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

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

Why so sad?

These days, if you watch or read the news, it can be pretty difficult to keep yourself happy and encouraged. Most news stations report mostly bad news. We’re gluttons for the horrific stories and are drawn to the most sinister of reports. Good news gets buried in the heaps of the atrocities surrounding us.

It begs the question, how then do we remain happy, joyful, and encouraged when all we hear are awful reports?

Why am I so discouraged?
Why so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5 (NLT)

Three times in two chapters we see this refrain. It must have been important to the descendants of Korah for it to have been repeated so many times.

How often have you asked yourself those questions? Why am I so discouraged? Why am I so sad? And how often are we unable to come up with a reasonable response?

The writer of these Psalms had a solution—put your hope in God and praise Him. Is it really that easy? Yes, I believe it is. James 4:8 tells us to come close to God, and God will come close to you. And Psalm 22:3 says that He inhabits the praises of Israel. Our praise brings us closer to God. God inhabits, dwells, lives in our praises. How can we be anything but joyful and encouraged when God is right there, near to us and living in our praise?

Hope in the temporary will only lead to disappointment and discouragement. This will all pass away. But hope in the everlasting, the eternal leads to joy and encouragement.

Through each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42:8 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 41-43, Acts 24

A word of encouragement

Who doesn’t need or want a little encouragement every once in a while (or all the time)? We feel good when someone gives us a pat on the back, tells us we’re doing a good job, or sends a text just to say they’re thinking about us. But what about those days when those things don’t happen? What about the days when we could really use that encouraging word and it doesn’t come? What then?

It sure would be nice if our frame of mind wasn’t so dependant on outside reassurance.

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are discouraged take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.

Psalm 34:1-3 (NLT)

It’s interesting that, in all these lines about praising God, David inserts something about the discouraged. He saw a relationship between praising God and a happy heart.

What if, when we’re feeling a little down and tend to focus more inwardly, we turned it around? What if we took the focus completely off of ourselves? Think about this, when you’re worshipping God, praising Him, speaking about His greatness, what’s your mental state like? Do you feel burdened, in need of a pick-me-up? No. It’s pretty difficult to stay down when you’re lifting God up.

When we turn our focus on to God and His greatness, first of all, our troubles become very small. Second, we allow our spirits to commune with His Spirit—our helper and comforter. Our affirmation doesn’t need to come from outside sources—it shouldn’t come from outside sources. We have the ability to lift ourselves out of the gloom and into the glorious light of God.

How can we be anything but encouraged when we shift our focus from our inward troubles and outwardly praise the Lord, speak His praises, boast in Him, tell of His greatness, and exalt His name?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 34-35, Acts 22

A Season of Peace

Since today’s daily reading coincides with a devotional my pastor recently shared, I’m going to borrow a few things from Pastor Morris Watson.

Then the church had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it grew in strength and numbers. The believers were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 9:31 (NLT)

Where there is peace, there is prosperity and growth. The Church is often compared to a body. Think about when you’re fighting a cold or the flu. Are you able to get stronger? Are kids able to grow when their little bodies are fighting illness? No, of course not. When there is something in the body that doesn’t belong there, not only is there not peace, but all the energy goes into fighting whatever it is that’s attacking. The Church works the same way. When there’s something there that doesn’t belong, it takes away peace and it diverts energy from promoting growth.

But when there is peace within the Church, growth and prosperity is a wonderful byproduct. When we are all of one heart, one mind, and one vision, we are then able to work together to fight off outside attacks. Even then, if we can stay focused, we can keep our peace and grow through the situation.

If we allow ourselves to be in conflict with one another or in conflict with God, we restrict our own ability to grow and be strengthened. We cannot be careless with our peace. We must encourage it in ourselves and in others.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

When we work for peace, we work for God. God’s mission for us all is to have and to bring peace—it will never be to bring about strife.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Romans 12:18 (NLT)

When we go looking for peace and promote peace, how can we find and accomplish anything but? And in finding peace, we will also find growth and strength. We will be walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Daily Bible reading: Job 19-20, Acts 9:23-43

Whiner

Let’s face it, at some point we will all go through a time in our lives when we’re disappointed. When life doesn’t live up to what it was supposed to be. A time when we feel let down, left out, or left behind. Many would have you believe that you can’t go to God with these feelings. That God won’t listen to your complaints. Well, guess what? He will.

