Friday, September 01, 2006

IRL: Mary

Many of you are probably familiar with the short, yet inspiring, teaching moments in the Bible when Jesus visits two sisters - Mary and Martha. So far we have covered Martha's point of view, and today we'll see what things look like from Mary's perspective. If you're not familiar with the story, I'd encourage you to read it!
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"Mary, Mary, the Teacher is coming! Make haste! There are many tasks to be finished before He knocks on the door!" My sister Martha exclaimed urgently, as she ran towards me. I felt my heart skip a beat, and inexpressible joy flooded over me. My Master, Teacher, and Lord was coming to visit us! I clasped my hands in rapturous delight, and with a smile on my face, I set about helping Martha prepare for Jesus' arrival.

Not long afterwards, I heard Lazarus greeting Jesus at the door. I jumped up in excitement, accidentally dropping the bowl I was carrying. I looked in dismay at the now useless pieces of pottery, and, making a quick decision to clean up the mess a little later, I ran out to meet Him. But before I exited the doorway, I caught a glimpse of Martha's furrowed brow as she knelt to pick up the broken shards.

When I entered the house again, I went into the kitchen to quickly help Martha finish picking up the broken pieces. She was wordless as we completed the task, her lips tightly pressed together. I eagerly started to tell her all about what Jesus had said... but if Martha heard me, she gave no indication. Confused, I thanked her for helping me clean up the mess, and left the kitchen.

I followed Jesus to where He rested, and I sat at His feet. His love captivated me as He spoke, and his words reached down into the depths of my soul. And as I realized, with fresh certainty, that this was the most important thing I could be doing... the little worries and troubles of the day faded away. I sat in His presence, transfixed. Nothing else mattered. I felt as though I could stay there forever, just listening to His words and gazing into His eyes.


Application

From the very moment that you wake up in the morning, there a hundred tasks waiting for you and demanding your full attention. Homework, daily chores, urgent emails, phone calls, deadlines that must be met... and the list goes on. We live in a busy culture, and we lead very busy lives. It's easy to feel like Martha, isn't it?

But Mary recognized what was most important; spending time with her Savior made everything else pale in comparison. Her priorities were right. Working hard is good; the Bible tells us that in whatever we do, we ought to "work heartily, as unto the Lord." (Col 3:23) However, even working and serving becomes an idol when it takes the place of God. Sometimes we just need to stop, slow down a little... and sit at Jesus' feet.

By Lindsey and Kristin

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Monday, August 14, 2006

IRL: Martha

It was no surprise that I was exhausted by the time the Teacher arrived. I had risen far before the sun, and had been hard at work with the preparations since. By evening, my entire body was screaming for rest, but rest was impossible. I walked briskly into our small, but functional, kitchen, and contemplated the situation at hand. The evening meal was ready, thanks to hours of my work beforehand. Now Jesus would be served...

Lazarus’ hearty laugh interrupted my thoughts, and I scowled. Why can’t he keep the noise down? I caught myself, and released a long sigh. I was irritable—probably in part from sheer exhaustion—and I knew it. And yet, simply knowing my problem did nothing to ease it. In fact, I thought as I exited the kitchen, It is only making me grow more irked. My eyes wandered towards Mary and Lazarus, and a frown creased my forehead. Unfortunately, Mary wasn’t helping the situation.

From the moment that Jesus arrived, she had been doing absolutely nothing. While I worked, she sat on the floor, leisurely listening to the Teacher speak! I slowed my quick steps for a moment to watch her, and my frustration with her laziness quickly turned to anger. Jesus was laughing, and Mary was smiling widely! My lips tightened into a thin grimace.

How could she do this to me? Especially today. I reached up to push away a stray curl, and glared in her direction. She didn’t see me, and her upturned face was glowing as she listened to the Teacher talk. Somehow, seeing her like that made everything worse. A hot flash of anger surged through me again. There I was—utterly exhausted, but serving the Teacher willingly—and Mary just sat at His feet, listening! It was completely unfair. It was wrong. After everything Jesus had been teaching about becoming servants, I could scarcely believe that Mary was behaving so inconsiderately. I chewed on my lip to keep the angry, hurt words from spilling out. And suddenly, a thought struck me. Jesus will understand.

In spite of myself, I smiled. I couldn’t even help it. For I realized, just then, that the Teacher would see how well I was serving Him. And then—I smiled again—He would see how Mary was failing! I would be praised, and she would be reproved. In my mind’s eye, I imagined how the scene would play out, and my smile widened a little. My anger was replaced with a kind of self-righteous satisfaction, as I walked towards Jesus and Mary.

"Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" I felt like adding something about how lazy Mary was, but decided that my point was clear enough. And then Jesus’ eyes were looking into mine—gentle, kind, and… sorrowful? "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." I stood there, motionless, staring into His eyes. I was stunned. Speechless, guilt washed over me.

Then Jesus took my hand, and gently led me to His feet.

More to come soon, when Mary gives her side of the story in Part 2....

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

IRL: Mary Slessor, Part 2

I was willing to be a missionary anywhere, and would gratefully accept any station that they offered me, though I would have loved to go to Calabar. When I entered the room for the interview, they told me that my application had been accepted. I was so excited I could scarcely breathe! But that was not all- they continued to tell me that the Foreign Missions Board had an opportunity for me in Calabar, on the west coast of Africa! I immediately expressed my enthusiasm, but the board was still cautious. They reminded me of all the dangers in Calabar- but that would not persuade me. I considered the post in Calabar an honor, since so few missionaries volunteered to go there.
With my heart brimming with joy, I returned home to tell the others the wonderful news. My friends reminded me that Calabar was called the "White Man's Grave" for good reason, and warned me about the deadly tribal diseases and various hardships I would doubtless encounter. But I trusted my Lord- I knew that it was His will for me to go, and so I had no reason to fear.
There was much preparation to do before I could leave, but at last July 30, 1876 came- the day that would mark the beginning of my missionary journey into Africa.


When I arrived in Duke Town, I was warmly welcomed into a large, airy mission house. The lawn was manicured, and the interior polished and spotless. Though it was comfortable and convenient, something was missing. I was confined to the mission house, and was constantly attending formal dinners and afternoon teas. I longed to be outside talking with the people, not sitting inside talking about the weather and gossiping. When I did get a chance to go outside and talk to the natives, I found that they had all heard the Gospel so many times that they could recite dozens of Bible verses from memory! The natives made a large show of attending church on Sundays, but their lives remained completely unchanged by the Gospel. When I tried to explain to them what the Bible said about their human sacrifices and other practices, they turned a deaf ear. I discovered that the natives of Duke Town were sly- they would tell the missionaries what they wanted to hear, but did nothing to change their ways. I realized that in order for me to be as effective as I wanted to be, I should live the same way that they did- simply.
I also wanted to be able to take the Gospel to people who had not heard it ever before... I felt that the Lord wanted me to go further inland, without the comforts- or confines- of a mission house. And so, after appealing to the Foreign Missions Board for several months, I was given a new post a few miles inland in a place called Old Town.


The people were shy of me at first, but in time, they began to trust me. I started to develop friendships among them, and not long after arriving I was even being called upon to help resolve small arguments! One morning soon after I arrived, I opened my door and found a small baby lying on the ground. The child's mother had probably died, and a relative or friend had decided that I could take care of him. Life was not valued highly in Calabar. Twins were considered a curse from an evil spirit, and so they were always killed after birth, and the mother either banished or murdered. If she was banished, she would die within a week or two anyway, because anyone who tried to assist her was considered "cursed" also. I kept the child, and many others followed. Soon, my one-room hut was filled with children. The people called me the "White Ma". I dressed their wounds and helped their sick, and every morning and evening I held a Bible service. The people began to respect me... but my life was not without its trials.

One day, a woman arrived at the door of my hut, her eyes frantic with fear. She quickly told me that her friend had just given birth to twins, and the twins were about to be killed. I ran out of the house immediately, and arrived just in time. The natives stared at me in shock as I scooped up the children and began to run. I arrived safely at my hut, and when I examined the twins- a boy and a girl- I saw that they looked completely healthy. Praising the Lord for letting me save two lives that day, I tended to them as my own. But the natives did not forget about my twins. Shortly afterwards, I left my two children with a native woman while I went on an errand. When I returned, my little boy was dead- strangled by one of his family members. I wept for a long time over him, and I vowed that little Janie, his sister, would never leave my sight.

