Monday, August 29, 2011

Rules for Running the Race

By Brenda Black

As with any timed event, it matters not nearly as much how you start, but where you finish. But the opposite is true in the case of reigning Olympic and world champion, and world-record-holder Usain Bolt's latest race. The “one and done” false start rule just ruled fleet-footed Bolt disqualified. The very notion of dismissing a runner capable of smoking the 100 meter in 9.58 seconds leaves rule-makers running for solutions and questioning the necessity for such an edict.

Some social scientists contend that rule evasion can serve as a useful tool to promote more efficient policies or alternatives. As track and field judges weigh the prospects of new policies concerning revered runners, they may respond in one of three ways: either effectively ignore the rule infraction, enforce it to a greater extent or revise it.

One jump of the gun and you're done does seem a bit harsh. But there's a lesson to be learned at the cost of Bolt's unbridled bolt. Whoa! Better to be disciplined than to be eliminated. All too well, he has learned that the price can be shamefully high when rules get broken.

But let's not forget “some rules are meant to be broken.” Take for instance a law in Idaho that says it is illegal for a man to give his sweetheart a box of candy weighing more than 50 pounds. Obviously that one needs amending! Some mandates are plain silly. Other sanctions make perfect sense . There's the law in Missouri that says it is illegal to drive with an uncaged bear! I'm thinking that one needs to stay on the books since bruin populations are on the rise in the Show Me State. Sure, it may be fine to see a bear in the cab of a pickup in the Ozark Mountains, but probably not a great thing in the backseat of a cab in downtown Kansas City.

A contemporary of Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner, finds the balance between total, blind adherence verses testing the waters: “We are half ruined by conformity; but we should be wholly ruined without it.” In other words: Some rules are absolutely necessary. The truth is “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) When reasonable rules are followed, they are for our good to prevent false starts and failed finishes.

Foolish thoughts convince would-be winners that fudging just a little won't cause fallout.
And deceiving oneself with the notion that no one is looking only blinds the one competing. The best qualifying start in life begins in the Word of God where rules are specific and filled with purpose and broken ones bear consequence. There we are told that “...if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)

Even if a runner clears the starting blocks fairly, there are some things that can still keep him from officially finishing the race. A stumble? No. A runner can get back up and rejoin the race. A hurdle not cleared? No. Downed hurdles just slow him down, but don't disqualify a runner. Cheating and quitting are, however, surefire precursors for a failed finish. Those are personal choices of which you can blame no other contender, no other circumstances. The consequences for breaking the rules lie squarely on the shoulders of the one who committed the infraction.

Whether the International Association of Athletics Federation sees clear to ignore, enforce or alter the “one and done” rule, may change the face of future race results for high profile runners. Still, it won't repeat races already run. The consequences for those are in the record books.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Great Depression Deliverance

By Brenda Black

In the U.S., grit was born out of the Great Depression! The enduring folks who remember those desperate and sparse days have tried for decades to impart prudent wisdom to generations that followed. But have we heeded their advice or their example? Whether you are stubborn and selfish or just careless on matters of money or faith, it's time to get smarter for “wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10) Your deliverance begins with Great Depression guidance.

Gregg Koep, a blogger at “Not Buying Anything” (NBA), summarizes the Great Depression Survivors' sentiments saying that “People who lived through the depression often gained a new outlook on life. Many survivors still hold the same virtues today, so strong were the lessons learned. Generally, they avoid the self indulgence and immediate gratification that comes from easy access to material things. Instead they tend to focus on the important relationships in their lives, like with their families and community.” (

Listen up to more sensible and godly wisdom from the mouths of our own pre WWII citizens:

  • Pay cash instead of adopting the credit mentality.Don’t spend money you don’t already have in your pocket.”

  • Don't make the rich richer by giving them your money. Don’t pay someone else to provide something that you can learn to do or to make yourself.”

  • Cultivate traditional values of thrift and frugality.Only buy what you can’t live without.”

  • Avoid self-indulgence and self-gratification by immediate acquisition of possessions. Give yourself a good, long waiting period before making purchases.”

  • Do not gamble with your money (stock market, real estate speculation, lotteries, get rich quick schemes, etc). “It doesn’t matter how much money you make, it matters how much you save!”

  • Work is the way to make money. "Don't be afraid of honest, hard work."

  • Ambition is over-rated. "It is enough to just enjoy and appreciate each day."

This blogger says many depression survivors realize that good can come from bad, and meaning can come from tragedy. I agree. As evidence, take a look at Calvary. Jesus Christ died on a cross -- His suffering horrible, the price exorbitant! He owned nothing. Lived nowhere in particular. Walked everywhere. Ate at the generosity of friends and followers. And yet He lived His life lavishly and gave abundantly! His great sacrifice and self-denial, along with His suffering, resulted in freedom. I'd say that's good coming from bad and meaning springing from tragedy!

