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.

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

Reflection

At 54, I am happy where I am today and what God is doing at this age, that I could never have imagined for myself, at any time in my life. When my mom was 54, I was only 18. In that year, I graduated high school, got in a marriage that would last 22 years, started my first job that lasted 17 of those years. Wow, I thought I knew it all. I would not change any of it because it brought me where I am today- but I would not want to go back either.

I have been reading about Paul’s life recently and see how God changed his life in a new light. In the beginning, his name was Saul and when God chose to change him, he blinded him. (Acts 9:8-19) I believe God blinded Saul so he could see clearly for the first time. He filled him with the Holy Spirit and then was able to use him for spreading the gospel. God not only changed his name, he changed his heart, his life, and his character. I can relate to Paul in so many ways.

Upon much reflection, I realize; I have seen more, with my eyes closed, in a few short years, with the Holy Spirit, than a lifetime with them seemingly open. My life, my perspective, my heart, and my character have been forever changed, when God filled me with the Holy Spirit. He wrote my new name on a white stone and called me a victor in Christ. Today, I celebrate where I am, with Christ, chosen by God, led by the Holy Spirit for a mission that is still unfolding before my eyes.

I am no longer hiding or running- I have faced my truth head on and lived to tell about it. It is a privilege and an honor to accept God’s mission to share my story with others. I am still learning every day- but as I learn, in turn, I hope to teach others and share the gospel with those He places in my path.

Ears to hear and eyes to see- both are gifts from the Lord. Proverbs 20:12

“…I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” Rev.2:17

Remembering Mom

If Mom were still with us she would have been 90 today! In some way, it is a blessing that she isn’t and that she went when she did. Because unlike circumstances now, we wouldn’t have had the chance to rally around her as a family in her last few days; to sing, laugh, worship, pray and celebrate her life and the sense of humor she had. For that I am forever grateful. I certainly sympathize with those who lost love ones to the virus and didn’t get a chance to say their goodbyes.

In reflection this morning, I was trying to remember what her favorite dessert was. She was fond of all of them so it is hard to pinpoint only one that I would call her favorite. But, the rest of us, we all had our favorites, and what I do remember is her always making them for our special day. For Dad- I believe it was red velvet cake, Barbara would have been the cherry pudding (which was a sweet bread type loaf cake with a homemade cherry sauce); for Butch it was a lemon layer cake with rich lemony goodness between the layers; for David I am pretty sure it was always a simple chocolate cake; Donna would be strawberry shortcake or in later years cotton pickin’ cake; and for me as a child it was carrot cake and later I loved her strawberry/rhubarb cobbler. Speaking of desserts, I sure do miss her green apple dumplings. Nobody made them like hers.

As a child, every year I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and every year she always said the same thing. My gift to her was an ironing board cover- what a lame birthday present. But, hers would always be worn out by the time her birthday came around and she could said she needed it- I don’t seem to have that problem. But, this just re-enforces who she was as a mom, wife and person. Always taking care of others.

Dad, on the other hand, I knew what to get him. At four years old, I gave him a really nice blue, bouncy ball. Every dad needs one of those, right? So he can play with his little girl. What sweet memories. Today, I celebrate with both of them and the peace they now have, together in heaven. Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you! These flowers are for you….

Migration

Elephants have always been very prominent in my life. Even as a child I loved them. Not that I had one for pet or anything. I just thought they were fascinating. I am not completely sure why I was drawn to them, but I was. I let them go for a little while and now they have marched back into my life with exponential meaning.

I sought out some interesting facts about them after I noticed them more often. Did you know the male and female herds do not stay together, for the most part? The female herd is led by the matriarch until she dies. Then her oldest daughter or a sister takes her place at the front of the line.

The older females are known to be full of wisdom and great at leading herds away from potential dangers. In other words, they are mature female leaders of the pack with abundant knowledge on helping the younger elephants survive in the wild.

Their large ears aid them in hearing the call of another elephant from their herd. In fact, they can hear the distress call from over five miles away, as well as any predators that could threaten their young ones.

Aren’t we supposed to do the same thing as mature adult women of Christ? We can lead other women to the truths of God’s word, share our wisdom, experiences and lead our friends, family, and young girls away from potential dangers of this world.

If we could use our own keen sense of hearing on God’s voice and be obedient to His call, we can show up when others need our help and support them through Christian love. The best leaders are those who are servants first, to Christ and then to others by putting their knowledge into action and setting good examples as role models.

I wrote this some time ago, but recently watched the new Disney Nature series on Elephants- I highly recommend it. God’s design and attention to detail is fascinating. In fact, as we search for wholesome things to watch, this Disney series has been a go-to recently; we also watched the series on dolphins and bears.

One common theme I noticed, is that all of them have a migration period. Even butterflies and birds of all kinds, including geese, migrate as well, although I have not watched any documentaries on those yet. Whether it is to find food, warmer temps, safer living quarters…etc. It is in their nature to migrate. They all take their young ones along, teaching them and protecting them along the way. The journey is not always easy. They incur battles and trek through all kinds of treacherous territory on their way to a better place.

Aren’t we also migrating? We are seeking a better place as we migrate towards Heaven. Sometimes our path is treacherous, and we have battles to fight along the way. We teach and protect our young on the journey of life. We have mountains to climb and valleys to go through but there are many meadows, places of rest, playful times as well. We can enjoy the journey knowing where we are headed.

Some of the animals have made the trek before but others trust and follow their leaders. I hope I can lead others on the journey towards Christ…towards something better. This life is temporary- it is not our true home. Let us migrate and enjoy the journey as we all trust and follow the ultimate leader.

