Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Life in an Easter Basket

By Brenda Black

Easter: Bountiful baskets filled with pastel painted eggs, soft bunnies and girly bonnets. Easter: A solitary tomb filled with a broken body, grave clothes and surrounded by weeping friends. Easter: Death by chocolate. Easter: Life through the Lord's sacrifice. Easter: Spring blossoms that bud and grow and fade. Easter: Life springing from death, without end.

In the midst of all the frivolity, Easter is empty without Him. Christ's Resurrection makes life possible and pretty eggs purposeful. The death, the burial, the Resurrection are the truly beautiful pieces of the Easter picture. For, without His triumph over death, spring would never come and joy would not exist.

“Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26)
Christ IS, not was, the resurrection and the life. He is not bound by time nor isolated in history as some long ago event that now dims in importance in the grand scheme of things. He IS LIFE! That was then. It is now. It is forever truth. No man-made traditions will alter this fundamental axiom. Time cannot diminish its significance. He IS LIFE and belief in HIM is life instantaneous and eternal all in one sweeping, miraculous moment.

If He is life, then those who place their trust in Christ, get life right here and now and they receive life later. This blessed gift is ongoing and forever. So if the body lives, there is life; and if the body dies, there is life!

Once this reality is internalized, life as we know it takes on an entirely different focus. Sure, there's the hope of heaven – a place so magnificent, the only way we can begin to grasp its grandeur is to compare it to something tangible on earth. So we hear of mansions and streets of gold, flowing rivers and gates made of pearls. But even those superfluous claims pale to the reality of a place beyond our wildest dreams. It's a paradise only visible when we are perfected and able to see the entire spectrum of color and hear and taste it as well.

We think about such a place after life with longing, but settle for whatever comes our way down here. Life in Christ is not a consolation prize to claim in the far distant future. It's life abundant and full of surprise right here, right now! Jesus didn't go to the cross to make life tolerable. He came to seek and to save what was lost and He came to give life abundantly. It won't always be daffodil dandy nor bunny fluffy, nor peeps sweet. But it will be good and filled with purpose and joy and peace.

When John the Baptist heralded His coming, this is what he said, “'A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but was sent ahead of him.” The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less...

“'The one who comes from heaven is above all;...For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God; to him God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life...'” (John 3:27-36 selected)

A basket-FULL of life!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's All Greek to Me
By Brenda Black

Zeus, the head honcho in Greek mythology, punished a Titan named Atlas by forcing him to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. When Hercules sought the help of the encumbered Atlas to fetch the apples of the Hesperides, Atlas agreed on one condition: that Hercules assume his heavy burden while Atlas runs the dangerous errand. When Atlas returns, he tells Hercules that he is tired of holding the hulking globe and believes he'll remain unfettered while Hercules assumes his duty. Hercules quickly tricks the gullible Atlas and shifts the weight back upon his bruised and aching back. Once again, Atlas got the shaft, or in this case the axis, and all the weight of the world back on his shoulders.

Greek mythology is not eternally trustworthy. It's laden with worldly ideas that cloud God-Truth. Most certainly, we will discover one day when we meet Jesus face to face, that characters imagined by men are not present, nor do they hold any power in a place being prepared for God's chosen and beloved. It is not a simple-minded strong man who is holding this world in orbit. It is the Almighty One.

The stories, though contrived, prove beneficial at times if for no other reason than to convict or bring to mind scriptural principles. In fact, Atlas, just taught me something pretty significant. I cannot carry the world on my shoulders without a break. I can't expect someone to remove my burdens if I don't ask. And if I don't learn the lesson the first time, I'm doomed to repeat the same mistakes that put me under the poundage in the first place. 

I may have discovered these analogies in the fantastical tale of Atlas, but the teaching of Christ makes it perfectly clear that we are not called to bear any burden alone.

“'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Rest assured that the Lord is not saying life is a cake walk. In reality, life is rough and we better have a helmet – the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit! Jesus is waiting and willing to be our armor. He's also willing to get dirtied by our burdens, strap on the yoke and pull right along side us. In His cheering words above, the Lord does not give us a way out, He offers a way through the heaviness and He extends His helping hand to bear the greater burden in our behalf.

Sometimes the burden is temptation. God's yoke is resistance. The heaviness may be sorrow. God's yoke is peace and hope while we put one foot in front of the other day after day until we step a little lighter. The millstones we hang around our necks come in all shapes and sizes. But God crawls in under the onus load and whispers, “Let me carry this one with you.”

