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!

Footprints in the Mud

I was told of a missionary and his family who had been working in Africa in the strife-torn early 1960's.  In addition to the very primitive living conditions of the post-colonial and rebellion-torn continent of that decade, their lives were in constant danger from many sources.

Back in their U.S. church one day, one of their friends felt he should pray for the family. Wanting help, he called around and finally pulled together a group of six who also felt that urge. They didn't know why, but they knew they must pray and not stop praying until the Lord gave peace.  Coming together in one of their homes, they prayed for several hours through the day. As suddenly as the need to pray had come, it left. They could stop.  Again, they did not know why but it was a unanimous feeling.

On that day the missionary and his family were travelling by jeep through a dangerous part of his country. Knowing others had been stopped, robbed, beaten, and even killed on that road, he told those with him to stay in the jeep and to keep the doors and windows closed as they drove through a certain part of the rain forest. 

They began their journey in late afternoon, hoping to drive directly home before dark. Halfway there, the jeep broke down in the middle of nowhere. Night was falling and the only thing to do was huddle in the locked vehicle and pray.  Total darkness fell, as it only can in the tropics.  Through the night they heard the sounds of people talking and moving around the jeep.

The next morning there was no one there.  Around the jeep, facing outward in the dust of the road, they found six pair of footprints. 

Don't ask me, as some have, who these footprints belong to.  I give you the story as I heard it.  Six people prayed; six sets of footprints were there, facing outward.  The prayer group had surrounded their missionary with a circle of God's power so that nothing could get through. Sounds more than a bit like Elisha’s experience in 2 Kings 6.

The prayer group did not immediately know why they prayed or the results of that prayer.  The missionary did not know what those footprints meant.  Their understanding of God's intervention did not come together until sometime later when the missionary came back to that church and shared his experiences.  Comparing dates and times, they finally realized how God had brought them together at exactly the time of need (even accounting for the difference in time zones).

Friends who are reading this. You are, or can be, the footprints in the dust around your missionaries.  As you pray for their needs, for their health, for their protection, you will be standing around them, your backs to the workers, facing outward to protect and sustain them so they can get on with the job God has given them to do.

Pray for Tanzania

Dear Heavenly Father,

Today, I pray for the country of Tanzania through a prayer of thanks.

First, thank You for the Tanzanian people. All are fearfully and wonderfully made, all with a purpose. I pray that those who do not yet know You will see Your presence in a magnificent sunrise or through a helpful hand of a neighbor. I lift up those who do not understand their purpose and pray that they will find You soon on their spiritual journey.  I have hundreds of thousands of prayers for the amazing people in this beautiful country to be touched by the Holy Spirit, especially when they live without clean water, secure shelter, enough food or education.

Today, I pray to You, my Father, my Heavenly protector, to shield the Tanzanian people from the evils of this world. Guard them from false idols and sorcery.  Lord, hear my prayer as I lift up these welcoming and warm people of Tanzania so they may know You and understand that You are way, the truth, and the life. Through You, they will find a home and be secure. Lord, hear my prayer.

Today is Your day, the day You created for all people to rest and take time to remember their blessings and Your grace. I am thankful for You and Your perfect creation; You have made the country of Tanzania filled with many blessings and gifts. Today I saw You when I was walking through Your beautifully created landscape; birds singing, monkeys playing, perfectly made granite hills with acacia trees nearby. As I look out at the vastness of Lake Victoria, I am reminded that Your love is even more vast. Thank You for giving Your only son so we can see Your love on earth, then eternally with You in heaven.

Heavenly Father, today I am filled with joy, because I can hear songs being sung in Your name, and I know that one day, these Tanzanian people who praise Your name will come home to You. I am thankful for the church and the missionaries who have come to this land to teach Your truth. I pray that one day, all people in Tanzania will know You through Your son Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. Lord, thank You for not forsaking us and forgiving us of our sins.

In Your gracious name I pray. Amen

An Egg

“I found it!” called my wife from the kitchen. She was excited. “Our can of pumpkin pie filling!”

We were still fairly new missionaries in the rain forest of the Indonesian province of Papua. The initial excitement of being there had about worn off. We were feeling the responsibilities of communicating the gospel to an animistic tribe. We were also feeling the loneliness and isolation of being the only western family in our area.

