The Christmas Story=The Gospel Story

I just spent the last day thinking about what exactly I will write during this Christmas week. Over the last two weeks we have explored three characters leading up to Jesus’s birth: Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph.

Because this week is the one that leads up to Christmas, I have been waiting to share my heart about Him. I thought about highlighting His humble entrance into this world. I thought about calling out Christmas misconceptions. I considered writing about the immediate worship people from many walks of life gave Him.

Yet each time I considered writing a new specific topic, something beckoned toward a much different, much simpler, much needed topic.

Today we are going to dive into the reason this entire season exists. We are going to share the Gospel with one another.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-10-24-05-amMaybe you know this Gospel story. Maybe you base your life upon it. Maybe you want nothing to do with it. Whatever your story, read on. Read the beginning of the greatest life ever lived. Read how it has changed my and so many lives completely. Then, if you are one of the people whose lives have been changed, share it. Not necessarily by means of sharing this post (although you are more than welcome to do that!), but share it using your voice, your life, and your testimony. This time of year is inherently filled with the name Jesus. We thank Him in times we would not normally. We see scenes of the nativity story on lawns and in parks and in the hears of people we do not expect. Let’s use that accessibility to do what we are commanded to do. Preach the Gospel to ourselves. Share His name. Make disciples.

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In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:1-21 ESV

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Creation and The Fall

There is a reason that this story is so important. If we were existing on this earth in the intended way, it would not be necessary. But friends, we screwed up. In the beginning, God created all things. We were one of those things and His most precious creation. In us, he placed His image. We knew right from wrong, we were created with a relational tendency, we were given reign over creation. Along with all that responsibility, he gave us one rule: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet because of our pride and worldly curiosity, we chose to eat of the fruit anyway after being tempted by the evil one, Satan.

While it would be easy for me to say, “well I didn’t eat of the fruit. Why do I fall under that umbrella?” It’s because I choose to eat of the fruit daily. I conciously choose things for my life that He has told me I don’t need. I distort His creation for my own power, popularity, and pleasure. You see, because of the fall, we are born with innate sin. We are separated from God because He cannot reside with that sin. But friends, He still chose to make a way for us to commune with Him once again. That’s where the Christmas story comes in.

Our Rescue

When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised their tempter that his head would be crushed. This was the first prophesy toward the coming of Jesus. From that day forward, God gave prophets knowledge of a Messiah who would come to redeem the fallen. They prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus’s birth that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7), He would be from the line of David (Isaiah 9), and His way would be prepared (Isaiah 40).

Then it happened.

One humble night, a virgin from the line of David gave birth to that Messiah.

He grew up, fulfilling the prophecies foretold. He lived a perfect life. He traveled around for three years winning people over to God and offending many more. He was mocked, beaten, and ultimately killed by the very people he came to rescue.

Three days after His death, His dead body was nowhere to be found. Yet His living body was witnessed by over 500 people. He walked the earth for thirty more days before he ascended into Heaven, having completely defeated death. His good news was this: all you have to do is believe. Believe that we are sinners in need of grace. Believe that He is the son of God who came to rescue us from our sin. Believe that through Him and only Him salvation is given to us. Believe that He is coming back to defeat death completely.

Friends, it is not about working our way up to Him. He came down to us. All we have to doscreen-shot-2016-12-20-at-10-28-04-am is believe and He will do the rest. He will come into your being and transform the desires of your heart as you seek after Him. He will bring the change. He will save us from the sinful nature of this world. Yet when we choose to neglect His saving grace, we choose eternal separation from Him. If we choose to embrace His saving grace, he holds us for eternity.

img_7318If this is the truth that we base our lives upon, let us share it until our voices are gone. Let us lift our hands and point to Him not only in this Christmas season, but in each season of life. This Christmas story is beautiful, but it is just the middle and the means by which the rest of the story plays out. We are broken. He came to heal. He will mold our lives if we let Him.

