Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Growing Mud in My Garden

By Brenda Black

Mary, Mary, quite contrary – How does your garden grow? With mud to the knees and pools and ponds. And globs of goo all in a row.

I missed the ONE sunny, planting day this “spring.” I thought there would be more. Boy, was I wrong! It feels more like London in October than Missouri in April this year. The May flowers that are supposed to bloom following April showers, may have to arrive by boat if the sun doesn't wake up soon.

The few days she peeked her bronzed face through dreary skies offered slim opportunity. On those sparse occasions, the wind blew with such gale force, had I attempted sowing seed, I'd be harvesting lettuce half a mile down the road in a few weeks.

This was the year I planned to go all out. With grocery prices sky-rocketing, I hoped to live off the land and stop paying for gas at the pump, as well as the produce stand. Surely the sun will shine soon and I can proceed with the seed. And when the sun comes, the old timers say we'll go from soggy to crispy in a heartbeat. Aha! No wonder Mary is so contrary. Missouri mud can turn to concrete in a hurry.

So what's a gardner to do?

Watch and wait. Plant and pray. And count it all blessing.

Though inconvenienced by mud and overcast days, I am not one of the 318,000 Japanese homeless following the March tsunami. Neither am I among our neighbors much closer who are getting hammered in the Ozarks with high water. While food prices rise, God provides; and I am nowhere near the point of hunger like 925 million other people around the world, including 19 million in developed countries. “Only a stomach that rarely feels hungry scorns common things,” said the Roman philosopher Horace.

When I feel like whining and complaining over the little muddy aggravations in life, may I be silent and mindful of all that is good and right and beautiful. Contrariness is a choice – so is gratefulness. Besides, a thankful soul is a sign of higher intelligence said writer G.K. Chesterton. “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

I love that! And I agree. The smartest folks I know are thankful and happy.

Mary, Mary, extremely thankful. How does your garden grow? With spring time rains and ponds so full. And mud to squish between my toes.

You see, there is a sunny, silver lining beyond the clouds, visible only to those who scan the skies with gratitude. View the world as poet Ralph Waldo Emerson saw it – with appreciation: “For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.” A thankful heart is a gift from God.

When the bottom falls out and the mud is up to the hip, deep roots help us keep our wits.”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Sunny dispositions are possible even in the rainiest of seasons. Remember, a dreary attitude is up to you. So tell me: How does your garden grow?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Closer Look at the Cross

By Brenda Black

The cross - An instrument of torture used to execute a Savior. Foolishness to those who don't believe and freedom to the faithful. A work of art down through history; a means of murder to ancient Romans. The cross. Take a closer look.

I must admit, I intended to itemize the details of Jesus' gruesome death on this Friday we oddly call “Good”. I wanted to drive home the horror of his sacrifice and impress on any who would read this column just how heinous the assault against an innocent man. I can't. I have seen the Hollywood and Holy Word versions of the Easter story. I've read the graphic details from both medical and emotional perspectives. My stomach turns, my spirit falls. I shudder in abhorrent shame that one would willingly submit to such torture for me. And I cannot recount it again.

Still, some have not heard and may not know that Jesus died the most horrid of deaths. The sanitized portraits of museum paintings don't depict the massive blood spilled or the searing pain from nail-pierced feet and hands that bolted through Jesus' head. You can't see lungs filling with fluid and asphyxiation or muscle cramps and spasmodic convulsions. And what can never be painted in enamel or oil is the broken heart that killed the Christ on the cross.

These things you can't see in any picture, but you can read in the Holy Scriptures. And you'll know and understand that it was love that held Christ suspended miserably between hell and heaven. In Jesus' final words, we see the perfect picture of the cross. An instrument of torture turned into a bridge to the very throne of God.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Christ said of the wicked Roman soldiers who ripped his back with bones and lead, plucked his beard and mocked him derisively. (Luke 23:34)

And to the criminal, guilty by his own confession, Christ extends an invitation, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk. 23:43)

The sun stopped shining we're told in verse 45. I don't think that means just overcast skies and pending rain. God blotted out the sun with His shadow when He turned His back on His Son and completed the work of salvation to the bitter end. I imagine it was a dark so black, those at the foot of the cross could feel it. And they shuddered at what they blindly witnessed – the power of a loving, holy God who could not look upon such sin without a perfect sacrifice.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice. 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46)

Jesus gapped the chasm between humanity and holiness and his ghastly suffering afforded all who believe the perfect healing. The cross - an instrument of torture turned victoriously holy by a bleeding, suffering, sacrificing Savior. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

This Easter Sunday, take a closer look. Survey the wondrous cross in a deeper way. Remember the Lord who died in your place. See your sins pinned to his flesh and hang your head in repentance.

Then lift up your face and find freedom for Christ died in your place!

