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.

Dreaming Wildly

Have you ever felt like you are living the life that was handed to you, instead of the life you’re meant to live? It can feel like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel wondering, “What am I doing?”  This is where dreams become vital to life—they stir us out of the rut we can find ourselves in.

The best, most important dreams help us pursue things that matter! Many of us want to live in the dream God has for us, but we are confused about what that is, so we cry out to God, “What’s your will for my life?!” The simple truth about God’s will is that it’s way more about who you are than what you do or where you go. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)

If you find yourself wondering about your dream then consider this—your dreams must be bigger than you! Meaning the best dreams, the most Kingdom minded dreams aren’t about what you will accomplish in life, but the best dreams see beyond ourselves and imagine the common good for all people! (1 Corinthians 12:7) Isn’t that always God’s will?

What if you dreamed for the people and places you intersect every day?

What if you dreamed for your neighborhood?

For the people you work with?

For your community?

For your church?

Having a dream can be intimidating because the world has boxed dreams into things like advancing your career or creating causes and movements that have a global impact. Many of us shy away from those types of “big dreams” because we don’t want to fail.

Our dreams shouldn’t be rooted in the big or impressive, but rather in the hope for the people and places around us. Ask God to stir your heart for that cause! What’s something that matters for your neighborhood, kids school, work colleagues, or city? What is something good that you and your friends can do that will spread the love of God and continue the global impacting movement we are already a part of called the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel calls you to do things you thought you could never do—and it starts with the life you are living now. Look around you and dream wildly—that’s God’s will for you!

Today's blog comes to us from Mrs. Julia Kuchinsky, an educator in the city of Korosten, Ukraine. We in Mandate appreciate her insights in the Christian life and willingness to share with us.

Seeing Salvation

Christmas 2017 is behind us. But the full Christmas story did not end with the birth of Christ, nor the visit by the shepherds. The Magi, chronologically, came sometime within the following two years, but I don’t want to extend the season quite that much.

Let’s focus on something that happened just a week after Jesus was laid in the manger. Meet Simeon, my third favorite Biblical character. He got it right.

Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented according to their law.

At the same time, God spoke directly to this man Simeon. Old enough to be thinking of his own death, Simeon was true follower of God. He knew the history of his people and the teachings of the Old Testament. He knew about the descendent of Abraham, long ago promised to God’s people. Somehow, he calculated the time for this man, this redeemer, this messiah was close. He prayed that he would be alive long enough to see God’s provision for salvation.

And God answered, “Yes.”

Directed by God, Simeon went to the temple on the same day, at the same time Jesus parents carried him in. Can you imagine the surprise when this unknown man went directly to Joseph and Mary, took the baby from them into his own arms, and began praising God?

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

Perhaps the most astonishing thing here is the setting. This happened in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. By this time the Jews were very ingrown and exclusive. The Messiah, whenever he might come, was supposed to be their political savior. He might rule over the entire world, but his blessings would be especially for Israel. An actual non-Jew, or Gentile, who entered the inner temple might well be subject to death. A Jew saying good things about gentiles might be thrown out or even stoned.

Simeon’s message was not his own. It had been God’s message from the beginning. It had been repeated throughout the Old Testament, but not given much credence. Now, in the form of this child, it had become reality. God wanted – wants – a relationship with all peoples. Simeon, this devout but unknown man, was the first to publically proclaim that message, which, today, we call missions.

The Shepherds' Example

‘Tis the season for nativity scenes.

Front and center in most is a group of shepherds. The story of the shepherds who came to see Jesus after His birth is as universal and almost as central to our Christmas story as Jesus Himself. I’m sure you remember, but let’s go to the source in Luke 2:8-18.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

If someone asked you to outline the main points of this story, how would you respond?

You would note the angels, both the individual spokesangel and the great company. You might mention “peace on earth,” as this is a common Christmas theme. And, of course, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

All of that is good, but the best part of the story happens after they find the baby. Many would consider going home after that as very anti-climactic. Not so for those men.

After they left Jesus “they spread the word.” They didn’t have much factual information. They had been told He was the Savior and Christ. This they could understand. They had seen him with their own eyes. With this part of the angel’s testimony corroborated, they had confidence his other words were also true -- this was indeed “good news of great joy . . . for all the people.”

