Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If I Were a Groundhog

by Brenda Black

The roly poly member of the squirrel family will make his grand appearance come Feb. 2. Top-hat clad men of standing will encircle Punxsutawney Phil, in Punxsutawney, PA, awaiting the rodent's prediction. If the groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter’s midpoint, he will become afraid and return to his burrow for the next six weeks until winter is over. If the groundhog does not see his shadow on the other hand, spring is said to be near.

That's all find and dandy and gives folks a fun reprieve from the mid-seasonal slump between Christmas getting and Valentine giving. I agree festivities centered on the cuteness of a groundhog seem quaint. They are snuggly in appearance with a broad head, tiny ears and a plump body plopped on short legs that makes waddling their favored gait. But to give this rotund critter such a place of honor is a bit baffling to me. For all that is glorified in a woodchuck is looked down upon in the rest of society.

He gets all kinds of positive attention for his sturdy silhouette while we humans constantly fight the battle of the bulge. I've seen my shadow and sometimes I wonder if someone isn't walking next to me! And no one has patted me on the back or tossed me a cracker for being not-so-slender. One little furry marmot kept in captivity is said to have blossomed to an enormous 37 pounds. That's nearly six times the normal size! Imagine the outcry of a human weighing in at at one thousand!

To his dubious credit, Mr. Groundhog also sleeps a good portion of the year. During the winter, the round, brown burrower drifts into a deep three-month slumber, surviving off its summer fat stores. His heart rate and breathing slow to an unbelievable pace. Once every four or five minutes, the heart will beat and about every six minutes, Chubs will take in a deep breath. Then his body temperature plummets to 40 degrees. I feel guilty if I sleep in an extra hour in a week! And I sure can't imagine being so unavailable for such an extended hiatus. This woodchuck truly knows how to check out.

When he's not donning a tuxedo or propped on top of a sun dial, a groundhog not hibernating fills his days with destruction. Many a farmer has seen the damage around barn foundations where this cuddly little terror has practiced demolition. Enthusiastically he digs his den for dining and sleeping without thought for the human's property. A person, on the other hand, acting so carelessly would face a lawsuit from the angry landowner, not be touted as a rock star every February second.

Wouldn't life be grand if we could just eat and sleep and tear up the turf with our claws and teeth? Some days I think that might not be so bad. But I'm not a large rat. I'm human. And God expects a little bit more from those He created in His image. So this Feb. 2, no matter the shadowy outcome, we need to seize the moment. Six more weeks of winter not wasted or spring around the corner awaiting great things. The bottom line is that whether the weather is fierce or mild, we still need to take one day at a time and live it to the fullest rather than live it like a groundhog.

“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)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What the World Needs Now

By Brenda Black

“We've got to consider creating a more non-violent society,” Bernice King, daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, professed during a live interview with CNN. She says her daddy was first and foremost a preacher. He was a pastor and a healing leader says his daughter. King added that she believed our country to be significantly divided and it was essential to find a way to heal this nation.

I agree. We need less violence. We need healing. But no new revelation by the powers that be is going to trump the plan for both to be achieved that was laid out by the King of Kings a long time ago.

Step One: “'...love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.'” (John 13:34-35)

Step Two: “'...come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

Honestly, it's hard to live separately in a world that glorifies sin and blasphemes my Lord continually. Just recently, we visited with a young man for a matter of minutes about a quite benign topic. In the short course of that conversation, he swore needlessly with every sentence. He was handsome, intelligent, even actually polite, but filth just oozed out of him and all over us. The vulgarities never waned in the company of ladies, they did not cease once he learned that my husband was a pastor. He was totally ignorant to his disrespectful habit of profanity.

