Treasured

Has anyone ever said something so complimentary or encouraging to you that you took those words and filed them away in your mind so that you could remember them when things weren’t going so well? For some, a simple word of encouragement said in passing could become a lifeline later on.

Still recovering from childbirth, the shepherds—who had heard about a savior from a heavenly host—came to praise and glorify God in the presence of the baby Jesus.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Later, when Jesus was a boy, Mary and Joseph realised he’d been left behind in Jerusalem. When they finally found him, the boy Jesus didn’t seem at all concerned.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49 (NIV)

Jesus obediently returned to Nazareth with his mother, Mary and her husband Joseph.

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:51b (NIV)

I imagine that, as Jesus grew, that there were more instances like these where Mary was reminded that Jesus wasn’t like her other children. He was more. And, as she treasured up these moments, I doubt she knew how greatly she would need them in the years to come.

When her son was arrested, beaten, hung on a cross, and laid to rest, I am sure that many of these words would have come rushing back to her. Though her baby boy was gone, she knew that there was purpose in his life, death, and eventual resurrection.

Most of us will never have to go through anything like what Mary went through as a mother, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t treasure up things in our hearts.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

If words from family, friends, or peers can serve to comfort us in difficulty, how much more will the Word of God bring to us? Not only is the Word comforting, it is Life. The more we treasure in our hearts, the greater access we have to it when we need it most.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 7-8, Luke 2:25-52

The least of these

Read: Leviticus 7-9, Matthew 25:31-46

Last May I had the opportunity to join seven other members of my church on a missionary trip to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Our week was planned out ahead of time by the leaders at the missions base there. We’d go visit some migrant camps, men’s and women’s rehabilitation homes, and minister to the homeless who live under the city bridges.

The day came for us to head to the bridges. We arrived, cleaned up an area that was known to bring many people, brought out chairs and a guitar, but no one came. A local man who’d worked with our mission before came by and explained to us that the Bridge People, as they’ve come to be known, wouldn’t be coming. They’d been burned out of their camps, rounded up, and taken to prison all in preparation for the Baja races which would run through the dry ravines in the city.

This presented a bit of a problem. We’d prepared to meet these people on their own turf, feed them, bless them, pray for them. No connections had yet been made with the local police to reach out to the incarcerated. But the gentleman who found us at the ravine had an idea. He paced away with his phone in hand. Less than an hour later, we’d packed everything back up and were parked outside the city’s 48 hour holding facility.

If you’re imagining a North American holding prison, get that image out of your head. This is not a well-lighted place with concrete benches, let alone padded cots. There is no stainless steel toilet in the corner nor is there a phone with which to call a lawyer or a relative to come get you (if you even have a relative with a phone of their own). You don’t get your one phone call. You get concrete and bars and a hole in the floor that serves as a communal toilet.

I don’t mean to be gross, but I need to be real.

In the parking lot across from the barred entrance, we could already smell the sharp odour of stale urine and who-knows-what-else. After a quick chat with the officers on duty, we were permitted to unload our coolers, bags, and boxes. Two by two we were allowed in with the guards to present each inmate with a dry sandwich, a juice box, granola bar, and second-hand blanket. They filed passed offering quiet thanks and blessings. To those who were considered to violent to let out of their cells, team members went to them deeper in the prison. They set aside their own discomfort to offer a small comfort to someone else.

As we sat in the van afterward, our pastor brought to mind a portion of scripture from Matthew.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

Circumstances prevented the people we planned to minister to from coming to us, but God made a way for us to go to them. Doors were opened and even the locals were amazed at what we were able to do. People were fed, given something to drink, clothed, looked after, and visited in prison—all by complete strangers.

Several days after our prison visit, a man approached our van at while we sat at a red light. He was selling candy bars. Our pastor purchased several. As he walked away, we noticed something. Aside from the candy, he carried only one thing. Tucked tightly under his arm was one of the blankets we’d handed out in the prison.

Matthew 25:40

I will be joyful

It’s easy to be joyful when things are going your way—when you meet that special someone, when you get a big promotion, when you receive an unexpected gift. But what about the other times, when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped? Can you still say that you’re full of joy?

We often look at the dry or dark times in our lives as seasons where God just isn’t there. We struggle on hoping to pass through the difficult season and into the one of abundant harvest so that we can find our joy again. Maybe we’re missing the point.

I don’t believe that God brings the dark times, but I do believe He will walk with us through them. Psalm 23 says that, even though we walk through the dark valley of death, He walks beside us. And not only does He walk with us, He prepares a feast for us in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t make it all go away, but He endures it all right beside us.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)

The world may be able to take a lot of things from you, but it cannot take your confidence in your salvation. It cannot take your joy. It cannot take God away from you.

What could be worse than the thought of losing everything? The thought of an eternity without God.

If you are in a dry season, take comfort in this: God is still God, He is right beside you, and He will never, ever leave you alone. If you are in a season of abundance, keep the joy that you have now no matter what comes next. If Habakkuk could look around and see nothing but doom yet still find joy in the God of his salvation, who are we to do anything but likewise?

Daily Bible reading: Habakkuk 1-3, Revelation 14

Act out

A person stands on a stage speaking wise words with an eloquent voice. Their words are truth. Their words hold life.

A person sits in the crowd hearing words and, even though they are powerful, this person feels nothing. There is no change. They are hollow.

Then a stranger beside them gently takes their hand. Suddenly the world changes.

