Category Archives: Soul Food (inspirational thoughts)

The (Undignified) Birth of Jesus

Luke 2:1-7

If it wasn’t for the census that Caesar Augustus decreed should be taken, Joseph and Mary would have been able to stay in Nazareth and properly prepare their home for the impending arrival of their first-born. They may not have decked out a nursery like many parents do today, but Mary could have spent the last stages of her pregnancy at home, in comfort, surrounded by family and loved ones. Her cousin, Elizabeth, likely would have doted on her and shared from her own recent experience of having a baby.

Instead, the young, betrothed couple made the long journey to Bethlehem (it’s about 69 miles from Nazareth. . . today), not even knowing where they would stay once they arrived. Joseph might have been able to register for the census by himself, but perhaps he didn’t want to leave Mary alone, especially in her condition, which might have appeared shameful to some.

Clearly, God had a plan for this couple and their child, even if they couldn’t see what it was. God could have easily arranged it that Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, would be born under remarkable, majestic circumstances, with fanfare and festivities. Instead, Mary and Joseph were very much alone and, when it came time for Jesus to be born, they didn’t even have a proper room for Mary’s delivery. There was no dignity, no comfortable bed, no clean sheets or sterile tools or painkillers.

Some historians suggest that it wasn’t uncommon for poor families to have a manger within the home instead of in a separate barn. If that was the case here, it’s likely that Mary and Joseph didn’t have any privacy either, but were surrounded by strangers who were also in town for the census.

And yet, none of that hindered God’s plan. The Son of God, the Savior, was born that night in Bethlehem and it wasn’t long before His glory was recognized and celebrated.

What a great reminder to us that it isn’t our circumstances or environment that matter when we seek to serve God and carry out His purpose. What matters is our obedience and willingness. His glory will shine through the humblest heart!

I wish you all a blessed Christmas!  

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

P.S. Be sure to subscribe to this blog or check in regularly. I will be shaking things up here! 🙂 (And if you don’t have a 2018 calendar yet, you’ll want to check out mine.)

heart in hand


Never Forget to Wipe Your Sword

This summer, I decided to put aside some books I was reading (yes, I read more than one at a time!) and re-read C.S. Lewis’ fantastic The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s my favourite work of literature but it had been too long since I last read it.

In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (the second book) a skirmish takes place between Peter—the oldest Pevensie sibling—and the evil Wolf who attacked his sister. Peter uses his sword to stab the Wolf  in the heart and then turns to Aslan (the lion, king of Narnia), perhaps for his approval.

Instead of praising Peter for his courage and success, Aslan says: “You have forgotten to clean your sword.” Peter blushes and then scrubs his sword on the grass and dries it on his coat.

“Hand it to me and kneel, Son of Adam,” said Aslan. And when Peter had done so he struck him with the flat of the blade and said, “Rise up, Sir Peter Wolf’s-Bane. And whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword.”

I was taken aback by this passage and stopped to ponder why Aslan made such a big deal about Peter wiping his sword. As I reflected on my own spiritual battles, it occurred to me that, sometimes, when I’ve experienced victory over temptation and sin, I sit there and brood, or I may even gloat over my “success,” thus letting my guard down.

When Peter wiped down his sword, he removed all traces of the battle he had just been through, eliminating any evidence he had conquered his enemy. That took humility. It was only when he had cleaned his weapon and knelt before Aslan that the king knighted him. Even then, even after being raised up, he was instructed again to always wipe his sword.

That’s a good reminder to never get comfortable or overly confident when things seem to be going well in my spiritual life. God exalts those who humble themselves (Luke 14:11). The enemy tries to humiliate us, and even friends and loved ones may unknowingly keep us feeling down about ourselves. But true humility is simply acknowledging that any strength or success in our lives is from God and He deserves all the glory.

Cleaning the blood and fur off the blade also prepared it for the next battle. We must always keep our spiritual armour and weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18) sharp, polished, and ready for action.


