Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Overcoming Evil

By Brenda Black

It's one thing to hear of tragedy from a distance. It's quite another to be very near it. I'm in Denver, Co., just 25 minutes due west of Aurora, a town in grief; and 68 miles north from those Colorado Springs communities charred for life. While the news of mindless crime and wildfires monopolize networks and newspapers coast to coast, there's a solemn respect for the people here, who are enduring it first-hand and yet proclaim they will overcome.

Trouble on the horizon feels far away and slightly easy to ignore...until it draws near and trespasses -- right into your life. For most of us, the battle is not with a crazed killer. Even Mother Nature is not the enemy. For just as she is harsh in seasons, at other times she'll be more than kind. No, our combat is not with the things of this world, but from an unseen one. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)

There are days when I grow weary of sad news and bad players. I want to crawl in a hole and hide from the depressing circumstances that trouble my mind. I hate the political banter. I am sick of death and destruction. I get to a point when I think why bother with fighting for what's right when the wrong seems to be winning. And how in the world can I keep my mind fixed on things that are noble when so much evil and unfairness seems overwhelming?


"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

Victory is not some far off notion for a Christian. We have already won! Christ fought the battle over death and deceit. He beat evil on a cross long ago. He is alive and ruling. He is coming again! In the meantime, we press on with resolve, fighting not for our own comfort or preservation, but for our Captain's honor. Every time I look at the wars raging in this world for heart and mind and souls, I must remind myself I am in the Lord's army. I fight for Him! Truth I defend!

A day is coming when the Lord will stop the madness. But, according to Scripture, that final battle will not be pretty. It will be a fight to the finish. The closer we get to Christ's return, the madder and more desperate our enemy becomes. The one who came to kill, steal and destroy, has not changed his tactics. He longs to use man against himself. He did it to Adam and Eve with deception. He did it to Cain and Abel with jealous rage. He did it to Saul when he attacked his mind. He did it to Judas when he hanged himself with guilt and regret. Satan's ways are redundant. "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

In the midst of such attacks, I am thankful to know that God is good and He is still in control. Last Sunday, I sang a new song I learned only a few days prior. The prayerful words continue to flow through my mind this week, reminding me of this sure comfort and drawing me close to the One who triumphs over evil.

The chorus of Captivate Us by Watermark says: "Captivate us, Lord Jesus. Set our eyes on you. Devastate us with your presence, falling down. Rushing River, draw us nearer. Holy Fountain, consume us with You. Captivate us, Lord Jesus with You."

I hear those words before I am truly awake in the morning. I think about them randomly throughout the day. I'm using them as a prayer when no other words will do. I'm overcoming fear and discouragement when I sing them over and over again in my head.

"Your face is beautiful. And Your eyes are like the stars," the song begins, reminding us of a personal Redeemer. "Your gentle hands have healing. There inside the scars. Your loving arms, they draw me near. And Your smile, it brings me peace. Draw me closer, oh my Lord. Draw me closer, Lord, to Thee."

While these words present a compassionate Christ, the second verse emphasizes His might. "Your voice is powerful. And your words are radiant bright. In Your breath and shadows, I will come close and abide. You whisper love and life divine. And Your fellowship is free. Draw me closer, oh my Lord. Draw me closer, Lord, to Thee."

When evil crouches, God captivate us and help us remember "...the battle is the LORD’s!" (1 Samuel 17:47) His light can penetrate this present darkness. So be brave, children and soldiers. Always stand for what is right. Then whether we live or die, we go out in the power of The Most High.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pitter-Pat Perspective

By Brenda Black

Sorry, I can't help but talk about it since the only chance for rain is to bring it up in conversation. It's a disaster – literally. More than 1,000 counties in 26 states are being named natural-disaster areas due to drought; it's the biggest such declaration EVER by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Day by scorching day, more brown grass is ground into powder while ponds evaporate into searing skies. And there's not a thing we can do about it, but wait and pray and try to not go crazy with fear or worry.

And if that's not depressing enough, it's an election year. Great! More hot air! No rain mixed with all the lies and allegations that leave us desperate for someone in whom we can place genuine trust equals a parched and perturbed people. Moods are down, crime is up and hope has blown away with the incessant winds. And here we sit, steaming and stewing and worrying just how bad can it get. Stop! This meltdown needs some perspective.

