Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God With Us – Even After Christmas

By Brenda Black

The lights remain lit and the refrigerator overflows with leftovers. There are still baskets and trays of home baked goodies crowding the counter and calling me to continue the indulgence. Though my world seems stuffed, some parts of my heart feel empty.

I know it's coming each year when the pretty packages vacate the premises from under a sparkling tree. I feel it wash over me as I return each ornament to its original package and hide all of them in a sealed tote headed for the attic. That tangible vacuity that has for a month been filled with busyness now looms ominously spacious. The day-to-day routines of work and activities quickly consume the hours, but they do not occupy the places of my heart.

It never seems quite perfect enough – the gift given, the meal presented, the solo performance at the church program or the Christmas cards mass delivered. I worry over people forgotten, traditions broken. I hate saying goodbye to family and friends who won't be seen for months on end. On the heels of joy and festivity, the holidays melt into history. And the aftershock of Christmas throbs more like an ache than a startling shake.

At first, one may not recognize it and write it off to the fallout of sugar highs and late night gatherings. You may think you are just out of kilter as you try to shift from holiday mode to work schedules, lost on the calendar because your weekend began on Monday. But it's deeper than that, bigger than that. The vacuum exists in each of us that only the Lord Himself can fill. It won't be satisfied with presents and parties; nor food or favorite seasonal movies. Every time we try to pack our hearts with worldly pleasures intended for spiritual treasures, we'll be left wanting.

Certainly, time with family and friends and the exchange of gifts to express our affections are worthy endeavors. Nothing can replace Grandma's shared recipes or Uncle Bob reading the Christmas story. So much of our delightful traditions are permeated with valuable sentiment. But they will never be enough without God in the middle of them.

For when the lights fade, the savory smells dwindle, the gifts are gone, and family scattered, what will fill the void? The same One whom we just celebrated. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him 'Immanuel' – which means, 'God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23) 

Even when everything else departs, God remains. He deposits a gift far greater than anything we could wrap in pretty paper. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The Lord abides so that we can continue telling and living the Christmas story. “But you will receive power when the Holy spirit comes on you; and you will be my the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Christmas actually never ends when you know Jesus -- the babe-turned-man who lived and loved, died and came to life again.

“David said about him: 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'

“...Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear...” (Acts 2:25-33 selected)

There's no need for emptiness when God lives within and the Spirit of Christmas never leaves us. When post-holiday blues try to creep into your heart, remember there's no room because Christ continually resides there.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Faces of Christmas - Getting to Greet Gabriel

Part 4 in a Series
By Brenda Black

Exhausted. Speechless. Troubled. I've felt all these emotions, but never as a direct result of meeting an angel in person! One of the key characters of the Christmas miracle, the Lord's angel Gabriel, is actually named only three times total in the Scriptures, including the story of Jesus' birth. In every instance, however, he leaves those whom he addresses shocked and enlightened.

Gabriel makes his debut in a surreal way that sounds like the inspiration for the movie “Inception.” It's a vision within a vision thinks the prophet Daniel.

“While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man's voice from the Ulai calling, 'Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.'

“As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. 'Son of man,' he said to me, 'understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.'

“While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet.

“He said: 'I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end...'

“I Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king's business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.” (Daniel 8:15-19, 27)

This Gabriel who left Daniel drained and mystified, would later appear to both Zechariah and Mary, delivering double doses of equally bewildering news. To each he would announce the arrival of a son. John first. Then Jesus. The old priest was silenced for questioning God's right-hand angel and “Mary was greatly troubled at his words.” Gabriel's radiant and unexpected appearance gave legitimate rise to terror and trembling, but his comforting command was always “Do not be afraid.”

What an overwhelming experience for the human senses, but how magnificent of a Holy God and His messengers to visit us. I may never meet an angel face to face. The chances of my having a prophetic vision interpreted in person by an archangel are pretty slim in my estimation. Neither do I expect to have delivered to me news of an unearthly pregnancy in my old age. Whew! Still, I always watch for God to show up in miraculous, magnificent ways and speak with all authority.

Oh, I've had my holy encounters. Some too sacred to share. And when God appears in His many forms, I tremble. I listen. I rejoice. This Holy God who is the Everlasting Father cares enough to send His angels, give His Son and leave the Holy Spirit! Trust me – He still shows up!

Christmas is not just a time to remember when Jesus came to earth. It's a time to realize that God is still ever present. Sometimes He delivers a frightening indictment like Gabriel divulged to Daniel. Sometimes He answers a long awaited prayer as He told Gabriel to share with Zechariah and Elizabeth. And sometimes He flat out gives us a miracle we never dreamed possible like Mary got in Jesus.

Gabriel himself may not be making house calls in this age, but he still stands in the presence of God. And someday, I am going to meet them both face to face. And after I fall down trembling, I believe with all of my heart that I will be raised to my feet like Daniel and be enveloped in the perfect love that casts out all fear. Maybe that's why Gabriel is at the ready. He waits to tell every saved soul “Do not be afraid” even as God says “Enter in thy good and faithful servant.” What kind of a greeting that will be --when I get to bow before God my King, thank my Savior in person and greet Gabriel!

courtesy theinspirational.wordpress.comThis illustration depicts
the fierceness of an archangel,
while conveying his compassionate reason for appearing.
Though Gabriel seems inviting in this painting,
look at the contrast between him
and the cherub hovering above Mary.
If they are what the average believer intends to see
when God's messengers come calling,
then fear and trembling make perfect sense
when a life-size heavenly host makes his entrance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Faces of Christmas – Joseph's Dream

Part 3 in a series
By Brenda Black

Are the most vivid dreams reserved only for guys named Joseph whose dads are named Jacob? Visions of honor and power filled the head of Abraham's great grandson. Though thrown into a cistern and later imprisoned, Joseph the Dreamer saw his images fulfilled. Generations later, another Joe experienced profound revelations while he slept. His dreams came true beyond his wildest imagination.

