The Investigators

Lew Wallace had been a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. A decade later he was a lawyer and trying to become an author. He had come into contact with one of the most famous atheists of his day who had, quite simply, embarrassed him. Wallace was not embarrassed by the two hours of anti-religion he absorbed during that conversation, but by his own indifference and ignorance of that area of life.

In an academic way, that encounter convinced him to study Christianity. Even as a skeptic, he had long enjoyed the story of the wise men who came to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. He had even begun a fictional novel based around that event, which he also considered mostly fiction. Now he thought he would carry that story down to the crucifixion which would, in his own words, “compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results – – first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

Frank Morrison was a skeptic concerning Christianity, and especially the resurrection of Jesus. In the early part of last century, he decided to write a short paper about the last days of Jesus, in order to debunk the most crucial evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity.

As he progressed with his research, he became convinced that Jesus did rise from the dead, and that this truth is the crucial underpinning of the entire Christian religion. Intending to write a paper criticizing Christianity, his research became the book, Who Moved the Stone? The final sentence in the book says it all, “There may be, and, as the writer thinks, there certainly is, a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed -- ‘the third day he rose again from the dead.’”

Closer to our own day, a Chicago Tribune journalist and atheist named Lee Strobel began a similar investigation. When his wife became a Christian, Strobel began exploring the historicity and truthfulness of that faith.

Explaining his quest, Strobel wrote, "Some people are more experiential. . . . [coming] from a legal background and journalism background, I tend to respond to facts and evidence. My way of processing my spiritual journey was to ask the question 'Is there any evidence that supports Christianity being true?"

Ultimately, that two-year process convinced him that all evidence led to the conclusion that Christianity is true. As with Lew Wallace and Frank Morrison before him, Strobel acted on that evidence and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ in 1981.

All of Christianity rests on the foundation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As these three men discovered, those are two factual events. Not because we want them to be true, but because they really happened, just as described in the Bible. That's called reality!

That’s also called Easter, the true Holy Day we will celebrate in just over two weeks.

What does that mean for you?

How do you love God?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Familiar? An antagonistic Jewish leader had challenged Jesus with “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus chose to respond simply by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, one of the holiest texts in the Hebrew tradition. With those words, quoted here from Mark 12:30, He silenced the crowd.

How does one love the Lord?

By the use of the words heart, soul, mind, and strength, it seems that our love for God should come from our entire being, internal and external. It should be evident in the way we feel and think and by the things we do.

In our time and culture, love is most often described as an emotion. Certainly, there are emotional elements involved in loving God. That’s the love that comes from the heart and soul.

Love is also intellectual. While our feelings might drive us, they should not. We should be driven by our thoughts and will. So, loving God is also a mind event.  We think about and affirm the feelings we have for God. Or, even better, we have the feelings because we can comprehend some of the nature of God and react with emotion.

We often think about action coming from the physical part of our being, such as hands, feet, voice. In a real sense, conscious thought is also an action, based on physiological processes within the brain, which is part of the physical body. Loving God with our mind can come in the form of conscious affirmation of God’s lordship in our lives, or assent to His leading to go somewhere or do something.

The only description of love in the Bible comes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Not emotions, these all describe conscious thoughts and physical actions.

It is possible to feel that we love God, based solely on emotion. It is possible to demonstrate our love for God only through conscious thought leading to perceivable action. Love is not a state of being; love is doing. Musician Don Francisco sang, “love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will.”

Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

Love for God and His Son Jesus Christ, while it might begin internally, is only evidenced externally as we affirm Jesus’ lordship over our lives and do that which He asks us to do.

Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?

I don't want to die!

Drik was a warrior. His tribal group in Indonesia had been cannibals. The government and outside forces stopped this, but the warrior status remained. I first noticed Drik when he led his friends to ambush and kill a group of local Christians, not because they were Christians, but because they were easy targets. Only by placing myself between my friends and the arrows pointed at them was I able to get them safely out of harm’s way.

After some similar incidents, I was seriously considering asking God to remove Drik from our village. I only considered, never prayed for it, but would not have been upset if God had ended his life.

One morning I heard a banging on the side of my house. As I opened the door, Drik burst past me, saying only, “I have to talk to you.”

Not knowing what was coming, I moved him away from my family and sat with him in a corner of the room. He was obviously agitated, but I didn’t know if this was a bad or good sign.