Whether enslaved to debt or economic hardship or worse, spiritual depravity, the wisdom of the ages is applicable. “It doesn't matter how much money you make, it matters how much you save!” That goes for dollars and cents, as well as souls. It's really that simple. People who use common sense, common courtesy and turn to Christ in time of crisis are best positioned to survive financial downturns or any frightening circumstance. I call it Great Depression Deliverance!

As the body of Christ we can help one another in the times in which we live by sharing what we have. We can serve one another by bartering skills and goods. We can encourage one another and pray for one another and pull together like family does when times get tough. And we can still embrace each day and just enjoy it. When we employ these attitudes often born out of hardship, we'll be strengthened to face whatever comes down the road and be a valuable witness for the Lord Jesus who paid our debt in full.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Discerning Learning

By Brenda Black

Third row, aisle seat. Notebook open, pencil sharp. Hand in the air, eyes looking forward, ears ready to hear. I love to learn! Over the course of my life in classrooms large and small, for academic, spiritual, professional or personal instruction, I have come prepared to concentrate, participate and postulate. By and large, I believe I received sound instruction from most teachers. When I did question the integrity or morality of a subject, I enlisted common sense and godly discernment to sift the input.

Now, more than ever, with the onslaught of instant information from both reliable and down right corrupt sources, and not-so-subtle social agendas, it is vital that every student be keenly observant and brutally critical as they head back to school. The human mind and heart are under intellectual and moral attack.

Christina Hoff Sommers, professor of philosophy at Clark University, warned her audience in a speech delivered nearly 14 years ago at the Shavano Institute for National Leadership that the mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste.

“Too many young people are morally confused, ill-informed, and adrift. This confusion gets worse rather than better once they go to college. If they are attending an elite school, they can actually lose their common sense and become clever and adroit intellectuals in the worst sense. George Orwell reputedly said, 'Some ideas are so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.' Well, the students of such intellectuals are in the same boat. Orwell did not know about the tenured radicals of the 1990s, but he was presciently aware that they were on the way. The problem is not that young people are ignorant, distrustful, cruel, or treacherous. And it is not that they are moral skeptics. They just talk that way. To put it bluntly, they are conceptually clueless. The problem I am speaking about is cognitive. Our students are suffering from 'cognitive moral confusion.'” (Read more of Sommers' observations)

This moral confusion poses the greatest risk to all that has made America strong. While many among today's generation mindlessly compromise and conform, the burden to rebuild a strong moral base has to come from those willing to impart truth and expose the subtle and divisive attacks on the moral conscience of all. We must remind ourselves of the radical agendas of people like Joseph Stalin who once said, “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: It's patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”

Where's the patriotism today? How's the morality? What about a spiritual hunger? Are we passing the test to stay a free thinking and morally motivated nation or are we failing miserably?

As students head back to school, those going and those sending better drop to their knees in prayer. For ideas will be many and agendas aggressive, but each of us has the moral responsibility to do what's right and employ divine discernment. Yes, there is a right and a wrong. We each must answer to God. Educating the heart as well as the mind to live according to biblical standards is the only way we can get back on track and not “collapse from within.”

Isaiah states its simply: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” (Isaiah 1:16b-17a) In subsequent verses, the wise prophet relays the Lord's instructions for how to get it “right.” “'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.' For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Ish. 1:18-20)

Learn with discernment.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's a Mad, Mad World

By Brenda Black

Around the world, people are raging and innocent lives are lost and destroyed. Not just in remote, desert wastelands with cave-dwelling insurgents or in war shattered regions. Cultural hubs and Wall Street districts are overrun with thuggery and vexation.

While news of the tragic losses of American servicemen grieve our nation at large, British families hide behind locked doors in posh neighborhoods where streets below blaze in fire. Riots in England spawned by angry youth mutated to sport when young people joined the wave of

violence all in the name of evil entertainment. "'Come join the fun!'" shouted one youth in the east London suburb of Hackney, where shops were attacked and cars torched,” reports the Associated Press. Some of the rebels are mad; others plain crazy.

This side of the big pond, forked tongues spit flames across party lines as raging politicians point fingers of blame for the economic fiasco we're facing. One magazine editor strategically demonizes a conservative presidential candidate in a cover shot while the current and failing president daily plummets in polls of public opinion. Jokes abound about kicking him out of a plane window. Some folks are desperately crazy and others are fed up and angry!

Headlines across the globe plaster repeated stories where minor conflicts escalate to deadly assaults. Take for instance a disgruntled woman on a bus who calls for open fire from a gang as her resolution for a difference of opinion. It's a mad, mad world where if someone doesn't agree, a gun is immediately used to settle the argument.

Why are people so angry? What made the world go insane? The answer is simple; the fix

attainable. Pride and selfishness, greed and hate are the sinful culprits behind the rage. Only one solution will ever temper the out-of-control tempers flaring in the hearts and minds of men. Jesus is the answer.