This week, let’s commit to share the explicit Gospel. The Gospel that bleeds truth and love. The Gospel that not everyone wants to hear, but all need to hear. The Gospel that has overtaken my life.

If this story is something that means nothing to you, or even offends you, thank you for reading all the way to the end. I love that you genuinely want to hear my heart behind not only this season, but each season of my life. If you have any questions or concerns, let me know. My heart wants for nothing more than for you to love this story in the same way I do.

Through The Eyes of a Father

15027954_10207710557618856_2851141038133836695_nNot too long ago, I watched the home video of my parents’ stay in the hospital just after my birth. My parents were young–23 and 25–and I was their first. You could tell they were playing it cool, but secretly, they had not idea what was coming for them.

We had to fast forward through lots of footage of me. I was just sleeping. And my daddy was making sure to document every deep breath I
breathed. From sleeping in the hospital to sleeping at home just after the hospital, and at least once a month until I was four months old, he had a fascination with the way his daughter slept.

In a way, my dad has been quietly watching my whole life. He15078945_10207710450816186_2873893929712399165_n.jpg has stepped in often and fathered throughout, but he is a guy who likes to take everything in. He took it in while I was a sleeping baby, when I gained a little sister, when I began school, then high school, the graduated before heading to college, and even as I said I do. He set his gaze upon his child. That being said, I want to explore the life of the one of the most important fathers in history. A man whose gaze was set upon both his Son and His Father simultaneously. I want to better understand how and why this man was able to quietly take in the wonders of raising his son.

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Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.

Luke 2:4-6 ESV

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Joseph was also chosen by God.

It is easy to only associate the Christmas story with Mary, the angles, the shepherds, wisemen, and of course, Jesus. However, God cast another role who so often goes overlooked.

Matthew 1 tells the story of a man we often forget to remember: Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter betrothed to Mary. You see, in this time, betrothal was just as binding as a marriage although the time for physical union had not yet come. It would take a divorce to dissolve the betrothal. And this man, a man seen by God as righteous, learned that the woman he had signed a life-long covenant with was pregnant before they ever had the opportunity to physically become one.

Consider that.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-4-13-46-pmI know that if I learned news like that, I would be inclined to kick and scream and make my betrothed seem like a monster to justify my own misjudgment of the man. In fact, at that time, an adulterer or adulteress would have been qualified as guilty enough for a stoning. Yet Joseph–before he even knew the whole story–resolved to spare Mary of the punishment the law would say she deserved. God knew Joseph’s heart was pure. He chose this man, a man who valued forgiveness, to raise the God who came to this earth to do just that.

God’s sovereignty is far greater than our understanding.

You see, all of this was going through Joseph’s mind because he was not yet able to grasp what God was about to do in his life. He was getting ready to make Joseph the adopted father of The Son.

An Angel appeared to Joseph before he could do anything to let him know what the deal was. When Joseph heard this news, you know he was terrified. I imagine he thought something similar what Mary might have thought. “How is someone like me, someone who sins, suppose to raise the Son of God?” Yet just as Mary did, he glorified God through it. He immediately set his gaze upon the One who was coming to redeem this broken earth. He married her, knowing that the world would look at both of them as scum for having sex before marriage. He took on the task of raising the only perfect person, knowing that his flaws would be amplified next to the boy he was raising. He took her to the home of the King that headed up his descendants while his wife was in her last trimester, trusting that no matter what, God would provide. He would be sovereign over the birth, life, and ultimately death of this child they were being granted.

No, we do not hear very much about Joseph. After all, God is Jesus’s Father. Joseph is His adopted Father. Yet I wonder how much teaching Jesus did for Joseph
. I imagine Jesus and Joseph were a pretty tight pair. They shared the same occupation and loved the same Father. They trusted one another. After all, in a way, Jesus had chosen img_7257Joseph to be his dad.

