Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tough Enough for the Tough Stuff

By Brenda Black

Meek and mild, loving and kind – that's how many see the Savior of the World. He is long suffering, wishing none to perish. That's a fact. But if He came to only alleviate our discomfort and make us feel all safe and sound, why does pain and loss continue to exist?

God did not send His Son to bring calm to a sinful world. He sent the Messiah to die for sinners and win a revolution against unseen forces of evil. Christ came to conquer death, not just ease our ills. Still, when life gets tough and people continue to suffer, it's hard to trust that God still cares. How can hurting people turn to One who has such power over wind and waves, life and death when bad things happen any way? The answer is not easy. In fact it is filled with pain – torturous, excruciating, hateful, unjust pain. The Man of Sorrows knows about suffering. He endured the heinous sentence of death on a cross. We turn to Him when times get tough because we know He truly understands when this sinful world turns against us.

Isn't that what we need the most when all is lost and hope has faded? We need someone who can empathize with our fragile condition. We long for someone to grasp our anguish without having to explain the rush of emotions, the anxiety and the stress and lonesome, lost feeling that dogs us when we drop exhausted from pain and fear. We need a Savior who's been there.

Day after day, the news reports terrible tragedy in our country. Families are still reeling from spring tornadoes that ripped their world in two. Thousands of acres currently disintegrate as tongues of fire lick up land and homes and lives. What's not twisted or torched may be inundated by flood waters to the north or lying crisp and infertile in the drought stricken South. For the rest of us living in between, inflation and unemployment plague us like hungry locusts. The economic crisis may not be natural, but it is a disaster nonetheless! It's all tough stuff at every turn that calls for tough people in America to keep on keepin' on.

I don't know about you, but this proud American is not strong enough to handle these kind of heart wrenching, gut-twisting trials on my own. I haven't lost my home or a loved one to wind, water or fire like thousands of others in the past couple of months. I have, however, tried to put myself in their shoes and asked myself, “What if?” And “What would I do?”

Every time I ponder the frightening possibility, I get the same answer: “I'd run to Jesus!”

The One who was tough enough to go to the cross, is tender enough to understand deep sorrow. He is tough enough to handle the anger and doubting; kind enough to give the disillusioned time to question. This loving Christ is tough enough to deal with a billion tears and the sobbing from terrible loss; patient enough to wipe each eye, hold the hurting and rock them to sleep with whispers of hope and the promise of healing. My prayer is that those in the paths of destruction run to One so loving. You can make it through unthinkable tragedy with the grace of God.

As I watch faithful people throughout our great nation resign themselves to God's care, I am resolved more to cling to my tough and tender Lord who carries the weight of the world and hears every believer's prayer. God is good and God is able when times are bad and we are desperate. God is tough enough to see us through the toughest tests. Those who lean on Him will find great strength. For nothing is beyond God's might.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic...The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;...The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, 'Glory!'

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29: 3-5, 7-11)

God bless America, her people and her land and help us always remember we never walk through any trial alone when we hold to a nail-scarred, tough and calloused, but loving hand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Wise Kid and a Warm Kiss

By Brenda Black

Just when I thought the world had gone completely mad, two heart-warming headlines highlight the finer side of humanity this week. A teen golfer sees the bigger picture and opts for possibilities instead of quick cash. And an empathetic romantic is chivalrous in the middle of chaos.

In case you missed it, South River (Md.) High freshman Garrett Sauls turned down $5,000 in prize money after he won a putting contest at Lake Presidential Golf Club in Upper Marlboro, Md. Sauls didn't want to jeopardize his amateur status as an athlete for the next three years of high school, so he chose the high road of integrity and let the prize money go. Pretty smart kid.

In stark contrast to the gallery of civilized country club golfing fans where Sauls' defining moment occurred, were the darkened streets of Vancouver, BC, where hoards of angry hockey fans protested their hometown team loss of the Stanley Cup. When riot police forced the sore losers down the street, caught in the mayhem were innocent tourists, Scott Jones and his girlfriend Alex Thomas. Thomas was knocked to the ground by the police. That's when Jones swooped in with a comforting kiss to alleviate her fears and the whole thing was caught on digital film. Pretty sensitive man.

Yes, there is insanity mixed in with these two tales. A putt worth $5,000 seems a bit extreme when people are working weeks on end to earn anything close to that amount. And rioting over a hockey game? Come on, grow up! But the refreshing take-away is a teenager with good sense and a noble man with good manners. Now there are two rare and priceless qualities seldom celebrated in the press.

If given the chance, I'd shake both their hands and tell them thank you for the good example. Their acts of nobility reminded me of a conversation with a friend recently who spoke of his travels all across this great country. He said there are good people everywhere you go; decent, reasonable, kind people who are the rule rather than the exception. I had to agree because I've met many as well.

In the Midwest, we're seeing these “salt-of-the-earth” folks come from near and far to rebuild Joplin. We're watching hard-working farmers who have labored and supplied this country with food and fiber increase in courage and community to match the rising flood waters robbing their homes and harvests in northern Missouri. I know of families holding onto each other and watching their belongings burn to the ground out West. And some are desperate for rain and facing drought so severe they may have to sell out or move from down in Texas.