Lewis also said:

“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

Are you ready? Is your sword clean?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

The Best Yoke

“The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline…” (Lamentations 3:25-27 NLT)

I read a devotional recently that got me thinking about yokes. Normally, we view them in a fairly negative light, as objects that restrict and weigh down. In church circles, when we talk about being unequally yoked, the warning is that you are binding yourself forever with someone whose differing beliefs and values will hold you back or, worse, cause pain and damage in your life.

We see pictures of oxen wearing yokes and perhaps feel a twinge of pity for the large animals whose freedom to roam independently is taken away.

However, upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize that a yoke can be a wonderful thing. It’s not a restraint I’m used to—I’m not only single but I’m also self-employed, which means I generally can operate as a free agent—and yet I see the value in using a yoke in a positive way. In fact, I am starting to wonder if a lack of “yokes” might be one of the problems afflicting today’s Body of Christ.

Think about how a yoke functions: A horizontal beam, usually made of wood, is used to tie together a pair of animals—usually oxen—to enable them to work together to pull a heavy load. Neither of those animals would be able to do the work alone but, teamed up side by side, they can make great progress together, drawing from each other’s strength.

Jesus-yoke-is-easyIn our lives, partnering with a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a teammate to work toward a shared goal can often be far more effective than someone working alone. Weaknesses and strengths can creatively be fitted together to achieve wonderful results.

Whether or not we go through life yoked with others—some are free spirits while others need more intimacy and community—there is one yoke we must take upon ourselves. It is not only a good yoke, but it is the best yoke. It is the yoke that connects us with Jesus. It is the yoke that allows us to lean on God when we are tired and lost and weak.

Jesus promised: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Luke 11:29-30)

What have you yoked yourself with in your life? Is it time to disconnect and take on Jesus’ yoke instead?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

P.S. I encourage you to read all of Lamentations 3!


Thankful for the Thorn

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

On certain holidays and occasions— such as Thanksgiving, New Years Eve or a milestone birthday—many of us will take some kind of mental inventory of the past and assess what went wrong, what went right and all the ways God has blessed us. However, we sometimes forget that we are to thank God for everything, not only the things we like or feel thankful for (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can take no credit for thanking God for the easy and pleasant things.

George Matheson, a Scottish minister and hymn writer who lived from 1842 to 1906, once wrote:

“My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn. I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Thou divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn.”

This month, as we observe Holy Week and remember Jesus’ sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, let us reflect on the thorns He bore for us. It’s important to note that the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head between the time of His flogging and the crucifixion was not only physically painful but it was also degrading—a symbol of mockery.

Philippians 2:1-11 paints a beautiful picture of Jesus’ humility and strength in “becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (v. 8) Jesus had the power and authority to refuse the thorns in His life. But He endured them, and He will help us endure our thorns, which pale in comparison to His.Old-Pink-Rose-Image-GraphicsFairy1

Perhaps you’ve had people lash out at you, not because of anything you’ve done but because of their own issues, or you’ve faced medical problems that seemed to come from nowhere. Perhaps you’ve had responsibilities get dumped on you when you felt like your burden was already too heavy.

If you can look at a difficult situation and praise God for allowing it to be part of your life, you will turn that hardship into a blessing! This month, take time to thank God for your thorn and see how your heart changes as a result. (And read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 to see how the Apostle Paul dealt with his thorn.)

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

[adapted from a devotional in my book Restore My Soul]


Justice or Mercy?

A book I recently read, The Mark of the King, newly published by my friend Jocelyn Green, depicts the early years of the French colonization of Louisiana. In it, a military captain confesses to his new bride that, when he had served as an altar boy years before, he “grew overfond of robes and rules. I watched myself and others so closely, looking for missteps that needed correcting. It was wrong of me…” Now, in contrast, he was ready to follow the teachings of Jesus and to be a man, not only of faith, but of grace and peace. For himself and for his new household, he only wanted to know God and be known by Him.

His words struck a chord with me because I can remember times in my own life, growing up in the church, when I seemed so concerned about the missteps of others that I not only sometimes overlooked my own, but I also was slow in offering grace and mercy.

I suspect this is not an uncommon ailment among humans. Today we hear, almost daily, about social justice warriors who claim they are fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized or oppressed. In some cases, however, it is easy to see that the motivation behind their activism is a sense of moral superiority. . .a desire to vilify and hold accountable groups and individuals they personally disagree with or feel offended by.

