Jesus Calling Podcast

God Shows Up in Our Stories, Especially at Christmas: Danica McKellar & Matt Rawle

Danica McKellar: I’m on this path now and I’m studying the Bible and I’m going to church and I’m just basking in all of the discoveries. But, you know, when it comes down to it, it’s really about the relationship with Jesus and the relationship with God and the Holy Spirit and the beautiful, beautiful gift that He’s been giving me that I’m just so grateful for.

God Shows Up in Our Stories, Especially at Christmas: Danica McKellar & Matt Rawle – Episode #335

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life because you were raised in the faith, or if you’re just curious about what Christianity is all about, there are many ways we can come to know God, sometimes when we’re not even looking for Him. In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah tells us in Romans 10:20 that “[God] is found by those who did not seek [Him], [He] became manifest to those who did not ask for [Him].” As we all enjoy our favorite stories of Christmas this year, and as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, everyone can pause and reflect on the ways God might show up in our lives and look forward to new ways we might uncover His goodness in the coming year as well. 

Actress Danica McKellar always felt a tug at her heart that there was something out there she hadn’t quite uncovered yet. Not long ago, when her friend and fellow actress Candace Cameron Bure sent her a Bible, the light switch flipped and she came to the realization that it had been God tugging at her heart all along. Now, she’s embarked on her new-found journey of faith and is eagerly anticipating this Christmas season with a new lease on life. Author and pastor Matt Rawle loves digging deep into our culture to find traces of God in places we’d least expect. He’s uncovered themes in beloved Christmas classics like The Grinch and has found joy and a new understanding of God and the way He presents Himself in the world.

Let’s begin with Danica’s story. 

Danica: Hi, my name is Danica McKellar. I’ve been an actress since I was a kid on The Wonder Years, and now I make a lot of Christmas movies among other things, including my new one, Christmas at the Drive-In, which is airing throughout the Christmas season on Great American Family Channel. 

I really credit my parents for keeping me grounded. They never overemphasized the importance of Hollywood. I never went to Hollywood parties. I didn’t even take jobs during the summer, we would go on family vacations. And the priorities were clear: health, family, education and then this fun hobby that was acting. So it really helped me to not attach my self-worth to the popularity of a TV show that I was on. That was so important, and I’m just so grateful to my parents for having those values.

Religion versus Relationship

I did not grow up with religion. My parents are very moral people, but when I was growing up, there was this kind of understanding that Christianity had been used for so much evil throughout the world since the beginning of Christianity. 

There’s been a lot of stories throughout history of people using religion for power and control. And I think what it comes down to is that anything powerful will be used by corrupt humans to try to exert power over others. And that’s just the flawed world that we live in—that’s going to happen. And so I’ve seen all the negative stuff, how it has been used, and I hadn’t seen the miracle of it. 

I did go to Catholic school for a few years in elementary school, so I was exposed to it, but that wasn’t really a part of my life. I didn’t have Jesus in my life. I always knew there was something else out there. I did have a sense of spirituality or God of some sort, but we didn’t even call it “God.”

So when I was in my twenties, my dad discovered it suddenly—the Holy Spirit came to him. He suddenly had this amazing relationship with Jesus, and he would try to tell me about it. He gave me a cross to wear. And I was like, Wow, that’s really so great. I was so happy for him because it was something that was making him so happy. But it didn’t really connect with me at that time, other than to know that it was something that had made my dad into this, like, happy, glowing person. 

I had become good friends with a man named Carlos Whittaker during the pandemic—like Instagram friends, I guess you can say. He’s incredible. He’s now an author and motivational speaker, but he’s been a pastor and a worship leader. And so I would follow his posts, and I read his books, and I was like, Oh, that’s cool. This kind of warmed me up to the idea, because I have so much respect for him and his messages of unity during a very divided time in our country. And he was always working to bring people together.

So fast forward to earlier this year, and my friend Candace Cameron Bure—we were both child actresses. We’ve been friends for a long time. Candace had posted something about forgiveness on Instagram, and I wrote her back and I said, “Yes, I just have this . . . I’m just interested. It seems like the idea is that you can do anything you want, but then you just get forgiven if you confess your sins. And then you can just do it again and just get forgiven again. You know? I mean, I’m honestly not trying to be judgmental, I’m just really curious how that works.” And she wrote back some things that honestly I didn’t really understand at the time. I should go back and find it, maybe I’ll understand it now. But she said, “Can I send you a Bible?”