Joseph No. 2 was youthful and brimming with plans for a bright future. His dreams included a pretty little gal named Mary, but he didn't foresee what would happen when she said “yes.”
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'” (Matthew 1:18-21)
Before you write Joseph off as an embittered fiance, look deeper into his heart. Certainly Mary was hand-picked by God for her humility and willing spirit. Could she also have been chosen because of her good taste in the potential father of Jesus? Joseph was a righteous man. He was pledged to Mary. That means he was already in the process of building their dream home.

When a young man of Israel in Jesus' time saw the girl he wanted, he approached her with a marriage contract, giving terms by which he would propose marriage. The most important consideration in the contract was the elaborate price the bridegroom would be willing to pay to marry this particular bride. The “bride price” showed his love in a most tangible way. If the bride and her father agreed to the terms, the engaged couple would drink a cup of wine together, solidifying the groom's willingness to sacrifice in order to have this bride, and her willingness to enter this marriage.

And then he went to work while she became a lady in waiting. The groom built a bridal chamber – a little mansion – in which they would spend their honeymoon. It was a complex undertaking, beautiful and stocked with provisions to last an entire week. The project would ordinarily take the better part of a year.

Meanwhile, Mary would be making herself ready. Whenever she stepped out of her house, she would wear a veil to signal to other young men that she was spoken for and no other contracts would be considered.

Joseph had invested his finances as well as his heart into this glowing bride-to-be. The very thought of divorcing quietly is all about Mary. It is for her protection and it is his total loss.

On the heels of mind-numbing news that Mary is with child, Joseph collapses into bed in exhaustion, resolved to do what he thinks best. But God has other plans and He insists that Joseph is the kind of man He wants raising His Only Begotten Son. God gives Joseph THE dream and the rest is HIStory!

Never discount what God can do with a righteous life, a humble wife, a perfect plan and the miraculous power to transcend time and space. In the stillness of the night, He speaks. If we are listening and obedient, we just might experience living a marvelous dream.

May God bless you with visions of His perfect will this season and always!  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Faces of Christmas - Enter Elizabeth

Part 2 in a series
By Brenda Black

Everybody needs an Aunt Liz. She's the go-to kinfolk who always has a spare bed and a listening ear. No matter your need or the timing of your visit, Elizabeth is prepared and available. A woman of hearth and home, Lizzy embodies hospitality. It stands to reason, then, that little, unwed Mary, overwhelmed with the news that she is carrying the Savior of the World within her womb, would seek a a soft place to land. She ran to Uncle Zechariah and Aunt Elizabeth.

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!'” (Luke 1:39-45)
This scene tickles me. I envision the breathless Mary bursting through an already open door into a sun-bathed kitchen where Elizabeth, no doubt, is elbow deep in a bowl of flour dusted dough. All of a sudden, her quiet humming and kneading is shaken by the enormous thump within her enlarged abdomen.

I remember flutterings early in my pregnancies. Then came the hard, uncomfortable lump when baby-to-be curled up in a knot. One of my precious bundles was sensitive to sound and light. My baby lurched in my womb when I started the hand mixer one time! The other one wiggled and twisted and did summersaults for approximately six months!

It's easy for me to imagine Elizabeth's child-bearing sensations, but the emboldened declaration prompted by the filling of the Holy Spirit goes beyond typical maternity matters. Quiet, reverent Elizabeth belts out a proclamation like the ring side announcer at a boxing match and sets little Mary back on her haunches.

Oh, the conversation between the elder and the younger mothers-to-be from that moment forward must have been wildly exiting while deeply profound. And in this humble household, permeated with the touch of love and the smell of baking bread, Mary becomes a woman and Elizabeth is filled with grace and favor. Then she blesses the child-bearing child herself.

I adore Elizabeth! I want to be an Elizabeth! I want to be ready and available to receive my Lord in all of His interesting packages. I want people to enter my home and know they'll find a place in my heart as well. I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak truth and life into the ones I love. I want to be just as joyful for the good news of others as I am for my own privileges.

Amazingly, God wants that for me too! He wants to abide in us and minister through us. When the Lord enters our homes, our hearts, our lives, our work, our wonder, our hopes and beliefs, we enter a place called blessing. I think my heart just leaped at the very thought of His indwelling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Faces of Christmas - Meet Mary

Part 1 in a series
By Brenda Black

Slip your feet into the tiny sandals of an innocent girl. Imagine the rush of emotions in a single moment when an other-earthly, larger-than-life being streaks across the universe and screeches to a halt directly in front of a shy teenager. Her historic and heavenly experience is recorded in the Book of Luke, chapter 1.

