Under the Robes

This article is an entry in the MAI Devotional Writing Contest. Try your hand at a 400-word devotional to encourage fellow writers worldwide. See contest guidelines and rules.

By Elizabeth Van Tassel
Elizabeth Van Tassel headshot
It’s one of those mornings when the alarm didn’t sound, my son wants to hibernate rather than attend school, and we catch each red light en route—the tension almost makes me believe my writing is just another obligation.

A deadline looms, thumping on my mind.

Little yellow signs mark the pathways, reminding me of one more “to do.” It’s voting day. Sigh.

Attitude check. I get to vote, not I have to. Voting is a privilege, I remind myself, shuffling the day to accommodate new priorities.

Suddenly, a memory pops up. In gemology school, my class was studying for finals. We would chat in the lab while examining stones to uncover flaws or distinguishing characteristics. A colleague asked loudly if I’d like to visit his far-away country and help him show the royal family jewels in their homes, or in the royal harem. Apparently the princesses often wore designer dresses and gems beneath robes covering them from head to toe when in public. I considered how amazing it would be to help ladies with such a different lifestyle, and budget.

gemstone-FreedigitalphotosThe next day in the lab, I was able question him about the trip, and the morning headlines. Gemologists-to-be squinted sideways from their microscopes. The sound of pebbles and gems being examined was all I could hear. I lowered my voice. Photos of famous models being detained in his country, their passports taken by the government, were in the newspaper. Suddenly freedom seemed more important than international sparkle.

Taken aback at my whispered decline, my colleague asked why I said no. “Think of the gems, the royalty! Ignore the hype,” he urged.

I asked whether women could write there, and if the media was censored.

He scratched his head and said, “Yes, but it’s best that way.”

I replied, “Whether or not I agree with who’s in office, I am grateful to be able to agree or disagree.”

End of debate.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that as Christians anywhere in the world, we can all be clothed with Christ’s significance, custom made with His love.

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels. -Isaiah 61:10

Elizabeth Van Tassel faces life’s challenges with faith. Having survived a wildfire, as well as many life-altering trials, she provides parents and kids with tools to live a resilient life. Her gemology background brings a special flair to her speaking, classes, and fiction and nonfiction writing.

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A Choice to Shred

This article is an entry in the MAI Devotional Writing Contest. Try your hand at a 400-word devotional to encourage fellow writers worldwide. See contest guidelines and rules.

By Patrick Obinna Anyanwu, Nigeria

I sat on my bed gazing at my laptop …. Or perhaps it was gazing at me. “Write something. Anything!” it beckoned. But I felt like a pressure cooker with a faulty valve. All churnings and steam trapped in. I knew instinctively how bombs are made. In my mind I pictured the wearied wheels of a book cart noisily rolling down to “let off” some books by a heap. “That is not me!” I protested.

But how could my heart feel so full? So run-out-of-space? I stack my books neatly. stack of old books FreedigitalphotosLike one defragmenting a hard drive, I am careful to arrange the hurts and ambiguities of the day in very nice piles. Sortable piles. Like a robot, I can retrieve the files that have my wife’s disrespectful attitude from ten years ago and my boss’ indiscretion five days back. In fact, I do feel proud of my organizational skill. And to be sure, I do not hate them or any other person for that matter. In fact, I love them. The only problem is that the hold, my heart, is bursting, and worse, feels poisoned with a smoldering mind and pen crippling venom. How in the world did I get here?

“…live a life worthy of the calling …. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1&2)

Superb last phrase. And that has been my basis for “stacking,” but also my pain. The files were meant to be trashed. Bearing or forbearance, it appears is meant to help me make room for my subordinate’s insolence yesterday and how he may treat me tomorrow. A mechanism to help me shift my perceptions so that other people and their idiosyncrasies can find room in my otherwise choking world.