He began by repeating himself. “I have to talk to you. Something happened last night.

“I had a dream,” he continued. “I saw a man dressed in white clothes. He said to me, ‘Drik, you are a bad man. You are so bad that you will die in three days.’”

I knew dreams played a big part in Drik’s tribal culture, and wondered where this one was going.

“I’m scared. My mother had a dream like this when I was a child.” He paused. “Three days later she died.” Silence as he built up the courage to say, “I don’t want to die. What can I do?”

Suddenly, I was asking myself the same question. What can I do? Nothing in my Western Christian life or my missionary training had prepared me for this experience. I was out of my element and, evidently, into God’s. In faith, I plunged ahead.

That morning, I was able to lead Drik to faith in Jesus Christ. God had intervened directly in his life in a way he, a Kayagar tribal warrior, was able to accept and understand. He was ready to surrender to the true God and allow himself to become a new creation.

As wonderful as that was for Drik, the experience also helped change me. I realized that God does speak to people in languages and means with which they are familiar. For those who, like the Western me, need the written word and logic, He speaks through the Bible, through other books, through spoken word. For those in other cultures, He uses means with which they are familiar. That day he used a dream to catch Drik’s attention, then used His word, through me, to bring him fully into the family of God.

As we in Mandate, and so many other organizations, send workers throughout the world, we must adapt our methods and lifestyle to reach the many different cultures in which we find ourselves. In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, we must “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some.”

"Mass"-ive Love

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 NIV

We hear throughout Scripture in verses like this how God longs not only for specific people, but for entire cities and nations. We hear Him lament how He wishes He could comfort and protect Jerusalem as a collective people. In a world of billions, we sometimes feel like the attribute of having genuine love for the masses is one that our human limitations keep us falling short of. Loving entire peoples, even some you have never seen or may never see, is actually exactly the kind of love being grown in our hearts.

And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 5:1 NIV

But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'.” Matthew 12:48-50 NIV

We are clearly to love our “family” around the world with the same ardor that we do our God, ourselves, and those we hold most near and dear. What does it mean to love them? This question is better answered by asking another; what do we do for those we love? We nurture them. We pray for them. We long to visit them. We care about their wellbeing and do all in our power to supply their needs. Many times we think in such a way that re-orders our affections to precede our blessings. We bless those we love. We bless those we feel like blessing. We bless those we know or those we have been given a good reason to bless. Jesus gave us the best reason of all. Because in loving ALL people, we are loving HIM.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”Matthew 25:25-40 NIV

I want to propose a challenge. Expand your love for the nations in a new way this week by expanding your support of the nations. Pick a new nation (or several) to pray for with the same passion you would pray for your own country. Give to a missionary or a ministry that benefits those WHOM YOU DO NOT KNOW. In this way, we give to the nations our treasures...both our financial treasure and the most valuable treasures of our time, emotions, and prayer. As we give these treasure, our hearts will surely go with them.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 NIV

As Yourself

'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments'.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

You may be thinking, “Wait, I just read this”. You're not re-reading the same post. This week we're looking at what are arguably this verse's most overlooked words: “as yourself”. This addition to the commandment predicates our love for others on the quality of love we have for ourselves.

To love ourselves, we must know ourselves. We press into the Biblical word and prayerful conversations with God many times asking “what do I do, God?”. While this question is vital, a bigger question must first set the stage; “Who have you created me to be, God?”. Scripture is inundated with references to how our God knows us. This knowing is both a deep knowing, in which the nuances of our spirits are known, as well as a surface knowing, in which every physical detail and daily activity is known.

but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:3 (NASB)

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” John 10:14 (NASB)

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 (NASB)

"Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NASB)

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.” Psalm 139:1-4 (NASB)

When it comes to loving ourselves better, who better to go to than the One who first loved us and who first knew us? For some it is a challenge to love and treat others in the same way they do themselves. For many more it is a challenge to love and treat themselves in the same way they do others. How are you loving your body, mind, and soul? Seek God to show you more about the person He created you as- your gifts, your talents, your callings, etc. In correctly loving and understanding ourselves, we are better poised to effectively love others and to love the God who made us.

