Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Perfect Family

By Brenda Black

In 1978, Thomas Hansen of Boulder Colorado, sued his parents for $350,000 on grounds of "malpractice of parenting." Mom and Dad had botched his upbringing so badly, he charged in his suit, that he would need years of costly psychiatric treatment. Do your kids ever lay that kind of guilt trip on you?

Maybe it's not the kids, but your husband who assumes your worst is par for the course, as in the case of a lady who experienced a string of misfortunate consequences. A woman was at home doing some cleaning when the telephone rang. Headed to answer it, she tripped on a throw rug and grabbed for something to hold onto, thus seizing the telephone table. It fell over with a crash and jarred the receiver off the hook. As it fell, it hit the family dog, who leaped up, howling and barking. The woman's three-year-old son, startled by the noise, broke into loud screams. The woman mumbled some colorful words. She finally managed to pick up the receiver and lift it to her ear, just in time to hear her husband's voice on the other end say, "Nobody's said hello yet, but I'm positive I have the right number."

In an attempt to perfectly parent or fulfill perfect matrimony, how often I feel that I lose myself in the shuffle and become someone else – someone I don't want to be and barely recognize. I'm left wondering just “Who am I in this mix anymore?” much like the lady whose grandfather married her husband's mother and discovered, "my mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I'm now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins." (Campus Life, March, 1981, p. 31)

While you diagram that on paper, I'll press my case further. I am not the perfect parent nor the perfect wife, nor capable of being all that others expect or demand if I don't know first who I truly am. Actually, not even then! In all of the juggling to wear so many hats and fulfill so many roles, I have to step back and evaluate how am I helping and where am I hindering by forever trying to be perfect. God alone fills those gigantic shoes!

On days like these, when I feel depleted and overwhelmed, I turn to Scripture and read for the thousandth time that the imperfect family of which I am ingrafted is made perfect only by grace from the Lord Jesus.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen [me] with power through his Spirit in [my] inner being, so that Christ may dwell in [my heart] through faith. And I pray that [I], being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [I] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all [I] ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within [me], to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Insert heavy, deep, breathless sigh here and roll off the self-inflicted burden you bear. Out of God's glorious riches, we are strong. Through faith in Christ, we have power for the long haul. When rooted and established in love, we get a grip on life and the fullness God supplies. And when the family dynamics once again reveal just how imperfect we are, it's good to know God's still at work in all generations and every household where He is worshipped and welcomed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Proof of Answered Prayer

By Brenda Black

I wouldn't have believed it if I had not seen it. That same ghost town of a gas station I visited last week, where I prayed for a clerk with a bad headache, was booming with business on my return trip home the very next day. Before I ever hit the town, I waffled over the notion of stopping to see if my prayers had been answered. I nearly had myself persuaded there was slim possibility that the same girl would be at work on an entirely different shift, when I found myself in the left turning lane and committed.

There were cars at every pump, and five more parked at the store front. I entered the store to find a dozen customers, but my eyes went straight to the register. Quickly I knew this was not the same cashier of the day before and I almost turned and exited, telling myself it was silly to think she'd be here again all alone. But something pushed me to search further. Only then did I notice that not only was there an employee at the counter, there was another one near the door where I first laid eyes on Lisa the day before. And then, toward the coolers, huddled among shoppers, were three more Casey's employees, with clipboards in hand. None of them looked familiar.

I turned to leave after swiftly glancing down each row, when my focus shifted from the far end of the aisle to the candy bar counter. With her back to me, I couldn't be certain, but the young women counting sweet inventory in her Casey's smock came the closest to looking like what I remembered from my 2-minute encounter more than 24 hours earlier.

“Are you Lisa,” I ventured. She turned, a little startled, and said. “Yes,” but did not recognize me. I was not surprised. “I stopped in here yesterday morning and told you I would pray for your headache. I just wanted to see how God answered.”

Her eyes lit up and she said warmly, “Yes, it quit hurting about two. Thank you.”

I told her I was glad she got better and bid her “God bless you.” That was it. I had no particular expectations; didn't really come for the appreciation. I just wanted to hear that God answers prayer one more time. It never gets old - this proof of a loving God, full of grace, documented by one more touch on humanity. Even the most undeserving (that would include all of us) may experience the bliss of God's intervention if we just ask, believing, “for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” (2 Chronicles 30:9b)

That statement is straight from King Hezekiah's letter to the people of Israel, calling them to return to the Lord. Remarkably, this grace-filled God to whom Hezekiah pointed the people, is the same God of today who is merciful and forgiving and healing toward sinners.

“Although most of the many people who came...had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the Lord, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.' And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Ch. 30:18-20)

God loves us. God hears us. God runs to us and wraps His arms around us if we just turn and face Him and honestly see how absolutely, completely destitute we are without His grace and compassion. “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God.” You see, bodily healing is but for the moment; spiritual healing is for eternity. The most important prayer God answers will always be “Forgive me.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pit Stop Pity and Prayer

By Brenda Black

I hesitated to pull into the gas station. No one was at the pump and it didn't look like this particular convenience store was frequented often. I wondered how clean or how safe it would be. But I was desperate. I needed a pit stop!

