Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Stacking Doll by Gail Purath

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

When I visited Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1992, new signs of life and liberty were everywhere. After forty years of oppressive communism, the Czech people were learning how to express their new found religious, artistic, political, and financial freedoms. New capitalistic ventures cluttered the beautiful city—artists doing portraits, musicians performing for donations, historians hawking guided tours and others selling handicrafts.

Russian things were despised in the city because they represented the former oppressors, but there was one obvious exception: the Russian stacking doll. These were on sale everywhere because of their popularity with tourists. I had collected these nesting dolls for years, but the ones I owned from the communist era looked like they were wearing uniforms—simple swirls of red and yellow on lacquered wood. Eastern Europe’s former oppressive lifestyle left little time for art, and the dolls I owned reflected the bleak monotony and conformity of communist control.

Thankfully, freedom breeds creativity. Now that the hearts and hands of the people were free, the once plain dolls were taking on a variety of personalities. Some were finely inlayed, some wood burned and carefully painted, some minutely detailed with exquisite depictions of Russian fairy tales. Others were adorned with cheesy caricatures of pop culture idols—politicians, athletes or recording artists. There were dolls crafted by gifted artisans and others slapped together by amateurs hoping to make a quick buck.

I planned to buy one new doll for my collection, and the hunt for that perfect doll was half the fun of owning it. When we travel I always try to do some flea market shopping because it gives me a chance to see a side of the local people that I would miss otherwise. And downtown Prague in 1992 resembled one big flea market. Little did I realize that during my shopping trip I would also see a side of myself I might otherwise have missed.

Stacking dolls beckoned to me from everywhere--on makeshift tables and carts and on pieces of cloth spread on the pavement. After looking around for half an hour, I saw one with bright green and pink accents and bent to pick it up from its sidewalk display. Closer inspection revealed that the doll was not especially well painted, but as I lowered it back to the sidewalk, the bottom section fell out and rolled across the pavement. I chased it down and picked it up to find that the fall had slightly chipped the doll’s finish.

“OK?” the Czech seller asked a bit nervously (OK is a universal expression). I nodded yes, and quickly returned the doll to its display with the chipped section away from the dealer’s vision. But as I walked away my heart sank. I was shocked at the ease with which I concealed the doll’s damage, and an Old Testament verse from Jeremiah popped into my mind: “The heart is deceitful above all else…(17:8).”

In truth, the chipped doll was not my fault. The bottom of the doll must have been loose when I picked it up, but that was not the point. The point was that I’d seen the chip but told the dealer everything was fine. I had always prided myself on being an honest person. Even before I was a Christian, I had a strong conscience. Growing up, I rarely lied to my parents even when the truth brought punishment. I always corrected store clerks who made mistakes in my favor and avoided even those lies we call “white lies.” So why had I so easily and automatically lied about the damaged doll?

As I thought this through, another passage came to mind: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 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 Cor. 10:12,13.)

I turned around that day in Prague, went back to the unsuspecting salesman and bought the most important doll in my collection. It’s not an especially pretty doll, nor was it worth the price I paid, but it is an important reminder of my ability to slip into sin if I do not constantly guard my heart.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Woman of Her Word by Christina Darnell

“Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no’;

anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:37

There I sat in front of the mall, waiting for my sister-in-law to show up. She had just called and asked me to meet her. She wanted to give me resources I needed to run an errand for her. Once again, I was completely overwhelmed with the plethora of commitments I had made. There were at least three events that I had tentatively said “yes” to for that evening. How did I manage to get myself into these stressful situations? My mother, visiting from out of town, sat down next to me and sighed. She lovingly started communicating that, for the sake of my own sanity, I had to start learning to say “no”. Oftentimes, my stress came from my own choosing.

As her words sank in, God convicted me of their truth. Sometimes I said “yes” out of reaction without taking the time to think about it. Other times it was due to the guilt of saying “no” to something that was good, even godly. Mostly, I was afraid to say “no” because I didn’t want to disappoint the people closest to me. I hated the thought of someone being at odds with me. Whatever our reasons, an inability to say “no” can lead us into stress and skewed priorities.

The Bible teaches that we should do our best to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). I finally had to ask myself, “What keeps the peace more?” Was it saying “yes” to everything and then having to back down? Or was it saying “yes” to some things and following through – and saying “no” to others, confidently and kindly, and becoming known as a woman of my word?

God never intended us to do everything. Yes, there are many needs out there, but you are not responsible to meet all of them. We are a body of believers, each intended to make up a part so that together we make up the whole. We bring more glory to God when we faithfully do our part with joy than when we stretch ourselves thin trying to fulfill every need we see.

Part of my issue was that I wasn’t confident in choosing what to say “yes” and “no” to. I would make my yeses tentative because I was afraid something better would come along. As God convicted me of these principles and led me through His Word, He showed me that He wants us to be confident in the will He has for us. We don’t attain that confidence by being passive. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer 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” (emphasis added).

The key to making godly priorities – to making “yes” and “no” decisions – is renewing our mind. The world (and even the church) loves to tell us what our priorities should be, and those priorities will lead to stress. Accepting the priorities that God gives to us may be hard work, but it will lead to a life of peace. A renewed mind comes from daily time with Him, from being selective with what we look at and listen to, and from surrounding ourselves with godly influences. As we do this, and as we learn what to say “yes” and “no” to, we will simplify our lives, participating in the things which will bring us the greatest return – a life that glorifies our Savior.