Loving Others

'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

Last week we spoke about what makes God feel loved. When asked to summarize the entirety of the law, Jesus responded that it could be encompassed by two things. The first was loving God. The second was loving others as yourself. Just as with loving God, loving others goes far beyond simply not doing them wrong (obeying the ten commandments). In fact, have we ever stopped to think that perhaps God created the ten commandments as what not to do because what not to do was a shorter list? When Jesus gave this “new” commandment to love God and love others as ourselves, He was shifting our perspective. It was about much more than not harming others. It went even farther into blessing them.

If you have ever been to the eye doctor, often you are asked to place your eyes up to a machine that switches lenses to pinpoint the prescription each eye needs. When that “click” happens and a new lens shifts into place that radically clarifies your field of vision, I liken that to what happened when Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 22:36-40. It's an “aha!” moment of clarity. The law was never merely a set of rules of what not to do. It was only the beginning of the outline of what to do which was to love.

Over cultures, lifestyles, ages, and every other demographic worldwide, you would be hard-pressed to find one that did not have people who feel hungry for love. Love is a universal need built into our very being. We were created to desire communion with love because God is love. He made us to operate in loving community as the Body of Christ. In fact, it is impossible to walk as God willed or as Jesus modeled without having and expressing deep love for those around you.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:8-10 NIV

The instinctual reaction to hunger is look to take or consume nourishment. In the beauty of the paradoxical design of God, the fulfillment of feeling loving connections with others is actually the opposite of looking for ways to receive more love. If you want to increase the love in your life, look for more opportunities to give it away. By going to God- the source of all love and fulfillment- and asking Him, “who have you placed in my path that I can show love to?”, you are inviting God to fill you with love to pour out to those around you. With this others-centered focus that Jesus modeled and that we are designed to operate in, God has a way of blessing us as we look for ways to bless others.

How Does God Feel Loved?

In this month of February when love is emphasized, we find ourselves thinking about how to express our love to our loved ones. Some of us know exactly how to make our favorite people feel loved. We know what they like and exactly what they want to receive. Others of us have no idea and, despite our great adoration of them, find ourselves scratching our heads.

What about that most important relationship with the God who is love? What makes God feel loved? What does He most desire from us? All of us have people on our gift-giving lists who have everything. We cannot think of a single thing to get these people because they have all we could ever imagine them wanting or needing. We almost want to sigh and say, “Why bother!”. Sometimes we see God this way as well. He does not need anything because...well...He's God. There are, however, ways that He tells us we can bring His heart great delight.

The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' . Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you'. Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go'.” John 21:17-18 NIV

In this cryptic exchange, Peter expresses what many of us feel. “Lord, you know all things! You know I love you!”. In other words, “Why do I have to tell you? You know!”. But any of us who have loved ones know that just because you know they love you doesn't mean you don't want them to continue to affirm it both in words and actions.

“If you love me, keep my commands”. John 14:15 NIV

A life of loving God is a life of following His words. Most think “commands” and limit it to the “thou shalt” list, but the truth is much more relational. God feels loved or honored when we follow both His written words and the callings He has placed in our lives. God makes the contrast of before obedience versus after obedience in His conversation with Peter by comparing it to being lead somewhere that is not our choosing. Obedience may not be easy, but it will always be worth it and will fulfill the wonderful plans God has to prosper us. I think of Moses. He agrees (after so many excuses and reluctance) to go speak to Pharaoh because God promises:

And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.

The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.' But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.” Exodus 3:17-22

It sounded pretty cut and dry. “The elders will listen. Pharaoh may be a little stubborn, but I will compel him. You'll be released, and with plunder!”. When Moses's first attempt brings even more severe oppression on his people (Exodus 5), Moses is understandably confused.

Moses returned to the Lord and said, 'Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all'.”

Exodus 5:22-23

The second attempt, the third, the fourth, and so on came and passed, and Moses must have wondered. Ultimately, however, Moses remained obedient. He did not give up until it was done, even as he was pursued into the sea. God did exactly what He promised. He did not give Moses the play-by-play of how it would unfold, but all He said was true. We see here such LOVE in this two-sided exchange. By not giving up on doing as God commanded, Moses showed God He loved and trusted Him. In return, God showed His love to Moses -and an entire nation- through faithfully fulfilling their desire to be free. What is God commanding you to do? This month think about going beyond just obedience to the commandments by asking, “How could you use me, Lord?”. As you show your love in obedience and persist (even when the unexpected happens), watch God's love and faithfulness part seas in your own journey!