Today we call people like this witnesses. They see, hear, and/or experience something, then tell others.

If you are celebrating Christmas as more than a season or civil holiday, you are probably among those described by the adult Jesus with the words “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jon 20:29), and by Peter “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).

If so, we are witnesses in a way the shepherds could not have imagined. We have not seen the baby in the manger, but we have received His grace, His salvation, and are living now by His power.

Let’s then follow the example of the shepherds and spread the word about what we have experienced so that many may do more than just marvel, but trust, believe, and follow.

The Promise

Here we are, just ten days away from Christmas 2017. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, we enjoy the opportunity to reflect on the birth of the one who would, and has now, brought salvation to all people. In our churches, we’ve heard about a month’s worth of sermons about how this birth came to be. We brought out our old Christmas music, and you’ve probably been listening to carols on the radio for days, weeks, or even months.

I’m told there are about 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament which were precisely fulfilled with the birth of Jesus two millennia ago. For example, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all predicted the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob. He would be from the tribe of Judah. He would be a direct descendent of David the second king of Israel. Isaiah foretold his mother would be a virgin. Micah pinpointed the place of birth.

These are only a few of the prophecies having to do with his birth. If we were to continue past the Christmas season, we can tie so many specifics of Jesus ministry and teaching directly to prophecies and foundations laid down in the Old Testament.

Now comes a bit of speculation. If you are like me, you’ve heard of these prophecies and seen them compiled in papers, articles, books. You’ve heard them in sermons. You experience them in music. You might even have thought, “if I had been alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, and if I had been reading the Old Testament as I should have, I would certainly have been more ready for this event then were the people of his day.”

Don’t kid yourself!

When the prophecies are nicely laid out after the fact there is much truth in the statement “hindsight always has 20/20 vision.” In reality, these 300 or so prophecies were scattered throughout the 40 books of the Old Testament. Many were given in passages which seem to relate to more immediate events in Israel’s contemporary history. For example, Isaiah 7:14 contains the well-known prophecy “a virgin shall conceive.” As it turns out, this prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in Israel’s history with the birth of a child to the prophet himself, as well as a longer-term application to the Messiah who was yet to come. So many prophecies of the Old Testament had that same type of dual fulfillment that it would have been difficult for the average person to sort them all out and know precisely what was going to happen and when.

We see from fulfilled history in Matthew and Luke, that several people or groups of people did understand portions of these events. Everyone seemed to be expecting a Messiah, but nobody seemed to expect him to come in the form of a human child. Herod’s advisers in Matthew chapter 2 were able to tell the Magi the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but they didn’t seem to know when that would happen. If Joseph and Mary had shared the story of her conception through the Holy Spirit, nobody seemed to have paid enough attention to that to put it together with Isaiah’s prophecy.

So where in the world am I going with all of this?

I believe all the events recorded in the Bible are true. I believe the prophecies given in the Old Testament pointing to the day of Christ’s birth were true. I believe the Christmas story happened as recorded by Matthew and Luke.

AND I am realistic enough to know that if I had lived in that time, I probably would’ve missed most of it too.

Where does it leave me now? Just very happy that I live as a follower of Christ today. Happy that I can look back and see what happened, putting the prophecies into perspective, seeing them in logical order, and understanding, in hindsight, how God orchestrated the events of history to come to that one point in time that we call Christmas.

My second-favorite song about Christ’s birth is not a traditional Christmas carol. In 1994, musician Michael Card released the first of three CDs which would chronicle in song the life of Christ. This first CD, The Promise: A Celebration of Christ's Birth, contained a song also titled “The Promise,” seeing Jesus’ birth as the culmination of centuries of prophecy to Israel.

The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
.

Throughout the Bible, we can read phrases like, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3) and “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us . . . “(Ephesians 3:20). These, and other passages hint at our lack of full understanding of the things of God, sometimes not even being able to imagine what God has in store for us.

That’s why those last lines of this song continue to grab my heart.

For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
   The Promise showed their wildest dreams
   Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
.

If that’s what we have to look back on, I wonder how much beyond my wildest dreams is the future God has promised us – His church – today – in his word.

