Monday, May 23, 2011

Weary Words

By Brenda Black

Words won't come this week, as I scour my brain for just the right turn of a phrase to express my deepest sorrow for people harmed, homes demolished, jobs lost, and lives ended or altered in the span of ten minutes on a Sunday night in Southwest Missouri. So let my words be few and what is needed arrive in plenty. Hands, help, blood, money, spare rooms, a drink of water and unending prayer are all critically necessary for the tornado victims shocked, stranded, worried, wounded and bereaved.

In the wake of such horrific devastation, it is hard to know where to begin and even more uncertain just how long it will take for the nightmare to end. My words mean so little at such a time as this, but I know the Word of God is powerful and true and when it goes forth it is life. It is help and hope and a refuge in times of trouble. May the words of Scripture from the Holy Bible minister to the masses and bolster courage and peace and joy in the days ahead. May victims be comforted and volunteers be motivated to persevere and overcome such tragedy. May the Word bring blessings upon neighbors and friends – those who are now homeless and the public servants rushing to their aid.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold...

“The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:1-6)

Even when our words seem feeble, God hears the heart's plea. If those overwhelmed by unimaginable fear cry out to Him, He will hear. For God cares not how simple or magnanimous the vernacular, He listens for the broken and searching and He longs to draw near.

I pray that people turn to God for help in this time of trouble for He alone can rescue. He alone can save. And may the Lord send the hands and feet of humanity to touch the lives of those so desperately in need of his mercies.

Dear God, help us wait in hope for You - our help and our shield. In You, may hearts rejoice for the lives that were spared and the help that you send. Teach us to trust in Your holy name always – in good times and bad. “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (Ps. 33:20-22 vs 20-21 paraphrased)

You may be the answer to someone's prayer. Here's how you can help: Visit for an extensive list of reputable networks and agencies and volunteer programs managing donations, volunteers, animal rescue, medical assistance and communication for disaster relief in Missouri.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

By Brenda Black

What do you have planned for the weekend? For a solid week we've been gravitating to graduations, celebrating accomplishments of Kindergartners through college students with cake and cookies, beef and banquets, baccalaureates and lots of cards stuffed with cash. And the revelry and milestone moments just keep coming. As a matter of fact, I have events scheduled through the first week of June that have to do with graduations. That is if I'm here to attend them.

According to eBible Fellowship, I may not be available past May 21, 2011, the day their scholars have determined is the day believers in Christ will leave this earth. Whether you think them quacks or right on track is irrelevant. If they are wrong, it is still just a matter of time before the Lord returns in judgment. But if they are correct in their biblically formulated math equation, a great day of reckoning is mere hours away. Are you ready?

I've heard the rally cries multiple times in my life and typically dismissed them. Oh, I can remember back when there were 88 reasons why the Lord was going to come in 1988. And I got a bit stirred up. But this time I'm filled more with anticipation and the thrill that this could be the day rather than fear or worry that I had more I wanted to do while on this planet. I knew the Lord back then, but now I am more in love with my Savior than ever before and I am ready to see Him. I long to be free of the wicked ways of this world and rescued from disease and sorrow. I can't wait to see friends and family already in heaven. They'll be waving me across that River of Life and I'll come out of the water, soaking wet in paradise where I'll hug their necks! I'm ready!

To come to a place of such acceptance is only by the grace of the One who makes it possible to enter into salvation. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) I'm ready because I'm redeemed. My mind is set, my heart is set, my eyes are fixed on the prize. Like Paul penned in 2 Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Do you long for His return? Are you ready? Are you set? Then who would you not want to leave behind if you are going so quickly?

I've known tiny infants to elderly saints who have already departed – some without warning, after suffering long bouts of illness and some suddenly just ended. Time is always of the essence. If this Saturday is the day we are catapulted into eternity, then what do we have to lose by sharing our faith and offering such a great escape to those who would otherwise be bound by chains for the rest of their days. And if this Saturday passes by without incident, the call is no less important. For there will come a day of reckoning. Go tell those you know and those you love and those you've just met that Jesus is Lord and Savior and Judge. Be about your Father's business every day you live so that others may know God is real and He has made great changes in your life. Show them the Way, the Truth and the Life.

It doesn't take hundreds of years of study to calculate the end result. Whenever it happens, it will happen in an instant so we just better be ready to go. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) And in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, we are told again, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

Get ready! Get set! Go!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bad Advice

By Brenda Black

The scene opens with old Mordecai weeping and wailing. He wears shabby clothes, his face unwashed, hair uncombed. He has sworn off food and wanders down city streets, expressing his great fear and grief. His niece Esther learns of her uncle's anguish from within the king's palace, where she resides in comfort. She sends garments by way of her attendants to clothe the elder relative and grant him dignity along with provision. But nothing of this world will stop the Jew from seeking God when his people are under threat of annihilation, at the request of Haman, one of the king's royal officials.

Sounds like a Shakespearian plot, but this is no work of a playwright. This is Jewish history, during the time of Xerxes, who ruled a kingdom stretching from India to Cush, in the citadel of Susa, in the third year of his reign. (book of Esther)

Three key performers approach the grave situation in vastly different ways, providing 21st century readers a picture of contrasts: godly counsel verses bad advise.

