But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Our staff was challenged this past week with what anxieties and stresses Mary might have faced in her unique situation—pregnant, young, unmarried and living in an orthodox Jewish society—and how she handled them. Responses ranged from the frivolous, “Finding catering and wedding flowers in a strange place and the possibility of a shotgun wedding,” to real concerns such as having a baby without a mother or family members to help. After all, this was a young teenager who’d never been a mother, much less, the mother of Emmanuel, God with us.

The text in Luke (2:19, 51) provides insight to the strength that would carry Mary to Bethlehem, home to Nazareth, Jerusalem, various parts of Galilee, and finally to Golgotha: Mary treasured…these things and pondered them in her heart. What things might Mary have treasured? First, there was the visit from the angel Gabriel who announced that she would bear God’s Son and then the joyous affirmation by her cousin Elisabeth at her impromptu visit, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:44)

In wonder, Mary would gather the memories that would flood her young heart and carry her through a lifetime of awe and suffering with her child, Messiah. She would be amazed at the coming of the shepherds and their tale of angels announcing the birth of their Savior and later as the distinguished visitors from the East recounted their miraculous tale of following a star to find the new King.

Mary would marvel when the Baby Jesus was presented at the temple for two elderly people there would give thanks to God for allowing them to see the promised child.  Old Simeon even said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

When he became an adolescent, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem … and discovered on their return trip that Jesus wasn’t with the group. When they located him back at the temple, how baffled she was at the rapport her Son had with the scribes and teachers. Another wonder to treasure in her heart.

We don’t know all the signs and miracles Mary witnessed during Jesus’ short life, but we know she saw him turn water into wine and must have seen healings and transformations that came from Jesus’ ministry. After all, John said (21:25) that “if every one of [Jesus’ works] were written down…even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So all these things Mary treasured in her heart. And she pondered them. What did they mean and how would it all turn out?

At the cross Mary lived out a mother’s most severe pain, the unjust suffering and death of her precious Son. This would be the time for Mary to look inside her heart at all those treasures she had been storing—the miracles, the wonders, the promises. And these would be the things that would sustain her through that Black Friday night and those incredibly long days that followed.

But on the third day, “…blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises…” Mary would again see an angel, this time sitting on a stone inside her Son’s tomb with another message of Good News, “He is not here; he is risen.” And she would see her Son again, alive and glorified and ascending to his Father. Those promises she had remembered and trusted would carry her to Pentecost and on to see her Son, her Emmanuel, throughout eternity.

“…blessed is she who…believed.”


Father, give us just a modicum of the faith of Mary that we may follow you always until we, too, see you in eternity. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


For he will command his angels concerning you…  Psalm 91:11



Have you taken notice of the angels who walk and live among us?  Those wonderful beings who remind us that the Kingdom of God is here and now and all around?

My young friend Blynne met an angel just when she needed her.  Blynne is a single parent who lives with a life-threatening illness that frequently puts her in the hospital and that causes her young son great concern.

After one of these extended episodes, Blynne and her mother were walking Sonny to his classroom at the start of the school week.  When they reached the door, little Sonny started crying hysterically and fastened himself around his mother’s legs, refusing to let her leave.

Blynne and her mother had kept the school apprised of the medical updates with each event, and, apparently, the school had assigned an angel to watch over young Sonny.  His teacher walked up quietly to Sonny and gently began to peel his small fingers and arms from his mother and then bent over him as the two ladies exited.

Before he could protest, the teacher told Sonny that she needed his help.  Would Sonny be willing to work for her?  At that, his attention was diverted and he warily asked what she needed.  The teacher explained that she needed someone to welcome parents to the room as they dropped off their children and to ensure they had signed in their student.  Did Sonny think he could do that?  Well, yes…he would help.

That started Sonny’s new job and new purpose which continued throughout the school year.  Every morning when Sonny began his day, he reminded his mother that they had to hurry so that he wouldn’t be late for work.  And if the teacher were otherwise occupied when Sonny arrived, she would excuse herself to go over to greet her assistant.

