Monday, August 27, 2012

What's a Word Worth

Brenda Black

In a dog-eat-dog world, one misspoken word is like fresh meat to a starving stray. And that one word, from one sentence at one moment in time can mean ruination to the person behind the lips that uttered it. Even if explained, retracted or clarified, a loosed word is not easily tamed.

The whole process is not entirely fair, for none of us is perfect. We each often speak before we think. It's just that most of us don't have 50 microphones shoved in our faces recording it, then playing it over and over again. So tell me, how do you think you would fare if every time you opened your mouth, someone was waiting to pounce and devour your reputation or your career? I know I would panic and prefer being a mute than being that fresh meat for the media.

This past week made me think about some of my own verbal blunders. A slip of the tongue has left me looking insensitive, stupid, arrogant, indifferent, sassy or unkind. I've jumped to conclusions. I've ignored obvious clues that would guide me through a set of circumstances. There have been times when I wish I could erase certain words and start all over again. Yes, words -- I've had to eat them.
Ever been there? Said one thing, meant another? Have you spoken and then freaked because you were terribly misinterpreted? I've lost friends and gained enemies over seemingly insignificant, ill-spoken words! At times, I've tried desperately to set the record straight – to no avail. More words meant to mend just splintered the boards I was trying to nail back in the fence.

There is power in the tongue – the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Words aptly spoken are sweet (Prov. 25:11) and words misspoken, like poison (Prov. 15:1-4). And since none of us has mastered the golden lips and silver tongue of no mistakes when it comes to loquacious expressions, perhaps there's room for grace when someone else steps on his tongue. Remember how we should pray:

“'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12-15)

Instead of assuming the worst, how about extending a second chance. Rewind! Do-over! Please, explain yourself! I'll listen to you, if you'll do the same for me.

In addition to praying to forgive, Jesus instructed that we should be very careful when we condemn others without taking a hard look at ourselves.

“'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“'Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.'” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Whether it's a plank in the eye or fumbling lips, it's more important that we help a brother or sister out of sin, than condemn them.

It's sure to happen again. Some slip of the tongue will send the pack circling and salivating. When it happens, how will you react? With patience, forgiveness, or consideration? Will you check the facts, understand the pressure, or assume the worst of the person? Are you going to treat the vocal fumbler as you'd want to be treated?

I'm trying to learn and practice respect in a land of hyper assumption where always the worst is assumed, and often fabricated. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason -- so we'd listen more and talk less. He must have known how much trouble we'd get ourselves into with teeth and tongue and lips. But He also gave us heads to think and hearts to forgive. How about we put those to work as much or more the next time somebody says something he or she regrets.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First-Hand Benefits of a Life of Obedience

By Brenda Black

“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, 'Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.'
“He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” (Luke 11:27-28)

It's true, you know. Though a mother is to be praised for nurturing and teaching her child, the child who adheres to her wisdom and love is the one most blessed. While the mother is filled with joy for her child's wise choices, the son or daughter reaps the long-lasting benefits!

Jesus' bold statement is not spoken disrespectfully as a way to disregard the godly woman who bore Him. Rather, he is reinforcing what He taught time and again to his followers – walk worthy, live holy, receive life abundantly.

He taught the benefits of a life of obedience from a mountain top: “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 5:6-9)

He helped Peter discover all he would gain through a life of faith when he sat down and had a heart to heart with his disciples.

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'

“They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'

“'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'

“Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'

“Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus must have been thrilled to hear such conviction come from Peter. He surely was proud of how far this motley crew of of hand-picked hopefuls had come in their short time together. How sweet, then, to impart such a blessing and know that it would be for Peter's own good, as well as the kingdom's. Parents feel such pride, teachers experience such satisfaction. And our Holy Savior smiles when we get it!

It does my heart good to have sons who choose rightly, for then I know the promises of which they will profit: “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry...Blessings crown the head of the righteous...The memory of the righteous will be a blessing...The wise in heart accept commands...The man of integrity walks securely...The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life...Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning...Wise men store up knowledge...The wages of the righteous bring them life...He who heeds discipline shows the way to life...The fear of the Lord adds length to life...The prospect of the righteous is joy...The way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous...” (Proverbs 10)

How much will they individually be lavished by God for clean living and obedience to Christ's teachings if I point them to Him? Incredibly more than I could ever give!

