Because He Lives

In the early 1970s, Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song titled “Because He Lives.”

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

Because He lives, all fear is gone.

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives.

While the song doesn’t quote scripture, it’s theme is found throughout the Bible: Romans 5:7, John 14:19, Philippians 3:10-11, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, to name a few.

I grew up listening to this song – and pretty much every other song the Gaithers ever sang. Near the end of his life, my grandpa had a stroke that stole his ability to remember names and events, and it eventually took his ability to speak. He was aware of things going on around him and interacted with others, but he didn’t talk anymore.

Every now and then a young man named Gus would bring his guitar and sing hymns at Grandpa’s care center. Grandpa loved to listen and would usually tap his foot or nod his head to the beat, but one day Gus was singing, “Because He Lives” and he realized that my grandpa was singing along. He knew every word to every verse.

Hearing the music sparked a moment of remembrance for my grandpa.

Grandpa became a Christian as a teenager and spent his adult life reading, studying, teaching and telling others about how his life was different because Jesus lives. That act of remembering and sharing what Jesus had done for him – what He did for all of us – became a habit deeply ingrained in who he was.

For believers, lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) is a long season where we pause to remember who we are, who God is, and what Jesus has done.

But it doesn’t stop at remembering. It is a season of repentance because we are taking the time to honestly consider who we are in light of what Jesus has done for us. Repentance is the act of turning from what is wrong and starting over with what is right. It means we both rethink our actions AND physically turn from sin. What’s important to remember is that there is a third component of repentance, and that is remembering that it is by the grace and strength of Jesus that we are able to repent at all. We can neither rethink nor turn around without Him. In turning away from our sin, we are returning to our starting point: Jesus – once again allowing Him to be our Way to restoration and life. But, it is never to bring shame. It is to lead us into wholeness. In the midst of realizing our great need for a Savior, we are reminded of the restoration and hope Jesus offers.

Lent reminds us that we are invited to come confidently before God and that we can trust completely in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It is an invitation to start over and hold tightly to the truth of Jesus, setting aside the things that get in the way of our relationship with Jesus. It is a moment of refreshing – refreshing our commitment and our hope.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19 (NIV)

Remember. Repent. Restore. Refresh.

Do not miss the opportunity to embrace this moment of remembrance. All Because He Lives.

Carrying a Corner of the Mat

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” – Luke 5:18-20 (NIV)

“Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

There is tenderness in the way Jesus greeted this paralyzed man who had literally been dropped in front of him. The man was a sinner. That is clear because one of the things Jesus did was forgive his sin. In the Jewish mindset of that day, physical abnormalities and sickness were believed to be the judgment of God for the serious sin of the person or his family.  Most likely the paralytic had been carrying the weight and guilt of that for years.  But, yet, here he was, laying helpless in front of Jesus, the holiest man who ever lived. Jesus looked at him and called him, “Friend.” 

Jesus didn’t ask, “What are you doing here? How did you get here? Don’t you know you interrupted me? What do you want?” Anyone could see that the man was paralyzed. What no one else could see was the condition of the man’s heart. But Jesus started there. The religious leaders in the room immediately took offense – as they tended to do – and said, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus went on to prove he could heal the man’s visible, physical ailment, but he made it clear that the most important thing, that only he could do, was to free him from sin. He does that for us, too, going right to the root of the problem.

 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

When Jesus said, “Take up your mat,” the man did it. He didn’t spend time telling Jesus all the reasons why he couldn’t. He attempted something that had been impossible before and stood up. Jesus didn’t pick up the man’s mat, or ask his friends to help him out. He told him to pick up his own mat, and he gave him the necessary strength in his arms and his legs to do it.  

He does that for us, too. If he tells us to take a step, he promises to give us all the strength we need to take it. You may be thinking, “I need to confront an issue with my husband or my kids, or I need to go to counseling, or I need to share my faith with this person.” And then you start thinking, “But, but, but, what if…” Let this paralyzed man be your inspiration. Jesus told him what to do, and the man did it – knowing the full power of Jesus was supporting him. 

