“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting from Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is the granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:29-45
All I can think when I read this passage is, “Wow, God’s tenderness, mercy, and compassion towards us and our stories is unbelievable.” I see his love for Elizabeth and Mary pouring out over their stories, with a particular waterfall of tenderness and beauty over their greeting. The richness of the stories of these two women cannot be underestimated.
Elizabeth had been infertile, and now suddenly her decades long prayer has been answered with a child who will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even while he is still in her womb. What a miraculous act of God’s compassion on Elizabeth and Zechariah’s marriage and purpose! After a lifetime of yearning for a child, these two receive the gift of parenting the one who will prepare the way for the Savior of the world. WOW!
Mary, a seemingly insignificant teenage girl, has just been told she will miraculously give birth to the highly anticipated (to say the least) Savior of the world. This put her in a vulnerable place in her town, and I am sure she had many questions, fears, and thrills. She goes to Elizabeth for a safe place to be vulnerable enough to ask, “What the heck is going on?” and “Is this going to turn out ok?” and “How exactly is this going to happen?” She knew Elizabeth, whose husband and lineage was a priestly one, had the resources to explain the prophecies and Scriptures to her.
Which leads us to the greeting of these two expectantly pregnant women: miraculous, sudden, full of joy, and well, emotional.
Mary and Elizabeth are sharing that joyous moment where you are so excited to see one another you can barely stand it. Every time I get together with my cousin I get to enjoy this “you get it” moment, where your soul can just relax in the understanding and love you have for one another.
I see God’s mercy in the way Elizabeth greets Mary with not only the fullness of grace, but excitement and blessing. She speaks life-giving blessing and belief into Mary at a critical point in her life, when many questions are swirling around her. What relief this must have been to Mary!
I see God’s tenderness these two women form the first theological discussion group about the incarnation! Not the scholars and scribes who had bee studying and pontificating about this moment for centuries, but these two women on whom God’s tenderness and favors rests, get to be the first ones to contemplate all that this reality means. It is to them that God gives all the juicy details, the main roles.
I see God’s compassion in the intentionality of the collision of Elizabeth and Mary’s stories in the midst of a season of loneliness for both. Elizabeth has just spent five months in seclusion (Luke 1:24), and all the women her age were well past their pregnancy years, leaving her physically and emotionally lonely. Though it was custom to become pregnant as a teenager in those days, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy quickly isolated her. How do you explain at fifteen to your friends that an angel of the Lord told you that you would be the one to carry the fulfillment to a century old national prophesy? I see God’s compassion flowing as a river over these hidden, lonely places in their heart.
Where are you seeing God’s tenderness in your story during this season?
What is the place inside of you that you want to share but just can’t get out?
I admire the vulnerability of Mary and Elizabeth in this story and their willingness to receive God’s favor. This Christmas let’s live in the beauty of vulnerability in light of God’s tenderness, mercy, and compassion water falling over us.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41 NIV
I love the story of leading up to the birth of Jesus when Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist. Both of these women were carrying miracles babies. They had a special pregame season leading up to birth announcements that would change the world forever. Mary went to visit Elizabeth. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Elizabeth began to prophesy and Mary responded in praise. It was a celebration like never before.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, how can we take a pause and celebrate the hope, new life and purpose that Christmas unleashes in us all? How will we make time to ponder the miracle of God’s greatest gift before the travel, hosting, wrapping takes over? What can we do to prepare for the season ahead?
Here’s my favorite Christmas Pregame strategy:
1. Prepare your heart. Each December I read a daily devotional, The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. The subtitle is on point. It truly unwraps the full love story of Christmas. Find it here. Send some to your friends and family. I’m grateful for the friend who first sent it to me.
2. Pray for family and friends you will visit over the holidays. This will prepare your heart to be a blessing to them, and it’s a great way to overcome tough relationships.
3. Spend time alone with God. We are celebrating Emmanuel, God with us, and yet, how much time are we spending with Him? Make time for a walk with God. Or, find a closet and some earphones and soak in a beautiful song of praise. Here are a couple of favorites. Hallelujah and Noel
4. Ask God. Who needs an extra hug this season or a special reminder of how much they are loved? These gifts will be the ones you most remember giving.
5. Bring games. If you want a Christmas full of joy, begin with laughter. Games bring people together, bring out the child in each of us, form new alliances and neutralize conflict. I’m not talking about Risk or Scrabble. Or, other seemingly innocent games like Uno that can divide a family over extra rules. I’ve seen it happen:) Thanks to a dear friend, my favorite new game is Hollywood Game Night. If you want to watch the most proper person in the room get scrappy, try this one. Make sure someone is recording. You will enjoy it through Easter.
