

I met a man with more than a plan – he is on a mission. Ted Baehr is Founder and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry. His lengthy resume includes: “noted critic, educator, lecturer, and media pundit...with his life’s purpose to be used of God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.”

Dr. Baehr has the goods to back up his campaign. Young men and women ages 12-25 soar up the charts in percentage points when asked if they prefer movies with foul language and explicit sexuality. Before you quickly assume that they must, the data validates quite the opposite. High numbers on this survey mean they don't like it. Baehr presents overwhelming statistical proof from massive data collection that the majority of people in every age category is sick of filth on the big screen.

Baehr's mission is to show movie studios the costly error of their contrary assumptions and present them with powerful tools that will lead to more noble entertainment for viewers and higher box office sales for the movie makers. He is making significant progress. You've probably applauded some of the results of his influence by enjoying films like “Up,” “The Incredibles,” “Blind Side,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and the adorable “Despicable Me” along with hundreds of other family-friendly productions.

Dr. Baehr's positive accomplishments and his prowess are impressive. But having visited with this humble and kind gentleman several times over the course of three days and getting to know him as a brother in Christ, what I love most is that he's real in a world of make believe. Though he rubs elbows with the rich and famous of Hollywood, he is just as comfortable chatting with me. He even wanted to have his picture taken with Pam and me to help promote I Stand. This week he is flying to Korea to share the data one day and meeting with the head of Walt Disney on another. Yet, the glitz and notoriety is not what compels him. Baehr is going to bat for you and me and every generation that longs to be spared from vile, degrading images. He tells top executives, script writers and actors that the best movies are not packed with political agendas, shock and horror. Instead, they have “extraordinary themes of redemption, self-sacrifice, compassion, and love wrapped in fun-filled family entertainment.”

Between lunch and more workshops, I asked Dr. Baehr how he found time to do so much for so many. He smiled sweetly and simply answered, “I just want to help.” He added, “Nothing is beyond God's redemption.” Baehr is a man who knows the mission and is bound and determined to take back territory for God's glory.

Most likely, the rest of us won't be shaking bushes in Tinsel Town, but we can press forward right where we live and work together to claim, reclaim, conquer or guard territory for the Lord. It begins at home. Make wise choices for your family. Use MOVIEGUIDE® before you rent a DVD or buy a ticket to the movies. Make sure you realize your witness matters at school or on the job. Stand up for what is right and decent! Never compromise truth for lies. When we demand decency and behave according to such standards, we can rest assured that we are making a difference.

Dr. Baehr's greatest weapons are the facts he wields when he faces the production giants. Evidence from real people in the real world who want real value in their entertainment is hard to ignore. Likewise, genuine Christians make indelible differences when they live genuine lives of faith in full view of a watching world. The cameras may not be rolling and I may not be a big star, but I must shine like one if I want to help and not hurt God's mission.

Two actors choosing the high road give me hope that more good stuff is about to come out of Hollywood.
Left is Torry Martin - a delightfully hilarious story teller and comedian who loves the Lord. And on the far right is Michael Joiner, who will star in a new release The Grace Card, Feb. 2011.

**Hope to see you at Outback Hair Salon, Butler, MO, Nov. 22, 5-9 p.m. for Ladies' Night Out! I'll have all three of my books available and I'd be happy to autograph and personalize any that you buy as gifts for dear ones on your Christmas list or for yourself! Pam Morgan will be joining me and bringing the Morgans' latest album, recorded live. See you soon!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old Hurts Heal

Old Hurts Heal

By Brenda Black

I once received an anonymous letter with hateful, hurtful accusations that can sting to this day if I visit the memory for more than a minute. I've advanced past the shocking assault and I'm far removed from analyzing it through fitful, sleepless nights as a young pastor's wife. Now I look back on the cruel injury with grateful assurance that God used it to move me and mature me. But what of the person who hid in anonymity behind a manually typed memo and left it unsigned? God knew their jealous motivation then and He knows their heart this very moment. I don't need to remain on duty trying to correct their misguided meanness nor do I need to now be defined by their past erroneous assertions. There comes a point where there's no point to licking old wounds, for some can never be reached by my own doing.

What's the first thing humans do when we get a boo boo? We blow on it, kiss it or lick it. So let's just say you scrape your elbow. Go ahead, try to reach it with any part of your blowing, kissing, licking apparatus. I'd venture to say, you are trying to prove me wrong in this very moment. But I'm right. You can't touch that wound with love from your own lips. It can only be soothed by another.

