Mary Christmas: A Closer Look at the Mother of Christ

Mary Christmas

Mary.  Some exalt her to an equal status of holiness with the Christ-child she carried in her womb, and others nearly ignore her in an effort to compensate for the idolization of her.

What does the Bible say about Mary and how is this important to our celebration of Christ’s birth this year and every year?

The Bible says that Mary found favor with God. (Luke 1:28, 30)

In considering the Biblical accounts of men and women who obtained the favor of the Lord, the following stand out: Noah, David, Job, and Mary.

How does the righteous and holy standing of Mary before God compare with other Hebrew people recorded in the Old Testament?

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1).  Yet, Noah’s righteousness did not mean that he did not sin because we see that just shortly after he left the ark he sinned by becoming drunk (Genesis 9:20-21, Ephesians 5:18).  David, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and yet we can all point to the fact that David sinned in his adulteress sexual relations with Bathsheba, and then subsequently having her husband killed. Job, in Job 1:1 is characterized as a man blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job, when he had  seen God, said, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Our first encounter with Mary is similar in that the angel Gabriel declares, Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  (Luke 1: 28, 30) Based on the accounts of Noah, David, and Job, we can conclude that finding favor with God does not equal a sinless state.  (Romans 3:23) Further,we gain hope and encouragement that finding favor with God is possible for us as it was possible for Noah, David, Job, and Mary before us.

Let us rejoice in the fact that though we are wretched sinners God characterizes us as ones who gain His favor because of our faith in the Messiah and obedience to His commands.  For Noah, David, and Job it was God’s promised Messiah to come. For Mary and for us it is in belief in the Messiah that has come.

The Bible says that Mary believed God and was His faithful servant. (Luke 1:38, 45)

 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” – Luke 1:46-49

Mary praised God for the honor of being the chosen vessel to birth the Messiah who would fulfill prophecy and redemption for all mankind.  We can glean an attitude of humility from Mary that God would choose to use us to accomplish His divine purpose and eternal plan.

Following the shepherds’ visit and Jesus’ staying behind in the temple, the Bible says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51) Mary, unlike us, wasn’t privy to cameras and recorders to capture all the special moments and firsts of Christ.  She had to record her beloved Savior’s face and firsts on the imprints of her heart and mind.  More than this, Mary pondered the ways and works of God.

In our hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all of the year, we can neglect meditation on the words and works of God.  Mary sets another example of God-honoring living by thinking on Christ.

The Bible leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27) That is where we should leave Mary.  Not as an exalted figure by which we can speak to God, not as a iconic statue to be praised and worshiped, nor as a fashion accessory or good luck charm, but rather as Christ-servant and fellow sinner in need of the Savior. This is where everyone is found in relation to Christ–the foot of the cross.

In looking at Mary this Christmas, I will see her as:

  • A young woman who lived in such a way to please God that she gained His favor to be a chosen vessel for accomplishing God’s divine and eternal will.
  • One who believed God and served him faithfully.
  • One who pondered the ways of God and Christ.
  • One blessed to know Christ in infancy, life, death, and his glorified and resurrected state in heaven.

In response to the life of this godly woman I will:

  1. Like Mary, ponder God’s gift of Jesus and his way in which He accomplished Christ’s birth. See Luke 1 and 2.
  2. Put Mary in proper perspective this Christmas and praise the Creator not the created one.
  3. Walk humbly with God so at the right time God will see fit to use me…not all my life, but today and then the same tomorrow and the same tomorrow.


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Pinterest Perfect

Pinterest Perfect

I recently had a woman from my home town ask me if I cooked all the recipes that I pin on Pinterest. I had to laugh! She was almost convinced that I mange to homeschool my children, write a blog, and actually try my hand at the pins I pin on Pinterest.

First of all, I was flattered. However, I was also a little unnerved because I somehow managed to give off the impression that I may have achieved what the rest of humanity has yet to do: have it all together. Let me put your ponderings to rest: I am not that good.

