Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gift of Second Chances

2nd chancesChristmas Gifts from the Prophets
The Gift of Second Chances
Part 3 in a series
By Brenda Black

“Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's wrath comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger.” (Zephaniah 2:1-3)

Doesn't sound like a typical Christmas verse, I know. Bear with me. Go deeper. Look for the gift Zephaniah brings. This one just might be the most precious of possibilities. It is the gift of second chances!

If ever there were a time to remember redemption, it's at Christmas. While the world has reduced your options to “naughty” verses “nice,” God sent His Son to cover all of the spectrum and provide the only One who could cover our inadequacies and sinful behavior from the slightest offense to the greatest affront.

Don't miss a significantly important aspect of this wrapped up warning from Zeph. He's presenting the gift of second chances to the shameful as well as the humble – the naughty and the nice. For God is “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9b)

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” says Peter like Zephaniah. There is an appointed time. Just as Jesus' arrival one silent night, so too shall He come again, in God's perfect timing. Once He came as a vulnerable infant, dependent on man's protection and provision, in order to live as fully human. Next time He enters our atmosphere, He'll break the silence of indifference and silence the clamor of blasphemous proclamations! He'll come as King and Judge and He'll come in divine glory!

We can practice preparations for His coming this Christmas. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Seek the Lord and do what He commands. The prophet Zephaniah delivered a message that grants us plenty of opportunity to pick the perfect gift for Christmas and every day of our lives. He gave us the chance to get ready, a reason to repent!

Again Peter confirms: “Dear friends...I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and with water. By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men...

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Pet. 3:1-7, 11-12a)

The best gift you could give yourself this Christmas is to be honest before the Lord and lay down the sin. Seek righteousness. That may take laying down the pride in order to seek humility. The season of second chances will one day be gone. And just like the last minute rush to get all the packages purchased and bought, time is running out to be right with God.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Gift of Evangelism

Part 2 in a series
By Brenda Black

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.'

“Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh...

“When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:

“'By the decree of the king and his nobles:

“'”Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”'

“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:1-10)

The gift of evangelism is not always an easy one to present, especially to those who would rather see you dead! The residents of Nineveh were Assyrians, enemies of Israel. Jonah knew them to be pagans with evil intent. God knew they needed forgiveness.

Unlike Jonah, who wanted the gift of grace only for himself and not for this wicked nation, the shepherds who first heard of God's miraculous offering, couldn't wait to go spread the news. They, too, would have faced potentially hostile recipients since they were considered lowly in social status. Yet, they didn't hesitate when an angel of the Lord bid them “Go tell!”

The difference between Jonah and the shepherds was a matter of perspective. The shepherds accepted the gift of evangelism, then wrapped it in compassion for speedy delivery. While Jonah begged to differ with God's commission, the shepherds took to heart the angel's message: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) They got it! And IT was for ALL!

Whether begrudgingly or willingly the Gospel is delivered, the miraculous power of the Word changes lives. In spite of our blunderings, our wanderings or our arguing, God will make a way. There is a much easier path than through the belly of a whale when it comes to sharing the salvation message. There is the way of the shepherd. With urgency, joy, enthusiasm and expectation, they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Lk. 2:16-18)

The gift of evangelism is just that – a gift. It comes from the Father to His saved child with the expectation that he who has received much will be more than anxious to share it.
Go tell!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“The Gift of Three Songs”

Christmas Gifts from the Prophets
The Gift of Three Songs”
Part 1 in a series
By Brenda Black

“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit...What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isaiah 5:1-4)

Isaiah sang of the gift God gave – His fertile land and His choice vine -- the Son He sent. The best came to earth, predicted by the prophets of old, because God so loved each of us. Jesus was planted in the womb of a virgin, who adds her melody of humble favor to the notes of Isaiah's tune.

“And Mary said: 'My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thought. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.'” (Luke 1:46-55)

The gift came as a babe in a manger to a vineyard filled with promise. Isaiah sang of this great gift call Emmanuel. Mary sang of the gift of His mighty power. But it was Zechariah who added the all important lyrics of Christ's saving prophecy as the ultimate gift to humanity.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant...” (Lk. 1:67-72)

The vine, the babe, the song, the Christ “grew and became strong in spirit.” (Lk 1:80)

In His last days on earth, Jesus hauntingly sings again a new version of Isaiah's “Song of the Vineyard” when He speaks of the parable of the landowner, recorded in Matthew 21.

“'...There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it , dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.'

“'But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance!” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?'” (Mt. 21:33-40)

The Creator God provided the gift of a vineyard; He the earth and you and me. A Loving God sent the gift of His Son, the perfect branch, to dwell among the vines and offer fellowship with holiness. In return for such provision and love, mercy and miracles, we scorned, disrespected, rejected and crucified Him. We yielded bad fruit! Is that any way to say thanks? Jesus, the beautiful branch who bore life for all mankind, was planted in the womb of a virgin and grew to provide salvation. What are we doing with such a marvelous gift?

If Christmas is a time of music and giving, then may it be sung about you and me that we were good fruit and lived as redeemed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

From Beginning to End, Give Thanks

By Brenda Black

For 66 days, the 102 brave and sea weary sojourners rolled and plummeted across tumultuous waters to reach their destination. By the time their little boat docked, most were too sick or afraid to step from the wooden planks of the Mayflower and face the bitter winds awaiting them ashore. Only half survived that first winter in 1620. Those who surfaced from the hull, stepped onto the land weak, ill and malnourished. They needed shelter, food and a friend.

God sent Squanto. A member of the Pawtuxet tribe, he set to work teaching the pale Europeans how to cultivate corn, draw sap from the plentiful maples, catch fish from the rivers and recognize edible and toxic plant species that covered this new land. Squanto then acted as social director and introduced the settlers to the local Wampanoag tribe.

The Pilgrims and Natives gave thanks for three days solid at a feast the following November, celebrating their new friends and abundant harvest. God provided for their needs. God proliferated their efforts. God propelled people into relationship. After 392 years, He's still at it!

So far removed from our nation's early history, even farther from the very beginning of time, we easily forget that the Lord began His work of provision on the first day of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) The birth of a new country far down the timeline of human history is rendered completely impossible had God not started the process before time began. 

We get so arrogant and self important that somehow we forget that America is a gift from God! Every blade of grass, each floating cloud, every single drop of water and molecule of oxygen God spoke into existence. We did not! The land we plow, the food we consume, the comfort we know is miraculous and graciously imparted from the Creator Himself.

