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