Thursday, March 29, 2012

Slimy Ways Fabricate Oozing Fallout

By Brenda Black

If I called peanut butter “brown slime,” my guess is you wouldn't want to eat it. If I referred to grape jelly as “purple glop,” I doubt that the beloved pbj would ever make it into a child's lunchbox. In marketing, we call that image and the mental or emotional picture that a consumer forms in his or her mind is a powerful motivator.

The disgruntled and retaliatory Gerald Zirnstein has been in Beef Products Inc.'s plant and knows it is a fully federally inspected plant. ( He has taken a personal vendetta to new lows with his “pink slime” smear campaign, ousting hundreds of employees at an award winning facility. He knows the photo he has posted on his blog is NOT lean finely textured beef. Neither was the photo taken in a U.S. federally inspected food plant. He knows the process for harvesting lean finely textured beef involves blowing perfectly safe ammonium hydroxide gas over the product, not "soaking" it in household ammonia. He knows the product is lean beef, but he gave it an ugly name to back his ugly scheme.

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16)

And there you have it – the outline for the “pink slime” campaign. Haughtiness from a man who describes himself as "jaded, sarcastic and overly critical." A lying tongue who twisted, then oozed his false information to sensationalistic journalists vying for shocking headlines and increased viewer ratings. Hands that shed innocent blood by defaming an innovative company trying to protect the food supply. His heart devised a wicked scheme and mainstream journalism and ill-informed citizens quickly rushed in to perpetuate the evil plot. Guess what – the false claims and steady diet of slimy lies caused dissension. Go figure!

Words wield power for good and evil. What's more harmful is that people don't use their minds to sift truth from fallacy in what comes out of the mouths of others. Instead, we quickly spread the “word” in social media through instant links or by whispered gossip ear to ear. Misinformation is damaging; and it can be damning.

Heed these words from the wisest. Solomon taught them in the book of Proverbs. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (29:20) “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (20:19) “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel.” (20:17) “A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil.” (19:28) “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” (21:28)

But “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” (21:23)

Lies and the people who perpetuate them will answer for their false condemnation. It's not just meat, people. It's lives and liberty and decency. Innocent people go to jail because of false testimony. Careers are destroyed and families slain by a vindictive word spread like wildfire. There's so much disregard for common sense and courtesy! Does anyone think for himself anymore? The bigger question: Does anyone consider how their actions injure others?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Awakened by New Sounds

By Brenda Black

It's odd what I've gotten used to and take for granted. Say, the song of a familiar bird outside my window. At home it's the loud call of the Cardinal in a string of clear “purdy, purdy, purdy,” often speeding up and ending in a slow trill. The cattle low and the horse nickers when I step out the door, alerting me to morning chores. When I'm walking my Missouri gravel, the Western Meadowlark gurgles out flute-like notes to help quicken my steps. What's more odd is the absence of those familiar sights and sounds or the substitution with strange new ones in foreign surroundings.

I was distracted by the call of a bird I had never heard while standing near an open window in Wisconsin. Instead of singing a pretty tune, it sounded more like a squeaky porch swing whose chain was in need of a greasing. "Kar-r-r-r-o-o-o" "Kar-r-r-r-o-o-o" "Kar-r-r-r-o-o-o". So loud was the call, I was certain this curious avian was on the porch, in that swing! But like the coyotes deceptive cry at home, the Sandhill Crane was only as near as binoculars could ascertain. What struck me most was my immediate awareness of this new and strange noise.

New surroundings tend to sharpen alertness. New sounds prick curiosity. New subjects demand our focus. And I am no longer talking about birds. Just how cognizant are we of the world around us? How thankful and curious are we; how purposeful in discovering the source behind something new we've heard?

This world is changing, and not necessarily for the good. A glance through the headlines on any given day this past week made me think I was waking up in a strange America – a foreign and frightening new world. Because the stories told harrowing tales of government overreach and the ill-gotten power grab of elected officials, my senses were heightened, my curiosity maximized, my focus targeted. How can people be so blind and deaf? Are we not a searching people any longer, demanding truth, justice and God's holy way? Like the song of a familiar bird, the luxuries of beloved familiarity like prayer and God's Word may one day be plucked away if we don't take a long, hard look at what's lurking in the near distance.

The first step is to know the Truth. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) You won't recognize the deceitful tactics of the enemy if you aren't certain of the promises from the Heavenly Father. You can't hone in on danger or discern need for caution if you have no standard.

Next, cling to the cross. This is the true redemptive act of Christ because we all need the Savior and there is no other way. Don't listen to the lie that there are many ways to righteousness. The Gospel does not change. “Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6) “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:9) A Christian song once played frequently says it this way: “Keep me near the cross, Near the cross, May I never stray so far, That I cannot see, What flowed down for me, At the foot of the cross.”

Be steadfast and devoted no matter the call outside your window. “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 5:32) “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10) “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Sometimes we need a wake up call, the song of a different bird that heightens our awareness and causes us to stop and listen intently to what's truly being said. Don't take the familiar for granted or one day you may wake up without its pleasure and instead be listening to the screeching sounds of freedom silenced in a foreign land. That's an odd place in which I'd rather not find myself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Hand for the Humble

By Brenda Black

“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.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Humility is not only antithetical to arrogance. Humility is the opposite of self-reliance. I'm fairly certain that it is prideful independence which ushers in a whole lot of anxiety in my life. When I try to handle it in my own strength, with my own ideas, I tend to borrow a bushel of cares. Fear is one of the biggies in that basket I haul around on stooped shoulders of dread.

