The Spiritual Journey of Mary Magdalene

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Matthew 26:13 NKJV)
Mary Magdalene is an interesting character. In every gospel, she is mentioned by name in some way, shape, or form relating to Christ. Her spiritual journey is chronicled in the Gospels, from when she is caught in sin to when she receives redemption. Her journey is one that is shared by many, whether exactly or generally, and through her journey, we see the steps of our own spiritual journey.

The verse quoted above is from Jesus speaking while at Simon’s, who was a Pharisee, house. Mary had just anointed Jesus’s feet; many were in dissension with her act, but Jesus, seeing her love and worship defends her. But this is not where we first see Mary. We first see her being dragged against her will to Jesus, for she had been caught in the act of adultery and the Pharisees wanted to know what Christ would do with her. They said, “’Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” (John 8:4-6 NKJV). The Pharisees had no love for Mary. They didn’t want to see her redeemed and quitting her life of sin. They only sought to condemn her in order to magnify themselves and attempt to accuse Jesus. The trick was this: if Christ said to stone her, they would have questioned reputation of being forgiving and loving. Had he told them to spare her, they would have accused Him of going against Moses’s law and that would be punishable. But Christ did something remarkable; “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:6, 7 NKJV). Although the Bible is silent on what Christ was writing, tradition says that Christ was writing the sins of the Pharisees in the dirt. In this encounter Christ exercised mercy to one who should have been stoned, and He exposed the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Pharisees.

Mary is introduced to Jesus and her first experience with Him is mercy. Isn’t that usually how we first meet Him right before we accept Him? Think for a second on how you first realized just who Jesus is and what He did for you. That moment could have been during a Bible study or when someone gave you a tract. And it need not be a first time introduction. For example. I’ve been Seventh-day Adventist for nearly all my life, and I feel like I didn’t realize who Christ is until I came to college. Regardless of how we meet Him, we see how sinful our lives are in comparison with His righteousness. But in spite of our sins, He shows us mercy, and our awe of him begins to grow.

Of course, Mary did not become perfect in that initial meeting of Christ. She still had her faults. In Matthew 26 and Luke 7, we see the accounts of the anointing at Bethany. Mary desired to worship and show her love to the One who had forgiven her of her sins, therefore, she bought the most expensive fragrant oil she could buy to anoint Jesus with. After anointing Him by pouring the oil on His head, she bowed at His feet and was so overcome with emotion that she wept. With her tears she wet His feet, and with her hair she dried them. This was Mary’s act of worship, her manifestation of her love for Christ. Yet those around her smirked and scolded her for buying such a costly item when she could have given the money to the poor. But Jesus saw her love and said, “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.” (Matthew 26:10 KJV). Again, when everyone around Mary was condemning her, she found love and mercy in Jesus. He extended forgiveness to her and she went on her away with strength and reassurance.

Notice that this is the second time that Jesus forgives Mary of her sins. In the next chapter, Luke 8, the Bible says, “And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.” (Luke 8:2 KJV). To give further explanation on the importance of this fact, turn to Matthew 12; “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45 KJV). Mary fell back into sin multiple times, some times may have been worse than others. But she came back to Christ each time and He healed and forgave her. Such an action is a lesson for us; the best thing for us to do when we are ensnared by sin is run towards Jesus, not to run from Him. She and other women continued to minister to Him (Luke 8:1-2), and whenever He visited Bethany, Mary made sure to sit at His feet, regardless of her sister Martha’s scoldings (Luke 10:38-42). In this stage, Mary is growing her relationship with Christ. She is in His presence as much as she can be, she listens to Him, and drinks His every word; she has found “that good part, which will not be taken away from her”. When we run towards Jesus and experience His love for us, we desire to be with Him more and more. We want to keep listening to Him even though others mock us. We long for the Sabbath hours to be a little bit longer so we can bask in His presence. Such is our growth in Christ when we keeping running to Him, seeking forgiveness and love.

The last time we see Mary Magdalene is at Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In every single Gospel, there is some mention of Mary, whether specifically or generally, at the scene of the crucifixion; the scriptures are Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, Luke 23:49, and John 19:25. She was with Christ from the time she met Him until He rose from the dead. In fact, in her sadness at His death, she was the first one at the tomb on Sunday morning. After resting on the Sabbath the day before, she hurried to His tomb to perform the last burial preparations. But, of course, the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and Christ revealed Himself to Mary. Thinking that someone had stolen His body, she was distressed and mistook the resurrected Jesus for a gardener. But not until He had said her name did Mary recognize who it was, for who else had could say her name with such love and compassion? Jesus first revealed Himself to a once broken woman who was still getting to know Him. Not to His disciples or to the religious leaders or the Roman guards. But to one whom society deemed unworthy to touch Him, to one who truly worshipped Him with mockers all around her. Seeing Christ’s love for her is beautiful, and to know that He loves us the same way is more beautiful still. This may be the last time we see Mary, but it is by no means the end of her spiritual journey. She is human, and I’m sure she continued to fall and continued to run towards Christ for all her life. But that’s what a spiritual journey is, it’s one that never ends. We constantly learn more about Christ and keep getting ever closer to Him. And when Christ comes again to take us to our heavenly home, we will have eternity to continue our never-ending journeys and to get know God. Personally, I can’t wait to continue getting to know Him face-to-face.

