Advent 2022: Joseph – A Man of Mercy

In the telling of the Christmas story, Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ of Jesus doesn’t get much attention. Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4). But I learned something recently about him that had previously escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – becoming pregnant as an unmarried woman was bad enough but to conceive a child with someone other than her betrothed was unforgivable. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21). It was a sin that merited public execution. Instead, Joseph chose to handle the situation quietly to spare her from disgrace and punishment. And because he acted mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8). His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). I think, sometimes the church has it backward. Much like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy. After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love poured out in mercy to sinners like you and me through Jesus Christ.

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love? No, they probably don’t deserve it – but neither did you. It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, Beloved, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

Fruit Inspection

Steel-toe boot warning.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious . . .” (Galatians 5:19).
If you claim to be a Christian, but you indulge in porn, I question your claim. If you profess to be a Christian, but profanity spews out of your mouth, I’m going to doubt you. If you tell me you’re a Christian, but you’re unfaithful to your spouse (either in act or desire), I find it hard to believe you. If you can sing the old hymns or the latest Christian songs, but you lie and deceive, your songs also lie. If you are sexually immoral, your choices defy your profession. If you go to church on Sunday morning and are yelling at everyone in your house by Sunday evening, I wonder why you bother to go to church at all. If money is your passion and you step on others to climb the ladder, your actions – not your claims – tell the truth about you.


If you claim to be a Christian and you are kind and patient with your elderly, grouchy neighbor, I will tend to believe you. If you say you are a Christian and you turn away from temptation, I’m more apt to agree. If you go to church on Sunday morning and are still full of joy on Thursday, if moral goodness marks your life, if you’re gentle when speaking to your children, if you bring peace instead of strife wherever you go, if you are loving and faithful to your spouse – I will trust you and I will trust what you say about this Jesus you claim to follow. Paul said our actions reveal our true nature. We either confirm or refute our testimony by how we live.

I am not judging anyone – But Jesus did say, “By their fruit, you will recognize them” (Matt 7:16). I’m just inspecting fruit. And yes, I see some bad apples in my own life. So what do I do about them? Do I determine to act better? Grit my teeth and be nicer?  No, this is not about behavior modification, this is about your heart. Jesus also said, “The good man [or woman] brings good things out of the good stored up in him”( Matt 12:35). A good heart – a heart that is set on Christ – is full of good fruit. A bad heart – a heart that is set on the world, self, or pleasure – is full of rotten fruit.

Paul said that “those who live like this [the first paragraph] will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).  In other words, there won’t be any rotten fruit in heaven. Check your fruit, Beloved. What is true about your life? What is true about your heart? 

Sin No More

When I read the Gospels, I marvel at Jesus’ patience and understanding with sinful people. No, He was not (is not) gentle with sin – He called it out for what it was. He didn’t excuse it or call it a disease or disorder. He didn’t accept it or tolerate it or celebrate it. Sin was and is appalling. It needs to be confronted – and Jesus did. Yet even while correcting sin, was always gracious to those lost souls caught in the devil’s snare. “He had compassion on them because He saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:6).

While walking through Jerusalem one day, Jesus passed by a pool that was believed to have healing properties when the waters were stirred by “an angel.” A helpless invalid had laid by the side of the pool for thirty-eight years, waiting and hoping for his chance to slip into the waters at just the right moment. But he was alone and never managed to get there. Along came Jesus who healed Him. At a later encounter, Jesus told the man, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-14). He healed first, then corrected. We need to take notes.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious leaders brought to him a woman caught in adultery. But just the woman – isn’t that interesting? He defended her against her accusers – but he did not defend her actions. When Jesus confronted the men with their hypocrisy they left in shame.  After assuring her that He did not condemn her, Jesus told the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11). I have no doubt that she did. Grace and correction always work hand in hand.

