Monday, January 30, 2012

Why I share Jesus

Let me preface this by saying: this blog will be LONG, it will be REAL, it will be BLUNT, and it will be COMPLETELY ME.
Have you ever sat at your computer screen and said to yourself, “There she goes again, another God status, why can’t she just stop?” Or maybe screamed, “We get it, you love God, we don’t care!” Or you could be the one thinking, “I love God too, but you don’t see me talking about Him all the time.” Or, finally, you could be the Christian thinking, “She really should not be sharing such personal information with the world, there’s just stuff that shouldn’t be shared.”

These are all legitimate questions and thoughts if you don’t understand what it is I am writing, and who exactly I am writing about. If you knew me at all before I began shouting Jesus from the rooftops, FB, anytime I get the chance, you probably look at my life and think, “Puh, Ashley, a lover of God. Nothing but a hypocrite, I know the things she’s done.” And to that I would say, you are completely correct. Recently I have found myself coming against opposition, in which I count as joy, but in a way I understand where some people wonder because quite truthfully I used to be much different.

My life before Christ was dark, it was ugly and it was shattered. As many of you know or may have read, I am currently in the process of publishing a book—at which I will say some of my blogs don’t contain all information so that the book gives the entire story. This blog will be no different—but I will address my previous life.

If you knew me during my high school years your memories are probably of the “crazy girl”. One who was taken out of school for “emotional issues” during my senior year. Was I crazy? You bet your bottom dollar I was {at the time}. I was confused, I was scared, I was heartbroken. I lost touch with reality, a reality that I had based around a relationship at such a young age. I thought this boy was going to save me from this life that was awful {one that paled in comparison to the life I would lead after this} and when he moved on, as most boys do at that age, I thought my life was over {a bit over dramatic? UM YEAH, and so many girls believe this today! A boy breaks up with them and their life ends. I know the feeling, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, life is so much more beautiful with Jesus}

At the age of 9, I began believing a lie that Satan whispers to EVERY SINGLE PERSON that has not accepted Christ as their Savior. Before then, we are all separated from God and we are all living a life that believes a lie Satan tells. It stinks, but it’s truth!

I was no different.

After being sexually abused, I began to believe I was worthless—good for only one thing. This wasn’t an instantaneous belief I adopted, but as I look back now I can clearly see what Satan was doing. As the years of my life began to pass by, as I entered my teen years, rumors began about me and people began telling me how worthless I was. An abusive stepfather, a family member who disliked me, a friend who wanted everyone to turn away from me—whatever the pawn, Satan used any means to distort my mind into thinking I was completely worthless and a “harlot”. This mindset damaged my self-esteem, it damaged my relationships and it damaged my control. But, that’s what Satan wanted. {He wants us to think so lowly of ourselves that we don’t reach out to God to change our life. He wants us in a miry pit in which despair threatens to suffocate us.} I became exactly what He wanted—a broken, battered, shattered excuse of a human being. After a situation in college led to what was most certainly a rape, my life spiraled so completely out of control and for 3 years I turned, dark, cold and void of any emotion. I began drinking, A LOT, I told myself I was good for absolutely nothing except sex and I would simply be the person everyone already knew I was—the “harlot” that  Satan had led me to believe I was at the tender age of 9. As my life continued to spiral out of control, my convictions went out the window. I was willing to do anything for a smile from a man; I was willing to do anything if it meant a man would give me attention. All I wanted was for someone to tell me I was worth something, that I wasn’t a total loss cause.

If you knew me during my college years, for the love of goodness, your memories are completely accurate and your impressions of me rightfully STINK. {Like seriously, rotten, stink} You knew me during the darkest, most trying time of my life. Every single thing you thought of me, every single thing you saw me do probably made you shutter. And it should have. I was a mess, a complete and utter mess. Nothing seemed to dull the pain, no amount of alcohol, no man I was with seemed to make me feel good enough.

Satan continued to pull me down, and he eventually brought someone into my life that he absolutely meant to destroy me. A girl walked into my life when I was 20 and she worshipped, and yes I mean LITERALLY worshipped the ruler of this worldSatan. I compromised everything I knew to be good in this world, every time bit of self-respect I had left. I gave up on the girl that God made as perfect and good and I embraced the girl that Satan had made me….and my life forever changed.

