Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Eight Second Attention Span

By Brenda Black

She cocks her little blaze-striped nose to one side and stares straight into my eyes intensely, but only briefly. Just when I think I have her undivided attention, a butterfly flits by and I've lost her completely. Sharp, upward ears flop from antennae mode to romp and run position. She's all pup and worth about eight seconds of attention.

At times it's delightful to watch her flit and bounce in playful antics. Other times, not so entertaining. When you desire her full focus and her little mind is gallivanting, it gets frustrating. Callie, a Border Collie pup, is learning the ropes about who is in charge and just where she can wander. She's figuring out which words and intonations mean reward and which signal disapproval. As bright as this little beast seems to be, the lessons must be practiced over and over while she masters just who is THE master.

That's where my son steps in, for this little miss is really his charge. I'm watching them figure it out moment by moment – just who is king and who is the subject. I see glimpses of hope, as long as he has her to himself with no distractions. That's when she looks adoringly up at her tall, two-legged companion and desires to please only him. The true proof of their deepening connection will come when he sequesters her focus in spite of her surroundings. As I watch this new team teach and learn respectively, it becomes apparent the most important components for their strong bond are time, trust, wisdom and obedience.

“Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, 'Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.'

“Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life...

“My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:1-13, 20-23)
Sounds like more than pups need some training. The Lord is our Master, but do we listen? Do we fix our attention for more than a few seconds on the One who has our best interest at heart? God calls us to “Sit” at His feet. He beckons us to “Stay” in His Word and “Be Still” long enough to hear His commands clearly. But we have to focus in order to truly feel His loving affirmation.

The modern-day attention span has deteriorated drastically. That is evident. Few will stay on task for more than a nano-second without immediate gratification. I find myself less and less able to concentrate on one thing unless I shut out the clutter vying to occupy my brain. I have to turn off the world sometimes by closing my eyes or plugging my ears just so I can think! And I need to do that more intentionally with regards to focusing on my Lord.
I long to gaze into His eyes and stay transfixed long enough to hear from His heart and let it seep into my being. That's going to take more than eight seconds every once in a while. It will take a lifetime of dedication to my Master. The rewards: A bond never broken, trust unleashed, tail-wagging wisdom and joyful obedience.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Choice to Climb

By Brenda Black

If you knew a choice you made would result in the chances of your dying being one in ten, would you take that risk? If you answered yes, you might just have a thrill-seeker gene.

With recent advances in molecular biology and the use of in-depth twin studies, scientists are beginning to reveal that not only our physical characteristics – height, weight, hair and eye color – but also our personality traits involve a significant genetic component. Studies suggest that thrill seeking is 59 percent heritable, happiness 80 percent heritable, and assertiveness 60 percent heritable. 

Our genetic inheritance also apparently influences other behavioral attributes including leadership, religious belief, anxiety, extroversion, alienation, traditionalism, and career choice. Twin studies show the heritability of most personality traits at around 50 percent.

My guess is that the more than 300 climbers who have received official permits to climb Mt. Everest from the Nepali side this season have a genetic predisposition for such daring feats. And already at least three climbers have died while returning from the summit. But did genetics force them to make the climb or is there more involved than simple DNA?

Molecular biologist Dean Hamer draws an important distinction between temperament (what we’re born with) and character (what we learn). “One of the biggest myths is that something is genetic, therefore it is fixed. And of course this simply isn’t true,” he says. “All these genes do is give us a disposition one way or another. Whether we act on that is still very much a matter of free will or choice.”

In an article, “Predestination by Genes”, by Kevin Sharpe with Rebecca Bryant, the writers state: “Consider how some of us arrive in this world with a genetic predilection for thrill seeking. Some fear nothing and will do anything – hang-gliding, parachuting, or bungee jumping. But no one can predict what thrill-seekers will make of their predilection. A thrill-seeker may become a fire fighter or a drug addict. Free choice enters here. We may inherit very broad-brush personality traits, but how we choose to mold those characteristics depends on us.”

