Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bullish Bravery in the Black of Night

By Brenda Black

A phone call late in the evening can mean any number of things at our house. Could be a son who is up late studying and realizes he needs some money in his account by tomorrow morning. Might be one of my advertising clients who frequently calls at ten o'clock at night – the only sure guarantee that either of us is available to talk business. Sometimes it is the troubling news of a member in our congregation who needs the comfort of the pastor. And then, there are the calls that just get you in an instantaneous bad mood. A neighbor calls to report your bull is out.

On one moonless night under hazy, overcast skies, our big, black bull was wandering. To the farm we headed, ill equipped, since there is never a flashlight that really works and the spotlight burned out months ago.

Sure enough, he had covered more ground than we had hoped. We discovered the escapee standing along a ditch on the thankfully seldom traveled gravel road. We convinced him to turn and head north toward a fenced lane that would usher him back to his herd. That part wasn't too difficult since we operated by the pickup truck lights and both of us could push the burly bull with balanced pressure from rear and side. But when he turned down the lane, I was left alone and afoot to keep driving him while my husband returned to retrieve the truck.

By the time the beast and the bedraggled beauty angled down that lane and were headed west, it was eerie dark. A one ton black bull, followed by little ol' me, also dressed in black, moving blindly through the night. I honestly had no idea how far ahead he was or how close I was to him. My only clue was the crunch of gravel from rocks pulverized under the pressure of four hooves hauling one ton of bovine muscle. I'd walk a little, then listen to make sure he was still on the move. Only one thing would signal which way he was facing, the flash of white from his baldy head. By the time the truck whipped in the drive and shined it's headlights hundreds of feet beyond me, I could see what I suspected. There he stood, broadside, looking back at me obstinately.

The comfort and assistance from the beams aided our progress, but one more daring mission awaited the final step. While Alan sped down to the gate, I was left again, persuading the rebellious bull to keep moving the right way. A few cow-cutting steps and a cattle prod convinced him he had met his match and he relinquished pressing his cause. He turned and trotted increasingly faster toward the pen.

I've been around cattle my whole life and have a healthy respect for livestock that large. I prefer to work them in the daylight than in the dark and I never take for granted that one wrong move could be dangerous. As I walked that darkened lane, a bit of fear kept me safe. I would have been foolish to get too close or to run up flailing my arms. I kept my distance and I kept talking so he'd know who was in charge. Even when he stopped, he did not turn fully around and come back toward me. I intimidated him just enough to hold him at bay until help showed up.

So it goes with spiritual strongholds. When dark enemy forces break the boundaries and wander where they hope to endanger me, I call on courage and experience to help me face fear. I keep on moving confidently. I keep on speaking to the enemy. I carry a stick! And, most importantly, I wait for the Light who promises to help me.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

The more I call the enemy's bluff, the more he has to regard me and move according to my authority. And when the Light of the World shows up, he has to leave!

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13)

If I can turn a one ton bull in the pitch black of night, I know I can face any foe, any time, with Jesus on my side.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Preps to be a Pillar

By Brenda Black

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.” (Revelation 3:11-12b)

As a graduate of the University of Missouri, I know the significance of the six iconic columns that tower over MU's campus. The Columns once supported the portico of Academic Hall, the first building erected on campus sometime between 1840 and 1843. Hinkson Creek Valley furnished the timeless limestone, hauled to the construction site by ox-drawn carts. When the brick building burned in January 1892, only those charred white Columns remained, and their standing was threatened with removal when the Board of Curators voted to tear them down. After inspection revealed the Columns stood on solid foundations, the Board reversed their decision and agreed to leave them standing.

Pil·lar (plr) n. 1. a. A slender, freestanding, vertical support; a column. b. Such a structure or one similar to it used for decoration. 2. One who occupies a central or responsible position: a pillar of the state. tr.v. pil·lared, pil·lar·ing, pil·lars

The word jumped off the page at me when I read Revelation chapter 3. The imagery painted a picture of God constructing His church with tremendous and ornate detail. I was reminded of the highly specific and intricate blueprints Moses shared with the Israelites for building the Tabernacle. My mind raced from one end of history to the history yet to be challenging me to envision the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2) God has particular plans. He has had them from the foundations of the world and He will have them for all eternity. He likes His house in order and He has space for every precious piece. Specifically, He is waiting for pillars, the saints of all ages joined together by and in Christ, to take their place in this spiritual temple so that a great banquet can begin.

