Monday, April 23, 2012

Wedding Wonders

By Brenda Black

So much work goes into a wedding day – hundreds of hours of preparation and a lifetime of dreams. The bride wonders if guests will show, hoping the dress will fit and the weather will hold. The groom sweats fearful beads across his brow for the responsibility he's about to assume. But he also anticipates the great reward that awaits his persistent pursuit. At least that's how weddings are supposed to unfold.
When the couple vows to have and to hold, to cling forever to one another before God and witnesses, it does a heart good. Still, I wonder each time I hear those tearful promises exchanged, whether the two caught up in gushing love truly understand the implications. Sickness, health, poverty wealth. Bad jobs, broken down houses. Kids who cry and have snotty noses. In-laws and black sheep in the family. Bad breath, snoring, whining, worrying. This is reality. That blissful wedding day adorned with roses and lace won't look like that every day in the ensuing marriage.
I wonder if the cost is counted, the resolve intact. I wonder if two young hearts can comprehend the amount of dedication it takes to stay committed. The greatest test of determination for most folks by the time they've hit their twenties has more to do with car payments and college exams than “from this day forward.” It's one thing to trade in a car or fail a calc quiz. It's quite another to keep a love purring likes she's brand new and ace the tests that life is sure to bring.
The notion of sticking with a partner till death is an enormous ideology to embrace, moreover live out. So the thoughts that trickle through my mind while tears trickle down my cheek as I sit among the audience, compels me to pray for the eager and naïve. For marriage will not succeed based on the number of guests who attend the big event. It won't be defined by the caliber of gifts carted across the threshold into the newlywed's home. Longevity of love can't be fortified by wedding album memories alone or a slice of wedding cake frozen for anniversaries yet to come. Love is a divine gift that is opened and received every day from this moment until death severs what God has joined together.
The wonder of a wedding where two lives are melded together in holy matrimony is actually quite the miracle...and more rare than common these days. Modern culture dismisses its significance. Or perhaps the new generation is just plain too afraid of failure. But to never trust oneself to have the ability to love one to death is a sad state of affairs. On the contrary, to risk it all, and take that long, nervous walk down the isle to oneness is a great indication of maturity. But be careful when you think love alone and shear determination are enough for the long haul. Without faith in the God who instituted marriage, there is no forever. The power to say “I will” and “I do” must come from a higher authority. For the wonder of wonders is that God joins together two fallible souls and His love makes it perfect. Perfectly filled with highs and lows, one life is complete in the other.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy...'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'” (John 5 selected)
Tis the season of weddings and romance. May those who launch into such a love relationship, never lose sight of the God of Wonders who makes that love possible to the very end.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Singin' in the Rain

By Brenda Black

There's no better place to be on a rainy morning than in the house of God being showered with blessings! Added bonus: God may speak booming words of wisdom. It's happened before. "Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm." (Job 38:1)

All the threats this past weekend for dangerous weather did not seem to hinder the faithful ones who were bound and determined to be in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day. In they came, bearing sunny smiles to brighten a cloudy day. That says a lot about a Christian. It says they want to worship and they care about the body of Christ and those they'll see on Sundays. The desire to be more than a fair weather follower says to the world, “My faith is genuine.”

Oh certainly, there are justifiable reasons to not venture out on a stormy day and the Lord gave us common sense for a reason. But the point is that so many professing Christians let any little thing stop them from enjoying the presence of the Lord and the fellowship of the family of God. How refreshing it is, instead, to come with expectations of meeting God to hear His thundering lessons or feel His soft whisper while we worship. You see, God inhabits the praise of His people! Listen to what happened after the temple of the Lord was completed by Solomon and the Ark was brought to its place.

“The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: 'He is good; his love endures forever.' Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

Now there's a cloud I'd welcome! Believe it or not, God has the capacity and the desire to dwell among us, live within us, lift us from the cares of the world and bless us just by His magnificent presence.

“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the Lord – and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance. Your people settled in it, and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.” (Psalm 68:4-10)

Blessed are the poor in spirit! For when they are desperate to get to God, even during a torrential rain, the kingdom of heaven awaits! Rain or shine, there's no place I'd rather be than in the Lord's company, surrounded by His family. It's a little taste of heaven here on earth and a reminder of the gleaming city yet to come.

Don't wait till Sunday to draw near to the Lord. But when next weekend rolls around, don't miss the blessing of worshipping with others before a deserving God, rain or shine!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Comfort of a Confidant

By Brenda Black

Some thoughts are too personal to profess; some fears too frightening to express. If spoken aloud, all of a sudden the innermost part – exposed. The hopes or disappointments seem all the more intimate and the fears loom larger than life once released from deep down inside. It takes a special person, a profoundly trustworthy soul, to hear the depths of my heart. I'm blessed when I discover such a friend that can handle the bare, ugly truth of my humanity and love me in spite of myself and all the baggage.

It's tough sometimes being the preacher's wife. We are busy listening and loving on everybody else and forget to tend to our own temples and tents. Fielding phone calls, praying for the saints, hostess to any and all who drop in and right-hand gal to the shepherd who pastors a flock, who often turns to the shepherdess as often as they turn to the shepherd. Truly, I do not begrudge any of it. I'm a born rescuer and problem solver. I count it a holy honor to stand in the gap as prayer warrior. I love entertaining and hospitality is my middle name! I love caring for people.