From that dawning moment until today, God for some reason still pursues people. Though we've forsaken Him, mocked Him, killed His Holy Son and turned our backs on Him, He reaches down through time and space and still blesses the planet and our little place on it. Give thanks!

His creative compassion and desire to connect with His creation is not just part of history. It is not just for the contemporary. God continues to provide and plead with us into eternity.

“'I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.'

“The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:16-17) We are most blessed that His hand remains steady and His heart faithful to mankind, from beginning to end.

The Lord provided the seed for every living thing. He alone caused the increase. And we are favored with His presence and the fellowship of His people. Seems like plenty for which to be thankful!

You may feel a little storm tossed and weary. You may feel like one of a shrinking remnant who still has faith to step off the boat and trust in God to show you the way. You may feel sick of this bitter and cold world, with residents malnourished by the disease of sin. But take heart, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

“The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth...From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:1-16 selected)

A new earth. A new country. A new covenant. A new connection with the God who was and is and is to come. Give thanks!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cold Feet, Warm Hearts

By Brenda Black

Early in November, falling evening temperatures already had my internal thermostat kicking into overdrive to keep fingers and toes warm and aching muscles at bay. For several nights, my icy feet begged for fuzzy socks, even though they were sandwiched between two sheets, a comforter and a quilt!

The days stayed unseasonably warm much to my delight, but while I soaked up the fleeting and far more distant Midwest rays, I sensed the looming dread of daytime freezing. That makes the night even worse! The numbing thoughts quickly squelched my warm fuzzy pleasure. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of cold. I shiver and ache from its bitter touch and entertain the concept of hibernation to stepping out into it's crisp grip.

It's important that you understand my great dislike in order to appreciate two very special gifts lavished upon me during this frigid time of year.

The first came from Mom and Dad who took me shopping for Christmas early to buy a new, winter coat. Aww! The very thought of it warmed me before I ever tried on a leather bomber or fur clad collar or floor length cover. What made the day even more special was the doting from my benefactors. They scoped the racks and pushed around hangers, predicting my preferences pretty accurately. We divided and conquered long and short, lightweight and heavy to narrow down the prospects.

My favorite part of the search and seize was backing into one sample after another, as Daddy prepped the jacket by swinging it wide open, and with gentlemanly flair, helping the lady into the cloak. Mom, never more than a rack away, cruised over for inspection and a vote cast by each of us determined the final decision. One by one, we eliminated zippered and buttoned and belted versions. Finally, a lovely, knee length wool with sleeves not too long, nor too short, just the right weight, just the right color, with pockets deep enough and collar wide enough, won unanimously. A colorful scarf finished the gift and one week later a cold snap provided the perfect opportunity for me to give the girl a chance to prove herself. The bitter wind stopped by woolen bliss!

On the coattails of that sweet and generous shopping trip, I was taken by surprise by a friend at church one Sunday. She came toting a cumbersome package and plopped it into my arms as she grinned a satisfied smile. “It's your Christmas present early,” she declared and turned to walk away.

I wrestled the soft-sided, over-sized lump until I could see the front label. “Heated Mattress Pad with Dual Controls”. I wanted to kiss her!

For several days and nights now, I've staved off brisk winds and hypothermic appendages all because of thoughtful people. Their gestures were personal, intuitive and generous – perfect examples of the ways that God gifts His children.

“'If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.'” (Matthew 7:11-12)

As you whittle away at your Christmas list, remember that the best gifts are those most customized and thoughtful, the kind that warms not just the body, but the soul. Imitate the greatest gift-giver, God. Remember, He sent love, wrapped in swaddling clothes to save cold-hearted sinners. I think He continues to save cold-footed ones too, through the love of others.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lost and Found

By Brenda Black

I lost it last night. I lost me when I got caught up in the Lord. At that blissful moment, it is both humiliating and elevating. And the combination is exhilarating! John the Baptist said it this way: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) When the Lord occupies His rightful place on the throne and we sit at His feet, all is right in the universe.

Frequently and quickly, we set our hearts on other affections rather than the One most deserving. Why is that? Proximity? Visibility? Convenience or selfish motives? Most likely, all of the above. We focus on what we can see, we reach out to that we can touch. Ashamedly, we love what only benefits us most. All the while, the Savior who gave His life and left His Spirit to guard and comfort and guide, we dismiss with cordiality, saying, Thanks, but no thanks. We convince ourselves that our lives are complete without Him.

No! They are not! At moments when I step out of the routine I control and I define, I find myself completely inadequate and incomplete apart from this Jesus who loves me! And then I realize, even in the areas of my life that I feel most confident, I'm still not the one calling the shots. He is!
You may not get it. Most days, I can easily dismiss it. But there are poignant moments when He will not be ignored. They often come because I've willingly given Him my undivided attention. It's an amazing, conflicting, completely mind-blowing concept that this powerful God who spins the earth on the tip of His finger, waits patiently for us to come near. When we do, the experience is catapulted into heavenly!

I lost it last night and I'm glad for it. Because in my losing, I found the Lord filling me, holding me, lifting me, hugging me, teaching me, reaching me and changing me in that moment for the better. When I get lost in Him, I find the one He's completing. I discover the me He wants me to be. I learn anew that He's not finished with this work in progress. Neither is He finished with you!

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

In the song I am Not Ashamed of the Gospel, one of the lines says “I'm not out to change this whole world around me. I've got my mind on eternity.” I contend that the best way to change the world around you and to change the one within you, is to set your mind on things above. When you fix your sites on eternity, you may feel a little lost in this world, but you'll feel right at home near to the heart of God. Where once you were lost, you will be found. When you become less and He becomes more, that moment is heavenly, blissful, mind-blowing and completely supernatural.

Get lost!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lesson from a Leaf

By Brenda Black

We were looking over the cattle herd the other day, sizing up potential heifers and calculating returns on steers that would soon make the trip to town. Satisfied with the tour, it was time to head home. But before we left the pasture, I snagged a dozen giant Sycamore leaves splashed in fall glory of blaze orange, yellow and red. In that brief moment of gathering nature's free souvenirs, I was six again – romping through the timber, collecting acorns, leaves and late summer flowers that refused to give up with the change of seasons.

Once home, I arranged my autumn harvest in a pretty glass bowl and placed them center stage on a table. When my husband asked what I was doing, I said, “I'm being a little girl again and reliving my childhood.”