Help Wanted

Mandate is an evangelical organization which sends Christian workers to areas of the world where traditional missionaries cannot go. We send these workers in open, legal, development roles such as education, medicine, business, agriculture, community development, human trafficking, etc. We expect all our workers to be as overt as possible in sharing their faith. As expressed in our vision statement “Mandate works to grow God’s kingdom among the least reached peoples of the world through the relationships and proactive witness of development-oriented Christian professionals.” We are currently working in South and Southeast Asia.

The Executive Director is a full-time, faith-supported position responsible for carrying out the ministry of Mandate.

Qualifications

  1. Explicit Christian testimony and life experience(s);
  2. Significant cross-cultural experience;
  3. Adequate formal and informal education to fulfill the duties listed above;
  4. Actively engaged in worship and ministry within a local church which is compatible with Mandate’s faith and practices;
  5. Agreement with the purpose, goals, and strategies of Mandate
  6. Able to provide and maintain personal financial support.

Additional Notes:

  1. Mandate does not have a central office. All U.S. staff work from satellite locations. This position can be filled from any location within the United States. No relocation is necessary.
  2. Mandate works closely with several overseas ministries. The person filling this position should be prepared to travel overseas at least once or twice each year.

Anyone interested can contact David Tucker, Mandate’s current executive director, at davidarthurtucker@gmail.com for a copy of the full job description and additional information about Mandate, as well as with any questions you might have. You can also go directly the Mandate’s website at GoMandate.org

Unadorned Christmas

I recently saw a social media post using a peppermint candy cane to illustrate the Christmas story, because you can turn it upside down and it becomes the letter “j” for Jesus.

What!?

Year by year, I am amazed how much we continue to add to the relatively simple story of God’s love as found in the Bible.

In a court of law, we draw upon eyewitness testimony to establish facts. We try to distinguish between that testimony and additions by people who were not even present. In the Bible, the eyewitness testimony of men and women of God has been recorded and has stood for 2000 years. Yet we seem to feel some compulsion to add culture and myth to the story in some kind of weird attempt to enhance it and make it more popular. Do we really think we can do better than God has already done?

There is no Santa Claus. No Father Christmas, no Kris Kringle or any other identity we’d like to give to an overweight man in a red suit. For the most part, we all realize that. There was no Christmas tree or gaily wrapped packages; no stockings, elves, or Grinch in Bethlehem. There was not even a drummer boy or innkeeper.

For the most part these things are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. They lose any sort of positive value, however, when they undermine or take the place of the true story.

When we take away everything that is not recorded in Scripture we are left with a story that has been described as “the greatest story ever told.” This is a story of God’s love for and redemption of a lost humanity. It is best summarized in a very familiar verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

For hundreds of years before the events we know of as Christmas, God had promised and predicted that he would send a Savior who could take away the debt of sin and restore people throughout the entire earth to a pure relationship with God. God’s predictions, as recorded in the Bible, were so specific that when the wise men of the East traveled to Jerusalem to ask where they might find the newborn King of the Jews, the teachers in Jerusalem immediately knew to send them to the village of Bethlehem. Other predictions foretold the genealogical line of his birth, the miraculously unheard-of virgin birth, a post-birth trip to Egypt, and subsequent residence in the area known as Galilee.

When God chose to bring his plan to fruition, he sent an angel to a young Jewish woman named Mary with these words, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:26-38). Mary’s fiancé, a man named Joseph, received a similar angelic visit, with this message “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.’” (Matthew 1:18:25).

Luke 2:1-18 describes the actual birth event of the child named Jesus, called the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, and God with us. Within a few weeks of the day we celebrate as Christmas, God used a local man named Simeon to sum up what had taken place with the words, “. . . my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:22-35).

That is Christmas, but it is only the beginning of what we celebrate as the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. As with the shepherds who saw the newborn Jesus and went on their way praising God, and Simeon who boldly spoke the words above in the very public Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, we have the responsibility and joyful privilege of sharing the story with the world.

The story, as it appears in Scripture, is true, valid, and very powerful. As we mix it with human traditions and sentimentality, it becomes less so. We must be very careful what we share with those who do not yet understand God’s program. We want them to be able to know the truth and only the truth. As it also says in the Bible, the truth shall set them free.

O, Holy Night, A Personal Experience

It was just about this time, several decades ago; December . . . sometime in the 1960s.  I was with my 8th grade schoolmates on a field trip to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. 