But if you ask these people from all across the country what matters most, they won't say money or trophies or even their houses or lands. It's not politics or police enforcement. Nor is it professional sports or Hollywood fashion. They'll tell you it's family and faith and the fight to overcome all odds. It's the goodness of friends and the kindness of strangers. It's young people making mature choices and gentlemen showing compassion. What matters most are good choices in tempting and treacherous circumstances.

Why such a fuss over a putt and a kiss? Because this teen's putt and this man's kiss gave me a little bit of hope that some people still know how to choose what is right in a world of madness.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shift to Perfection

By Brenda Black

Jump! Buck! Stall! Roll! As much as it felt like I was riding a bronc, the reality was a mossy green Dodge Dart Duster had me grabbing the horn and holding on for dear life on EE blacktop! Okay, so Dad came up a little short at teaching me to drive a stick shift. It was no fault of his own. He couldn't risk grinding gears on his only mode of transportation to work. I sort of learned how; I just never perfected it. My dear husband tried to build on the fundamentals many years later in his new, cherry red Ford pickup. He was about as patient as my pop. Together, their combined teaching made me barely capable and certainly far from confident on a manual. Since I couldn't do it perfectly, I chose to go automatic.

Some things in life just don't come easy, especially perfection. We demand it from others, expect it from ourselves, and wind up perfectly disillusioned when we all fall short of the target. The slow fade from grinding gears to giving up can leave us settling for less than best. The final resort all too often is auto-pilot living. Still we are called to perfection.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

I tend to be a perfectionist in nearly every area of my life. Why I shunned stick shifts leaves me a little baffled. I'm sure it perplexed my perfectionistic papa as well. No doubt, that's where I get my “drive.” He likes his world in order, everything in its place. He prints in all caps with perfectly sized letters lined up like little soldiers. He attacks every task with diligence and discipline.

This same man has a softer side. I saw a tear in his eye when I was crowned Miss High School Rodeo Missouri and on the day I got married. He's the one who scooped me up and dusted me off when a horse bucked me off or a heifer kicked me. Daddy took me fishing, helped me with long division math and created elaborate fireworks shows on the Fourth of July.

He worked in the city 40 hours a week and drove two hours round trip in rush hour traffic to get home on a Friday night, load up horses and drive two more hours to a youth rodeo. We took family vacations. He teased and tickled and kissed me good night and still tells me out loud “I love you.”

My dad is a great father, but he still isn't perfect and neither am I a perfect daughter. In fact, nobody on the planet is perfect! But what do we do with this challenge from Scripture to be perfect? Fear not! The word perfect has less to do with outward acts and more to do with the work within us. “Perfect” means complete. And it is the Lord who finishes the project. Be confident of this, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:6-8)

It should bring us blissful peace to know that the Perfect One is doing a perfect work in every believer! God doesn't demand perfect performance, He longs for perfect fellowship.

“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:12-14)

The emphasis is on knowing the Lord! When we fall short, John explains the way of grace. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn. 2:1b-2)

Dad failed at teaching me to drive a stick shift. I failed at learning. But those old sins are forgiven. Just the other day, my daddy trusted me to drive his brand new Explorer (automatic) the the city... because perfect love drives out fear!

If my imperfect father has such affection for me, how much more my Perfect Father in Heaven.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads who are a work in progress and perfectly appreciated for all you do and all you are in Christ.

**Special Note: Thank you to all the facebook suggestions for a topic this week. You gave me some perfectly superb ideas!

copyright 2011 Brenda Black

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Filling the Grandparent Gap

By Brenda Black

Something besides radio active material, toxic cucumbers or earthquakes has hit the West Coast. It's a new kind of babysitter. She's wiser and older, and comes with decades of experience. And she doesn't spend your time or dollar texting her boyfriend while she's in charge of your kids. Rent-a-GrandmaTM is a new company meeting domestic staffing needs in the Los Angeles area, with their sights set on going national.

At, they describe their employees as “screened mature (age 50+) women who are only the most professional, experienced staff and meet the standards you will demand for your own 'Grandma'.”

I think this is an idea that has come of age, literally, and might just introduce some common sense along with safe child care back to the domestic scene in America. Instead of latchkey kids or institutionalized daycare, families can look like families again and school age kids can come home to cookies and milk and the warmth of human contact instead of games on line or internet chat.

My sons have been blessed with “real” grandmas and grandpas who have influenced their lives in countless ways. Sweet treats, tickle attacks, card games, overnight stays, an ever-supportive audience to any event they've ever entered and lots of lovin' is still offered up to them in steady doses. More importantly, they've garnered decades of wisdom, prayer cover and the privilege of friendship from an older generation.

We haven't always lived close to kin; in those times the Lord added rather than subtracted by providing older, loving friends who became like family. And we didn't have to rent them!