How did my life forever change? I completely turned my back on God. I believed that He had forsaken me long before I had turned away and I decided to live my life for “ME”. I didn’t need to answer to anyone. I was the ruler of my own destiny, maker of my own world. I didn’t need God for anything, I could handle this life completely on my own. And that’s just what I set out to do.

The drinking got heavier, and I was then introduced to the world of drugs. Illegal drugs that most certainly are illegal for a very good reason. It wasn’t just something small like pot, no I engaged in many things that made me lose all my inhibitions. Up until the age of 20 I had refused drugs at every chance I could. I was scared to death of them and stayed away even when friends would engage. It was at this point in my life, when everyone turned their back on me and I turned my back on God that I decided to give up on life and give into anything that would keep me from reality.

Praise God that I was HIS CHILD and HE WOULD NOT TURN HIS BACK ON ME, because He brought into my life at the same time, my husband. Brian was brought up as a New Age believer—they believed in the elements of the world and that all roads eventually lead to a “heavenly” place. But He did not believe in God, and He most certainly did not believe there was a Satan. We argued a bit about beliefs, but something about him made my knees weak. He was everything I had always wanted, yet at the same time as completely broken as I was. His life was completely different than mine. He grew up with money, with stability, with vacations all over the world, a college degree, but he was damaged by his life just as I was.

What began as lust, quickly turned into love, but the love didn’t erase the sin we were living in together. We moved in together after 3 months, were engaged after 6 and moved all the way across the country to the beautiful state of AZ after 9.  It was during this time that God miraculously revealed Himself to BOTH of us and it was then that our lives BEGAN to change. It wasn’t an instant realization of what we needed to do, but a stirring began in our hearts. One that led us to God! When we were faced with the reality that we may never have children, we saw for the first time that there was something more in this world—and we were possibly going to miss out on this part of life. It was a life changing moment and one that God used to draw us closer to Him!

We decided to have a baby, got pregnant immediately, moved back to VA and began a life together as husband and wife. It was there that He revealed Himself to Brian and softened my hardened heart to remember that He had not given up on me, I was worthless and I was chosen, holy, set apart. It was then that He set us on a new path, one in which I am forever grateful.

You see, I write about Him because I know a life apart from Him. I know what a life in this world can do to someone. I know the heartache felt, the lies told, the damage done by the prince of the power of the air. He held me in captivity for more of my life than I have lived a new life. I led a life controlled by Satan for 14 years…that’s a long time. But more than those things, I know the power of the resurrection, the new life that He instills and the grace that He bestows.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved.”
Ephesians 2:4 & 5
I know what it feels like to have your sins wiped away—sins that you thought were so unforgiveable they simply led you to the next sin, and the one after that, and so on and so forth. I know that His blood on that cross atoned for my wicked life—how can I keep quiet about it? I did nothing to deserve this life, His grace was simply poured out upon a wooden cross.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
Ephesians 2:8
How can I not scream to the world, one in which lives the same way I did, that there is a better way? How can I not tell the world that we are so special to Him, created for a purpose, chosen, set apart?
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Jeremiah 1:5
I am not ashamed to speak about Him, as I have learned from my brother Paul:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Romans 1:16
I have simply found the life that I was meant for, that we are all meant for. We were created for His works, separated from Him because of sin. We can each live a life consecrated to Him, we must simply be willing to crucify our flesh,
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Galatians 5:24
You may ask yourself now, why is she okay with sharing all of this information? Why doesn’t she keep it to herself? The answer, I CAN’T. I know there are people living a life just like mine, and I want them to know Jesus. I want them to know there is a better way. I don’t want to live my little life with my little family and never have to worry about anyone else. The heart that God has given me now, it is one that aches for mankind to accept Him. It’s a heart that understands that many won’t, but it’s the same heart that led Him to that cross knowing that many would not accept Him as well. Did that stop Him?

No, it didn’t, and the things people say about me, the lies that go on about me, the stigma I get of being a “Jesus freak”, it won’t stop me! I will happily admit, yep, I am a Jesus freak—He saved me from a terrible, horrible, disgusting life.

