Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There Ought to be an Oscar for That

By Brenda Black

Am I the only one who couldn't care less about who wore what to the Oscars? According to one of the morning news program hosts last week, “everybody was anxiously awaiting” the red carpet parade of stars. I laughed out loud and sarcastically addressed the t.v., thwarting the reporter's sweeping, all-inclusive prophecy. “Not me!” I just don't believe some hoity toity Hollywood starlet's evening gown is anything for me to become anxious about. There are enough other worries in the world without fretting myself over their best and worst fashion choices. Neither do I think there is that much to applaud.

If you need something to stew about, there's the economy. While the glamourous glided down crimson carpet in high heels that likely costs $700, I cringed at spending $70 at the gas pump. World peace trumps whether the star attractions selected pastel hues or showboat reds. We have men and women in harm's way all over the globe wearing varying shades of camo. I'm certain that the parents, spouses and children of those serving anxiously await their return home to a far greater extent than worry over full length gowns with slits to the hip. While the rich and famous hob knob, an innocent man half way around the world is being tortured for being a Christian in a muslim country. A teenage girl is sold into slavery through human trafficking and is forced to expose herself while Hollywood icons flaunt themselves shamelessly.

I realize there will always be horrors and hardship on this earth and entertainment is often a welcome form of escape from harsh realities. My point is that I don't believe we should invest so much energy and angst in such pettiness. Good grief, stop drooling over the entertainment elite or wasting your time watching reality (not) shows. Start living in the real world! Find solutions to the problems, pray for true change and celebrate the rich joys easily missed when you are glued to the boob tube.

I enjoy a good movie now and then, but I think there ought to be an Oscar for the real actors among us, not just the performers on the big screen. Give that grandma who's working at Walmart and trying to raise three grandchildren a hand. An Oscar ought to go to the couple juggling four jobs to pay off medical bills and a mortgage. Let's hear a round of applause for the teachers and postal carriers; cheers to the assembly line worker and the grocery store clerk. We need to celebrate each other! It certainly would make our real world brighter and give us something a little deeper to talk about than Halle or Angelina or Clooney.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

“These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Titus 2:11-15)

Just try it – look for the stars among you and acknowledge them with the same awe typically reserved for the upper echelon. Be anxious to encourage those who bring real value to the real world. That beats agonizing over an evening gown any old day of the year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Man Oh Man, What a Mantle to Manage

By Brenda Black

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
(Acts 1:8)

You've read of their legendary courage – remarkable people who perform amazing feats of seemingly supernatural proportions. There are war heros who have hauled a downed fellow soldier over one shoulder while dodging artillery and ignoring blood gushing wounds to their own head and legs. In the heat of a moment, a petite woman will possess incredible strength to rescue her child from certain death. A total stranger musters the courage to rush into a burning building and retrieve a desperate victim.

Something exists deep down inside a human – an obscure ability to do god-like duties in the face of real and immediate danger. Yet, that secret sense of responsibility lays silent and still when the danger is not so imminent. The frightening reality is that real and present danger exists daily. There a limited minutes to react and save a life. Every day we must be ready to leap into action and do God work for the sake of those perishing.

Praise God, supernatural strength is available! Christians are called to do a remarkable thing. We are to be the house of the Holy Spirit and to do the will of God. Thankfully, God equips us for such a daunting task, if we will just love Him enough to do as He asks.

“If you love me,” Jesus tells his disciples, “you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

Something deep within that has been placed from without and from on high rests upon us. That pretty much covers us – literally! This covering and cloak of God is a cape of supernatural power. It gives us the super-hero ability to climb tall mountains of doubt, scale skyscraper size worry and extend strong hands to rescue the lost and frightened from the grip of an evil enemy. The Holy Spirit is our mantle.

Ironically, the term mantle not only represents a covering, but it also means the burden of responsibility. It is our born again duty to lift the fallen, defend the weak, love the hurting, lead the lost to safety because we wear the cape of Christ. That's nothing to run from. It's something to count on!

In the story of Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament, the elder Elijah wore the mantle that was invested with supernatural power. Elisha, his servant, begged him for the wrap and Elijah promised that if the younger and eager prophet saw him when Elijah returned to heaven, that he would merit, not just the cloak, but a double share of his spirit.

We have that same Spirit! “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you...” Now hold on to your cape because you are about to learn, not only do we have the same power, but we have more!

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)

Did you catch it? “He will do even greater things than these.” Jesus is referring to His own miraculous feats and granting that those who come after Him in the kingdom have the power to do even more! Before you get carried away thinking you can walk on water or give sight to the blind, be sure you notice one important thing. Whatever feat we accomplish, empowered by the Holy Spirit, needs to glorify God the Father. Our mantle must be managed with that in mind.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Heart of a Man

By Brenda Black

To hear him weave a tale of adventurous treks through Alaskan mountain passages will make your hair stand up on the back of a frigid neck just like you were in the icy elements. Coon hunting stories of harrowing midnight romps through Missouri timber is jaw dropping entertainment as I listen to my 74 year old thrill-seeking friend. It's a wonder he's still alive after all these years. Why, he's been risking life and limb since he was a pup himself, chasing everything from raccoon to grizzly bear and anything in between.

