Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fool Me Once

By Brenda Black

I was tempted to pull some clever prank in my column this week. To string you along and then drop a zinger at the end. I thought about presenting some falsified, zany news item or an outlandish prank gone terribly wrong which would cause you to either fall for it or be fearful of ever trying an April Fool's Day joke of your own. Instead, I decided to dissect half-baked antics and try to impart some common sense on this day filled with insanity. So, after you bend over to snatch that quarter glued to the parking lot; or as soon as you wash the black circles from around your eyes after looking through a pair of tainted binoculars, I invite you to read on and think with a clear mind. Let's consider together the fool and discover who qualifies.

Physicist Richard P. Feynman says, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” Have you ever tried to fool yourself? Let's see -- how about setting the car clock ahead 10 minutes so when you glance at it you'll think you are running late and get there early. Ever try standing one-legged on the bathroom scales to convince yourself you've lost a pound? Survey says 3% of women trick themselves with that stork-like strategy. How about hiding something from yourself and then when you need it, you can't remember where you stashed it.

It's a funny/sad sort of game we play on ourselves to manipulate the brain, the ego or the eyes. We fool ourselves with caffeine to convince ourselves we're alert. We fool ourselves with tanning beds and pretend we've taken a tropical vacation. We fool ourselves with diet colas that imitate the real thing and make-up that covers up and hair plugs for hair loss and push-up bras and spandex tights. We are indeed easily fooled. And those are just the cosmetic escapades.

In a world where photos are air brushed and friendships fabricated through social networks, it's no wonder we are readily duped. Hundreds of Toms, Dicks and Harries are scamming folks with YouTube clips and news is only truth based on the political slant the network takes. I hate to be cynical, but it's hard to trust anything or anyone, much less my own perception these days. So what's a fool to do?

Ask your neighbor.

Ironically, as we dupe ourselves, those nearby, watching from the outside in, see all too clearly the kinds of fiascos that take us in or the foolish choices we make. “People have discovered that they can fool the devil; but they can't fool the neighbors,” said Francis Bacon, English Philosopher. If you want to know how foolish you look or act, get an over-the-hedge opinion! “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)

If Feynman's first principle is that you must not fool yourself, then principles two and three have to be: “The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1) and “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” (Pro. 28:26)

For those who shrink back from asking the neighbor to weigh in on their life, remember you ultimately answer to a much higher authority. Not the fella who lives next door. Not even your spouse.

It is God who will reveal the imprudent and reward the wise.

This April 1, choose wisdom. Certainly, each of us can be “schnookered” from time to time, as Anatole France contends, “It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly.” Still, only the discerning will learn from their folly says Sacha Guitry, “Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness.” Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

If, after all this sound and sophisticated advice, you still play the part of a fool, then at least be a fool for Christ! “Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19a)

2011 copyright - For reprint rights, please contact author, Brenda Black at http://www.thewordsout-brendablack.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The More Excellent Way

By Brenda Black

Most of us will never aspire to be nuclear physicists. Only about 6,000 pursued the occupation in 2009 in the United States. Even fewer will paint their face and put on a polka-dot jumper and giant slippers to fill the role of a circus clown. Fewer than 300 of these slap-stick acrobats work in the United States. So which is the more specialized craft and which is more important – the one who splits atoms or the one who makes people laugh? Booker T. Washington may have known the answer before the question was asked when he said, “Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.” Based on that, scientists, clowns, engineers, doctors, dog-walkers, garbage men and custodians are each capable of mastery and worthy of honor in their given field.

Most of us will be employed somewhere between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Whizzo the Clown, but will we carry out our task with excellence? “If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or as Beethoven composed music or as Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”

I don't know about you, but I am tired of mediocrity. Pride must be taken in whatever task we encounter, whether it is completing a school assignment or securing a multi-million dollar contract. And the collective whole needs to turn this rig around and start setting standards of excellence again in this country.

A friend shared a disheartening statistic this week that symbolizes the ugly contagion of apathy. Only 36% of the teachers at one high school would participate in nominating students so the students could be recognized for good behavior, good attitude and willingness to put forth extra effort at school. Seven turned in their reports late! Oh, the irony! And oh, the pitifully sad statement it makes about what we value, celebrate and perpetuate in ourselves and in others.

Even a clown knows attitude matters. Just ask, David Solove, a Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Baily Circus performer. Reporter Olivia Crosby did, and she discovered what kept Solove out on the road for seven years. “You have to have a great sense of humor and a big heart,” says David. “It’s hard work, but if you love it, it’s great!”

