A scandalous scene was unfolding at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner party. A prostitute had crept in and was crouched, weeping at the feet of Jesus. As her tears mingled with her emptied-out perfume, making trickles in his dirty feet, she wiped them with her hair and kissed them clean.

“If this man were a prophet,” Simon thought to himself, “he would know what kind of woman is touching him.” (Luke 7:39). Since Jesus was a prophet, he answered Simon’s thoughts with a story.

“If a man forgave two debts—one for 500 pieces of silver another for 50—which debtor would love him more?” He asked.

Jesus used this comparison story to reveal the true comparison story happening at Simon’s table.

The first debtor is the woman. She has sinned greatly, and contrary to Simon’s supposition, Jesus knows it. Yet, he sees her sin as forgiven. Here at his feet is a daughter of the kingdom, who will one day dance—forgiven and clean—on streets of gold!

But who’s the second debtor? It’s Simon. In his story, Jesus places the Pharisee and a prostitute side-by-side as two sin debtors who cannot pay. Obviously, Simon sees it differently. His condescending disgust reveals his elevated sense of superiority, as he sees himself as a judge. Yet he has misjudged both the woman and Jesus!

By offering no kiss, no foot washing, and no anointing oil, Simon has just snubbed the only One who can forgive his sin. And the woman, with her extravagant love, has rightly elevated Him.

Friend, are you lifting yourself up as a judge with your condescending disgust toward others? Or are you crouched low at Jesus’s feet—a woman who is forgiven and clean?

“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 33:34

Is there a person in your life who is difficult to get along with?

I know there is in my life. They have hurt me in so many ways that it affects my character. Sometimes, I wonder if they harm me on purpose or if it’s just second-nature for them.
Jesus, hanging on the cross, looked down and saw soldiers — the ones who had beat and ridiculed Him and who ultimately nailed His hands to the beam. They were gambling to see who could get His only possession: His bloodied clothes.

In that moment, Jesus’ character — who He was — rose above unimaginable pain. Seeing beyond the rough exterior of foreign, dirty soldiers, Jesus peered deep into their souls. He saw their pain from the past. He also saw their pain in the future. It all hinged on His forgiveness.

Would He be able to forgive these men? Would He be able to take on the sin of not only these people but of all humankind? Would He take on my sin? Even in His weakened and vulnerable state, Jesus did not give into anger, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, or revenge.

 

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” he pleaded, requesting forgiveness from His Father, who had the power to rain down fire on the soldiers. In that moment of human weakness, Jesus didn’t sin. He gave unselfishly of Himself and His rights to grant others something they didn’t deserve: forgiveness.

Do I still struggle to forgive? You bet I do! But just as Christ forgives those soldiers and me, I have the choice to look at the person who hurts me every time they wrong me and think, “Father, forgive them, for they really don’t know what they are doing.”

Pray and Respond
Who is the person or past situation that is difficult for you to forgive and what is something Jesus has forgiven you for? Pray that Jesus will give you the grace to forgive your difficult person, just as He has forgiven you.

Have you ever poured out your heart before the Lord? “Downhearted, deep anguish, crying bitterly” are the emotions of the childless woman, Hannah, which opens the book of 1 Samuel. The writer declares, “God has closed her womb.” Elkanah, her loving husband, fails to understand her while his other wife mocks her.

Her emotions erupt during a pilgrimage to the house of the Lord. Can you feel the weight of her longing? It is palatable. Hannah’s faith is displayed as she takes her emptiness to God. Feeling overwhelmed, her lips move to pray, but her weary heart has no sound. She is assumed drunk. In raw honesty, Hannah sighs, “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.” God hears. God remembers. God gives Hannah a son. (1 Samuel 1:15b)

In a worshipful response, Hannah again bares her soul before the Lord. This time her words are recorded. (1 Samuel 2:2-10) Her prayer’s focus is not on the gift of her son, Samuel,  but upon the goodness of the Giver Himself. Affirming God’s unchanging nature, Hannah proclaims God’s future promise of redemption, for his people.  

She exclaims that God opposes the proud and exalts the humble. (2:3-4) God is at work in the world despite chaos and evil. (2:9) God will send a king. (2:10) Through Samuel, God transitions Israel to a monarchy. This monarchy is a shadow of an eternal kingdom. God promises King David, whom Samuel anointed, an everlasting throne. Through David’s line, a king will come to rule and reign with all the goodness of God himself.

Centuries later, another mother responds in worshipful prayer, echoing the words of Hannah. (Luke 1:46-55) God visits humble Mary, giving her a son. Through this Son, all of God’s promises to Israel are completely and finally fulfilled. He is the long-awaited King from the line of David to rule forever. What Hannah knew in part is now known in full. 