The smell of wet soil, the sound of crunching leaves and twigs, the easy view of a red, fluffy tailed squirrel against grey bark are wonders in the autumn woods. They never grow old or lose their charm. Even if I am not that wide-eyed child any longer, I am thankful that a sense of wonder lingers decades after those first fascinating impressions were discovered. This adult life is filled with complexities and chaos and there's just something about a walk in the woods that brings calm and reminders of a care-free, simpler time. Getting back to the basics never did a body harm.

In our advanced culture filled with gadgets and unending demands on our time and attention, sometimes we just need to pull back, unplug and go for a walk in the woods. Take a lesson from this late-in-the-year season. There is a time for everything and at times, time needs to slow its pace and we just need to float like a leaf on the breeze for a few minutes.

God didn't paint a gorgeous October to be ignored. He didn't carve beautiful, trickling streams to step over, then not notice the smooth stones shimmering beneath the surface. The pleasure is worthy of pause. And this is just a rehearsal!

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelations 22:1-5)

If I am mesmerized by a dead leaf plucked from withering grasses, I can't begin to fathom how overwhelmed I'll be standing beneath a tree so large that a river runs through it; that river so crystal clear that it reflects a perfect city. And standing there with me, the Lamb of Glory, who not only understands my childish ways, He laughs with me and longs for me to come to Him with such childlike abandon. In heaven, I'll be a little girl again!

It's amazing what a few leaves made me think. The simple notion of a leaf loosed from its branch launched my mind down a wandering path of times loved and fondly remembered, providing lessons for today and hope for tomorrow. The basic principle: The golden carpet of a woodland floor is only possible when the leaves let go. Some of life's most precious times are going to be missed if we don't allow ourselves to just float into the moment. And the most important walk in the woods we'll ever take is yet to come. Until then, I pray I never lose my childlike faith.

The Word's Out copyright 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

He's Always on Time, Even When We Change the Clocks

By Brenda Black

Two weary souls trudged out of Jerusalem sullen and slowly, having just buried Jesus, along with all semblance of hope.

Think of it – seven miles in sandals and sorrow. Tiny grains of sand irritatingly rubbed between their toes. Sadness chafed their hearts. Confusion grated their minds. Then He appears, this clueless stranger, unaware of their misery it seems.

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus...They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

“He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?'

“They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, 'Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened there in these days?'” (Luke 24:13-18)

For certain, Jesus knew of “the things.” He endured the unjust trial, bore the fierce beatings, hung in crucifixion. And here He offers Himself yet again, walking and talking with two forlorn disciples. He passed the time as they journeyed by speaking to their hearts and taking their minds off the long walk and the sorrow. He showed up right on time when they needed a distraction to go the distance.

Seven miles later and a journey from Genesis to Calvary had the travelers burning in their souls instead of their feet, and ready to eat.

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” (Lk. 24:30) Jesus showed up when they were ready to see the truth.

Their seven mile journey back to Jerusalem that very same night went a little quicker. They ran! The hills seemed flatter, the rocks smoother, the distance shorter. Nothing about that treacherous road had varied, but two men were drastically changed. They ran without the burdens and carried Good News!

The sorrow lifted, the hope restored and two weary travelers were set free from despair, along with the rest of the world.

“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.” (Lk. 24:33-35)

In the midst of their thrilling testimony, He shows up again, right on time as usual. The way prepared, their hearts receptive, Jesus spoke four simple words: “Peace be with you.”

The Lord did not arrive too early. He did not get there too late. He entered the scene at the exact moment necessary. When you are laden with care, He carries the burden and walks with you through the hardship. When you are willing to listen, He teaches and reaches the depth of your soul. When you need His presence and proof of His existence, He'll burst through the door.

Time may drag or time may fly. We may spring forth or turn back clocks. But nothing will keep the Lord from showing up.

The Word's Out copyright 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Holy Access

By Brenda Black

Glimpses of God's glory filter into our earthly realm. A sunset, a shooting star, the eye of a hurricane or the plumage of an exotic bird leave a soul wondering who painted that, projected that, placed his finger in the middle of that or plucked colors from a rainbow and affixed it to the back of a simple creature. God's glory is all around. Often displayed. Seldom acknowledged. Always breathtaking if we stop and take notice. And in the midst of it all, is holiness.

Moses saw holiness on Mount Sinai when he requested of God, “Now show me your glory.” The Lord laid down the rules of engagement: “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23) Moses agreed to the rules for just a glimpse.

Isaiah who saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filling the temple also proclaimed, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord...” (Isaiah 6:1b, 8a) Isaiah cried in reverent fear “Woe to me! I am ruined!” (Ish. 6:5a) On trembling feet, he risked a holy encounter and aligned his will to his Holy God in order to walk in obedience and right next to the King of Kings.

Moses didn't miss it. Isaiah risked it. When Ezekiel saw God's glory, it knocked him to the ground!

“Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I
heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:25-28)

God's holiness may render His subjects speechless. And well it should! His presence is a consuming fire, yet, the same God who passed by Moses, and spoke directly to him and his fellow prophets, inhabits time and space today. And He wants to draw near to us, not frighten us away. We can enter His presence without fear of judgment only because of Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,” (Hebrews 10:19-20)

We hear Him speak through the revealed Word of God, and have every right and opportunity to pour over its pages and catch His radiant image in each line. We are beckoned into His holy presence. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith...” (Heb. 10:22)

God longs for our fellowship, but make no mistake, He remains a holy and awesome God.
“...but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

“Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Heb. 7:24-26)

Glimpses of God's holiness can still be seen. We just have to look for them and long for the holy presence of the One who came to provide holy access. A personal appearance may be coming sooner than you think! Will you be able to stand or fall or kneel before the Holy God Almighty? There's only one way to be certain. Your holy access pass hangs by a nail on a cross.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From Slavery to Seniority

By Brenda Black

When Moses lifted his staff to split the Red Sea, a middle aged slave named Joshua would be among the masses that marched across on dry land. He witnessed the Egyptians swallowed alive by recoiling waves and rushing tides. He captained an army under Moses' command and routed the Amalekites with the help of the Almighty. Joshua ventured up the slopes of Mount Sinai and saw God's presence envelope the peak. All the while, the slave set free was learning to lead.

Having seen God's power, experienced His victory and sensed His reality, it is no wonder that Joshua would boldly stand in the minority. He with only one other, Caleb, would take God at His word and believe His promises trustworthy on the edge of the Promised Land. By then, Joshua was 80.

It occurs to me that faith is born in and grown incrementally. Even one with first-hand encounters with the living God needed time and opportunity to prevail in faith walking. One of the main themes of the book of Joshua is that success is possible through obedience. Another lesson it teaches is the unrelenting faithfulness of God. And what God wants for His children is to live in such obedience that they begin to exhibit His faith-filled qualities and look like their Abba Daddy.