Am I ashamed of the life I lived? The better question is, am I ashamed of the time I spent away from Him? The answer to the latter is yes. But, no, I am not ashamed of the life that I lived because it is that life that gave me a testimony, it is that life that led me to my knees and it is that life that Jesus died for. We should all be ashamed of a life that is not with Him, but the individual sins that kept us from Him, no those are not shameful individually; they are simply SINS. A sin is a sin is a sin. Each one equal in God’s eyes, no one worse than the other. They all keep us from Him and they ALL deserve death. The life that is separate from Him is what is shameful and it is that life that keeps me humble and kneeling in front of the cross. 

God has given me a talent, one in which I want to use to bring Him glory and praise--this talent is writing what is on my heart and it is what keeps me writing about Him all of the time. Just because I write so much doesn't mean that I feel any closer to Him than someone who doesn't write, it just simply means that He has laid something on my heart that I believe He wants me to write about. He is the source of why I do EVERYTHING. 

So, the moral to this book I have written you today is this …. Why am I filling your FB feeds with my love for Jesus? Because He is what I love the most. He is what my life is about. Why do I share my personal information—to help the one who is lost and broken and I was.Why do I write blogs? To share my love for the Savior of the world.

the life of the redeemed

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1-3

 What does redemption mean to the ones who walk according to His purposes? And what does a life separate from Him look like?

These are 2 questions I used to find myself asking often. Now that I am one of the redeemed, a chosen and holy one, I can truly say that redemption is the greatest gift anyone can ever receive.

Without Christ, without the transforming life He instills in us, life is meaningless. We are all sinners, following our own values, our own beliefs, our own system of right and wrong. We make up what we will and will not allow, we decide what is acceptable for our life. This is a system set forth by the prince of the power of the air—and do you know who that prince is? It is Satan, which means that before accepting Christ we walk according to his purposes. This reality is one that some cannot accept. They refuse to believe that if they are not walking according to God’s purposes they are somehow walking with Satan—and unfortunately without Christ they cannot see the truth within His Word. I don’t mean to ever say that someone is somehow less of a person because they are not living the same life that I am, but I do always mean to portray the truth and the truth is—without Jesus there is no life.

I can truly say that before I found Christ I absolutely walked as one of this world. I wanted to be like the world, I wanted to have the “American dream” as anyone else. It took the absolute transforming, regenerating love of Jesus Christ to open my eyes to my disobedience. Now, I do not want to be “one of the world”, I want to be one of the heavnlies, one whose aim is to always walk with God.

Will I do this? Absolutely not. I am a sinner living in a fleshly body. But, as a redeemed sinner, I long to change my previous ways. I long to be held accountable for my actions, I long to learn His ways. The life of someone who has decided to give up this life for the eternal one looks much different than one who hasn’t.

And it should.

We cannot walk a completely different path and expect to fit in in this world. This world hates God. This world has no use for God. This world is the one who hung His Son on a cross because they didn’t want Him—it’s the same world that will persecute anyone who walks with Him now. The reality is hard to swallow sometimes, but it is one that I choose because this temporal world isn’t the end for me, it’s my eternity in heaven that is my focus in life. That eternal life, it is the one that has been placed within my heart and that is the one that shapes my being today.  

I give thanks to God the Father for the gift of His Son. For loving us so much, that He sent His Son to die for all of our many sins. For those that don’t’ believe they are sinners, there is no need for this Man they called Jesus. But, we are so unworthy, each of us, and we each just as equally need Him! He is the One in which my heart longs, and the One in which my soul yearns for!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever, believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

It’s the everlasting life that I want, not just this world with its sin, its disobedience and deserved wrath. It’s the beautiful, lovely, amazing life He promises in Heaven! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mary Magdalene: Delivered from the Darkness

“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.”
                                                     Mark 16:9

Mary Magdalene is probably the most well-known woman and also the least-understood character in Scripture. There is almost no information given on her background, life story, or family life but she still emerges as one of the most prominent women of the New Testament. She is mentioned by name in all four gospels, typically in reference to the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. She was the first person Jesus revealed Himself to after His resurrection.

Mary Magdalene had a dark past—one in which she was held in bondage by demons in which Jesus delivered her from.
“Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons.”
Luke 8:2
“….Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.”
Mark 16:9

The demons Mary Magdalene lived in bondage to is the only detail we are ever given of her past, except for the small clue that is given through her name, “Magdalene”. It is assumed by scholars that she was from the village of Magdala. Magdala was mentioned in Matthew 15:39 and was a small fishing village located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee—2-3 miles north of the Roman city of Tiberias and 5.5 miles from Capernaum. It is thought that Magdalene was used to distinguish her from the many other Mary’s mentioned in Scripture.

