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The Precious Gift

Can you imagine what it would have been like to encounter Jesus in the flesh and receive immediate forgiveness? Bear with me as I take you on a journey (with a few liberties) to share a new take on an old story through the eyes of Mary Magdalene and what might have been her perspective.

Mary had never experienced compassion before. Her life had been marked by ridicule and shame. She had no idea she could ever feel the kind of love Jesus offered. Unconditional, relentless, and not dependent on anything she could do for him.

Her life up to this point had been that of a shameful disgrace to her family. She lived out of fear and regrets but did not know how to make changes in her life. Giving herself away to disrespectful men was the only life she knew. Hateful men who made her feel like a piece of meat or a display they could discard after each use; until they yearned for her body and what it offered them.

Yes, the little money she made paid the rent and put food on the table, but at what cost? Her inner thoughts swirled around in her head, making her dizzy, as she stared at the night sky, making a wish on a fallen star, she threw out a question to the listening universe, “how could anybody love me after what I’ve done?” She could not escape these mindful traps or see herself in any way besides filthy in the sight of God.

She had heard of a man, named Jesus, who traveled and preformed miracles. She could not imagine in her wildest dreams that he would have anything to do with her. Albeit an impossible feat, she occasionally allowed herself to imagine a life without shame. These thoughts did not linger as she knew her fate. Then, on one the darkest nights, in the middle of one of the most despicable acts of perverted pleasure, she heard a whisper. “Mary, come with me. You don’t have to live like this.” A cold shiver creased her brow and moved downward through her body, causing a knee jerk reaction, the man on top of her did not see coming. In one lighting sweep, with power like she had never felt, she shoved him off onto the floor and grabbed a blanket to cover herself. She felt as though God himself was standing before her. Through squinting eyes, she tried to focus on the images in front of her. But the room too dark.

She told the man to leave as she handed back the money, knowing he would cause a scene if she kept it. The money was the last thing on her mind. She got dressed and wandered outside to get some air. The cool breeze felt light and airy on her dark skin. Whose voice had she heard? Could it be the man she had been hearing stories about? Her thoughts raced as she tried to sleep. But there was something about that voice; the words he spoke to be more specific, that she could not get out of her head. It was warm, kind, soft-spoken and gentle. She had not heard anyone speak to her in that tone since she was a little girl.

The next morning, as the sun rose above the mountain peaks, she heard birds chirping and a dog bark, before her thoughts caught up to her awakening body; she lay in a kind of dreamy state of mind, enjoying a few extra minutes in bed, before her mind leaped to attention as she was reminded of the voice. Her body followed suite as she felt the cold, damp floor beneath her feet. She got dressed in the most conservative outfit she could find, gathered her belongings, and went on the search for the stranger who spoke to her. She stood at the edge of town, with hot tears stream down her face, she was overwhelmed by a sense of unworthiness and shame. Her throat hurt and her knees felt like jelly as she lost her footing in the dusty street, crashing face first to the ground.

She could feel the creases in the palms of her hands as she covered her face, to hide the tears. A gentle hand reached out to help her to her feet and offered a kind word, in a familiar voice, “Mary, you are forgiven. I love you. Come follow me.” She immediately followed him and was welcomed in the home of one of Jesus’ disciples, where they broke bread together in a most remarkable way.

His words stuck in her mind as she tried to comprehend what all that encompassed. The welcome friendship he offered without conviction. The forgiveness she thought was not possible. She went to her bag and retrieved the most valuable treasure she owned. An alabaster jar, containing nard, an expensive and rare reddish colored perfume she could have sold for enough to pay for a year’s wages. She knelt beside Jesus, overwhelmed by the very thought of being in his presence, she could barely see through the tears as they flooded her eyes, and began to fall on his feet. She gently let her hair down and used it to dry the tears from his feet, then took the jar and broke it open, pouring the contents into the palms of her hands, she anointed his feet; revealing the fragrant, sweet smelling spice, that filled the room with a majestic wonder for the one person who could offer more than Mary could imagine possible. Scolded by the other men in the room for wasting such a valuable oil, she knew the persecution she would face, but chose the act of kindness in a moment of unmeasurable gratitude. (Matthew 26:7-9)

Little did she know, in a few short days, her act of gratefulness would be a symbolic reminder of what Jesus would do for us. His body would also be broken, like the pure white alabaster jar, and his blood, as the rare and precious nard spilled out as a saving grace to cover all our sins. To be forgiven through all our unworthiness, a broken sinner in need of a Savior- a precious gift not to be taken lightly.