Slavery is bound by inability. Freedom is stifled. Choice is absent. But once a soul is set free, abilities are expected to be stroked and honed and used for God's glory. Freedom provides opportunity to learn and grow. Choice becomes a responsibility. Joshua never forgot from where he had come. He relived that powerful sea-splitting moment over and over in his mind. He fought valiantly because He understood who equipped him and went before him in battle. He used his freedom to make the choice to be faithful to the One who had been faithful to Him and his people.

“Moses said to the Lord, 'May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.'

“So the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him...and commission him in their presence...Moses did as the Lord commanded him.” (Numbers 27:15-22a)

We're each called to remember the place where Jesus found us and never forget that from which He rescued us. We must remember the battles God has fought for us and count the victories frequently so we never forget who goes before us. We're challenged to go forth in faith because we have a history with One who is ever faithful!

Nowhere do we read in Scripture that Joshua ever returned to a life of slavery. In fact, in his final years, he still bellowed allegiance to the God of Freedom. “'Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.'” (Joshua 24:14-15)

Joshua's path from slavery to seniority crossed a dry sea and a vast desert. His journey took him up a cloud covered mountain and across enemy borders. “After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance...” (Josh. 24:29-30a)

Like Joshua, we should never forget what lies behind, but we should never turn back to it either. If we want to live free in Christ and we want to lead others into the promised land filled with His presence, we have to live faithful, not enchained. The only way to achieve such freedom is to be one in whom is the spirit. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Walls Falling, Life Building

By Brenda Black

In the middle of the night, after fitful dreams of disaster thanks to an unwelcome and untimely problem, I jumped out of bed and headed for fresh air and prayer. A few tears later and an agreement with God to surrender helped me slowly return to sleep. The following morning, the wall had not fallen, but it seemed there might be a crack through which my Lord was shining a ray of reason. Before I ever opened my eyes, I could feel the warmth and I envisioned myself standing in the light of that symbolic pencil thin sliver of hope and felt a little more sane. God was already chipping away at the wall.

Dr. Ted Engstrom, past president of Youth for Christ, was quoted in Bill Bright The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned: “A friend explained, 'Begin every day by offering your life, walk, and ways to the Lord as a living sacrifice. Put your body, mind, will, time, energy and all that you have into the hands of the Lord. Make it a daily experience.' What a wonderful bit of advice this has been.”

Those are wall falling, life building words! It's not our strength or ingenuity that decimates the barriers. God's complete and effortless mastery over all things clears paths and crumbles troubles. All He asks of me is to come to him with my mind, body and will.

In Joshua 6, the walls of Jericho tumbled down upon themselves when God's people obeyed instructions and marched around the city for seven days. Those walls may have towered a good 25 feet high and measured 20 feet thick. No shouts from a small army would be enough to budge a brick, but belief in the God of heaven heaped a fortified city into a pile of shards and dust. The crashing walls of Jericho was an act of God!

As I sensed God breaching my most current, looming edifice, I also began to see some self-made enclosures that had shut me off from feeling safe in the center of His protective will. I needed to get to work chipping away at some of those as well. That's called repentance.

Whether the walls that confine us are erected by others or ourselves, made of concrete or philosophy, difficulty or pride is irrelevant. God can lay them low if we put our trust and faith in His strength. But, in order to conquer, we may need to surrender first so that the walls can fall and lives can be rebuilt. As the Lord renovates, He searches for pure hearts, right motives and willingness with which to work. Once discovered, there will He erect His dwelling and reside.

God clarified to Solomon the prerequisite for holy construction. “'And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.'” (1 Chronicles 28:9-10)

Fallen walls and erected lives are only possible through the power of the Savior. I am thankful He is on my side willing to march around giant barriers, even in the middle of the night. I am humbled that He would care enough to fight my battles and reassure me of His power and presence. How could I not join forces and be devoted to One so loving and able!

If you feel like you are up against a wall, pray and shout! Then watch the Lord work it out and start building again. It's all part of his Master Builder plan to transform people into sanctuaries.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jesus Slept on My Floor

By Brenda Black

“He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.” (Proverbs 22:11)

My house is not a palace. Oh, the man of the non-mansion is certainly the master and I am often treated like a queen with his love and kindness. But as for dimensions, our little home is cozy, quaint and suitable for two more than it is for twenty. But, fourteen of us played and prayed; dined and slept; showered and shaved; laughed and wept for nearly 48 hours straight! At times as many as twenty-three stood, sat or laid across every square inch of living space. And it worked! We were family, friends and strangers on Friday night. We were brothers and sisters in Christ by Sunday's end.

Pure hearts and gracious speech made the weekend delightful, even if one had to sleep with feet in their face or wait in line for the shower. Kind, respectful, flexible guests filled my home with joy worth all the clutter and crowdedness.

I lost count of the paper plates. I'm pretty sure they put away nearly a quarter of a beef, not to mention two gallons of ice cream, three pans of brownies, three gallons of milk and five pounds of tators! And with every bite, each satisfied grin, every sincere compliment, my heart was filled as my pantry emptied. I'd do it again in a heart beat!

There's something about the energy and joy in these young men and women that fuels my spirit. Their pure hearts, their gracious speech is evidence that they are friends of the King and that they love Jesus! Truly, to be in their midst is like being surrounded by Christ. I heard His laughter in Caroline's giggle. I saw His smile on Makena's face. I witnessed His compassion through hugs from Jordan. I saw His patience in Zach and His love for all creation in Janelle. I heard God's witty sense of humor in Caleb and saw His ability to turn strangers into friends through Laura. I took to heart Christ's faithfulness I saw in J.J. and fed on Christ's boundless joy through Luke. I watched my Lord practice forgiveness and sportsmanship in Cooper and Tyler and heard Him sing alto with the voice of Austin.

Jesus stayed at my house last weekend. He ate at my table. He slept on my floor. He hugged me and showed me love and appreciation and respect over and over. And I am blessed! Short nights, long days, dirty dishes galore and more wet towels than I thought I owned could not taint the pleasure of His company.

And just when I thought it couldn't be more perfect, I heard them sing and preach and watched these beautiful people worship. A praise band and collegiate preachers brought together for this one moment made our Sunday an offering fit for the King.

