Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Faces of Christmas - Meet Mary

Part 1 in a series
By Brenda Black

Slip your feet into the tiny sandals of an innocent girl. Imagine the rush of emotions in a single moment when an other-earthly, larger-than-life being streaks across the universe and screeches to a halt directly in front of a shy teenager. Her historic and heavenly experience is recorded in the Book of Luke, chapter 1.

     “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'     “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus...      “'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'     “The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...     “'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:26-38)
An angel speaks her name and Mary is forever changed. Scriptures reduce the encounter to a few descriptive words: greatly troubled, wondered, and afraid. Many more thoughts must have raced through her mind. The wonder of being in the presence of a celestial creature would be thrilling while terrifying. How about doubt along with her fear? Mary surely questioned whether her experience was a vision or reality.

She wondered at the possibility of her being the chosen one to carry the Messiah. She knew the sacred teachings. Every Jewish woman longed to be the favored one through whom the Savior would come. But as quickly as the rush of exhilaration for such a privileged calling filled her heart, Mary suddenly stopped to count the real cost of this supernatural encounter. She would become an instant outcast, branded as unfaithful, facing the penalty of stoning for her alleged adultery. And what of her beloved Joseph once he knew?

The Good News for all mankind came to Mary most certainly with mixed reviews. Terrifying. Terrific. Highly favored, yet fearfully alone. Still she accepted the responsibility with maturity beyond her youthful years. “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Then Mary sang!

“My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.” (Lk 1:46-48)

Twice, the angel Gabriel addressed Mary as the recipient of God's grace. In vs. 28 Mary is called “favored” indicating that she is the recipient of God's undeserved favor. Then in vs. 30, she is comforted with the words “you have found favor.”

Mary was set apart and “blessed” no matter what she may have been feeling or thinking. She was declared to be indwelt by God. Though she singly bore the Savior of the world, as a mere child herself, Mary never was alone for God was with her and in her. Somehow, the Lord of All must have loved little Mary out of worry and into peace.

We have that same miraculous promise. When we ask God to bless us or speak well of us, we are asking Him not merely to approve our plans but to interfere in our lives. We're inviting Him to shake up our universe, reach down from heaven and make a difference! God's words are God's actions. With the same magnificent, mystical force that God filled Mary, we can be filled and destined.

And how do we respond? Greatly troubled? Afraid? Wondering? Or do we sing a magnificent song of redemption and blessing? I want to SING. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me...” (Lk. 1:49a)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday Freebie!

By Brenda Black

No doubt, the only reason most stopped to read this column today had to do with the headline. While you were surfing on line for ads and door-busting bargains, your eyes automatically focused on “Black Friday Freebie!” So here you are, two lines into this lead paragraph and wondering when is this writer going to get to the point and tell you what you have coming that will cost you nothing.

Still reading? Then I feel compelled to offer you something worth your time and effort. In a world crammed full of stuff, I have some free advice: SIMPLIFY!

Here are some tips to get you started to a life with less in order to enjoy it more.

*Subtract the excess to add quality and contentment. “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right...He does not oppress anyone but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9)

*Clear the clutter. That means the stuff around us and the stuff inside of us. “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ez. 18:30b-31) You are going to feel so much lighter!

*Refuse to get caught in the trap of overspending, overcommitting, and overworking. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:...a time to search and time to give up, a time to keep and time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend...” (Ecclesiastes 3:6-7a) Pray before you say yes or no to anything.

*A simpler life has time for people more than things. When we spend more time on relationships and less expense and worry on nicknacks, we're more likely to enjoy a meaningful life. A young disciple named Titus learned the value of investing himself into people and having people pour love back on him. Paul writes a thank you letter to the church at Corinth describing this young man's joy. “In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me.” (2 Corinthians 7:13b-14a) Travel lightly and connect lovingly.

*Prioritize to Simplify. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5) We can get by with far less when we understand the difference between needs and wants.

*Living Simply leaves room to celebrate God's creation and see God even in the small stuff of yourself. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Living with less in no way short changes us. We are all the more rich when we fill our lives with things eternal. Keep that in mind when the world screams at you “MORE! MORE! MORE!”

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Six Bucks and Counting

Six Bucks and Counting
From the driver's seat with my cell phone camera. 
By Brenda Black

Some guys pride themselves in being “chick magnets.” Well, I can top that! I attract the bucks. Now either these massive, gorgeous fellas are helplessly drawn by the Jovan Musk scent I'm wearing or they know I'm not packing a gun. Six times in the past week, I've come nearly nose to nose with Missouri's regal rack-bearing cervine. Granted a couple of the golden giants have been in full-tilt flight and 75 yards away, but the ones I've seen so near I could chuck a rock, have caused me to stop and marvel.