Many in the world want to live off of the laurels of godly ancestors. But each must answer for his own actions. Don't get me wrong. It's great to have noble parents who follow God faithfully. I desperately pray that I have been a godly role model for my family. God blesses such intentional living. But no one can live on another's standing with God. We have to know the Savior personally and grow as a believer to reap the rewards hidden in His Word that He wants to lavish upon our lives on a daily basis.

“All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children's peace,” says Isaiah in chapter 54. He is speaking to the House of Israel, but God's promises are for all those ingrafted and called His dearly loved. So when Isaiah concludes that “This is a heritage of the servants of the Lord,” then we can rejoice! Everyone of us, from generation to generation, who choose LIFE are blessed when we hear God's Word and obey it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Keeping Kindness Alive & Well

By Brenda Black

I don't set out to do good deeds for the applause. I'm just a natural people helper. I'll jump to aid an elderly person or help a harried parent corral a wandering toddler. I'm quick to lend a hand and don't give much thought to what it will cost me. Oh, I suppose if some overly educated, analytically astute psychologist wanted to pick it apart, they'd probably diagnose my behavior by saying I do it in order to get something out of it. And maybe, deep down, I do. I sure feel better when I see a look of relief or appreciation. I sleep better at night knowing I did the right thing by a fellow human being. It makes me happy making others happy.

Though I don't have an agenda, and it's more of an automatic response, I have to ask myself : Why does it bother me so much when people do not reciprocate kindness or demonstrate basic good manners? And why does it give me such a lift when people react pleasantly? Several days at the state fair is a great place for such a sociological study and self analysis.

My first moments greeting the public as president of the Missouri CattleWomen at the Beef Showcase were met with unexpected kindness. One gentleman started a conversation by asking how things really were going in the beef business. I answered honestly that it's a little rough this year with a drought and high input costs. He went on to show appreciation for the hard work of farmers and ranchers. He told me he knew where his food came from and understood how important agriculturalists are to his life. Finally, this kind person actually blessed me -- literally. And I was genuinely touched by his sincerity.

After several hours of constant people traffic, I took a brief break and strolled through one of the nearby buildings. Ahead of me was a lady pushing an elderly woman in a wheel chair. I quick-stepped past them to get to the door and pushed it open and held it. Neither said a word nor smiled or nodded. And on their heels, a string of 20 people took advantage of my donated door duty. All ages and sizes passed over the threshold and not a single "Thank You." I waited till the parade dwindled and then closed the door and headed on my way, feeling baffled by the lack of common courtesy.

My faith in humanity was restored on yet another volunteer detail. I was the door greeter at the Beef House. Granted, when you are welcoming folks in for a mouth-watering steak, they tend to be in a better mood. But even when the line was half a block long, I met one after another who spoke kindly, smiled brightly and returned gratitude when I assisted them.

Maybe it's simply being observant. To the masses, this gray-haired, slender man seemed invisible. To me he looked like he was in pain. I was right, and stopped to ask if he needed assistance. He thanked me profusely for caring.

It's not difficult to be considerate. It doesn't take a whole lot of time. But it does take heart. Kindness is as old as history. Boaz was a perfect example of such timeless tenderness. “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” (Ruth 2:20)

I was blessed by kindness, drained by indifference and energized, even after 12 hours of hospitality one day at a fair, purely because of the way people treated me. So I think I'll keep on doing what comes naturally. Hopefully it helps somebody else have a better day.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sheltered by Faith

By Brenda Black

Some in our little country congregation have traveled near and far and returned safely home to the rural community where I live. Some endured sudden storms this past week that left damaged property, but no injuries. Some have braved medical tests and learned good news and some are thankful for just one more day. In all of these circumstances, God moved.