Luke pumped God's people when he proclaimed the powerful and supernatural love of God out of 1 John. Caleb took us back to Leviticus and into the Holy of Holies, then led us straight to the cross, revealing Christ in Old and New Testaments and His great sacrifice. Cooper shared from obvious sincerity, recounting the many ways this year God proved His sufficiency and grace. He challenged the congregation to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Their willingness to serve, to speak out for Christ, and to worship joyfully sets a tremendous example for all ages.

My house is quiet, the furniture is back in place and the steady flow of cooking and cleaning has ceased. It looks as it did before they came, but something has definitely changed. I still hear the laughter and my home feels warm and wonderful. I am certain it is the lingering presence of the King.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Filibuster Faith

By Brenda Black

The word of the week: Filibuster -- An effort to prevent action in a legislature by making a long speech or series of speeches (Merriam-Webster). The Senate glossary defines it as "any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions." Others say it can also be one member's effort to get word out and educate people without intending to specifically stop legislation. All I can say is it takes a lot of wind and words and the ability to stand!

Oh that we would have a filibuster faith to stand before God and speak to the heavens without ceasing! That we would appeal to the Almighty for action rather than hindering it with our silent indifference. With wind and words and heart stirred, we are called to pray as persistently!

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea,”Grant me justice against my adversary.”

“'For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!”'

“And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'” (Luke 18:1-8)

If Christ asked it in the first century, how much more important that we ask it again, all these years later: “Will he find faith on earth?” We are called to pray. But we are also called to action, not to just provide lip service. Faith comes with a filibuster tenacity to stand for the long haul and speak the truth. It also demands engagement.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead...Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do...As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14-17, 18b, 26)

Pray without ceasing. Go into all the world. Love your neighbor. Pursue peace. Be holy. Forgive one another. Speak the truth. Lay down your life. Turn from sin. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. Be joyful, patient, kind. Repent. Encourage each other.

The list goes on and on and on. It would take more than 21 hours and 19 minutes to itemize God's calls to action. And it's going to take a lifetime to demonstrate them! Filibuster faith is not about delaying an outcome, it's about fulfilling the call. Filibuster faith is endurance and purpose. When we walk in such persistence, the process is more about changing us than it is about altering the end result.

God isn't looking for long-winded delayers, He's waiting for faith-filled, consistent pray-ers. The Lord wants His people to stand for truth and speak it and act upon it!

 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Clearly a Winner

By Brenda Black

And they're off! Out of the gate, the beautiful Thoroughbreds seemed evenly matched and mounted. A wave of chestnut, grey, sorrel and bay on the bottom and fuchsia, teal, green and yellow on top blurred past the grandstands. For three bends of the track they stayed tightly packed, but on that final turn, endurance and expertise separated the winners to the front and to the finish. In a little over a minute, victory won and a day's work completed.

A trip to Lexington, KY, demands viewing a good horse race at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The runners we watched weren't Triple Crown contenders, but they were just as fun to cheer as any Cigar or Man O War. With no money wagered, I had nothing to lose. But I still analyzed the gorgeous creatures in the paddock and picked my favorites, then hooped and hollered them into the winner's circle.

Having never been to Churchill Downs, I was tickled to see how close I could get to the contenders prior to their run. Each equine beauty passed within a few feet of where I stood behind the rail circling the staging area. The race analyst talked about each entry's track record, their breeding and age. She predicted who would run well on this grassy track and who would falter.

While she methodically itemized odds and numbers that meant nothing to me, I sized up the potential winner an entirely different way. I looked into their eyes, observed their eagerness or complacency. I noted how they walked in soundness and also with attitude. While others may have been doing the math in their heads, I was looking for the horse's heart and spirit. I backed the one that looked and acted like a winner. My pick, Number 9, did not disappoint. The glistening, stately sorrel crossed the finish ahead and alone with grace and glory!

I want to be like him! Not for the wins down here that are just as fleeting as the high-speed performance in a race that last a minute and the post-win celebration only a smidgen longer. I want to be like Him! Not to please a fickle audience that instantly forgets the hard-earned notoriety and is instantly consumed with the next line-up as the present winner heads back to the stable to eat hay in anonymity.

I want to be like the winner not for the photos and pats on the back or the cool splash of water over his head and the circle of doting investors. I want to be like him for his heart – to be the one who separates himself from the pack and clearly shows his colors. I want to be like the winner who visibly demonstrates a determined spirit. I want to be like the winner who gives it everything to the finish. I want to be like the winner who thinks clearly, strategically out-maneuvering the opposition. I want to be a winning Christian who looks for heaven and never looks back!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

In this life-long race, made of millions of furlongs, Lord give me a sound mind, a fierce spirit, and an eye fixed on the finish! Help me run the race with grace and enter in to glory! If I can fly like these amazing steeds across the heavens at my end, I'll be victorious and blessed. Whether I wear a wreath of roses or a diamond filled crown, what a thrill it will be to lay them at the feet of Jesus when my race is run.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Green Bean Perspective

By Brenda Black

Right at my fingertips and about eye level – yes, that's the perfect place to pick green beans. No back strain, no embarrassing road side posture when traffic passes near the gardner. No mud spattered pods to clean. That's why I plant pole beans.

Still, I discovered in a year of glorious growth, that I've had to twist and bend all sorts of ways to not miss the pencil thick veggies camouflaged among the vines and foliage. In the picking, I gained some perspective not only about green bean harvest. My eyes were opened as well to a few things about the Gospel message and the people who hear it.

Those easy eye-level ones are a breeze to bring to Christ. They are ripe for the picking and eager to jump into the bucket. They make sharing faith simple. But for every one of those, there are countless others that demand extra time and effort to reach.

The clusters. You'll find them in groups of three or four, equally long and thick. Quite uniform, they cling to each other and hang conspicuously on the vines beneath their combined weight of influence. In their numbers, they are a handful. If one doesn't break loose, the others may drop to the ground in the jarring or vines be broken and left dangling with many more beans wilting because of the careless approach. Worse yet, in trying to reach the masses with one stealth swoop, there exists the risk of accidentally knocking off nearby blossoms or a tiny sprout.

One size usually does not fit all. I've found that to be true in clothing and in Christianity. Though people may modify their behavior to mirror that of their peers, they are still individual in heart and mind and soul. Every single person needs to meet Jesus one on one. That takes time and individualized tender tugs.

Ironically, pole beans, intended to make picking hassle free, have me nearly standing on my head to look up and underneath. I've had to change my angle, lift arms full of tangled tendrils and squint just right to spot a keeper. And sometimes, the most ready are laying all the way down on the ground.