Their relationship could not have been perfect because Joseph was not perfect. But his story reminds me of the way God delicately handles each of our own lives for His glory. He has hand picked His people to do work we do not deem ourselves qualified for. Heck, we are definitely not qualified for them. Yet He prepares us anyway. He gives us tasks that only He has the power to give and grants us the responsibility of spreading His name worldwide through the tasks He gives. He does not need us. He did not need Joseph to raise Jesus. Yet he allows us to do it anyway because of what He will teach us through it.

What Christmas Means For Our Worship

Hey friends! I’m so glad you came back for the second week of me going on and on about Christmas time. If you didn’t get a chance to read my post from last week about what Christmas means for us, go check it out! It’ll give you a little context into this week.

When wedding planning started getting crazy, everything in my life seemed to go silent. I became focused completely on the jobs at hand: have a wedding and don’t lose any friends in the process.

I never would have imagined how quickly the day would have gone. Nothing went wrong, Austin & Lauren Wedding-02703.jpgbut I did not get to see every detail like I wanted to. In fact, my most prominent memories of the day were prompted by the wedding photos we received about a month ago. Yet soon after the wedding one friend approached me to tell me how The Lord used one part of the ceremony to grab his attention and call him back into His presence. I was stunned.

I began to consider the push-back we had gotten from so many about that day. Loved ones refused to be part of it because they did not feel that we were doing the right thing. Some voiced that we were too young. Some gave dirty looks when I revealed that I was getting married before school was over. And yet we still believed so strongly that The Lord was calling us toward marriage at this time and in this place for a reason. Whether or not there were more reasons than just this, God showed us a snippet of what He did through us on that day. We are not worthy to be worked through. We sinned multiple times in the planning process and became prideful often. Yet He still chose to use us.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, experienced a similar (but definitely much more intense) feeling when she learned that God would be using her to raise His son and Savior of the World. She could have responded in fear, in rejection, in anxiety, and so many other ways. Yet these are the words she sang out to God soon after she learned the news:

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Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1:46-55 ESV

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Recognizing our lowliness

Let’s chat about some history. At this time and in Roman society, women were considered to be one of the lower people in society. They were sent outside of the city when their period came, they were not allowed to read or gain an education, and they were stoned to death if even suspected to be unfaithful to their husband. Yet, God chose these two women to bear the greatest responsibility likely in history: to raise the Savior of the world and his forerunner.

Just before this passage, the two women converse about their unworthiness to be in their current state. Elizabeth says (Luke 1:43), “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And Mary says (Luke 1:48), “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-12-39-23-pmThese women recognize full well that society looks at them and thinks, “bottom of the totem poll.” They are baffled by the possibility of being noticed by some–much less for generations to come! Yet they also understand that God is choosing to use them even in a lowly estate. You see, this is just one of so many examples where God demonstrates to us that He uses people of small stature. David was a shepherd boy. Moses was commanded to be murdered just for being an Israelite newborn. Rehab was a prostitute. The world, even cultural Christianity, would look at these people and think, there is no redemption there. They are too far gone for God to use them. But He did. And guess what? They kept messing up. They were never made perfect on this earth.

Mary and Elizabeth would not be made perfect in this regard either. They would sin. They would stumble. God would use them. They would fall. God would use them again. They would hurt and forget His goodness and begin relying on their own two feet to guide them and still He would use them.

I love that testimony. I love being reminded that even me in my lowly estate can be used by my Savior. His sacrifice is so much bigger than my stumbles. His love pulls me out of the dirt and washes me white. His song of redemption carries me through this life and makes my sins stepping stones to bring me one degree of glory closer to His being. I may not be regarded in society as the lowest, but I am also by no means high. I, in and of myself, am nowhere near Him. I am unworthy to even look toward His presence. But He has looked on my humble estate anyway. Praise Him that I get to be part of His story too.