I often look up words to build a devotional and that is what I was doing as I was developing a different point when God turned this in a whole other direction. When I looked up “sin no more” I found these two stories – and something else. Those same words appear again in the Scriptures when the writer of Hebrews talked about the new covenant in Christ. The Lord said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12). No more. No more guilt. No more shame. No more condemnation. Because all your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. The affair. The abortion. The sexual immorality. The lies. That sin you don’t want to remember? You won’t have to Beloved, because in Christ your sins are “no more.”

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Look How Much You’ve Grown!

Joy has grown so much this last year. It’s obvious when you look at her. She’s taller and stronger. Her legs and arms are longer. Even her hair is longer. Her vocabulary is incredible, she doesn’t use baby talk and she annunciates her words very well. She can do more things for herself like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. And she’s learning how to calm herself when she gets upset. (I hope she will teach me.) Potty training is still a work in progress, but I know she will get that too. One thing hasn’t changed – that mega-watt smile can still melt Nana’s heart. She’s a growing, beautiful, amazing little girl.

Which makes me wonder, how do we know that we’re growing spiritually? We don’t get taller, but we should see signs that mark spiritual maturity. Like Joy, our speech is a clear indication of growth. Jesus said it’s in our words. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt 12:35). We talk about God and the things of God. We reject profanity and gossip and complaining (Eph 4:29; Phil 2:14).

It’s also seen in what we desire. Growing in God means we want the things that He wants and we are repulsed by the things that offend Him (Ps 40:8; Col 3:5). We look and act more like Jesus, which is God’s goal all along – “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We are compassionate (2 Cor 1:3-4), kind and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-25), loving (1 Cor 13), self-controlled (1 Pet 1:13), and “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19).

Perhaps the most visible sign of spiritual maturity is how we deal with sin in our lives. As spiritual babes, we sin and the Spirit convicts us of our sin. We confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. But we go back to it again. And we repeat the cycle, sometimes multiple times. The true evidence of spiritual growth is when we stop going back to our sin. When the Spirit helps us recognize the pattern and break the cycle, we’ve made a major step in spiritual maturity.

I look at myself and see some signs of growth as well as places where I’m still a toddler in Christ. You too? Growth comes when we take in the things that nurture our spirit, like God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, prayer, and resting in the Lord. And trust. Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). God’s not going to give up on you, Beloved. Don’t give up on yourself.

Are You Sure That’s Right?

I goofed up at work yesterday. I ordered a textbook for one of my professors and when I started adding the professor’s information to the online form, the auto-fill popped up because I had ordered textbooks for him before. Yes! I clicked on his name and let the system do its thing. The publisher sent an auto-reply to his email address to confirm the request. He messaged me his thanks – and told me that he had a new address. The book was going to the old address. I pulled up his faculty file in our system and – guess what – he had given me his new address months ago. But the publishing website had the old address and I, assuming it was correct, failed to verify it. Now I had to scramble to contact the publishing company and correct them before the book shipped. All because I didn’t do due diligence. I just assumed what they had was right.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? I’ve beat this drum before: Check everything out.  It was a minor inconvenience for me, but not every error is so simple. False teaching has eternal consequences. The culture is teaching “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:6,7). They are teaching a humanitarian gospel that says we are all God’s children and that He accepts everyone who is sincere in whatever they believe. That’s a lie, and people will go to eternal hell sincerely believing it. They are teaching that God only wants us happy, not holy and that he is okay with homosexuality, murdering unborn babies, and changing our gender. That’s not the God of the Bible – the God who is holy, holy, holy.

That’s why the Bereans were applauded in Scripture.  Acts 17:11 says “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  This little congregation checked out everything Paul said before they bought into it.  So should you

False stories on social media can be harmless – like copying and pasting text to change Facebook’s algorithms (p.s. it doesn’t do a thing), but believing a lie about God will always have eternal consequences.  My friends, please don’t let Facebook or Twitter or even me be your source for spiritual truth; check it out in the Bible before you believe it – and especially before you share it.  Beloved, Don’t take anyone else’s word for who God is or what He has said but God Himself.