Now, I could ignore them, step over them. I could choose to not waste my time on them and still have plenty of pods for the pot. But there they lay – some nearly perfect and others a darker green and a bit deformed. God wishes for none to perish, but for all to come. You may think me silly to go all Gospel while I'm in my garden. Sometimes that's where God speaks the sweetest, the softest and the most convicting lessons when I listen. The soft coo of a mourning dove or the “Bob White” call of a quail are whispers of God's voice. The soft nicker of a yearling foal or even the buzz of a honey bee as it passes near my ear gives me cause to know there is a Creator who cares for every creature and blade of grass on this earth. How much more He loves you and me and doesn't want anyone overlooked.

When I first started gathering, I methodically picked only one side of my cattle panel trellis. I was determined to not reach through the wire grid to snatch from the other side until I made my way back up the line over there. I'd see some ready and force myself not to touch. Then I began finding tough hardened pods that had somehow been overlooked. I'd chastise myself, “How could you have missed that?” I changed my approach. If I could see it and reach it, I picked it right then and there!

Oh for that kind of urgency when it comes to the souls of my fellow man. I see them. I can reach them. Then I tell myself I'll do it next time, believing there will always be a better opportunity. “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b)

The sad, awful truth is that hearts will not always stay tender and receptive. I am compelled by God's great love and mercy to go and tell, and tell if often and to everyone!

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

 It's no surprise that most of the beans hidden were easier seen when the trailing clumps of leaves and vines were lifted to allow sunlight to penetrate once dark places. I could tell you what that means to me, but I'd rather you listen to the whispers of the Savior and receive your own green bean perspective.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ego Gone Amuck

By Brenda Black

“We are the first society to be living in a world where we don't worship anything besides ourselves,” says Alain de Botton, Swiss/British writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur. “Our heros are human heros. This is a very new situation. Most other societies have had right at their center the worship of something transcendent – a god, a spirit, a natural force, the universe. Whatever it is, something else is being worshipped. We've lost the habit of doing that.”

Earlier in his TEDtalks presentation on success and failure, Botton quotes St. Augustine: “It's a sin to judge any many by his post.” He then goes on to explain Augustine's perspective with his own creative edits. Botton says, “Only God can really put people in their place and he's going to do that on the day of judgment with angels and trumpets and the skies will open. Insane idea if you are a secularist person like me. But something very valuable in that idea, nevertheless. In other words, hold your horses when you're coming to judge people. You don't really know what someone's true value is.”

How can a secularist see the problem with such an egocentric society who has forsaken worship and sets itself up as judge, yet condemns the omnipotence of a the one true God who is worthy? How can one who appears to respect the grace and justice of God, discount His power over the affairs of man?
First Botton clarifies the vacuum in which humans exist apart from God. “We've lost the habit of [worship] which is why I think we are particularly drawn to nature. Not for the sake of health, thought it is often presented that way, but because it is an escape from the human ant hill...We like to feel in contact with something that is non-human and that is so deeply important to us.” Then, on the heels of pointing out the error of humanism, Botton falls prey to it, concluding his “inspirational” message with, “Make sure we are the authors of our own ambitions. Focus in...”

Whip lash reasoning at its best! Just because a person refuses to acknowledge God, doesn't make God disappear. Choosing to deny deity doesn't elevate humanity. It only makes our ant-like status more miniscule. For in refusing to believe in God and substituting worship of Him for worship in ourselves, we become less powerful, more ignorant, less capable and more desperate.

Ironically, this same talk began with Botton defining snobbery. A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete view of who you are,” he says. “The opposite of a snob is the ideal mother – someone who doesn't care about your achievements.”

So just who is the snob? Is it the secularist who takes God and puts Him in a box and tells Him He doesn't exist or shall have no participation in life on earth? Or is it the Christ who doesn't care about your achievements, He just loves you to death, even death on a cross?

I think I'll keep God at the center of my universe where I'll gladly worship Him. I'd rather feel more like a child of the King than an ant in the dirt. And with the Lord on the throne where He rightly belongs, success is guaranteed.

 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:17-18)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bewildered and Blessed

By Brenda Black

Had someone been in the room with me on the day I played back a phone message of congratulations, they may have offered to assist in closing my gaping mouth and suggested a cool drink of water. They may have offered a wet rag to counteract the obvious shock I felt when, in joyful tears, I plopped into my chair.

I was coerced to enter the Missouri State Fair Woman in Ag contest. I resisted repeatedly, justifying my hesitancy by suggesting a dozen deserving women who I thought stood a far better chance. I would have endorsed each of their nominations heartily had it not been for my persistent fan who insisted I complete the application to accompany her letter of recommendation. Out of sight and out of mind, I never gave the matter another thought until the day I got that news and nearly fainted. I had been named the 2013 Missouri State Fair Woman in Ag.
Award Ceremony

To say I am honored is a terrible understatement and throughout fair week, I was reminded over and over how very much I long to share this moment with hundreds who have influenced my life and shaped my Aggie world. It begins with gratitude to God for allowing me to live in the country my entire life and love the work I do and enjoy the life I lead. I'm thankful for parents who taught me how to be a good steward of the land and livestock and how to treat a neighbor with kindness and respect. They also taught me how to work hard to achieve success --much of that learned while working together with horses and cows and a brother and sister.

I'm thankful I married a wonderful cattleman and gentleman to share the journey and together to have raised a couple of country kids who developed character and skill through life-altering lessons learned on the farm as a family.

I remember the influence of Ag teachers at Mizzou and 4-H leaders from my childhood who opened my eyes to possibilities and trained me to meet those opportunities. Family friends cheered my every venture and peers with whom I competed gave me cause to work at getting better. Judges critiqued and sharpened me while I showed in a ring or gave an Ag-focused speech.

Professionally, I'm delighted to utilize the gifts God has given to tell the stories of hundreds of farmers and ranchers. I am glad for editors who challenge me to dig deeper in a story and uncover something unique or help shape my Ag journalism style and encourage me to keep on writing.

My mom standing in front of a picture of herself
taken in 1955 while exhibiting at the Missouri State Fair
The natural tendency is to give little thought to the cause and effect of day-in-day-out choices. We seldom stop and inventory our blessings, our talents, our destiny. We may take for granted the heritage from which we come or the legacy we leave. For many who live and work in the Ag Community, we just thank the Lord, care for our families, do our jobs and go to bed tired, but happy. It's a life infrequently analyzed, though filled with abundant blessings and deep satisfaction, whether or not an award is ever presented or accomplishments celebrated.