 

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God’s Gift of Marriage

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

I previously wrote a post on love, and you can find it here if you want to read it. So naturally, the next thing that stems from love is marriage (“first comes love, then comes marriage”…you know the rhyme).

Almost everyone’s dream is to find that special someone; a person with whom they are connected to intimately, a person who understands them, a person who loves them despite their quirks and annoyances.

I am no different. I desire to love and be loved. I desire to be in a committed relationship. But I also want to do it on God’s timing, and that’s the hardest part. It’s hard to be patient and willing to let God lead you when every part of your mind and body is screaming at you to do this with that person. I know I’ve cried out to God saying, “I can’t! I just can’t be patient anymore!” when I know I should be patient. I’ve gotten frustrated when it seems His plans aren’t working when I want them to. So I remember Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, for it is only with His strength that I can overcome my selfish desires.

But as I keep that in mind, I wanted to study this concept of marriage. For some reason, it seems to become a super important topic once you hit 20 (and I’ll be turning 20 in a month at the time I’m writing this). All of a sudden, the topics of dating and relationships come up a lot. Sure they came up when I was a teenager, but they weren’t as serious, and I’ll admit, I knew very little about love then (then again, it’s not like I know everything about it now). My thoughts on relationships usually didn’t go beyond the first kiss. I saw them as a time of perfect bliss, perpetual romance, and grandiose promises, not as a real lifetime commitment. I had a very idealized view of relationships, and to some degree, I still do, although much less than before. So I figure the best way to study marriage is to go straight to the One who created it.

First, why is there marriage? God created us with a desire for companionship. He says in Genesis, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18 NKJV). We don’t want to be alone, and it’s not good for us to be alone. We naturally want to connect with someone on an intimate level. Of course, God is our first Friend, the One who first loved us, and we should long to have Him as our primary Companion. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to connect with another human. That’s why we have friends, both acquaintances and close friends, that’s why we have husbands and wives. And notice that is God who says that it’s not good that man be alone. It is He who decides when to make a comparable helper for Adam. We don’t see Adam pining for another companion or begging God to make another human being. From the text in Genesis 2, one can infer that Adam was quite content with just being with God. I mean, don’t you think it would be wonderful to interact directly with the One who created you? To daily walk with Him in the rest of His creation? To sit at His feet and listen to His teachings? I’m sure Adam enjoyed those times spent with God, and when the time came, God created a comparable helper for him, Eve, and brought her to Adam. Once they met, they connected and became “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 NKJV). God was in every part of their meeting. He orchestrated the first marriage, and I’m sure He saw its goodness and was pleased. Just as God was in Adam and Eve’s relationship, He should be in our relationships. He should be the one initiating it, facilitating it, and completing it.

Now about this “one flesh” concept, yes it hints at the sexual intimacy between Adam and Eve, but it also hints at their unity. Have you ever known someone, whether friend or significant other, who feels like an extension of you? You finish each other’s sentences, your minds think alike, people can’t picture one of you without the other. This aspect of a relationship is, I would say, more important than the sexual relationship. We tend to focus on the fact that once we get married, then we can have sex, as if that’s the end goal of marriage. But it’s not. Yes, it’s a gift that God gave us, but it is not the end-all-be-all of relationships. The more important thing is unity, being so connected with someone that it’s like you’re one person.

What I found most interesting about marriage is that it’s often depicted as an analogy to God’s relationship with His church. For that reason, we should glorify God in how we view marriage and relationships. It is through understanding marriage that one can understand how God loves His church. Then, we can accurately portray that love to those who may not know of it. Many times throughout the Bible, marital language is used to describe God’s relationship with His church. In John 14:1-4, Christ speaks to His disciples on how He will prepare a place for us and then come again to receive us to Himself; “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1-4 NKJV). During that time, when a young man and young woman were to be married, the bridegroom would build a dwelling for him and his bride. It would be a time of anticipation for the bride, for when he was finished, the bridegroom would bring her to their dwelling and they would then be married and live together. Just as a bridegroom prepares and builds a house for his betrothed, Christ is preparing heaven for His church. And as a church, we are to be preparing ourselves and waiting in anticipation for His coming. Some of the parables that Jesus tells to describe the kingdom of God use marital analogies. There is the Parable of the Ten Virgins and The Wedding Supper to name two, and each one shows that His coming for us is exciting and celebratory.

