Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Risk of Being a Hot Head

By Brenda Black

The blazing heat can drive many a sane man mad, says Craig A. Anderson, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University. He reveals his findings in a study “Heat and Violence” published in 2001 by the American Psychological Society.

“Numerous fascinating psychological processes might be involved in the typical effect of high temperatures on aggression and violence. The simplest and most powerful ones all revolve around the 'crankiness' notion. Being uncomfortable colors the way people see things. Minor insults may be perceived as major ones, inviting (even demanding) retaliation.”

Anderson explains with a probable scenario: “A minor provocation can quickly escalate, especially if both participants are affectively and cognitively primed for hostility by their heightened level of discomfort. A mild insult is more likely to provoke a severe insult in response when people are hot than when they are more comfortable. This may lead to further increases in the aggressiveness of responses and counter responses. An accidental bump in a hot and crowded bar can lead to the trading of insults, punches, and (eventually) bullets.”

Oh, the educated, intellectual, superior species of man gets a little hot under the collar and solves all his problems with fists, a beer and a bullet. Maybe we need to take a lesson from God's other planet mammals who survive the heat with much greater consideration for one another.

Let me offer a few examples. This week I watched a couple of young raccoons wander and wobble their way across my backyard and nearly traipse right across my sandaled feet. They had no regard for me nor the cats that lay watching their journey. And the cats did not pounce and attack the little masked bandits who crossed their feline territory on a warm summer evening. They just let them be.

Same cats, second verse, different species. A young, wild rabbit stumbled into my garage and descended the basement stairs in search of heat relief. The temperature probably drops a good 20 degrees from the top to the bottom. I discovered the shocked bunny sitting ever so still the other morning. And right next to her, the cat that did not act aggressive or hostile. Of course the hare was not certain of survival, but she did not fight or scratch in protest when I hauled her up the steps and returned her to some shady grass.

Third verse, same cat and add the melody of a black Lab. Though a cat will eat no matter how hot, I've noticed my dog is leaving most of her food in the dish these days. It's just too hot to dine. But when I added a few kitchen scraps, everyone was interested. And I couldn't believe my eyes. There they chowed, feline and canine, in a hot garage, on a hundred degree day, both of them caped in black and weary of humidity and heat – out of the same bowl. Not a growl was heard, not a sharp tooth bared. They lapped and chomped blissfully together regardless of the weather.

For Christians the crankiness factor is no excuse for bad behavior. If animals can ignore their instincts, can't we reason beyond the heat? As the sweltering days drag on, a little kindness might bring as much relief as a good rain shower. If misery loves company, most of this nation is in this big ol' hot boat together. Add to the heat wave, political unrest, unemployment and high gas prices and you've got yourself a human volcano about to erupt. But we don't have to succumb to the heat. As believers of Christ we are overcomers of hardships and heat waves, hot heads and even burning national debt. Now is not the time to blow our cool and be consumed by evil. It's our time to stand cool headed and faithful and to keep our eyes fixed on a returning King.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:10-14)

Christ is counting on us to keep our cool no matter how hot it gets.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life and Death in Christ

By Brenda Black

"It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy that is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians - and I am one of them." — Saint Cyprian (200-258).

Cyprian was beheaded for refusing to recognize pagan gods, yet he realized the great secret of joy in the midst of persecution. He died living for God.
Centuries later, and in every decade since, Christians die because they live for God. In 1956, five young men paid the price. Among them, Jim Elliott. His attitude toward life surely influenced his acceptance of death.

“To stand by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and to give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth,” he wrote in his journal.

Elliot and four other missionaries were speared to death by Huaorani because one of the tribeswomen lied about the believers on the beach. Their death may seem vain and senseless, but they died willingly, living for Christ, and generations of Huaorani have received salvation as a result of their faith and their demise.

Steve Saint, son of Nate Saint, another who died that day in Ecuador, has followed in his father's footsteps, back to the Huaorani. Steve speaks of his father's and his own motivation as God- driven, joyful purpose – “the great secret” that Saint Cyprian spoke of 1800 years ago.