The called, the elect, the children of God, the church, the bride! Call her what you must, but here in Revelation, God calls her pillars. Not windows to see through nor a door through which to greet. Not drapes that warm a room. Not walls or floors or ceiling tiles. Pillars. Rock solid, integral support. And like the church in Philadelphia, one of only two not rebuked, we pillars of this time period need to “hold on to what [we] have” so we'll be fit for the task.

That's going to take some quality construction. Safety cautions from AllenHousing.org for forging brick pillars may be applicable advice for building stable spiritual pillars as well.

“One of the most important things you should consider during the construction is the weight that the brick pillars will support. They have to be strong enough to prevent the building from collapsing.”

God may be holding the weight of the world, but He only has one plan for winning the world – faithful followers who will pillar in Holy Spirit power and hold up the truth of God's Word. The task is impossible without prayer support. “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:10-12) Since pillars have to be strong enough to prevent the building from collapsing, pray for the strength to stand firm. Pray for other pillars as well.

Caution 2: “The raw materials that you are going to use for the construction should be used according to the specifications. When you are making mortar to use in the brick pillars, make sure you utilize coarse sand. The bricks have to be perfectly burnt and the corners should be faultless.

“When mixing the sand and cement to make the mortar, the ration has to be 4:1. The bricks should also be properly soaked when using them. After you have constructed the brick pillars, they have to be cured for at least ten days to make sure they set well.”

It takes the right ingredients, a little heat, some washing and time to make us fit to stand in heaven and hold up our part of the temple. God isn't looking for ornate decorations though He does see as beautiful. He is looking for obedient disciples. Get into the Word. Get to know the Master Builder who drafted a design for your life. Get ready to be tested. The more you withstand the heat of a brick-layer's oven, the more pure you will become. Be cleansed. “...'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts. 2:38) Be patient. The Lord is at work in your life even when you feel like you are just standing still.

May we as the people of Christ, be willing to pray: Lord, forge us into pillars, established on strong foundations so that we might be fit to stand together for you in heaven. Teach us to pray for those still needed to build the Holy City and keep us pure in mind and heart and willing to endure to the end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Day for Dares

By Brenda Black

One hundred plus two boarded the tiny ship bound for prosperity and adventure. They bundled their dreams among meager worldly possessions and said their prayers. In its treacherous 66 day voyage over rough, storm riddled seas, the crude vessel and those aboard were blown more than 500 miles off course. Only half who braved the trip would live to see a year beyond their departure of Sept. 16, 1620. But those who did survive the Mayflower journey were America's first settlers who, while yet aboard the ship, formulated and signed an agreement establishing constitutional law and the rule of the majority. Their pilgrimage of courage and commitment helped forge a new nation.

On Sept. 16 in 1893, the largest land run in history began with more than 100,000 people pouring into Oklahoma to stake their claims. A single pistol shot kick-started the mad dash of land-hungry pioneers on horseback and in carriages who raced forward to snatch the best acres. Their willingness to risk the dangers in a new and rugged country were due more to personal gain than national duty, but the grit it took still merits wonder for those who raced that day.

Instead of a fight for land, the fight for bragging rights landed Thomas Hearns, the World Boxing Association (WBA) belt winner, face down in the ring. His welterweight opponent, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, World Boxing Council’s (WBC) welterweight champion, came from behind to win the battle in front of 25,000 spectators on Sept. 16, 1981. These two fighters punched their way to glory – for what? National pride, personal gain or ticket sales for the boxing leagues? Still, those were a couple of tough contenders that wowed the crowd.

The motivation behind any courageous undertaking must be weighed heavily. Is it noble or greedy? Is the drive pushed by vision or vanity? Each of these historical moments happened on Sept. 16. There is nothing significant about the date. No time off for government employees or holidays from school. It's just another day, like this Friday, Sept. 16 will be.