May our hearts worship with hers as we pour out our own longings before the Lord.

Did you know that some of Jesus’ closest followers were women?

Mary Magdalene, from whom he cast out seven demons, was the first person to witness his resurrection!

You can watch Magdalena, the true story of Jesus told through Mary’s eyes and see how Jesus treated the women of his day.

You have a special place in God’s heart today too!

 

God, Do You Really Care About Me? 

I hope you enjoy the retelling of the life and ministry of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. As you watch the film, you will see that in the beginning Eve was the crowning touch and grand finale of God’s creative masterpiece – fashioned to complete the picture of mankind created in the image of God.

When Jesus entered the world on that starry night in Bethlehem, His first cry echoed the heart cries of women through the centuries. Women led secluded lives. They were not allowed to talk to men in public, testify in court or mingle with men at social gatherings. They were uneducated, unappreciated, and segregated in the social and religious life of their communities.

Jesus saw women hidden in the shadows behind lock and kay and flung the doors open wide with the truth to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. With honor and respect, Jesus healed women spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It is easy for us twenty-first-century readers to view Jesus’ interaction with women as somewhat ordinary, but it was radical in every sense of the word. He spoke to women publicly, taught them openly, ate with them freely, and treated them respectfully. In a culture that kept women tucked away in the recesses of the home to be neither seen nor heard, Jesus pulled them from behind the scenes, positioned them front and center, and shone the spotlight of His divine love and calling on their lives. As the curtain of the New Testament rises, women fill the stage and take starring roles as God’s grand drama of salvation unfolds.

As you consider each woman Jesus impacted, I pray you will write your name into the script and experience Him as never before. You are precious to God. Your name is written in the palm of His hand.

Several years ago, I began to picture myself in the guarded fortress of God’s care as a way to help my fear and anxiety. I had just read the Hebrew verb for “guards” (shamar) that appears most notably in Psalm 97:10 and Psalm 121 where we meet God as the One who keeps us, watches over us, protects us, and rescues us from harm. How would my relationship to Jesus change if I better understood His guarding care? And was there a way for me to actually picture this deep care of my soul, especially when my external circumstances brought suffering or chaos? 

As I searched the Psalms for the images the biblical writers themselves used to recall God’s guarding care, I loved how over 15 times in the Psalms alone, we see how the writers viewed God as their fortress. Suddenly, I felt stronger inside as I proclaimed, as David did, that “[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2) and that “the Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Psalm 18: 2).

Picture this fortress of God’s guarding care, this place of safety and power. No matter what’s happening around us, we know our souls remain firmly in the guarding and protective care of the Lord at all times. Nothing can harm our guarded soul. Nothing can disturb this inner fortress of peace.

As I grew in my identity as guarded by Christ, I kept a beautiful quote in my purse from devotional writer Hannah Whitall Smith from the 1800’s. She, too, was learning about God’s guarding care. She wrote, “Plenty of outward discomforts there may be, and many earthly sorrows and trials, but through them all the soul that knows God cannot but dwell inwardly in a fortress of perfect peace.” 

I think about God guarding my soul, and I stay in that fortress of perfect peace. 

Read more about God’s guarding care in Guarded by Christ: Knowing the God Who Rescues and Keeps Us (Moody, 2016) 

The U.S. presidential inauguration introduced a new voice, as twenty-two-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman inspired a fitful nation with her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” on January 20, 2021.

Her final hope-filled lines stuck with me:

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it


History is full of ezer-warriors “brave enough to be” light in their time and place. The Bible frequently highlights women (often very young) who confront the challenges of the moment to bring light and hope to others.

I think of Ruth.


Marriage to Naomi’s son swept Ruth into Naomi’s tsunami of suffering. Naomi was a famine refugee and a widow. By the time the dust settled both women had plummeted to the bottom of ancient society. Both were childless widows. Post-menopausal Naomi and barren Ruth had no future. Ruth was about Amanda Gorman’s age when she faced the hardest decision of her life. Yet instead of abandoning Naomi, Ruth chose a dark, foreboding future in Bethlehem by embracing Naomi, her people, and her God.

That changed everything.

Ruth took refuge under God’s wing and, from that place of blazing light, drew courage to do whatever Naomi needed. From that moment, she refused to hold back or shrink from bravely making bold initiatives to a powerful man—all on Naomi’s behalf. She ignored cultural boundaries limiting her as an immigrant, an impoverished widow, and a scavenger for food to bring light and renewed hope to Naomi.

Ruth never knew God was advancing his purposes for the world through her brave, selfless love for Naomi.