When Jesus saw their faith…

The wording at the beginning of verse 5 is significant. Jesus saw the faith of the paralyzed man, but he also saw the faith of his four friends.  God honors the faith of those who are willing to carry the weight of another. Some friends would have given up. They would have said, “Maybe next time,” or “We’ll try again next week.”

But these weren’t just any friends. They knew their friend needed Jesus now. They weren’t concerned about the status of the people in the room with him and they weren’t going to let a little crowd or a roof get in their way.

We live in a world where people are hurting – paralyzed by fear, guilt, shame, sin. They need someone to carry them to Jesus, just like someone carried us.

“We have seen remarkable things today.”

The people understood that they had witnessed a miracle. They didn’t get distracted by the mess or the noise or the interruption. They saw the goodness of God played out in front of their very eyes. That man’s story became the story they used to tell their friends and family about the power of Jesus. We’re still using it in that same way today! What remarkable thing is God doing in your life today, and who do you need to tell about it?  

What does it look like today to carry the corner of a friend’s mat?

When Jesus spoke about spiritual things, he looked for common ground on which to relate. If we are creative and willing, like these four friends in our story, we can get through anything to get our friends to Jesus.

In Acts, we see that early Christians got the attention of the world and turned it upside down as they shared Jesus with others.  They lived in difficult circumstances, hard socio-economic times and in an unfriendly political climate (sound familiar?), but they didn’t take that as meaning that it was a bad time to talk about Jesus.

Start with these things:

  • Pray for them.
  • Value them the way Jesus valued them. (Remember, he died for them.)
  • Get to know them and find your common ground. (Even if you don’t agree or understand everything about them.)
  • Answer their questions.
  • Love them in a way that reflects Jesus.
  • Never give up.

We may get tired or frustrated along the way, but God honors the faith of those who bring their friends to the feet Jesus.  

Are you actively engaged right now in carrying a corner of the mat of a hurting friend who needs Jesus?

(Originally published in the MOPS Magazine, February 2023 Leader Issue)

Be Unoffendable

                If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Did Paul really mean we should live at peace with everyone? Yes! As much as possible and as far as it depends on us.  Paul is not saying to just roll over and allow other people to walk all over you, or take advantage of you. Ultimately, the way we handle conflict says a lot about how we feel about God and the people he created. 

As far as it depends on you …

There are not a lot of things we can control in life. Other people are definitely not one of those things. Paul was talking to believers living under Roman oppression and encouraging them to live their lives like Jesus did, at peace with each other – even when it’s hard.  He knew how hard it was to live at peace. He had people following him around constantly arguing and contradicting him.

Live at peace with everyone.

But what about when someone hurts our feelings? The verses before and after Romans 12:18 state:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).

When we are tempted to hurt someone because they hurt us, or when we work to make things “fair,” it is the opposite of establishing peace.  Let’s be honest, when we are in the midst of an argument, very often our desire is to be right. We want to fight and talk until the other admits that we were right all along. It is possible to disagree with others on some issues and still be friends. It is not my place to change someone else’s opinion. And, most of the time, I’m not going to be able to do it anyway. But we can encourage peace with our words, actions and even just the tone of our voice. We must be willing to admit our wrongs, apologize, make things right, and forgive. Our own ego, pride, and prejudices should never get in the way of loving others like Jesus does.

Our job is to love people and give them a chance to see Jesus at work in our life. Only God can change another person’s life, and they are rarely argued into the Kingdom. Once I realize where my responsibility lies in the promise of loving and living peacefully with others, it empowers me to love them the way Jesus wants me to. 

The Best Kind of Leader

To the world, leadership and servanthood are in direct opposition, but to Christians, servanthood is essential to leadership. Unlike worldly leadership, servanthood is not about title, position or skill. It’s about attitude. People are drawn toward those who serve them. Jesus taught his followers about servanthood.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

– John 13:14-17

In John 13, we see an example of how Jesus served those closest to him – and showed them the value of servanthood. Jesus and his disciples were in the upper room for the Passover. At dinners like this, there was usually a servant at the door who washed the feet of those who entered. It was a dirty, but necessary, job. The roads throughout town were dirt and the men wore sandals or walked barefoot, so they needed the chance to wash off the day’s dirt. None of the disciples stepped up to volunteer for the job, instead they started arguing about who was greatest in the kingdom. Jesus talked with them about putting others before themselves and not worrying about being first. After supper, Jesus tied a cloth around his waist, took a basin of water and a towel and began washing his disciples’ feet. He showed them the things he had been trying to teach them.

