Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Timeless New Year Advice

Timeless New Year Advice

By Brenda Black

You've heard them for decades, the New Year's greetings, conjectures and predictable resolutions. They slide easily off the tongue but are evasive in practice. What compels us, then, time and again to venture such hopeless proclamations? Why do we set ourselves up for failure with public announcements doomed from the outset? The answer is good intentions.

Good intentions are dead in the water if we don't intentionally carry out a plan of action. The first step is to select something worth doing rather than the same old New Year song and dance. Here are a few suggestions from old and new, tried and true wise men and women for 2011 goals that have great potential of actually being achieved simply because they are worth it.

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day,” says Sydney Smith. The advice of this English writer and Anglican cleric of the 1800's is even more relevant for the 21st Century. He calculates the simple act to have great and lasting impact. “...in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.” I can do that! How about you?

Benjamin Franklin offered up this sage counsel: “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” Ladies, that doesn't mean out with the old and in with the new when it comes to husbands! Bespectacled Ben offered quite serious and profound instruction. Yet when the new year rolls 'round we tend to take inventory of our weaknesses, then end up coddling rather than annihilating them. We ignore our neighbors instead of getting to know them. Often the better man or woman that's been waiting to rise to the occasion is still buried beneath old habits and stubbornness. I can do better! How about you?

And now from a contemporary, Ellen Goodman, an American journalist and Pulitzer prize winner for Distinguished Commentary. She suggests a new approach to this age-old annual dilemma. “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives, not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

It is there, you know. Something good, something noble, something worthwhile that contributes to society. In every human heart lies the great possibilities to head in a positive direction rather than wallow in the negative. Walk through the rooms. Look for your strengths, open your eyes and see the value of your life and the purpose for which you've been designed, destined and delivered. Then bring it! Make someone happy. Live at peace with your neighbors.

And be the best you – nobody can do it better.

In 2011, our resolutions need not die by January second. If determination is not fuel enough to help you reach your goals, how about this warning from Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” One of the most influential scientists ever in history also offered this brilliant advice: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

I can do that! How about you?

One last piece of timeless wisdom for all ages comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Peace of Christmas

A Peace of Christmas

By Brenda Black

On the night Christ was born angels left shepherds stunned and speechless until they saw the child for themselves. Then they could not help but spread the word. Sheep and donkey and cattle moved over in the stable to make room in their manger. Mary shivered from cold night air and trembled at the thought of the babe she just bore. Joseph shook his head and wondered how he could provide for a king on a carpenter's budget. And the Christ-child, the Messiah Ruler for all ages, rested peacefully.

The greatest gift God sent was His Savior Son who made redemption possible through the sacrifice He offered 33 years later on a cross. Within this package wrapped in miracles and mercy is another blessed treasure. The baby brought peace to those who remain in the center of God's perfect will. A Messiah wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger in the City of David modeled life with the Father, as he slept in perfect peace, even in a dirty barn located in a busy city.

Are you ready for Christmas? Ready or not – it's here! The standard greeting begins about three weeks out and the answers are typically offered with heavy sighs, intense expression and overall dread as days dwindle all too quickly on their race toward the big event. Are you feeling the pressure rather than the peace this Christmas Eve?

How sad that Christmas has become such a chore. Too bad that the simplistic celebrations just won't suffice anymore. We enslave ourselves to hustle and bustle and spend frenzies only to whisk to and through this precious holiday as if it were just another inconvenience. Give me peace for a gift this Christmas. That's all I really need.

Next to headlines that report Christmas bargains and Santa's office hours are those that blare doom and gloom or ugly political turmoil. Crime in the streets, financial nightmares and gross indecency are prime time topics sandwiched between Christmas classics. Horrible assaults on all that is good, holy, righteous and true are common fare in today's society. While sin is glorified and God mocked, give me peace for a gift this Christmas. That's what I really want.

The lights, the lines, the baking, the traffic; the shopping and rushing and headaches are not what the Lord intended. He sent His Son as an infant with basic needs of love and touch and food and warmth. He longed for us to love Him, not lavish him or spoil him. It doesn't take much to give a child what they long for most. Give them peace for a gift this Christmas - your time and tender attention. Read the true story found in Luke 2, as you snuggle for a few moments. That's what they need most.

I love the family gatherings, the church programs, the decorations and cards filled with news from friends far and near. I get weepy and melancholy when I hear of noble acts of Christmas charity. I feel guilty when the gifts I buy seem to fall short of the love I really have for the recipient. The smells and sounds trigger childhood memories even as I attempt to create new traditions for my own legacy. But in all of this, I do not find the one simple element most desired. I cannot find peace wrapped in perfect packages. I will not taste it in sweet delicacies nor hear it in seasonal songs about snow and sleigh bells. I won't see it flashing in bulbs on a tree. The only place where I'll find peace is way down deep inside of me, planted there by the Holy Spirit and longing to be embraced. Give me the gift within – give me peace this Christmas. That's why Jesus came! It's all we really need.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Star Struck at Christmas

By Brenda Black

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a super nova or a comet or the planet Jupiter! Astronomers, astrologers, wise men, scientists and Christmas carolers have pondered and pontificated about the Bethlehem Star since 4 B.C. Ample evidence for such a phenomenon to have announced the birth of Christ and criticism to denounce its credibility abound. I haven't decided whose theories are absolute, but I have discovered some interesting facts about God's celestial lights. Twinkle, twinkle little star, we may never know. But if God tells something to glow, it glows!