God doesn’t only want to be your God in the good times. He wants to be your God all the time. And that includes the crappy times.

Read through Job 10. The man has gone from praising God for all his blessings and wealth to pretty much collapsing in the floor in a tantrum. He’s lowered himself to whining to God about his situation. But here’s the thing—he’s still talking to God. Though he feels like God has completely abandoned him, he’s still talking to God and hasn’t turned from God.

It’s okay to feel down. We all do sometimes. And it’s even okay—more than okay—to let God know about it. He already knows how you feel, after all, and is probably overjoyed when we come to Him in our low times. It means that He still means something to us. It means that we still have a measure of faith that He can do something about our situation.

Not only did Job not turn from God, he still listened to the wisdom of his friends. Many of us have a tendency to push away the people who are most able to help us. The last thing you want to hear when you’re in a bad situation is someone who isn’t in that same situation. But, Job still allowed his friends to try to talk some sense into him. They corrected him. They encouraged him. And, amazingly enough, he still listened. How do I know this? It’s all written down. The entire book is a conversation between Job and his buddies.

The moral of the story is this: it’s okay to be a whiner to God sometimes. He can handle it. But it’s not okay to be a whiner all the time. As difficult as it may be, you still have to allow yourself to be encouraged and corrected.

Daily Bible reading: Job 10-12, Acts 8:1-25

Quickly

Let’s assume that, if you attend church regularly, that you trust your pastor and other church leaders. You trust that he or she is a man or woman of God. You trust that they spend regular time in prayer and reading their Bible. You trust that their messages are Holy Spirit-led.

Then they approach you and tell you something you didn’t expect. It may be a word in season or it may be a word of correction. Some people take it to heart and are encouraged or work to make necessary changes in their lives. Others may ruminate on it for a while before responding. And others will get mad, stay away, or even leave the church thinking, what right does this person have to say this to me?

The truth is that they have every right. If you consider yourself to be a member of a church, you’ve put yourself into a position of submission to the pastor and the leaders he or she has put in place. So long as they are speaking and acting according to the Word of God, they have a certain amount of authority over you.

So why does our response matter so much?

Israel has wandered away from God. There are yet a few righteous men and women, but not many. Jehu is leading the army. Elisha is the prophet. Elisha sends a man of God to anoint Jehu as the next king. Jehu can do several things: he can send the man away, scoffing at him, he can listen to what he has to say and think about it, or he can accept the word and act on it.

Jehu accepts the anointing.

Jehu went back to his fellow officers, and one of them asked him, “What did that crazy fellow want? Is everything all right?”

“You know the way such a man babbles on,” Jehu replied.

“You’re lying,” they said. “Tell us.” So Jehu told them what the man had said and that at the Lord’s command he had been anointed king over Israel.

They quickly spread out their cloaks on the bare steps and blew a trumpet, shouting, “Jehu is king!”

2 Kings 9:11-13 (NLT)

Israel may have gone astray, but something (I believe the Holy Spirit) was still working in them. A deep respect and honour for the Word of God still resided in these men and, instead of getting upset that Jehu had been chosen to be the next king or taking the time to think about this news and whether or not they wanted to accept it, they immediately responded to it.

When we have a relationship with God, He will lead us and guide us. His Spirit works in and through us. He brings us insight and revelation.

