Why Jesus Meant to Be Confusing


In the things that he said, Jesus was often cryptic and mysterious, as though he were telling riddles that his audience had to discern in order to understand what he was saying.  In Luke 8 his disciples ask him about the meaning of a particular parable he told and he says to them in verse 10: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'" 

This statement is shocking on its face.  It seems to imply that God is deliberately hiding knowledge through parables from certain people.  In fact, that's what Jesus not only implies but declares outright in Matthew 11.25: "...you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children."  But why?  Why would God want to hide life-giving information from people?  Is God vindictive and just plain mean? 

Rather than God acting unjustly, there are actually numerous reasons why God would only grant understanding to some and not others, and none of them has to do with God wanting certain people to be condemned.  Indeed, God's desire is that all should come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3.9).  So it is not accurate to say that God is purposely hiding the truth from anyone because he is vindictive or unjust.  Rather, the fact that the truth is hidden to some people tells us more about ourselves than it does about God.  That being said, there are several practical reasons why "the secrets of the kingdom of God" are given to some but not to others.  They include, but are not limited to, the following.

1. Jesus hid the truth for practical reasons.  Throughout the gospels there is what is known as the "Messianic Secret."  This refers to those times when Jesus healed people but told them not to tell anyone that it was him that healed them.  The reason Jesus did this was to control the timing of the events that would lead to his death.  Being the sovereign God of the universe, Jesus controlled even the timing of his own death.  He knew that if word spread too quickly and too far about what he was doing, it would hurry along the process that would lead to his arrest and execution.  So in some cases he insisted on secrecy.  The same could be said of his teachings: Jesus' ultimate message was that he was the Son of God, come to save all those who would believe from the punishment of sin and to bring them back to God.  The sooner that message got out, the sooner the religious leaders would get angry and call for his life.  So in one sense, we could say that Jesus veiled the content of his teaching with parables because he was working on a predetermined time table.

2. Jesus hid the truth because he wasn't going to be anyone's clown.  Another common aspect of Jesus' ministry is that he refused to be a clown.  There were many people who came to him only to see or hear what he would do or say next.  In other words, Jesus' ministry was attention-grabbing and provocative, and many people followed him just to see what miraculous thing he would do next, or what provocative statement he would make that would anger the establishment.  Jesus knew of this tendency, however, and so he refused to perform like a trained animal.  In some instances, he refused to perform miracles because he knew the people regarded him as a sideshow act.  So it makes sense that Jesus would mask his message in parables so as to not be regarded merely as a provocative communicator.  The things he said internalization and deep thought.  Parables don't make good one-liners or soundbites. 

3. Jesus hid the truth because he knew that some people don't want to hear the truth.  This, again, is a very practical reason for Jesus veiling the truth of his teaching: why give people the truth when they refuse to hear it?  The notion that some people don't want to hear the truth is a common refrain throughout scripture.  When God commissioned Isaiah to be a prophet, he told Isaiah to go and preach to the people even though God already knew they wouldn't listen (Isaiah 6.9-10).  Jesus' teaching ministry, on the other hand, was veiled in parables so that those who sought understanding would find it, and those who did not, wouldn't. 

4. Jesus hid the truth because some people won't believe the truth even if they hear it.  This reason is similar to number three above, but differs in that some people seem open to the truth but refuse to ever acknowledge it or act on it.  This is made evident in Matthew 11 when Jesus cries out in woe against unrepentant cities.  In these particular cities, the works of God had been performed marvelously and miraculously, right out in the open for everyone to see.  But rather than respond to these miraculous works, the people just ignored them and went on about their business, making their ultimate condemnation even more just.  The same is true of Jesus' teaching.  Jesus, knowing that even if these people knew the truth of his words that they wouldn't act on it, hid the truth from them.

5. Jesus hid the truth because understanding comes from a place of humility.  God has a track record of hiding things from the wise and proud and revealing it to the simple.  People can't figure out God on their own, no matter how hard they try.  And if they think all of their knowledge and wisdom will be enough to help them reach God, they're sorely mistaken.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4.6).  If you think you've got it all figured out, it's actually proof that you don't.  For this reason, Jesus taught the truth in parables that could be discerned by the humble, but which confounded the wise. 