As the recipient of this amazing acco
lade for a woman involved in agriculture, I think it should be made clear that I am only one of the fortunate. With great honor, I truly represent all of the remarkable, industrious, dedicated and talented women from generations past and present. These women collectively comprise one of the greatest assets in Missouri's agriculture. And I share this tribute with each and every one of them – especially the amazing Missouri CattleWomen!

Though I am certainly not the perfect candidate, I have no doubt it is by God's great love and grace that such a good gift has been granted. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” (Psalm 84:11)
Maybe, just maybe, my bewilderment made me look blameless to the the Lord and He decided to bless and bestow.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Disoriented Apart from Home

By Brenda Black

Slept like a rock near the Rockies last night until city sirens broke the peaceful Colorado silence. The unfamiliar blare from the streets of downtown Denver pierced through a hotel window 18 stories up in the Mile High City. Instantly, I scanned my brain, searching for locality and realized I was no longer at home in the country.

It is an odd sort of experience to suddenly be so disoriented. Thankfully the mix of fear and confusion is just as quickly answered with reality and reason. But the desire to be in familiar surroundings lingers, even as sleep slowly returns. Home.

Wide awake and full of faith, the faithful hall-of-famers listed in Hebrews 11, must have felt that same sense of disorientation and longing. By faith and in holy fear, Noah built a boat for a rain unknown and waters unseen. By faith, Abraham journeyed to a land far away and believed in the promise of heirs though in his old age and married to a barren woman. Both desired a place of refuge and the comforts of home. Enoch, who pleased God, took the short route, bypassing even death to make his final and eternal trip. He goes down as one most blessed! They all had in common a distant destination to a place of perfect rest, undisturbed by the sirens of this world. Home.

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Like the saints of old, the longer I live on this earth, the more disoriented I feel and the more desirous I become for that heavenly home.

The world is filled with flood waters of grief and pain. We're instructed to rise above the murky waters and rescue the perishing. "Get on the boat! Take others with you!" are the cries of our Heavenly Father, who holds out a lifeline that pulls us Home.

The Lord calls for us to be obedient even when we don't know the way and can't see the city. He reaches down with an unseen hand that guides us gently and intentionally toward Home.

And some day, through immediate lift or by death, we shall make the journey of Enoch and instantly be in the presence of holiness. If we walked in faith on this earth, we'll be Home.

In the meantime, no matter where I lay my head, I can set my mind at ease if I cling to the goodness of God's plan for transformation and transportation from this world to the next. It's about scanning the brain and landing on the reason I live and breath then trusting in the reality of life everlasting.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
(Romans 12:1-3)

God's perfect will is that none would perish, but all would come Home.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Noble Knight and His Shining Electric Fence

By Brenda Black

The ability of a raccoon to know that my sweet corn is two days from perfection is uncanny. When I discovered the two ears tested and stripped from their six-foot stalks after the first night of invasion, I was slightly intrigued and a bit frustrated, but not too troubled. I figured a couple of pie tins swinging in the breeze and a bright yellow raincoat on a piece of rebar would keep the burglars at bay. Then came the second morning after a night of their garden dancing and dining near my tin-pan band. And it became WAR! A dozen ears demolished and as many stalks laid low. With ears still clinging, I had all the evidence I needed to call in the cavalry.

My garden this year is one of the most beautiful and fruitful I've ever produced. Every weed, every crumb of earth, every sprig of green pulled, turned or planted by hand – my hands. Blistered and calloused fingers and feet marked with a flip flop tan are proof of the hours spent tending my little patch of wonder.

My husband who has praised my efforts admirably was nearly as troubled as I over the corn field destruction. If I had a trumpet, I would have blown it as that man set out on his noble mission to guard my castle garden and his lady with valiant determination. Three strands of hot wire and an electric charger went up in a couple of hours – not just around the corn, but the whole green kingdom! The following morning I awoke to find all stalks, tassels and ears intact. The garden queen was quite happy.

As I surveyed the grounds, I pondered our two approaches to battle. While I searched for shortcuts for a solution, Alan attacked it with the best wall of protection. His method proved that some things are just worth fighting for. That man does love his corn, and maybe me just a little.

In God's kingdom, we often suffer loss to the one who comes to kill, steal and destroy. We can try silly tricks to outwit the enemy and find ourselves just amusing him and feeding his fury. Satan and sin are real threats that demand determined combat. Instead of taking shortcuts, we must build the fence tall and make it dangerously hot to touch. It's called a hedge in old world vernacular, but it's purpose is timeless: Protect the harvest!

Letters from the apostle John were filled with good advice for building a wall of protection to keep the good fruit in and the thieves out. Through his writings he intended to share the joy of fellowship; to help believers avoid sin; to warn them about deceivers and to assure them of eternal life. He wanted believers to grow in obedience and love and to know that God would protect them from the devil's evil intentions. In the closing words of his first letter, he clearly delineates the boundaries between residents of the kingdom and the great deceiver.

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one does not touch him.” (1 John 5:18)

Though I'm married to a noble man who strives to protect me and the things that matter to me, it is my King and Savior who guards eternally. I am so very thankful for two great defenders and an electric fence.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Multi Tasks of Trust and Release

By Brenda Black

Multitasking used to serve me well. I could conquer seemingly unlimited chores simultaneously with order and ease. Oh, those were the good old days when all the neurons were firing full force. Back then, a half dozen work projects and as many personal thoughts could occupy brain space equally. Now, I'm lucky if I can remember what I'm doing one duty at a time -- while in the middle of it! Forget the little details of life. If I don't write it down, it's history. And when too many tasks are tugging for my attention, sometimes I completely shut down and simply have to reboot.

Since the brain is slowing while awake, it strikes me as most aggravating that it would be alert when I'm trying to sleep. One night this week, I sprang awake at 2:00 in the morning with matters whirring in the gray matter that should have had the courtesy to wait till sunrise at least. Last night, it occurred three times! I think in the quietness my mind races ahead. Additionally, in those still moments worries seem to explode from their hiding place where they've been tucked behind the busyness of the day, conveniently ignored.

My jolt upright was alarming enough to wake my husband the other night, who wondered what had me so keyed up. "I don't know," I lied, fully aware of the fears and worries that had just wrangled my z's and stolen my sleep. "Just breathe. Go back to sleep," I coached myself. "You can't do a thing about any of it right now."