We all want to do big things that make a mark in the world while we sometimes miss the small things that could significantly change someone else’s universe.   Why not be open to the little things?   Little acts that God can powerfully use if only we make ourselves available?  Opportunities for ministry abound, and there are ample openings for angels.



Father, make us faithful in the little things that we may receive great joy in serving you through serving others.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.  Psalm 34:7


Sometimes our work involves a touch of risk, and I am awed when God provides ways of escape.  A few weeks ago the city where we were holding a conference  was under attack from warring cartels.  We continued with our teaching and later discovered that the city had been shut down by gun battles after we left.

And then there was an instance when I was doing leadership training in an African nation.  A dispute arose between tribes; university students were unhappy with certain conditions; and local laborers were in conflict with the government.  Three riots broke out over a period of several weeks.  On one occasion there was gunfire in front of the restaurant where I’d gone for lunch; another time opposing groups were shooting at one another at the bottom of the hill where we were in a policy meeting.  But none of it touched us.

My friend Cissy* was driving down the highway with her ranch foreman when they were stopped by members of a group looking for a particular man.  Cissy and the foreman were pulled out of the truck, hands and feet were bound, and they were held for a few hours while they were interrogated.  One man grabbed the gold chain and cross on Cissy’s neck and started to pull it off.  She stopped him while she unclasped and handed it to him.

Cissy and her foreman waited tensely not knowing if they would live or die.  Later, I asked her about her thoughts and emotions at the time:  Was she afraid?  How did she feel?  Cissy said she was praying the whole time, confessing, and repenting, but she felt only peace.  Cissy told God she was ready to go at any time.

Finally, a phone call came back to the thugs to say that they had the wrong man.  Cissy and her foreman had their hands and feet untied, and Cissy’s necklace was returned.  God had kept them in body and spirit, and Cissy moves with confidence wherever she goes knowing that God is with her.

I see God’s hand regularly keeping us at home and abroad.  From drivers who run red lights to household accidents to medical emergencies and everything in between…  He watches over us all.  One of my friends reminds me frequently, “The center of God’s will is the safest place to be.”

I also see saints bravely giving their lives in service to their Lord.  They know that sometimes deliverance means going from this temporal life to being forever with the Lord.  One of those brave ones who travels in one of the risky areas I mentioned reminded me this week, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s”  (Romans 14:8).


Father, thank you for saints among us who remind us that our citizenship is in heaven, and we are always kept by you.  AMEN.

* Her name is changed for confidentiality.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  II Corinthians 12:9



When my blonde friend Bea was asked by her bishop to go to a Latin American country for a mission project, she did not hesitate.  It didn’t matter that she had limited Spanish or that she’d never traveled to that part of the world.  She had a willing heart.  (And she was ignorant of the possible difficulties.)

The bishop told her to go to a certain place, and she would be told how to proceed.  Bea bought her plane ticket, boarded the plane, and took a taxi to the regional bishop’s office for further directions.  There she understood that the next day the bishop’s secretary would drive her to her destination.

The following morning, Bea once again went to the bishop’s office, and, instead of taking her to the location of the project, the secretary took her to the local bus station.  She handed Bea a ticket for the next leg of the journey and assured her she would be met by her co-worker, a tall, red-haired woman.  And then she left.

All was well until Bea saw the hundreds of people, some in groups and others in lines, waiting for their buses.  She carefully made her way from person to person showing her ticket and indicating that she was looking for her bus.  Eventually, she made it to a long line of people waiting for the bus’s arrival.

Somewhat disconcerted at the unfamiliarity of people carrying caged chickens, food for the journey, and various pieces of household paraphernalia, Bea climbed onto the indicated bus and looked around for a place to sit.  She had no clue as to how long the ride would be, when she would get off, or where she was supposed to sit.  As she peered through the rows of people already packed into place, she saw on the very last seat at the back of the bus a wiry little gentleman who was vigorously waving at her.  He called out, “Señora, señora,” and indicated that he had a seat beside him.