Looking at God in a New Way

She sent me the Bible, and honestly, I didn’t even open it for like a few months. She invited me to go to her church’s Passion Play. I went and there was just . . . I don’t know, the Holy Spirit came to me. I know everyone’s story is different, but mine is that suddenly I was filled. And it was like Jesus is something I had wanted my whole life—or had my whole life, but I just didn’t realize it. I didn’t identify what that was. Because everything about the story in that Passion Play, everything about doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing and, like, where does morality come from? What is the source? Just everything just came flooding. And it was a light switch, literally a light switch that flipped for me.

“Jesus is something I had wanted my whole life—or had my whole life and just didn’t realize it.” – Danica Mckellar

And I remember after seeing the play, I was babbling to Candace, “I don’t know anything yet, but I’m just overwhelmed and I’m so excited.” And she had this most patient, beautiful smile, and she’s like, “You don’t have to understand anything yet.”

And I remember after seeing the play, I was babbling to Candace, “I don’t know anything yet, but I’m just overwhelmed and I’m so excited.” And she had this most patient, beautiful smile, and she’s like, “You don’t have to understand anything yet.”

Then when I saw the Passion Play and everything clicked, it made having a relationship with Jesus something really fun to be able to share with Carlos. And of course, my dad, he talked to me about Jesus here and there my whole life. I would always go to church with him for Easter Sunday. We had that tradition. And anytime I would visit him in San Diego, we would go to church if I was there on a Sunday. It was always just really nice, and I always loved the messages. But there’s something different that happened when I saw that play. It just all came together.

I went home, and I went on Instagram Live, and I proclaimed to the world that I have found my faith. I am so excited about this newfound relationship and connection that I have with Jesus, and something I told Candace too—it’s almost like these romantic comedy movies that we do, where the woman looks at the man and she says, “It’s you. It’s always been you,” like in a realization, and this is how I feel about Jesus. So it’s You. It’s always been You. And I just didn’t see it clearly before. I was thinking about religion, not the relationship. So religion has all sorts of issues. We all know this religion is splintered and causes division and conflict. Of utmost importance is not the religion, it’s the relationship. And that is precious to me. It’s a journey of discovery. I love reading through the Gospels and getting to know Jesus better as He was when He was here. I love opening to a random page and finding something helpful. Same with my devotional, Jesus Calling. I will open that book up. And if I need guidance, if I need help, if I just need a word, it is always something that I needed to hear in that moment.

“Of utmost importance is not the religion, it’s the relationship. And that is precious to me. It’s a journey of discovery.” – Danica McKellar

Rejoicing in a Precious New Relationship

I was getting ready to shoot my new Christmas movie, Christmas at the Drive-In, for Great American Family. This was, gosh, I guess in early September when this happened. And there were some scheduling issues. It was complicated, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to do the movie. I was kind of stressed about it, to say the least, because I was really excited about doing this movie, and I’d done a ton of work on the script itself, and I just said, “Jesus, please, is everything going to be okay? Is it going to work out?”

I needed some guidance, and I opened up Jesus Calling, and usually it’s the message that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. This time, it was the date. It landed and opened to September 26th, which was the proposed shooting date when I was supposed to start. I was like, Oh my goodness, Jesus, thank You so much. I just had tears streaming down my face. I was like, I guess it’s all going to work out. And it did all work out, but it’s just these little things that people call “Godwinks,” you know? To me, it’s not coincidence. It’s communication. It’s communication in the most beautiful way, the most precious relationship ever. I am so grateful for it, and so grateful to have these moments where I feel that communication so strongly.