I remember so well the day that marked the beginning of the slow process of putting aside tribal customs. There was a frenzy of excitement in the village of Ekenge, and from my hut I could hear the throbbing of ceremonial drums. As I drew nearer to the throng, a piercing cry broke the air. A young woman was lying naked on the ground, her feet and arms tied together. A huge cauldron of boiling oil was beside her, and suddenly I knew with terrifying certainty what they were going to do. A warrior was dancing around the cauldron in a costume, and in his hand he held a large ladle. The burning oil would be poured over the young woman slowly, until she died in excruciating pain. I whispered a prayer for courage, and ran in between the young woman and the warrior. The ceremonial drums stopped immediately, and everything was silent. But the silence did not last long. A glint appeared in the man's eyes, and he began dancing again, slowly circling around me. He came closer and closer, until the ladle of burning oil was less than an inch before my face. I looked at the man right in his eyes. Several painful seconds passed, and then he threw down the ladle at my feet and marched away. I bent down and helped the young woman to her feet. She was unharmed. I was amazed afterwards at what had taken place, for I know that it was only God that gave me the courage to do what I did.

After the incident with the burning oil, people began to question their god, Abassi, and consider what I was telling them about Jesus Christ. Change came slowly, and with many setbacks and disappointments, but God was at work in the people's hearts. Throughout everything, I knew that the Lord was with me. It was so amazing to witness the power of the Gospel in people's lives! I saw natives put the old ways behind them, as they came to rest their faith in Jesus- even though this meant that they would sometimes be rejected by their entire family. Putting aside the old practices was a slow process, and sometimes it seemed as though I was making no progress at all. But by God's grace, many natives continued to come to Christ, despite all the opposition. God is so good!

Read Part One Here!

(Written by Lindsey. Information found in the book Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar, by Janet & Geoff Benge.)

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Monday, April 24, 2006

IRL: Mary Slessor- Part 1

I looked out the window, and sighed. How different this landscape was from our old home in Aberdeen! Dundee's buildings were dark, and close together- a far cry from Aberdeen indeed. Smoke produced by the factories polluted the air in Dundee so thickly that when we hung our laundry outside, the clothes became dirtier than they had been before they were washed! I glanced back inside our two-room apartment. A large rat darted across the floor, and I shuddered. The rats where everywhere, and catching them was useless. I had never grown accustomed to the rats, though I had lived here sixteen years...

My thoughts began to wander. I wondered if my life in Dundee would ever change... it did not seem likely. I was already twenty-seven! Ever since we had moved to Dundee when I was eleven years old, I had worked in Baxter cotton mill to help support our family. When I got older, I worked in the mill twelve hours a day for six days a week. I glanced down at my hands- they were swollen, red, and calloused from working the machines all day. No, there was not much chance of my life here changing. But in my heart, I was restless. I knew that I was not fulfilling God's purpose for my life by staying in Dundee as a cotton mill worker, but what other option did I really have? Oh, I knew very well what I should love to do, but it was unreasonable- yes, even unthinkable. For though reason itself defied it, I longed to be a missionary. Such an idea was hardly possible, considering my position. And yet, with all my heart, I yearned to serve my God in Africa.

I would probably be called unfit for the mission field; I was a woman- and a poor woman, at that. I had no particular skills, either- unless, of course, you counted darting between machines at the mill, I thought dryly. Before my dear brother Robert died, he told me that he was going to be a missionary in Calabar. He said that I could go with him, to be his assistant. Oh! how my heart had soared at that thought! But when he had died, all hope of that was lost...
Later that night as I lay in bed, I thought about the famous missionary David Livingstone, and pondered his words. "I don't care where we go as long as we go forward," he had said. I rolled over, and began to pray. "God, I want to go forward, like David Livingstone. Send me somewhere, anywhere. Just send me out to be a missionary."

The next morning, my mind was at peace. Somehow, I knew with certainty that God was calling me to be a missionary. What could I do, but obey? My mother joyfully gave her approval, and I sent an application to the Foreign Missions Board.

After waiting for one year, they called me for an interview.

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Read Part Two of Mary Slessor!

(Written by Lindsey. Information found in the book Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar, by Janet & Geoff Benge.)

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

IRL: Lady Jane

Many have heard of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a book recording the stories of Christians who had been martyred from the time of Christ until the year 1583. It was written by John Foxe, a notable English Reformer. Yet many do not know a great deal about the young lady who inspired him to write the book.