     “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'     “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus...      “'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'     “The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...     “'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:26-38)
An angel speaks her name and Mary is forever changed. Scriptures reduce the encounter to a few descriptive words: greatly troubled, wondered, and afraid. Many more thoughts must have raced through her mind. The wonder of being in the presence of a celestial creature would be thrilling while terrifying. How about doubt along with her fear? Mary surely questioned whether her experience was a vision or reality.

She wondered at the possibility of her being the chosen one to carry the Messiah. She knew the sacred teachings. Every Jewish woman longed to be the favored one through whom the Savior would come. But as quickly as the rush of exhilaration for such a privileged calling filled her heart, Mary suddenly stopped to count the real cost of this supernatural encounter. She would become an instant outcast, branded as unfaithful, facing the penalty of stoning for her alleged adultery. And what of her beloved Joseph once he knew?

The Good News for all mankind came to Mary most certainly with mixed reviews. Terrifying. Terrific. Highly favored, yet fearfully alone. Still she accepted the responsibility with maturity beyond her youthful years. “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Then Mary sang!

“My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.” (Lk 1:46-48)

Twice, the angel Gabriel addressed Mary as the recipient of God's grace. In vs. 28 Mary is called “favored” indicating that she is the recipient of God's undeserved favor. Then in vs. 30, she is comforted with the words “you have found favor.”

Mary was set apart and “blessed” no matter what she may have been feeling or thinking. She was declared to be indwelt by God. Though she singly bore the Savior of the world, as a mere child herself, Mary never was alone for God was with her and in her. Somehow, the Lord of All must have loved little Mary out of worry and into peace.

We have that same miraculous promise. When we ask God to bless us or speak well of us, we are asking Him not merely to approve our plans but to interfere in our lives. We're inviting Him to shake up our universe, reach down from heaven and make a difference! God's words are God's actions. With the same magnificent, mystical force that God filled Mary, we can be filled and destined.

And how do we respond? Greatly troubled? Afraid? Wondering? Or do we sing a magnificent song of redemption and blessing? I want to SING. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me...” (Lk. 1:49a)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday Freebie!

By Brenda Black

No doubt, the only reason most stopped to read this column today had to do with the headline. While you were surfing on line for ads and door-busting bargains, your eyes automatically focused on “Black Friday Freebie!” So here you are, two lines into this lead paragraph and wondering when is this writer going to get to the point and tell you what you have coming that will cost you nothing.

Still reading? Then I feel compelled to offer you something worth your time and effort. In a world crammed full of stuff, I have some free advice: SIMPLIFY!

Here are some tips to get you started to a life with less in order to enjoy it more.

*Subtract the excess to add quality and contentment. “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right...He does not oppress anyone but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9)

*Clear the clutter. That means the stuff around us and the stuff inside of us. “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ez. 18:30b-31) You are going to feel so much lighter!

*Refuse to get caught in the trap of overspending, overcommitting, and overworking. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:...a time to search and time to give up, a time to keep and time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend...” (Ecclesiastes 3:6-7a) Pray before you say yes or no to anything.

*A simpler life has time for people more than things. When we spend more time on relationships and less expense and worry on nicknacks, we're more likely to enjoy a meaningful life. A young disciple named Titus learned the value of investing himself into people and having people pour love back on him. Paul writes a thank you letter to the church at Corinth describing this young man's joy. “In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me.” (2 Corinthians 7:13b-14a) Travel lightly and connect lovingly.

*Prioritize to Simplify. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5) We can get by with far less when we understand the difference between needs and wants.

*Living Simply leaves room to celebrate God's creation and see God even in the small stuff of yourself. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Living with less in no way short changes us. We are all the more rich when we fill our lives with things eternal. Keep that in mind when the world screams at you “MORE! MORE! MORE!”

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Six Bucks and Counting

Six Bucks and Counting
From the driver's seat with my cell phone camera. 
By Brenda Black

Some guys pride themselves in being “chick magnets.” Well, I can top that! I attract the bucks. Now either these massive, gorgeous fellas are helplessly drawn by the Jovan Musk scent I'm wearing or they know I'm not packing a gun. Six times in the past week, I've come nearly nose to nose with Missouri's regal rack-bearing cervine. Granted a couple of the golden giants have been in full-tilt flight and 75 yards away, but the ones I've seen so near I could chuck a rock, have caused me to stop and marvel.

Standing at the fence, face to face.
Oh for my good camera that would have reflected
the nearness and beauty of this big buck.
Most die-hard deer hunters this past week got up on gusty and frigid mornings and traipsed through the dark to climb 20 feet into the air, and sit on a metal seat the size of a postage stamp. I, on the other hand, have been enjoying deer scenery during a drive or country jog and while gazing out the window of my heated, ground-level office.

The most recent encounter had me chuckling. There he lay, in plain site, not 40 yards from me. After the double take, I stopped the car and put her in reverse. He never moved. He just lay there chewing his cud and sunning. I rolled down my window and lifted the only proof-maker in my possession – the camera on my cell phone. Since he didn't budge, I thought maybe he was wounded. Curiosity opened the car door and I stepped up a short embankment, barely camouflaged by a scrawny cedar and some straggling brush. I did not creep. I just walked up to the fence line as if to greet a backyard neighbor. He looked me over, kept chewing his cud while a snapped and saved a few more shots. Finally, he decided it was time to stand. We assessed one another for a smattering of seconds before he trotted slowly, and quite without injury, into the timber. Thank You, God! How beautiful and priceless.

