Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three Part Harmony

 By Brenda Black

From time to time, I get the privilege of singing three part harmony with a couple of lovely ladies. I admittedly sing the easy part – the melody. They employ their far more advanced musical skills to sort out the tougher tasks, finding complementary notes or writing in a sweet sounding chord. Though my notes are typically the most familiar, their low and high intricacies lend richness and complexity to the song, bringing it to its full potential.

As we practiced this week for a performance, one of my dear friends began to weep during one of our selections. I noticed first her voice had faded, but I was focusing on the sheet music and didn't see the tears until the song ended. God moved her through the music. He longs to fill each of our hearts that same way, with the harmony of Himself. And His arrangement is a beautiful blend of faith, hope and love that Christ sings into our lives.

At our little country church, our spiritual batteries were recharged this week during a revival. Thanks to singing and powerful preaching by my husband, Alan Black, and Bro. Bill Platt of Nevada First Christian Church, the presence of the Lord filled the sanctuary.

While caught up in the music or the moment, it's easy to feel empowered. But when the doors are closed, the music ceases and the preachers shut the Scriptures, the challenge truly begins. For once you've been filled, God expects you to share that power with someone else. He calls us to reach out with faith, hope and love!

We are called to walk out faith daily! How do you remain faithful in a fickle world that waffles, compromises and curses? Do your best in the power of Christ to present truth. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2) Leave no room for doubt where your loyalty lies, to whom you answer for every word and deed, or that you truly love and serve the Lord. Speak of Him out of a pure heart and cling to the cross. Never forget God was faithful to redeem. May we live faithfully grateful and eager to share.

When we are energized, hope is renewed and we must hold out that hope to the world where people settle for less than God's best and believe the sad lies of the enemy. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.” (Heb. 10:35-38a)

The two are eternally intertwined – faith and hope. And they are incomplete without the final piece: Love! Only because we are filled with Christ are we able to love even when we are hated. Those who are called apart and commissioned to live as light and salt and ministers of the Gospel, will find themselves upside-down and at odds with this world. Christ came to set His people free, not just make them comfortable here on earth. He came to glorify the Father in Heaven, not fit in with the crowd. He died for our sins not that we would continue to condone them, but that we would be saved from them. And once we have tasted and seen such lavish mercy, we can't help but give it away.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

We are called to be in the world, but not of this world. We can convey the faith, hope and love of God because we've known it first-hand even though we must wait to see the beautiful composer face to face. Go share with the lost this perfect three-part remedy. Stay ignited and go touch the world for the sake of the cross and the perfect harmony of God.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Cycle of Sin

By Brenda Black

Lance Armstrong -- the very name elicits images of strength and athletic heroics. It used to, that is. Now the famous cyclist's name is mud and it's being dragged through the media with a vengeance.

The final verdict from the powers that be in the professional cycling world condemns Armstrong of “masterminding a doping strategy that involved prohibited drugs, blood transfusions and elaborate schemes to fool testing authorities,” writes reporter Martin Rogers.

The iconic athlete was stripped of each of his seven Tour de France titles. His reputation now morphs from stellar to stupid, while million-dollar endorsements disappear into the dust. The saddest indictments are how self-deceived this man and how many suffer because of his sin.

With any fallen hero, a fan base comprised of young and old, trusting and loyal people, is left in the wake. The winners that should have been, instead had their moment of glory and fame stolen selfishly and deceitfully from them, never to be regained. In fact the history books will just declare no winner at all for those seven prestigious titles. Shameful, costly, and so disappointing.

Is it pride, greed, selfishness, or arrogance that leads a man to believe he is above accountability? Does he think he is more deserving or afraid that he is not? How can he lie for so long that he believes the lies to be truth?

As long as sin is given rein to go unbridled and as long as others will turn the other way or empower such destructive choices, the sinner certainly loses more than he ever gains. And every life he impacts loses as well.

Most of us will never compete for world titles and our faces won't grace giant billboards or cereal boxes. We may never dream of experimenting with drugs and wouldn't dare consider cheating. Still, we are sinners just the same. I don't say that to excuse Armstrong's gargantuan assault on athletic integrity. It's just the truth.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
From blatant hypocrisy to subtle deceit, we sin. We lie, we gossip, we offend without cause and live far from holy lives, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Rom. 3:23)

Amazingly, that holy God will forgive in an instant if we just repent. IF we repent.