Basking in His greatness

I think my favorite thing about Mary, though, is her immediate and complete praise of God’s greatness. Let’s be clear. It took the world a long time to give this woman any kind of credit. She was not regarded as anything other than a liar or crazy by most until long after she left this earth. Think about it: not only was she a virgin, she was not married. The moment she began to show, she was pegged as an adulterous because she was soon to be married to Joseph. Her town was sure to seek vengeance for Joseph sooner than later.

But rather than worrying about her punishment, she simply rejoiced. She trusted that the One who had sovereignly placed a seed inside her beyond the understanding of man would ensure that that baby might live to do what the angel promised. She sang, “he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 

Mighty. Merciful. Holy. Worthy of fear. Strong. Sovereign. Sustainer. Just. Helper. Mary takes time out of her day to remind The God of the universe that He is these things. He already knows all of this, right? He understands Himself. He does not need to be reminded of His greatness. But she basks in it and reminds Him of it all the more.

Friends, we are inclined to do the opposite of these things. We are inclined to worship ourselves, even if it is subtle. We are inclined to only recognize His greatness sometimes, when it is convenient. When we have an hour carved out in our week we can give Him the praise He deserves. Otherwise, I’ll be studying for finals or watching Netflix or getting caught up on work. But does He not deserve all of our time? Did he not come to us? The lowliest of people, the ones who deserve the opposite of His grace.

Mary could have been doing so much besides praising God. She could have been going around to people and telling them of her visit from the angel as an attempt to keep from being punished. She could have been learning from her mother how to be a mom, preparing to raise the most important person in history. Yet she stopped. She traveled to someone she knew would praise with her. She sang to her King. Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 12.47.49 PM.png

This season gets so crazy busy. We run around trying to prepare for a holiday that celebrates the coming of our King. We fill our time with shopping and parties and even volunteer work. But what is the point if we do not actually spend time with The One who came, died, rose, and calls us toward devotion to Him? What would happen if we actually spent time giving glory to our Savior? Let us do that this year. Let us recognize that we are lowly and He is great. We are small and He is infinite. Our lives here, celebrating Christmas is temporary. Yet our eternity in His presence, if we are His
, is forever. Let us begin celebrating that eternity now.

What Christmas Means for His Bride

IT’S HERE!

My favorite, favorite, FAVORITE time of the year. Since Thanksgiving, I have shown my husband the proper way to begin celebrating this season: I have made him help put up three Christmas trees, listen to countless Christmas songs, and even assist me in tying a15181565_10207808608470066_8921559903536179100_n Christmas bow–and it’s not even December yet.

There are a lot of reasons I love this season so deeply. It marks family traditions that helped shape me into me. It means there will be warm drinks and soft cookies around every corner. It is an excuse to wear red and green and twinkly lights on our clothes.

The traditions are fun. They bring all kinds of sweet joy surrounding family and friends. They bring people together unlike any other time of the year. Yet the most exciting part about this season is the redemption it represents: the beginning of a 33 year Journey my God took to rescue me from my slavery to sin.

Although I started going through 1 Thessalonians last week, I thought we could take a pause and talk about the Christmas season and what it means for the Bride of Christ. So we are going to go through the average Christiany text: Luke! The words I write will be based on the study my Church is going through right now. To keep up, be sure you scroll down or to the right and click the follow button. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

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“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…”

Luke 1:68 ESV

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While most skip straight to chapter 2, I would like to take some time and talk about the “before” to the story we all know so well. Luke 1 begins with Zechariah, an elderly Priest who was married to a barren woman. God comes to him and tells him that not only will he and his wife have a child, but that child will be the forerunner to the Messiah.

what-excuse-me-say-what-gifNow Zechariah gets real confused. First of all, how in the world would they have a child seeing as they were past the age of child bearing? Second… the Messiah? It had been four hundred years since a prophet had uttered a word of His coming, and now someone showed up to Zechariah. Why Him?