No one was at the counter and the place appeared empty. I hesitated just for a second and considered retreating back to the parking lot. Then a young woman peeked through a door frame from the far corner of the store, with a wadded towel compressed against her forehead. She dutifully welcomed me with a weary “Hello, Welcome to Casey's.” As I processed her appearance, I pressed my reason for entering and she pointed to a hallway that led to my destination.

When I returned to the main room, I was alone again, but headed to the refrigerator section to select a drink for the rest of my journey. Then, she emerged once more with said towel still pressed to said head. I asked, “Are you alright?” and she replied, “I have a terrible headache.” Though she was in pain, I was a bit relieved that she wasn't being held at gunpoint at the back of the store and had not been rapped on the noggin by some thug.

She briefly shared how often she suffers from migraines and I listened knowingly. Sometimes those awful things can be right down debilitating. I felt sorry that she had to plug on through the day in such discomfort. When I asked her name, she looked at me with wonder? I repeated my query and she answered, “Lisa.”

I called her by name and then told Lisa I was going to pray for her the entire stretch of the road through this town, at least three or four miles and that many stoplights would give me time to plead her case before the Lord. As I prayed, I began to cry, filled with empathy for a stranger I'd known for a mere minute. Not only did I beg for relief from her suffering, but I prayed that she would feel the fiery touch of God and would know it was a direct result of prayer. I asked God to soften her heart and if she knew Him, that this would bolster her faith; if she didn't, it would awaken her hunger!

I'll never know this side of heaven if Lisa's headache disappeared, but I prayed believing! And when I had poured out all of my petition and reached the edge of the city limits, I surmised that the reason for my need to pull off the main road was more about Lisa than about me.

The Apostle Paul instructed Titus in chapter 3, verse 14: “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.”

I could have been insensitive and diminished her trouble or demanded better service and expected her to buck up and do her job regardless. But I didn't. I had compassion on a total stranger who was doing her best to serve me under the worst of her own circumstances. Though I couldn't take her pain away, I could pray to the One who is able and I could practice patience and kindness.

How simple, how easy it was to do good and provide for Lisa's immediate need. And how thankful I am that I learned again so much of life is not about me. It's about being God's hands and feet and providing daily necessities in unexpected ways to those in need.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Will It Take to Awaken

By Brenda Black

"Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people," the statement released by the White House read. "That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."

Nadarkhani is currently the most notorious Christian facing hate-driven persecution, but he is not the only one. Worldwide, brothers and sisters in Christ die for their faith every day! They risk their lives, their families and their homes, yet cling to their convictions. They gather for worship in spite of death threats. They share their faith, knowing it may cost them everything. Four times, Nadarkhani has been pressured to renounce his faith. Four times he defended the cross of Jesus Christ and refused to deny God's saving power in his life.

Could you do it? Would you do it? Christians who live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave” cave under far less duress. Why, we won't say God bless you if somebody sneezes for fear it's not politically correct. Employers at certain retail stores will forbid staff to wish customers Merry Christmas in the days ahead lest some shopper complains. And choose to go to church on Sunday morning? Half of those who profess Christianity won't darken the doors. Not because there is threat to life and limb. Inconvenience or indifference is usually the excuse non-persecuted believers use, as humorously depicted in the following announcement:

To make it possible for everyone to attend church this Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday": Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in." There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard. Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church." Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present. Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to church and cook dinner, too. We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those that feel the church is always asking for money. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature. Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday. The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them. We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he's too loud! Hope to see you there!

The ludicrous hoops the church must jump through to awaken its slumbering body is truly insane! People are dying to know Jesus across this planet and walk for miles to hear the Word preached! People are dying to defend their faith and smuggle the Word in scraps of paper past guarded borders to impart the Truth! People are dying while sharing the message of the cross with hungry, searching souls and count it all loss except for knowing Christ! And we can't get our behinds out of bed into a padded pew for a couple of hours once a week to just let God know we give a hoot! We won't leave our comfortable homes, get in our climate-controlled cars and enter a chapel to worship the One who made every stick and brick and every tire and tank and every steeple and stained glass window possible in our safe, little neighborhoods.

What will it take to awaken our souls? Must we be faced with death that we might express devotion. Though my heart aches for those who endure such abuse for the cause of Christ, I have to wonder if they aren't far and ahead more blessed and more fulfilled than me on any given day I live. For they are closer to God in their trial than I will ever be in tranquility. They are in the company of the saints and martyrs like Stephen, who “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

Lord, forgive our complacency. Forgive our selfish, misplaced priorities. God help us to risk it all for Your sake and fall before You in worship! May we care enough to gather and praise, to go and tell, to never deny you no matter the risk. God save us from ourselves and awaken our souls.

A good place to wake up is in the Lord's house. Don't wait until your freedom to worship is threatened. Worship now!