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? 

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.

How to (not)Resist Temptation

I love fall. I love the colors of the leaves (even though they don’t change here in the deep south). I love the cool, crisp bite of the morning air. I love back-to-school season. I love the ground carpeted with shed leaves. I love college football. I love to watch the harvesters at work in the fields, bringing their bounty to bless the world. Except for peanuts. Oh, I love to eat peanuts. But the nut is produced under the soil and the farmer has to turn the plants over to harvest the crop, which releases all kinds of things into the air – like mold – to which I am highly allergic. And I live in the peanut capital of the world. Achoo! And yet I keep the window in my study open to enjoy the aforementioned cool, crisp air. I know. That’s pretty stupid. Just like standing in the path of temptation.

The mainstay of Christian conviction has always been  “Resist temptation!”  But the Bible says we are to run from temptation.  We are told to “flee from sexual immorality” and “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14); “flee from greed [the love of money]” (1 Timothy 6:10,11); and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Why flee? James said we are all “tempted when, by [our] own evil desire, [we] are dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Our evil desires are internal. We have to flee from temptation because it is tapping into those desires. That’s why you can’t stand in front of temptation and try to talk yourself out of it – you have to get away from it. If your flesh is agreeing with the thing in front of you, run. You are standing on dangerous ground.

I knew a man who drove six miles out of his way on his daily route just to avoid driving past a bar he used to frequent in his drinking days. He knew the desire was always in him so he detoured away from the temptation. He took Paul’s word to heart: “when you are tempted, [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way out for him was an alternative – if longer – route. A married woman quit her lucrative job to distance herself from a coworker to whom she was attracted. Another man gave up his smartphone with internet capabilities for a simple call-and-text-only phone to avoid the pull of pornography.

Jesus wants you and me to be victorious over temptation. He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do just that. But we still have to put distance between ourselves and temptation. If I want to stop sneezing I’ve got to close the window. Beloved, If you want to stop falling into sin take the way out. Take the long way home. Change your job. Cancel the subscription. Change your phone. Cry out to Jesus for help. Then run.

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 in Your Shoes

All across this nation, the anti-Christian machine is working to shut out every mention of God and deny the rights of Christians to express our beliefs. Nativity scenes are banned from the public square, or equal space must be given to anti-Christian displays. The Ten Commandments are being removed from government facilities, and students in school are forbidden to give reference to their faith. Lawmakers are pushing to ban all teaching of “religious doctrine.” God is unwelcome and unwanted in this country.

But don’t miss what John said, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Brothers and sisters, don’t forget that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Everywhere you go you take Jesus with you. So as believers, we take Jesus into the marketplace and the government sector. Students take Jesus into their school. Employees bring Jesus to work.

The Lord declared that His followers are ”the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13, 14). Salt is our witness in the world. Light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Salt is essential for life in general. It is one of the oldest and most universal food seasonings and methods of food preservation. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes and it makes us thirsty. Here in the deep south, boiled peanuts are a favorite snack, but you’d better have a drink nearby because properly prepared boiled peanuts are very salty.  A salty Christian seasons the world with love, Joy, kindness, grace, compassion, and the good news of the gospel. They preserve the character of Christ in a tasteless culture and a properly prepared Christ-follower makes others thirsty for the Living Water.

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.  

Sure, they can ban public displays of Christianity, but by your presence as a Christian, Beloved, Jesus still walks through this nation – in your shoes.

Sin in the Camp

I don’t want to write this devotional. I’ve tried to talk God out of it, but He is persistent. This is His word to the Church – and the individual parts of it. Get your boots on and read Joshua 7.

Joshua and the army of Israel had just taken the city of Jericho. It was an extraordinary victory. Now they prepared to take Ai and the spies come back saying “Just send two or three thousand men to take it, for only a few men are there” (v. 3). But those three thousand were routed by the few men of Ai, and thirty-six were killed. The Israelites were in mourning – and in shock. Joshua went before the Lord and accused Him of bringing them out to destroy them (vv. 6-9). God corrected him saying, “Israel has sinned” (v. 11).

When the army went into Jericho they were commanded to not take any of the “devoted things” – the precious metals and other costly things – for themselves. All of those things were to be designated as “sacred to the Lord and put into His treasury”. Joshua said anyone who took them would bring about their own destruction and bring trouble on the whole camp of Israel (6:18-19). But somebody ignored that command. Through a process of elimination, Achan was found to be the guilty party. He saw a beautiful robe and silver and gold and he took them and hid them under his tent. He was the reason for Isreal’s defeat by a much smaller army. One man. One sin. But God regarded it as the whole nation’s sin. Achan and his entire family and even his animals were stoned to death and God’s curse was lifted from the nation.