Just saying . . .

Just saying. . . .

I was reading along on my regular thru-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule when I wondered, “where did this verse come from?” It was Leviticus 5:1. I’m sure these words have always been there, but I can’t say I ever noticed them before. “If a person sins because he does not speak up when there’s a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.”

Maybe I was sensitive to this because I’ve also been thinking a lot about the concept of witness in light of what Jesus said in Acts 1:8. “You will be my witnesses.”

I firmly believe a witness, in this context, is not a passive state of being. Modern Christian mythology includes a quote from St. Francis of Assisi. “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The problem is, Francis never said those words. Some writer invented that about 20 years ago. In reality, in order to preach the gospel or to be a witness one must (as Francis did) use words to communicate properly. Better said is what I recently read in a novel, “At a trial somebody had to see it, smell it, touch it, or taste it, then swear [testify, bear witness] to it.”

Having noticed that verse in Leviticus, I’ve looked at various translations and commentaries trying to get a sense of the original meaning. Most commentators point to, but don’t limit it to the Mosaic legal system. As Christopherson writes, “this is saying that it is just as bad [as lying] not to speak up when you know you can verify the facts on a matter.”

My thinking puts this verse together with Ezekiel chapter 3, where God gives the prophet a message for his countrymen. Instead of delivering the message, Ezekiel sits among them completely silent for a full week. Then God calls him to account with these words: “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.”

When God says “do it,” do it.

Now jump with me all the way to the New Testament, to the book of Acts. With his last words to before rising from earth, Jesus tells the apostles, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” Essentially, he was saying you guys have been with me from the time my ministry began. You have experienced (seen, smelled, touched, tasted?) my life, my teaching, my death, and my resurrection. You know truth that most others do not. This is your public charge to intentionally and overtly bear witness to what you have seen and learned. And don’t make me remind you what my Father had to tell Ezekiel. Now get out there and get the job done.

Oh, and by the way, that charge to the apostles. It happened about 2000 years ago. Since it has not been completed yet, does that leave us with the responsibility to be witnesses?

Just saying . . . .

God's Message -- to Me?

I read the Bible daily. I study the Bible regularly. I use the Bible to teach others. I have a very high view of the Bible. For me, the Bible is the foundation on which our faith rests, because virtually everything we know about God and His plans for us comes directly and only from the Bible. As the saying goes, “don’t get me started.”

Admittedly, my Bible reading sometimes becomes mechanical. Ever had that feeling yourself?

So, the other morning, I was jolted out of the mechanical by an interesting personal perspective on the Bible from my friend Sara Whitten. She has graciously given me permission to share "Day 62" from her book, They Know His Voice: A 90 Day Devotional.

Sara brings the Bible home with an interesting question:

How would you respond if God sent an angel with a message to you?

Aside from the visible strikingness of seeing an angel, the power of the word comes in knowing that it was clearly sent by God specifically to you personally. If we were to read God’s word this way, how would it change the way we read Scripture?

You were not accidentally included or grandfathered into receiving these messages. These are letters written with you specifically in mind – to build you up, give you hope and keep you from danger. Spend even a few minutes in the Word today, and ask the Lord to show you something you’ve never seen before in whatever passage you read. He is speaking to YOU.

For the world of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV

If you’d like to see more of Sara Whitten’s They Know His Voice: A 90 Day Devotional, it is available from Amazon in print or electronic version. Click here to see it in context.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Unfortunately, this prose sounds deceptively simple and dry – and far away from us.

These are people,  not just bland statistics.

An estimated 30 million men, women and children are held as slaves and used for commercial sex or forced labor around the world today.

1.2 million children are trafficked each year. 8 out of 10 will be sexually abused.

Almost 1 million men, women and children are illegally moved across international borders each year. Approximately 80 per cent are women and girls. Up to 50% are minors.

Do the large numbers make it seem less personal? Picture just one person you might know – one friend, one family member,  one child from your community. Each among those millions is one real person - a friend or family member to someone.

One person cannot stop this. Several people working together might be a nuisance factor. Working together with others in the fight, and in the power of our God, we can stop human trafficking.

Mandate is one of many organizations in this fight. Our part centers around the Prevent Human Trafficking initiative in South Asia. Click here to learn more about Mandate’s part in the fight.