We enjoyed the affection of Granny Fern and Papa Ralph when Austin was an infant. I came home from the hospital with my first born to an air conditioned house because of their thoughtfulness. They lavished us with time and entertainment that included counting humming birds, fishing and ice cream excursions. Granny Fern kept me posted on any new little thing that my baby attempted and Papa Ralph hand crafted Austin's first cradle and a rocking horse that sits in my living room to this day.

By the time Austin turned three and little brother Cooper was added to the picture, we had relocated right next door to another elderly couple two counties west. Damon and Wilma spoiled our family with home baked pies, sweet backyard visits and extra eyes to keep track of active boys. Cooper and Grandpa Damon shared a birthday and every year they picked the first apple from one of his trees to celebrate. As the boys grew, the roles shifted. Instead of the neighbor watching out for the kids, I enlisted them to watch out for Damon. They reported if he was on a ladder or getting too hot in the garden and I'd make an excuse to “just stop by” and make sure he was okay. That's what families do.

With yet another move, we gained Donnie and Vernille, who welcomed our family into their own and included us on every occasion. They prayed with us and for us and fed us and blessed us over and over. Austin gleaned farming wisdom from Donnie and talked cattle and tractors. Both of our sons witnessed how much love breaks down generational barriers and melds hearts together in friendship. We remain the fortunate recipients of sincere prayer from this lovely couple no matter the present distance.

All of these grandparents are part of our family history. And there are dozens more in every church where we ministered, in each city we lived. Their precious influence was never for sale or rent. It was given and received in love and worth millions. That's why the Scriptures teach us to “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” (Leviticus 19:32a)

God just keeps providing the opportunity to be blessed and to bless. When we left our now adult son 13 hours from home two weeks ago, it was a little easier since meeting an older woman at the church he'll attend. She was warm and kind and generous and extended the grandma factor wholeheartedly by inviting my son for a home-cooked meal whenever he wanted some company. The grandparent gap filled yet again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rebuilding Lives with God's Helping Hands

By Brenda Black

I'm writing my column this morning in route to Joplin for another day of volunteer service. Our family is working in a warehouse sorting donations for distribution. It is mind numbing to take in the devastation and life-altering to be serving any way we can to help so many precious people. I fear my words can't express the depth nor breadth of emotions we're feeling. Don't stop praying or aiding Joplin, my friends. Together we can make a difference and declare that God is among us and at work.

“But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands.'” – Nehemiah 6:9b

Mountains of mass destruction lay piled in heaps of what used to be communities, offices, and stores. Among the gnarled rubble also reside the accumulations of life-long memories of thousands of families forever changed from monstrous storms. I've been to Joplin. I've seen it and still cannot believe the gargantuan swath of death and debris. The clean up and reconstruction will take months, if not years. And it will take millions of man hours to rebuild a great city. I believe it will be done by the hands of God-fearing men and women who realize the enormity of the project, but know there is far more at stake than boards and bricks.

When Nehemiah led the Israelite nation in building the Jerusalem wall, he counted the cost and knew what level of commitment it required for completion. He knew for whom he built it. He also knew all too well that his greatest resources were the volunteers who labored day after day and what was needed to keep the work going.

“But out of reverence for God...I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work...Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.” (Nehemiah 5:15c-19)

Out of reverence for God, our family is devoting some time to the work of the Joplin wall. And let me tell you, the job is so enormous, that our service is a drop in a bucket six miles long and a half mile wide that expands to the depths of thousands of human souls and reaches into heaven. While our contributions of volunteer hours will be sporadic, there are thousands in Joplin daily dealing with the logistics of meeting insurmountable needs. There are layers of details involved with utilizing and mobilizing the masses who show up to help. Traffic controllers need controlled; base camp cooks have to know how many to cook for; managers are needed to organize mass distribution and ministers must be available at a moment's notice. Demolition and construction crews need directions on where to go. And truckers have to have a place to unload. And the work goes on and on and on and local residents are assuming the high calling of orchestrating the massive relief efforts. These are the true wall builders!

We met many of them on Wednesday at College Heights Christian Church. They are hauling goods, sorting donations, distributing food and clothing, water and words of comfort. They are baking cookies for crews and sitting with shocked families who are trying to forget nightmarish horrors while having to deal with overwhelming hardship.

When I can't be hands-on in Joplin, I plan to be holding these faithful saints up in prayer for I am certain their bodies will grow weak and weary and outside forces will tell them it can't be done. Nehemiah faced such opposition and he resolved to “carrying on a great project.” (Neh. 6:3) His enemies tried to frighten the wall builders and taunted them with stinging words: “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” (Neh. 6:8-9a)

But Nehemiah prayed: “Now strengthen my hands.” (Neh. 9b)

The result: The wall was completed! “When all our enemies heard about this and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. “ (Neh. 6:15-16)

And so it shall be with Joplin. As believers pray for Christian brothers forging ahead in love and purpose, the world will watch and know that God-honoring people rebuilt Joplin – brick by brick, board by board and one life at a time through loving, generous, selfless helping hands.