The People of the Christmas Story – Mary & Joseph


How do you become the parents of God? It is much like asking how you do the impossible. These were ordinary, everyday people. But in all honesty, there was no person – no matter how high or low – that would have found this easy. They would face ridicule and rejection. They would eventually have to flee their home because of a bloodthirsty ruler. They would have to face the question of how to even parent the person who created them. Their lives would surely be turned upside down.

And yet, though faced with the impossible, Mary gives the most beautifully humble response. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She surrenders. Joseph, the kind and merciful man he is, “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” He surrendered. 

How do you do the impossible? You surrender to the One who knows no such thing as impossible. 

And if you read Mary’s song, you can see that she didn’t just surrender to God’s plan – she was grateful for it. Grateful that God would use her, even if it was in a way she would not have chosen. She trusted that God’s ways were higher than her ways; His plans better than any she could have ever imagined. 

Mary and Joseph were used by God in the grandest way possible, not because they were grand, but because they were humble. God is still in the business of using people. He still calls us to do what seems impossible – what is impossible, for us. And in the face of that, we can look to the story of Mary and Joseph to remind us of a few key truths. 

First, it takes surrender. As Mary and Joseph both had to submit their own wills to God, we do too in order to experience His good plans for us. We must trust that He is giving us a life that is truly and definitely greater than the life we have planned for ourselves. 

Second, it takes a humble heart. We must remember that God is God, and we are not. Mary and Joseph both realized their place – they were servants of God. As they saw then, I hope we will see now that our lives are not our own. True life is found in humbly laying our own desires and wills down at the Lord’s feet. It takes a humble heart to surrender, but it also takes a humble heart to experience the fullness of God’s will for our lives. 

Lastly, it takes everyday hard work. Yes, God used Mary and Joseph in the grandest plan of history. But did it seem so grand when they were changing diapers, rocking the fussy baby to sleep, cooking and cleaning, going through the routine of everyday life? God has grand plans for each and every one of our lives; however, we might not see the grandness on this side of heaven. All we might see is the everyday hard work. Yet, God meets us there in the everyday and the routine. He meets us in the middle of the night. He meets us as we daily surrender to Him with a humble heart. 

He meets us in what might seem like the impossible, and He makes it possible. May we trust in Him. 

Advent Devotional #1

The People of the Christmas Story – John the Baptist

Jesus’ virgin birth is not the first miraculous birth in the Christmas story. Months before, another baby boy was born to parents who thought they could never have children. Their barrenness was not because they were unfaithful; no, it was because God had a greater plan – He was writing a more beautiful story than they could have ever imagined. And so a child was born, promised and delivered by God. 

He was to be the forerunner of the Christ. He was the prophesied return of Elijah. The one who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” 

Throughout the Old Testament, anytime the presence of the Lord was going to be made manifest in the people’s midst, there was much preparation. Chapters upon chapters are dedicated to the preparations for the Tabernacle and the Temple. This time, however, it was not a building that needed to be prepared – but a people. 

You see, the Jewish people, although expecting the Messiah for centuries, had expected quite the wrong type of Messiah. Therefore, they needed preparation. They needed someone who would lead them in understanding what they really needed saving from, what the kingdom that the Messiah was bringing in would really be like. John was sent as the one who would start turning the eyes of the people away from their own assumptions and desires, toward the glory that God was really bringing in – His presence made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. 

This story can remind us of three things. First, like every other part of the Christmas story, the miraculous birth of John reminds us that God’s plan is better than ours could ever be. Oh, the years that Zechariah and Elizabeth must have waited and prayed. There were probably points where they looked at their lives and all they saw was disappointment and shame. But through it all, God had the most beautiful, joyous story that He was writing. It may not have been in the time frame they would have preferred, but it was all for a reason. These are truths we might hear often repeated, but let this story remind you of them again. God’s story is greater than we could ever imagine, even when we can’t yet see how it all works out. 

Secondly, let John’s message remind you to turn your eyes from your own assumptions and desires, toward the truth and glory that is in the person of Jesus Christ. Prepare your heart to receive Him this Christmas season. He may not be who you expect Him to be, and He may not do what you desire Him to do – but I promise that He is exactly who you need, and will do for you exactly what you need if you will only surrender to Him. 