We can learn a lot from John 13, specifically about leading well. In his article, “21 Laws: Jesus and the Law of Addition,” John Maxwell points out the leadership statements below. Read these statements and then reread John 13:1-17. Write the verse from John 13 that corresponds to each statement below.

  • Servant leaders are motivated by love.
  • Servant leaders possess a security that allows them to serve others.
  • Servant leaders initiate servant leadership.
  • Servant leaders receive servant leadership from others.
  • Servant leaders want nothing to hinder their relationships with God.
  • Servant leaders teach servanthood by their example.
  • Servant leaders live a blessed life.

Jesus is the greatest leader of all time, and he was a servant who challenged those who followed him to
serve others as well. Go back through the statements above. Put a star next to the ones you feel are already part of your leadership style. Now draw an arrow next to the ones you would like to learn more about.

What kind of leader do you want to be? List several specific goals for yourself as you become a servant
leader. (Tip: Start with learning more about what the Bible says regarding the statements you drew an
arrow next to above.)

Because He First Loved Us

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul listed three things that should characterize the Christian’s life. He wrote, So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (ESV). When we read 1 Corinthians 12, we saw that the gifts God gives us are powerful and important, but when it comes to making an impact for the kingdom of God, all of the gifts, faith, and hope in the world will lose their power if not practiced in love. It all becomes just noise, like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal, useful only for distraction and not having any real eternal impact.

As you’ve studied the attributes of love that Paul focuses on in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, we hope that two things have become clear. First, these attributes are all focused on others. Love always considers the person or thing outside of itself. Second, love is a verb. This kind of love isn’t just talk. It is action. Focusing on others and putting love into action like Jesus did can be hard. If we are going to treat others with love and serve them well, we have to get to know them.

Who are you called to serve? Who has God placed close to you or within your sphere of influence? What are their needs? It’s easy to love the people who are just like us, but, what about those in our path who are not just like us?

In order to do what Jesus is asking us to do, we must be willing to be patient with those who aren’t like us; to be kind to those who have different backgrounds and have made different choices; to rejoice when good things happen to people we don’t think deserve it; to boast only in the good things of God; and to believe the best about others. But as we mentioned in the first day of our study, we cannot love others in this way on our own. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit and His work in us that we can love like Jesus loved.

Here is the most important truth: God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for you, so that you could have a relationship with Him, just as you were created to do. Throughout the Bible, and in the modern day, we hear stories of people who have tried and tried to restore this relationship on their own. You may have even tried on your own before, too, but because God is holy and perfect, and we are not, our efforts will always fall short.

Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that this is why Jesus was willing to leave his rightful place in heaven. He did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (NIV).

He understands us in a way no one else ever will. He knows all about the choices we’ve made and the bad habit we can’t seem to shake, and He loves us anyway. He is patient when we make mistakes. He is kind when we don’t deserve it. He does not harbor a grudge when He has every right to, but instead, He promises to forgive us of every wrongdoing and provide eternal life if we will believe in Him. Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (NIV). And He did it all because He loves us and He wants a relationship with us.

Loving others is not about loving ourselves first. It is about loving Jesus first. Matthew 22:37-40 explains that loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind is the greatest commandment. The second is to love our neighbor. Wanting to love those around us is good, but the only way we can do it is if we love God first.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:37-40

Consider this:

Is love impossible to demonstrate? When we try to do it on our own, yes! But we see the attributes of love displayed in the life of Jesus culminating with the ultimate act of love on the cross. Have you embraced the love Jesus offered through His death on the cross? Understanding who Jesus is and believing what He so lovingly did for us is what brings each of us the peace and security we need to truly love others.

This is Day 14 of the “Attributes of Love” YouVersion study. Download it and start studying today!