Aha! Hard work isn't the problem. Work ethic is a heart issue and the desire for excellence is a gift from God.

Paul instructed Titus to always do what is good and to have a pure heart in every task and he asked him to share such admonishment with others. “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:1-8)

Profit isn't the reason we work. Our mission is to glorify God in our work and to operate out of love for our Lord. It is the more excellent way.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Real World Economy Calculated One Human Life at a Time

By Brenda Black

It is mind-boggling to think how the true losses in Japan can ever be measured. As the scientist calculate the movement of the earth on its axis and search and rescue teams pile up bodies, how can they tell for certain where the earth is leaning and who has been swallowed by the sea, never to return? How will the government or city employees or business owners be able to estimate damages when every scrap of paper and every computer, office desk, chair and coffee maker lay heaped in mountains of rubbish mixed with houses, cars, light poles and transformers? The devastation is numbing and beyond numbering, but dozens of figures are being tossed around like the sea-seized Toyotas we watched wash from seaport towns across fertile Japanese plains.

A nation poised a world away has moved closer to our border, geophysicist Ross Stein at the United States Geological Survey told The New York Times. Reporter Liz Goodwin explains: “The world's fifth-largest, 8.9 magnitude quake was caused when the Pacific tectonic plate dove under the North American plate, which shifted Eastern Japan towards North America by about 13 feet. The quake also shifted the earth's axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sank Japan downward by about two feet.”

Thus the calculations begin and on the tail of seismic science, statisticians start crunching the numbers that estimate billion and trillion dollar figures on the economic impact, coupled with mounting death tole, including a city where probably half its population died. And this always disturbs me in the face of horrific disaster. Somehow loot and life are intermingled as if the value of yen or dollar is equal, or sadder yet, more significant than every single human being that vanished as quickly as you can rub two coins together.

I understand the overwhelming devastation to property and infrastructure. I get that events like these change industry and economies. But when I watch the nightmarish scenes, all I can think of is one man. His name Hiroaki. I haven't seen him or heard from him in 30 years, but this bright, friendly Japanese foreign exchange student was part of my high school graduating class. I remember how he described his country to me one day. I can recreate the classroom in my mind and I still see his ever-present grin. I am picturing the book he shared with me depicting his breathtaking and beautiful country. He loved his home and his family and was so thankful for my interest in what he held so dear. For some reason, his voice rings in my ear, “You must come visit someday. It is such a beautiful place!” So as all of the numbers are thrown about, I wonder about this one far removed friend, and every other one connected to him.

The world gets smaller every day. An earthquake just folded us 13 feet tighter. The internet made us feel like we were simultaneously facing the horror alongside strangers as if they were our brothers. Truth be told. They are. While you are trying to comprehend the headlines that blast us with billion dollar figures and more debate is given toward nuclear power than people, please take time to count the cost of every single human life. Then go hug your husband or wife. Tell your children you love them. Call your parents and check on your neighbors. Pray for the people of Japan and Haiti and Egypt and Iraq and Africa and America and every other war-torn, disease-riddled or weather-beaten place on the planet where people die and people survive. For we are not promised tomorrow and people matter all over the world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Burn, Baby, Burn!

By Brenda Black

For months we tossed sticks and leaves, dumped old straw and moldy hay into a pile at the end of the driveway. Neon orange baling twine lay balled up or bedraggled across the growing heap. We added dozens of logs from a downed tree, sliced into campfire portions. All winter long, that dying, rotting concoction of earthen and fabricated refuse remained until about a week ago when it met its match – and we torched the whole thing!

I thought it would take days for those huge logs and the tightly packed yard waste to fully burn. But in a matter of hours, all that remained was ash. It started fast and hot and with every poke, it glowed hotter. When we fed it more combustibles that needed discarded, it flamed high and smoke billowed from adding fuel to the fire.

A log would roll out once in a while as the burning beast shifted from underneath where timbers already began to crumble into coals. With a quick kick back into the flames, the dying embers on the log were reignited instantly. Smoke boiled and curled upward and drifted barely since there was little wind. I watched like a child, mesmerized by the force, the heat, the speed and the unrelenting path of the flames. I dared to move closer for the warmth. And backed away from the powerful heat.