Lastly, just as the people had to be prepared for His first coming, people need to be prepared for Jesus’ return. And who are called to prepare the way – the hearts – now? It is us, the Church. We are forerunners to Jesus’ second coming. We are called to go tell the nations. We are called to turn their eyes to the kingdom of heaven, the ultimate glory that God is bringing in through His Son – the new heaven and new earth. 

We must remember, it is not our way – our anybody else’s way – that we are preparing. It is the Lord’s way. It is His Gospel. His kingdom. His glory.  

And I trust that as the Holy Spirit prepares us, we will then prepare others, who will prepare others, who will prepare others…on and on until the Messiah returns. 

Is your heart prepared to receive Jesus and His blessings this season?

How are you preparing the way in your life right now?

The Beauty of Repentance

Read: Luke 15:11-24 

This story is a parable, but imagine for a second that this was a real family. A real father with his real sons. These sons would have grown up seeing their Father’s love and wisdom. They would have trusted him, seen his goodness. Heard over and over that he wanted the best for them.  

And yet, the younger son still wanted his own way. He chose to trust his own desires over his Father’s wisdom and timing. He ran away. He took the Father’s blessings and used them sinfully and stupidly. We repeat Proverbs 3:5 all the time – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” – this is what leaning on your own understanding looks like in our lives. It’s leaving the protection and provision of the wise and loving Father to try to do things our own way. And where does that lead us? Well, where did it lead the prodigal son? – to the pigsty.  

It’s the same thing that Adam and Eve did when they ate the fruit. It’s the same thing Moses did when he struck the rock. It’s the same thing that David did when he slept with Bathsheba. It’s the same thing we do every time we choose our own sinful desires. We trade the Father’s loving arms for the pigsty.  

And yet in every one of these stories, there is hope. For there is grace.  

The Father is waiting for us. His arms are wide open. We may know this, but we can so easily get caught up in the guilt and shame of running away that we don’t truly believe it. We doubt that He will forgive us and welcome us back.  

“Repentance should be a beautiful word to Christians.” This is something Pastor J.J. has repeatedly said throughout this sermon series we’re in, and it is something that has really stuck with me. Why do we often not see repentance as a beautiful, wonderful thing? Well, when our view of God is off – our view of repentance will be too. We must see God as our Father, full of grace, waiting with His arms open. The Father that will not only welcome us back when we get there – but actually runs to meet us where we are, bursting full of compassion and grace (verse 20).   

Yes, God hates sin. Yes, He will allow consequences for it. But He hates it because it hurts us. He allows consequences to draw us back to His loving arms and teach us to remain there. When the son returned, the Father didn’t ask him to do anything to prove himself. No, the humble, simple act of returning was all he wanted. It is what our Father wants from us, too. To turn back to Him, time and time again, trusting that His grace will meet us every time – and that it will guide us into deeper relationship and greater righteousness.  

The Father rejoiced because his son was “…dead, and is alive again.” The difference with us is that God our Father didn’t just think we were dead – we were dead. The pigsty we were living in was our slavery to sin and death. But because of His love, He provided a way out through the blood of Jesus. Because of His love, He rejoices when we choose life (Him). No matter how far we’ve run, all we have to do is turn to His open, loving arms – embracing the beauty of repentance. 

Our Anchor

Read: James 1:2-8  

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out at the sea. Well, the bay, but close enough. Over the past few days I’ve seen how quickly the waves can start to be tossed about when the wind blows or a storm comes.  

Here in James, we see this metaphor used to describe the one who doubts. The context of this verse is about prayer – asking God for wisdom. It tells us that the one who asks will receive. Why? Because our God wants to give us good things.  

How often do we doubt this fact? That our God wants to give us good things – the best things. It is the very first lie humanity believed. The snake in the garden tempted Adam and Eve by serving them the lie that God was holding back on them. That He wasn’t really, truly the perfectly good God that they thought He was. And when the devil gets us to believe that lie – to foster that doubt – the results are detrimental to us.  

For those who doubt will be like waves tossed by the wind. Everything the world throws at us – the trials, the evil, the worries and cares – will toss us about if we don’t anchor our faith in the goodness and greatness of our God. If we don’t reject the lie that our God is not trustworthy. That’s what faith is – it’s choosing to trust in the goodness of our God and His plan even when everything around us seems to be telling us not to. It’s trusting that our trials can and will produce steadfastness and sanctification, even when they just look like pointless trials.  