Although not on the Indonesian calendar, Thanksgiving was still on ours and we wanted it to be as familiar and comfortable as it could be half the world away from home. We didn’t have a turkey, but we could get chicken. We could get some familiar vegies flown in from other mission stations. Now, with the pumpkin pie filling, so lovingly carried from home and stored away for just such an occasion, we were ready for a family feast.

Then my wife read the label. “Oh, no! We need two eggs. Do we have any eggs left?”

We were so isolated, we had to have some foods, like eggs, flown in from the capital city on a missionary plane. We usually ordered eggs in trays of 30, which had to last the couple of weeks between flights. Our tray was empty. No eggs, no pie.

For the sake of our 3-year-old (as much as for our own), we tried to be upbeat. But our little one had a better idea.

“If we need eggs, and we don’t have any, let’s ask Jesus to give us an egg.”

Looking back, I’m not sure how much faith I had, but we followed her childish confidence. Together we bowed and let her pray a very simple, “Jesus, we need an egg. We don’t have one. Please send us an egg for our pie.”

In the busyness of starting our day the next morning, we noticed an older woman from the nearby village standing just outside our kitchen.

As I approached her, she held out her hand, showing what looked like a mound of grass and leaves. As I watched, she stuck a finger into the grass and wiggled it around, revealing – yes, you guessed it -- one small, dirty chicken egg.

The next day, Thanksgiving, we had our feast, complete with a pumpkin pie which, even with only one egg, tasted heavenly to us.

We were thankful, very specifically, for the egg. We were even more thankful that we could come to God with such a childish request, and He cared enough about us to honor that request.

Since that day over 40 years ago, I’ve not forgotten that we should be thankful, not only for the specific visible blessings God gives us, but even more thankful to know that we are His children, He loves us, He hears us, and He has already given us everything we need in Him.

Pray for Earth

Father,

We pray for the tragedies going on on a global scale. We lift up all those who have experienced tragedy this year. We pray that you mold our hearts to be more like yours. May we have hearts that seek peace and love genuinely. May that peace and love overcome hate and violence. Open our eyes and ears to the needs around us, and help us be the hands and feet able to meet those needs.

So much has come against us this year- in the US alone there has been multiple shootings, hurricanes, fires, and much more. We pray for healing where there is hurt and fresh beginnings and hope where there is ashes. We pray against any lines of division in our global society. We pray to be able to unite with Your love that covers a multitude of sins. Above all we ask that Your will be done in us and through us and that we can be nations of good and faithful servants.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Can God be Thankful?

Here we are, less than two weeks from Thanksgiving. I’ve been watching some Facebook friends counting down the days through this month with specific things for which they are thankful. Many people, no matter what their faith, are probably thinking the same way.

Then, earlier this week, this thought hit me. What is God thankful for?

My mind quickly began sorting through the many Bible passages stored away there over my 50+ years of following Christ. I could think of many people who were thankful in scripture. Jesus told his followers to be thankful. The apostolic writers reminded us to be thankful. Jesus, himself, offered thanks to the Father several times.

I couldn’t find any reference in the entire Bible to God the Father being thankful!

Since that initial thought, I’ve searched through various internet posts on the subject. Almost all agree God can be thankful, but they infer that through philosophic or theological arguments rather than the Bible. I can follow their trains of thought, and almost agree with their conclusions.

Here’s one of my own. By our human definition of thankful, we cannot prove that the sovereign, all powerful God has anyone to whom he can offer thanks. He is the ultimate giver, not receiver.

However, He can be pleased and acknowledge when something good is done in His name. Creation is an example, where He consciously and verbally expressed approval over His own work by saying, “. . . it was good.”

He can be pleased and acknowledge when His people do the right thing, as when He declared to Moses, “I am pleased with you.”

I tend to think His ultimate pleasure comes as described by Jesus in Luke 15:8-10. “. . . suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Going along with this, in another of Jesus’ parables, we see a picture of a young man who takes his share of the family wealth, leaves home, and loses everything to bad choices. Then this prodigal son repents, and returns home. His father welcomes him back without harsh words or actions, and shows his pleasure at the son’s return by celebrating. Given as a picture of a sinner returning to his God, it is also a picture of his heavenly Father’s pleasure that he has returned.

As we celebrate our own Thanksgiving holiday in two weeks, we will thank God for some of the specific blessings He has given us over this year. We’ll say, “thank you!”

I sincerely hope that He, in turn, will be pleased with us: for coming to, or back to, Him, and for helping others to do the same.