Hebrews: The Marriage Bed

Fair warning – this post is NOT politically or culturally correct. But it is biblically correct, so take your issues up with God.

This final chapter of Hebrews is a rapid-fire list of exhortations for the Hebrew church. The writer just states the facts without a lot of added commentary. Paul, James, and Peter did it too. As I’m studying this next passage, I think I figured out why. He is reminding them of something they already knew, something didn’t need explanation as much as it needed obedience. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4). In case you’re wondering – yeah, I’m gonna go there. But first . . .

Notice that the writer starts by saying, “Marriage should be honored . . .” By definition, that means marriage should be esteemed, regarded as precious, of great price, held especially dear – and that includes spouses.  The first thing God did after creating man and woman was to establish marriage. That puts it on par with the sun and the stars and human beings in importance.

But it’s also important because marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church (see Ephesians 5:23-33). When the marriage relationship is tainted–for any reason–it spoils that beautiful picture of divine and holy love. Yes, this largely condemns homosexual “marriage,” but when heterosexual marriages are invaded by divorce, unfaithfulness, distrust, dishonesty, abuse, bitterness, and selfishness they are no longer a reflection of Christ and the Church either. The world won’t take seriously the biblical basis of marriage until the church does. (And for the sake of accountability, I’ve been divorced too.)

The church that honors the Word of God will stand against homosexual “marriage” on biblical grounds, and rightly so. Homosexuality is a sin, but so is heterosexual adultery and pre-marital sex and lust in any form – including pornography – which the church is far more lenient about. (So is greed, gluttony, hatred, envy, unbelief, gossip, dishonesty, pride, and a whole host of issues to which the church turns a blind eye.)

I don’t like to offend anyone, but I won’t apologize for this post. It’s the truth from the Word of God. Truth offends those who are living under a lie — regardless of our national laws. But Jesus said when you know the truth you are set free (John 8:32). So, Beloved, stand firm in the truth about marriage – but first make sure your marriage is honoring truth.

Defense!

My football team lost yesterday. We’re not used to losing. We are winners. It has left a very bitter taste in our mouths. My husband will probably wear all black to church today. Why did we lose? Because we let them into our “house” – our end of the field. But even more so, because we didn’t defend the gate.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord to Judah. He continually warned the nation about their sin, idolatry, and disobedience. He prophesied the nation’s fall to Babylon as God’s punishment. But he also implored them to turn from their sin and return to God. He insisted that they guard their lives as fiercely as they guarded their city. The walls around Jerusalem were thick and strong and wide enough for armed sentries to stand guard all around. The troops had a high vantage point so they could see the enemy coming and warn the rest of the city. Immediately they shut and fortified the gates and put all their effort into defending that strategic point. If the enemy ever got past the gate, the city was all but defeated.

Isaiah called for Judah to be strong and “turn back the battle at the gate” (28:6). The defense point was the gate – not their doorstep. They kept the enemy away from their homes and families by keeping them out of the city. In football the gate is not the goal line – it is the 50-yard line. Almost every time the other team crossed the midpoint of the field they steamrolled into the endzone. If we’d never allowed them to get past the fifty-yard line, we would have won. The principle of defending the gate works in war, in football, and our lives.

You and I have to defend our gate. If we wait to battle sinful thoughts and desires after they’ve infiltrated our hearts and minds, we’ve already lost. What is the gate? It’s eyes and ears. It’s what we see and what we hear. No. Wait. The gate goes farther back than that. The gate is our choices – what we choose to see and hear and even what we choose to think about. When we choose well (see Philippians 4:8-9) we shut the gate. When we choose poorly – inappropriate websites, movies, books, t.v. shows, music with sexually explicit lyrics – we swing the gates wide open and leave ourselves with no defense. There’s so much this world throws at us that we can’t choose, but when you can, you need to keep your heart and mind secure with godly things. It’s not a game. Beloved, don’t lose the battle at the gate.