In Revelation, Christ’s coming for His church is again likened to marriage; “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”” (Revelation 19:6-9 NKJV). When God calls us to His kingdom, we will be prepared and adorned beautifully when we meet our Savior. We will take part in the marriage feast and live forever with our God.

When we take part in marriage as God ordained, we show those around us how God loves us. When husbands and wives love each other unconditionally, they reflect God’s matchless love for us. Have you ever just wanted to shower your love on someone else for no other reason but to show them that you love them? Or just to see them smile? God loves us and He wants to shower His blessings on us. He wants to give us His best at the best time much in the same way we want to give gifts to those that we love.

Now, marriage is wonderful, something that we all long for. And obviously, God created it and bestowed His blessing on it. But a mistake that many of us make, myself included, is that we pine for it without enjoying our singleness. We put our desire for marriage above our desire to commune with God. Marriage was created because it was not good for man to be alone, but remember that in his single life, Adam communed with God. I don’t think he was lonely at all, for he was in the presence of His Creator. When we are single we can fully bask in the presence of our creator without worrying about whether he or she likes me or what he or she meant by such and such statement. Paul, who was single by the way, says in 1 Corinthians 7, “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife…The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.” It is while being single that you can cultivate your relationship with God. All of your focus will be on doing His work and on pleasing Him. Now this does not mean that once you say “I do”, all desire to do God’s work goes out the window. For those who are married, even as you seek to please your spouse and help him or her grow, seek all the more to please God in your actions. For those who are single (or dating), remember to keep developing your relationship with God for He will strengthen your character and prepare you, should it be in His will, for the one whom you’ll spend your life with. I came across a quote on the internet that said, “When you love God first, you love each other better.” Loving God comes first. And through your relationship with Him, you can love someone else just as He loves us and reflect His relationship with us.

What have I, and hopefully you, learned about marriage now? It’s sacred, blessed by God, and a gift. It’s a beautiful relationship that focuses on unity between man and woman; it is a unity so strong that they become one flesh. Further evidence to its sacredness is the fact that it is used to describe God’s love for the church. So marriage is an earthly representation of the love of God. And because it represents so high a concept, it is something that should not be taken lightly or haphazardly. It is one of the ways in which others can see the love of their Heavenly Father. Although marriage was given by God, it should not take the place of God. Just as Adam spent his time with His Creator when he was single, we should as well. And don’t let that communion die out once you do have a significant other. Always remember who your First Love is.

What is Love?

December 27, 2013 § 1 Comment

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NIV)

What is love? It’s an age-old question with a usually elaborate answer. In fact, there are many definitions for love. I just looked up the definition on dictionary.com and found about 28 entries on the definition of love. Love is an abstract concept, like trying to describe the taste of water. People say that even if you can’t describe it, you’ll know it when you feel it. It can be instantaneous, like the love a mother feels for her newborn child, or it can take years to form, like that between lovers or close friends. But what is love?

But here’s another definition that’s seldom thought about about when people think of love (it was actually the eighth entry on dictionary.com); “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7, 8 NIV). I’ll repeat, God is love. He doesn’t just give love or show love or embody love. He is love. His very character is love. Everything He does is out of love.

Now, understanding that love is of God, let’s return to how we as humans should experience love. 1 Corinthians 13, aka the “love chapter”, is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Recently, I’ve asked myself about love. For those that I say I love, whether out loud or in my head, do I really love them? Or is it just a nominal love? How do I know when I love someone romantically vs. platonically? Is there a change somewhere? Can someone tell that I’m “in love” before I even know? With all of these questions in tow, I was led to read 1 Corinthians 13, multiple times.

Paul starts out the love chapter by outlining the necessity of love. He described all these magnificent and heroic actions: giving all his possessions to the poor, having the gift of prophecy, suffering for His beliefs, even having enough faith to move mountains. But all of those things are meaningless without love. He would be useless noise, he would gain nothing, he would be nothing, if he does those things without love. And of course, it’s the same with us.

He then goes on to describe what love is. He doesn’t give one definition, but several definitions or characteristics of love. And it’s this part that helps to know if you truly love someone. Are you patient and kind to them? When it comes to that person, are you selfish or selfless? Do you easily anger when they do wrong, or hold grudges against them? Are your feelings fleeting or do they last in the midst if trouble? These questions can apply to romantic or platonic or familial love. In answering them, I saw my imperfect definition of love; I mostly thought of it just as a feeling, a feeling that comes during certain times. A feeling that’s only noticeable in certain, mostly favorable, circumstances. 

But it’s not just a feeling. It’s an action. It’s a mindset. 