Love Does Not Rejoice in Wrongdoing

My son played ice hockey in high school. Hockey is a sport where the fans cheer for the good things their team does, but they most enjoy the opportunity to jeer when anything bad happens to the other team. Any mistake the players made brought cheers and jeers from all sides. If they slammed another player into the boards, fans cheered—whether it was a legal hit or not. If they threw down their gloves and started fighting, more cheers. You cheered the good things your team did and jeered over the opponents’ missteps.

My daughter played tennis in high school. The fans at a tennis match are completely different than those at a hockey game. In high school tennis, you do not clap or cheer when the opponent makes a mistake. You never cheer if your player’s good thing comes at the expense of the other player.

 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

– I Corinthians 13:6-7

The kind of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:6, the kind that does not rejoice over wrong-doing is the tennis match kind of love.

True love rejoices in what is right and good. It doesn’t gloat over someone’s mistakes. Love doesn’t search for ways to get away with bad behavior or sweep sin under a rug. Instead, it values truth and integrity. It rejoices when other’s make good choices.

The week before Jesus was crucified, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Throngs of people lined the street and cheered as He entered the town. But Jesus knew that the city celebrating Him would soon turn on Him and shout for His crucifixion. Jesus also knew that one day in the future, this same city would be surrounded by enemies and be completely destroyed. In Luke 19, we see that He didn’t rejoice in the fact that the city would eventually “get what it deserved.” He was grieved and wept over what would happen to them (vv. 41-44).

Why would we rejoice in someone else’s wrongdoing? Maybe we believe that if something makes someone else look bad, it makes us look better. Maybe we feel like they deserve whatever bad thing happens to them as a result of their choice. Maybe we just don’t understand the seriousness of sin.

To exhibit Jesus’ kind of love, we must have God’s perspective on sin and righteousness. Psalm 1:1-2 tells us that the blessed person despises evil but delights in truth. First John 4:10 explains that God loves us so much He couldn’t just ignore our sin, so he found a way to cleanse us from it.

Consider this:

God takes sin seriously. If we really understand how God feels about sin, we will weep over those making sinful choices and embrace the truth. That is how Jesus loved and it is how we should love too. Do you take sin seriously? Do you grieve others’ poor choices, or do you cheer their missteps?

This is Day Five of the 14 day “Attributes of Love” YouVersion study. Download it and start studying today!

Love is Better

Around A.D.54, the Apostle Paul wrote an eye-opening letter to the church in Corinth. Given Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12, it is likely that the people of Corinth were busy comparing their contributions to the church and judging each other’s value based on each person’s gifts. Paul admonished the Corinthians that every part of the body is important and emphasized the need for unity in the church. Paul listed the gifts and encouraged believers to give their best. He ended chapter 12 with this: And I will show you a still more excellent way (v. 31, ESV). Chapter13 shows us that, as excellent as the gifts are, love is better.

Read 1 Corinthians 12 (to help set the scene) and then read 1 Corinthians 13 to see the kind of love Paul was talking about. He explained that it is possible to do all the right things, but if our actions are void of love, they lose their power.

The kind of love Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13 is hard to imagine because it is perfect, and we are not. The best way to understand each of these attributes is to see how they are lived out in the life of Jesus, how Jesus put love into action, and how we should fashion our lives after His example.

It all begins with our willingness to enter into another’s world, which is exactly what Jesus did. He entered into our world in a radical, humble way—He walked alongside us, and then He chose to die so that our relationship with God could be restored. However, the story doesn’t end there. He rose again and gave us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and go with us as we walk in the world. This is love.

It can feel risky to reach out and love others. Sometimes people are too needy, talkative, or messy. They might ask us to sacrifice our time or space in a way that is inconvenient or uncomfortable. But Jesus radically loved each person He encountered. He sat around the table with the outcasts. He shared water and conversation with a woman who couldn’t find anyone else to go to the well with her; He invited Himself into the homes of those who mothers wanted nothing to do with. As Jesus followers, we are called to follow His example of love, but we cannot love others in this way on our own. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit and His work in us that we can love like Jesus loved.

Consider this:

How has the love of Jesus impacted your life? Of the attributes of love listed in1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which have you experienced from someone else? How did that impact you?