When I first found my faith I was so excited and on cloud nine. I had lunch with Candace, and she said, “You know, life will still happen. You’re still going to have other emotions. Things will happen to you in life.” And it’s true. Things do still happen. I still have feelings that aren’t just pure bliss. But the difference now is that I can experience those things, but they don’t have to stay with me as long. I have a place to go. I have a sanctuary in my relationship with Jesus that I can say, “Oh, wait, I can give this over to You. I can let go and let God. I can find that peace that surpasses understanding, because I know it doesn’t matter what’s going on in this world, now that I have this connection to true peace and joy. I can enjoy it no matter what’s going on.I can steer back when I have a moment to realize, Wait a minute. I don’t have to stay in this right now. I can breathe, and I can refocus my attention on the things that really matter. And then that brings peace and joy to my heart and to those around me as well.

“I can let go and let God. I can find that peace that surpasses understanding, because I know it doesn’t matter what’s going on in this world, now that I have this connection to true peace.” – Danica McKellar

A New Meaning in Christmas Time

Christmas has always been a time of family coming together and gratitude and love—and presents, of course. But you know that childhood joy, when you have a child and you see how excited they are for Christmas morning? It’s just the best ever.

This year, there’s a whole new layer. For me, it’s a whole new meaning. It’s the actual meaning behind the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Now I get to have this very personal, deeper gratitude for this moment of celebration of the birth of Jesus. I mean, this is where it all started. And just the miracle of that is a much, much deeper element and aspect of Christmas that I get to enjoy for the first time this year.

“You know that childhood joy, when you have a child and see how excited they are for Christmas? This year there’s a whole new layer for me. It’s the actual meaning behind the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.” – Danica McKellar

This is a passage from Jesus Listens:

Merciful Lord Jesus, 

I come to You, asking You to prepare my heart for the celebration of Your birth. Christmas is the time to exult in Your miraculous incarnation, when You—the Word—became flesh and made Your dwelling among us. You identified with mankind to the ultimate extent: becoming a Man and taking up residence in our world. I don’t want to let the familiarity of this astonishing miracle diminish its effect on me. You are the Gift above all gifts, and I rejoice in You! 

Help me to gaze at the Glory of your birth, just as the shepherds did, and respond with childlike wonder. 

In Your marvelous, wondrous Name, 


Narrator: To learn more about Danica McKellar, follow her on social media, and be sure to tune into Christmas at the Drive-In on Great American Family channel this holiday season. 

Stay tuned to Matt Rawle’s story after a brief message.

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Jesus Calling podcast 327 featuring Jesus Listens & Jesus Listens for Kids - lifestyle photo - JL for Kids 1

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Narrator: Our next guest is author Matt Rawle, who’s the lead pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Louisiana. Trained as an opera singer, Matt felt pulled into ministry and decided to attend Duke Divinity School, but never lost that feeling that God was present in the music he would hear. As he began to take in more pop culture around him, he became intrigued by how we can find the Divine in stories from television, books, artwork, and more. Matt recently did a deep dive on the beloved Dr. Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and shares how he sees God’s fingerprints in the classic tale. 

Matt Rawle: My name is Matt Rawle, I’m an elder in the United Methodist Church. I’m originally from the New Orleans area, currently serving at Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana, which is about three hours east of Dallas. I got a music degree at LSU and then a divinity degree from Duke University. My wife Christy and I have four kids, and we are never, ever bored. 

Culture as a Vehicle to See God

I’ve always been a fan of pop culture and finding God in musics, in movies, and in innovations, in technology. I push back on the narrative that there is the church and the world. Now, we don’t always use culture beneficially, but culture in and of itself certainly isn’t bad. It’s rather amoral, but it can, I think powerfully so, communicate to us who God is.

“We don’t always use culture beneficially . . . but it can, I think, powerfully communicate to us who God is.” – Matt Rawle

There really isn’t such a stark contrast between church and the world. I understand the picture of that. I understand the dualism of that in terms of teaching. It’s not that there is church and culture. Our churches have a culture. A culture is simply what we make of the world.

You know, God gives us the raw ingredients and whatever we cook up is culture, music, television, books, artwork, all of these things. The way we organize, the way we communicate value, all of those things are a particular culture. And I find it fascinating because if we believe The Incarnation [of God in the form of Jesus] to be true, then culture is a vehicle through which we can discern God—because God put on flesh and dwelt among us. 