While I have bemoaned my pitiful green bean crop, my tomatoes have flourished in this gigantic hot house. So I will be thankful. While the pastures have withered to dust, our cattle are holding their own amazingly well. God made them hearty. As we watch the horizon day after day, yearning for wet relief, we still have a chance at recovery. Fall is coming, cooling temps and the possibility of snow this winter are not entirely impossible here in Missouri.

Midwest weather is fickle and the humidity we often curse may well be our rescuer at some point this desperate year. Whereas those who dwell in the arid mountains and windswept plains in the Northwest have already lost everything. I just spoke with a lady in South Dakota this week. The blessed rains they prayed for brought damaging hail to the tune of 700 acres of pasture lost and 300 pairs of cows and calves without grass. And neighbors in Montana experienced the horrors of watching their livestock and land consumed by raging wildfires. I can't imagine the devastation or heartache. It's so much more than property; this marriage to the soil and the forage and the animals who dwell upon it is an extension of our very humanity. Even those in urban communities may finally realize groceries aren't grown on store shelves.

It all could be so horribly depressing, so overwhelming and defeating if it weren't for perspective. When countries are ravaged by war, fierce and hopeful leaders challenge their people to rebuild. When unplanned hardships strangle us, the resilient look in and look up for sustenance.

Look in! “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Pray for rain. Pray for peace.

Look up! Every day, I find some obscure little cloud, or distant haze and say to my family: “That could have some rain in it.” For the most part, they scoff at me and call me crazy. But it's my way of keeping a sense of humor in the mix and expressing faith in a God who can take a cloud the size of a fist and turn it in to a gully washing! “...whatever is true...whatever is lovely...if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you.” (Ph. 4:8-9 selected) Perspective.

If blistering air has chaffed your normally cheerful self, how long will you let it infiltrate every part of your life? What good does it do to gripe and fret, fuss and fume over something we cannot change without the hand of God? There's a better way even if it doesn't get wetter. Get perspective by choosing to dwell on what is good and praiseworthy. Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, when it rains and when it doesn't.

May God heal our land and help us to be patient while we wait for the pitter-pat of rain.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tempting Smell of Rain

By Brenda Black

Like an epic Bible story, a fist-full of clouds began to assimilate into one long, dark wall of wet potential. We watched the developing front as if it were a cinematic production and wondered how the dramatic story would end. Would it come straight west and douse our crunchy yard? Would it hold together long enough to quench a thirsty earth spread for hundreds of miles? The steely streaks of precipitation had us captivated.

In order to determine just who was getting rain while we weren't, my son and I set out on a countrified storm chase. Instead of crazily speeding down a Kansas highway straight into a tornado, we piddled slowly along gravel roads, with the windows down. Our only high tech equipment to monitor the weather were limp hands dangling near the truck mirrors and the external temp reading on the pickup. We watched it gradually drop five degrees as we drew nearer the target. After a few miles, we realized it was farther away than we had estimated, so we stopped to take in the scene and the smell of rain expectations.

Fairly quickly, our view from a high hill verified the storm was drifting southwest. All we could do was hope that the front would widen or that winds would shift and moisture would float a little more north to reach us. As we watched the clearly delineated downpour drift more south, our hopes wandered away with it, but for a moment we caught the smell of showers of blessing while those in its direct path enjoyed the actual dampness.

I have to admit, I was a bit jealous of those fortunate folks. And tempted to begrudge them. I briefly entertained the thought of unfairness and why our prayers were going unanswered while others were having theirs met. The painstaking proof from testimonies the next day would confirm that the southerners enjoyed God's favor for three hours and a couple inches worth. Those stats stung like pelting rain in October rather than soothing soft showers in July.

The waterworks missed our yard, the garden, and the pastures. We still sit high and dry, baking and burning to a crisp while others this week are doing a happy dance. And I am happy for them.
What good would it do me to despise those who have no say in God's omnipotent ways. How can I hold it against others, who are just as desperate for a touch of relief, if they get blessed and we get overlooked. I think back a few years when our area was green all summer and every county around was envious. This time 'round, it appears to have flip-flopped.

Some will be wet and happy; others will remain dry and grumpy this summer. God rains on the just and the unjust and it really has little to do with county lines or religious rituals. The primary source that determines the weather pattern in the middle latitudes is the upper level flow pattern. Now, that's not to say we shouldn't pray. In fact, the more we realize how much we take for granted that God waters the world without our asking, the better we can appreciate His mighty power and acknowledge it through supplication. And when we grasp how gracious God is to us in plenty and in want, then we are refreshed.