Standing at the fence, face to face.
Oh for my good camera that would have reflected
the nearness and beauty of this big buck.
Most die-hard deer hunters this past week got up on gusty and frigid mornings and traipsed through the dark to climb 20 feet into the air, and sit on a metal seat the size of a postage stamp. I, on the other hand, have been enjoying deer scenery during a drive or country jog and while gazing out the window of my heated, ground-level office.

The most recent encounter had me chuckling. There he lay, in plain site, not 40 yards from me. After the double take, I stopped the car and put her in reverse. He never moved. He just lay there chewing his cud and sunning. I rolled down my window and lifted the only proof-maker in my possession – the camera on my cell phone. Since he didn't budge, I thought maybe he was wounded. Curiosity opened the car door and I stepped up a short embankment, barely camouflaged by a scrawny cedar and some straggling brush. I did not creep. I just walked up to the fence line as if to greet a backyard neighbor. He looked me over, kept chewing his cud while a snapped and saved a few more shots. Finally, he decided it was time to stand. We assessed one another for a smattering of seconds before he trotted slowly, and quite without injury, into the timber. Thank You, God! How beautiful and priceless.

His casual exit. I cannot explain his lack of panic,
nor can I explain why my cell phone
made the picture blue.  
Now, I say this with the utmost respect for Missouri's outdoor sportsmen. The contents of my freezer and the trophy mounts from successful hunts by my sons are evidence I believe in the legal harvest of venison. But this time, in radiant daylight, along a gravel road, it was not about a kill, but about life.

Life: it comes and goes. We change and grow. It aches and achieves; grieves and adores. Life as we know it never is certain. And life is filled with blessings and curses. While I've been counting bucks this past week, I've been counting the cost of decisions I make and counting the days as fleeting and fragile. Though I'd like to lie in the sun and feel no threat as Mr. Buck did, I know that life is short and the world is not such a safe place. But there is something to be said for quiet confidence in the midst of uncertain times. And to this buck who acted brave and calm in the height of firearm season, I'd like to say, “Thanks for modeling such a noble attitude.”

“In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you... But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.” (Psalm 71:1-6, 14-15)

With what days I am given, I hereby profess I will spend as many as possible soaking up the SON and chewing on the Word of God with quiet confidence. I'm counting on the truth that God knows all and God knows best. And sometimes He gives us the most unusual peace so we can lie down and just rest, no matter the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post Election Relief

By Brenda Black

By the time this column is published, we may or may not have elected a new president. Just one day prior to the big day, political pundits predicted corruption and a contested outcome. Frankly, the campaign has made me nauseous. That our country became so dismantled and divided in a few short, but excruciating four years, is hard to imagine. Unfortunately this is not just a fleeting nightmare. It is a reality born, fed and reared on selfishness and ignorance.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power...” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

Wow! Sounds like campaign ads and rude debates. Sounds like platforms and stump speeches. Sounds like people who have wandered far from truth. The proud and abusive have redistributed unearned wealth to themselves and unmerited revenge on everyone else. Blind, willful ignorance, void of godly discernment, has become the new “common” sense. It all sounds like trouble and feels like heartache and it makes me sick!

People who take and take, but never contribute will suck the life out of this nation. Leaders who shame us and fail to defend us will destroy America from within and without. Projected results paint a dismal picture as election day comes to an end, yet one thing seems certain. A country that will not acknowledge the supreme authority of God will face judgment no matter who claims the title POTUS.

On the UP side, I also know, regardless the outcome, my God is still sovereign. He is faithful and undisturbed. Now that's relief for the heart burn I've been feeling! Remember, God is in control!

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

No human can thwart God's majesty nor undermine His authority. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord...But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:8-10)

It seems to me most logical to depend more on a God who conquered death than on any mortal man. “...I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Tim. 1:12b)

The power of a resurrected Christ and the supreme authority of the Almighty God overshadows everything else. I don't understand it all, but I do believe that we are living in unprecedented times and the Lord is coming soon. His church better be ready and be watching. And it's about time for a REVIVAL in this country, the likes of which I've never seen. It would be nice to see people truly hungry for God and flocking to the Lord's House to worship Him. Having served in ministry for 27 years, I'd certainly like to witness people more desperate for God. If that takes getting uncomfortable with this world, then I think we might have a fighting chance of seeing more souls saved and Christ's glorious return. And that, my friends is truly Good News.

If you need some post election relief, turn to the Savior of the World to find your peace.

Copyright 2012 The Word's Out - Brenda Black