We've already seen Mordecai's approach – vocal outcries and visible pleas for God's intervention to halt an edict for the destruction of the Jews bought with Haman's donation to the royal treasury. He implored the God of the Jews to intervene, and enlisting Esther.

“Hathach [Esther's attendant] went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 'All the kings' officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life...'

“When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?' (Esther 4:9-14)

Esther's response to the dire circumstances reveals a model of faith fortified in humility.

“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” (Es. 4:15-16)

Esther prayed, fasted, sought the prayer of others and waited for God to answer and He delivered courage and a plan so simple.

“Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai...

“Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 'And that's not all,' Haman added. 'I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate.'

“His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, 'Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.' This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.” (Es. 5:9-14)

Haman did not pray. He did not fast. He sat around a table with friends and family and as he gorged, he bragged about his great standing, rather than humble himself. Instead of a simple, wise plan, his crew came up with a hair-brained idea that would ultimately leave Haman swinging from his own gallows.

Mordecai and Esther received godly counsel that empowered them with unspeakable peace and fearless fortitude. Haman's bad advice left him red faced, foolish, ignorant, and dead.

Why a lesson on Jewish history? Because history repeats itself. There are lots of young graduates currently embarking on unknown destinies, searching for jobs, wondering how they are going to pay off thousands of dollars of college debt. Here in the pages of Esther is sound encouragement. Seek first His kingdom. Get wisdom. Do not sit at the feet of scoffers. Don't buy into the American dream that solely revolves around Me, Me, Me. Invest yourself into others, serve generously, humble yourself even as you are vying for the nod of an employer. If you want true peace and fearless confidence that you are on the right path – pray and fast. Enlist not the sage old advice of family and friends, but ask for their prayers and listen for God's counsel.

It's okay to be fearless. It's never a good idea for a grad to be foolish. Esther risked it all to do the right thing and it certainly wasn't all about her own comfort or standing. It had more to do with God's timing and His wisdom.

For such a time as this, dear graduates, seek the Lord in all your ways and pursue the things that please Him. And parents and friends: if you have any advice to offer, be sure you pray before you give it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Experiencing a "D" Deficiency

By Brenda Black

Trolling: As much as I'd like to associate the word with big bass feeding in cool waters under low-hanging limbs, the only comparison I can readily make is I feel like the loaded, limp limb. I've been fighting that feeling you get when you have spring fever, but no spring in your step. Nutritionists and psychiatrists contend the low mood between changing seasons is often attributed to a Vitamin D deficiency following months of cloudy, cold weather and our distance from the equator. They even have a clever name for the down-in-the-dumps “D” deficiency. They call it “SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)”. How appropriate.

According to The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, some of the symptoms of SAD are fatigue, increased need for sleep, decreased levels of energy and difficulty concentrating. Check! Got all of those. Besides, I just can't seem to put my finger on this feeling except for overwhelming sadness.

Though the days are getting longer and the sun is shining brighter, current events aren't helping the condition. A heaviness sweeps over me when I think of the death and destruction our nation just witnessed as tornadoes ripped lives apart and left folks destitute and grief stricken. The death of Osama has left me more melancholy than merry, having just read Last Man Down, a personal account of a firefighter's survival and escape from the World Trade Center on that dreadful September morning in 2001. My heart goes back ten years and reminds me of the breach in safety I'd known most of my life and conjures up new anxiety over retaliation from enemies known and enemies new.

World crises and national economy can put the jolliest of souls in a funk. Why, just filling up my gas tank makes me cranky! Surely this all has something to do with Vitamin D deficiency!

It is now known that Vitamin D plays a huge part in boosting the immune system. One of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, cancer, or any chronic disease is with Vitamin D3. But I think there is more which is necessary for a remedy to the ills and worries of this world. I need a big dose of Vitamin D from the sun, plus a few other “D's” I'd like to mention.

*A Daily Dose of God's Word of encouragement. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day...” (Acts 17:11) I'd rather be noble and eager than negative and indifferent. A study in the Scriptures helps with attitude and outlook.

*Direction that Out-Distances the gloom and doom of this world. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) This troubled world is not my home. I'm just passing through.

*Discipline. Sometimes we bring the troubles on ourselves, but God redeems it by molding us into better people. “And you have forgotten the word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.'

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:5-13)

When the sun shines on your skin, ultraviolet rays activate a form of cholesterol which is present in the skin, converting it to Vitamin D. It keeps us strong and healthy. When the Son of God shines into your soul, the Holy Spirit is activated to bolster our faith, strengthen our resolve and convert sinful humans into holy children of God. That's one powerful deity at work!

If you are experiencing the darkness of worry and fear perpetuated by the sad, but temporary circumstances of this world, then look up! Soak up some Son and think about heaven. A sure-fire cure for the ills of this world is a certain destiny. Get your Vitamin D and delight in the truth that God is not disturbed and neither do you have to be.

copyright 2011 Brenda Black