6. Jesus hid the truth because understanding is given to those who want to understand.  In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says that "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom..."  The Jews of Jesus' day didn't want to understand the truth that Jesus was teaching - they just wanted to see signs.  And Greeks, Paul says, want wisdom more than truth.  In other words, neither Jews nor Greeks were too interested in understanding the truth.  They had already determined what they wanted, and none of it had to do with Jesus.  But for those who do want to understand the mysteries of God, God is gracious and is willing to give them understanding.  Paul also says that "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  Those who want to see Jesus will find him.  Those who want to know the truth will be given understanding.  Jesus differentiated those who wanted truth and those who wanted something else by veiling his teaching in parables. 

7. Jesus hid the truth because understanding comes from God, not from human effort.  Finally, we simply have to come to the somewhat difficult realization that God grants understanding to those whom he will.  In God's sovereign wisdom, he has granted understanding to some and not to others.  So then, regardless of how much they try to puzzle out the truth of Jesus' teaching, they never will, because it has not been granted to them.  This is why some of the smartest biblical scholars in the world are not Christians.  They have monumental intellectual capabilities, but the mysteries of the kingdom of God cannot be discerned naturally, they must be known spiritually.  In this sense, then, when Jesus spoke the truth of God, those to whom God had granted understanding understood, and those to whom God had not granted understanding, were left in confusion. 

Regardless of why Jesus was sometimes confusing in his message during his ministry, rather than the reality that Jesus was sometimes intentionally confusing leading us to accuse God of some sort of injustice, it should instead cause us to seek understanding.  It should cause us to ask God to show us the mysteries of his kingdom, and to give us the knowledge we need to be saved.  It should inspire us to study God deeply, to know him, and to rely on him for all wisdom and knowledge.

A Prayer for the New Year

This prayer has been adapted from the Puritan prayer book The Valley of Vision available here.  

O Lord, as we have come upon the end of a year, help us to remember your goodness: that throughout this past year you have been good when you have taken away, when the light shone upon us, and when the night gathered over us.  You have loved us before the foundation o fthe world, in spite of our hard hearts.  Your goodness has been with us another year, leading us through the wilderness, and your goodness will be with us in the year ahead.  

In the coming days, remind us that this year does not profit us except that our days are passed in your presence, in your service, and to your glory.  Give us grace for this new year that guides, sustains, and aids, so that we might rely on yoru Spirit to supply evbery though, every word, every step, and every work.  Build up our faitha n d give us a desire to show forth your praise to this community.  May we testify to your love and advance your kingdom among ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.  Give us your comforts to cheer us, your wisdom to guide us, your counsel to instruct us, your law to judge us, and your presence to stabilize us. 

God, we thank you that we do not see the future, so that we might lean on you all the more.  Lord, whatever we are to face, we stand in confidence that you will face it with us, and that you are not caught off guard by whatever lies ahead.  If we are to be tempted, we shall not be overcome; if we are to die, we shall simply see your face all the sooner; if suffering and difficulty lie in store for us, give us grace that our faith would not fail.  Only glorify yourself in us, whether in comfort or trial, as chosen vessels for your use.


Joy to the World!


In Matthew 2 and Luke 2 we read about two groups of men who were invited to visit the newborn Jesus after his birth: the Wise Men from Matthew 2, and the Shepherds from Luke 2.  Both groups of men learned of the birth place of Jesus and visited his family in Bethlehem, and both groups of men left that encounter overflowing with joy.  In the sermon I preached this week, we learned that the source of the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds was not that they got to cuddle a cute baby Jesus, but rather that God was true to his word.  The Wise Men "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" when the star came to rest over the town of Bethlehem because it was evidence that God was faithful to his promise to send the Messiah, and that he would be born in Bethlehem.  And the Shepherds came away from their encounter with Jesus "glorifying and praise God for all they had seen and heard," because everything they had seen and heard happened exactly the way that God said it would happen. 

The source of the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds was not anything external, but rather the certain reality that God is true to his word.  When they discovered and believed this truth, all they could do was overflow with joy. 

Let's face it: the Christmas season can be difficult.  On the one hand, our culture tells us to be happy and joyful, and to enjoy our friends and family and food and gifts.  But on the other hand, those times and seasons that are supposed to be happy and joyous occasions can be stressful and frustrating, and can be times when we feel our pain and suffering most deeply.  Some people weep through the Christmas season because it is the first time that they have spent the holiday without a loved one who has passed away.  It's hard to have the joy of Christmas when you're grieving loss.  Others wonder how they can have any joy in their lives when they don't agree on anything with their spouse, and they're not even close to seeing eye to eye.  Parents wonder where the joy of Christmas is when their children have wandered so far from their family and so far from God that it seems like they'll never return.  It's common for these supposedly joyful seasons of the year to instead magnify all the things in our lives that aren't going the way we'd like them to. 