You may think that trite or flippant or even stupid, but the reality is it is truth. This mad, mad world is in need of a Savior!

A strong rebound in the world of finance won't squelch the greedy grab of humanity. A social system steeped in egalitarian gobbledygook won't work where selfish people who refuse to get a job think they can have the same level of wealth as those who work their entire lives. Arrogance and indifference from the top down won't heal the heartache of a weary working class nor motivate patriotism. And I'm not so sure that even an awe-inspiring leader could truly rally real hope in our nation. This mad, mad world needs a Savior!

Francis Bacon, English philosopher, essayist and statesman of four centuries ago, wrote, “Knowledge is power.” So I ask: Just who do you know? There's supernatural power in the right answer and it comes covered in love, not in hateful violence. Until Christ is preached and souls repentant, the world will continue to spiral downward, grasping for false saviors and fighting mad. 1 Corinthians 2 paints a picture of contrasts between such a mad world and this masterful Creator and Christ.

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God designed for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'

“But God has revealed it to us by his spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because thy are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

“'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?'

“But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)

The answer to madness is this mind of Christ. The answer to violence, the love of Christ. The answer to economic crisis, Scriptural mathematics. Let's stop the insanity by choosing the Savior and pray not just for peace, but for divine wisdom and the supernatural power to be salt and light in a dark and angry world.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Happiest Place Not On Earth

By Brenda Black

I'm in the sunshine state where right down the road are a couple of multi-million dollar theme parks that can break the family bank in just a week. They are dubbed the happiest places on earth. Apparently, the call of the cartoon characters echoed over everglades and across one time zone to reach a Midwest family. They were Disney World bound. I became akin to the tribe of five – plus their teenage nanny – when I stuffed my luggage in the overhead bin and plopped between two adorable, red headed children on my flight to central Florida. I relayed exuberant conversation about clouds and itsy bitsy scenery between seven-year-old brother and his little sis and father. I passed scanty, over-priced airline snack purchases of Cheeze Its and ice and Sprite. Mostly, I wondered just how much it was going to cost this family for their big adventure.

Airline expense was just the beginning. According to “a group of road-tested individuals that have vacationed all over the place and lived to tell about it,” Universal Studios has theme restaurants with “overpriced hamburgers, souvenir shops, face painting and a dozen chances to have your family vacation immortalized in a caricature drawing.” And “Disney is the master of the upsell.”

The bloggers contend, “You can’t walk three feet in Disney World without someone trying to convince your kids to ask you for money. Vendors walk the streets hawking $10 balloons, neon necklaces, gourmet cookies and of course you have to buy the ears. And don’t forget all of the extra experiences you can buy! You can have lunch with a character or give your little girl a princess makeover – but don’t expect that to be included in your price of admission.”

The professional analysis was confirmed by two personal acquaintances. One spoke of novelty shops at the exit of every single ride where parents are bombarded with kid-enticing high-way robbery. At their weakest, post-roller-coaster, knock-kneed moment, typically coherent adults buy a stuffed ugly ogre or cuddly lisping duck and think it a lucid decision. The other reflected on the magical transformation of little elves and beautiful mommies whose personalities quickly morph from happy and bashful to grumpy and sleepy. Overstimulation overrides pleasant memories with temper tantrums and glaring looks. But it's not about the cost or the entrapment, right? It's about the experience... and the memories immortalized by a park photographer for 25 smackers!

Don't get me wrong – I love a great roller coaster as much as the next thrill seeker. I can sing Disney movie theme songs with the best of them. I've spent my fair share of hard-earned money to make memories with the family and had a few theme-park melt downs or weak moments. But, honestly, at this point in my life, I'm more enthralled with the beautiful flora and fountains within the hotel where I'm staying than the thought of entering the Magical Kingdom. By far, the trickling waters, snoozing crocs, giant ferns, towering palms and orange speckled Koi fish here are more pleasant than an onslaught of Universal Studios' life-size characters. To think that these intricate and captivating creations are just dress rehearsal for a bigger production blows any old theme park right out of the water!

Maybe I am getting old or maybe I just long more for the peaceful promise of home – an eternal dwelling in a special kingdom not of this world. As our green, green grass in the Midwest singes into shades of brown, these lush tropical, maintained gardens remind me of a perfect paradise where no scorching heat will burn up the beauty. It's a place where a river runs through that never evaporates; a scene more vivid and spectacular than anything I can imagine or Hollywood can create. Heaven!

Heaven won't disappoint. It doesn't cost a dime. The flight is free and the trip spectacular! The gates will swing wide to those whose admission was purchased on a cross by The Christ. There won't be fictitious characters, but real saints and amazing angelic beings and the Lord himself, righteous and holy. The special effects won't come from pyrotechnics, but the whole kingdom will be ablaze with the light emitted from God alone!

Now that's some place I want to go!