Lady Jane Grey, Foxe's inspiration for the book, is also known as 'England's Nine Day Queen.' Her life story has been the subject of several books and even a movie, but in these mediums her faith in Christ is often greatly understated. According to John Foxe, a personal friend of Lady Jane, her faith was the reason that she was executed. When she gave him the idea for his book, she most likely did not realize that her death, too, would be chronicled within its pages.
Lady Jane Grey was the oldest daughter of Henry Grey and Lady Frances Brandon. Sadly, her relationship with her parents was painful and strained. In Daughters of Destiny, an excellent book compiled by Noelle Goforth, there is written an account of Lady Jane's treatment by her parents. It says,

"Her parents acted upon the maxim that to spare the rod is to spoil the child; and not withstanding her amiability and honorable diligence, subejcted her to a very severe discipline. She was rigorously punished for the slightest defect in her behavior or the most trivial failure in her studies. Her parents taught her to fear, rather than to love them... It is no wonder therefore, that she turned with ever-increasing delight toward her studies."
And how she studied! Under the guidance of her tutors, she became extremely well versed in theology as well as several foreign languages, including Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Centuries later, the famed poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, would praise Lady Jane's knowledge and most of all--her character. He wrote this of her:
'Seventeen--and knew eight languages--in music peerless--her needle perfect, and her learning beyond the Churchmen; yet so meek, so modest... Seventeen--a rose of grace! Girl never breathed to rival such a rose; rose never blew that equaled such a bud?'
It has been said that it is the most beautiful flowers that grow in adverse conditions. Lady Jane is an example of this, for the time in which she lived was dark and tumultuous. Queen Mary (also known as 'Bloody Mary') was given the throne by Parliament after her brother, the king, died. However, her brother had named Lady Jane as his successor and as a result of several nobles who did not desire the throne to go to Mary, Lady Jane was temporarily given the title of queen. Her reign lasted for nine short days and was ended when Queen Mary, with an army of twenty thousand men, took the throne. Queen Mary seemed disposed to spare Lady Jane's life on the condition that she convert to Catholicism. This, Lady Jane refused to do, boldly citing Bible references contridicting Catholic doctrine. For this, Mary ordered her execution.
The following is an excerpt of the record of Jane's death from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It includes a letter which she wrote to her sister, Katherine, before she was to be executed. The letter in which she bids 'farewell' to her sister, eloquently displays Lady Jane's love for God, firm faith and immense courage:

I have here sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches; which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy: and, if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest mind do purpose to follow it, it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. It shall teach you to live, and learn you to die. It shall win you more than you should have gained by the possession of your woeful father's lands. For as, if God had prospered him, you should have inherited his lands; so, if you apply diligently to this book, seeking to direct your life after it, you shall be an inheritor of such riches, as neither the covetous shall withdraw from you, neither thief shall steal, neither yet the moths corrupt. Desire with David, good sister, to understand the law of the Lord God. Live still to die, that you by death may purchase eternal life. And trust not that the tenderness of your age shall lengthen your life; for as soon, if God call, goeth the young as the old; and labour always to learn to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, and despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord. Be penitent for your sins, and yet despair not: be strong in faith, and yet presume not; and desire, with St. Paul, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, with whom even in death there is life. Be like the good servant, and even at midnight be waking, lest when death cometh and stealeth upon you as a thief in the night, you be, with the evil servant, found sleeping; and lest, for lack of oil, you be found like the five foolish women; and like him that had not on the wedding garment, and then ye be cast out from the marriage. Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your master Christ, and take up your cross; lay your sins on his back, and always embrace him. And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall, for losing a mortal life, win an immortal life, the which I pray God grant you, and send you of his grace to live in his fear, and to die in the true Christian faith, from the which, in God's name, I exhort you that you never swerve, neither for hope of life, nor for fear of death. For if you will deny his truth for to lengthen your life, God will deny you, and yet shorten your days. And if you will cleave unto him, he will prolong your days, to your comfort and his glory: to the which glory God bring me now, and you hereafter, when it pleaseth him to call you. Fare you well, good sister, and put your only trust in God, who only must help you."

A prayer made by the lady Jane in the time of her trouble, and also a letter to her father, a part of that to Mr. Harding, are here omitted for want of space. It remaineth now, coming to the end of this virtuous lady, to infer the manner of her execution, with the words and behaviour of her at the time of her death. First, when she mounted the scaffold, she said to the people standing thereabout, "Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact against the queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me; but, touching the procurement and desire thereof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands therof in innocency before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day. I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ: and I confess, that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, and loved myself and the world: therefore this punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God, that of his goodness he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers."