This is Day One in the “Attributes of Love” YouVersion study. Download it and start studying today.

He’s Doing a New Thing

God is very interested in our future. Isaiah 43:18-19 says,

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

We can learn a lot from our past – from the things we’ve done well and the things we’ve messed up. But we shouldn’t limit our future by fixating on our past –

                 how we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do.

                                       how we let someone down.

                                                            how disappointed God must be.

Regardless of our failures, we can start over.

  • Thomas Edison tried 200 elements before he found the right one that made the light bulb work.
  • George Washington lost 2/3 of this battles.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 10 out of 12 elections before he became President.
  • Babe Ruth had 714 home runs, but he also had 1,330 strikeouts.

God is more interested in our future than he is our past.

2022 is full of possibilities. It is a blank slate laid out before you. What are you going to do with it?

Think positively. 

  • Read Proverbs 4:23. “Be careful how you think. Your life is shaped by your thoughts.” 
  • How does this apply to how you face the blank slate of the new year?
  • What are you thinking about the new year? Use a few words to describe your thoughts about 2015.

Start with Faith.

  • Read the last part of Matthew 9:29: “According to your ________________, will it be done to you.” (NIV)
  • That means we usually get out of life what our faith expects. Whatever you focus on you tend to reproduce in your life. Are you focused on your failures? Are you focused on what you cannot do? Are you looking at the blank slate of 2015 with high expectations?
  • A pastor of mine once said, “The person who says, ‘I can!’ and the person who says, ‘I can’t!’ are both right.”

Don’t wait.

  • Read Ecclesiastes 11:4 – Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.(NIV)
  • In other words, if you wait for the perfect conditions to act, you may never get anywhere. 
  • We are surrounded by imperfect people and we live within imperfect circumstances. How often do you say, “I’ll do that when things slow down/get better/feel right?”


  • Zechariah 4:6 gives us the key to success:  “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
  • God specializes in new beginnings but it requires trust on our part. The word “trust” means to lie down and stretch out. Do you trust God like that with your family, your MOPS group, your future?
  • Write out a prayer, committing to lie down and stretch out before God.


  • Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  Start with prayer. Make some plans. Make some big plans. And let God direct your steps. 

Mary Knew

Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl. She, like most Jewish women and girls of her time, would have spent most of her day working. Almost as soon as she could walk she would have been helping out with the chores it took to keep daily life going — stoves tended, beds made, homes kept in repair, food prepared, animals cared for, water drawn from cisterns and wells.

She was learning all she needed so she’d be ready to marry Joseph.

Mary spent her childhood listening and soaking up the truth about God from what she heard in the temple and from the conversations of parents, siblings and neighbors. She helped prepare food and the tables for the Jewish celebrations and feasts. She had heard the stories and Isaiah’s prophecy. Although she never held a book of scriptures in her hand, she had heard Isaiah 9:6-7.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

The political climate during Mary’s youth was difficult for Jews, like it still is. One can imagine there was talk about trusting in God and that maybe in their lifetime he would send a Messiah. As they became more and more oppressed, the Jews may have thought that this could be the time for the Savior to come. Mary believed, along with the rest of her community, that hope was on the way.

This belief and her familiarity with this prophecy she’d heard her whole life may be what gave her the courage she needed when the angel first appeared.

In Luke 1:26 – 33, the angel said,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  

Don’t be afraid, but God is about to change your life.

I’m sure there were a lot of questions going through her head. Mary could have said,

  • “No way! This will just ruin my life. I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!”
  • Or, “Then you’d better tell Joseph. He will be so hurt.”
  • My mom is not going to be easy to convince that this is how it all really happened. And don’t even get me started on the in-laws!
  • Or she could have said “Then find some way to get me out of Nazareth, because people will talk.”

But the only question she asked out loud was the practical one, “How can it be? I’ve never been with a man.” The angel explained the logistics of it and then told her, “Elizabeth is pregnant right now, too.” That was significant because Elizabeth was advanced in age and had never been able to get pregnant. You know the women in the family had talked about that years, so Mary was surprised at that, too, but the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” 

Maybe once the angel explained the logistics of it, Mary decided, “If God can take of this really BIG detail, then he’ll take care of all the other things too. God did a miracle with Elizabeth and he is doing a miracle with me.”