And it’s fascinating to me to think Jesus ate Mediterranean food, and He looked like a first-century rabbi. I mean, the fact that Scripture doesn’t say anything about what Jesus looked like is because He must have adopted the culture so well that His clothing wasn’t distinctive. Right? He must have been a part of that culture. I mean, because John the Baptist is mentioned and what he was wearing and all that. But Jesus isn’t, because He must have been in-tune with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean culture so well that not even His clothing is mentioned until we get to the crucifixion at least. 

So culture is simply what we make of the world. God offers the raw ingredients and what we cook up is culture. So hearing sight, sound, all of these things, food, music, the visual arts, Scripture says that God created all things through Christ and God was pleased to reconcile all things through Christ. Therefore, there is a hint of God in everything.

“If we believe The Incarnation [of God in the form of Jesus] to be true, then culture is a vehicle through which we can discern God . . . There’s a hint of God in everything.” – Matt Rawle

Jesus Used Everyday Stories to Teach About God

It has been a big part of my ministry and my career and my livelihood to teach. At least the goal is to teach in the same way that Jesus taught. Jesus taught using pop culture: “A sower went to sow some seeds. A man had two sons. A man was on the way to Jericho and he fell among robbers.” All of these are pop culture stories. They’re stories in the popular imagination and identity. And Jesus used those stories to teach about God. So of course we should be using pop culture. It’s the way that Jesus taught.

You know, I’m fascinated because at least there’s no record of Jesus saying, “Hey, come back next Tuesday for a Bible study on Hosea.” Like, it’s just not there. No. He hung out with people and said, “There was a man named Lazarus, and there was a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. And let me tell you about these guys.” Right? 

Jesus taught using pop cultural references of the time. Of course, we’re 2,000 years removed from that, so they don’t seem to be so popular in terms of pop culture today. But in Jesus’s time, they absolutely were.

“Jesus taught using pop cultural references of the time. Of course, we’re 2,000 years removed from that, so they don’t seem to be so popular in terms of pop culture today. But in Jesus’s time, they absolutely were.” – Matt Rawle

Using things for a sacred function is the line between the sacred and the secular. And once we grasp that, we start to then look at music in a different way. We start to look at art in a different way, movies in a different way, our culture in a different way. Because we begin to then see the beauty of adapting these things and giving them a sacred function in our shared lives.

God and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas

I write on Christmas all the time and have published three separate books on Christmas and have another one coming out next year. Christmas in and of itself is saturated with culture, because it is God entering into it in a real way. Right? So the Christmas story is almost inexhaustible. It’s just so saturated with cultural significance and relevance. 

The Grinch is a pretty ubiquitous story. Super familiar, obviously it was a children’s book, but it was also even more popular as a television special.

What is it that made the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes? What is it that did that? It wasn’t on his own volition. It wasn’t something that he read necessarily. It certainly wasn’t a preacher that met him on the top of the mountain and wagged the preacher’s finger at him. It wasn’t a sermon. But yet, Paul continues to ring true that faith comes by hearing. The Grinch heard music. And the Grinch heard joyful music. 

Everything we see, touch, feel, and experience is a song. I believe that to be philosophically, theologically, ontologically true, that everything is a song. Literally everything is music. Everything that we see, touch, taste. That’s what music is. It’s vibration through the air. And I find great, great joy in the truth of that, that we are experiencing God’s symphony just by walking around on planet Earth. That’s so killer and beautiful and biblical.

And frankly, the Grinch story really brings that out at the end of it. So it’s perfect, especially Advent Christmas, it’s the season of the year because Christmas is just in terms of sound—oh, my gosh. Music. There’s a whole genre, right, of Christmas music and cross-culturally so, and interdenominational. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is a method of song tried and true, but it jumps over these walls that we build in between us in terms of denomination and our understanding of the sacraments and our reading of scripture, and music tends to be the destroyer of the divisions between us. And I absolutely love that and find that to be absolutely true. 

Sometimes, we are very quick to dismiss the Grinch as the villain of the story. But, you know, the Grinch kind of has a point at the beginning of the story, he finds the Whos’ celebration of Christmas obnoxious. And he’s not wrong, because it’s over the top and it’s huge and it’s just boisterous and garish. So the Grinch really isn’t wrong in saying like, “This has got to stop. This is ridiculous.”