His casual exit. I cannot explain his lack of panic,
nor can I explain why my cell phone
made the picture blue.  
Now, I say this with the utmost respect for Missouri's outdoor sportsmen. The contents of my freezer and the trophy mounts from successful hunts by my sons are evidence I believe in the legal harvest of venison. But this time, in radiant daylight, along a gravel road, it was not about a kill, but about life.

Life: it comes and goes. We change and grow. It aches and achieves; grieves and adores. Life as we know it never is certain. And life is filled with blessings and curses. While I've been counting bucks this past week, I've been counting the cost of decisions I make and counting the days as fleeting and fragile. Though I'd like to lie in the sun and feel no threat as Mr. Buck did, I know that life is short and the world is not such a safe place. But there is something to be said for quiet confidence in the midst of uncertain times. And to this buck who acted brave and calm in the height of firearm season, I'd like to say, “Thanks for modeling such a noble attitude.”

“In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you... But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.” (Psalm 71:1-6, 14-15)

With what days I am given, I hereby profess I will spend as many as possible soaking up the SON and chewing on the Word of God with quiet confidence. I'm counting on the truth that God knows all and God knows best. And sometimes He gives us the most unusual peace so we can lie down and just rest, no matter the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post Election Relief

By Brenda Black

By the time this column is published, we may or may not have elected a new president. Just one day prior to the big day, political pundits predicted corruption and a contested outcome. Frankly, the campaign has made me nauseous. That our country became so dismantled and divided in a few short, but excruciating four years, is hard to imagine. Unfortunately this is not just a fleeting nightmare. It is a reality born, fed and reared on selfishness and ignorance.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power...” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

Wow! Sounds like campaign ads and rude debates. Sounds like platforms and stump speeches. Sounds like people who have wandered far from truth. The proud and abusive have redistributed unearned wealth to themselves and unmerited revenge on everyone else. Blind, willful ignorance, void of godly discernment, has become the new “common” sense. It all sounds like trouble and feels like heartache and it makes me sick!

People who take and take, but never contribute will suck the life out of this nation. Leaders who shame us and fail to defend us will destroy America from within and without. Projected results paint a dismal picture as election day comes to an end, yet one thing seems certain. A country that will not acknowledge the supreme authority of God will face judgment no matter who claims the title POTUS.

On the UP side, I also know, regardless the outcome, my God is still sovereign. He is faithful and undisturbed. Now that's relief for the heart burn I've been feeling! Remember, God is in control!

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

No human can thwart God's majesty nor undermine His authority. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord...But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:8-10)

It seems to me most logical to depend more on a God who conquered death than on any mortal man. “...I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Tim. 1:12b)

The power of a resurrected Christ and the supreme authority of the Almighty God overshadows everything else. I don't understand it all, but I do believe that we are living in unprecedented times and the Lord is coming soon. His church better be ready and be watching. And it's about time for a REVIVAL in this country, the likes of which I've never seen. It would be nice to see people truly hungry for God and flocking to the Lord's House to worship Him. Having served in ministry for 27 years, I'd certainly like to witness people more desperate for God. If that takes getting uncomfortable with this world, then I think we might have a fighting chance of seeing more souls saved and Christ's glorious return. And that, my friends is truly Good News.

If you need some post election relief, turn to the Savior of the World to find your peace.

Copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three Part Harmony

 By Brenda Black

From time to time, I get the privilege of singing three part harmony with a couple of lovely ladies. I admittedly sing the easy part – the melody. They employ their far more advanced musical skills to sort out the tougher tasks, finding complementary notes or writing in a sweet sounding chord. Though my notes are typically the most familiar, their low and high intricacies lend richness and complexity to the song, bringing it to its full potential.

As we practiced this week for a performance, one of my dear friends began to weep during one of our selections. I noticed first her voice had faded, but I was focusing on the sheet music and didn't see the tears until the song ended. God moved her through the music. He longs to fill each of our hearts that same way, with the harmony of Himself. And His arrangement is a beautiful blend of faith, hope and love that Christ sings into our lives.

At our little country church, our spiritual batteries were recharged this week during a revival. Thanks to singing and powerful preaching by my husband, Alan Black, and Bro. Bill Platt of Nevada First Christian Church, the presence of the Lord filled the sanctuary.

While caught up in the music or the moment, it's easy to feel empowered. But when the doors are closed, the music ceases and the preachers shut the Scriptures, the challenge truly begins. For once you've been filled, God expects you to share that power with someone else. He calls us to reach out with faith, hope and love!

We are called to walk out faith daily! How do you remain faithful in a fickle world that waffles, compromises and curses? Do your best in the power of Christ to present truth. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2) Leave no room for doubt where your loyalty lies, to whom you answer for every word and deed, or that you truly love and serve the Lord. Speak of Him out of a pure heart and cling to the cross. Never forget God was faithful to redeem. May we live faithfully grateful and eager to share.