Here’s what the Lord keeps speaking to me. The reason the Church today has so little power and has lost her godly influence in the world is because there is sin in the camp. The Church – the bride of Christ – has failed to keep herself pure and devoted only to Him. She has taken on lovers and allowed them to infiltrate His holy place. She has welcomed what God has called an abomination. She has championed perversion. She has fought for the slaughter of innocent babies. She has become like the world.

But here’s the other part of the problem. You and I are the church. You and I share the guilt because our personal, private lives affect the faithfulness of the camp, just as Achan’s did. You and I are joined to the whole body. We don’t live one life at church and a separate life outside of it. We cannot invite sin into our private lives and think it won’t matter. It all matters. To all of us.

So here is my pointed question – and believe me, I’m asking it of myself as well. What is buried under your tent Beloved? “You cannot stand until you remove it” (Joshua 7:13).

Hebrews: Holy

Mr. Estes lived across the street when I was a kid. He was a big man, very broad-shouldered and taller than my dad, who was himself over six feet. Just looking at him told me he was a scary guy. But it was his voice that really terrified me. Deep and loud and gruff. I heard him yell at his dog once and that was all it took for me to stay far away from him.

The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember their history with God. Stop here and read Hebrews 12:18-21. This is referencing the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinia (Exodus 19). God came down to the mountain amid thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and a “very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). I reckon so. The people were commanded to not touch God’s mountain under penalty of death. Animals were forbidden to approach it.  Even Moses trembled with fear. Why? Because the presence of God made the mountain holy.

We’ve lost the concept of “holy” today. The word is often combined with farm animals and even gross bodily functions and vulgar euphemisms for sex as an expression of surprise or even a curse. This should not be. Holy is not just four letters strung together – holy is God. It is the word the angels declared thrice before His throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;” (Is 6:3). “Holy” is His own self-description: “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26). Even within the church, the word is not held with honor and reverence. This is one of my most fervent frustrations. If you use the word “holy” flippantly, I hope you are convicted and pay attention when it is on the tip of your tongue.

Wherever God goes, whatever He touches becomes holy. Remember Moses and the burning bush? God told him to take off his sandals because the ground surrounding the bush was holy. When God spoke to the Israelites at Mt. Sinia, they begged Him to stop because even His voice was holy. Their sinful ears could not bear to hear it. Whatever is set apart unto God is also holy and anything that touches the consecrated thing was also considered holy.  That includes you. Just a couple of chapters back we learned that “we have been made holy” through Christ (Heb 10:10). If you are in Christ, you are holy – set apart unto God for a relationship that will last forever. That, Beloved, should make you tremble with Joy.

Hebrews: A Costly Trade

Warning: this post is not culturally correct.

Sin is such an antiquated notion. Its meaning has changed from generation to generation. The present generation – if they consider sin at all – see it as causing offense by denying someone’s right to celebrate their personal truth. But previous generations rightly understood sin as an action that is offensive to God.

While sin isn’t limited to one specific action, sexual immorality seems to be the favorite. And we don’t have to ask why. But we do need to understand what it means. The Greek word is pornos – you know what English word that corresponds to. It comes out of a root word that means “to sell into slavery,” and that gives sexual immorality a whole new tone. Sexual immorality is any sexual act that deviates from the biblical presentation of the loving physical intimacy between a husband and wife.

The author of Hebrews tied that sin to Esau, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He said, “See that no one is sexually immoral, or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son” (Heb 12:16). Even though he was a twin, Esau made his entrance minutes ahead of his brother Jacob, making him the elder. By rights, he got the blessing of their father and a greater portion of the inheritance – called “the birthright.” But Esau came in from a hunting expedition one day, “famished.” He smelled the food his brother was cooking and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. He threw away who he was – the eldest son – and all he stood to gain – the birthright – to fill his belly momentarily. He didn’t have proper regard for the gift that was rightfully his. When it was time to bestow the blessing, Jacob cashed in. “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (v. 17).

Sex between a husband and wife is a beautiful, God-honoring thing. But any other expression of sex is sexual immorality. It is a moment of pleasure that will cost you dearly. In a culture where anything goes, Beloved, don’t sell your blessing to satisfy your flesh. God has so much more for you than that.