Christmas is meant to ignite great joy within us.
What is your Christmas Pregame?
We ordered take-out fajitas the other night and had plenty of Spanish rice leftover. Eating reheated rice by itself just wasn’t jazzing my palate the other night as I was wondering what to make for dinner. After taking a quick scan of inventory, I found some promising ingredients: frozen marinated chicken breasts (Worcestershire Sauce, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice? Can’t remember exactly – it has been cast aside in my freezer for some time.), bag of raw baby carrots, leftover par-boiled snap green beans from a few nights before, raw onion, minced garlic, soy sauce, and some pickled ginger….see where this is going? I made a quick call to my Taiwanese-born friend Pey, my stir-fry expert. I inquired if she had ever considered using leftover Mexican take-out rice in this way. Apparently, this idea had not occurred to her in Chicago suburbia; good Mexican restaurant options are rather limited in deep dish pizza country. After a quick chop of the onions, the carrots into coins, the beans into halves, and the thawed chicken into bite-sizes, I reached for peanut oil (olive or canola is fine) and stir-fried my fears away. For anyone new to stir-frying, the general rule is to add the ingredients that take the longest to cook first, then add in the others, ending on the rice and soy sauce once everything else is cooked through. During the holidays, have fun with this versatile cooking concept and see what you can recreate with your leftover rice!
Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:19-20
Brandi kicked off our theme at Sacred Story this fall, Standing Firm in Your Story, in September. I pray over these weeks your eyes opened to the amazing gift God gives us in the spiritual armor through the truths in Ephesians 6:10-20. When we exercise faith activated by prayer the armor enables us to fight the good fight as we battle living in a world of sin, brokenness, and evil.
To summarize verses 10 -18 I came up with this handy acrostic below for ARMOR.
Admit the Lord’s strength is all you need
Recognize there’s an unseen evil realm bent on leading you astray
Make a point to know and put on the specific pieces of armor
Own the armor through faith as you take a proactive stance
Resolve to pray in the Spirit for yourself and the saints
Paul continues his train of thought by asking the Ephesians to pray specific requests on his behalf in verses 19-20. If I were in the apostle Paul’s shoes, the top of my list might be prayer for protection from people trying to harm or kill me. After all, he’s been stoned, beaten, put in prison, and wrongly accused multiple times.
What does Paul ask prayer for? To speak. To use his voice. And for what purpose? To declare the Gospel without fear of what might happen to him or how others will respond. WOW. Paul is saying that the armor along with the prayers of the saints empower him to be effective in what he says about the Lord’s message of love and forgiveness through the cross.
I believe speaking about the truth of the Gospel message included the opportunities where Paul tells his story of coming to faith in the living Savior. Beyond coming to faith, we also learn in the book of Acts “chapters” of the apostle Paul’s story where he experiences the reality of Jesus’ power which validates the Gospel. No doubt God used these chapters of Paul’s life to reveal Himself.
Standing firm in our stories means remaining dependent on the Holy Spirit’s control and guidance in our lives, resisting the evil ones attempts to distract, disrupt, and derail us. It also means standing firm as we speak up about the way of salvation in the Gospel; and share Who gets the credit for the hope and peace we experience in the chapters of our stories. We stand firm by sharing and not allowing the fear of what others will think or what the outcome will be to silence us or keep us from moving toward others in love.
What does it look like to stand firm in your story right now?
How does taking up the armor give you confidence?
How can you use your voice to overcome the evil one’s attempts to muffle the truth of the Gospel and the ways Jesus’ presence and Word make a difference in your story?
Who can you share your hope in Christ with over the holidays?
Standing firm results in being an ambassador who rightly represents the King who commissions believers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18). Sisters, may we get dressed up in our armor and use our voices to bring truth and light so the darkness in this world is diminished.
During this time of thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for your courage to share how the Greatest Story Ever Told makes a difference in your life. I give thanks with you to the Author who gives us peace and purpose.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18
To stand firm in our story of faith, we have been instructed to intentionally put on the full armor of God one piece at a time. Once all is in place we are then instructed on how to effectively use the armor against the devils destructive schemes. We are all dressed up, so now what?
We pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. As we are equipped with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God, we have the resources for standing firm. Prayer ignites and empowers the armor. Praying must be done in the Spirit – in submission to His authority and affections. Just as Christ prayed for the cup of death to be removed, he also prayed for God’s will not His own. That is praying in the Spirit according to God’s will.
We put on the armor and pray in the Spirit on all occasions. The word “occasions” in the Greek refers to “a critical or decisive point in time, a moment of great importance and significance.” Most “occasions” call for prayer, however, we often just want to use a piece of the armor to work out the need of the moment. However, the most effective way to stand firm in any occasion is to pray with the armor on and ask God for His will to be accomplished.
As I began a lifelong journey of hiding God’s Word in my heart, I realized that the only way the armor of the Word would be ignited in my life was by praying the verses I memorized for specific people and purposes. I began to attach each verse I memorized to a person and would pray that verse for them each time I reviewed the verse. The verse that I have prayed for my children is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) I have seen the Holy Spirit work this truth into their lives as they have consistently sought, served and loved God and people.
Using the armor of the Word we can go to battle for others and for ourselves as we pray for all kinds of requests for healing, relationships, and struggles with sin. There is no request that is too small or too big – bring them all before “the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Once dressed with God’s armor, we are to first pray in the Spirit and secondly we are to be alert and perseverant in those prayers. “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” To be alert is also referred to in Scripture as watchfulness. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2) Watchful is “a mindfulness of threatening dangers which with conscious earnestness and alert mind keeps me from all drowsiness and all slackening in the energy of faith and conduct.”
When Jesus found his disciples sleeping while he was praying about his cross-bearing journey, He said to them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38) Every Christian you know is fighting a battle because the enemy is intent on destroying God’s children. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) This is why we must stay awake to the things that threaten our families, marriages, friendships, and ministries. This year I have seen the enemy take down a minister of the gospel who I have known personally for many years. Unfortunately those of us who know him were not alert enough to the temptations he was facing. We had fallen asleep and had not persevered in our prayers for this saint. This failure to be watchful has taught me to be ever vigilant in my prayers for myself and for all believers.
What about you? Are you all dressed up, but lack power to take down the enemy of your soul?
Pray in the Spirit always,
Sacred Story is honored to have Nancy Taylor as a guest contributor. Nancy loves the Word of God and has been hiding it in her heart for over 15 years. In her book, “Taking the Word to Heart,” Nancy shares her journey of scripture memory and practical ways to get a firm grip on God’s Word. She loves to encourage women in their walk with Christ through writing, teaching and mentoring. She and her husband William live in Houston, TX and enjoy spending time with their two adult children, their spouses and their two grandchildren.
Around 3 pm, I fear I am going to fall asleep at the carpool wheel. I have had some close calls so now, before charging out the door in the afternoons, I call in my “super friends,” the “wonder twin powers” of “the eagle” (Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk®, that is) and and “granules of instant coffee.” All that is remaining is a little hot water to dissolve everything, ice cubes, and your choice of a cold beverage addition such as water (in a pinch) or your preferred milk. Low fat milk is my go-to, but dairy-free folks can substitute regular sugar (or sugar-free alternatives) for the sweetened condensed milk and choose a favorite “milk” to pour over at the end. Be creative and experiment to find your ideal ratios in this caffeine concoction.
For some New Orleanian -Vietnamese style voltage, try combining my favorite instant chicory coffee with sweetened condensed milk and then add ice. My brew gives me a reboot in the afternoons. What’s your afternoon energy booster? Reply in the comments section.
“…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.” Eph. 6:17
For the last few weeks we have studied critical components of the armor of God needed to fight the battle we forge against the enemy. There is a REAL battle going on and we must remember the resources God has made available to every believer. Our job is to recall these resources and utilize them daily.
We have discussed the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness and the shield of faith. Today we focus on the final two aspects of our armor: the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
What is the helmet of salvation? We all know how critical it is to protect our heads. We wear bike helmets and ski helmets to cover our heads so if we are hit in an accident we can hopefully avoid a terrible injury. While it may seem obvious, the head houses the brain which tells the body to do everything it does. Without our brains our bodies don’t work. We can’t breathe, walk, talk or eat. Our brains are critical for life.
In the spiritual realm we must understand the battle that is constantly going on in our minds. This is a battle between lies and truth. Satan will do any and everything to get our minds off the truth. As Dr. Constable says, “Satan has consistently aimed his personal attacks at getting people to doubt, to deny, to disregard, and to disobey the revealed will of God.” This happened when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s goodness. His tactics have not changed since the garden, nor have they needed to. His strategy is effective but we have something better.