“...He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:16b-18)

Stars can range from red to white to blue. Ironically, red is the coolest color, unlike what we were all taught in elementary by the color wheel where blues and greens were imbedded into our brains as the cool range. The hottest stars are blue and mass defines the temperature of a star. The more mass, the larger the star's core is going to be and the more nuclear fusion can be done at its core. More energy equals greater heat. But wait! There's an exception to the rule. A red giant star that has a comparable mass to our Sun would be typically white all its life. But as it nears the end of its life it increases in luminosity by a factor of 1,000 and seems abnormally brighter than a blue giant star that is just big, massive and hot.

In the book of Matthew 2, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem citing a star they had seen at its rising. By the time they reached Bethlehem, maybe a big white spot of a star was nearing death even as Jesus was nearing life on earth. In verses 7-10, the wise men set out to the place where the star has stopped.

“'I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.'” (Revelation 22:16)

From Genesis to Revelation, God delivers light to govern the day and the night! And the evil one who feigned imitation of The Christ and discharged his wicked plot against all mankind was on his way to being snuffed out with the birth of the true Messiah. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12)

Christ not only smothered the light of Satan through his humble yet significant birth. He outshone him in brilliant glory when He died on the cross at Calvary and conquered the grave with His purity. Luminosity by a factor of a thousand times was the Lord's radiant beauty most conspicuous at His sacrificial death that absolutely ended Satan's hope for infinite rule. And the big, hot mass realized his days were numbered as well.

Christ may have cried or cooed in the arms of Mary on that Holy night while lifted from a manger of hay. But as a man who was fully God, he cried out “Father, forgive them!” in the middle of day. Yes! God sent His Light to govern both day and night.

“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining; it is the night of our dear Savior's birth! Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, o hear the angel voices, o night divine, o night when Christ was born! O night divine, o night, o night divine!

“Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. So led by the light of a star sweetly gleaming, here came the wise men from Orient land.” (from O Holy Night, J.S. Dwight & A.C. Adam)

Look up! It's not a bird. It's not a plane. It's not a legend or lie. Christ was born in Bethlehem and sent here to die for our sins. In a flash, you can be filled with the Light of the World. What will you do with the Bright Morning Star this Christmas? Let Him govern your heart so that you might shine like stars in the universe.

This is the most powerful and personal delivery of my favorite Christmas song. David Phelps sings from the depth of his heart with the best of his incredible and gifted talent! I hope it thrills you and moves you to fall on your knees!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Give it Up

Give it Up

By Brenda Black

“The more you give, the more you get. The more you love, the less you fret. The more you do unselfishly, the more you live abundantly. The more of everything you share, the more you'll always have to spare. The more you love, the more you'll find that life is good and friends are kind. For only what we give away enriches us from day to day.” Great advice from David and Claudia Arp, first presented in an article in Marriage Partnership magazine. But their philosophy goes far beyond marital give and take. This generosity is universal in application and especially pertinent this time of year.

First things first: Think outside the money box and holiday mayhem. Giving is time and tenderness, understanding, friendship. Once we get beyond the stifling notion that benevolence only comes in the form of dollars and cents, we find at its core foundation that giving never has strings attached that undermine true charity. Whether you expect anything in return or not, the getting that follows giving is purely fringe benefits, all-the-more sweet when they come unexpectedly. Give whether you get or not and you will get better than you ever deserved.

“'Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap...'” (Luke 6:38)

Once the boundaries are blown open and generosity is no longer tied exclusively with monetary ribbons, you can begin to dole out bounty in some of the most interesting places. Perhaps in a crowded hallway, waiting for a meeting.

I was comfortable in my high-backed, plush chair passing the time while watching strangers mingle and meander their way past me. It felt good to relax. It felt even better when I gladly surrendered that comfy seat to one who would not only enjoy it, but needed it immediately. I saw him slowly approaching and wincing with each step. In a heartbeat I jumped to my far more stable feet and insisted that the older gentleman take my chair. He didn't hesitate and kindly acknowledged my gesture while he painfully lowered himself, gripping the tapered and polished arms for support.

He sighed a few times and gratefully thanked me over and over as he began to feel some relief. We visited of course since each of us was alone and neither had anywhere else to be at the moment. That chair was only the beginning of what we shared. As I leaned against a tall table hovering next to his welcome respite, I learned about his cattle and his career and heard about his service in WWII. More people began to gather in the wide passage and several worked their way straight to this man in the chair. I soon discovered I was in the presence of one quite well-known and regarded.

One after another old-timer stopped to reminisce with my new-found friend. I gave up a chair and I received a half-hour of conversation, a first-hand history lesson, and witnessed warm camaraderie. Yeah, I got back way more than I gave.

The theory has been tested time and again. This principle of generosity has no end. Giving gets. Loving never goes out of date. Unselfish acts result in abundant thanks. The more of everything you share, the more you want to do it again. “For only what we give away enriches us from day to day.”

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

It doesn't take much to give much.