Jesus’ ministry involved a number of exorcisms in the region in which Mary Magdalene came from. The symptoms of a demonic possession in the New Testament vary depending upon the individual story. Sometimes they were insane—as in the case of the demon-possessed men who lived near the graveyard in Matt. 8:28-34 & Mark 5:1-5. The man in Mark 5:5 mutilated himself with stones night and day. More frequently however, physical infirmities seem to have been the manifestation of the possession. Such as: deafness—Mark 9:25, blindness—Matt. 12:22, inability to speak—Matt 9:32-33, fits and seizures—Mark 1:26, Luke 9:38-40, and general infirmities—Luke 13:11-13

Note: be sure not to assume, as many do, that biblical descriptions of demon possessions were actually manifestations of epilepsy, dementia or any other psychological and physiological afflictions. The Bible makes clear distinctions between the two --Matt. 4:24

Demon possession involves a real and true bondage to an evil spirit—a real, personal, fallen spirit-creature. This spirit indwells an individual and torments them. This indwelling is an affliction and not a sin. The individuals in the NT who are portrayed as being inflicted with demons are always characterized as being tormented, not willful wrongdoers. They were all miserable, sorrowful, lonely people. There were often outcasts, and pariahs by polite society. Their lives are generally described as broken and ruined by the possession—until Jesus frees them of course.

Mary Magdalene was no exception—she was tormented by seven demons. She was a prisoner in her own body, being tormented by these demons of Satan’s. Scripture deliberately omits the time of her life that was ruled by these spirits and simply mentions it as to say that she owes her life to Jesus—as we all truly do.

Christ delivered Mary from this life of possession. Both Mark and Luke mention her former possession only to celebrate the life Christ freed her to—His goodness and grace toward her. Christ is magnified because of His gracious power and the fact that He was able to free her from what held her so tightly in bondage.

One interesting fact that I found: demon possessed people in Scripture never came to Christ to be delivered—they were usually brought by someone else (Matt 8:16, 9:32, 12:22 & Mark 9:20) or He sought them out Himself (Matt. 8:28-29) and on occasion were already present upon His arrival and would speak out with dismay or surprise (Mark 1:23-24, Luke 8:28). Evil spirits never voluntarily entered the presence of Christ. This was interesting to me. But, what was pressed upon my heart is the need of us as believers to watch out for those that we love that may be held in bondage to real evil spirits. So many times we can think that that person simply needs to get their life together or somehow God is trying them because of their sinful life—this is not the case as I previously mentioned. These people were being afflicted by spirits beyond their control. We need to be loving and pray for these people if we know someone that may be afflicted, seek help if it comes to that point.

How and when Mary Magdalene was delivered is never revealed to us, but Christ most certainly set her free. Having been set free from sin and demons, she became a slave of righteousness—Romans 6:18. Her life was far from simply reformed—it was completely transformed.

Mary Magdalene then entered the close circle of disciples who traveled with Jesus.
Luke 8:1-3

Christ encouraged men and women to take up His yoke and learn from Him—Mary Magdalene was one of these followers. She remained faithful to Him even when many turned away. When she first appeared in Luke’s gospel it was a time of opposition to Jesus and His ministry. Many people were offended by His teachings, but she stayed at His side. She followed Him to Galilee for that final Passover celebration.

Matthew, Mark & John record that Mary was present at the crucifixion. There was nothing for her and the few others that stood as spectators to do except watch as their Beloved was crucified. It must have been completely gut-wrenching to watch the masses treat the One whom they loved so greatly with such distaste—spitting on the life that He lived for them!

Mary Magdalene was most assuredly grateful to Christ for His deliverance of her life and her loyalty was proved up until the end—she is the one who found out where He would be laid to rest after His death. Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Christ in order to give Him a proper burial—Joseph has access because he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin (Council) Mark 15:43.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses secretly followed Joseph to the tomb and “observed where He was laid”. Mark 15:47

Mary Magdalene’s love for Christ was as strong as anyone’s! She took note of where He was laid and had every intention of returning to give Him a proper burial with oils and spices—however she would be surprised to find Jesus Himself upon her arrival the next morning.