What are we to do? We must protect our heads by recalling our salvation. The battle always starts in the mind. As God’s children, our salvation reminds us of our inheritance and secure position in Christ. Should even the worst happen and we are dealt a deadly blow, we are still secure in Jesus and heaven is our promised future. Nothing can change this. We need this reminder daily by preaching the gospel to ourselves and mentally putting on our helmet of salvation. This helmet also helps us recall the promises of God in order to fight the battle in the mind.
Pastor, teacher and friend, Dwight Edwards, says it this way:
“What the mind lingers on, inflames the emotions, captivates the will and eventually controls your life.” What is your mind lingering on today? God’s promises or Satan’s lies?
After our helmet is on (along with the rest of our defensive weapons), we pick up our most effective weapon– God’s Word in combination with the Holy Spirit. When we are submitted to the Holy Spirit and armed with truth, we are strong and ready for battle. Nothing can stand against us. We are assaulted daily with spiritual attacks. Remember God’s Word is POWERFUL. It is alive and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). When Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, he countered each one of Satan’s attacks with pure Scripture, nothing else. While Satan persisted in his tempting of Jesus, he eventually fled. Make note that he left until an “opportune time” (Luke 4). Stay on your guard because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Where are you today, friend? Are you doubting God’s goodness and believing the lies of Satan? Have you forgotten your position as a redeemed daughter of the King? Put that helmet of salvation back on by recalling your inheritance. (While we never lose our salvation, we can forget the power that is ours in Christ!) Now that your mind is renewed, pick up God’s Word and let the Holy Spirit help you fight those lies with truth.
My three year old often asks me to play the “soldier song” in the car, Onward Christian Soldiers. He loves singing about being a soldier in the Lord’s army even though he does not understand the reality of spiritual warfare yet. The truth is, I need that song too, even if it is a bunch of 4 and 5 year old kids belting it out on that CD. I need to hear:
“At the name of Jesus
Satan’s host doth flee;
on then Christian soldiers,
on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver
at the shout of praise:
Brothers, lift your voices,
Loud your anthems raise!”
May the Lord give you strength to fight the daily battle, armed with your helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
“And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:15-16
On the shoreline of China in 1932 stood a woman who had confidently picked up her shield of faith and pulled on the shoes of readiness from the gospel of peace that rang within her soul. Standing at only 4’10” Gladys Aylward, a simple parlor maid from Northern England, was about to usher in the Kingdom of God to entire regions of China. She had no money, no husband, and no training, yet her work in orphanages, prisons, and the political climate of China at that time transformed generations to come. How was this tiny remarkable woman about to make such lasting change? She had picked up her shield of faith. She had put on her shoes and was ready to bring the gospel of peace.
Gladys Aylward’s story deeply inspires me to answer God’s call on my life because I am equipped with the armor of God. Fear, doubt, shame, insecurity, and pride are all flaming arrows of the enemy who seeks to destroy you and me by distracting us. My fear tells me I will get hurt; my doubt tells me I can’t do it; my shame tells me I’m not good enough; insecurity tells me someone else will do it better; my pride tells me I could find better. These carefully aimed flaming missiles hit us right where it hurts, and cause us to turn away from the actual battle in order to put out the internal fires.
Paul is telling us how we can advance against the enemy today. You can extinguish the schemes of the devil to hurt and distract you right now by putting on the shoes of peace and picking up your shield of faith.
To know Jesus Christ is to know the gospel of peace. To believe in Jesus Christ is to have faith in his power. Paul is saying there is a readiness to go and faith do what the Lord has called of you that comes when the gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root in your soul.
With the shoes on and shield up we can align ourselves with the strategy of the Lord- the winning strategy of loving God and loving others- quickly and swiftly. His strategy is always the winning strategy! We are light on our feet with these shoes on, moving with agility to dodge the flaming arrows, not weighed down by our shame or pride.
These shoes can take us places only the Gospel can take us. In Psalm 18 David says, “you make my feet like the feet of a deer, you cause me to tread upon the heights.” This is where the shoes of readiness that comes from standing firm in the peace of Christ can take you. But it takes picking up the shield of faith to actually go do the work of the Kingdom. His calls always take faith to believe.
Sister, what does it look like today to pick up the shield of faith?
What internals fires are you trying to put out which distract you from the actual battle?