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)
Deliverance comes in a host of forms, from traveling mercies to supernatural healing. The Lord covers, sustains, removes, rejuvenates. He leads, protects, grants wisdom or endurance. And sometimes bad things happen, people get sick or possessions get ruined. Still, God Almighty partners with us when we place our trust in Him, no matter the situation. Godly fear is the beginning of wisdom; wisdom is steeped in learning to lean.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The harder the winds of this world blow in our face, the more we have to live by faith! The disciples had to learn that same lesson with an up-close encounter with nature when they were overcome by a raging storm. “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger...He [Jesus] got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples.'” (Luke 8:23b-25)

The story concludes that “In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'” (Lk 8:25)

In order to truly follow a God who is all powerful, we have to first fear Him reverently. Honestly, I am repulsed by the lack of God-awe these days. We regard Him as a sugar daddy prayer buddy. We worship Him only if we win the lottery. We blaspheme His holy name and defend ungodly behavior. This mixed up world takes punches at the King of Kings and Lord of Lords without apology and packages it in blog rants and comedic monologues on late-night t.v. We shamelessly promote sin and categorize righteousness as bigotry. The foolishness of men is evidenced in a thousand ways through our arrogance, self-righteousness, indifference and independence! Such denial of God's magnanimous sovereignty is stupid at best; eternally damning at worst. The prolific disregard for our Creator causes me to wonder just how much longer will He tarry. A day of reckoning is coming.

Before the disciples were fully convinced of Jesus' amazing wind and water taming, at least they already called Him Master. “The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!'” (Lk 8:24)

Until we see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit with faith-filled, humble eyes, we are sunk! But, in reliance on God and a belief in the power of the Resurrected Christ, we muster the courage to face whatever blasts into our life or is torn from it. Only Jesus truly calms our storms. So trust and do not fear. God is near when we need Him most, if we would just believe.

The divide between those who call Him Lord and those who ignore His mighty power grows wider every day. So, I'm compelled to ask: When the storms blow your direction, are you going to go through them without protection? Or will you be covered in calm, with Christ as your shelter?

copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cat Walk

By Brenda Black

On a normal morning, my Labrador greets me bouncing gleefully. She knows we're going for a walk down the road if I step out of the house early, and shod in my Sauconies. It's her chance to sniff to her heart's content and follow that nose for short, excited road-side adventures. She gets to stretch aging legs that spend too much time on concrete where she lay trying to keep cool in this blistering heat. For me, it's a way to clear my mind for the work ahead and burn off calories before they touch my lips and hips. We make a pretty good team. But once in a great while, we are joined by another companion – the cat. Then the walk looks a whole lot different.

My dog understands the drill. She jogs along perfectly positioned ahead, alongside or behind. She is confident and knows the course we trod and paces herself according to my gait. The cat, on the other hand, doesn't have a clue. Yet she pretends to be in charge. So with every 10 steps I take, she bolts from behind, pounces ahead and inconveniently drops and rolls playfully right in my path. If I didn't know better, I'd think she was trying to kill me!

I acknowledge her cuteness as I sidestep the fur-ball hurdle that could hurl me flat on my face. She pulls her catastrophic escapades three or four more calculated times before she gives up the game and wanders to the ditch to pursue smaller game. Today, she hung with us for well over a mile. Of course, as we stepped lively, she finally fell behind far enough to stop tripping me and far enough to have me keep looking over my shoulder to make sure she was still safe.

Before we finally reached home, I had scooped up the panting, far-less cocky cat and was hauling her little worn-out self the rest of the journey. She discovered she didn't know the way and she most certainly wasn't the leader.

Believers today can fall into any of these categories: the Faithful, Joyful, Confident Canine; the Determined Disciple; or the Know-it-All Kitty that trips the rest of us up and slows down the progress. Which are you?

The Book of John addresses each.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12) My dog knows the way because she follows her master consistently. She could walk it alone, but she never does. She'd rather walk it with me. Oh, to be a believer who spends so much time with the Savior that we know which way He's going and we long to stick near Him.

When we walk, I get time and space to talk with the Lord. Often, I simply listen. But just as it takes self-discipline to get up and get down that road early in the morning, likewise we are called to accept some pretty heavy doctrine from an omnipotent God. We are to believe even when it is hard to understand. It takes determination to be a disciple when the world is telling you that you are on the wrong path. John records in chapter 6 that Jesus turned some fickle followers off when they heard him speak of feeding on Himself. I'd have to admit that would be a bit hard interpret. But for those who grasped His eternal meaning, they became more than disciples – they became His children.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'

“Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 'Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe...' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'” (Jn. 6:60-69)

Hopefully, you are gleefully committed and/or dutifully determined. If not either of these, you might be in danger of being a fickle feline wandering aimlessly, and tripping others on your misguided adventure.