But like the Wise Men and the Shepherds, our joy in life should not be determined by external circumstances.  This is not to diminish the difficult things that happen in our lives, but rather to declare that the difficult things - and even the positive things - that happen in our lives cannot determine our joy.  The reason for this is that the external circumstances of our lives change.  Marriages do fall apart; families do crumble; unexpected health diagnoses do come; your body will break down over time.  So if your joy is based on the condition of your marriage or your family or your health, then prepare to live in despair.  If your joy in life is derived from circumstances, then prepare to ride a torturous rollercoaster because circumstances change, and sometimes life is downright miserable.  Sure, sometimes things go well, but give it time. 

Rather than finding our joy in the circumstances of our lives, we should take our cue from the Wise Men and the Shepherds, and find our ultimate satisfaction in the faithfulness of God.  I don't mean to trivialize any of the deep and difficult troubles that you experience, but even in light of those difficulties we need to remember that God's word is true. 

If you can't rejoice this Christmas because you are grieving the fresh loss of a loved one, you can rejoice because God's word is true.

If you can't rejoice this Christmas because your family is in shambles or because your marriage is falling apart or because your children are wayward, you can rejoice because God's word is true. 

If you don't know what to do in your specific situation, you should rejoice that God does, and whatever he says about it is right and true. 

If you don't feel like you have the strength to make it, you should rejoice in the fact that God does, and that he has promised to give you his own strength, and his promises are always kept. 

If you don't feel like you could cry anymore than you have this Christmas, you should rejoice that God's word says that he is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, and his word is true. 

Those who trust in the Lord have a joy that is not derived from circumstances, but from an unshakable, indestructible trust that God's word is true.  No matter what comes down the pike in your life, you can "rejoice exceedingly with great joy" because you know that God's word is true; he is faithful to his promises.  That was the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds, and let that be your joy this Christmas and beyond: God is faithful; his word is true. 

And the wonderful thing about Christmas is that it reminds us that anyone can have this kind of joy in their lives.  When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."  The good news of the faithfulness of God is for all people.  Anyone can come to God and experience the joy of his faithfulness.  Through repentance and faith in Christ you can have the joy of knowing for certain that your sins are forgiven and that the punishment your sins deserved was taken by Jesus on the cross.  God has promised to do this for anyone who will call out to him in repentance and faith, and if you will trust in him, you too will find that God's word is true, and that will lead to your joy.  No matter what debilitating circumstances you're in at this very moment, even if your suffering is self-inflicted, this joy is for you. 

It's easy to get lost in all of the cares and concerns of life and be overwhelmed by our circumstances.  It's easy to take God's faithfulness for granted.  It's easy to have an entitlement mentality when it comes to God's faithfulness to his promises.  Don't have that mentality.  Instead, allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the glorious truth that God is faithful, and that he will do what he has said he will do: he will be with you, he will strengthen you, he will provide for you, and he will help you.  That's who he is, in truth.  Let that truth wash over you, and then respond like a shepherd: glorify and praise God for all that you have seen and heard. 

Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King!  Let ev'ry heart prepare him room, and heav'n and nature sing!

Pastor Joel's Top 10 Books of 2017

Pastor Joel’s Top 10 Books of 2017.jpg

Around this time of year, many "Top 10" lists are published, recapping the best of the best of the previous year.  My favorite version of these lists is a top 10 list of books.  Several authors, bloggers, writers, and preachers and pastors release such lists, and I confess that I get almost all of my reading material for the coming year from such lists.  Not to be outdone, I figured I'd produce my own Top 10 list of books that I read that were influential in my thinking, or challenged me in some way, or that I simply enjoyed.  This isn't the first time I've produced a list like this (click here for my favorite books from 2016).  While in this post I'll be focusing on books that enhanced my spiritual walk, I'll be making a more diverse list over on my personal blog.  

Before checking out my list below, there are a few things you should be aware of:

1. My favorite genre of literature is biography, memoir, history, and other non-fiction.  This is ironic, considering that the top books on this year's and last year's list were both fiction!  But my main "go-to" literature is definitely non-fiction.  The good fiction I pick up is usually coincidental or unintentional.  

2. Some of these books are included in Riverview's library.  I'll note their inclusion when appropriate.  Otherwise, you can click on the thumbnail of each book to find it on Amazon.  