But sure enough, his wife Elizabeth soon became pregnant with John the Baptist. The Angel Gabriel had come to deliver him the news of God’s coming to this earth. Because of all the doubts Zechariah, held, however, God put him into a period of silence where he could not speak and likely could not hear according to verse 62. He lived in silence through his wife’s pregnancy, birth, and even the first eight days of his son’s life. When the Lord brought back his ability to speak at John’s circumcision, he began with the words you read above: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. 

Friends, just as those were the first words uttered by Zechariah in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, we must utter those words as we prepare for the Christmas season. We have got to be continuously preparing our hearts for not only the celebration that He came, but His coming again as well. Our lives need to be based on that statement. Our hearts need to be set on worship to our God for coming off his throne to redeem us as His children. So let’s remember the sweet reminders he sets for us through this season

This season reminds us…

We can leave our doubts behind.

Zechariah, although a devoted follower of Yahweh, doubted what Gabriel told him. I would be lying to you if I said I do not do the same. It is so easy to know that God is in control but still question how He controls. The Israelites spent four-hundred years living in those questions. They heard nothing from their God, but many remained faithful regardless. And guess what?

He came.

He came and lived a lowly life where he was rejected and spat upon. He fulfilled exactly what He promised. He took their doubts and said, I know you do not understand my timing or my ways, but I will fulfill everything I have promised perfectly. He did just that, and He continues to do the same today.

We have been made completely new.

The word “redeemed” is beautiful. It does not mean to get out of trouble temporarily. It means to release completely. It means anything that enslaved us can be removed by the pouring out of His precious blood in exchange for the punishment we deserve. If we will simply call on that blood and accept Him as our God, He permanently washes away the sin that covers us and repairs the brokenness that holds us tight. He turns us into the child that The Father originally intended even though we still stumble. He sanctifies us, calling us into His perfect presence and allowing us to reside there forever.

We have a God willing to do anything to bring us home.

He visited his people. That statement in Luke 1:68 sounds almost nonchalant when you gloss over it without much thought. But we must remember that His coming was not a walk in the park.

I heard a story of a father and son who were living in Syria before everything got so bad. The Father was a wealthy doctor and had his son’s life laid out completely before him. Yet the son was not satisfied. He left home, and no sooner than he did so, terror groups began overtaking their area. The father waited, watched, hoped, but there was no word from his son. Knowing full well that all he had would be taken by the terror group and that He would not likely survive the journey, he set out to save his son. He gave up himself that his son might have life.

This example is futile–all examples are futile because they are experienced by imperfect bodies on this earth–but it is beautiful. It is the story of a Father who knew the dangers and chose His child anyway. Jesus knew he was walking into pain when he stepped on the earth. He knew He would not only bear the physical burden of our sin, but He would be robed with the guilt and shame of eternal separation from the Father. He did it anyway. All for the possibility that His children would love Him in return.

He does not need us, but He wants us deeply.

fullsizerender-3The most important thing we must dwell on in this season remains: Our God does not need us, but He wants us so deeply that he endured the torment I just described. For our King, His coming to this earth marked the beginning of 33 years filled with sorrow and pain. It started laid in a manger–the trough animals fed from–surrounded by cold, dark cave walls. It continued with mocking, no permanent home, and rejection from those He loved so. It allowed him to endure a bloody cross and watching His best friends deny Him completely. It was a season of pain for him. Yet He endured it because He knew it was the beginning of a forever season of love and joy for us.

He was born that our sin may die. He died so that our intended lives may be lived. He did not have to come, but he chose to.

So let us be joyful!

Let us celebrate with vigor.

Let us love on one another and sing and dance and worship and wear ugly Christmas sweaters and put too much peppermint cream in our coffee because we have a reason to celebrate! Because our hope is not in this world. Our hope is in a King that lived a hard, hard life so we may live a life that reflects Him. A life of joy. A life of Hope. A life turned toward Him.