Thrive: Love’s Eyes – Julie Pennington-Russell

Matthew 1:18-25

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”

—Matthew 1:20b-21

Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to marry Mary. You’re darn right he’s afraid. For most of his life Joseph has pretty much lived with a carpenter’s saw in one hand and his rulebook, the Torah, in the other. And his rulebook tells him there’s only one way to see an unmarried, pregnant woman. This is a disaster for poor Joseph.

But in a dream he hears the angel say, God is doing something new here, Joseph. Mary is not who your rulebook says she is. God is bigger than your rulebook. Take the leap of faith!

Often it does require a leap of faith to be willing see someone in a new light.

Our son, Taylor, is a remarkable human being with a great sense of humor, a tender-to-a-fault heart and acute sensitivity to people in pain, most likely because he himself lives every day in the land of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

One night when he was a senior in high school, Taylor and I had a night out together and ended up browsing around in an art gallery. After an hour or so in the gallery we decided to top off the evening with cheesecake and coffee.

As we were eating, out of the blue, Taylor said: “I’m not much of an artist but if I were a painter, I know what I’d create.”

“Tell me,” I said.

“I’d paint a banquet scene,” he said. “A super-elegant banquet. And at the table would be some very particular guests.”

“Whom would you invite?”

“I’d invite Attila the Hun, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden.”

“That’s some seriously intense company,” I said.

With a mouth full of key lime cheesecake he continued, “Yeah, but in my painting, even though we would still recognize them, they would look different than we’re used to seeing them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, see—because we hate them we only know how to see them one way. But in my painting we’d also see them as they appear to God, who only knows how to love them.”

In almost thirty years of ministry I’ve not heard the gospel better put.

Love has a way of changing people’s features. Love says: People aren’t always who you think they are. Take a leap of faith . . . I’m doing something new.

Julie Pennington-Russell_smJulie Pennington-Russell is pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. She has served there since August of 2007. Julie previously served as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, California. She earned a B.A. from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, and M.Div. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California. Currently, Julie serves as a trustee for Mercer University. Her sermons have been featured on the television broadcast 30 Good Minutes, Day-1 Radio, and the Festival of Homiletics. Julie is married to Tim Pennington-Russell, a website designer and sometimes poet and bass player. They have two teenage children, Taylor and Lucy. Julie blogs at

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  1. Julie — thank you for this beautiful blog. It is so true — It is timely — and it touches me deeply.
    I am thankful that Pam Durso sent the link to this.

    Grace to you- Jeanie Miley

  2. Teresa C. Ellis says

    Dear Julie,

    Thank you for sharing this very special time with your son. What a remarkable young man he is! I have not thought that much about Attila the Hun (so distant from my frame of reference) or really even Adolf Hitler (closer, yet still out of my personal experience). However, Osama bin Laden does feel personal and yet, to be honest, from the very first picture that I saw of bin Laden that reminded me so much of the face of Jesus that I have in my mind, I have always had a problem with outright hate of the man. For me it was almost a God thing that reminded me, like Taylor, that God loved him as a person inspite of his actions and that before all those terrible years of terror he was once a little boy without hate in his heart. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened in his life that shaped him into the man he became. By seeing the face of Jesus in his face I came to realize, like Taylor, that all people are made in God’s image and he loves us all equally, even Osama bin Laden. This revelation has helped me to sincerely pray for even the “bad guys” in our world, pray that God will bring people into their lives to help soften their hearts. So much hate in the world . . . what a difference we could make as Christians if we would see people through Taylor’s eyes which it seems to me is the same as seeing them through God’s eyes. You have one very wise son!

  3. To see folks the way God sees them- thank Taylor for me. Now to begin by trying to see the folks we contact daily that way-with eyes full of grace and love.

  4. Rachela Fazio says

    Julie, thank you for the reminder, through Taylor, that I need to see people through our Lord’s eyes.
    Lord Bless you and your ministry.

  5. Carolyn Hale Cubbedge says

    He/She that hath eyes to see, let them see.

  6. Vicki Vaughn says

    Julie, spring semester classes start today here at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. As I start the semester with students studying for the “Gospel ministry,” I know of no better way to begin than by reading this article to them. Thank you so much!

  7. Pat Trautwein says

    Taylor like some of my special friends opens my heart so I can see the Lord and the love he has for all the world and listen to his plans. A blind friend who was in the hospital because of a seizure at church caused by a fourth brain tumor asked me, “Pat, what good am I?” The Lord had prepared me….”Keith you serve the Lord by tendering the hearts of people so they will hear God.” Then I shared that I thought someday in heaven he would be called to the throne to tell about the time when someone’s heart was tendered so the person heard God. In heaven Keith would see and know the way he served the Lord. Then all of heaven will praise God for God’s work through those that humankind view as “not much use.”

    James and John’s mom wanted a place for her boys on either side of Jesus when he came into his kingdom – even James and John wanted this honor. Jesus told them this place of honor wasn’t his to give. Are these places saved for humans to tell our stories of how God worked through us – sinners saved by grace that we are. But the honor and praise goes to the Savior of us all.

    Truly, this is the reward we don’t earn by our goodness, but by our Lord’s mercy and grace and his wonderful plan.

  8. Hate to comment off topic, but that’s a really great picture, Julie. 🙂

  9. Bobby Russell says

    Taylor is my nephew, he has a heart the size of Texas. He never ceases to amaze me of what he sees in life. He is the shinning example of a Christian, we all should follow his example. God bless this young man.

  10. This is beautiful. Wonderfully succinct. Thanks.

  11. James and Ruth Garrison says

    Thanks for the article… Our 16 year old son Jacob is also on the spectrum… and his view of God often brings us new insight into what’s really important in life. Grace and peace to you and your family!