Frankly, it's not just being a pastor's wife. It's just life! I'm the radar for all things lost within and without my humble abode. From within the refrigerator to the file cabinet, barn lot, backseat of the car or bed of a pick up truck, I'm supposed to know where every jot and tittle is kept. And at a moment's notice. No matter how long my day or how hard I work, it is not over until the family is fed and the dishes and laundry stowed and my deadlines are met.

I'm called upon to be herdsman, landscape artist, vet, physician, accountant, chef and spell checker all rolled into one. I open gates and roll bale rings, haul buckets of feed and pull up fence posts. So tell me, where is my unpaid hired hand when it's time to fry a hamburger, mop the floor or do the dishes? When it's all said and done, it's not even actually the physical labor that exhausts me as much as the mental wear and tear of not having the time to deal with things on my mind. It's the negative press and worldly nonsense. It's my own aches and pains or the disconcerting word of a friend who's critically sick.

The breaking point of accumulated weariness causes me to long for someone who'll share my overload by simply letting me vent. And not judge me for it. One who has walked this same road. A person who can take it with a grain of grace when I spew and spill it all over her. Unfortunately, I fail miserably at calling on others when I'm the one in need of encouragement or help. When I'm feeling defeated or weak in my walk, when I'm weary of just about every little thing that trickles down the stream of my life, I confess, I'm lousy at seeking solace from someone else.

I stash it down, deal with it by grit and determination. I ignore it or dwell on it. I ponder it, pray about it, even deny it. But over the course of time, I find the same cycle revolving full circle. I can't take IT anymore! I feel isolated and worn to a frazzle. I feel misunderstood and taken for granted. And I need someone to just hear my heart and tolerate my hurt and fill my head with positive words. I need a faithful friend.

The Lord has given me a select few over the years, with whom I can be real. One most recently pulled the pressures from me until I felt a sweet release. She patiently listened to whining in the midst of justified worry. She sorted through my sinful contributions and acknowledged the areas I was managing properly. My friend heard my heart, felt my fears, tempered my anger and subdued my anxiety over things only God could handle.

Most importantly: she prayed for me and pointed me to Christ. Yep, the preacher's wife needs shepherding too. I'm thankful for the comfort of such a confidant and count her among God's greatest blessings in my life. Why do I wait so long to be transparent when the love of a godly friend is one of the Lord's most kind and incredible ways He has of reaching into our lives and showing us we never walk alone.

“The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

copyright 2012 - The Word's Out-Brenda Black

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Seventh Shepherd

By Brenda Black

Smooth and warm to the hand, the shepherd's crook is both tool and a work of art. The shepherd who carries it masterfully captures straying lambs or rescues endangered sheep from raging waters and ravaging wolves. He totes it gracefully and balanced upon his arm as an extension of himself, ever ready to save those he guards with his life.
The Old Testament is rich with foreshadowing shepherds leading up to the one sacrificial lamb protector. There are, in fact, five shepherds that pointed their crook toward the Christ. Each one provides a glimpse down the path to the cross taught Arthur W. Pink, an English Christian evangelist from the early 1900s.

Abel was the first as reported in Genesis 4:2, “Now Abel kept flocks...” This shepherd died at the hands of a wicked brother much as Christ would be crucified by the sinful masses. Second was Jacob who tended the flocks and watched over them (Gen. 30:31); protected them from wild beasts and paid for any lost or stolen (Gen. 31:38-40); and who tended to the weak and young with compassion (Gen. 33:13-14). Jacob was a true reflection of the loving, caring shepherd who held children on his knee, touched lepers and loved the outcasts. The third shepherd to point to Christ was Joseph. The very first description of Joseph is that of one who “was tending the flocks.” While Joseph cared for family and a nation, Jesus, the Good Shepherd fed the five thousand and healed the blind and lame.

Our fourth foreshadow shepherd is none other than Moses. Before he ever led the massive nation of Israel, he first watered, protected and guided sheep.

“Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock...Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.” (Gen. 2:16,17, 3:1-2a)

This is loaded with symbolism of Christ's journey to the cross! He defended the defenseless, stood in the gap for sinners and rescued us from death. He ascended a mount called Calvary and God hung their visible and burning with passion for His flock.

Shepherd number five may be the most conspicuous forerunner. Before he was a king, David herded sheep and risked his own life to protect them. “But David said to Saul, 'Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the seep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear...” (1 Samuel 17:34-36a) With Jesus, that looks like this: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b)

In the book of Zechariah we find the sixth shepherd, suitably numbered. For he is the Antichrist. “For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hoofs. Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock!” (Zech. 11:16-17a)

The only other shepherd mentioned in Scripture is the Lord Jesus, and He is the seventh – the number of perfection! He came to bear the sins of others as Abel did, to pay the price as Jacob did, to feed the flock as Joseph did, to climb a mountain as Moses did, and to risk everything by laying down his life for the sake of those in his fold as David did.

The Lord came to defeat a “worthless” enemy and be our Good Shepherd! “The Savior gave his life not as a martyr for truth, not as a moral example of self-sacrifice, but for a people,” said A.W. Pink. I absolutely agree and thank God for the Seventh Shepherd.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:23-25)

Jesus, keep us in the crook of your arm until we are safely home.