3. I realize that not all of these books (actually, I don't think any of them) were published in 2017.  But nevertheless, it was 2017 by the time I got around to reading them.  So although this is a list of some of my favorite books of 2017, the "2017" qualifier only refers to when I actually read them.

4. I don't have a lot of time to read.  I'm a busy guy with a full time job, a marriage to nurture, and two young kids to raise.  I don't have a lot of extra time.  For this reason, before I pick up a book, I do a bit of research into what I'm about to read.  If I am going to spend my time reading, I want to make it count.  So I don't usually just pick up a random book and start reading.  I read intentionally.

10. Do More Better by Tim Challies. As a busy pastor, I'm constantly filling my time with tasks, visits, correspondence, studying, reading, and other things.  My schedule can get pretty busy.  Tim Challies has a strong interest in productivity, and he has done some good writing about it here.  The best part of this book is its practicality.  You will gain several good and reliable and actionable pieces of advice about how to be more efficient and productive in your daily work, and from a Christian perspective.  

9. Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel.  Earlier this year I was at a meeting for a board that I sit on, and one of the other board members used the phrase "the tyranny of the urgent."  I told him that was an interesting phrase and asked him if he came up with it himself.  He said that he did not, and that it was actually the title of a very short book that I should read as soon as possible.  In fact, he said, "Stop what you're doing right now, and order it on Amazon."  I did.  It was very good.  And very short.  If you don't have time to read Do More Better, then read Tyranny of the Urgent.  It will take you through a very brief biblical analysis of how we budget and use our time as Christians, and how we can do better.  

8. Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee.  In my regular reading I try to keep an eye on what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  It is far too common for us to be insulated and think that the fullness of the Christian experience is found in whatever it looks like in our own context.  I want to know what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  I was first introduced to the Dispatches from the Front series through Tim Challies' website.  Tim Keesee has an interesting job.  He travels the world and visits Christians and produces a video series of these visits to the "hard places" of the world where Christianity sometimes struggles and sometimes thrives.  The videos present an in depth look at the church in these hard places and some of the circumstances that make them such.  The videos are extremely well done (and available in Riverview's library).  I'm glad to say that the book is also well done, and Keesee is a good writer.  It's always good to get a different perspective on what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  

7. They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz.  What's it like to be a Christian in the Middle East?  That's the question this book answers by giving real-life, first-hand accounts of Iraqi Christians and how they survive and suffer and even thrive in an environment that is extremely hostile toward them.  Mindy Belz uses her journalistic expertise to befriend and report on how Christians live in not only the "hard places," but the hardest places.  

6. The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan.  This book was recommended by a somewhat high profile preacher that I follow on Facebook.  The book is the memoir of Andrew Klavan, who was born and raised a secular Jew.  The book details the account of his spiritual journey and ultimate awakening to the truth of the gospel.  It's a fantastic journey to see how God can intersect the life of anyone he chooses, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, and tear down the most prideful of hearts.  Plus, Klavan is a great writer and narrator, if you decide to get the audiobook.  I definitely had some theological and practical differences with Klavan along the way, but his story is encouraging and a worthwhile read.  

5. The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe.  The Kingdom of Speech is perhaps the most interesting book I read in 2017.  It argues against the evolutionary hypothesis as a legitimate explanation of the origin of life, and it does so in a fascinating and entertaining way.  The basic premise of the book is that evolution cannot account for the creation of human speech.  A layman's look at the field of linguistics simply yet comprehensively demonstrates that the gift of speech could not have evolved.  Plus, it's a rather short read.  (Reader beware: there is some brief foul language.)

4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  This book has been on a lot of Top 10 lists across the internet, and created quite a buzz earlier in the year.  It's a gripping true story about a young boy's growth into adulthood in "hillbilly" culture and turbulent relationships he has along the way with his parents, grandparents, and his culture in general.  At times the tale is tragic, and at times, funny.  The book is almost too complex to describe here.  Although not written from a Christian perspective, you will be challenged to think long, hard, and biblically about poverty, justice, social classes and stigmas, human nature, personal responsibility, sin, family relationships, and a host of other issues.  (Reader beware: this book contains plenty of foul language and depictions of drug and alcohol abuse.)