Well, fooey! I can't blame my parents for all my shortcomings or my crazy mistakes. I can't even blame God by complaining that this is just the way He made me and the rest of the world has to put up with it. I have to take some responsibility and shape the crux of who I am into someone I want to be, not just someone with whom I am stuck for eternity. The goal is to work in spite of, or in partnership with, the fundamental components that define each one of us. Our choices determine the outcome and define our character. The time has come to fashion our own destinies with input from some place other than the DNA helix. Wise choices, good company, clean living, kind actions, smart decisions, and unselfishness are decisions of the heart, not directives affixed to the genomic map.

So which is better – succumbing to genetic instinct or determining your fate by conscience decision? Maybe it's not a matter of better or worse, but of seeking the best combination. Whatever your genetic bent, whoever God has created you to be is perfectly fine as long as you couple those predispositions with purposeful decisions. The most important is to choose to follow Christ. From that point on, you can conquer any mountain on which you set your sites. And when you face your fears or even death, you'll still experience the thrill of a great ascension, safe in the arms of a Heavenly Father. He's known you from the beginning and He's watching what you'll make of this exciting conquest.

Be who you are; who you were created to be. And become the best you possible by seeking God's will every step of the journey. That's a climb that ends in victory no matter where or how the original plan began.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fill My Cup

By Brenda Black

“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, 'Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.'
“Elisha replied to her, 'How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?'
“'Your servant has nothing there at all,' she said, 'except a little oil.'
“Elisha said, 'Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.'
“She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, 'Bring me another one.'
“But he replied, 'There is not a jar left.' Then the oil stopped flowing.
“She went and told the man of God, and he said, 'Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.'” (2 Kings 4:1-7)
I think way too small. I believe problems loom much too large. I borrow more trouble than necessary. I forget to pray first and believe in a BIG GOD who is capable of anything! And then I read about a forlorn widow facing desperate, frightening circumstances and I feel ashamed and exposed for my weak faith.
How many times have difficulties decimated my joy? How often have I allowed worries to overwhelm me instead of filling the jars? Way too many! When I consider the simple trust of this dear lady of history, I remember how very little God truly asks of us when it comes to obedient faith. He wants us to first get honest. Admit there's something lacking. Then just believe and do one small thing. But do it in a lavish, over-the-top, can't-happen-without-divine-intervention kind of way! Take a drop of oil and fill a hundred empty vessels. Just remember, the oil of gladness, the oil of provision, the oil of healing, the oil of courage... never runs out as long as there are receptive containers available. I want to be that emptied vase day after day. I want to know of the Lord pouring into me and through me for His glory!
It begins behind closed doors. Did you notice that the prophet Elisha instructed this family to act in the privacy of their own home? He didn't tell them to put up a stand on the corner of Main and beg for oil. He never advised them to tell their neighbors why they needed all those empty jars. “Go inside...shut the door...and pour.” God loves us enough to perform a miracle for one, or two, or three in this family, as the case may be. His intensely personal touch on a life makes His miraculous deeds all the more astounding to me.
Be impressed further when you consider the trust the Lord places in us to partner with Him in His mysterious ways. We get to be part of the process when we just obey! Imagine the elation this family experienced with each trickle of oil that dripped from a jar that should have long ago been empty. Picture their gaping mouths and wide eyes of wonder as they counted the income and more importantly realized their freedom from that haunting, imprisoning debt. I want to live like that!
I want to believe without doubt. I want to see God work it out. I want to live poured out!
How about you? Are you empty and ready to be filled with something more than amazing? Place yourself - the container – before the Lord behind a closed door. This is between you and God. Get ready to wear an awestricken grin and free yourself from worldly worry when the Lord of Heaven starts to pour. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

No Reason to Scream

By Brenda Black

The 120 million dollar question: If I had $120 million, why would I spend it on ugly art? I never did understand the appeal of “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch. I'm not sure why anyone would want a haunting picture of an emaciated, androgynous something standing on a bridge, hands clasped to its hollow and pale face, mouth gaping and eyes wide in horror over who knows what. Not my kind of ambiance. I just can's see that hanging above my couch. Maybe that's why the bidder of the iconic, most expensive artwork ever sold at auction remained anonymous.