Read -- John 20:1-13

Mary Magdalene was distraught at the thought of not burying Jesus properly—upon finding the tomb empty. She ran out of the tomb and probably onto the same path she had come on to go find help. She then ran into Peter and John who were on their way to the burial site as well. It is then that they encounter the angels who inform them that “He is not here; for He is risen” Matt. 28:6, Mark 16:6 & Luke 26:6

They were also instructed to go tell and tell the disciples that He is risen from the dead. At this point it seems that only Mary Magdalene was left. Matt. 28:8

The angel appeared and asked why she was weeping and she explained why she was distraught. It was then that she turned and saw Jesus. At first she, as many others who encountered Him after His resurrection, did not recognize Him. He was glorified now, if it was anything like the account in Revelation 1:14 He would have looked much different.

This was the first person that Jesus revealed Himself to—a woman who had lived in captivity to seven demons; seven demons that Jesus had to cast out of her, a woman. During a time when women had no rights, were not even permitted to speak in public, Jesus chose her as the first that He would reveal Himself to. He knew that she would be there, He knows everything. He chose her, set her apart and appointed her to a task. (Jeremiah 1:5)

This is a distinct honor He bestowed upon Mary—to be the first to witness Him and hear Him. This is her extraordinary legacy—one in which no demons could stop. No one can share this honor with her or take it away from her. We should all seek to imitate this deep and abounding love that she exhibited for Jesus—one that took her to His side even in the midst of tragedy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I’m not perfect; I’m in love with a perfect Man

I’ve been asked about my faith a lot in the last few years. My faith has grown in considerable ways in that same time period. When I first came back to Christ—accepted that I was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior—it took a while for me to truly give everything over to Him. I still engaged in the lifestyle that kept me from Him for so many years. It was hard to break the cycle I had become so accustomed to.

In an effort to be completely transparent and real--I didn’t fully give EVERYTHING over to Him until I was pregnant with Lily Grace. I’ve failed to live up to the One who saved me many times since finding Him again, but each time I kneel at the foot of the cross. I still struggle today, don’t get me wrong, but today I understand that I don’t want the reigns, at all. I want Him to be in control of EVERYTHING. I may not always step aside in time, giving Him the room He needs to work, but I inevitably will step aside because the Spirit is so very strong within me and the conviction I feel is something that makes me cringe! He is much more capable of handling my life than I am, or would ever would I want to be.

I share often about the persecution that I receive because of my outspokenness for Christ. It is so painful to have someone you want so desperately to see you as changed truly think you are unworthy of God’s grace. For someone you love so dearly to think you are just a liar or a fake.

I’m learning, slowly, that this persecution is NOTHING in comparison to real persecution—take the persecution our Lord endured that led Him to death upon a cross….by the very people He came to save. Or the persecution received in other countries—where you can seriously have your head taken off for claiming to be Christian. No, I don’t know this persecution, and I am so very thankful for that.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James 1:2 & 3

I am also thankful for the persecution that I do take, because it only draws me closer to Him. It makes me yearn for Him, for His perfect comfort. It produces a steadfast faith within me.

I can’t tell you the number of times in the last few years that someone close to me has accused me of believing I am perfect…pah. I have to laugh at such a ridiculous statement.

Me, perfect? Oh how totally wrong you are! How completely misguided your thoughts are! I am most certainly not perfect nor do I ever believe I am perfect. I do however believe that I am a wretched sinner in desperate need of my Savior, my love! I do hope for a life in heaven, one in which I have been perfected by the One who is perfect!

No, I am not perfect, but I am in love with a perfect Man…one in which every day He pulls me in closer, teaching my heart and soul to rely on Him. Every day He loves me despite my many, many, many imperfections and every day He reveals more of Himself to me!

I am head over heels in love with Jesus Christ. He is the most important Man in my life, before my husband and before my children. He is the One in which I want my life to revolve around, He is the One in which I wish to please. My heart skips a beat when I think of the love He has for us! He is my soul mate! And it’s this love that has changed me, this love that drives me now. It’s this love that holds my faith!

No, I am not perfect, but my heart longs to the One that is!