“Dad strove to find out what life really is. He found identity, purpose, and fulfillment in being obedient to God's call. He tried it, tested it, and committed himself to it. I know that the risk he took, which resulted in his death and consequently his separation from his family, he took not to satisfy his own need for adventure or fame, but in obedience to what he believed was God's directive to him. I suppose he is best known because he died for his faith, but the legacy he left his children was his willingness first to live for his faith.” (

The persecution continues. Every day Voice of the Martyrs reports stories of hate crimes against Christian believers. Right now, in our lifetime, Eritrean Christians are fleeing to Egypt because of persecution that intensified after an Eritrean governor ordered a purge against Christians at the end of 2010. VOM says, “Hundreds of Eritrean Christians enter Egypt each month in hope of reaching Israel. Some Eritrean refugees die while attempting the 900-mile journey through Egypt, and others are shot to death as they cross the Egypt-Israel border. Many of the refugees end up in Egyptian prisons or are held hostage for $20,000 ransoms by Bedouin Muslim nomads, who frequently work with human traffickers. Hostages who cannot pay the ransom are killed. There are currently between 500 and 600 Eritrean prisoners in Egyptian custody, and as many as 200 are currently held by traffickers. The refugees face sexual abuse, torture, beatings and enslavement at the hands of both Egyptian authorities and the Bedouin gangs. Barnabas Fund partners report that the Christians’ faith is the cause of their treatment.”

It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world. It is the same world that hated Christ and crucified Him. It is the same world that Christ warned would hate those who love Him. So how do we live in an “incredibly bad world” and live joyfully?

The Apostle James offered this advice: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Henry Ward Beecher once said, "The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things." More importantly I think we must extract joy from heavenly things by living above the common; living beyond the hate and horrors inflicted. We obtain peace by choosing the Prince of Peace as our solace and rest, our shield and help. A heavenly perspective is key to facing the heinous crimes of God haters. The hope of heaven is our source of all joy. And joy itself, as one component of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that lives inside God lovers, cannot be beaten out of faithful followers.

This world is not our home. This body is only designed for temporary use, but the soul for eternity. Live life aware of the “great secret” of joy in living for the Lord instead of living for the fleshly sins in this world or in fear of the sinful. Then come death or persecution or any kind of opposition, we go out grinning knowing we rise up winning!

Dedicated to my brothers and sisters around the world who daily “count it all joy.” Please pray that we all have the faith to stand firm to the end and be our Lord's great joy, for "faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Drover's CattleNetwork is running a profile piece on me this week. "Jolley: Keeping up with Brenda Black, rancher, preacher's wife, new CBB member".

I think I rather prefer being the writer than having something written about me! That was a little unnerving, but I appreciated reporter Chuck Jolley's kind interview and was happy to share a little slice of my life with a fellow freelancer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fear Cheered Away

By Brenda Black

I felt my heartbeat increase with each step up the 70 feet of spiraling, aluminum staircase perched on top of an Ozark Mountain. It did not help that the narrow tower swayed and the wind intensified the higher I climbed, or that hot, hard asphalt lay below. Lots of deep breathing, some internal talk and prayer kept me from giving in to natural fear. Plus the string of friends and strangers crawling up behind me would not have been happy with a retreat in reverse. I confess, some fear of humiliation pushed me upward and out onto the plank that would launch my horizontal, dangling descent.

By this point, I had already entrusted my life two times to a couple of pulleys, a carabiner and a guide who tried to use bad comedy as a means to alleviate panic. As one among the quasi-dare devils in his care, I came to conquer the zipline on this hot and breezy day. And the previous two practice rounds hadn't gone like I hoped.

On the very first apparatus, which was safely close to the ground, I grabbed the cable with my brake hand at the end of the line. I was supposed to simply apply pressure as instructed to this first-time zipper just moments earlier. I felt like I left my right arm back 20 feet while the rest of me careened forward. Three days later, I'm still sore from that wrong move.

Then our group ascended the first practice tower where I timidly stood 35 feet above rocky soil on a small wooden block. There I was clipped to a line three times longer and significantly higher than the one I just failed to master. I didn't have to worry about braking this round because I came up slightly short of the end of the line. But en route, I bicycled my legs haplessly when I began twisting out of alignment. I must have looked like a drowning cat in my awkward attempt to sleekly slide down a steel cable.