“...this [Armstrong] story is close to having run its course,” writes Rogers. “a defining step at the end of a tale that has unraveled to expose extraordinary details of wrongdoing behind what was once considered an extraordinary tale of human achievement.

“All that is left is for Armstrong now is to reveal all, to tell the world what, how and why he fooled so many for so long. But for an athlete for whom denial and deceit has seemingly become second nature, such a reversal must be considered unlikely.”

courtesy of http://www.nydailynews.com/
The death trap is set. Either he can come clean and confess and seek forgiveness or he stands to lose more than just a few worldly titles. He risks heaven itself. The Apostle Paul once wrote to the Church in Rome warning them of the deadly consequences of sin compared to the life-giving results of righteousness. “...do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14)

The real battle for Armstrong, and for each of us, is not a competition for our reputation in and of itself. It is a race for grace. God waits with open arms. He wipes our record clean, not of trophies undeserved, but of sin unchecked. He replaces the exposed crimes with His mercy and sees us as winners again. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom. 3:22) In this perfect cycle, God takes our ruination and makes us right again.

We can't undo history or unhurt people injured by our own selfish sins. But we can live differently each day ahead when we count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eyes for Eternity

By Brenda Black

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

“'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'

“Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the pool of Siloam' (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” (John 9:1-7)

We don't know exactly how old this man, but according to his parents' testimony before the Pharisees, “He is of age; he will speak for himself.” And boy howdy does he have a story to tell! But rather than debate those gnawing questions of right and wrong, fairness and hardship, disabilities at birth and miraculous healing like the contentious Pharisees, my thoughts are drawn to the details of this amazing encounter with Christ.

Notice, this man does not ask to be healed. He may have begged for money or mercy as Jesus and his disciples passed, but he did not ask for his eyes to be opened. The passage doesn't actually indicate that he spoke to the group at all. Still, Jesus, who speaks of him, then addresses him. He touches him and asks something of the beggar himself. He commissions him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, at least a half mile's walk.

Rolling through my mind is the nagging question of why a grown man would let somebody spit in the mud and then wipe the nasty stuff on his face. Why did he obey this stranger he'd never seen or with whom he'd never conversed? My only conclusion is that the man heard sincerity in the voice and felt certainty in the Master's touch.

He made the journey to the water and came back seeing! Before he could search for the one who healed him, he was swept up in controversy and whisked away to tell and retell his story to the skeptics. The stark contrast between the loving kindness of Jesus and the sarcastic criticism of the Pharisees only solidified the man's child-like faith in this unseen stranger. He boldly answered their antagonistic accusations with resolve, “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (Jn. 9:25b)

And here's the part of the story I love the most. Jesus just shows up and introduces Himself!

“When Jesus heard that they had thrown the man out, He found him and asked, 'Do you believe in the “Son of Man?”'

“'Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?' he asked.” (Jn. 9:35-36)

There you have it...now the blind beggar with eyes wide open is asking a clearly profound question. It's a query that won't just fix his eyes temporarily while he lives on earth. It's the beginning to eyes for eternity. And Jesus, the same Jesus who healed him without a request, now waits for the seeing seeker to search the heart of God.

“Jesus answered, 'You have seen Him; in fact, He is the One speaking with you.'

“'I believe, Lord!' he said, and he worshiped Him.

“Jesus said, 'I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.'” (Jn. 9:37-39)

The moral of the story: “This came about so that God's works might be displayed in him.” May the blind man lead us to the sincere and certain “Light of the World” -- Jesus – so that others see His glory revealed in us. Remember, all you have to do is ask and Jesus shows up to touch your life eternally.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Colorful Coat, No Common Sense

By Brenda Black

Most parents fret over fairness. If more than one child is in the family, they labor over the equal balance of gifts, attention, discipline, extracurricular activities and permission for all kinds of freedoms. It's a self-inflicted pressure to convince our children they are loved uniformly. To keep life interesting, God never delivers similar babies. He gives us total opposites who make this tortuous game of equivalency all the more challenging. Most parents still pull it off with excellence and every kid knows he is loved and valued uniquely, yet equally.

Not so with the patriarch Jacob. In his house full of sons and half-brothers, he made a huge mistake. He favored one more highly and doomed him to the fallout of jealousy. The story of Joseph and his retaliatory brothers begins in Genesis 37 where Joseph reveals a dream of his own supremacy. And daddy Jacob (now called Israel) fuels the fire of resentment by clothing the baby of the family in a royal robe. Then he sends him out to the fields to his indignant brothers.