Unfortunately, I've encountered a few Christians along the way that are just as flippant with their tongues and condemning to their testimony. As Christians, if we don't look, act, speak, and think differently from the world, how will “all men know?” We can get so covered up with hatefulness and worldliness, we stink as much as those without hope. We can become indifferent to our Savior and King and more transfixed on all things Hollywood. We talk about stuff that doesn't matter when we ought to be seeking the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength! Love isn't just sentimentality. It's action that conveys a sold-out commitment to the Christ and to His family! Is it too much to ask that we come together and worship once a week or that we open the Bible some day other than Sunday? Is it obvious to those we meet that we are redeemed through our words and our deeds? Are we thankful, joyful, patient and kind? Are we loyal, disciplined and faithful? Do we say “no” to the flesh and “yes” to the spirit?

I regret that I allow all too often my heart and mind to be tarnished by the junk of the world instead of being polished by the Word. I fall into the trap of anger, bitterness and hopelessness sometimes – especially after I read the news. And I, too, fall entirely short of God's glory in a multitude of ways every day. I am, therefore, overwhelmingly grateful for God's grace! I'm also glad that I tend to become highly convicted when I go astray and genuinely desire to live a life of integrity. I know that God honors repentance and blesses such longings.

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.” (Psalm 97:10-12)

I want to be righteous and it is definitely a work in progress. How about you? Only God can make any one of us less violent and more loving. Only God can bring the healing. It begins with every individual before it can sweep across a nation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sing It Again

By Brenda Black

In Music City, USA, there is a saying: “It all starts with a song.” Nashville hopefuls aren't the first to understand the power of music and lyrics combined. The Patriarch Moses penned his own composition with hopes that it would pierce the hearts of Israel and turn them back to God. Like songs from childhood that hover in the recesses of our mind until needed for comfort or conviction is Moses haunting anthem.

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

“They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” (Deuteronomy 32:1-6)

Moses' lyrics from centuries ago go on to aptly depict the divine provision of God for our nation as well. “He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye...The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him...” (vs. 10-13)

And like Israel, America has “abandoned the God who made [her] and rejected the Rock [her] Savior. They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons, which are not God – gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” (vs. 15b-18)

The result for Israel and the fallout we are seeing today in America: “The Lord saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. 'I will hide my face from them,' he said, 'and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.'” (vs. 19-20)

On the very day Moses recited the verses, the Lord told him of his imminent death. Moses' parting words to a stiff-neck people: “They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!” (vs. 28-29)

Singer-songwriter Tom Waits may like Moses' masterpiece for he says, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

But better that we think like author Sarah Dessen and believe that people will come to their senses for she contends that “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything else can have in common.”

The alternative to heeding Moses' musical message is weighty. “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.” (vs. 41b)

But for the faithful few, Moses' saves a final verse. “Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.” (vs. 43)

Praise God, the remnant will always sing! Not songs of disaster and doom, but of life and liberty! “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13b)

If music, as Maria von Trapp believes, “acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed hearts open,” then I pray that Moses' song penetrates this present darkness. You who belong to the remnant, sing it again! Our nation needs to hear it.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In the Palm of His Hand

By Brenda Black

Slowly I unfurled the ace bandage and the gauze wrap beneath to reveal a purple strip of stitches bisecting the palm of my hand. My heart throbbed in the fleshy pads to either side of the one-inch long incision laced together with black poly thread. Through the rouge of antiseptic wash and shimmering antibiotic ointment, I could still see my mark: “BB”. Both pain and pen proved that they operated on the correct hand I had autographed two days earlier. And hidden beneath the stitches was the signature of the physician who signed my palm as well. Glad we agreed and thankful for his expertise. I gave permission. The surgeon made the incision. And he assures me the scar and the healing will be worth it.

I'm trusting not from surgical experience, but from supernatural encounters where God cut into my life in order to make me better. At times it has come unexpectedly; not planned like this outpatient procedure. Often, His whittling has even gone undetected for months on end. Then one day the realization hits that God has been operating.

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17b-c)

The Lord may choose to cut deeply, severing circumstances or poisonous people from your life. He may remove one, then transplant something or someone more vital for your growth or survival. The Lord is the Great Physician, not just for wounds and worries. He knows how to make perfect! But sometimes the cuts hurt terribly before they ever prove worth it.