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New Living Translation, (1996,2004,2007) Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, IL:Tyndale House Foundation.

God’s Word

In II Timothy Paul wrote a letter to Timothy about God’s word. Paul, who was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus was sent out to tell others about the life he has promised through faith in Christ Jesus. (II Timothy 1:1)

He writes in II Timothy 3:16-17; “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

With that in mind, we cannot only embrace the Scriptures we like and discard the ones that go against the grain of human nature because they do not agree with our worldly views. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And My ways are far beyond anything you can imagine.” (Isaiah 55:9)

God sent disciples of Christ to share the Good News and save as many people as possible. The Lord is not really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed but wants everyone to repent. II Peter 3:9

We can trust the reliability of these Scriptural Prophets because they were sent by God. (2 Peter 1:19-21) It is by Peter’s own eyewitness testimony. “Above all, you must realize that no prophesy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” It does, however, warn us against false teachers who will drag us into sin because of their lies.

So, when we read hard truths and instructions on how we should live in the Bible we tend to think it does not apply to us now. We should ask for wisdom and discernment as we read the word. Ask God how to apply and live it in our daily lives.

As for the old testament, Malachi 1:2 notes in my study bible explains: The touchstone for God’s activity in all of history is the event of Christ- the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. These events in history form the Good News. I believe we do have to understand the time and place of the circumstances, but we can still take away some valuable lessons and learn more about God’s love for His people.

Armor of God

I am not going to lie, last week was one of the most challenging, energy depleting weeks that I’ve had in a long time. There are circumstances in my life right now that are the driving force behind it, so I know why, but at the end of the day I still felt defeated.

In my prayers I was reciting the scripture in my own words that tells us to put on the armor of God and hold up the shield of faith to deflect the enemy, but in my state of fatigue, I let my guard down and allowed the enemy to sneak in through a side door, the door of exhaustion.

He began to put doubt in my mind, make me question my calling and the path God has placed me on; the very things that provide the fulfillment in my life were put under attack and magnified to the extent of feeling overwhelmed and underequipped to handle what God has called me to do.

Of course, I can’t do it on my own. He is the one who equips me to do the things he asks of me. It is in that dependence on him that I am who I am. My very being and breath comes from him. But when we are mentally drained Satan has an in and if we aren’t careful, he will use it against us in an attempt to shut us down.

The armor of God are not just words to recite. They are something we need to take to heart and know the meaning and how to apply them in our lives. As Paul warns in Ephesians 6:10-18, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”

As I was running the other morning, I received this message: “You wouldn’t wear galoshes to run, so why not put on all the right gear to get through the day?”

Here is list of each piece of armor and what it symbolizes:

Belt of truth

Breastplate of righteousness which is faith and love

Shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil

Helmet of salvation

Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God

Shoes are the peace that comes from the Good News, so we are fully prepared

Now that I know all of this was an attack, I am better equipped to handle it, not because I am stronger but because in my weakness, He is strong. It is not me that will handle it, but God. He fights my battles for me. It is by faith, that I follow even if I don’t know where I am going and the way before me seems steep. I also started a Bible plan based on the book, Don’t Give Up, Kyle Idlema references Abraham’s story. He put it like this, you are not too old or too broken for God to use you and Abraham could see that God was the one leading him and that was enough. Today I rejoice in where God is leading me and want to share that joy with you. If you are having a rough week, don’t give up. Press into what God is asking of you, not what the enemy is putting on you.