So, by the time I stood on that 70-foot swaying platform, I had mustered incredulous determination. I willed myself to steer true and to not grasp, but to press down, when our second guide motioned it was time to brake. The loud command from my cheerleading son who bellowed, “Just push down!” assured my successful end to my zippy trip that stretch. When done correctly, the stop came smoothly and the satisfaction was exhilarating!

“I did it right!” I squealed with delight. The inner fight was over. The inner fear faded. And the shear pleasure of gliding 50 mph through tree tops without worry over how the trip would end replaced all the anxiety.

Such is life. We do it the hard way and pay the price. We wobble and stray and blunder our way in our own strength and feel foolish. And then, when we just trust and obey and listen to the cheer of a Christian brother, we find great satisfaction in the journey and in the end celebrate together.

My zipline experience taught me much about myself and more about the courage and love and help of my son. It challenged me to face my fears and conquer them. I learned that perfection doesn't come with intensity, it comes when I relax and let the Lord lead me and someone else cheer me. Life is not about perfect execution, but it can be a perfect ride nonetheless.

I want to live that way – without fear or fretting. I want to step off every block that presents itself and fling myself joyfully along the path that God has charted for me. I know He's holding me. I know He'll be there to catch me. I know He is cheering me and smiling with me over every success. The Lord has given instructions for life. He provides a life line straight to heaven through Jesus Christ. All we have to do is trust Him that it will all end right.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

“The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Psalm 28:7-9)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Without End

By Brenda Black

I remember well weary nights of rocking and nursing and praying my infant sons would “please just go to sleep.” There were bumps and bruises and scraped knees and one incident of some tiny burned fingers during the toddling years. I prayed courage for me and for their relief. Academic success, good friendships, purity of mind and heart and safety driving a car called for time on my knees while my sons grew up and I survived their teens. Now the stakes are higher and just when I think the job of parenting growing boys is reaching an end, I discover the far greater responsibility of praying for my adult children.

My mom is still on the clock for me and joins me as we pray for her grandsons. A dear friend shares my burden and I her's as we lift one another's adult children daily before the Lord. I still pray for safety and healthy relationships. I plead for direction and ask God to lead them straight to the center of His will. I understand like never before the power of prayer.

Still, it amazes me when I witness God's hand on their lives, both in blessings and challenges He lavishes and allows. And always I remember how critical the calloused knees of a mother at every stage in life. There is much to cover, much to anticipate, much to hope for and much to fear. The job of a praying parent is without end.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, sets the standard for dedicated prayer. We hear her faithfulness in 1 Samuel 1:27-28a.

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

I, like Hannah, prayed for my children before they ever were conceived. I prayed for their healthy arrival. I was blessed with two bouncing boys three years and three months apart. In between, I was blessed to carry a small life but a matter of weeks. That child I'll one day meet. The gift of healthy babies and the heartache of a baby unborn can never be fully understood. One is a miracle, the other covered in mercy to endure and accept that God knows best. Each, given over to the Lord in life and death.

As a praying parent, I have to revisit the concept of “giving over” over and over again. To entrust these whom I have nursed, clothed, fed, loved, sheltered, tutored, laughed with and cried over for the greater part of my life on earth is no easy calling. But I can't carry them in a back pack or hover over them in a cradle as I once did. I have to watch from a distance and surrender them to the One whose hands are big enough to hold them no matter how big and burley they get. He is able to speak peace to their hearts when their mother needs to be silent. The Lord Almighty counsels them with far better advice than this wise woman who thinks she knows them best. And God loves them more than I could ever muster because, though I carried them in a womb, He knit them together and placed His fingerprint on their hearts and heads.

So I just pray. And pray. And pray without end. And I have the pleasure of watching the Lord at work in two men. I see how He leads them and provides for them; how He teaches and guides them. I watch how they recognize more quickly the peace and joy that is theirs for the asking. I weep when I hear them give God their thanks and praise because it means their dad and I have done something right in this world: We've pointed them and prayed them to the Lord.

Parenting is many things. Painful. Pleasurable. Surprising. Challenging. Exciting. Demanding. Rewarding. Parenting is supposed to be filled with love and sacrifice and promise. Most importantly, parenting is a test of faith and calls for active prayer.

Especially when the kids grow up, parents need to look up for the Heavenly Father's will, for no child should ever doubt that they are loved or lifted at any age.