It’s not just a funny feeling or butterflies in your stomach or a tolerance for someone’s presence or occasional gifts. It’s being patient, kind, selfless, forgiving, trusting, honoring, persevering, and protecting. That’s love. And because God is love, He displays all of these characteristics to His creation. He also calls us to love as He does (see 1 John 4:7-8). 

The third part in this passage is a bit confusing, at least to me. I remember that I would keep reading this passage to make sense of it. Paul seems to talk about something else besides love. But love is still in the background. Paul writes, “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” He is saying that many things will pass away or will cease, but love won’t. What we do here on Earth we do in part, or without seeing the whole picture. We may not know how our actions influence others. We might not know just how much a small act if kindness affected someone until the “completeness comes”. As children, we demand attention and love. We are selfish in our actions and we want to be gratified now. But as we grow older, Paul encourages that we act as men and women who love selflessly and put selfish, childish ways behind us.

Paul ends the love chapter in a remarkable way, in my opinion. There are many virtues in this world, and Paul chooses to focus on three, faith, hope, and love. These three virtues are essential to the Christian life; you need faith in God, hope in His promises, and love for Him and for those around you. But love is the greatest. For it is with love that we have faith in God, that we trust in Him. And when we trust Him and know that He loves us unconditionally, we can hope for and claim His promises. Love is most important thing to have, and it leads to everything else.

So about those questions that I asked myself about love. An incomplete answer to them would be to analyze my intentions and motives for my actions and make sure they are selfless. A better answer would be to look at how God loves us and emulate that love, the agape love. And I have to admit, having shown agape love to people is quite wonderful.

God’s Unchanging Love

July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

“God is love.” 1 John 4:16.

That’s how Ellen White begins the first book in Great Controversy series. And in my opinion, that’s the best way to begin it. Many people may forget or choose to ignore or not know that God’s motive behind everything He does is love. His love is infinite, long-suffering, and unconditional.

So why would sin be permitted? (this is also the title of the first chapter of Patriarchs and Prophets) If God is an ever-loving God who desires that no disharmony or harm come to His creation, why would He allow sin to come into the world? That’s a typical question asked by many and, I do admit, myself at times. Just seeing or hearing about all the evil that goes on in the world makes you wish that somebody or something could make it stop. And I’ve heard people saying that if they were God, they would immediately wipe out all of the evil in this world.

According to Ellen White, and also several other people that I’ve heard from sermons and Bible studies, love is the answer. When Lucifer sowed the seeds of doubt and deception in heaven, he brought discord to the normally harmonious heaven. Lucifer is the one who brought sin to our world; because of his selfishness and his desire to rise to the top solely to have everyone worship him, he brought discord to heaven and sin to Earth. Now for the angels who had never heard anything like the deceptions that Lucifer was feeding to them, they had no idea what would become of Lucifer’s rebellion. Was he right to challenge God’s authority? Would he make a better ruler than God? Had God destroyed Lucifer and his followers straight from the get-go, the other angels would not have known which way was right and doubt would forever be in their minds. So out love for the angels and for Lucifer (God, in His long-suffering love wants Lucifer and his followers to return to Him), He allows Lucifer to carry out his rule.

Well then, why for so long? For us humans, time is finite. Our average lifetime is about 70-80 years; in that timespan we experience a lot of things – birth, family, love, hate, death, friendship, pride, envy, excitement, sadness, anger, happiness, the list can go on. So of course for us, 6000-odd years is a long time to let Lucifer rule and carry out his deception. But remember, God is infinite. To Him the past, present, and future are the present to Him (the best analogy to Him being infinite that I’ve heard is reading a book). 6000+ years is nothing to God let alone 70-80. “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Psalm 90:4. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8. To God, it’s like it was yesterday when Lucifer rebelled. And again, it is out of love that God allows Lucifer to carry out his plans. Even if with our finite minds we can’t quite perceive why, we must still trust in God and his infinite love.

Another concept covered a bit that I found interesting is that of free will. God is love, and out of love, He gives His creation free will. As Ellen White says, “God desires from all His creatures the service of love – service that springs from an appreciation of character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service.” (P and P, 35). Forced obedience is not of God and it’s not in His character. How can you love someone whom you obey against your will? And how can Someone whose character is based on love force his creation to obey Him? Voluntary obedience comes from love from both the ruler and the subject. In the fall of Lucifer, you see that he and the angels he deceived did indeed exercise free will. They had a choice, and they took it. Again, had God simply destroyed them immediately, He would be going against his loving nature. Letting the consequences of their choices speak out would make it clear to all of creation which way is the right way.

Again love is the basis of this great controversy: “The history of the great conflict between good and evil, from the time it first began in heaven to the final overthrow of rebellion and the total eradication of sin, is also a demonstration of God’s unchanging love” (33). Love is the backstory, the driving force, the main thing to remember. And how quickly we tend to forget.

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