“Wherever you go, I will go; where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and He will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

References sited: Thoughtco

https://www.thoughtco.com/10-facts-about-elephants-4134152

A Flower’s Life

Let’s look at the life of a flower and how it reaches the beautiful blooming stage that we all enjoy. Before we plant flowers, we need to cultivate the soil and prepare it to receive the seed for ultimate growth. If the ground is too hard the seed won’t take root.

Seed Stage: Every seed holds a miniature plant inside that needs the right nutrients to begin new growth. Some seeds are still capable of growth after many years if they are properly kept.

Germination: A seed in the earth will need warmth and water in order to grow. Some even need light at this stage. The seed will absorb water to split the outer shell, opening it up to a transformation as it begins to sprout a stem. The tiny root begins to push its way down as it begins to grow. According to an article I read, seeds have different needs; some need to go through a fire in order to sprout while others go through the stomachs of animals.

Growth: When the leaves begin to form, they convert energy from sunlight and water along with other nutrients to use as food. As the root system uses the food to continue to develop, anchoring the plant into the ground and uses root hairs to absorb water and nutrients. The stem is used to reach toward the light as it sends water and food to the roots and leaves. Then the buds begin to develop to later produce the beautiful blooms we so enjoy.

Reproduction: As the bud forms, it has a tiny but complete flower inside it. Over time, the bud opens and blossoms into a mature flower.

Pollination: Flowers depend on insects, birds, animals, wind, and water to carry pollen from flower to flower. Without pollinators, they couldn’t produce more seeds or new plant life. Even flowers that can’t produce their own pollen, rely on and benefit from other plants during the cross-pollination process, resulting in stronger plants.

Spreading Seeds: This is the final stage which is done in many ways. The wind can scatter the seeds, the fur of animals can carry the seeds to other locations, humans, water, etc. But once the seeds fall to the ground, a new plant life cycle begins again.

Consider the God-given design and the little details that take place for a flower to grow, bloom and thrive. Now think about how we are designed. Cultivating the hard ground to prepare it for the seed is like God cultivating our hearts- if it is still a hard and stony heart, the seed won’t take root. It must be rooted in fertile soil and be fed the right messages of His truth to grow to the full potential.

The roots send nutrients up through the stem so it can stand firm to produce the bloom. We also need to be rooted deep in the word to be fed and stand strong against the enemy to produce the kind of fruit that is pleasing to the Creator.

The flower needs the light of the sun to flourish just as we need the light of the Son in our lives. When we bloom where we are planted God can use us no matter where we are if we are standing tall and looking to Him. He provides the living water of the Spirit to nourish us and help us grow to our full potential, into the beautiful bloom He created us to be.

If we surround ourselves with the right pollinators (Christian friends) we can have a better chance of growth. At times in our lives when we are not able to self-pollinate, we have others to lift us up and help us through to the other side. It has been said that we are the average of the friends we hang out with the most. In that case, we need to find friends who are like what we want to become. Otherwise, we will be taken over by weeds and smothered and eventually wilt.

There is a full- complete flower inside all of us waiting to bloom in the light of Christ’s love. Some of us go through the fire to get there, everyone goes through different experiences that lead us to Christ. But it is our life experiences that helps us relate and we can share our story to help others, by spreading the seeds and message to lead others to Christ and ultimately the Kingdom.

Matthew 3:18-32

(Parable of the seeds)

(Reference: https://www.avasflowers.net/the-stages-of-the-flower-life-cycle)

Finding Favor

The Bible defines favor as ‘gracious kindness’; approval from a superior; a special privilege granted. (See also grace)

This has been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to have favor with God? Does God’s favor come in material things or in our gifts and talents and how He uses us? I think some people use it incorrectly and assume if someone has been able to purchase nice things, cars and a big house, they have found favor with God. I don’t believe God’s favor comes in the form of material things. He tells us to lay up our treasures in Heaven – not in earthly things.

I believe that the Lord’s favor comes in His perfect timing and not always when we are doing everything right. We always fail to measure up. He does it when it pleases Him. To bring glory to His name. To show others who He is. We know that grace is a gift and we can’t earn it, it’s the same with favor. God bestows His favor on who He chooses.

He saved me from a tragic car accident- not because of who I was but because of who He is. I am who I am today because of Christ and His grace. He uses us to show others who He is and point them to Christ- to glorify His name.

There are times when we are trying to achieve a blessing by our own strength or by the ways of the world, God may have to cripple our self-sufficiency to make us trust Him more. We see this in Genesis when God causes Jacob’s hip to render out of place- then He had to submit to God and trust Him. I feel this was what happened to me with my accident. I had gone as far as I could on my own, trying to control things myself, hold tight to things I needed to let go of. God showed me favor by saving my life but He used this accident to show me He is in control; not me. It took this to jolt me awake and make me pay attention to what He was doing in my life and made me trust Him more.

Noah found favor with the Lord because he walked in close fellowship with God. He is an example of righteousness, obedience, courage and faith. The closer our relationship with God and the more we use what He has given us the more we will receive.

Favor goes hand in hand with blessings, which can look very different depending on the circumstances at the time. Do you think accepting a ride with a stranger in the middle of a bad part of town is a blessing? I didn’t either, actually it was one of my greatest fears at the time. But to the homeless woman I was shadowing, who had a broken foot, it was one of the greatest blessings she had in a long time. We can’t look at what others have or don’t have and say they aren’t blessed or have more things and say they have more favor than us. Each person has his own journey. You never know what led them to where they are today. I came through the fire to get where I am. Not everyone has the same experience or journey but we all have the chance to live close to God and follow Christ. We all have unique gifts and talents to be used to help others and glorify God. So don’t look at your neighbor and think they have it all, I wish I was her. She is already taken. Be you. You do it better than anyone. Let God lead and see where He takes you.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. Luke 12:31 (notes: Life is not measured by how much you own.)

…to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. Luke 19:26