We were going to see what others knew to be a world-famous astronomical Christmas program.  That did not mean much to me.  At that stage of my life, just going into New York was a big thing.  Being out of the formal school setting also made it a special day.  This was a day to wander around with my friends, to try to impress the girls in our class, to talk loud and generally act our age.  Oh yeah, we might learn something, too.

Our class lined up at the door to the planetarium, slightly in awe as we entered the darkened room and found seats.  We were in something like a movie theater, but the rows of seats were set in concentric circles around a large dumbbell shaped projector.  Above us was a domed ceiling; typical for a planetarium, but this was my first time and I was soaking it all in.

As the seats filled, the room grew even darker and a voice came through the speakers, talking about the star of Bethlehem.  I was interested in science and outer space, so was captivated.  The religious part went past me. Jesus, the manger, the star, God Himself, were not part of my world, though I did wonder about that last One. 

The voice continued, talking about the star.  Having a common knowledge of the Christmas story, I could follow along and was interested because of the science involved.  Was this a real star, a comet, constellation, or even an unexplained event?  The voice never mentioned UFOs, but that, too, was in my mind.

As the show progressed, the huge projector in the center of the theater turned the dome into a picture of our night sky, then turned the clock back by showing what the sky would have looked like over Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  Now that was cool!  I was totally enthralled throughout the show, and would have gone away with a simple happy memory if it had ended at that point.  But there was more!

As the dome returned to our own time, the voice was replaced by carols, and the edges of the dome lit up with photographs of Christmas decorations and scenes from around the metropolitan area.  Not quite as interesting as the star show, I had fun trying to recognize decorations from our area of New Jersey.

Then something entered my consciousness.  The music had changed to trumpets playing a tune I recognized, even if I didn’t then know the words to O Holy Night!  That music got past my ears and into my heart.  Something stirred.  I thought, “There’s something beyond me in this song!  I wish I could know what it means.”  Something within me responded, “Keep wishing; you will.”

A couple of Christmases later I did know (but that’s another story).  The first time I sang O Holy Night as a believer, I was struck dumb as the magnificence of the words became even greater because of my new relationship with Jesus Christ. 

To this day I cannot hear O Holy Night without thinking of that afternoon in New York when I received a foreshadowing of glory.  And, yes, O Holy Night is, far and away, my favorite song of the Christmas season.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

 

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Pray for Russia

Lord, thank you for our brothers and sisters across Russia. Thank you for their faith in you. Thank You that there is a time of freedom for people to share their faith. Strengthen them so that they will be ready to stand strong and share Your love no matter what hardships they face and no matter where they go. Please continue to grow in Your saints in Russia this faith in You as well as their love for one another. Lord, we pray for this faith in you not only from the Russian majority, but also from the many minority groups native to this vast land as well as the millions of immigrants from central Asia and other parts of the world barely touched with the good news of Jesus. Show Yourself through the love that the saints from these various people groups have for one another.

May Russians find Your glory not only in the natural beauty across this vast land, but even more so in the work of Your Spirit in the hearts of all who believe in You. Lord, we realize that this will only happen if you pour out Your Spirit, Your wisdom and Your revelation so that they will know You. Lord free them from the various strongholds that linger from the system wide atheism behind the Iron Curtain, from alcoholism that entangles so many, and from the large pockets of Islam, Animism, Buddhism and other folk religions that keep people from putting their trust in You. Lord, free all the peoples of Russia from hopelessness or fear that keep them from Your peace and freedom. Let them press forward in finding what is true and right and may they find that the truth is only ultimately found in You. Bring light and joy to their hearts, as they understand the great inheritance that You offer by Your grace. May they see that true greatness will happen as they participate in growing Your Kingdom within Russia and across the boarders to their neighbors. Help them to see the righteousness, honor, and peace that You give to each of Your children. May they see that You and You alone are the ultimate authority and power no matter what difficulties they are facing. And help them to hold on to the hope of heaven.

Lord, build Your church in Russia and fill the church with Your fullness. Raise up men and women from Russia who will be disciple-makers of the nations. Raise up a movement of disciple-makers. Give them your perfect grace so that they will fulfill their role in bringing Your perfect good news to every people group and every person not only within their borders, but to all the ends of the earth. May we talk of Russia as a nation that is forever changed by Your glory and grace!