“...we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,

“'I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.'

“And again 'I will put my trust in him.'

“And again he says, 'Here am I, and the children God has given me.'

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:9-15)

I pray this Easter you receive a permanent stay of execution when you look closer at the cross and see salvation.

copyright 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Shadow of the Cross

By Brenda Black

“Eternity can never fathom the depth of love revealed in the cross of Calvary. It was there that the infinite love of Christ and the unbounded selfishness of Satan stood face to face. The entire system of Judaism, with its types and symbols, was a shadow of the cross, extending from Calvary back to the gate of Eden, and contained a compacted prophecy of the gospel.” Author Stephen Haskell prefaces his book The Cross and Its Shadow with more than just a glimpse of what lies between the covers of his work. He emphatically states the whole of Scriptures, Genesis to Revelation, point to Calvary.

“At the present day the person who comes to the study of the New Testament through the interpreting lights of the types and symbols of the Levitical services, finds a depth and richness in the study that are found in no other way. It is impossible to have exalted views of Christ's atoning work if the New Testament is studied without a previous knowledge of the deep, bloodstained foundations in the Old Testament gospels of Moses and the prophets.

"In every sacrifice, Christ's death was shown. In every cloud of incense His righteousness ascended. By every jubilee trumpet His name was sounded. In the awful mystery of the holy of holies His glory dwelt.
“In the light shining from the sanctuary, the books of Moses, with their detail of offerings and sacrifices, their rites and ceremonies, usually considered so meaningless and void of interest, become radiant with consistency and beauty. There is no other subject which so fully unites all parts of the inspired Word into one harmonious whole, as the subject of the sanctuary. Every gospel truth centers in the sanctuary service, and radiates from it like the rays from the sun.

“Every type used in the entire sacrificial system was designed by God to bear resemblance to some spiritual truth. The value of these types consisted in the fact that they were chosen by God Himself to shadow forth the different phases of the complete plan of redemption, made possible by the death of Christ. The likeness between type and antitype is never accidental, but is simply a fulfillment of the great plan of God.”

The death that Jesus would suffer on a cross was described by the prophet Isaiah (chapter 50) hundreds of years before torturous crucifixion was ever implemented. Though that is widely held as significant and poignant proof of Christ's Messiahship, it is just an inkling of the massive amount of evidence throughout Old Testament passages that foreshadow the cross of Calvary.

From the beginning, the Cross. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The Cross was God's way of escape from certain death as a result of sin. He had it planned the instant Satan messed with humanity. To crush and silence Satan for good, Jesus had to lay down his life and then take it up again. We only have to kneel in the shadow of the cross humbly and thank Him.

In the tabernacle, the Cross. Haskell explains: “Within the golden walls of the tabernacle, priests of divine appointment performed a work representing in types and symbols the plan of redemption... Blood was sprinkled over the broken law in the ark, just as blood was shed on the cross...” The tedious demands of a holy God were for our benefit. Nothing God ever designed was by accident, including the Ark of the Covenant and the cross beams that killed His only Son for the love of us.

In priests and feasts and sin offerings, the Cross. According to Levitical law, a sinner must bring a lamb for a sin-offering. “That entire service was but a great kindergarten lesson, making the way of salvation so simple that none could fail to comprehend it,” says Haskell. Jesus became the Lamb that was slain and we need to never forget the lesson.

The shadow of the cross extends through time backwards to the beginning and forward into eternity. From beginning to end, Christ made a way. Only the blind will not see the shadow that offers freedom from sin and the hope of heaven. All of Scripture sheds God's great light in such a way as to cast a cross-shaped shadow of truth that never fades.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Give Me a Break

By Brenda Black

American gossip rags are littered with royal wedding news, joining the British journalists who are following every minute leading up to William and Kate's blissful day. As the fuss over young love rises, I guess it's par for the course then for BBC News to cover the posh life of our own upper echelon – the golfing president.

It just about makes my not-so-royal blood boil as I peruse top headlines from around the world that scream of bloody battles, bank crashes, kidnappings and more earthquakes. In the midst of such grave topics, a story about poor President Obama's tough job and his need for recreation paints our U.S. Chief of Staff as a rock star in need of yet another vacation!

The article is titled “Obama says golf is only 'excuse to get outside'.” Read it for yourself:

US President Barack Obama has said he enjoys golf in large part because a game is the only way he can escape outdoors for hours at a time.

He said he misses the trappings of ordinary life - weekend lie-ins, trips to the market and walks in the park.

"I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by," he told Hearst newspapers. "I miss that."

Mr Obama's security bubble precludes much privacy and spontaneity. He recently announced a re-election bid.

"I miss being anonymous," he told Hearst Magazines' publishers and editors at the White House.

"I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can't take a walk."