If you look at verse 1, you will see that this letter is written to the Jews in the Dispersion. These people were pushed out of their homeland, forced to go settle in new, foreign places away from all they knew. I don’t know about you, but I would call that a trial. And so we see why James says what he says next – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” These trials could have easily pushed them about like the wind with a wave. But if they had faith, just enough to trust God’s plan – they could not only endure these trials, they could come out on the other side with greater steadfastness. That they “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  

Our faith in God’s goodness and His plan for our lives is the rock we hold on to when the wind does come. It is our anchor, keeping us from being tossed about. And it grows and grows and grows over time – as we learn more about Him, but ultimately as we come to know Him more personally and intimately. For as we come to know Him, we come to know His great goodness. Because that is just who He is. 

Fully Known and Loved

Read: Psalm 139:1-12 

Have you ever wanted to run and hide? Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, whether you like the spotlight or not – I would say there’s a pretty good chance that at some point in your life, you’ve wanted to hide. Wanted to cover up something that had been revealed. 

Why? Because nobody likes being exposed. That’s why there are so many cover-ups and lies in this world. That’s why we cringe in the face of being vulnerable. That’s why we constantly put up fronts and faces. – Because we’re scared of being exposed. We know the parts of us that aren’t appealing – the broken, sinful, messy parts. The evil desires. The embarrassing mistakes. And so, we try to cover those things up. Just like Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves after the Fall.  

Because opening ourselves up leaves us susceptible to attack and ridicule. To being left, to being unloved.  

In light of this, Psalm 139 seems at first to present a scary reality. The God of the Universe knows every single thing about us. All the broken and messy parts. All the sin. All the thoughts and words, before they are even thought or spoken.  

And if we try to cover all these things from other humans’ views, our natural reaction is to do the same with God. To try to cover our own sin. Try to clean up our messy, broken pieces. Try to put on a happy face when coming to Him. But He says “No child, I already know everything about you” – a fearful thought, until we are reminded of His character – “And yet, I will never leave you. My steadfast love endures forever.” It is too great and unbelievable a thought that we are completely, fully known AND loved by the God of the Universe. Loved so much that He died for us.  

And this is the beautiful truth that this psalm presents. God knows every single thing about us – and yet there is nowhere we can run from His presence, His love, His grace. We may feel like running and hiding, but the truth is – we can’t outrun Him…or His love. We can’t hide from Him, try as we might…and there is no reason to. For when we finally uncover our sin, our sin will be covered. When we finally bring everything (mess and all) to Him open-handed, exposed – we will find unending grace. We don’t have to fear attack or ridicule, being left or being unloved – for we serve a good and gracious God. One who encircles us forever. 

Seek First the Kingdom

Read: Daniel 1:8-20, Matthew 6:33 

It doesn’t take us long – when we look at the Bible, world history, ourselves – to see that humans have a natural tendency to be selfish. To look out for ourselves first. To run our own lives. This sin-natured tendency in us finds its origin in the very first sin. – Adam and Eve seeking to run their own lives, put themselves first, and chase after (what they thought was) their own good. It was them seeking first their own kingdom. 

Daniel had the same choice. He could seek first his own good by staying quiet and safe from the king’s wrath, even if he had to defile himself with the kings food. Or, He could seek first faithfulness and righteousness by saying no to disobedience to God’s law, even if that put him in danger. 

Daniel and his friends were exiles. They were taken from their homes and were now living in a foreign land, serving a foreign king. They could have easily convinced themselves that it was best for them to do what they could to stay safe and be successful – even if that meant compromising God’s law. They could have easily let their selfish and self-protecting nature take over. And yet, they stayed faithful to God. They put themselves in possible danger in order to be obedient to Him. 

Why? Because they knew who the true King was. And they held on to the truth that we aren’t the ones who know what “our own good” is. The serpent’s lie that Adam and Eve believed was that God was holding out on them – that He was holding back what was best. That is the lie we are tempted to believe everyday. That we are the only ones who have our best interest at heart and that we must look out for ourselves.  