Anytime I cook real meals for dinner more than three nights in a week, I joke that I am in the running for wife and mother of the year awards. I do not believe that any of my friends will accuse me of being Sandra Lee or Ma Ingalls! Secondly, my staple meals are black beans and rice with guacamole or homemade chicken salad with Vegenaise mayo. Not quite a Pinterest perfect spread now is it?

Would you join me at iBelieve for the rest of the post? I would be so grateful. (Click here.)


*Fantastic and fun photo by my husband Ron.

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Instruments of the King

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Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. ~Romas 6:13

As strings glided upon strings and strokes of keys resounded, our Father was praised and His Body edified.

Lifeless wood emits sound only as skilled as the hands that craft the instrument and string its cords. So too is a life.

I once was dead in my sin; absolutely blind to the God of the universe. His spoken word, spilled blood, and resurrected Son brought the newness of life that I walk in.

Paul instructs us to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. Sunday evening I was soul-blessed by a Christmas concert of the Annie Moses band. I heard what instruments yielded in the hands of skilled artists produce. Similarly are the lives of men orchestrated by our righteous, holy God.

Music such as I heard last night takes hours and hours of practice to produce, so too a righteous life. Discipline begets discipline and holy obedience in turn a holy life. Patterns and practices of holiness are the result of one choice upon another to obey Christ with faith that we will be fully rewarded. Further, faith that His ways are truly best.

This created instrument has been used for both righteousness and unrighteousness. When my last note is played and I am laid in an earthen case, it will be the symphony of His story that will play on. May this instrument present herself for righteousness as the skilled hand of the Creator plays out His grand story.

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Looking for the Rainbow

I should have known it was a drama storm when I saw soggy carpet in the passengers seat and water splotches on the roof of the car. I mumbled some complaints and made it out the drive when I realized I had forgotten my cell phone. “What if we break down? I don’t exactly know how much water is in the car and if it will cause car trouble?” I thought. “Ugh!” I cried as I shook my fists in the air and then turned the car around to retrieve the phone.

That is when she started praying:

“Please Father God get us to church safely.”

Now that is the reaction that I should have had instead of stubborn and proud fists flying,” I said to myself. After finding my phone under a stack of books and papers I had been reading that morning I was once again buckling up and listening to Emily lay her request before the Lord to ask Him for safe travel.

She remembers our wreck from a year ago. She knows that danger sometimes comes very unexpectedly; she knows who to call in times of need.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

~Psalm 121:1-2

We are here later than usual Lord, where will we find a parking spot? Please let it be close I don’t think I can handle a long walk with two children and a large umbrella this morning.” I silently prayed as I told the kids we should be hoping for a spot. Then it happened the third time:

Dear Lord thank you for getting us safely to church. Please help us find a parking spot.”

“Emily, thank you for praying again taking all our needs to God like He tells us to in the Bible. And you started with telling Him thank you – that is exactly what He tells us to do as well!” I said. I had read those truths in Philippians 4:6 that morning so I rattled them off to her and Joshua as we continued to search out our spot. We soon found one in a grassy area as close to an entrance as I could hope for.

As I tried my best to remain calm and gracious-not to mention dry- I struggled with the wind and the large umbrella. “How would the Proverbs 31 woman look carrying her children into church by herself in the middle of severe weather?” I remained unsure but I sincerely wanted to give that woman a piece of my mind.

The morning at church went beautifully. Someone took my nursery duty as Joshua was sick and he and I got to worship together and play on my iPhone during service. I noticed he was half listening when Pastor Willy would say “God” or “never ever,” a phrase Joshua and Emily have picked up, Joshua would look up from his playing to watch and listen more intently.

The rain poured on and on as Tropical Storm Debby conveyed she was clearly a hormonal woman that poured tear after tear all day and into the night.

Upon awakening this morning Emily came out of her room and rushed to the window and said,

“I want to see the rainbow.”

This stilled me. She awoke seeking the promises of God.