Though I am feeling frazzled and worn from a raft of commitments already conquered, and ones yet to face, it isn't the absence of a sound night's rest that troubles me. It's my lack of trust in the One who holds the days and nights and everything that fills them. Now, not only do I have a running list of deadlines and details clicking through my noggin, but bells and whistles are going off in my head! The alarm is blaring a warning about the pattern of thought I've succumbed to in the past several days. Fretting over too much work, too many bills and too little time gave me a headache. And when I allowed myself to mentally labor over even bigger matters beyond my control, I felt a heaviness of despair start to creep over mind, body and soul.

When the head is too full, it's time to listen to the wisdom of the heart. I know I cannot handle any of this alone. I need to trust the One who knows exactly what is needed and I must release the worries to Him. But that is often easier said than done!

My human struggle is nothing new to God. The book of Psalm, chapter 107 highlights the failings of humanity and proclaims the gracious patience of God who redeems and restores those who wrestle between feelings and faith. “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way...they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away.” “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom...” “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.” “Others...in their peril, their courage melted away...”

In every instance God meets the weary and wounded, the faltering and foolish with His great power and love. When they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, “he delivered them from their distress.” “He saved them...” “He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” “He stilled the storm to a whisper.” “He lifted the needy out of their affliction.”

This particular song ends with “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” (Ps. 107:43)

 My multi tasks for today: heed and consider, trust and release. Then get some sleep. I pray you'll do the same.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feeling “Malled”

By Brenda Black

I lived during the 70's. It wasn't pretty back then. Big chunky shoes, gaudy patterns and way too many gigantic stripes running all the wrong directions. Either the dresses were too tiny or they were tent-like. Jump forward four decades and a visit to the mall is blinding! It's 1972 all over again.

Gargantuan blooms in vivid hues and more horizontal stripes than the tiniest of figures can handle. They all screamed from rack after rack like a bad dream that just kept repeating itself. 

No matter the name on the store, the dress selections barely covered the derriere or they kissed the ankles. And heaven forbid if you looked for a mid length. The mullet dress was the only alternative. What a mistake! Whoever designed these train wrecks didn't know how to conduct business up front or have a party in the back.

I tried to find the least offensive options and wriggled in to a dozen or so with absolutely zero success. If the cut even came close to workable, good ol' polyester ruined the possibilities. I tried on one little number that weighed more than my hefty Labrador, it was so decked out in layers. I left feeling discouraged, far from stylish and basically mauled by yards and yards of ugly.

No dress. How about shoes? Again, an adventure of extremes. Either flat or frighteningly steep. I'm past the point of heels that make my nose bleed. My back can't take it, my calves cry and I've seen way too many young ladies who try to master them, end up looking like tight rope walkers without a balancing pole. I like cute, but I like my comfort also.

Maybe I'm just out of touch, but do customers really like this stuff or is it just all that is offered? Shopper after shopper hauled their hideous, over-priced goods out the doors much to my dismay, as I walked away, determined to appreciate even more what hung in the closet at home.

I'm far from hip. Don't consider myself a fashionista. But I do have the common sense to not spend hundreds of dollars on a dress that looks like Sonny and Cher's living room drapes. I won't always fit with the trends and probably seem a bit boring with my preferred monochromatic garments. I'm okay with that. I suppose I should live and let live when it comes to fashion flair or failures, but I can't wait until this 70s throwback is thrown away and something a little more tasteful and elegant makes its debut. I'd even settle for recycling a different decade, if only the styles were more flattering and less like clown suits.

Cultural trends tend to shift, and often with the upheaval, modesty and good sense disappear. Peer pressure pushes us in to corners of “I had no other choice” in matters far more serious than what we are wearing. These are the times in which we live, but it doesn't mean we have to succumb to only what the world has to offer. God still calls us to be set apart and make the kind of choices that honor Him. We need to go to our prayer closets and seek His opinion rather than go with the flow of the masses. There's always a choice about what you wear on the outside – more importantly, how you clothe your heart.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

When you feel like the world is mauling you, look for the exit! Then run to the Lord and follow His timeless and perfect pattern.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Power in the Tongue of the Young

By Brenda Black

Careless words. Carefully guarded words. Profound words. When I asked my friends what they thought I should write about this week, I received a variety of ideas. Though most sounded quite isolated and unrelated, the Lord revealed something powerfully connected from among a sampling of opinions. The message: There is power in the tongue of the young – for better or for worse.

The bad news first. Youth culture has abbreviated the English language to fragmented acrostics and basically butchered spelling through rushed text messages and tiny keyboards. All too often, instead of setting a better example, adults begin to follow the contemporary habits of those younger. Like many things turned upside down in this world today, where once the spoken word made its way onto the typed page, now the type makes its way into oral conversation. My BFFs and those who like to LOL may find nothing wrong with such patterns. But it seems these days that everything is trivialized and casual to the extent that words lack deep meaning.

As one friend remarked, “One of my pet peeves is people saying 'good luck' or 'knock on wood.'” She sees the flippant banter as carelessness with words. “What do those words really mean? NOTHING! We've traded God's blessings for societal sayings that mean nothing.”

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.”( Hebrews 13:15)

The tough news next. Our young people face a hostile culture where wrong is glorified as right and right is shamed into suffocating corners. Their words, no matter how kind or true or meaningful can be stifled by ignorant and hateful intimidation.

A story related by friend number two tells of a 14-year old girl from California. In one afternoon, the adult learned just how much pressure this girl endures. “She had some of the best questions about current news events that I'd been asked lately. She wanted to know my opinion about DOMA, the Zimmerman trial and race relations in this country. She expressed that growing up in California and going to public school that she had to watch that she didn't express her conservative religious views to the wrong people! I couldn't help but see how much it really bothered her to watch everything she said or be taken out of context.”

May godly wisdom be this child's armor so that she doesn't fall prey to wickedness. I pray she dwells on Psalm 141:3-4 and follows the instruction to “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.”

Lest you think American youth are the only ones who face pressure, then you haven't seen the powerful interview of a 12 year old Egyptian. Ali Ahmed lives in the midst of a revolution, but stands for what he knows is right. As an opposition protestor, he explains with amazing eloquence why over 20 million Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest Mohammed Morsi's government. He calls out ignorance, bad politics and misguided social behavior. You can view his highly intelligent and insightful interview below. 

As yet another friend said, “We are blessed to be sheltered from this turmoil, but at the same time our children are busy with stupid things. He knows more at 12 than most adults here.”

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:34b-36)

Our children need adults who'll speak truth and talk of things that have eternal value. And they need courage to carry that verbal baton for the next generation and not falter. Paul advised a young follower many years ago to watch the tongue. “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21a)

And he closes his thoughts with the same blessing I extend to our youth – “Grace be with you.” May you use your words for good.