What does it look like today to be ready to go share our gospel of peace in your context?
There is an unseen world around us, one just beyond our eyesight. One with an enemy seeking to paralyze you, but one with a Savior who stands in supreme victory. When you answer the call of God on your life with readiness, walking in the peace that he is with you wherever you go, in whatever situation you are safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place Ephesians 6:101-14
I Almost Pushed the Red Button: It was only the second day of school and to my surprise, I was seriously considering resigning. No, I didn’t have another something lined up, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted out. I had been struggling for a while with leaving teaching for a myriad of reasons and found myself constantly questioning God about what my next step should be. I wasn’t hearing from God and found myself slowly becoming a grumbler and complainer. I didn’t want to be, but it was true.
Listening to Lies: As it turns out, the real cause of my grumbling was that while I was still seeking God, our relationship lacked intimacy, as it became about me getting what I wanted. As a result, I inadvertently began tuning my ears to the lies of the enemy, and found myself operating on lots of flesh and very little spirit. God reminded me He definitely wants me to bring my issues to Him, but this can’t be the basis of our relationship, as it could easily misguide my heart, my prayers, and worst of all, miss Him. This is exactly what the enemy wants.
Be strong in Gods Strength: When deer hunters hunt, they often wear camouflage, intentionally and patiently stalk their prey for hours, while lying in wait for the opportunity to make the kill, ultimately devouring the unsuspecting deer. While the deer has no way to protect himself from the attack of the enemy, as followers of Jesus Christ we have an entire arsenal that we can draw from, beginning with the truth of God’s word, In Ephesians 6:10 Paul reminds us to be strong in the vast strength and mighty power of God, meaning that we are not in this battle alone and need not attempt to go at it in our own strength. For this is not a physical battle. We must rely on and exercise the power of the Almighty God who lives within us to resist the constant advances of the enemy just as Jesus did when He was in the wilderness. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 tells us the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but divine and given to us by God to tear down those strongholds the enemy tries to establish in our lives. We must actively take captive the lies of the enemy and surrender them to the obedience of Jesus Christ. The enemy tries to make us weak, but the spirit of God in us helps us to stand firm and makes us strong.
Slowly Becoming: It took some time for me to learn what it meant to be strong in the power of God, but while reading through the Gospels I noticed Jesus was always stealing away to spend time with the Father and knew I was in dire need of an encounter with Him. At first, I was expecting and badly wanting to hear God say “Yes my child, resign, right now, today, in this moment, go!” But that’s not what God spoke. Instead, He loved on me, drew me in and taught me to draw on His strength, which meant that slowly, my complaints turned into thanksgiving and praise, discontentment for my job grew into appreciation, my unrest became peace, and my joy was restored.
Is there a battle you’ve been fighting in your own strength? How can you rely on the mighty power of God?
Sacred Story is honored to have Winter Butler as a guest contributor this month. A quick “hello” below:
Hey ya’ll! I just wanted to say thank you for letting me share my heart with you! My sweet daughter Seven and I have been members at Houston’s First Baptist church since October 2010. Though we are not Texas natives, God has loved on us and blessed us with an amazing church family, as well as unique opportunities to serve Him and grow together. We are ever grateful for God’s hand of grace and evidence of love in our lives, shown by the precious gift of salvation He has bestowed upon us. #love ~ Winter
I enjoy tinkering with oils and vinegars, not only for salads, but for all kinds of applications. I realize cold pressed organic virgin coconut oil has been touted as one of the “latest and greatest,” but my draw is purely flavor-driven. Coconut is one of my love languages; I adore coconut yogurt, seven layer magic cookie bars (the one on the side of the condensed milk can), Girl Scout Somoas, pina coladas, Thai soups and curries made with coconut milk, and more. Formerly found exclusively at health food stores and specialty markets, creamy and spreadable coconut oil (at room temp.) is now widely available, inspiring me (and hopefully you!) to invent coconut-infused thrills every time I take a lovely whiff. My latest culinary treat, besides smearing fragrant coconut “butter” on homemade toasted bread with jam, is barely melting a few tablespoons in the microwave and tossing it with raw sweet potato strips (french-fry cut), ground cinnamon, and kosher salt, then scattering them evenly on a cookie sheet to roast (400 degrees) until edges are browned and crispy. Move over butter, make room for coconut-scented creations.
This is just one example of coconut oil sold in stores, among many brands with variations and price points – find your favorite! To learn more about the health benefits and health concerns of coconut oil, click here.