He said he loves his life at the White House but does not enjoy the "kabuki dance" of Washington DC partisan politics.

As to golf, Mr Obama rejected suggestions he is fanatical about the game, saying: "It's the only excuse I have to get outside for four hours at a stretch."

On Saturday, Mr Obama took a rare, unscheduled outing to the Lincoln Memorial near the White House, dashing up the steps to greet tourists, shake hands and talk about a budget agreement struck the night before with Republicans.

So you tell me, are you feeling sorry for the man. I might add that a photo of a cheezy smiling Obama zipping around in a golf cart accompanies the column. Say, I wonder how many miles to the gallon he gets with that buggy? Golf carts might just be the vehicle of choice the way things are going. While Obama is teeing off and dodging sand traps, we hard-working Americans are getting teed off, virtually paying to go to work because of fuel hikes. And we feel trapped, thinking about our children's children's children, who will still be shoveling this country out of debt thanks to ridiculous spending by the illustrious leader and his yes-men. Yet, according to this reporter, Obama says “he misses... ordinary life.”

Okay, Mr. President. Then step on down and join the pressure cooker that looks like paradise from where you sit with your feet propped up on the presidential desk. If you had to live on what the rest of us make, you would certainly be walking to the park, because you couldn't afford to drive. You would either be curled up on the weekends praying for a job or working a third factory shift to just buy groceries. And you can kiss golf goodbye. Because when everyone in America is on equal terms as you suggest, there won't be a tee time available – we'll all qualify for membership!

If there is so much complaining about loss of privacy and his fetish for golf being his only great escape, then why make a bid for the presidency again?

Do yourself and all the rest of us a favor and quit! Wait, that would put the next worst option for president behind the golf cart wheel – the V.P., that we haven't seen or heard anything from in months. Maybe he's joined a Japanese dance company and is brushing up on his kabuki.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holy Knee-cessity

By Brenda Black

A tingling, taught sensation pulsated through my knee. I knew it was swelling and I could detect instant puffiness since the problem has become all too familiar the past couple of weeks. I prop up my foot and ice down the right knee after every workout now and I've started using a brace. By all indications, I've pushed this old knee a little too far with weights, lunges, 4 mile walks and up-and-down circuit training that have all depended on support from this small, but invaluable joint.

As I tolerate the aggravating set-back, I'm thinking about those in the family who have endured or are facing knee surgery. And I think about the hundreds of miles my husband has jogged our gravel road and the thousands of hours he has ground his knee cap into cement floors, crawling and troweling to give concrete customers a satin finish at the cost of a calloused patella. My husband's denims are thread-thin evidence of such hard labor.

Our efforts to exercise and his dedication to duty are taking their toll on both cartilage and the blue jean budget around here, but our bigger concern is whether our knees are worn out from holy use. Holiness isn't a condition, it's a position – a humble, kneeling crouch at the foot of the cross. We spend time trying to get physically fit. We use our physical strength to work diligently, but are we spiritually down in the trenches, humbly praying?

God made knees for sitting and running and bouncing grandkids and kicking soccer balls. But He also made them for kneeling, not just bearing a load or baring skin through a pair of worn out britches. I want to wear my knees out for a holy cause! Tim Hansel's book Holy Sweat says it best right on the font cover: “Holy Sweat – The remarkable things ordinary people can do when they let God use them!” I want to be used! How about you?

If you are like me, the only way we will ever fulfill this knee-cessity is to ice down our old ways and wrap ourselves in the Word of God so that we know how to live and know what to pray. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action;” Peter instructs in his first letter to “God's elect, strangers in the world...” (1 Peter 1:13a).

“...be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Pet. 1:13b-16)

Still wondering what to pray? “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess yours sins to each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16)

This is a wholly, holy revelation when you stop and think about it. In back-to-back books on pages bound through the ages to appear right next to one another, in parallel passages that have been identically numbered, 13 through 16, James and Peter subscribe a healthy protocol for holiness.

Peter says prepare you minds for action while James says ask for help. Holiness is half as effective when we practice it apart from our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is best demonstrated when we put it to use. We might just be someone's only intercessor. Always be ready to pray for those who ask.

Peter warns be self-controlled and set your hope fully on the grace of Jesus Christ. James says call for help. People will only ask for help if they know it is safe. Holiness offers compassion, not judgment. As we stand in the gap for others, we must be careful to pray from a place of grace.

James compels us to confess our sins so that we might be forgiven. Peter promises that holiness is possible for those who are obedient and do not conform to their evil desires. Holiness follows repentance. We can't pray for others until we first pray for ourselves.

Holiness is born out of humility on the part of the those who ask for prayer and those who offer it. Together, we can brace one another for the long haul and enjoy a pain free eternity if we strive to be holy because Christ is holy. This is the work that is knee-cessary.