The difficult part is surrendering to the Healer's authoritative touch. It helps to know that He bears each blow unto Himself. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands...” promises the Lord. (Ish. 49:16) No matter how deep the cut, it's comforting to know God bears the brunt. For every sin He seeks to scrape from our lives; for each curse we bring upon ourselves, He suffered and died. He was cut and cursed, beaten and pierced that we might have life.

Yes, one small track across my palm reminded me of pain in my past. And it also reminded me of the scars on my Savior's hands.

As David described the crucifixion years in advance of this death penalty yet to be created, he prophesied as the Lord Himself: “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:16-18)

And this same David also knew the Savior of the future would be near him in his present moment. “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.” (vs. 19) And then the psalmist would write of the timeless comfort of this Savior Surgeon who was also a Shepherd.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow o death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me...” (Ps. 23:1-4)

God never cuts and then leaves. He cuts, cures, teaches, restores and heals as He lingers near. All of it is intended for our benefit, that we might lack nothing. If I study closely, I'll find underneath every scar in my life is the signature of an expert I have chosen to trust into eternity. Yes, I'd say every last one of them was worth it in order to know such love from One who desires nothing but what's best for me.

I am engraved in the palm of His hand and so are you. May every scar in your life remind you of such a healing and comforting truth.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Skin to House a New Heart

By Brenda Black

Fiona Coote, at 14 years of age, became the youngest heart transplant recipient in Australia. Her true claim to fame: She received not just one heart transplant, but three! On three separate occasions, Fiona was granted another chance at life.

Some of us may not have that many opportunities, but we each have the choice at least once to stick with the old or opt for the new when it comes to attitude and heart.

"During the mighty movements of the Holy Spirit in the Moody-Sankey meetings in Dublin, the worldly father of C.T. Studd was gloriously saved. He invited some of his worldly companions to come to his home so that he could tell them the wonderful news. When one wealthy English sportsman arrived at the railway station he was met by the coachman. He could not wait till he got to the house to know what had happened to his old friend, so he began to question the coachman.
“'I hear that something remarkable has happened to your master. I hear he’s got religion. Please tell me about it. In what way is Mr. Studd changed?’
“'Oh,’ said the Irish coachman, 'It’s a revolution. In one sense he is still the same man--he’s in the same body. But the best way I can explain him is he’s a new man in the old skin.’
“The new creature receives a new set of appetites and a new set of attitudes. The babe in Christ has now a holy nature with a propensity toward holiness. The things he used to hate, now he loves and the things he used to love, now he hates." (James A. Stewart, Come O Breath!, published by Revival Literature, Asheville, NC 28816; pg. 83.)

How about you? It's a new year; are you ready for a new you? The bigger question is whether you have made it possible to become renewed or are letting old attitudes stop you.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17)

Jesus taught his disciples that changing the mind made it possible for heart modifications. An acceptance for new worship, deeper faith and abundant joy hinged on a simple outlook – the willingness to let go of the old and try something different. We all get stuck in ruts. Our faith fizzles. Our enthusiasm dwindles. We need heart transplants! We need new go juice for a brand new year!

Throw off that threadbare garment void of purpose or comfort. Stop packing around an old wineskin that leaks every bit of flavor through the bottom corner. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a)

This new outfit; this new skin is a mindset of supple submission to the Holy Spirit. It stretches over every area of life and shields from demonic darts. It's the perfect place to house a new heart!

So where do we begin? At the heart of it of course. Look deep within what skin you are in. Search the heart that now beats and answer honestly whether it pounds out a rhythm of love and loyalty for God first and most. Take the test: Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength? (Deuteronomy 6:5)

If you come to the conclusion it's time for an upgrade, then fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. Commit to a new attitude that will welcome a heart transplant and not reject it. Get ready for renewed passion, energized faith, rejoicing and fruitful living!

A new year plus a new attitude plus a new heart, equals a new you! Before you resolve to change anything else, check the garment, check the skin, check the heart and ask Christ to live within.