Whenever I become tempted to feel forsaken or jealous of another's good fortune, then it's time for a heart-wrenching drenching. I am blessed no matter my circumstances! I choose to be thankful rather than disdainful. Rain or no rain – God is good and He knows best! To live with any other philosophy is to only invite bitterness. Often our struggles and disappointments are proof that a soul's dry and weary soul needs watering. And those who can offer the most encouragement are those who have suffered likewise. In the current drought choking our Midwest, we are upheld by Texas and Oklahoma neighbors still recovering from their own time of barrenness. We are reminded of those still fighting unrelenting fires and losing so much more than grass in the Northwest.

Dry seasons in life can bring regret or initiate productive reflection. Our choice may well define us. “As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man.” (Proverbs 27:19) I long to be growing and green in the Lord even if I'm living in a desert. Because I am now more cognizant of my dependency on God for moisture, as well as grace, I welcome that tempting smell of rain.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mayberry Blessings

By Brenda Black

The fictitious setting of Mayberry, made famous by Andy Griffith, became America's icon for community. Simpler times and Aunt Bea's recipes made Mayberry home sweet home for five decades and still counting. Sincere and quirky characters helped the rest of us feel more normal. Most of all, Mayberry made us feel safe. The doors were never locked, Sheriff Andy didn't carry a gun and Deputy Fife couldn't shoot the one he owned. Andy Griffith helped perpetuate Mayberry's nostalgic image for eight years in black and white. The legacy lives on today through the magic of media, while we bid the beloved star good bye. Griffith died Tuesday, July 3, 86 years young.
CBS via Getty Images. 
Andy Griffith on "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s.

I grew up on Mayberry and I can whistle the theme song. I know all of the characters and still giggle at the reruns. I've reached the age to finally fit the affectionate name -- “Aunt B”-- that my nieces and nephews gave me back in my 20's. I'm still a fan of the simpler things in life and enjoy a little front porch picking and singing or company stopping by. And I am blessed to have friends that are more like family, similar to those in that little North Carolina town. It's just a Mayberry mindset that color TV, busy lives nor time can erase. As fast as the world whizzes by these days, a slow trip back to Mayberry is good medicine for what ails ya.

Mayberry is more than just a pretend place wherein reside fictitious characters who never age. Mayberry is a state of consciousness, a heavenly perspective, that can exist anywhere. So how do we go about Mayberry blessing the world around us?

I try to live more simply, and do more with what I have. I extend more hospitality and open my door and my heart to those who need family or a place to just hang out. I sing louder in church and I'm quicker to laugh as my years go racing by. And why not! I go fishing or ride a horse when my sons ask. I say the Pledge of Allegiance with gusto! Sometimes, in Aunt Bea fashion, I wear an apron and bake something filled with flour and sugar and love. What I'm really saying is I try to live in such a way that expresses joy in all its many forms.

There is no perfect place, but I can impact this imperfect world with something better. Even Mayberry had its trials and tribulations. In real life, Andy Griffith suffered some pretty hard reality – two divorces and a son who died much too early. But he also found Christ and worshiped while he lived and died knowing Him as Savior. He left that comforting reassurance with his family.

"Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord," Griffith's wife, Cindi, said in a statement released to the press. "He is the love of my life, my constant companion, my partner, and my best friend. I cannot imagine life without Andy, but I take comfort and strength in God's Grace and in the knowledge that Andy is at peace and with God."

Wherever you live in this fallen and very real world, you can experience Mayberry blessings, as long as you know the Lord who is Holy and Perfect. Christ dwells in the hearts of men that they might know peace in the midst of imperfection. He resides where He is welcome and worshiped. Then He leaves it up to us to share what we know of this joyous and loving Christ with those in our household and community.

“At that hour of the night the jailer took them [Paul and Silas] and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and the whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God.” (Acts 16:33-34)

Do you remember what first got the jailer's attention? Paul and Silas were praying and singing! They were Mayberry blessing a dungeon. If that doesn't stoke your fire, you're wood's all wet! Sometimes all it takes to brighten the world is a little bit of something godly good. In honor of Andy, go be a Mayberry Blessing.

copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black