But look again. Brave souls risked all they had to find a free place to worship and prosper. Families desperate to pursue the American dream dashed daringly across Oklahoma hills at break-neck speed. And two men of small stature scrapped and bum rushed one another to become the big dog in a brutal battle ring. All on the 16th.

What are you doing this Friday?

I dare you to do something that impacts this nation for good. Begin a journey where you seek to worship in spirit and in truth. Share your faith with others. Serve in the church. Live like you only have one year to make a difference!

“...live a life worthy of the Lord and...please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might...” (Colossians 1:10-11a)

I dare you to go after a dream. Accomplish something you've long pondered and have never been given permission to pursue. Run for the goal. Race for the finish line. Seize the day with anticipation and enthusiasm, grit and nerve. You just might find you have what it takes.

“...so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Col. 1:11b-12)

I dare you to fight the good fight. Not for vain glory, but to honor God. Fight to the finish. Fight for what's right. Fight for freedom in Christ so that you can say with the Apostle Paul:

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24)

Just think, something you do this Friday could go down in history. Will it go down as noble national pride, selfish personal gain or simple crowd pleasing fame? It's up to you how you live this Friday.

I dare you to live it for Christ!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Huck Finn Apologetics

By Brenda Black

“Well, I got a good going-over in the morning, from old Miss Watson, on account of my clothes; but the widow she didn't scold, but only cleaned off the grease and clay and looked so sorry that I thought I would behave a while if I could. Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By-and-by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way.

“I set down, one time, back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don't Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can't the widow get back her silver snuff-box that was stole? Why can't Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain't nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by prayin' for it was 'spiritual gifts.' This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant – I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself. This was including Miss Watson, as I took it. I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn't see no advantage about it – except for the other people – so at last I reckoned I wouldn't worry about it any more, but just let it go.” (from the
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1961)

Contemporary dialects may have changed, but attitudes remain much the same among those searching for truth. Infernal selfishness continues to rant: If it doesn't benefit me directly and get me what I want, when I want it, then I want nothing to do with it. It saddens me like it did the widow who took Huck in and clothed him and loved him in spite of his sins. The selfish motives of modern man and the total disregard for all that the Lord has done reveals a spiritual ignorance that's lingered for decades.

Huck feared spooks and spirits, but did not fear the living God. His resolve to “just let it go” seems to be the same problem today among many folk, both young and na├»ve and old and worldly. An attitude of indifference excuses accountability for the present. But a day of reckoning is drawing near and like Huck contemplated, there is either the devil to pay or glory and grace.

There's no time like the here and now to define such providential destiny. While Huck scrambled for meaning in life through the questionable wisdom of others, he would have had a far greater understanding of God's loving plan if he had discovered the whole truth. Instead, he settled for hodge-podged tidbits of legalism, spirituality and tradition mixed with a dab of hell fire and brimstone and tempered with harps and angel choirs singing.

No wonder the world is confused when it comes to truth. We all, at times, have derived our own definitions based often on ignorance and well-intending, but ill-informed tutors. Don't just take my paltry explanations. Look it up for yourself right in the source if you want to know the real plan of God. It's clearly shared in the Holy Scriptures and these days you can get it written in languages and dialects that cover the globe. No longer are the Hucks of the world able to “just let it go.” We all have access to the very throne of God through the Word of God and have opportunity to worship the living God in Christian churches on every corner!

But are those outside of Christ hungry enough, curious enough, in need enough to seek truth for Truth's sake? Maybe the fear of not having the freedom to seek Christ will awaken that hunger. That same selfish drive that keeps us from serving others, may be the very thing that drives us to our knees! If a day dawned in this country when Americans were told they could not proclaim the Christ nor enter a house of worship, I believe we wouldn't “just let it go.” I believe we would see churches swell with a renewed commitment by those who have grown Mississippi River lazy and see people clamoring like the rolling river for the right to pray and worship!

I pray it doesn't take that kind of oppression for people to wake up and embrace truth and freedom found in Jesus. For “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,.” Jesus told those who believed. (John 8:31b-32)

Those who hunger for the teaching and hold to it can right now be released from the entrapment of ignorance. They can be set free from a prison of confusion. Right now, today – they can escape the enslavement of selfishness, and live free in Christ. And that, folks, is Huck Finn Apologetics.