She put what she knew about God together with what the angel was saying and responded in a remarkable way for a teenage girl. 

We don’t know exactly what it looked like, but in my head, I picture this teenager in front of this angel Gabriel – who was no little, cute, precious moments angel; this was the warrior angel. I picture her on her knees, with her arms out and her head back, resting fully in everything she knew about God and saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.”  (Luke 1:38)

The scripture says that the angel left and Mary went in a hurry to see Elizabeth. (The mother in me is thinking, did she go talk to her mom first? Did she just leave a note? None of that really matters, but I am curious!)

Luke 1:41-43 describes what is was like when Mary finally got to Elizabeth’s house,

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?

Elizabeth confirmed to Mary what the angel had spoken. And then in verse 45, Elizabeth says: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

How did Elizabeth know all this? The verse said that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and that spirit told her, “This baby is the hope you’ve been waiting and watching for.”

Hope was on the way!

God was using Mary’s family to confirm to her all that the angel had said so that Mary could rest in the truth of the Messiah. Mary leaned into Elizabeth – older, wiser, although still a first-time mom – just a few months further along in the journey. She was there for three months, you know they did a lot of talking, planning and praying.

It was there, in Elizabeth’s courtyard, that Mary began rejoicing in the face of a completely life-changing event:

And Mary said: “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.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” 
(Luke 1:46-56)

This is proof again that Mary knew a lot about God and about scripture. Mary is overflowing with joy and wonder over her selection as the bearer of the Messiah, but it’s not just a personal blessing. She recognizes that this Messiah comes as part of God’s plan for the world, not just her.

God used the prophet, the angel, and Elizabeth to confirm what he was doing in Mary’s life.

But that wasn’t all. Because after Jesus was born, God sent the Shepherds. Luke 2:10 tells their story:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The shepherds ran to find Jesus and Mary and they told her what the angels had said. Suddenly complete strangers are confirming what she already knows.

When Jesus was 8 days old, Mary and Joseph followed Jewish law and took Jesus to the temple. Serving there that day there was a man named Simeon who had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died.

Luke 2:29-32 says:

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon knew Jesus had come to not only save Israel but to be light that would reveal God to the Gentiles. God gave Mary confirmation after confirmation about what he was doing.

While Mary knew from the moment of conception that Jesus was God’s son and that He was going to do something magnificent for all people, the way it unfolded could not have been what she pictured for her child. Simeon warned her: “Your soul will be pierced as a result of this child.”

Mary never had to worry about Jesus making bad choices or whether or not he would continue to follow God – like we worry for our children – but the things she witnessed during her child’s life were gut-wrenching.

When I picture Mary, I think of someone quiet, standing off to the side. Brave and strong but not very talkative. In all of scripture there are only four times where her words are recorded. We’ve mentioned two of them already. The Bible says several times that Mary either pointed to Jesus or pondered things in her heart.

If you are a parent, you know what it means to “ponder”. You have moments when you look at your child and think “What in the world are they thinking?” Then you have those moments when you look at your child and see God working, those moments when the Holy Spirit reveals things or specifically guides them.

Just like Mary knew Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, she had also heard his prophecy about how the Messiah would be treated. How he would be pierced and bruised and carry the sins of the world on his shoulders. To watch him suffer physically was agonizing, but she understood the spiritual agony as well, that Jesus’ soul must be crushed under the weight of the world’s sin, had to have made it worse.  Did Mary know in that gut-wrenching, soul-piercing moment that this was Jesus’ purpose? I don’t know. But she came to understand it later.

The last time we see Mary in scripture is with John and the other disciples and 120 God-fearing Jews, as they are called in Acts 1. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  These were the first church members.

Jesus rose from the dead and lived with them for 40 days. During that time, the disciples came to him and said, “Is now the time you are going to take over and do all the things we thought you were going to do?” Jesus responded that it wasn’t for them to know God’s plans yet and that they should go wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Mary sat and waited with them.