While some would say courage will conquer the fear, I have learned that surrender goes a long way. Letting it go and laying it down for the Lord to pick up is far less frightening. But it sure takes far more faith.

I was filled with apprehension one day last week. I wanted to crawl in a hole or run away and visualized a dozen other cowardly cliches. I wasn't facing a firing squad, just uncertainty and an uncomfortable situation. Suffice it to say, I thought opting for avoidance would be less painful than what I feared I would face that day.

Since I couldn't just quit life, I crawled in my car and drove toward the dreaded unknown. That's when the Lord took over and soothed the anxiety. While I wrestled with doubt and loathed my own weakness, God whispered words of strength and assurance. The radio played song after song that spoke of courage and Christian witness. I was reminded that it is never wrong to do the right thing and that God honors those who take the high road when they've been cut to the core.

By the time I had to face my fear, I was filled with peace. And I'm here to tell you, nothing that I had imagined happened. I fretted and created an entire event in my mind never realized. In fact, just the opposite took place when I surrendered my fear. I humbled myself under God's mighty hand. I did what was right. I trusted Him and He lifted me up in due time. I cast my anxiety on Him and He cared for me in amazing ways. Instead of being injured further, I was praised and encouraged and esteemed.

I knew I had done nothing deserving of mistreatment. But I also have lived long enough and dealt with enough people to know that is no guarantee you won't be harmed. To see the Lord so just in my behalf is overwhelming. He really cares! He really cares! My God is not so big and removed that He doesn't see pitiful worries in my little world. He really cares!

Without great detail, you may not be able to comprehend the sweeping relief I felt. You can't understand how incredible it feels for righteousness to win a round!

I determined I would return hatefulness with kindness. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Though I didn't wish for pain and suffering on my friend who was acting like an enemy, I did long to be a peacemaker and be counted among the sons of God. And I know that when I choose to live for Him, heavenly rewards are promised. (Matthew 5:9-12) What's super neat is when some little rewards come while we are still here on earth.

The ride home was much less stressful. My heart was free from fear. My mind relieved of worry. But, boy howdy was I thirsty! I pulled into Ruby Tuesdays to acquire one of their fabulous peach teas for the road. A handsome and cheerful young man offered a seat and I countered with my mission. “I just want a peach tea to go.” He returned with beloved beverage in hand and I pulled out my wallet to settle the account. With a big grin and sparkling eyes, that angelic man said to me, “Don't worry about it.” I questioned his intention, then quickly thanked him profusely and said, “God bless you!” exuberantly. “It's only tea,” he said when he turned to leave. But it wasn't just tea to me. I left feeling lighter and feeling loved. A tear rolled down my cheek and I smiled up at God.

Humble yourself that He may lift you up. What a sweet, peachy reward.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fighting Right

By Brenda Black

I'm mad and I'm not taking it anymore! I confess to being one who has ranted over my share of injustices. Often, to vent is to avoid exploding, but frankly, anger is probably the most difficult and dangerous emotion of the human condition. If not handled correctly, it can get ugly.

Contrast two teachings from wise Solomon and see for yourself which is the preferred path. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11) Now look at what Christ taught: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:5-9)

So how does one move from “I'm not taking it anymore” to being a “blessed peacemaker”? It's a challenging journey with just one guaranteed route for success. Only a heart filled with the love of Christ and the desire to please God has hope of getting beyond the heat of any moment. It's natural to fuss and fume, stomp and sputter, cuss and criticize. Not pretty, mind you, but a fleshly condition of the human heart fully fueled by a sin situation. It's supernatural, however, to submit to the authority of God and honor Him when we'd rather just let 'em have it!

“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you – I, Paul, who am 'timid' when face to face with you, but 'bold' when away...For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:1, 3-4)

I've met some people with strong opinions. I've known some with bellowing voices. I've heard some intense arguments for and against. But what we're talking about here has nothing to do with human strength or persistence, and everything to do with unseen enemy forces at work, twisting and manipulating the hearts and minds of men. Satan loves a knock-down-drag-out discourse. If given license, he'll dig around inside your head and keep you brewing and stewing until you boil over in rage onto the handiest victim. That's how he works. We're left embarrassed and humiliated in most instances because we lost our cool and let him win.

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult...Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Pro. 12:15-16, 18)

I have spoken foolishly and I have rendered wise counsel. I can assure you, the latter is far easier to live with and so much less of a mess to clean up afterwards. One significant caution to those of you desiring such discipline. It takes every ounce of strength and measure of godly control to rein in rage and deliver peace. It is demanding physically and mentally and emotionally. Giving up the fleshly urge to unload is power under control. That's what meekness really means! Biting your tongue, curbing your anger, speaking positively instead of negatively takes courage and honor. But if you think keeping your cool is enough to gentle the anger giant, think again. The most important step is not just to manage the mouth or still the mind. The most critical element for dealing with rage is to answer it with grace.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6) That's the way to fight right.