I have just recently returned home from a mission trip to Guatemala. I have to admit, I feel as if part of my heart is still 2000 miles away with the kind and generous people of that culture. While there I witnessed many atrocities such as families living with no water source (let alone clean water), people dying of treatable diseases, and children who live on top of trash. These seem like desperate conditions and they are, however many of the people in the above situations professed their faith in Jesus Christ and were clinging to him to meet their daily needs and answer their prayers. Some were the same ones worshiping God with all their heart next to me at church on Sunday morning with arms raised in praise.
As I dwell on this now that I am back home in this land of (over)abundance, I wonder which of us is truly depraved? The Guatemalans who struggle so hard to survive each day and stay safe and healthy or we Americans who are drowning in wants and petty desires for more material goods and the appearance of worldly success?
The battles we fight are so very different in appearance and yet are enacted by the same Enemy. Is there one that is a greater battle over the other?
At one of the home visits I did, the woman kept apologizing for how little she had and how small her living space was. She felt bad for not having enough seats for us and not being able to offer us better. We assured her we were just thankful to be there with her and appreciated her kind hospitality. I now wonder how I would feel if that same woman came to encourage me in my home. Would she look around and think, “This is how American Christians live?”, “Why all the stuff?”, “Hasn’t she read Matthew 6:19-24 or James 2:14-17?” I’m afraid many would look at our homes filled with material goods and excess and think we are just fooling ourselves in this Christian walk. Are we?
Many of the needs of the Guatemalan people are so very obvious. In most of America, because of our affluence, the needs are hidden and yet just as deep. In Guatemala, our shared Enemy throws poverty, sickness and feelings of despair at them. In America, the same Enemy throws success, material goods, and feelings of security at us (I know there are exceptions).
Having this knowledge, we need to understand a few important facts. One, recognize that the Devil can use any type of weapon to fight against us and to pull our attentions away from God; need and excess are both weapons in his arsenal.
Two, spiritual depravity can be found in any person regardless of their appearance or life circumstances. We have to recognize that the ultimate need of every individual is the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of apparent status. Finally, understand that God has placed you in the country and circumstances you are in on purpose and he knows that is the best place for you to be in order for your life to bring him the most glory possible. Use it for just that purpose alone.
Don’t think I am writing this to make anyone feel guilty (however you may feel convicted like I do), but do understand I am writing this to bring attention to the possibility of depravity in your life. Don’t allow your possessions or pursuits of worldly success lead you to believe you are “better off” than anyone in a “less fortunate” country. Examine your life closely to see if the Devil has found his way into your home and is smothering the potential work of the Holy Spirit there. Who or what are you dependent on really? Who or what is your life centered around? Don’t take these questions lightly, they have eternal consequences.
Recall the encounter of the Rich Young Man in Matthew 19:16-26. He followed the Ten Commandments and was eager to learn what more he could do to obtain eternal life (he was wise enough to know there was more to it than the law). Jesus responds to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” Jesus knew that what this man needed was to get rid of his earthly goods in order to be fully surrendered to God. However, the young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” This man preferred to hold on to his possessions rather than spend time in the presence of the one and only, all powerful, Messiah and Son of God.
God may not be asking you to give all you have to the poor (though he could be), but he does demand all you have to be his. The true depravity of humanity cannot be judged by appearances, possessions or geographical locations, it is a state of the heart. We all desperately need Jesus Christ to claim our hearts as his own possession. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalms 51:10
As a mother, there are times in our lives when our love for our children is overwhelming. Times when something takes place that we want to remember forever. We want to capture it and tuck it away in our hearts to bring back out to cherish over and over again. We want to wonder about its meaning and its significance. This is what I believe Mary was doing in Luke 2:19.
She had just given birth to a baby boy in a lowly stable. The shepherds had just visited and told her about the angelic choir they had just witnessed and how they had been told that a Messiah had been born and exactly where to find him. The shepherds were exuberant and made it known throughout the area.
Mary is there in the middle of it all, exhausted from her labor, so young and overwhelmed with the task she has been given. She feels the wonder of the moment; she loves her little boy with all her heart already. Yes, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, but I don’t think he stayed there long. As any mother would have done, Mary probably picked him up and held that precious child in her arms as soon as she was able. She would be kissing his forehead and checking his fingers and toes, in awe of how perfectly made he was. The knowledge that this child was special and the Son of the Most High God would have been too much to grasp, yet that is what she was told by the angel so many months ago. And in her heart she knew it to be true, though she didn’t yet understand all that it meant.
In the midst of this humble yet majestic scene so long ago, what did Mary do? In Luke 2:19 it tells us, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
She tucked these moments and events away in her heart to treasure and to dwell on. It was all too much to explain, too much to understand or comprehend. She believed every word and trusted in God with a true servant’s heart, but she couldn’t grasp the intense significance or know the impact of what had just occurred. She did what a mother does and tried to imprint that moment in time on her heart and into her mind. She wanted to be able to recall all these events later and think on them, ponder them. She wanted to hear again what the shepherds told her and begin to understand how everything that happened to her and Joseph on this journey was for great purpose. She could put the pieces together bit by bit as time went on and she raised her son and watched him grow.
I can’t help but wonder if while Mary was standing at the foot of the cross nearly 33 years later, if she was still placing events in her heart. She was overwhelmed again, this time with pain at watching Jesus be tortured and killed. Yet, I believe she still trusted in God to fulfill his promises, she had seen too much to believe otherwise.
Mary was a sinful, fallible human. People like to lift her high, pray to her, and even worship her. Mary would be disgusted; she would be appalled that we would even consider such despicable acts. However, we can learn a great lesson from Mary.
Throughout Mary’s earthly life she was watching and learning and treasuring all she could about Jesus. Putting pieces together little by little as she grew to understand more and more of who he was. This is what we need to be doing. We need to treasure up in our heart all that God has done in our lives and ponder his Words to us. We need to recall what he has to say to us in his gift of the Scriptures and think on these things continually. As we mature we should be seeing more and more of who Christ is and why things are the way they are. The closer we walk with him, the more he reveals to us.
This Christmas, treasure Jesus in your heart above all. Think on him and what he has done and what his life on earth was about. Ponder why he was born as a human, why he lived as he did and what caused him to die on a cross for you. Do not allow holiday busyness to push him aside so that you can indulge in material overabundance. Keep Christ at the center of all you do. If your heart and mind are set on Jesus this Christmas the rewards are eternal. Treasure and ponder your Savior.