All it achieves: Defragment my hard drive – my heart, the source of my life’s issues. Could that be the reason for a large, accommodating heart? But I have mistaken that for forgiveness, which I guess is like trashing – removing from storage, pulling out of the archive and shredding permanently. I am learning that though I have a great capacity to bear and forbear, the files are not to stay forever nor does forbearance automatically translate to forgiveness.

Lord, I can’t wait to exhale. Help me find the courage today to step over the threshold of forbearance and shred those stack piles permanently. Amen.

Patrick is a missionary with Calvary Ministries CAPRO, a cross-cultural missions agency working in 35 countries in Africa, the Middle-East and Europe. He is part of the ministry’s media operations and operates from the international office in Lagos, Nigeria, with his wife, Ijeoma and their five children. Patrick loves to serve.

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Stumbling Block or Helper?

This article is an entry in the MAI Devotional Writing Contest. Try your hand at a 400-word devotional to encourage fellow writers worldwide. See contest guidelines and rules.

Dr Mary Massoud Egypt headshotBy Dr. Mary Massoud, Egypt

My friend, Basma (her usual smile matching her name), is a fun-loving person who, alas, does not know the Lord Jesus. The other day I was so engrossed in my work, that I did not see her as she crept in, and was quite startled when she exclaimed, “Always at your desk!”

“Oh Basma,” I protested, “you’ve startled me!”

“I meant to take you by surprise,” she said. “What are you writing?”

“An article about the way of salvation,” I answered.

“Which way?!” she inquired. “Aren’t there several ways, and don’t they all lead to Heaven? All roads lead to Rome, you know.”

“Yes, to Rome; but not to God. According to the Bible, the only way to God is through commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

“You don’t say!” she mocked. “So according to you, I’m going to hell? You must be aware that I no longer believe in your Jesus.”

“You don’t believe because you haven’t had a proper chance to know Him,” I answered.

“We studied the Bible in school,” she protested. “Religion was a compulsory subject, and I always passed with flying colors. But you haven’t answered my question,” she objected. “Do you think I’m going to hell?”

“Only God can answer this question,” I explained, as I secretly prayed for guidance. Aloud, I said, “What about reading my finished article later?”

Bible-Genesis-Freedigtal-ph“I’m tired of all that rot,” she said. “Now that I’m no longer a school girl, I can see that it doesn’t work. Look at all those hypocrites in Church…” Then abruptly she asked, “But you actually think you have the power to change an atheist like me through that article of yours?!”

To my amazement, she snatched my draft and began to read. I continued to pray for guidance, and as I prayed, I was reminded of Zechariah 4:6 (NIV): “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” After a while, she looked up and said, “I expected to read an account of the Gospel story, but you’ve started with the Old Testament!”

“Yes,” I explained, “and if you read on, you’ll be amazed at the innumerable and devious plots of Satan to thwart God’s plan of salvation.”

After reading some more, she returned the draft to me, saying, “Be sure to give me the finished article. Those Old Testament citations are quite intriguing!”

Thank you, dear Lord, for giving yourself to save us, and for offering your Spirit to guide us. Forgive us when we’ve been a stumbling block to others, and help us to live what we profess, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Dr Mary M.F. Massoud (Egyptian, single) is a professor in the English Department of Ain Shams University, Cairo. Her published critiques of English, Irish and American literary works are written from a Christian perspective. She has also translated theological works. Her chief hobby is writing and producing Christian plays (one, Our Father, has been translated into ten languages).

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Stand for Something

By Dan Balow

When Al Ries and Jack Trout published their classic marketing book Positioning in 1981, the concept of the book and the single-word title became a white-hot marketing buzzword, much in the same way as “platform” is today.

I am not going to dig into that classic business title today or come up with a complicated analysis of positioning, but I can say this, if you want to do a brilliant piece of strategic personal branding or positioning, do the following:

Take a position.

If you want to be known for something and have a solid book-hook for your author platform, stand for something.

Talk show hosts who only ask questions are not as popular as those who take a renjith krishnan Free digital photosstand on an issue. Of course, you can stand for something meaningless and downright stupid, but at least you will be known as the person who stands for something.