Beware of Traps

One particularly chilly morning after a rainy day, I stepped out on the pavement before taking off to run to check for ice. It seemed wet but not icy, so I ventured out. I saw a bridge covered in water ahead but forged on to cross it in an area of low water thinking I could squeeze by without getting my feet wet. As soon as I hit the bridge my foot slipped, and I immediately come to a screeching halt. I tiptoed over to the sidewalk and got past the danger zone before I continued.

This is so like the enemy. Just when we think it is all smooth roads ahead and we are happy, the enemy will try to trip us up. He lays in wait to attack us at any moment with traps of all kinds that appear to be good but aren’t at all. He makes bad things look good and tries to convince us to do that thing you’ve been thinking about. Truth is he is the one who put the temptation on your mind and makes it look good to us.

The best way to defeat the enemy and stay continually cautious of his tactics are to study the Word of God. The more we know God’s truth the easier it will be to recognize the enemies’ lies. Matthew 16:10 says, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’. Have you ever wondered what that means? I was directed to this in my Bible reading while working on this message; so, I looked up the definitions. A Pharisee is a self-righteous person, a hypocrite. A Sadducee is someone who denied the afterlife and lived only by the law. In other words, these are false teachings from people who try to trip you up. Yeast is a symbol of sin and evil- deceptive teaching falls into that category.

My dad used to tell a story from the pulpit about a young banker who wanted to make sure he didn’t accept any counterfeit bills, so he began to study them. An older banker asked what he was doing and when he told him he was studying the fake money so he would recognize it, the older wiser banker told him that was unnecessary, if he studied the real thing he would easily recognize the fake. (the day after I wrote this message, I read almost the exact story in my “100 Ways to Brave” devo by Annie F. Downs-A powerful little book by the way!) What a great message. Study God’s truth for yourself and you will recognize the counterfeit (or false teaching) others try to pass on to you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil., He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. Ephesians 6:14

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees- religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. Luke 20:27 (verse that led me to Matt. 16:10)

Scooby Snack

I have been seeing a man from my neighborhood walking his dog when I run. I usually run past them a couple of times on my route. This dog is huge, ya’ll. He always shows his affection towards me with a growl and lunge in my direction. I am pretty sure I would just be a Scooby snack for this pup.

I find myself praying for protection as I approach them and for the man to have a really good grip on that leash! So far, that has been the case. The man is always kind and tells the dog to leave me alone, thankfully. That dog would chomp me down in one bite, without even chewing. I also pray for the dog, if he did get me, I would probably give him an upset tummy.

Then one morning as I ran on the opposite side of the road from them, I decided to take a different route back so I could avoid them all together. This sparked something biblical and reminded me of the scripture in I Corinthians 10:13 where it talks about temptations. God will not allow the temptations to be more than we can stand. When we are tempted, He will show us a way out so that we can endure.

God always provides a way out, a different route, if you will, to avoid the dangers of temptation and possible danger. But if we are not tuned in to listening for His direction and instruction, we are only relying on our limited way of thinking and that can get us in trouble. We cannot see the whole maze to find the best route on our own. Allow God’s perfect perspective guide us to the best path He has laid out.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.  I Corinthians 10:13

Agape Love

Agape is a Greek term for one of the highest forms of love in the Bible. This kind of love is rare and is modeled by Jesus when He died on the cross for us. It is a sacrificial, selfless, and unconditional.

Phileo, also a Greek term, is like brotherly love, but also one that shows strong affection, not expecting anything in return.

We see in John 13: 34-35, Jesus tells his disciples about a new commandment; to love one another as God loved them. In verse 38, He goes on to tell Peter that he will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Peter is distraught, he insists that this will never happen. Yet, we read that it does.

In John 21:15-17, Jesus gives Peter a second chance. He restores him by asking him three times if he loves Him; the same number of times that Peter denied Jesus, he was given the opportunity to be redeemed to Jesus and respond to Him in love. I heard a minister speak about this once and say that the first two times Jesus asked Peter if he agape Him; and Peter answered both times that he phileo Him. But the third time Jesus met Peter where he was and asked if he phileo Him. Peter answered yes.