A team of oxen multiply their efforts exponentially. The load becomes lighter, the end of the row nearer. The power of Christ in every circumstance brings Herculean strength and Atlas stamina when we let Him in and accept His help. We were never meant to go it alone or take on the weight of the world. If that notion is Greek to you, then remember this: We were created and called to be cheered and carried by the real High King.

Jesus is no myth. He's everything we need.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Finding Grace in Cow Tracks and College Kids

By Brenda Black

I guess tender green sprouts and a brand-spanking new bale of hay aren't enough to stop cows from knocking down a gate and partying the night away. The evidence was prolific all around the house from fresh cow patties to deep tracks through a very soft yard. I even found cow hair on the mailbox! In the pre-dawn hours of discovery, it was comforting to know they felt right at home outside my office window where they bedded down contently. I was also extremely glad it was too early in the season to have had the garden up and growing. It would have been history!

The funniest part of my investigative discoveries were the hoof prints that traipsed right beneath our bedroom window. I had to laugh out loud when I imagined a herd of cows tip toeing quietly past, signaling to one another some kind of cow cue that clarified this was a “No Bawling Zone.” Yes, the cows had a heyday as we slept the night away. I'll never know what I missed.

I do know, however, that being able to laugh the next day at the mess was good medicine for my morning. And a chuckle out loud is hands down a great exercise. I guess I was already in a good mood and able to handle the unexpected yard invasion with a little more grace since I'd just come off a weekend of hilarity and energy in a house full of young adults where sleep was in short supply, but laughter came in plenty. Their visit also came with wit and endless ideas for how to have fun and get muddy.

They fished in the rain, tromped through the lots, and repelled down a zip line, sliding to a stop on a muddy creek bank. They played soccer and full contact football on slick, sticky and now-bared spots in the backyard. And then they came inside. Still, they left more tracks on my heart than they did the kitchen floor. They burned off the stress of college classes and small dorm rooms and I was delighted to extend a little grace and let them make themselves at home.

Laughter and grace go a long way to level or clean the muddy tracks that trample our well-laid plans and structured little worlds. And making every effort to see the up side in life and perpetuate joy reaps blessed benefits worth getting a little dirty. Hebrews 12:15a beckons us to “See to it that no one misses the grace of God...” In my country world that includes cows and college kids! The surprising reward is when I give grace, I get grace tenfold returned. Not just grace alone, but joy and peace and good memories to muddy boot!

There are many in this world that just need a soft place to traipse. They need someone to extend a little grace; someone who will get a little muddied with their messes and stresses and welcome them into a home that loves them with the love of Jesus. It may be a neighbor or stranger. It makes no difference. God's grace is sufficient. In the family of God, the tracks of camaraderie run deep and the welcome mat is always marred with precious feet.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:33-35)

I heed this lesson from the first century Christians: If home is where the heart is, then those who visit will take a piece of my heart with them when they enter and when they depart. And I'll keep the welcome mat rolled out til the cows or the college kids come home again.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

lawyerA Divine Plea Bargain
by Brenda Black

“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you...Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence...Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.” (2 Chronicles 6:18-21)

Solomon's prayer of dedication incites the Lord's mercy and blessings, but it began with an agreement: “'O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.'” (2 Ch. 6:14) He quotes the Lord's commitment, made to his father David, as contingent on the servant's obedience: “...if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.”

Lest you think God is all about performance before He will impart His presence, take a look at all the ways He waits to reach into our lives and save us from our own self destruction. The rest of the chapter addresses a truck load of foibles to which humanity succumbs. When a man wrongs his neighbor...When your people have been defeated...When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you...When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities... The list is long and harrowing, yet as Solomon cites a litany of ways we stray, he begs for God's mercy and believes in His faithfulness.

“Whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made...then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men), so that they will fear you and walk in your ways all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.” (2 Ch. 6:6:28b-31)

The plea in a criminal case is the defendant's statement pleading “guilty” or “not guilty” in answer to the charges. In a plea bargain, an arrangement is made between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in the expectation of leniency. The miraculous factor in God's courtroom is that no matter the crime, an honest confession renders mercy! I think I would rather take my case before a perfectly holy, sovereign and just God!

Lest you think God is a pushover, heed Solomon's invitation that asks the Lord to have eyes open and ears attentive. God is watching, as judge. But He also desires to be your Mighty Defender, when you come clean with Him, turn it over, and let Him be your Counselor.

“The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:9-14)