He's spry as a leprechaun high on Lucky Charms. He's quick-witted and articulate, unlike most fellas who spend much of their life in the woods. He's a horseman, cattleman, big game guide and one of the coolest old dudes to pert near every young boy in the tri-county area. He's taken them all turkey and coon and coyote hunting at one time or another. And the girls he wows with a ride atop one of his mules as he teaches them to plow or neck rein accordingly.

Arthur is just one of those colorful characters that gets in your head and steals your heart with his constant cheerfulness and quirky sense of humor. I've never heard him speak without a chuckle interspersed somewhere in his dialogue. I've never seen him without a smile. Even as he faces a challenging circumstance. And this time, it's pretty serious. Arthur is having his heart valve replaced.

If you have doubted my fair description of a man tough as nails yet tender hearted as Christ himself, I have a doctor's statement to convince you of its merit. Arthur needs a calf valve, not a pig valve, for his three-quarter century ticker, because it has to be strong enough to keep up with him!

That's just cool! As I wrap my mind around the amazing medical possibilities that our modern society enjoys, I'm more impressed with one who embraces life with such vigor. Somewhere along this delightful man's adventurous journey, God changed his heart and put fire in it for His glory, just like He promised to the people of Israel as reported by the prophet Ezekiel. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

You see, what I haven't told you about my friend, is that he loves the Lord with that heart that needs some physical repair. And as God looks on that heart, he finds a faithful servant there. Sometimes Arthur is wise. Sometimes he is witty. Sometimes he is wise-cracking, but always he is a witness. That puts him in the same company with one like Solomon, when King David instructed: “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you;...Be strong and do the work.” (1 Chronicles 28:9b-10)

Nothing short of a calf valve is strong enough for this one who has a heart for God. If your heart were diagnosed this day by the Lord Himself, what would He find? A servant's heart? A faithful heart? A committed heart? A strong heart?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) Through Alaskan mountains or Ozark hills, through trials and valleys and roaring rivers of life, make us strong of heart. May we please the One who gave His love and life that we might live wholeheartedly for Him.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Standing in the Gap

By Brenda Black

Standing in the gap is a privileged place to be. Though my arms aren't long enough to reach from me to thee. My mind isn't big enough to comprehend your worry and grief. But I'm standing in the gap because you need me. I'm praying with tears and praying with pleas. I'm asking for answers to questions that are not easy. Standing, kneeling, crying, praying – because you asked me. I would love to take your burden and sling it far into the galaxy. I would remove it as far as the West from the East to set you free, because you trusted me with your needs.

Standing in the gap has me up in the wee hours of the night when normal people sleep, because your worry makes me restless. So I'll stay up and talk to God and you just get some sleep. That's how standing in the gap works best. And when the day dawns and you face your dreaded trial, I'll know that I have done all I can to lift you to the Lord. And that's enough because His hand can reach you and me when standing isn't really standing. It's falling on our faces and bending our knees.

It's nearly two in the morning and I can't sleep because a friend is suffering. She's scared and uncertain; she's mentally already sat a hundred times in the sterile room she'll enter this day, to receive frightening and dreaded news. I tried to go through my bedtime routines last night, but found myself dripping as wet from tears as from the shower faucet that gushed streams of water. In every drop from the pipes and my eyes I mentioned her name and pushed it through the ceiling and heavenward with anguish as though my force would hasten some celestial intervention.

Prayer is an amazing gift and an incredible burden. Have I prayed often enough or hard enough? How much is really depending on my faithfulness? Will I ever know if it made any difference? There are no easy answers as I await heavenly signals. But there is sweet release and the certainty that my prayers have not fallen on deaf ears. For my God does not slumber or sleep! My God knows every thought and intention before I speak! My God is able!

So I must trust and just keep on praying, for I believe that God has our best interests at heart and He is already at work if we just ask, seek and knock. Silence may be His answer. Healing may be His delight. Death may be His sweet release, but God will do what is right. He is not capable of less. And in the meantime, when we are called upon by those we love so deeply to stand in the gap and pray for His mercy, we keep on praying without ceasing.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord...” (James 1:2-8a)

Standing in the gap takes energy and effort. Standing in the gap calls for surrender, yet a determined grit to dig in and fight to the finish. Standing in the gap is warfare, plain and simple. What we bring to the battle is belief. What we take away is peace.

The alternative is defeat. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel and warned: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

I think I'd rather stand in the gap and fervently pray so as to draw near to the Holy God than to experience His fierce judgment for being a wind-weathered crumbling brick in a broken wall.