As I reflect on this, I believe if Jesus indeed asked Peter the first two times if he agape Him and then the third time if he phileo Him; Possibly Jesus knew He was asking a lot of Peter. This was the man who had just denied even knowing Jesus, when the going got rough. This kind of love, the highest form of love, may have been hard for Peter to claim in his shame and regret.  A kind of love only Jesus had shown us; but Jesus kept on asking and changed to the level Peter could relate to so he could accept forgiveness.

For us, the closest we may come to knowing this kind of agape love is for a child. The other night, I dreamed that my son was about three years old and we were in a foreign land. I wanted to go explore and take photos of a beautiful waterfall I could see in the distance, but every time I turned around, he had taken off and I had to go find him. The third time, I was not able to find him anywhere. I was scared that I wouldn’t or that something terrible happened to him. I looked around and saw him coming towards me through a marsh, up to his waist in muck. I ran out to meet him and grabbed him in my arms, whispering in his ear how scared I was, and I asked him to please not run off again.

I see this as how God comes after us when we are lost. We are in a foreign land, but we can see glimpses of the beauty and glory to come. God picks us up out of the muck, comforts us and gently asks us not to leave again, whispers of love. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us. The crucifixion and resurrection prove Jesus’ love and the love of the Father. Agape love.

If you have a friend who is kind and loving and you consider to be your best friend, don’t you want to introduce them to everyone you meet? In the same way, I want to introduce my Friend, Jesus to everyone I meet. He rewrote my story. He redeemed all the miserable years and all my tears. I hope to show others who He is by the way I live and conduct myself. I pray to always be humble and kind, with a tender heart. Yes, He is the Leader of the world, Creator of all things, Master of the universe, but also a caring, kind, gentle, friend who wants the best for us, always. He restores and redeems. I know my story isn’t over. God is still writing it. He amazes me every day! I hope to soak it all up and enjoy every moment

God’s Echo

Raven Run

It was nearing the end of the year and I was still praying for my word. Many times, God told me to ‘be brave’. Knowing I would need to be brave for what He was calling me to do in the upcoming year, I quickly adopted ‘brave’ as my word for 2020.

One of the things I felt God was calling me to do this year was start a support group for women. Still learning and healing from my own past abuse, I knew I had a story to share and could help others walk through their stories as well as teach the red flags of abuse. But I had never led a support group before. I prayed for God to help me as I attempted to help other women.

I basically feel, like most of my assignments, I just need to be willing and show up. God will handle the rest. As many times before, when I show up, He shows out. So, I know I can trust Him with the outcome. I just have to take the next step.  I registered my group and continued praying for guidance and help.

A couple of weeks into the new year, sitting in my quiet time, I was given the word, ‘echo’ in a very distinct manner. God knowing me like He does, I went to search the spiritual meaning of the word. As I am surfing the internet, letting the Spirit lead me, I found a women’s ministry and a blog post entitled, “To Be God’s Echo”. I read the article and found a beautiful story and explanation that the opportunity to tell people again what God had already said was to be an echo of the Almighty. It went on to say we must first listen to what He has said.

I love that! It spoke directly to my heart for serving women through Faith Walk Ministries and the Sister’s Circle support group. The author went on to say as she is ministering to women, she focuses on three words: encourage, embrace and echo. I can relate to all three of these words as one of my Spiritual gifts is to encourage others, I pray often that I will never hurt others with my words but lift them up and encourage them. In anticipation of the group, I designed a logo for the Sister’s Circle which is two women embracing each other in a hug. (Ya’ll know I am fond of hugs) And now to have a word that completes it, to be an echo in the lives of others, to breathe God’s truth and love by being an echo to His heart. I know God is still calling me to be brave but my new word for 2020 has been given to me from the purest of hearts…ECHO. I am amazed every day and look forward to echoing His truth not only throughout the coming year but continue throughout my ministry wherever He leads me.