Lord, help me not to be controlled by the pressures of this world, but to have priorities that are in line with your plan for my life. Give me discernment so I can know when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and give me the strength to follow through with both so that I can become a person of my word and, therefore, honor You.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dust To Glory by Jan Darnell

Have you ever wondered why God chose to create adam from mere dust? Why not use heavenly glitter or adornments, such as angelic robes, halos or wings? Couldn’t God be a little more ostentatious with the creation of adam? But then maybe, the grandeur was in the miracle. Then the LORD God formed man (adam) of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Gen. 2:7 Who else but God could breathe into the dust and bring forth life! Ex. 8:18-19

So also it is written, the first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam (Jesus Christ) became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 1 Cor. 15:45-49

Another purpose in our humble beginnings is this…a line has been drawn in the sand. God will always be the Creator and adam will always be the created. You and I are merely dust apart from God, and without a Creator, we would not even exist. We are gifted with astounding abilities and afforded many opportunities to express them but must never forget our dusty beginnings. Earthly kingdoms rise and crumble. God’s heavenly kingdom will stand forever. Dan. 4:26; Ro. 8:17

Jesus said it like this…You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Jn. 8:23 John the Baptist added…He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth, He who comes from heaven is above all. Jn. 3:31 God predestined a kingdom for His Son and made it clear by virtue of our beginnings that Jesus Christ is the King and Head of this kingdom. Eph. 1:20-23 Jesus Christ did not come from the dust. The Son of God originated in heaven in the Father and came to earth for our benefit. Acts 2:23; Phil. 2:5-8

If God had fashioned us from gold dust or heavenly glitter, we would undoubtedly marvel at our beauty with excessive pride. Instead, God determined to begin with dust and magnify His glory by transforming earthly vessels into heavenly ones, clothed in the righteousness of His Son. Rev. 19:14

Our journey along the King’s highway begins by revering God as Creator of heaven and earth. God has not left anything to chance, nor has He haphazardly thrown the universe together. You and I were created for and by the glory of God. Jn. 1:1-13, 14 Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made. Is. 43:7

Our beginnings are meager, yet our future quite glorious. The expedition along the way?…all grace. Dust to Glory…completely grace. God’s Son…full of grace and truth! Jn. 1:14

Just as we have borne the image of the earthy,

we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Cor. 15:45-49

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Surrender All by Serena Haneline

The singles ministry I’m a part of likes to use the NOOMA videos — a collection of incisive and thought-provoking videos by Rob Bell, author, speaker, and lead pastor of a church in Grandville, MI. He simplifies God’s truths and uses video to illustrate his points. The other night we were watching one such video called “Tomato” about how we believe our success, intelligence, talents, etc. show how “good” we are. Jesus, however, told us to die to these things — things that make up our false self — so that we can truly live.

Based on the scripture of Matthew 10:39: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it,” Rob tells us that in order to find our true identity in Christ, we have to surrender and die to the “ideals of an image-conscious culture.”

After the video ended, we discussed the topic of surrender from our own experiences. At one point during the discussion, two women in my group commented that they are “surrendered” to Christ. I then began to wonder how many of us really grasp what it truly means to surrender to Christ.

The definition of the word “surrender” is to yield (something) to the possession or power of another. How often do we do this — especially in America? I’m currently reading a novel about persecuted Christians in China and how they are jailed, tortured and/or killed for their faith. The sad thing is that although the story itself is fiction, the reality of persecution in China and throughout the world is very real.

Millions of Christians die as martyrs every year. And even though we may not have reached a state of martyrdom yet in this country, I believe our time is quickly approaching. All over the United States, there are more and more cases of Christians being targeted for their faith. The spiritual face of our country is changing drastically in these last days, and I can’t help wondering: Who are we surrendering to?

Christians as a whole have sadly conformed to the world instead of surrendering to God and dying to the self and all its desires. Perhaps this is why so many unbelieving Americans are turned off by the Church — because they see no difference between it and the world in which they live.

So what does it mean then to surrender, to yield and give up everything to the power of our Lord? Do we really understand the cost of being a follower of Jesus in today’s volatile world? Do we know what it truly means to die to self so that we can live abundantly the life Jesus promised us?

I think there are very, very few believers in America who have truly surrendered. Those who are surrendered would be characterized by such authentic humility that they would never boast or draw attention to their condition—for they have willingly sacrificed “self” for one far greater.

They are the ones who do as John says in his gospel, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). They are so focused on God that they hear His voice readily and obey it, regardless of what their flesh is crying for.

They are the ones who are persecuted and die daily for their faith. When persecution comes to our country, will we be so surrendered that we can be counted as one of the millions who lay down their lives, yielding completely to the will of their Heavenly Father? Will we be among those who have died to self and the world so that we can truly live, even if faced with physical death?

I’m afraid it will take persecution for many of us to even begin to grasp what true surrender really involves. But history has shown that the more the Church is persecuted, the more she grows and strengthens. May God give us strength to surrender, as followers of Christ, and to stand in the face of growing persecution in America.