Which person is greater—the speaker or the silent hand-holder? Which one has more wisdom and understanding? We might be inclined to say that it’s the person speaking, but if their words have no effect, what use are they?

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise.

James 3:13 (NLT)

Telling people what you know and what you can do isn’t the same as showing people what you know and what you can do. In the end, our actions hold far more sway than our words. Words, though they may be right, are empty unless our actions back them up. Words aren’t always necessary to convey a strong message. In fact, they are rarely needed.

We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way.

James 3:2 (NLT)

As Christians, especially as those who may not be in public ministry, we may struggle with ways to share our faith. We can’t find the words. Bringing up God in conversation always seems shallow and contrived. But what if words aren’t what we need to be sharing? I’ve personally had more people ask me about my faith based on my actions than my words.

When we act out Christ’s love and live a life of steady goodness so that good deeds will pour forth, we open doors that our words could never open. We make paths where our words could never go. We affect lives in ways words never could.

Don’t try to find the right words. Try to do the right deeds.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 24-26, James 3

I know how you feel

I know how you feel.  These are probably some of the most difficult words to hear. Not because they’re meant to bring comfort, but because they don’t. Odds are that the person who’s saying them to you doesn’t really know how you feel. They’re just trying to sympathize. But because you know that they don’t know how you feel, the words become empty and even more hurtful.

But there is someone who truly does know exactly how you feel.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:18 (NLT)

In order to be the perfect sacrifice for all of our sin, hurt, and pain, Jesus had to have been exposed to everything we are exposed to. The only difference it that, he didn’t deserve any of it. So that he could be the one to legitimately express that he knows exactly how you feel, he went through it all. For you.

While you may not find much comfort in a stranger or even a friend offering sympathy, find comfort in Jesus. He really does know how you feel and, because he knows, he also made a way for you to get through it. Whatever your struggle is—sin, addiction, pain, mourning, sickness—Jesus is the one who can bring you through when no one else can. He knows how you feel.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 40-42, Hebrews 2

Children of the Light

There are many definitions for the word light. It’s meaning goes far beyond that of simple illumination:

  • life
  • day
  • means of knowing
  • a window
  • God
  • Christ
  • joy
  • comfort
  • deliverance
  • the Gospel
  • a true Christian
  • favour

All of these things exemplify light.

For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 (NLT)

When we claim the title child of God, it means so much more than belonging to God. And that is a wondrous thing! When Paul says that, as Christians, we are children of the light, we have life, we have a way of knowing, we have joy, comfort, deliverance, favour. And, if we have anything other than these things in our lives, we have allowed ourselves to be pulled back into the darkness that Jesus died to save us from.

DARKNESS: absence of light; obscurity; want of clarity; that quality or state which renders any thing difficult to understand; a state of being intellectually clouded; great trouble and distress

These characteristics are unbecoming of a Christian. They have no place in our lives. Do we live in a dark world that would see us all brought back into that darkness? Yes. But that is why we are called to let our light shine. Let our joy, our clarity, our comfort, our deliverance, and our favour overflow and overcome the darkness that surrounds us.

But let us who live in the light think clearly, protected by the body armor of faith and love, wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)

The close we get to God and the longer we remain in His presence, the more clarity we will find and the more confident we will be in our salvation. Darkness will become a distant memory that no longer has a hold on us because we are protected by these gifts from our Father.

So let us live as we are meant to, as children of the light. Let us cast all darkness from our lives and walk in the close comfort that comes with our salvation.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 62-64, 1 Thessalonians 5

Thus saith the Lord

If you grew up in church, did prophecy scare you? Were you ever concerned that God would hijack your mouth and force you to holler out a word in King James English? Did you ever worry that, even if you wanted to prophesy that you’d have to start memorizing the King James Bible and learn exactly where to insert your thee’s and thou’s?

There’s nothing wrong with a prophecy given that includes words like thee or thou, but that’s not how it has to be. If you’ve never read a King James Bible, you can still prophesy. If you don’t like public speaking, that’s okay. If you have a quiet voice, that’s fine, too. All you need is love, a willing heart, and a desire to speak God’s word to build up and encourage others.

Let love be your highest goal, but also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives, especially the gift of prophecy.

1 Corinthians 14:1 (NLT)

Many people shy away from all things prophetic because they had a bad experience. Maybe a preacher came to town and offered up a whole lot of condemnation in the name of the Lord. Know this—prophecy is not condemning. It is not accusing.

But one who prophesies is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them.

1 Corinthians 14:3 (NLT)

Prophecy is also not a fortune to be told. If it doesn’t already confirm what God has been showing you, write it down and put it on the back burner. The prophetic isn’t a guide to life, it is a confirmation of what God is already doing in your life.

So, you want to ask God for the gift of prophecy. What if I get it wrong? But what if you get it right? Here’s my opinion and you can take it or leave it—if you’ve asked God for a gift and you believe He’s given it to you, you have to start somewhere. And, if you know that prophecy is to encourage and build up and give someone an encouraging word, at the very least, a person walks away lifted up. At the very best, you’ve spoken a word into their life that confirms something God has already been speaking to them. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I was praying for you and this is what I believe God showed me…”

You never know what God will drop into your heart until you take the first step. So put away thoughts of a booming thus saith the Lord and start to entertain (and talk about) the little things that God is showing you. There may yet be a prophet in there somewhere!

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 5-6, 1 Corinthians 14:1-20