When we are energized, hope is renewed and we must hold out that hope to the world where people settle for less than God's best and believe the sad lies of the enemy. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.” (Heb. 10:35-38a)

The two are eternally intertwined – faith and hope. And they are incomplete without the final piece: Love! Only because we are filled with Christ are we able to love even when we are hated. Those who are called apart and commissioned to live as light and salt and ministers of the Gospel, will find themselves upside-down and at odds with this world. Christ came to set His people free, not just make them comfortable here on earth. He came to glorify the Father in Heaven, not fit in with the crowd. He died for our sins not that we would continue to condone them, but that we would be saved from them. And once we have tasted and seen such lavish mercy, we can't help but give it away.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

We are called to be in the world, but not of this world. We can convey the faith, hope and love of God because we've known it first-hand even though we must wait to see the beautiful composer face to face. Go share with the lost this perfect three-part remedy. Stay ignited and go touch the world for the sake of the cross and the perfect harmony of God.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Cycle of Sin

By Brenda Black

Lance Armstrong -- the very name elicits images of strength and athletic heroics. It used to, that is. Now the famous cyclist's name is mud and it's being dragged through the media with a vengeance.

The final verdict from the powers that be in the professional cycling world condemns Armstrong of “masterminding a doping strategy that involved prohibited drugs, blood transfusions and elaborate schemes to fool testing authorities,” writes reporter Martin Rogers.

The iconic athlete was stripped of each of his seven Tour de France titles. His reputation now morphs from stellar to stupid, while million-dollar endorsements disappear into the dust. The saddest indictments are how self-deceived this man and how many suffer because of his sin.

With any fallen hero, a fan base comprised of young and old, trusting and loyal people, is left in the wake. The winners that should have been, instead had their moment of glory and fame stolen selfishly and deceitfully from them, never to be regained. In fact the history books will just declare no winner at all for those seven prestigious titles. Shameful, costly, and so disappointing.

Is it pride, greed, selfishness, or arrogance that leads a man to believe he is above accountability? Does he think he is more deserving or afraid that he is not? How can he lie for so long that he believes the lies to be truth?

As long as sin is given rein to go unbridled and as long as others will turn the other way or empower such destructive choices, the sinner certainly loses more than he ever gains. And every life he impacts loses as well.

Most of us will never compete for world titles and our faces won't grace giant billboards or cereal boxes. We may never dream of experimenting with drugs and wouldn't dare consider cheating. Still, we are sinners just the same. I don't say that to excuse Armstrong's gargantuan assault on athletic integrity. It's just the truth.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
From blatant hypocrisy to subtle deceit, we sin. We lie, we gossip, we offend without cause and live far from holy lives, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Rom. 3:23)

Amazingly, that holy God will forgive in an instant if we just repent. IF we repent.

“...this [Armstrong] story is close to having run its course,” writes Rogers. “a defining step at the end of a tale that has unraveled to expose extraordinary details of wrongdoing behind what was once considered an extraordinary tale of human achievement.

“All that is left is for Armstrong now is to reveal all, to tell the world what, how and why he fooled so many for so long. But for an athlete for whom denial and deceit has seemingly become second nature, such a reversal must be considered unlikely.”

courtesy of
The death trap is set. Either he can come clean and confess and seek forgiveness or he stands to lose more than just a few worldly titles. He risks heaven itself. The Apostle Paul once wrote to the Church in Rome warning them of the deadly consequences of sin compared to the life-giving results of righteousness. “ not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14)

The real battle for Armstrong, and for each of us, is not a competition for our reputation in and of itself. It is a race for grace. God waits with open arms. He wipes our record clean, not of trophies undeserved, but of sin unchecked. He replaces the exposed crimes with His mercy and sees us as winners again. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom. 3:22) In this perfect cycle, God takes our ruination and makes us right again.

We can't undo history or unhurt people injured by our own selfish sins. But we can live differently each day ahead when we count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eyes for Eternity

By Brenda Black

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

“'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'

“Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the pool of Siloam' (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” (John 9:1-7)

We don't know exactly how old this man, but according to his parents' testimony before the Pharisees, “He is of age; he will speak for himself.” And boy howdy does he have a story to tell! But rather than debate those gnawing questions of right and wrong, fairness and hardship, disabilities at birth and miraculous healing like the contentious Pharisees, my thoughts are drawn to the details of this amazing encounter with Christ.

Notice, this man does not ask to be healed. He may have begged for money or mercy as Jesus and his disciples passed, but he did not ask for his eyes to be opened. The passage doesn't actually indicate that he spoke to the group at all. Still, Jesus, who speaks of him, then addresses him. He touches him and asks something of the beggar himself. He commissions him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, at least a half mile's walk.

Rolling through my mind is the nagging question of why a grown man would let somebody spit in the mud and then wipe the nasty stuff on his face. Why did he obey this stranger he'd never seen or with whom he'd never conversed? My only conclusion is that the man heard sincerity in the voice and felt certainty in the Master's touch.

He made the journey to the water and came back seeing! Before he could search for the one who healed him, he was swept up in controversy and whisked away to tell and retell his story to the skeptics. The stark contrast between the loving kindness of Jesus and the sarcastic criticism of the Pharisees only solidified the man's child-like faith in this unseen stranger. He boldly answered their antagonistic accusations with resolve, “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (Jn. 9:25b)

And here's the part of the story I love the most. Jesus just shows up and introduces Himself!

“When Jesus heard that they had thrown the man out, He found him and asked, 'Do you believe in the “Son of Man?”'

“'Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?' he asked.” (Jn. 9:35-36)

There you have the blind beggar with eyes wide open is asking a clearly profound question. It's a query that won't just fix his eyes temporarily while he lives on earth. It's the beginning to eyes for eternity. And Jesus, the same Jesus who healed him without a request, now waits for the seeing seeker to search the heart of God.