When we are in submission to the leaders God has placed before us, God uses them to help lead and guide us. Between God speaking to our leaders and the Spirit working in us, I believe that we are well able to discern truth and allow that truth to guide us. When a word is presented to us from a trusted source and resonates within our spirits as truth, our response, like Jehu’s men, should be immediate. If we trust God and we trust our leaders, the time to ponder should be minimal. We should respond quickly.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Kings 9-11, John 5:1-24

Let it shine

You’re probably already humming that old tune to This Little Light of Mine, aren’t you? It’s catchy. And it’s full of biblical truth. We are supposed to let our lights shine. And, hopefully, they’re more than little lights. They should be big lights. But Jesus gives us a warning about our light.

Make sure that the light you think you have is not really darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a flood light is shining on you.

Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)

But how can light be darkness?

Satan was once known as Lucifer, meaning light-bearer. Though the devil is unable to create anything on his own, he tries his hardest to manipulate what God has already created and distort it into something that mimics light. If we are not careful, we may mistake his distortion as the real thing.

God’s light has several characteristics:

  • It brings truth in love. Satan will use truth when it suits him, but it often lacks the love that comes with God’s truth. While truth may hurt, it does not hate.
  • It always reflects His Word. God will never reveal something to an individual that is contradictory to what we already have in His written Word.
  • It will encourage, not discourage. God is in the business of building people up, not tearing them down. While uncomfortable change may be required on our part, the end result is always constructive.

It always comes back to the Word of God. The Bible. It is and should always be our standard and we should always be checking ourselves against it. If we fill ourselves with the light of the Word of God, there will be no room for darkness. We will have true light so we can let it shine.

Daily Bible reading: Ruth 1-4, Luke 11:29-54

Don’t tempt me

I have a neurological condition which makes it better for myself—and everyone else around me—if I avoid eating gluten. I’m not allergic or anything, but I’m a happier person without it. But I love it. There is nothing like a giant bowl of fresh pasta dripping with butter and oozing with cheese. Thinking about this isn’t helpful. Especially when I’m hungry.

Now, before I go further, let me say that I am in no way trying to make a mockery of God’s Word, I’m just trying to simplify a few verses and, while this analogy may not be perfect, it does make sense.

We’re all able to be tempted. Jesus was tempted. He went out to the desert and fasted for the purpose of being tempted. In his life, I cannot imagine that anyone would have been tempted more. After all, if Satan could get Jesus to stumble, he’d win.

In our reading in Matthew, Jesus knows his time on earth is coming to a close. He knows the cross lies before him. He knows what is required of him. He knows it will be the most difficult thing any human being would ever have to endure in the entire history and future of mankind. He’s shared this with his disciples and Peter, tries to offer some encouragement.

But Peter took him aside and corrected him. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

Matthew 16:22 (NLT)

First of all, I find it amusing that Peter pulls Jesus aside for correction. In my mind, that’s like me taking Billy Graham aside and telling him he’s preached the salvation message wrong.

Jesus’ response is immediate.

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s.”

Matthew 16:23 (NLT)

I’m quite sure that the human side of Jesus would have loved nothing more than to accept Peter’s words. No, I’m Jesus. Of course this will never happen to me! But the God side of him knew exactly what was going on.

It’s like someone offering me that dripping, oozing bowl of pasta knowing I would truly enjoy it in the moment. But that’s all. The benefit is momentary. The negative effects last much longer than the initial pleasure. The intent was good. It was for my benefit and enjoyment, but the understanding of the full situation was lacking.

Jesus knew that he could have denied the cross, that he could have turned his back on all of humanity for his own comfort and pleasure. This is what Peter saw. He saw the momentary relief, but not the full picture.

Had Jesus fallen into this temptation, the lasting effects would have been eternal. There would be no re-do. No chance to try again. Did Jesus believe that Peter was Satan? Of course not In the previous verses, the Holy Spirit reveals to Peter exactly who Jesus is and Jesus goes on to commission Peter to build the Church. Peter was not of Satan, but the temptation was. Peter wasn’t able to see the bigger picture in that moment.

In all of this, what I’m trying to say is this: look at the grander scheme. Look beyond a single moment. Every decision we make has the potential for a lasting effect. Will you settle for momentary pleasure or will you deny yourself the small pleasure for a greater benefit?

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 4-6, Matthew 16