Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Smoke on the Mountain

By Brenda Black

It was 10 years ago this summer that our family vacationed in Colorado Springs. I wrote about our trip, painting a word picture of the vast, spectacular Rockies. I tried to convey how awestricken I was and why I felt such privilege to travel winding roads through those majestic, purple mountains.

Historically, Colorado was experiencing the worst drought in a hundred years in 2002. In my eyes, she was lovely in spite of it and I captured my delight, in part, with these words: “...unbelievable, unmistakable pleasures in life are never forgotten.”

I contend those sentiments hold true today as I recall our trip up Pike's Peak and the visit to the Air Force Academy Chapel. I often go back in thought to our trek through the Aspen groves and cherish an adorable photo of our two little boys grinning atop a big red rock in the Garden of the Gods. I smile when I remember the crisp air, the amazing sun rises, the sound of the trees' leaves fluttering on Colorado breezes. With eyes closed, I can be there in an instant – ten years younger, relaxed and grateful for such a treasure.

Now, as I view video news clips of the horrific firestorms ravaging such a beloved and beautiful part of our country, my heart breaks for the charred land, the displaced and threatened wildlife and for the great people of the Centennial State and neighboring states along the Continental Divide. This time, it is not pleasure, but the unplanned, unbelievable, unmistakable pains in life that will not soon be forgotten. My prayers back then were ones of pure appreciation. My prayers now are pleading for God's intervention. Send the rain, calm the wind, cool the air and spare beautiful Colorado.

Certainly, new growth will rise from the ashes as it has before. But not soon enough, I fear, for those who are in the midst of this roaring red monster that is gulping up green and pristine and spewing out thick, choking smoke that blackens the skies as well as the slopes.

While fires engulf the Northwest and floods and tropical storms deluge the Southeast, drought spreads across our middle and we are each in the midst of desperate straits. Still, we bear with one another the burdens throughout this great country. We go. We help. And if we stay put, we pray.

And God waits. He waits for his people to cry out to Him, trust Him, turn to Him, love Him -- no matter our conditions. For He is able to see us through all trials, even if the circumstances seem overwhelming. It may seem hard to comprehend why He allows the earth to rebel so violently. Yet, we must remember that part of her rebellion is because she groans and longs for the Lord's returning. In the beginning she was perfect. The world of humanity is not the only one who reaped the cursing as a result of sin. The earth paid a high price as well. Storms and fire and ice; floods and drought and pestilence were not part of the original plan. Adam had never pulled a weed. Noah had never seen rain. That is, until sin robbed man and all of creation of its peace and perfection.

The Lord has since that time been at work redeeming. And He will do it again. When the rains come and the winds die down and the fire is snuffed out with no flicker of a threat remaining, then the earth will spring to life again. God does such a work in the heart of mankind and He reveals His touch in all of nature in due time.

So we hope and we pray and we work till He comes again. We believe in His goodness and protection. We trust that He knows best. We accept that He weeps with those who grieve and comforts those who endure loss. God is good all the time. Even in the midst of flaming tongues of fire. And sometimes...sometimes God shows up right in the middle of the heat and takes us higher: in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2), in a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25), in a Holy Spirit baptism (Luke 3:16).

I'm praying that the people of Colorado cling to such truth and find God willing and able to rescue them from every fiery threat they'll ever face in life. I'm praying that no matter where we live, the rest of us seek such peace too.

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy...” (Jude 20-23)  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Soaring Like a Barn Swallow

By Brenda Black

Three miles. That's the distance between the home driveway and our little country church, give or take a few hundred feet. The convenience for saving gas is diminished on those Sunday mornings when every member of the household arrives on the premises one person per vehicle. Most days, the caravan consists of two – the early shift and the late shift. Recently, I opted to go with my early bird preacher husband who gets to work way before anyone else. Since I arrived long before others would gather or my SS class needed my presence, I lingered in the parking lot. The sun warmed my right side through the open car door and a gentle breeze welcomed me to God's property. I was thoroughly at peace and glad I made that choice.

Suddenly, something swooped right past the front windshield and nearly entered my Impala! A Barn Swallow gave me an up-close-and-personal, “Good Morning!” We were parked very near a muddy nest and morning exercise drills were in progress.

thought this must be an industrious mother tending her babes. Then I noticed multiple split-tail acrobats ducking and diving a few feet ahead. They were fledglings, exuberantly testing their wings – all but one that is. Five little swallows chirped and careened past the mud and twig built nest over and over coaxing one timid sibling, who sat firmly and defiantly attached to home.

I marveled at how sturdy that little abode to hold six wiggling, flapping youngins; and how industrious the parents who constructed it. Nest building is a time consuming process for busy swallows who sometimes have to travel several hundred yards to a stream bank or other source of mud.