It was God who healed the ache in my heart, the trouble in my mind that was delivered by the hands and words of another. He alone softened the brutal blow with time and tenacity as He passionately pursued me. My loving Father in Heaven never let go even when I was so wounded I wanted to quit the preaching team, curl up in a ball and be alone. God is an expert at healing and forgiving.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24)

I remember vividly a song that echoed over and over in my mind when I felt so unloved, so helpless to remove the hurt and so sinfully angry that it ever happened. As sin tried to creep into my heart, this song pleaded with me to not hate those who viciously and senselessly attack. The lyrics beckoned me to cling instead to the cross and trust that justice and healing don't have to be parallel or simultaneously wrought. Sometimes justice never comes here on earth. But healing is possible even when the enemy tries to destroy us.

“Keep me near the cross, Near the cross. May I never stray so far, That I cannot see, What flowed down for me, At the foot of the cross... Now I'm not looking back, I've heard your voice.
And Im staying here, I've made my choice. Now it's real, Now I kneel, At the foot of the cross” (“At the Foot of the Cross” - 1996 Shepherd Boy MusicASCAP)

That's where true healing takes place. I wept again as I listened to this powerful song just now and realized how very far I've come. Instead of God desperately holding to me, I'm joyfully clinging to Him. I'm praising Him with arms outstretched and the full assurance that nothing can harm me at the foot of the cross where Jesus' shadow is cast over me. No wicked words, no hate-filled criticism, no jealous immaturity can stop me from being whole and happy.

When you can't lick your own wounds, let the Savior kiss your boo boo. His loving touch is all you need for healing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thank God for America the Beautiful

Thank God for America the Beautiful
By Brenda Black

By the time this column is published, we will be enjoying a few dozen less robo-calls per day. We'll be free of the onslaught of blaring political TV and radio ads. The campaign trail once dotted with red, white and blue yard signs will give way to beige patches of dying turf. And the lonely, quiet and bland milieu will be welcome...just in time for the hectic holiday commercials to replace political barking with screams to “Buy, Buy, Buy!”

My, my, my! Why? Why? Why? I'm ready for some silence and some sanity and some sensitivity. How about you? A little Thanksgiving before the hyper-holiday lime green and glaring red banners go up would be a nice change of pace. A wiener roast over a warm, glowing fire near the pond bank on a cool November evening sounds like paradise. A stroll through the changing timber or a roll in a pile of raked leaves seems like a great escape from the pushy commercials and shallow slogans that pitch piles of stuff we don't even need.

November should be a time to treasure the beauty of the greatest country on earth and remember how blessed we are to call this nation home. A majority of Americans will know the first verse of the 1913 patriotic classic, America the Beautiful, by Katherine Lee Bates. It highlights spacious skies, amber waves of grain and majestic, purple mountains. Many will recall words about pilgrim's feet and liberty in the second stanza. My guess is the familiarity weakens by verse three when Bates proclaims heroic acts of men “who more than self their country loved” and challenges all patriots to see the only success worth having be filled with nobleness divinity! God's grace and man's brotherhood bears witness in repeated refrains to the unity it took to form one nation under God. And verse four promises heaven past the high price of sacrifice ventured for freedom here on earth.

But do you know verse seven? “O beautiful for glory-tale, Of liberating strife, When once and twice, for man's avail, Men lavished precious life! America! America! God shed his grace on thee,Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free!”

Selfish gain has left it's stain on freedom. People rant ugly, hateful things at a young soldier's funeral for their own moment of shameful fame. Elected officials have lost face and sacrificed trust to pursue their own selfish gain rather than be a true civil servant. Credit card companies selfishly offer plastic money to people who can't afford to pay the bill, all the while heaping unending, outrageous interest rates. Crime and cruelty are culprits of selfishness. And the list goes on of ways one person's freedom infringes on the rights of another, as long as that person practices no moral conscience.

Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 6:12 - “'Everything is permissible for me' - but not everything is beneficial.” In a country built on sacrifice and nobility, we malign the very freedoms fought for when we forget that our freedom is not license for indecency.

The elections are over. The outcome history. It's time to get our American act together and cease disgracing the blood it took to give us such opportunity to speak our minds, whether in ignorance or knowledge; to cast our vote the same. November is a time to remember – veterans and pilgrims and
God's role in our nation's history and in the blessings we know as families.

Before you go mad over the election outcome or get busy hitting the stores and get swept up in the Christmas chaos, I challenge you to stop as often as you can in this eleventh hour of the year and give thanks. Quite possibly, if we were truly thankful, we wouldn't be so miserable, hateful, divided, incited or narrow minded in this amazing country. We'd be grateful to be American. And we'd stop and count our blessings this November instead of disregard them.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, does not change the historical relevance of God's divine intervention for this nation. In case you wonder what it will take to insure a similar future glory, let me leave you with the closing lines of verse eight of America the Beautiful: “America! America! God shed his grace on thee, Till nobler men keep once again, Thy whiter jubilee!” Remember in November that it's God's grace which washes our sins so we're whiter than snow and His grace alone sets us free.