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo.  Although written in the mid-20th century, earlier this year a movie of the same title was released, and I began to learn about the story of Silence.  I did not see the movie, however, but instead decided to read the novel.  Considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, I found it very interesting, very engaging, and a good look at suffering for Christ, albeit from a Roman Catholic perspective.  The novel tells the story of a 16th century young Portuguese priest who goes on a missionary journey to Japan to see the oppression that Catholic missionaries and Japanese Christians have suffered at the hands of Japanese persecutors.  What he finds is the barbaric treatment of priests and Japanese Christians, and even suffers the same himself.  The title of the novel is derived from the central question of the story: "If God can see the evil that happens, why does he remain silent?"  Unfortunately, Endo offers no answer to the question, and perhaps there is not one from the Catholic perspective.  We do have answers, however, and that's what I found frustrating about this book: I wanted to shout out to the characters and encourage them with truth as they struggle with the difficult questions of life.  This book caused me to think a lot, however, which is what good books do.  (Reader beware: this book contains mild depictions of torture and violence.)

2. Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton.  Also written in the mid-20th century is this biography of Martin Luther.  2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and so it seemed appropriate to me to read about the principle figure of the Reformation.  Bainton's biography was recommended to me as the standard of Luther biographies, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Martin Luther is a complicated character, and it was an enjoyable and educational process to read more about the man's life, ministry, and role in history and western culture.  As Bainton correctly asserts in the book, Luther remains one of the top-five culture-shaping characters in all of human history.  (Here I Stand is available in the Riverview Library)

1. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson.  For some reason, it seems that the majority of fiction I consume and really enjoy is young adult fiction.  Go figure.  The Wingfeather Saga is no exception, and in fact, is notable in that it was, I think, the best thing I read all year.  To be fair, this is not just one book, but a series of four books, and I was taken in by each one.  So much so that as soon as I finished the books on my own, I began reading them from the beginning to my children.  Currently, we're working our way through the fourth book.  The books tell the story of one family - the Wingfeathers - and particularly the children: Janner, Kalmar, and Leelee, and the adventures they have as they discover their true identities and the implications it has for the world in which they live as they battle against the Fangs of Dang and their master, Gnag the Nameless.  An appreciation for fantasy literature is certainly helpful, but definitely not required.  There are fascinating and excellent examples of good biblical character traits in these books, including heroism, sacrifice, courage, bravery, and countless other noble and biblical virtues.  And Peterson brilliantly creates a whole new world filled with unique creatures and challenges.   It's a great series for kids, and especially for boys, with perhaps one of the best endings I've ever read in a series of novels.  The series begins slowly in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and continues with North! Or Be Eaten and then becomes mysterious with Monster in the Hollows and concludes fantastically with The Warden and the Wolf King.  Don't let the fact that this series is young adult fiction discourage you from reading it.  I can't recommend this series highly enough for children and adults alike.  (The Wingfeather Saga is available in the Riverview Library.)


Magnify God, Not Your Problems


During the Christmas season we often focus on Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, and the many things that they did in order to prepare for the birth of their divine son.  In many ways, our idea of what they went through is probably inaccurate.  For example, we often think of them traveling to Bethlehem on their own, when in reality, they were most likely with a large group of family members.  And when we conceptualize Jesus' birth, the picture we get in our minds is one of Mary and Joseph alone in a stable, surrounded by animals.  This is almost certainly not the way it happened.  In ancient cultures, fathers had almost nothing to do with the actual birth of a baby.  Instead, midwives carried the mother along through the labor and actual birth.  In our modern context, we simply know of a mother and father going to a hospital for a few days, and then coming home with a baby.  But in first century Israel, it was a process that usually involved the whole extended family and a team of midwives. 

I think another thing we misunderstand about the birth of Jesus is the social and cultural implications there would have been for Mary.  After all, she was most likely a teenager when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the mother of Jesus.  And not only that, but she was also betrothed (engaged) to Joseph.  An unexpected pregnancy no doubt brought suspicion of unfaithfulness on Mary's part.  For example, upon learning of her pregnancy, Joseph assumed that she had been unfaithful to him and became pregnant outside of their betrothal, so Joseph actually decided to divorce (annul the engagement) Mary.  If this would have happened, Mary would have found herself an unmarried teenage mother on the verge of destitution and poverty, and probably starvation. In first-century Israel, women relied upon men for their provision and even their daily food and shelter.  Without Joseph, Mary and her baby would almost certainly be doomed to die. 

No doubt these potential difficulties were going through Mary's mind when Gabriel told her that she would miraculously conceive in spite of her virginity.  There must have certainly been flashes of fear, doubt, and uncertainty going through her mind.  After all, she had no idea how Joseph would respond to her unexpected pregnancy, no less the news that it was immaculately conceived.  And Mary likewise had no idea what the social and cultural response to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy would be.  Put simply, from all natural indicators, Mary appeared to be staring down the barrel of a very difficult time in her life. 