My mind snapped back to the one straggler. By then, he had dared to take a mere 2-foot flight to another mud glob in the opposite corner of the porch on this old school house that sits opposite our church. The family swooped again in waves of encouragement, bidding him take flight with them. Several minutes passed while the stubborn swallow refused to fly. Finally he launched to join the rest.
They cheered with chirps and aerial acrobatics. Then quickly, after the group was all air born, they disappeared as one. The aerial show ended, and only faint, audible evidence indicated that they may have congregated in a nearby tree.

All I could think was that I just witnessed a winged version of the congregation that would soon join me in this sacred place. The House of God is a refuge. Some cling to it desperately and care for it meticulously. Some take flight from it and grace the world with their joyful exuberance. It's where we are fed and encouraged. Our brothers and sisters in Christ encircle us with prayers for courage, cheers for success. Here, we learn to spread our wings and take risks. In this holy place, we find the wherewithal to soar!

Since that sudden epiphany, I've learned more about the Barn Swallow that helps me realize to a greater extent how important it is to heed the lessons the Lord gives from even the smallest creatures.

1. When feeding young, the swallows fly from before dawn until after sunset, while taking very few rests.

Time is of the essence. In a world saturated with sin and deceit, feeding our children the Truth of Christ is critical for survival. And that takes good old fashion hard work! Talk about it when you sit at home and when you drive down the road. Tell them about Jesus when they lie down at night and when they rise in the morning. (Deuteronomy 6:7-9) Little swallows work their scissor tails off to make sure their hatchlings have a healthy start. That begins at home. It carries over into the assembly of the called out – the Church. Young families take notice.

2. Barn swallows usually nest in small colonies and also hunt together.

Togetherness is of significant worth. In a world that captivates our every waking moment, setting aside a few precious hours once or twice a week to stand with one another is invaluable. I need you and you need me in times like these! Especially when the enemy is on the prowl. When a cat or other predator approaches a barn swallow's nesting site, the entire colony immediately mobs the intruder in an impressive display of bombing dives! We are the body of Christ and we need to watch the backs of our brothers. That means praying, helping, loving and staying as long as necessary by their side in good times and in trouble.

3. The swallows seem to enjoy the easy life of late summer, when they do not need to work every minute of the day to feed their young. They are often seen perched above the creek, doing nothing at all. But, the easy life is short lived, as the end of summer approaches and they prepare for their long journey south.

Travel plans are eternally important. This world will end. Either your life will come to a close or the Lord will return. Either way, you better know where you're going and what it is going to take to arrive there safely. Like the swallows, we have a long journey ahead. Unlike them, we cannot take it easy until the day of our departure. We need to keep searching for ways to reinforce the nest so we can launch another hatch in the power of Christ! We must keep building one another up as we see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Next time you see a glistening blue and tawny Barn Swallow dart gracefully over a field or above a body of water, look closer at the agile flyer . God has set him apart from all other North American swallows by gracing him with a forked tail. Those two feathers are a reminder of two boards fashioned together to form a cross. Jesus made a way so we could wing our way home one day just like a Barn Swallow.

copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Loyalty, Stupidity, Mercy and Destiny

By Brenda Black

If Hollywood ever gets ahold of this story, they'll have a movie blockbuster. The plot pits once dear friends against one another in a struggle for power and fame, interlaced with noble loyalty and insanity. The hero waffles from righteous actions to foolish decisions, while the arch rival breaks his own kingdom's laws to call on a witch to conjure up the dead. There are battle scenes and village burnings, pillaging and kidnappings. Ultimately, an entire family is wiped out in one day with the head of the clan committing suicide.

Though it sounds like a modern day version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth or a hodge-podge of headlines from today's press, this story is an historic account of Saul, King of Israel, and David, the one who would take his seat on the throne. By chapter 26 in the book of 1 Samuel, Saul is in hot pursuit of his nemesis, David. But David is still denying any wrong doing and proving his loyalty genuine with clever acts of bravery as evidenced in verses 9-11 when David could have easily snuffed out his opponent.

“But David said to Abishai, 'Don't destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,' he said, 'the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord's anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let's go.'”

David had the means and the opportunity. He had just cause, but he didn't take justice into his own hands. Though wronged, he chose to do right – not because Saul was so deserving of such grace, but David knew that Jehovah God is the author and finisher of life. Loyalty to His Lord kept David from sin. Next time someone stabs you in the back, think of this scene. Play it over in your mind and pray for God to help you walk away with clean hands.