As Christian communicators we have an opportunity to take important stands and God desires we do so.

Christians love John 3:16, but it is another 3:16, this one in Revelation that is not-so-lovable towards those believers who take no stand or position.

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (NIV)

That doesn’t sound like a good thing coming from the creator of the universe who holds everything together by the strength of his hands.

Traditional Christian publishers each stand for something. Most have corporate theology-statements. Some use the US National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith as their own, found here.

An author desiring to write a book to convince readers to re-think the canon of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ or the existence of the trinity, are going to be very disappointed by a publisher’s response.  There are issues where publishers will not be moved.

Agents take stands as well. The four at this agency talk about meaningful issues every now and then and we are generally of one mind as we see the world. Every decision we make is filtered through that position.

In general, only academic publishers might be interested in a work that “explores” all sides of an issue without taking a stand.  When you are writing for the consumer-reader, you need to be strong and opinionated, pointing them in a specific direction you feel deeply about.

If you have published something and didn’t receive either strong praise or criticism from reviewers, you probably missed the mark on taking a stand. I’ve heard from a number of Christian leaders that if they are not experiencing strong opposition, they are probably not doing something right. The Enemy does not like truth and will fight back.

Without getting into specifics, I can think of a number of “stands” you could take that are consistent with Scripture, but will make people really, really angry, proving you are on the right track.portraits of Dan Balow taken April 9, 2010

I hear some people didn’t like what Jesus stood for either.

This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Balow of the Steve Laube Agency

Image above courtesy Renjith Krishnan, Freedigitalphotos

Construction Sites

This article is an entry in the MAI Devotional Writing Contest. Try your hand at a 400-word devotional to encourage fellow writers worldwide. See contest guidelines and rules.

By Fifi Edem, NigeriaFifi Edem Nigeria headshot

One day, going through a new neighborhood, I came upon a beautiful tree-lined avenue. As I marveled at the symmetry of urban planning, my enjoyment was punctuated by a construction site where a building was just going up. Rods were sticking out of giant beams, the sinewy scaffold seemed to be trying in vain to trap down the building shooting into the sky with particular vulgarity. In short, the place was a huge mess and my mind became filled with the unwelcome interruption of the unsightly construction site. Being a writer who likes to collect original expressions from the things around me, I began to look for a metaphor in this experience.

Some months passed before I went by that way again. To my utter amazement there stood an imposing edifice towering above everything else in its majestic resplendence. I wondered why I had not seen it earlier and began to blame the unsettling metaphor of the construction site for having truncated my enjoyment of the lovely neighborhood, and to look out for it with a bit of trepidation.

I had circled the beautiful structure the second time before I realized that this was the same spot where I had encountered the eye sore just a few months before—I had found my metaphor!

Underconstruction freedigitalphotosA lot of the times we can be going through a construction phase and it can look like a hopeless mess all around us. All our writing lives may be summed up in terms of abandoned stories, unvisited storylands, mangled manuscripts, unattended conferences, and mere dreams of doing big things for God’s kingdom through storytelling, but we are reminded daily through Apostle Paul’s commendation to us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2: 10).”

We are clay in His hands, works-in-progress, construction sites underway! Each of us has been created in a special way and is still being molded daily so as to be able to accomplish pre-appointed good works. And if we are patient with ourselves —and with others—and allow God to complete His work in us, we will be amazed at the beauty He has planned for our construction sites. If we are unrelenting in the pursuit of our calling, our lives will become edifices others can point to.

Dear Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see daily what you plan to accomplish on the earth through the stories I write. Help me, too, to be still and wait while you finish your work in me. Amen.

Fifi Edem has a burden for Christian fiction in West Africa. A lawyer and book editor, she enjoys working with writers to bring forth life-changing stories to the world. She is the editor for Christian Monthly Library (for West Africa). You can read her blog posts at www.christianmonthlylibrary.org

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Photo above courtesy of Supertrooper, Freedigitalphotos