Jesus knew this. The context of Matthew 6:33 is Him telling us that we don’t have to worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear. We don’t have to seek first our own kingdom. Because we are not the only ones looking out for ourselves (we honestly do a very bad job at it anyway). Our Heavenly Father truly does know what is best for us, and wants what is best for us. We see that so very clearly on the cross. And when we stop worrying, stop pursuing our own success, stop seeking our own kingdom – and start seeking His – we find peace and provision.  

Provision because God gives us exactly what we need (even if it’s not what we think we need), and peace because we don’t have to worry about our own lives any longer. We are in His hands. We see this in the lives of Daniel and his friends (more than once), we can trust that it will be true for us as well: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  

What are you seeking in your daily life? 

Do you truly trust that God wants what is best for you, and will give you exactly what you need? 


Peace in Prayer

Read: Hebrews 4:14-16, Romans 8:26-27 

I don’t know about you, but if I do something – I want to do it right. The first time. I don’t always like the learning process. I don’t like feeling confused or inadequate. But if there is one thing I’ve learned about this Christian life, it’s that it is a process. I’m not going to do things right the first time, and there are many seasons of learning and growing – but the good thing is, we have a gracious and patient God. One willing to walk through the process with us. 

Prayer is one of those things that can be confusing at first. There are also seasons where it may be hard – hard to find time, hard to find the words, hard to find the faith that God hears you. But we can have peace, because we have a gracious and patient God willing to walk with us. 

That’s the whole purpose of prayer. It is not to “heap up empty phrases” or say “many words” (Matthew 6:7). It is not to find the right formula to get what you want. Prayer can be many things – praise, thanksgiving, repentance, petition – but at its core, prayer is simply walking with God. Talking to Him. Communing with Him. He so fiercely wants a relationship with you – for you to know and be known by Him. And prayer accomplishes that end: it connects us to the Vine, it helps us abide in Him, and it grows our relationship with Him.  

We see how much He wants a relationship with us in the form of Christ – the Son of God who became a man to stand in our place. Because He lived a human life, experienced human weakness (without sin), was tempted and tried – hurt and killed – He became the perfect representative. Our High Priest, who has given us His righteousness. And in His righteousness, we can stand boldly before the throne of great grace. We may feel unworthy. We were unworthy to come before our Holy God. But because of Christ, our perfect Savior, we have been made clean – we have a way into the presence of God, and we can go unashamedly. He wants us to. 

And when we feel weak – we have another promise – the Holy Spirit. He guides us and intercedes for us when we don’t have the words. Because again, it’s not about our words – it’s about our hearts. Hearts that want to commune with the God who wants to commune with us. That is what prayer is about, that is why we can have peace within it – even when we feel like we’re not “getting it right” the first time. Like all of the Christian life, it is a process we walk through – and through prayer itself, we get to hold God’s hand while doing it. 

So as we go into this time of focused prayer as a church, I just wanted to remind you that even when it seems hard or confusing, we have a gracious God who not only provided a way for us to communicate with Him – but wants us to and helps us to.   

Rest for Our Souls

Read: Matthew 11:27-30

I’m sure we’ve all heard these verses before. We’ve read them and felt comforted by the promise that Jesus will give us rest. This life can be a lot – there are many burdens that we carry around – and yet Jesus promises to trade our heavy burdens for His light one. Our hard yoke for His easy.

But beneath the comforting surface, these verses had always confused me a little bit. I trusted that they were true, and yet…following Christ didn’t always feel easy. Many times my burden still felt heavy. My yoke still hard.

But in God’s grace, as I was reading these verses again recently – they struck me

differently. I’ve realized that like many of us, I so often feel like I have to be good enough. We know that there is no way to earn salvation, and yet there is a part of us as humans that have a hard time accepting God’s grace. There may be a part of us that feels it too good to be true – that we have to live up to it somehow.

Yet right here – Jesus speaks to us. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…rest for your souls.” Trying to be good enough is a heavy burden to bear. Because try as we might, we cannot be perfect. Not even close. But here, Jesus is telling us to rest in our salvation. To rest in His love. To rest in the finished work of the cross – for “It is finished” was His cry.

It reminds me of this quote – “‘It is finished.’ May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.” Rejoice…and rest, for you do not have to finish grace.