Jesus had risen from the dead, remained with them for a time but then returned to heaven.  And Mary waited, again. She was the first to hear the name “Jesus.” She was the first human to know that Hope was on the way. She was the first to give up everything for Jesus’ sake. She was the first to care for him, the first to hear His words. She had an intimate knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, because she’d met him before. But now she waited for the Holy Spirit to come upon her again so that she could go and do exactly what Jesus told all of His followers to do — go and tell the world what she knew about Jesus.

Jesus changes lives, we know that. And He began with the life of His mother. Here are a few things to consider.

Mary rested in what she knew about God. 

What do you know about God?

Do you rest in what you know?  Even when life gets crazy or when the unexpected happens, do you rest in what you know to be true about God?

Mary rejoiced when she faced something life-changing. 

Do you rejoice?

Some life-changing things are easy to rejoice in! Some things you really have to search for it.

How do you respond when the Lord surprises you with the unexpected? When your life gets disrupted by an illness, by an emergency, or maybe just by a schedule change, you may find it frightening, or at least bothersome. A surprise like that might be God’s way of calling you to something new. We can respond to these unexpected events by fighting them or by denying them, “This is not happening. I will not let it happen.” Or we can respond in a grudging way: “I have to accept it, but I don’t have to like it.” Or we can take the approach of Mary and Joseph: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen.”

Mary leaned into other’s experiences.

Do you refresh yourself by leaning in to others?

Mary was an ordinary girl but she was called for an extraordinary, unique purpose – one that no one before her and no one after her will ever have. There was a specific moment when Mary’s calling became clear. For us, there may that one specific moment where we feel God is clearly directing. Other times, it may be a process of discovery. But along the way, God sends things that will confirm the calling and challenge us to move on in it. He did that with Mary – he used Isaiah’s words, the angel’s visits, Elizabeth’s circumstances, the shepherd’s worship, Simeon’s prophecy and the Holy Spirit’s filling. And God does that for us too. Sometimes he even sends people or situations to tweak our direction.

Do you lean in to others’ experiences – learn from them, do you look for God’s confirmation and challenge in those he has placed around you?

And a bonus question: Do you allow yourself to be that for other people?

Mary remained faithful when her life didn’t turn out as she expected.

Do you remain?

At the end of the journey, we found Mary with the same attitude that she started with. “I am your servant.”

An Unexpected Warrior

At the beginning of Judges, we see the nation of Israel resting in a good place. They are happy, well-fed and strong. Because of that, they have forgotten their good circumstances have come, not because of their own efforts, but because of God’s grace. As a result, at the beginning of Judges 6 we see that, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” The Midianites were a powerful and merciless people. Every year, they stormed in, took what they could carry and then destroyed the rest. This happened for seven years and then, finally, the Israelites cried out to God for help.

Why did it take so long? Probably because they were trying to fix the mess themselves first. I know that’s what I usually do! The Israelites had a history of being slow to ask for help, but God was never slow to respond.

In this case, he used a man named Gideon. Read Gideon’s story in Judges 6 and 7.

An angel appears and calls Gideon a “Mighty Warrior,” which seems odd since Gideon is hiding in a winepress at the time. Over the next chapters, we see Gideon’s journey. Starting with wondering if the angel is lost and really looking for someone else, to wanting to believe that maybe he is who the angel thinks he is, but needing God to prove some things to him. When Gideon is finally ready to go, God pushes him to handle some distractions and disobedience in his own family first and then set out to face the Midianites, only to have God rework the plan at the last minute.

We can learn a lot from Gideon’s journey:

The Israelites forgot about God. When we look at the good things in our lives, do we remember that they are always a result of God’s grace, rather than our own doing? List the things that are going well, and thank God for them.

God is quick to respond. Where do you need God’s help right now? Ask him for it. 

God saw what he could do through Gideon. Gideon just needed some convincing. Have you ever been called to do something, but knew you weren’t equipped for it?

God had a clear plan. Once Gideon was listening, God laid it out for Gideon to follow. Have you had a time when your priorities didn’t match up with God’s? How did God redirect you?

Gideon could have never done on his own what God did through him. Do you trust that God will do what he has promised – in your ministry, your family, your life?