“Jesus answered, 'You have seen Him; in fact, He is the One speaking with you.'

“'I believe, Lord!' he said, and he worshiped Him.

“Jesus said, 'I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.'” (Jn. 9:37-39)

The moral of the story: “This came about so that God's works might be displayed in him.” May the blind man lead us to the sincere and certain “Light of the World” -- Jesus – so that others see His glory revealed in us. Remember, all you have to do is ask and Jesus shows up to touch your life eternally.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Colorful Coat, No Common Sense

By Brenda Black

Most parents fret over fairness. If more than one child is in the family, they labor over the equal balance of gifts, attention, discipline, extracurricular activities and permission for all kinds of freedoms. It's a self-inflicted pressure to convince our children they are loved uniformly. To keep life interesting, God never delivers similar babies. He gives us total opposites who make this tortuous game of equivalency all the more challenging. Most parents still pull it off with excellence and every kid knows he is loved and valued uniquely, yet equally.

Not so with the patriarch Jacob. In his house full of sons and half-brothers, he made a huge mistake. He favored one more highly and doomed him to the fallout of jealousy. The story of Joseph and his retaliatory brothers begins in Genesis 37 where Joseph reveals a dream of his own supremacy. And daddy Jacob (now called Israel) fuels the fire of resentment by clothing the baby of the family in a royal robe. Then he sends him out to the fields to his indignant brothers.

“[Joseph's] brothers had gone to pasture their father's flocks at Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, 'Your brothers, you know, are pasturing the flocks at Shechem. Get ready. I'm sending you to them.'

“'I'm ready,' Joseph replied.

“Then Israel said to him, 'Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing, and bring word back to me.' So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.” (Gen. 37:12-14)

The fact that Israel was blind of the jealousies among his boys is alarming. That he would send the despised youngest, who's been lolling around the house, out to check on his brothers who are sleeping with stinky sheep...that's just nonsense. Couple that with Joseph's audacity to don the luxurious robe as his brothers wear work clothes and go without baths or hot meals. His blind arrogance is asking for a whopping! The rest of the story: A brother is sold into slavery, sons lie to their daddy, and horrible grief and guilt rip men more to pieces than the wild beast of their fabricated tale of Joseph's death.

Sounds to me like Joseph should have left that jacket hanging in the closet and kept his dreams to himself. At the very least, he should have employed some discernment.

Though God ultimately turned Israel's and Joseph's mistakes into moments for His glory, both father and son learned their lessons through extreme suffering. Jacob should have remembered how favoritism from his mother tore his family apart instead of repeating the sin. Joseph should have opened his eyes and realized that the precious visions and plans that God gives us are not for our own edification, but for His.

When God sows into your mind a glimpse into his heart, guard those thoughts closely; handle them carefully. But do not flaunt them senselessly. If the one to whom God reveals such dreams is so blind that he cannot see the big picture, how can we expect those who hear it second hand to comprehend its significance.

God is just and fair and works all things together for His good purpose. He also desires to give us perfectly wonderful gifts. It's our privileged position to wear his favor humbly, not flagrantly, because all that we are and how we treat people fairly is for His glory. With all of the color He lavishes upon us, it is vitally important that we balance it with plenty of common sense.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cave Praisin'

background photo courtesy of

By Brenda Black

“I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:9-11)

This praise from the pen of David concludes one of his 73 lyrical poems recorded in the Book of Psalm. The entire collection of 150 psalms was written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel's history. Most likely, they were compiled shortly after the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon ended about 537 B.C. No doubt, music helped soothe the pain of much lost in those dark years. They needed ways to express devotion to the God who set them free again – prayers, poems and hymns of honor. But the psalms offered much more!

In the longest book in the Bible, there are 150 psalms that talk of creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice and the coming Messiah! Long before the Christ walked among men, the psalmist wrote of this coming Savior and His kingdom. Ps. 2:1-12 portrays His triumph. Ps. 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Ps. 22 depicts and predicts the suffering Savior of the cross. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are proclaimed in Ps. 45:6-7 and His eternal reign pronounced in Ps. 72:6-17, 89:3-37, 110:1-7 and 132:12-18. Remarkably accurate; amazingly fulfilled.

The psalmist David, in particular, used music and poetry to not only reveal a coming King, but to express deep longings for the time in which he lived. He made the music a prayer and divulged his innermost anxieties and dependency on God. For eight years, David ran for his life from a jealous and demented King Saul. And in that time span, he penned at least ten powerful songs that were included in the Book of Psalm: 7, 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 63 and 142.

While fleeing from Saul, captured by Philistines, faking insanity, feeling betrayed, cut off and trapped like an animal in a cave, David praised. Oh yes, he vented and begged. He cried. And he gave God the glory for all of it! Read again Psalm 57 now that you know his circumstances. Then ponder Psalm 63:

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Ps. 63:1-8)

It is entirely too easy to think our lot in life too difficult. Then I think of David, a man after God's own heart. He was human and sinful, but he suffered at the hands of others when he was actually innocent at the time. What a rotten deal! Still he praised. He worshiped. He prayed. He didn't turn his back on God and he didn't quit! If David can look for the positive in the throes of such injustice while dwelling in damp caves in the middle of a desert, can't we seek God with such faith and fervor from the comfort of our cushy lives?