Jesus is [not] my Homeboy

When I took an Apologetics course in my undergrad, I had to interview five non-Christians and ask them specific worldview questions. I also did a little experiment. I asked each one to repeat one simple, three-word phrase: “Jesus is Lord.” None of them would. In fact, one of them said, “I can’t. Those words just won’t come.”  

When we take a very nonchalant approach to Jesus, it shows in how we identify Him. Evangelist Greg Laurie said, “Sometimes I think people in the church are far too casual with God. They have a relationship with God, but they’ve forgotten the holiness of God. They say Jesus is their “homeboy,” but their so-called homeboy created the universe. Let’s show some respect. This is God Almighty we’re talking about.” I understand that we want to present Jesus as approachable and relevant. But if we fail to see and acknowledge Him as Lord, we have missed the point of who He is.

The writer of Hebrews got it. He said, “Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28b-29). That’s very different from the soft-hearted God that is preached from many pulpits today. Don’t get me wrong – our God is a God of love and mercy – two of His most enduring traits. God’s love is evident in His mercy. His mercy is driven by His love. But both His love and His mercy must acknowledge His holiness – and His wrath. Without it, His love is as mushy – and useless – as a Hallmark movie.  You and I need a love that is powerful enough to snatch us from the edge of hell.

While the culture today wants to worship only the God of love, love, love they have no real context. His love is His mercy. His love is the cross. They don’t understand that because they fail to see the danger they are in because of their sinfulness. And they fail to see the consuming fire of His holiness. Remember what the angels proclaimed in Isaiah’s vision: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty (Isa 6:3). His holiness is His glory – a brilliant radiance that consumes everything that is not as holy as He. Unless you have the protective covering of the blood of Jesus.

God’s mercy against the backdrop of man’s sin is like threads of gold and silver on black velvet. They just show up better. You were meant to carry the light of God to a dark world that longs for love but doesn’t understand it. Beloved, let Him set you ablaze with His glory.

Sit Up Straight!

I am wearing a Holter monitor for the next thirty days. It is a mobile telemetry system that works like a continuous EKG. The monitor is stuck to my chest over my heart by a patch with leads that sends signals to a cellphone that records what the monitor detects. When I bend over or sit less than straight, the phone emits a piercing sound that tells me the monitor is out of position. All. The. Time. It just went off again. It’s driving me crazy.

But it’s also doing something else. It’s making me very aware of my posture. If I want to keep this thing quiet – and Lord knows I do – I have to sit very straight. That’s not natural to me. I tend to slump when I’m sitting, especially when I’m studying or working on my laptop, as I am now. I remember my mother constantly telling me to sit up straight as a kid. It clearly didn’t stick with me. Slumping is my norm – and it’s got to change or I will be a basket case when my thirty days are up.

What possible spiritual application can I get from a heart monitor? Simply this – some of us are going through our lives with a spiritual slump, and that’s got to change. One of Paul’s mantras was “once you were” – “but now you are” (Col 1:21-22). He contrasted life before and after Christ. But he said some of us are still behaving by our old nature. Once we were sexually immoral, evil, full of rage and malice, slanderous, idolaters, drunkards, practicing witchcraft. Those are pretty extreme aren’t they, but what about being impure and lustful, greedy, angry, using filthy language, lying, jealous, selfish, and causing disagreements (Col 3:5-9; Gal 5:19-21 adapted)? Did you squirm at a few of those like I did? Some of us are still slumping because it’s an old habit.

“But now,” he said, we “live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power” (Col 1:22). Because of Jesus and His Spirit in us, now we are full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). We don’t have to be who we were. We can be who we are now.

This monitor has gone off three more times as I’ve been writing this. I keep forgetting to keep my back straight. By the end of this though, I bet it will be my new normal. I wonder if the Spirit had a monitor on me how many times it would go off in a day. Beloved, let’s become very aware of our spiritual posture and start living like who we are now. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8).