“[Joseph's] brothers had gone to pasture their father's flocks at Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, 'Your brothers, you know, are pasturing the flocks at Shechem. Get ready. I'm sending you to them.'

“'I'm ready,' Joseph replied.

“Then Israel said to him, 'Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing, and bring word back to me.' So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.” (Gen. 37:12-14)

The fact that Israel was blind of the jealousies among his boys is alarming. That he would send the despised youngest, who's been lolling around the house, out to check on his brothers who are sleeping with stinky sheep...that's just nonsense. Couple that with Joseph's audacity to don the luxurious robe as his brothers wear work clothes and go without baths or hot meals. His blind arrogance is asking for a whopping! The rest of the story: A brother is sold into slavery, sons lie to their daddy, and horrible grief and guilt rip men more to pieces than the wild beast of their fabricated tale of Joseph's death.

Sounds to me like Joseph should have left that jacket hanging in the closet and kept his dreams to himself. At the very least, he should have employed some discernment.

Though God ultimately turned Israel's and Joseph's mistakes into moments for His glory, both father and son learned their lessons through extreme suffering. Jacob should have remembered how favoritism from his mother tore his family apart instead of repeating the sin. Joseph should have opened his eyes and realized that the precious visions and plans that God gives us are not for our own edification, but for His.

When God sows into your mind a glimpse into his heart, guard those thoughts closely; handle them carefully. But do not flaunt them senselessly. If the one to whom God reveals such dreams is so blind that he cannot see the big picture, how can we expect those who hear it second hand to comprehend its significance.

God is just and fair and works all things together for His good purpose. He also desires to give us perfectly wonderful gifts. It's our privileged position to wear his favor humbly, not flagrantly, because all that we are and how we treat people fairly is for His glory. With all of the color He lavishes upon us, it is vitally important that we balance it with plenty of common sense.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cave Praisin'

background photo courtesy of

By Brenda Black

“I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:9-11)

This praise from the pen of David concludes one of his 73 lyrical poems recorded in the Book of Psalm. The entire collection of 150 psalms was written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel's history. Most likely, they were compiled shortly after the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon ended about 537 B.C. No doubt, music helped soothe the pain of much lost in those dark years. They needed ways to express devotion to the God who set them free again – prayers, poems and hymns of honor. But the psalms offered much more!

In the longest book in the Bible, there are 150 psalms that talk of creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice and the coming Messiah! Long before the Christ walked among men, the psalmist wrote of this coming Savior and His kingdom. Ps. 2:1-12 portrays His triumph. Ps. 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Ps. 22 depicts and predicts the suffering Savior of the cross. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are proclaimed in Ps. 45:6-7 and His eternal reign pronounced in Ps. 72:6-17, 89:3-37, 110:1-7 and 132:12-18. Remarkably accurate; amazingly fulfilled.

The psalmist David, in particular, used music and poetry to not only reveal a coming King, but to express deep longings for the time in which he lived. He made the music a prayer and divulged his innermost anxieties and dependency on God. For eight years, David ran for his life from a jealous and demented King Saul. And in that time span, he penned at least ten powerful songs that were included in the Book of Psalm: 7, 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 63 and 142.

While fleeing from Saul, captured by Philistines, faking insanity, feeling betrayed, cut off and trapped like an animal in a cave, David praised. Oh yes, he vented and begged. He cried. And he gave God the glory for all of it! Read again Psalm 57 now that you know his circumstances. Then ponder Psalm 63:

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Ps. 63:1-8)

It is entirely too easy to think our lot in life too difficult. Then I think of David, a man after God's own heart. He was human and sinful, but he suffered at the hands of others when he was actually innocent at the time. What a rotten deal! Still he praised. He worshiped. He prayed. He didn't turn his back on God and he didn't quit! If David can look for the positive in the throes of such injustice while dwelling in damp caves in the middle of a desert, can't we seek God with such faith and fervor from the comfort of our cushy lives?

What am I willing to risk and what will I not compromise? David wrestled with both and, ever on the run, chose the high road. There are big decisions and small everyday situations that call on modern day Christians to praise God, pray for strength and proclaim His power and faithfulness. Don't wait for a cave crisis. Sing to the Lord now!

“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble...I cry to you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.'...Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.” (Ps. 142:1-2, 5, 7a)
We are each called to praise, even from a cave!