He does a lot of the right things: he wears the Santa suit, and he comes down the chimney, and he has a bag of stuff. And so he uses these images of Christmas against Christmas itself. And if my glass is half empty, you know, I’m saying department stores do the exact same thing. They use all of these images of Christmas, but it’s not to spread good news to the poor. It’s to make you poor because you’re buying all their stuff. 

Anyway, see, at Christmas in particular is a great time to explore that intersection between culture and our shared lives together in spreading the gospel. Because that is the Christmas story—it’s where culture and the church collide, and it’s God putting on flesh and entering into our culture. And it shakes everything, and it changes everything, and it sends angels to open up the sky and to announce good news to the third-shift workers who are just minding their own business. And the angel says, “You should go see what’s happening in Bethlehem right now. You should go check that out. Glory be to God.”

“Christmas is a great time to explore that intersection between culture and our shared lives together in spreading the gospel.” – Matt Rawle

If Scrooge can be redeemed, then there is hope for the rest of us, because Scrooge is absolutely terrible. He is a terrible human being. When you actually read this story, it’s not this cute little morality tale. He’s a schmuck. He’s a terrible person. And even he can be redeemed. What gets him there is a fear, because he sees his future and the future is silent and the future is not where he wanted to be. And in a way, he kind of scares himself into being a redeemed person. There’s a lot of nuance there, but there’s more to the story.

That projected me into The Nutcracker, in the sense of the gift that grace is. Because here in The Nutcracker, we have a story that’s also really familiar. I have three daughters, and they’ve all been involved in ballet in one way, shape, or form. So I’ve seen The Nutcracker I don’t know how many times. And, you know, it’s a story about a godfather who offers a gift, and the gift is salvific, or it saves the child from the mouse king and there’s this other current of the giftedness of what grace is. So The Redemption of Scrooge, The Gift of the Nutcracker, The Heart That Grew Three Sizes, using these stories as a means of communicating the good news because it is the way that Jesus taught. 

God is very gracious and God is very loving. I find great joy that we are walking around in God’s unending, eternal symphony. That’s just beautiful to me. 

Narrator: To learn more about Matt, you can find him online at, and be sure to check out The Heart That Grew Three Sizes, as well as his newest work, Jesus Revealed, at your favorite retailer. 

If you’d like to hear more stories about discovering who Jesus is, check out our interview with Mark Lowry.

Next Week: Harris Faulkner

Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner, who’s blazing a trail as the only woman of color to currently helm two back-to-back daytime programs on a cable news network. Harris shares about how she leaned on God through the devastating loss of her parents, and how the lessons they taught her inform her work still today. 
Harris Faulkner: Never let anybody marginalize you and tell you that, “Well, you know, you were the first this, you were the first that.” I argue I’m the first of a lot of things. I’m not hearing a lot about people’s faith, their foundational strength, considering all the tragedy that we cover. And I’m really unapologetic when it comes to speaking up about that.

2 thoughts on “God Shows Up in Our Stories, Especially at Christmas: Danica McKellar & Matt Rawle

  1. Throughly enjoyed the testimony of Danica McKellar, as she, as well as, Candace C Bure, are two of my favorite actresses from my Hallmark programs I so love to relax to! I’m so thankful to hear her testimony of her proclaimed relationship with our worthy Saviour Christ Jesus! Her testimony is one Ivery much would like to share with some seeking souls through the AZ Veterans Hospital!
    The testimony of Matt T. regarding the Grinch was also fascinating and am hoping Im able to refer back to these two particular testimonies when I catch up with younger generations for holiday celebrations!
    I’m hoping to save up to AQUIRE: Jesus Listening for the households of my Grands, too!

    Your upcoming interview sounds just as interesting as well!

    Its my hope to seek out video interviews on YouTube, too!

    Thank You! Joy filled holidays to each of You & Loved Ones! ~ Phil 4:4

  2. Received so much hope and blessings from your story on Xmas Sunday. Thank you so much. I’ve been reading Jesus Calling an dJesus Listens. For years.

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