So, how does one so noble in his actions, suddenly become so foolish? David was human. He stopped listening to God's wisdom and took his own advice. That was a big mistake. “But David thought to himself, 'One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines...” (1 Samuel 27:1) Famous last words before falling into the land of stupidity. David followed his inkling without seeking the Lord and it cost him his family, a city and the respect of his community. He lied his way throughout the land of the enemies of Israel and pledged allegiance to a pagan king. His band of faithful followers were pushed to the point of stoning him in grief and anger. What a mess the merciful David had gotten himself into!

At the same time, Saul was also caught up in a state of stupidity as he sought the counsel of a witch and asked her to beckon Samuel for advice from the dead! You can read about that in chapter 28. When trust in the Lord waivers, humans reveal how truly desperate and pathetic we are on our own. I'm not accusing. I'm confessing. As a fellow human to these men of old, how often I have followed the beat of my own foolish thoughts rather than practiced obedience to the counsel of the Living God. The results have been futile at best, disastrous at times.

Samuel, in his ghostly state, delivered the indictment to Saul: “'Why do you consult me now that the Lord has turned away from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors – to David. Because you did not obey the Lord...'” (1 Sam. 28:16-18a)

God was merciful toward David. He led him to the camp of the raiders who had kidnapped his family along with all those belonging to his army. In pure “I Am the Almighty” fashion, God used a sick and abused Egyptian slave as his instrument of victory for David's army. I wonder if David saw himself in that desperate man who was left to die in the desert. Did David piece together the miraculous work of a God who would use the “least of these” as a spy for His glory? I wonder if it dawned on him that slavery to sin is a deadly option.

Speaking of death – the angel there of vanquished all of Saul's family at the hands of the Philistines during battle, just as David had predicted. No man took “the anointed” one's life. In fact, he fell upon his own spear to finalize the critical wounds Philistine archers had inflicted upon him.

One man rose to take the thrown while the other one fell to the ground. Each reached their destiny. David would live many more years (read 2 Samuel and 1 Kings) to capture the praise of people and the blessings of God. But he never quite got over that human condition that also caused him to stumble on occasion. He was loyal at times, stupid at times, merciful at times. And God was always supremely in charge – just like He is in our lives.

copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

As the World Turns

By Brenda Black

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)

I know this. I believe this. But then I look at creation and I worry for the birds of the air. In the midst of a storm, how in the world does a chickadee cling to bending branches with thread thin claws and miniscule talons? How come the killdeer is not extinct since she lays her eggs in the road where gigantic, racing tires can crush them? And why would a wild turkey place her nest so easily accessible to passing coyotes? I wonder, and worry I suppose, how does creation continue in a world full of violent storms, man-made hazards and natural enemies. Then, I have to admit, maybe I don't give enough credit to One who orders this world and supervises it.

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, or the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9)

God is in control!

Whew! That's a huge relief...if I truly believe. And that, my friends, is a daily struggle – to turn it over to Him. To trust He will do what is best. To surrender my anxieties to the One who calms the sea and feeds the hungry. I have a tendency to worry much. I fret for myself and for others. I lose sleep thinking about things far beyond my control. It is folly and foolishness. It is faithlessness and futility.
So today when I stumbled upon something I've never before seen, I found myself instantly exhilarated and just as suddenly anxious. She flew up right before my eyes and departed, but left me looking downward as I gazed on a wild turkey nest brimming with prospects. I've never lost my child-like wonder for all creatures great and small. There I stood amazed and tickled to see the pale cream and brown speckled evidence of a good spring. I counted the clutch without touch to a total of ten.

Then with dismay, I spied one, two and a third crushed shell carried near and far from the safety of her lair. The contents licked clean, no doubt had satisfied some scavenger. Immediately, I started to worry – over something of which I have absolutely no control. God made the turkey, she made the nest, those are her eggs and responsibility. He also made the critter those turkey eggs fed. Life is not so much a mystery novel as it is a book of facts. I walked away, but not unscathed. For it made me think just how much we assume life is safe. It is not!

Solomon spelled it out in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. “I also thought, 'As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.'” (Ecc. 3:18-19a)

Though Solomon concludes that “Everything is meaningless,” I contend that it gives even greater meaning to life. Life is precious and short and uncertain. It is priceless. Life is beautiful and dangerous and exciting. It is limited. There are no guarantees, only opportunities.

Are you a brave little chickadee, weathering storms in life? Are you a killdeer living on the edge and taking unnecessary chances? Are you a turkey who's just doing your best to protect your nest and sometimes losing the battle? Whatever feather you wear at the moment, I pray you are filled with more faith than fear to endure it. And I pray that you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. That's our only safety.

2012 copyright by Brenda Black, The Word's Out