Then again, perhaps whomever it is, prefers anonymity to avoid the onslaught of commentary about his or her foolishness with funds. I could interject here statistics on how many starving children could be fed, clothed, housed, loved. I am tempted to rail on the wasteful use of money in such a trying economy. But I'm too much of a free market kind of gal. Instead, I'll take an artistic approach and venture that such lavish behavior, accompanied by fear of recognition, could actually parallel the face of fear in the artwork. Did the buyer purchase his self portrait? The bigger question for each of us remains: What do I fear and where do I place my trust --in wealth and riches or in Christ? Helpful insight on the topic of riches and anxiety comes through a song writer in the Book of Psalm, the 49th chapter.

“Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike... Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me – those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.

“But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my soul from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.

“Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praise you when you prosper – he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:1-20)

Apparently, riches don't eradicate worry and they certainly can't buy an extended warranty on life. No wonder Sotheby's spokesman David Norman thinks the world is filled with frightened, frantic people. He sees the popularity of the artist's work as representative of that deep-seeded emotion. "The Scream has really entered the collective conscience, whatever nationality, whatever country, whatever attitude or age, it really sort of speaks to that sort of existential terror that everyone experiences in the world," Norman told a CNN reporter.

He might be right. From birth, we learn that the world is a scary place. But there is One who can alleviate fear, conquer death and bring rich peace for every anxiety. Christ's sacrificial actions on the cross unseat the terror as portrayed by Munch's bridge-walking subject. The cross is where Jesus Christ stared into the depth of hell and annihilated death to ransom those who trust in Him. If we believe, we have nothing to fear! “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear...” (Ps. 46:1-2a)

Big bucks won't keep us safe. Wealth can't chase away terror. It may take $120 million these days to land a piece of iconic art, but that doesn't buy eternal security. The cost is much higher and it's already paid. When the hammer dropped on the purchase of the human soul, the life of Jesus Christ paid the bill. He hung exposed, not anonymously. And He thought we were worth more than a 120 million to take us home.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Messy Road to My Mansion

By Brenda Black

When it feels like the world is falling apart around you, it probably is. Everything is subject to deterioration. From boards to bricks to brains and bones, the world is aging. God created man originally to live forever. His intent was intimacy. Then sin entered the perfect picture and paradise disappeared into decay. Man morphed from a masterpiece made of clay to a dusty sinner in need of a Savior.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return,” is God's indictment. (Genesis 3:17b-19) Though the punishment was fierce, God's ultimate plan for glory never changed. He created us to live eternally in His company. So God sent that Savior – who conquered death and decay.

“...Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 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 you in your presence.'” (Acts 2:22-28)

Though the world rots and we wither, hope floats above the ruin. A new day is coming. A new body promised. A new heaven. A new earth. For those who are in Christ, while they must physically waste away over time, the spirit antithetically gets more refined. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

I don't know about you, but just knowing that the mess I've been living in is going to be clean and shiny new someday, makes the intolerable a little less miserable. Crumbling houses, broken down cars, aching bodies and muddy lots are nothing compared to the glory that awaits me! But to get through the here and now on the way to the “Some Glad Morning” is going to take a little effort on my part. The key to rising above misery is calling down a bit of heaven to eclipse a whole lot of clutter and disappointment here on earth. Ephesians 1 is helping me get some perspective.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Until I get my glorified body and that mansion on a hill, I'm going to have to learn to love the mess called me and to be thankful for all of the aggravating little things in this world. At the very least, they make heaven seem all the more desirable and keep me pressing toward the prize!