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.