Although she couldn’t see it I told her that did not mean it was not there.

After breakfast we dressed and put on our rain-boots to survey the debris from the storm. Walking back to the house I looked up to the sky and there it was, God’s promise arched over the sun. His glory on display. His faithfulness a banner.

This rainbow was visible only through the lenses of sunglasses but perhaps that is how He intended it.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

~Proverbs 25:2

Emily’s prayers, her seeking the promise of God’s rainbow, these were fruit that God allowed us to see today. As we try to construct a Christian world-view for our children to reference and claim as their own they are listening and simultaneously He is teaching us far more than we could have imagined.

We should praise Him in the storm.

All images were taken by my better half, Ron. Please visit him at Raise the Risk.

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The Desire for Holiness

Red velvet cake…perfection on a plate.

For two days I gazed at the red layers tempted by their sugary goodness-like no other to my taste buds I might add- and desired to eat more and more until it was gone. However, I had resolved not to eat anymore of this type food for a set amount of days.  As I studied the red and white layers, knowing the richness that awaited in one bite, I thought, “This is a perfect picture of temptation.”

Josh and Emily-0049

I could have silently eaten of a sliver but God would have known that I was breaking my vow. What good is a vow that is broken? Aren’t the sins we commit in the hidden places the ones that haunt our psyches the most?

I will not eat of you but I will look at you, imagine eating you, and smell you once or twice.

That which tempts us promises a quick return but a length of days to undo…that is if redemption is an option. Some disobedience ends in a final verdict: an unwanted or terminated pregnancy, killing a person while driving intoxicated, loss of property you have gambled away.

I addressed this temptation the only way that I know how to with 100% success: I took it to my husband’s workplace for others to eat!

This post said it so well, our sin affects more than a party of one. It snowballs to all who follow us, depend on us, and look to us with some degree of respect. If so, then the counter must be true as well:

Our holiness not only protects the direction of our lives, it also extends to the lives of our family, friends, community and therefore the world.

How holy do we truly desire to be? Holy enough, or to the standard of God’s word? Will we obey all His commands or will we obey… enough?

The apostle John said, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). The whole purpose of John’s letter, he says, is that we not sin. One day as I was studying this chapter I realized that my personal life’s objective regarding holiness was less than that of John’s. He was saying, in effect, “Make it your aim not to sin.” As I thought about this, I realized that deep within my heart my real aim was not to sin very much. I found it difficult to say, “Yes, Lord, from here on I will make it my aim not to sin.”

Yet if we have not made a commitment to holiness without exception, we are like a soldier going into battle with the aim of not getting hit very much. We can be sure if that is our aim, we will be hit — not with bullets, but with temptation over and over again.

~Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (emphasis mine)

If I am being honest with myself, there is a limit to the level of holiness that I presently pursue… that I desire.  How to rectify this? Well, sending “it” to my husband’s workplace is not always an option! Here are some others to employ:

  1. Prayer. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the desire to seek holiness and the power to live a holy life.
  2. Scripture memory. Dr. Walp taught us about making memories which are set apart. (Read his post here.) We must have God’s word in our heart so that the Holy Spirit will call scriptures to mind in order for us to make wise and holy choices.
  3. Practice discipline and self-control. This requires 1. and 2.
By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.  ~ 1 John 2 5b-6

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Pursuing the Holiness of Christ

John Owen said that sin carries on its war by entangling our affections (desires) and drawing them away. Hence, said Owen, denying sin must be chiefly directed on the affections. We must make sure our desires are directed toward glorifying God, he said, and not on satisfying the lusts of our bodies.

~The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges (emphasis mine)

In everything Christ did he acted with the mind of glorifying His Father in heaven. How very different would our lives look if every motive behind our actions was fueled with pursuing glory for the name of Jesus Christ? That each morning as our feet hit the floor our prayer would be, “Father show me how to most glorify you today. Let my thoughts and actions align with Your will. Let the glory that I would seek for myself quickly be repented of and pursue instead the glory for Your name.”