Yes, our salvation is still being worked out. We are still growing, still maturing. But we don’t do it by our own strength – for the Holy Spirit works in us, producing the fruit of our salvation. For we do not work in order to earn our salvation; we work from the freedom and grace provided by our salvation. We work with a light burden and easy yoke.

And as our salvation is being worked out, we rest in the promise of it’s fulfillment: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”

‭‭(Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭6‬). Because of Jesus, because He went to the cross, because we have the hope of resurrection – even when life seems heavy, we can still find true rest. Rest for our souls.


Interruptions and Amazing Grace 

Read: Mark 5:21-34

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop in a store or restaurant to let my great-grandmother talk to someone. Whether it’s simply telling them that their baby is precious, or making a comment that turns into a twenty-minute conversation – she is always finding someone to share something with. I admit, I often try to move her along, not wanting to be an interruption to anyone else (and honestly, not wanting to be interrupted myself). But time and time again, I have seen people leave with a brighter smile on their face and thank you’s on their lips because of her encouragements.

As you go about your day, how many people do you see, interact with, or talk to? How often do you hurry through these encounters, thinking of all the other things you must do?

Jesus saw many people during His days on earth, walking through busy cities or with crowds clinging about Him. And we know He had much important work to do. And yet, all throughout the gospels, we see Him stop and take the time to meet with people – even the low down, unclean, sinful people – and show them His power and love. He lets all kinds of people interrupt Him, and they leave changed because of it.

Jesus let Jairus interrupt Him from His teaching, and he got to see the power of God in his daughter’s healing. Jesus stopped to talk to the woman, and she got to see His great love for her. Both were changed forever because God didn’t see them as distractions, but as humans who needed His love and grace.

We so often see people as distractions or interruptions. Interruptions from more important work, more pressing matters, even from other ministry opportunities. Yet if we would listen to the Spirit’s leading, He would show us that God sees those people as ones who need to be served and shown Light and Love. What would happen if we stopped all the rushing, and like Jesus – actually took the time to talk? To listen? To serve others, even when we feel like we don’t have the time? God knows all the things you need to do. He knew Jairus’ daughter needed to be healed. And yet Jesus still stopped for the woman. He still calls us to stop for those whom He sets in our path. This may look like having a full on gospel conversation with someone, or just actually listening to the answer of “how was your day?”

Maybe what we often see as most important is not God’s perspective. Maybe God will use us in ways we could never imagine if we would listen to His lead and let ourselves be interrupted. My great-grandmother sees it, Jesus did too. Those interruptions may just be the tools to show His amazing grace to others. And when people truly see that grace, they will leave changed. Who knows, we might leave changed too.


Bringing Him Everything

Read: John 6:5-13, Luke 21:1-4 

A boy with five loaves and two fish. A widow with two coins. People with very little, giving everything they had.  

From our human perspective, we very easily see our lack. We see when things are not enough. Just like the disciples – “…but how far will they go among so many?” I don’t blame them, looking at a boys lunch compared to over 5,000 people. We also tend to view our lack in comparison to others’ abundance. We see the widow’s two coins compared to the full money bags.  

And with these perspectives, we usually do one of two things: We don’t bring anything to God, thinking nothing we have could be good enough.  

Or, we overcompensate- trying to do all the things to make up for how we fall short. Trying to override the feelings of guilt for our weaknesses by gritted teeth and good works. But none of it works – because the fact remains, we still fall short. 

We fall short. Just like the five loaves and two fish fell short. Can you imagine how measly they looked in this small boy’s hands compared to sea of people around him? And yet he brought them anyway – knowing they wouldn’t be even close to enough, he brought them anyway.  

God knows our limitations and weaknesses. He knows we fall short. And yet, he asks us to bring the little we have anyway. Not to shame us for it, but to create something beautiful out of it. 

And the widow – she knew she had so much less to give than anybody else, and yet she brought it anyway. She gave everything she had to the Lord because He deserved it. And Jesus praised her for it. Because it’s not about the quantity or quality of what we bring to God – it’s about bringing Him all we have. That includes our weaknesses, our faults, and our lack. We surrender all. And when we do, He can create something beautiful out of all that falls short. He’s that good.  

Have you held anything back from God because you feel like it’s not enough?  

Surrender all today and watch what He does with your “not enough.”