Bea moved gingerly through the aisle to the rear of the bus and gratefully sat down next to the kindly man.  They both began communicating with their few words of Spanish and English and generous waving of hands and arms.  The man looked down at Bea’s gold watch and indicated that she should remove it and put it in her purse, which she did.  And then they compared tickets.  “Oh, no,” she sighed.  It looked like he would be getting off the bus in another place and at a different time.

Through the hot, dusty hours Bea and her new friend continued to talk, and at a certain stop in the road, the man leaned over and said goodbye.  He was leaving.  Even though she’d known him only a short while, Bea suddenly felt bereft.  In a country where she was alone and didn’t speak the language, her only friend was leaving her.  She watched him go down the aisle and move out the door.  She turned her head so as not to see him walking away.  She looked again to see who else might be boarding, and, to her surprise, her little friend was returning.  He had come back to sit with her and gestured that he would go with her to her destination.

After many more stops and another long ride, they reach the place where Bea was to meet her mission contact.  Everyone began to exit, and her friend walked ahead of her signaling that she was to keep close to him.  They departed the bus into the large mass of jostling people coming and going and looking for loved ones.  Bea knew she’d be met by a tall, red-headed woman—in a crowd of glossy black waves.  She and her friend looked and walked through the sea of strange faces, and suddenly the way seemed to open as the tall, red-headed woman walked toward them with open arms.  “You must be Bea,” she said.  “I am Grace.”

Bea turned around to introduce Grace to her friend, but he had disappeared.  He was nowhere to be seen.  Bea will always be convinced that the sweet man was an angel sent by God to watch over a blond gringa who had stepped out by faith not knowing where she was going but trusting God to guide her.  And when she reached her destination, she was met by Grace.


Father, your angels are ministering spirits who help us on our way, and we are constantly accompanied by your grace.  Thank you that you give us everything we need to serve you faithfully.  AMEN.


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  Luke 2:10  (NIV)



What must those humble shepherds have thought when they heard the angels proclaiming joy for everyone?  Did that include them, even them?  Did they anticipate freedom from Rome?  Perhaps relief from their hardships and marginalization?  How did those shepherds define joy?

As part of that vast throng to whom the message of joy applies, how do we today characterize joy?  Is joy a permanent fix for chronic physical suffering?  Is it the mending of broken hearts?  Is it the realization of a dream that has long eluded us?  How do we define joy?

We know that joy is distinguished from happiness, which is dependent on circumstances.  Joy is not temporary; it’s not based on emotions, relationships, or things; and it’s not egocentric.  Joy can’t be intimidated.  It is a gift from God and is a fruit of the Spirit.  We don’t produce joy; God causes it to grow in us as we love, obey, and abide in him.

This abiding in him in which our heart is turned to him produces that joy that strengthens and empowers us in all circumstances when happiness would abandon.  While happiness seduces us to look inward, constantly measuring personal satisfaction and comfort, joy opens our eyes to the eternal and God’s perspective of our world.  We see his hand, his care, his love, his provision, his opportunity, and so on rather than time-bound circumstances.

On our recent trip to Uganda, we took time to visit the Martyr’s Shrine that honors 45 Christians who died in the late 20th Century when they acknowledged a King greater than the Kabaka (tribal king).  The young men refused to abandon their faith even when threatened with death.   Some were dragged, others experienced amputation of extremities, and still others were disemboweled.  Those brave Christians were next wrapped all around with sticks and then roasted on a huge fire.  For some it took three days to die.

So what does this have to do with joy?  Those young men are not honored every June 3 on Martyr’s Day simply because they would not denounce Jesus Christ or their faith in him.  The eyewitnesses who watched them suffer said that they all died while singing hymns of praise to their King.  Joy cannot be extinguished by earthly devices.  Perhaps they each experienced that Fourth Man in the fire (Daniel 3:25) who graced them with joy that overcame all pain.

The angel’s message of joy to the world is the gift of Jesus in whose presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).  REAL, never-ending joy that lasts forever.


Father, we are so easily satisfied with temporary, superficial things.  Awaken us to the eternal riches that are found only in you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…  Psalm 91:11 (NIV).