Indeed, the Bible does instruct us to expose evil and darkness (in Ephesians 5:11) and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8, emphasis mine) but that is not a license for us to condemn those whom Christ has forgiven and redeemed, or those who are seeking Him and are trying to live in obedience. It is also not a license for us to take the law into our own hands.

In the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot confronts the group of people who teamed up to kill a man they felt had gotten away with murder. When one of them objects that the law had let them down, he responds: “No! No, you behave like this and we become just savages in the street! … The rule of law, it must be held high and if it falls you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!” One of the women again objects: “There is a higher justice than the rule of law, monsieur!” to which he replies: “Then you let God administer it…not you!”

Are we willing to let God administer justice in the world today? Or do we fear He is too merciful? It is dangerous to think that we know better than He does. Let us remember how, in our own lives, Jesus took us beyond justice. . .to mercy.



Thy Will Be Done

In Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, the 12th book in Jan Karon’s Mitford Series, Father Tim Kavanagh says there is one prayer God always answer with a yes: Thy will be done. 

However, there is a caveat, he cautions when Sharon McCurdy asks, “That’s it?”

“One must pray it with a surrendered heart.”

After praying for Sharon, who is unable to pray herself because of her doubts, he adds:

“When I speak God’s will, it helps to know that he wants the best for us. If you can’t believe he’s there, pray anyway. If you feel he’s cheap and withholding, thank him anyway. There will come a time when you’ll thank him even for the hard places.”

Some of us struggle with doubt and that can keep us from trusting in God’s will. Others are so confident and determined to do great things that we may forget that God’s will is supreme. Either way, we believe that we know better than He does. It takes a great deal of courage and humility to trust that He not only knows what’s best, that He not only is able to do what’s best but also that He is willing to do what’s best. Why? Because He loves us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I have a lot more I’d like to share in the coming weeks—much has been going on during my blogging hiatus—but I just wanted to pass along this word of encouragement to you.

I urge you to meditate on these four powerful words—Thy will be done—this week. This beautiful song from Hillary Scott may help:

I’ll be back soon! Until then, let me share one quick link with you. Click here to download my free printable and colourable September calendar. (Yes, you can share it!)


Let Us Not Grow Weary

Although I spend my days mostly alone in my home office, I have enough access to social media and interact with enough people who stay on top of current news to get my daily fill of what’s happening around the world and locally. Sometimes I wish I could block it all out, however. Know what I mean?

Every day I hear about new developments in political races, international affairs, religious issues and social trends and most of it is discouraging. Just one or two decades ago, when I was a young adult, it seemed like we dealt with one social issue at a time and hashed it out for a while until it either was resolved or blew over. Nowadays it feels like something new needs our attention every day.


Do you ever wonder,

“How much worse are things going to get? Why doesn’t God do something? When is Jesus coming back?”

Do you ever feel like it’s too hard to keep going as a Christian in a world that is becoming increasingly secular, godless and hostile toward anything that has to do with Jesus and the Word of God? It can be tempting to just give up and “go with the flow.”

There’s a verse that is often on my mind and I find it so motivating that I’ve started adding the reference every time I sign one of my books for someone. Galatians 6:9 reminds us:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

I understand the word “weary” these days more than ever before. I spent most of June trying to recover from a nasty virus that gave me strep throat and an ear infection and, believe me, I grew weary. I didn’t feel like working, I sulked a lot and it took more effort than I wanted to make to accomplish simple tasks.

That’s how I feel sometimes when I look at what’s going on in the world. I think,

“Why bother? What difference can my small acts of service make? How can God possibly use me when the waves of change are so strong and relentless?”

Then God reminds me of little things that make a big difference: the small rudder on a ship that helps steer the huge vessel in the right direction, microscopic white blood cells that fight infections in our bodies, bees the size of your thumbnail that pollinate agricultural crops and are responsible for one-third of the bites of food we eat… The list is long!

You, too, are truly valuable in God’s kingdom!

Still feeling unsure? I encourage you to memorize and prayerfully meditate on Galatians 6:9 this week.

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