Her story reminds us never to underestimate how God might multiply our smallest act of kindness, encouraging word, or helping hand. We should all be asking, “If Ruth, why not me?” May God help us to be “brave enough” to bring the light of hope to others.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need. (Psalm 23:1)

The Twenty-Third Psalm offers us a real picture of our life’s journey, in light of our relationship with God as Father, Son, and Spirit.

The Psalmist David came to know the Lord while spending time in the fields, tending his father’s flock. In the stillness of time spent alone with God, he learned how to guide the sheep, provide for their daily needs, and keep them safe from harm. David’s experiences taught him to declare the Lord as his Shepherd. We must also know the Lord and declare Him to be our Shepherd who cares for us and provides for our every need.

God wants us to rest in His peace. The green meadows are symbolic of how God nourishes us, while the peaceful streams reveal the calmness we can experience from the inside out as we cease from fretting, worrying, and being anxious about the cares of this world. The Lord comforts our hurting hearts and heals the emotional wounds we carry. He restores our minds and stabilizes and strengthens us emotionally.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me (Psalm 23:4).

God wants us to learn to trust Him. These paths may appear dark and hopeless, but we don’t have to fear because the Lord walks close beside us. His rod protects us. His Shepherd’s staff guides us along our journey.

God rewards us for our suffering. It’s as if He prepares a beautifully decorated table with the most delicious spread of our favorite things. He anoints us with the oil of gladness and fills our cup until it overflows.

God is a good and loving Father. May we stay close to God, spending our days in His presence here on earth and throughout eternity.

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you.” (Eph 3:17). God blesses us with stunning demonstrations in nature of His love and intention for creation. Through the work of gardening, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and trees are anchored in fertile soil, positioned to thrive because of the gardener’s intentional care. The Lord’s heart beats for us, His beloved children, in the same way.  He wants us to thrive as He intentionally cares for us. Ephesians 3:17-19 gives a stunning view of how this happens.

17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all  God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

This significant growth cannot happen without God. He is calling believers to root and establish themselves in the deep love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit strengthens our inner being, which prepares our spiritual soil for Jesus to dwell richly in our hearts through faith.

  • How grounded are you in His love today?
  • If your roots are deep, how can you invite the Lord to help you go even deeper?
  • If your roots are shallow, what do you need from the Lord to help you grow stronger?

 

Are you wondering how to seek God during the difficulties of 2020? Have changes, loss or unmet expectations clouded a normally joyful time of year? If so, you are not alone.

During this Advent season, imagine the sights of a starry night, the aroma of hay, and the touch of a tiny newborn’s hands. Become a witness to that first Christmas and join with all creation in worshiping the King.

This brief 4-week study from Neighborhood Bible Studies 2Go (NBS2GO), will help draw you and your friends away from the world’s troubles, to the humble birth of our Savior.

Enjoy listening to passages from Luke and Matthew with her.BIBLE as you go through the study. We pray that Jesus will meet you in his Word and assure you that you are never alone.

To my delight I found myself engaging in Scripture in a fresh way (with her.BIBLE). While listening, my senses were filled with imagination as the spoken Words soaked into the fabric of my mind. I immediately thought to myself, ‘I would LOVE to share this experience with those involved in Neighbor Bible Studies 2GO around the world.’” Debbie McGoldrick, Director of NBS2GO

Let us prepare our hearts for Christmas. Come, let us adore him!

There are few things sweeter than watching a baby take her first few steps. No one expects the infant to stay on her feet. Who doesn’t smile as the baby wobbles on unsteady legs or reaches out her arms when she tips forward? When the baby falls, no one is surprised. Yet, everyone rushes to see if she’s okay. There’s always a pair of strong, loving arms to pick her up, brush away the tears and set her feet back on the ground again. And again. And again. God does the same for us.

As the prophet Jeremiah witnesses the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586-587 BC, he writes the book of Lamentations, capturing the pain, suffering and the hope of a God who lovingly picks up His children, even after they fall again and again.

At one point, Jeremiah fell into despair. Yet, in Lamentations 3:21 he writes when he dared to hope and remember God, his attitude changed. Then, he writes verses 22 and 23 as a beautiful declaration of God’s character and attitude toward us:

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!
His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

While Israel worshipped idols and shamelessly sinned with no remorse, God remained true to His character. Their falls and failures did not diminish God’s faithfulness. Neither do ours.

Like a loving father picks up his child, God picks us up, too. Yes, we do fall. Our wobbles and stumbles in life happen because we love to follow our own way. Yet, God’s mercies pick us up each day, if we let Him.

Today, dare yourself to hope in God’s faithfulness. If you feel like you’ve fallen, God’s waiting to pick you up. His mercy is for you today.