What am I willing to risk and what will I not compromise? David wrestled with both and, ever on the run, chose the high road. There are big decisions and small everyday situations that call on modern day Christians to praise God, pray for strength and proclaim His power and faithfulness. Don't wait for a cave crisis. Sing to the Lord now!

“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble...I cry to you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.'...Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.” (Ps. 142:1-2, 5, 7a)
We are each called to praise, even from a cave!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Truth or Consequences

By Brenda Black

Imagine the surprise when a woman got on a bus holding a baby, only to hear the bus driver say: "That's the ugliest baby I've ever seen." In a huff, the woman slammed her fare into the fare box and took an aisle seat near the rear of the bus. The man seated next to her sensed that she was agitated and asked her what was wrong.
"The bus driver insulted me," she fumed.
The man sympathized and said: "Why, he's a public servant and shouldn't say things to insult passengers."
"You're right," she said. "I think I'll go back up there and give him a piece of my mind."
"That's a good idea," the man said. "Here, let me hold your monkey."

When you get through laughing, ask yourself: How well do I handle the truth? When we speak it, we feel justified and dignified. When we hear it, we often are horrified, especially if it exposes some heretofore self-denied weakness. We think the truth should be revealed or hidden for our benefit and exposed, no matter the consequences, when it concerns everyone else. So the question again – How well do you handle the truth?

A 1960s game show, “Truth or Consequences,” suggests by its mere name that if you speak the truth, there will be no aftermath. The concept of the show was to always set somebody up to be snookered. When the truth was revealed and contestant prizes distributed more for good sportsmanship than for any specific skill, the audience would laugh uproariously at the big reveal.

I propose that there are always consequences with truth, it's not an either/or situation. If a wife of 20 years asks her husband to tell her truthfully whether her dress makes her look fat, you better believe that man is sizing up his beloved. He's also calculating the fallout from a misinterpreted err on the side of truth. However, say you get pulled over for speeding and the officer has a radar gun in his hand, digitally documenting your last mile with precision. He greets you with his somber nod and says, “How fast were you going?” Truth is the only recourse you have without repercussion to the tune of heftier fines. Truth and Consequences might better describe real life.

Have you determined your answer to how well you handle the truth? While you might be thinking about fielding unsolicited opinions or how honest you are with the office supplies, let me throw a different angle at you. God's Word is Truth. How well do you handle it?

Psalm 119:160 says “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” A few verses earlier, the Psalmist penned, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path.” (vs. 105) And in a companion song, David sings, “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Ps. 25:4-5)

The Word is Truth. And Christ taught that those who handle it with integrity build a strong foundation. “'Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.'” (Jesus speaking in Luke 6:46-48)

The consequence for not standing on Truth has an entirely different conclusion. “'But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.'” (Lk. 6:49)

Foundation Fail!
photo courtesy of
Truth or Consequences. Maybe the show had it right after all. It's the Truth of God or no hope at all.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Oh Say Can You See

By Brenda Black

How far we've wandered from “We the people of the United States” to “We the fragmented and foolish.” How ironic that in the midst of celebrating National Constitution Week, we find ourselves under siege around the world in opposition to free speech. And how appropriate that this week should conclude with another historical marker of American history, the composition of the Star Spangled Banner on Sept. 21, 1814, to remind our U.S. citizens once again that freedom is never a guarantee. It is won and preserved gallantly and staunchly by fierce determination.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
This land of the free and home of the brave is governed by a great document as a complement to God's Holy Scriptures. The United States Constitution proclaims: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Written more than 200 years ago and upheld by generation after generation, the ideals of forward thinking and freedom seeking individuals provided the foundation for this country. It breaks my heart to see such disregard for her monumental accomplishments and long-established nobility.

As much as I love this country, what disturbs me more is the parallel I see between the disrespect for the Land of Liberty and the deliberate disregard for the Lord of Eternity. Just as the masses have profaned and marred our flags abroad, they have simultaneously shouted hate toward Christians. Is anyone burning embassies or killing people to refute such hateful actions? I didn't think so.

All around the world, Christians die every day at the hand of violent radicals, just because they profess faith in God. Multitudes of citizens in the U.S. slay Christianity with disrespect. They live protected within America's borders, but shamefully spite the land that shelters them. They live under the blessings of God, but disregard His heavenly provision. They blaspheme both history and the God who wrote it while brow-beating His believers. What a double standard!

So from within and without our battles rage, pointing to God's coming judgment. How long will He tolerate such unholy conduct? I have no idea. But I do know this, I'd rather stand for this country and stand for my Lord than blindly follow the fools headed for captivity and/or hell!

Oh, say, can you see – where this country is headed? If we don't wake up and stop the insanity of socialistic programs and the dumbing down of America, our broad stripes and bright stars will cease to gallantly stream.

Oh, say, can you see – eternity is certain and the here-and-now is critically important. God is patient, but He's also just. It's time to open our eyes and turn from our wicked ways if we want true freedom to last!

President George Washington once said, "A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"
Another president by the name of George – George W. Bush – said it this way when he proclaimed in 2002 this third week of September as Constitution Week, “As we face the challenges of a new era, we remain resolved and vigilant in the defense of life and liberty against tyranny and terror. Drawing strength and guidance from our Constitution, we will work to ensure that the blessings of American liberty endure and extend for generations to come.”