The thought of praying for adventure may seem a bit hedonistic to some.  I didn’t pray the prayer, but when my friend did, I accepted it as a gift from God.  I have learned that God orders all our steps (Ps. 37:23), is never surprised at occurrences in our lives (Isa. 46:10), and doesn’t just stay in a church building (Ps. 139:9-12).  Furthermore, he has given us all things to enjoy (I Tim. 6:17).  It’s when we start looking for him in every circumstance that we begin to see him (II Kings 6:17).  And that’s what we were doing on this memorable vacation.



Peter and I were stranded on the side of the autoroute just outside the little village of Givors, near Lyon, France.  The sun was going down, and a soft rain had begun to fall.  When the carjackers left us, they took everything:  passports, airline tickets, French francs, and our suitcases full of clothes.  We must have looked strangely out of place there on the edge of the road:  two Americans, one in a business suit and tie and the other in slacks with a bright orange turtle-neck jumping up and down with arms frantically waving.

I was the jumper.  Surely, I thought, some kind person will be attracted by my bright sweater and obvious distress.  And, eventually, someone did stop—a curious young man who listened and was sympathetic to our plight.  He took us to the emergency telephone, called the police, and waited with us for their arrival.

For the second time, we told our story to the dutiful gendarmes who meticulously wrote every detail on their little pads.  By the time we were safely in their patrol car, the rain was pouring, and I was seated by the broken window that refused to close.  The whole plot was beginning to remind me of Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame.  Naïve tourists carjacked, aided by friendly passerby, rescued by energetic policemen.

Even though I was being inundated, our brave heroes insisted on driving back and forth down the autoroute to ascertain exactly where we had been carjacked.  (Jurisdiction is extremely important in the Givors village, and the police didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.)  Only when it was determined the precise spot where we had been hit and robbed did we proceed to headquarters.

Peter patiently spent the next several hours filling out reams of reports and answering the eager policemen.  (This might have been the most excitement they’d had in weeks.)  I worked with another team of police trying to reach home to cancel our credit cards – they were also in the stolen car.  I tried to emphasize the importance of quickly canceling the cards and the need to reach my mom, but the dauntless policeman insisted on making the call himself.  In heavily accented English, he said the few words he knew telling my mom that he was a policeman and had my daughter with him.  My mother, thinking someone was pulling a prank, hung up on him.  Several tries later, I was actually talking to Momo, explaining what had happened and thanking God that we hadn’t been hurt.

Later, the police released us for the night saying they would conduct further investigations the next day.  We got into the squad car, stopped at a drug store for toothbrushes and toothpaste, and were soon deposited at the Hotel of the Station (Hôtel de la Gare).  With great warmth we were bid à bientot  and left to register and find our way to our room.

Since it was after midnight, the proprietor was probably asleep, but he courteously guided us up the darkened spiral stairway to our second floor room.  When the door handle fell off in his hand, Peter did laugh, and we settled in at the Hôtel de la Gare .  Throughout the night, the room vibrated as every train going through Givors passed under our window.  And the rain was falling.

In the darkness, laughter and a song kept bubbling up, “All day, all night, angels watching over me, my Lord…”  With his typical dry humor, Peter intoned that we have would no longer have to worry about the crazy drivers on the autoroute.

Numbers of trains later, we joined our police friends in the bar where they were drinking coffee.  We had a quick breakfast and were prepared to return to headquarters when the gendarmes announced a change of plans.  The hierarchy had determined that the crime had not occurred in their jurisdiction, so we were being turned over to the police nationale.

After a drive up into the hillside, we arrived at the headquarters of the police nationale, a butter-colored manor house with patrol cars scattered about.  The officer in charge greeted us, spoke briefly to our departing friends, and we exchanged au revoirs.  Then we turned to the new agent de police who beamed at us and directed, “Follow me to zee bedroom.”

Join me on Thursday to see how God’s providence not only protected us but provided more than we could have asked or thought.


Father, thank you for parents who taught me that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord.  And thank you that you blessed me with a healthy sense of humor.  You have enriched me at every turn.  AMEN.