Marathon

Since becoming a runner about nine years ago, it has never been my goal to run a marathon. The longest race I completed was a 10K (6.2 mi.) and the longest run on my own has been 7 miles.  These days I do about 3 miles each day or sometimes 4 if I have time and am feeling good. I have learned to listen to my body and take a break when it needs to rest. This allows me to be stronger when I do go back out.

My main goal is to run for my health not to damage it. For me, that is what I would be doing if I trained for a marathon. Finding out I have the first stages of osteoporosis and that running is good for my bones only added to the many beneficial reasons for continuing this sport. I enjoy running and spending that time with God. I don’t want to turn it into something I dread. Besides, this is where a lot of these messages come from…my time with God in nature. I have the time to process, pray and receive. God teaches me a lot, but I realize it isn’t just for me, so I share it with others in hopes it blesses them as well.

However, when I think about the things God is preparing us for it reminds me that the opposite is true. It is in God’s timing. Most of the time He reminds us that it is a marathon, not a sprint. We can celebrate the milestones along the way, remember to take breaks, rest, and enjoy the beauty of the journey. We may not know the end goal of our trainings, but God does. We can slow our pace and take one day at a time.

Our experiences and lessons along the way can be used to help others. Sometimes, we think we know where we are headed only to be shifted in a completely new direction and focus. If we are staying our course, with God as the leader, we can rest assured we will get wherever we are going at just the right time. We shouldn’t settle on anything less. It may take a little longer but that is the nature of the marathon. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1

I Believe!

Mt. Rainier

Do you believe God parted the Red Sea as though it were dry ground? Do you believe the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down? Do you believe God shut the mouths of lions, quenched flames of fire and placed Jonah in the belly of a whale? Do you believe Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood? I could go on and on through scripture how God saved His people, preformed miracles and changed lives through the faith of His people.

I believe because I have seen first hand in my own life how God spared my life from a tragic car accident, saved me from an abusive relationship, brought good out of my mistakes and bad decisions, and I could on and on about that as well.

We all have our blanks? How do you fill in the blank? What have you seen God do in your life that causes you to believe?

I believe because God saved me from________________________________________.

How has God changed your life so much that you know it could only be Him?

So why not trust Him with this?

Whatever your ‘this’ is right now. That daunting thing that looks overwhelming, but you know God brought you to it. It reminds me of the song lyrics, ‘I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains, and I believe I will see You do it again.’ Friend, when we’ve seen God work in our lives before, we can believe He will do it again. If we believe we can receive everything He has for us, in full measure and abundance. If we believe we will receive. Hold tight to that confidence- not in ourselves but in what God can do in and through us when we believe, have faith and trust Him with the results.

This also comes with a warning; it probably won’t look like what we thought, but we can trust God with the outcome and believe where He is leading us will be even better than we ever imagined for ourselves.

When you get a chance, read through Hebrews chapter 11. Refresh yourself in one chapter with what all God has achieved through those who believed.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Innocence

I love God’s heart. For a lot of us our childhood memories come with a sense of innocence. I had a ton of great memories on our front porch. It brings back so many images to my mind. A place of firsts. Firsts certainly contain a load of innocence. First memory, first word, first step, laughter, singing, loss, tears, family and friends, music out the bedroom window, swinging, pets, long conversations, sleepy eyes, fireflies, hellos, and goodbyes.

First bike, first car, first crush, wedding day jitters, first house, first job, first baby, singing lullabies. I could go on and on. Even though our front porch saw a lot of these firsts, for me, it also was the place I first lost some of my innocence. But that one memory does not have to taint all the others. I was reminded that God restores our innocence. Through all the things we have done since our more innocent days of childhood; We can rest assured God has redeemed it all through His Son, Jesus.

Not only to our level of childlike memories, but to His superlative standards of innocence. That brings a new level of renewed hope and joy, as we travel the high road, looking to the Rock for our comfort and protection. God loves us that much. His heart is so full of love for us that He chose to save us and restore our innocence so we can be free.

From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

I look up to the mountains- does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1-2

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:6