Do you see? It comes down to you and me living in such a way that we honor God who alone makes it possible to be truly free. The prayer from David to “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” found in Psalm 119:18, takes on a whole new meaning. When you look at God's law in His Word, all other laws have to align themselves under that Holy authority. If the law or the lawmaker fails, all is in jeopardy. We honor God and country when we open our eyes to see this great need for liberty.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How Peace is Possible

By Brenda Black

While remembering the tragedy and terror of 11 years ago, we are freshly reminded again this week in a new and offensive way just how far we have not come, and how old wounds never heal if they keep being ripped open and salt poured on them. As much as I'd like to lash out at the heinous violence that cut such a deep gash in our American soul and has continued to stab her heart for more than a decade, I'll refrain. As much as I'd like to rebuke the ignorant methods we've employed to secure safety since 2011, I'll keep my mouth shut. As much as I'd like to rant about the political ignorance that whittles away at our worldwide credibility and here on U.S. soil, I won't. Anyone with half a brain and one crossed eye can see hate and ignorance. No need for a spotlight or a commentator.

Neither will hateful acts the world over cease until there is perfect peace. Don't go looking for it as a result of puny, ill-timed and insulting apologies. Don't think it will arrive on the tails of brutal force. Peace may be sought and prayed for, but it will not come in a world that forsakes the true God of Peace – Jehovah God

It has been estimated that out of 3,530 years of recorded history, there were 286 years of peace, 14,351 of war and 3.64 billion people killed. More than 8,000 "peace" treaties were made and broken. That's a pretty lousy platform on which to place the possibility of long-term peace here on earth. For, most certainly, the numbers have increased abundantly on the war and death side since these figures were documented.

Why no peace? People have forgotten Jehovah Shalom “The Lord is Peace.” As Jehovah-jireh, God provides redemption from bondage. As Jehovah-rophe, He heals sicknesses and sorrows. Jehovah-nissi is our banner of victory, but we suffer defeats because we turn our back on Him. When we deny the power and provision of God Almighty, we lose our peace and we lose our liberty.

The One True God alone can heal the broken hearted. He is the God who sees and the God who cares. We cried out to Him when the Twin Towers fell. We pulled together as a grieving nation and professed sweeping faith in Jesus...for a little while. Then we went back to our wicked, self-centered ways. And lately, it seems with an arrogant vengeance, we shout out “NO!” to having God in our lives at all!

Still, He waits, longing to rescue us and deliver peace if only we would trust Him and obey. Ironically Psalm 9:11 begins “Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.” It continues through verse 20: “For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted. O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death, that I may declare your praises in the gates of the Daughter of Zion and there rejoice in your salvation. The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden. The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish. Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with terror, O Lord; let the nations know they are but men.”

This passage in Psalm ends with a musical term“Selah,” which means to give pause and think. So think about this: Peace will not come through murderous intolerance. It will not come to one who is indifferent. Peace is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit living in the hearts of men, convicting them of sin.

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace...” (Romans 8:5-6)

For years, I've prayed over my sons a blessing that ends “May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” And to you who read this column today, I give you a blessing as well: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23a)

He's our only chance, our only hope, our only peace in a world defiled by hate.

copyright 2012 - The Word's Out - Brenda Black

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Drops of Mercy

By Brenda Black

Just a drop and the earth is resurrected anew! A little drink and the grass is sprouting like spring! For so long we've waited for a refreshment. But I have to admit, I wondered aloud time and again whether the land could bounce back from such neglect. Now there's proof that so little rain in such a short amount of time has already made such a marvelous difference!

For me, these are signs that God is still on the throne --signs that God cares for His world and His people. Mysteriously, life continues even when we can't see it. Under the dusty, hard, barren land remained a wellspring of life, waiting to surface! He created it to be so from the beginning.

“Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation...and it was so...And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:11-12)

Like most of the land that's lain parched this summer, I've been feeling a little dry myself lately. Some of my drought-like conditions developed from dwelling on what-ifs and fearful worry over politics, money and all things worldly. The troubles of this world often leave me dried up and discouraged.
The Lord offers a remedy. He says, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37)

Just like the creek that holds deep pools of water when every other stream has ceased to flow, inside of the believer remains a pure trickle that neither doubt, nor anxiety can evaporate. There remains a bottomless spring that drought cannot dehydrate. Even a steady dumping of crime, corruption and craziness crammed down our throats from pathetic news sources can't cease its continuous current. I call it the River of Hope. You may recognize it in your life as Living Water or the Wellspring of Life. When you feel dry, the best way out of the drought is to let it bubble forth!

“Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord...For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” (Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-32)

This is the God I serve! One who sees the sin and suffering. One who knows the hearts of every individual and longs to be our filling. He is good to those who pursue Him and right here with us when we fail Him. We just may not always see it.

Still, I must ask whether I mistakenly blame God when times get tough; or more accurately do I blame myself for becoming lazy in the pursuit of holiness and His help. When the landscape of my life looks cracked and cavernous, it's time for a dribble of renewal. I need his drops of mercy to bring forth new growth and joy. I'm pretty sure it's going to take a little lightning and thunder to start the process – an awakening and acknowledgment that I need to get down on my knees in order to get filled back up.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11)

I can feel the grass greening in my soul already!

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