In fact, the more we grow in holiness, the more we need assurance that the perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to us. This is true because a part of growing in holiness is the Holy Spirit’s making us aware of our need of holiness.

The Holy Spirit makes us more aware of our lack of holiness to stimulate us to deeper yearning and striving for holiness. But Satan will attempt to use the Holy Spirit’s work to discourage us.

~The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges (emphasis mine)

The desire to pursue holiness arises from an awareness of our sin and its ultimate act against the holy God. Our sin is most offensive to God yet its ramifications reaches beyond mere acquaintances.

This is why marriage, the picture of Christ and His bride, the church, is more important than our present culture would have us believe.

julie wedding

In Pursuing the Pearl: The Quest for a Pure, Passionate Marriage by Dannah Gresh she proposes that the purpose of our marriage is not to make us happy but to make us holy.

Don’t miss this.

The purpose of my marriage is to make me holy.

Know this, my friend. Satan knows all too well that the most powerful portrait of Christ’s passion is a pure and holy marriage. As Christians continue to misuse sex and succumb to divorce, the whole world comes to understand less of who God is because we understand less of His love as it was meant for us to know it within a faithful, loving, passionate marriage.

~Pursuing the Pearl: The Quest for a Pure, Passionate Marriage

In the pursuit of holiness we must not look at our brothers and sisters, those of this world or of the family of God, as the enemy. This most definitely includes our spouses. The true enemy of our holiness and of Christ Jesus is Satan.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

~Ephesians 6:12-13

The sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ on the cross covers our sins and makes us holy before God. His part is completed our portion is left to pursue.

That is what I am reading this Wednesday. What about you?

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Expectations of Perfection

Hannah's Flower Photo 3
“Have I mislead them?” The question resonated in my mind shortly after posting Looking Back Over a Decade. In this post I wrote, “Perfection is a lie and a snare. ‘Be holy as I am holy.’ Not, ‘Be perfect as I am perfect.’” However, in Matthew 5:48 Jesus instructs his disciples, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Leviticus 19:2, Deuteronomy 18:13, and 1Peter 1:16 say, “Be holy as I am holy” and “You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.”

Are being perfect and holy the same thing?

From studying these scriptures I would answer, “Yes.” In Matthew the word perfect aligns with complete or mature, blameless. The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible teaches that Jesus is not speaking on “degrees of excellence, but of the kind of excellence which was to distinguish His disciples and characterize His kingdom.”

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for  the prize of the upward  call of God in Christ Jesus. Let  those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything  you think otherwise,  God will reveal that also to you. Only  let us hold true to what we have attained. ~Philippians 3:12-16 (emphasis mine)

We may be tempted to reason, “Why should I work for something I cannot obtain?” First, Christ commanded it. Secondly, our idea of perfect is misconstrued.

Today in the western world perfection looks contrary to living a perfect and holy life. Perfection exudes an image that we have it all, can do it all, and can be the best while doing it. I am a frustrated perfectionist on so many levels. I know the exhausting disappointment that striving for perfection brings. The truth is that the mark for me is unattainable and my attempts silly. I am willing to wager it is the same for you.

Being perfect, holy, complete is a working out of obedience and a working in of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Striving ceases at the cross. Obedient abiding (John 15:5) is the road that leads to a blameless, holy, mature life. That is what our Father calls… perfect.

For the times when our inner landscape is less than our outward appearances and attitudes of holiness His blood covers our sins and His Spirit is waiting to work steadfastness into our souls.

God Himself truly is the “standard” of righteousness. If these individuals are to be righteous, they must be as God is, “perfect,” that is, mature (teleioi) or holy. Murder, lust, hate, deception, and retaliation obviously do not characterize God. He did not lower His standard to accommodate humans; instead He set forth His absolute holiness as the standard. Though this standard can never be perfectly met by man himself, a person who by faith trusts in God enjoys His righteousness being reproduced in his life.~ The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Shall we take a walk to His cross?

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