But the fascinating and wonderful thing about Mary is that she does not focus on what could happen as a result of this unexpected pregnancy, but instead she focuses on the faithfulness of what God had done in the past.  Rather than magnify the many uncertain circumstances of her life that could lead to difficulty and even pain and suffering, instead she chooses to magnify the faithfulness of God.  In so doing, she gives us a wonderful example for how we should respond to difficult circumstances in life. 

Have you ever looked into a microscope?  I have, but probably not since sophomore year biology in high school.  But if you're familiar with the concept, you'll be able to follow what Mary wants to teach us.  When something is magnified it becomes bigger in appearance.  A microscope "blows up" an image so we can see it larger and in more detail.  The tiny features that were hidden before become obvious and apparent. 

Mary's remedy for dealing with the potential problems in her life brought about by her circumstances is to magnify (or "blow up") the truth about God in her mind.  She says in Luke 1.46-47 "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Here Mary makes a conscious decision to focus intentionally on truth about God, and to put that truth into practice in her life by believing it and acting upon it.  In the sermon I preached this past Sunday, we looked at five truths about God that Mary "magnified" instead of magnifying her problems in life.  I'd like to focus on just two of those truths now. 

1. First, Mary magnifies the truth that God watches over his people.  In Luke 1.48 Mary says, "...for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant."  God is a God who looks upon and sees his people, and when he looks, he sees them through eyes of compassion.  Sometimes the image that we have of God is that he is sitting up on his throne in heaven, watching us, just waiting for us to mess up and make a mistake.  But this is not at all how God watches over his children.  Instead, he watches over them with eyes of tenderness and compassion (1 Peter 3.12).  He knows where his children are and what is going on in their lives, and he responds to their prayers.  You and I can't even see what's going on in the other room next to us (without a window), but God can.  He can see in every corner of the earth at all times, and that included Mary and her potential problems brought about by this unexpected pregnancy. 

Mary also says that not only is God watching, but he is watching here even though she is in not a very important person.  Mary was from the town of Nazareth, which was known at the time as something of a ghetto.  It wasn't a city that had a lot of culture, and the people from Nazareth had a bad reputation of being low-class individuals (John 1.46).  But that didn't matter.  No matter where Mary came from or who she was - even if she was a nobody - God was watching, and he knew exactly what was going on in her life and what she needed. 

The same is true for you.  God sees you.  He knows exactly what is happening in your life, and he knows exactly how it's going to play out.  He knows exactly what you need to get through your challenges, and he is faithful to give you what you ask for in prayer.  And he knows all of this because he is watching.  When life gets difficult, as it has the tendency to do, don't magnify your problems.  Instead, magnify the truth that God sees you and he is watching you with eyes of compassion.  Blow this truth up in your mind, and believe it, and then act on it. 

2. Second, Mary magnifies the truth that "He who is mighty has done great things for me."  That's what Mary says in Luke 1.49.  One of the biggest temptations that we face when life is difficult is to forget all that God has done in the past.  We can get so caught up in the moment and the difficulty of our circumstances that we can become shortsighted.  It's easy to let the discomfort of "the now" to cloud our memory of all the great things God has done for us in the past. 

Scripture teaches that the gift God has given us to fight for faith in the present is remembering what he has done in the past: "I will appeal to this to the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.  I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds" (Psalm 77.10-12).  The remedy for getting caught up in the present difficulty of life is to remember that "he who is mighty has done great things for me."  It's magnifying what God has done rather than magnifying the present discomfort. 

This is what Mary must have been saying to herself: "You know, things are pretty hard for me right now, but I can take comfort because he who is mighty has done great things for me.  And if he has done great things in the past, he will again in the future."  That, my friends, is hope.  Instead of magnifying your present difficulty, magnify the truth of the mighty things God has done in the past.  That knowledge should give you hope for today, tomorrow, and any time in the future. 

Let's be frank: when troubles come, it is very easy to get caught up in the nagging questions about how and why we ever ended up in such a difficult spot in the first place.  It's easy to find ourselves questioning God and even being angry or feeling sorry for ourselves.  It is in those times that we must resist the temptation to magnify our problems, and instead magnify what we know to be true about God: that he looks upon his children and knows their suffering, and that he is faithful to keep his promises.  Make your faith in those promises big, and your problems will begin to seem much smaller.