Some things never cease to amaze me, like this fire. It is frightening, yet comforting. It is destructive while refining. It is horrifically powerful, but can be doused with but a bucket of pure water. No wonder the Lord spoke to Moses from a flaming bush (Exodus 3:2) What better to display his force than licking up a trench of water with fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38). How else could the Holy Spirit come but in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). What fear should be evoked to know that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). How better to spread the Gospel message than with the tongue of man, which like a spark, could set the world afire for Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).

Are we still impressed with the power of God or the purpose of the cross? Do the stories of the Almighty, Omnipotent Holy God burn within us? Or have the flames that once leaped high and hot, died, and we, as the body of Christ, look like ash.

Author, Tim Hansel suggests in his book Holy Sweat that “we are no longer shocked” by the historical account of Christ's crucifixion. “We can get more concerned over the death of our pet goldfish than what happened to Christ on Golgotha. The story has become so familiar and commonplace like the other stories in Scripture, that it no longer shocks us, no longer repels, no longer arouses us. At times, it may not even excite us.

“Yet the people who crucified Christ never thought Jesus a bore. The fact is they thought he was fiery and dangerous to public safety. It was left up to us through the years to turn this Person 'meek and mild,' smiling harmlessly from a framed portrait on a wall. Yet he was the farthest thing from a dull man during his time on earth. And since he was God, there can be nothing dull about God, either.

“But let me take this one step further...Could we then not say that God's nature has something to do with his will for our lives? That is, when we say 'God is love' we aren't just referring to some mush of divinity, some ectoplasmic Valentine, but that since he is love he wants us therefore to be loving. When we say that God is just and forgiving, then we are to be just and forgiving in return. Who God is – that is what he wants from us. The way God is – that is the way he wants us to go. The statements of God in the Bible are boomerang-shaped. They come back to us. So if he is by nature astonishing, then he wants us to live a life of wonderment in return. He says, 'Astonish me!'”

Hansel challenges the Christian to get fired up! “God is saying to us, 'Don't just exist. Don't just meet my bottom line. Don't just get by. Don't just go through the motions, acting holy, sleepwalking through life.'”

We have a choice – to burn, baby, burn or just fizzle, grow old and cold and die. When the Lord who died for you comes in blazing glory, as Judge and a Consuming fire, how do you want to be found? Cold as ice or full of FIRE!

2011 copyright - For reprint rights, please contact author, Brenda Black at http://www.thewordsout-brendablack.com

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Seeing Green

By Brenda Black

As the earth warms and skies brighten, the transformation in God's creation blossoms hour by hour. Where once there withered beige reeds bent from shouldering tons of snow this winter, there is now a sprig of emerald peeping through the flattened, dead grass of last summer. Just a glimpse here and there of hope and promise of spring. But what if you can't see past the brown?

Sometimes I see brown because I just feel brown. Brown is crunchy and dry and easily broken. When you walk on brown, it crumbles. Brown is life ebbing away. I get testy from too many cloudy days. Not only my skin gets dry in winter, but I can feel dried up mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. At times like these, I can snap like twig in anger or crumble like a late autumn leaf if someone hurts my feelings. Yes, sometimes I feel brown.

I'd much rather be green. Green is supple and pliable and full of life. When you step on green, it springs back up! Where brown signals death, green is life, new and fresh. It's energy to rise above drudgery or draining circumstances. Green people are like Gumby. When things get tough, they just roll with the punches and bend down on their knees until the storm passes. I want to be green!

So what's a person to do when they feel like they are stuck in some bland, brown funk? Look for the green! You'll find it camouflaged in the love and provision of God through His Son Jesus.

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Mathew 12:18-21)

There you have it – Hope incarnate--and tenderness toward those who are weary of long winters and dry spells spiritually. God's mercies toward those who are crumbling are compassionate. A bruised reed he will not break. A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Brown doesn't have to last forever. Just like the seasons that give way to one another, so the dread and heaviness that plagues your life can be surrendered to joy. If you feel brown, it might be time to sit down and rest in the Savior.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:1-6)

If you feel brown, it's time to take a look at the Lord who died for you and to this day cheers you on.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance this race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Brown has to go when Hope and Heart spring forth. It's just a matter of days until we officially proclaim spring's arrival. But you don't have to wait to break out of brown and get your green going! Think about God's great love and his perfect sacrifice. Think about the promises He's fulfilled and the plans He has for your bright future. Think about how God takes a barren world and fills it with fruit year after year after year. Now think green for your own life and you will see God's green in no time.