And then, kneeling down, she turned her to Fecknam, saying, "Shall I say this psalm?" and he said, "Yea." Then said she the psalm of "Miserere mei Deus," in English, in most devout manner throughout to the end. Then she stood up, and gave her maiden, Ellen, her gloves and handkerchief, and her book to Mr. Bruges. After this, she untied her gown, in which the executioner offered to help her; but she, desiring him to let her alone, turned towards her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therewith, and also with her frowes, paaft and neckerchief, giving to her a fair handkerchief to knit about her eyes. Then the executioner kneeled down and asked her forgiveness, which she willingly granted, and said, "I pray you dispatch me quickly." Then she kneeled, saying, "Will you strike before I lay me down?" The executioner said, "No, madam." Then tied she the handkerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, she said, "What shall I do? Where is it?" One of the standers-by guiding her thereunto, she laid her head down upon the block, and then stretched forth her body, and said, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit;" and so finished her life, in the year of our Lord 1554, and 12th day of February, about the 17th year of her age.

--An excerpt from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. For the detailed account of Lady Jane's death and for other letters that she wrote before her execution, the full version can be found here.

Sources:
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Queen Mary and Harold
Elliot, Elisabeth. "The Weight of Wings" Let Me Be a Woman: Notes On Womanhood for Valerie.
Goforth, Noelle. Daughters of Destiny
Foxe, John. Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Wikipedia's entries concerning Lady Jane Grey, Queen Mary, and John Foxe

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

IRL: Esther

This post is the first of a series of posts that will be appearing at Beauty from the Heart in future weeks. This series is entitled "IRL: In Real Life," and will be about real-life women who were faced with challenges and pressures of life and reacted admirably because of their devotion to God. We hope you enjoy this series!
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"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." -Deuteronomy 31:8

My maid and palace servants are buzzing around me, braiding and placing flowers in my hair. Busily, they smooth pleats and tucks on my robe as I stand before the gigantic mirror in my room. I force myself to breath slowly, trying to calm myself. My mind keeps returning to three days ago, when my cousin, Mordecai, first told me the news. The dreadful news.

Haman, the king's right hand man had issued a decree that all the Jews should be killed. Mordecai's words still hung over my head like a noose. He told me that even though I was queen, I would not be spared. As a Jew, I was still decreed to be killed. I felt as every Jew must have felt upon hearing the news: cornered. What could be done? I prayed fervently that God would interfere and protect us as He had with our forefathers. Perhaps He could come as a pillar of fire as in the days of Moses. Perhaps He could send plagues to Haman as He had with Pharaoh. Perhaps He could erase the decree inexplicably from all record, and undo it....
Mordecai had cleared his throat. "Esther, my child, Hadassah. Have you not thought that the reason you have been made queen is to save your people?"

I gasped. "Even I cannot see the king without permission. Unless miraculously he was to show mercy, it would be my death!"

Mordecai raised his voice, something he rarely did. "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"
I sat down on the garden bench, too terrified to even cry.

"Do you remember when you were first brought to the palace?" Mordecai's voice grew soft. "You were taken away from your family and forced to live with all the other beautiful Persian women while you underwent beauty treatments? Were all those days spent in vain?"
I looked up at him, unsure. He continued, gently. "No, Esther. your loneliness developed within you a special inner strength and trust in God. God was preparing you for this---so He could use you." It was then that I realized what I should do.

Now as I stand before the mirror, I take one last deep breath. "If I perish, I perish," I whisper. I pray silently as I walk out of the room. I was ready to see the king.
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Imagine being chosen to be queen of your country. As exciting as that sounds, the price of your being chosen was separation from your loved ones, having to live with people who did not share your beliefs, and having to marry a king that you had never met and who possessed questionable character.

Imagine having no choice in the matter.

This was the story of Esther's life. She was a beautiful Jewish girl who was brought to the king's palace as one of the candidates to be queen. For a year before she was allowed to see the king, she had to undergo numerous beauty treatments. During that time she had to live with the other "queen candidates," other women who worshiped pagan gods. Esther's wise cousin, Mordecai, who had cared for her like a father before she was brought to the palace, advised her not to reveal her Jewish heritage to anyone. This was probably for her protection, but this secrecy could have separated her even further from the other women that she lived with. How lonely she must have felt! How did she cope? She must have wondered why God had brought her to this place where she was so completely alone.

In a way, we are all like Esther. We too, have been set apart for God. Sometimes we may feel terrible loneliness, but we can hold fast to the assurance that God has allowed us to feel lonely for a reason. In her pamphlet entitled Loneliness, Elisabeth Elliot describes what to do when feeling lonely.

"Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried your griefs and sorrows...Offer up your loneliness to God, as the little boy offered to Jesus his five loaves and two fishes. God can transform it for the good of others."

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Special thanks to Marie for co-writing the point of view of Esther.

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Kristin, Hannah & Lindsey

A blog by three young ladies who have a desire to serve the Lord and encourage other young women around them.

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