Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Wasted Life?

In his book, The Ruler Who Serves, Ray Stedman tells the story of Julius Hickerson who was a brillant young doctor.  He was poised for a very successful career and a wealthly life as a physician here in the United States. But something unexpected happened. 

God called Julius to be a missionary to Colombia.  When he told his family and friends his plans to move and serve in Colombia they all thought he was crazy.  “Why are you leaving a very successful career and moving?  You are wasting your life.  Look at all the money you will lose.”

For a long time it looked as if his family and friends were right.  Dr. Hickerson worked long hours in remove villages helping and treating patients and sharing the gospel.  The people, however, were resistant to the Good News of salvation.  At the end of two years of serving and helping and sharing the gospel, not a single person accepted Christ.

One day Dr. Hickerson was on a small plane flying supplies to a remote village, but he never arrived. The plane crashed and the doctor was killed.  His friends were right, or so it seemed—a wasted life.  Dr. Hickerson had done some good, but ultimately died for nothing.

A couple of years had passed, and the missionary organization that had sent Dr. Hickerson to Colombia, the Southern Baptist, decided to send another missionary to Colombia. The plan was for this misssionary to resume the work that Dr. Hickerson had started. Once the missionary had arrived in the region where the doctor had died, he found out something amazing. All the tribesmen were Christians.

As the new missionary explored, the more Christians he found. Churches were built and the whole area had been Christianized. The missionary asked, “How did this happen?  Where did you learn about Jesus Christ?”  The villagers replied, “From this book.” 

After the plane crashed, the villagers found a Bible that had been translated into their language. They began to read the Bible and passed it around for everyone to read it.  As they read, one by one, they gave their life to Christ and then they began to build churches. After hearing this amazing story, the missionary opened the Bible and saw a name written on the inside:  Julius Hickerson.[1]

A wasted life? No life is ever wasted when that life is committed to following Jesus Christ. As you begin a new year submit your life to what God wants for you this year. Take to heart the words of our Lord, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31).

According to Jesus, there is a tradeoff we make for His sake. We gain by losing. By sacrificing what is temporary, we gain what is eternal. We refuse to place value on what will eventually pass away, for what will endure throughout the ages. We let go of that which fleeting, to take hold of that which is of infinite worth. This is why living for the Gospel is the smartest investment one can ever make. As missionary martyr Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” -DM

[1] Ray Stedman, The Ruler Who Serves (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2002). 

Monday, December 21, 2015

God's Christmas Gift of Love

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Richard Armstrong in his book, Make Your Life Worthwhile, tells the story of a man in Wales who sought to win the affection of a certain lady for 42 years before she finally said “Yes.” The couple, both 74, eventually became “Mr. and Mrs.” But it wasn’t without significant patience and effort on the part of the gentleman suitor.  

For 42 years, the persistent, but rather shy man slipped a weekly love letter under his neighbor's door. But she continually refused to speak and mend the spat that had parted them many years before. After writing 2,184 love letters without ever getting a spoken or written answer, the single-hearted old man eventually summoned up enough courage to present himself in person. He knocked on the door of the reluctant lady's house and asked for her hand. To his delight and surprise, she accepted.[1]

One has to wonder at God's attitude toward Israel. Over the centuries, He pursued this obstinate group of people with very little encouragement. Certainly there were individuals like Abraham, Moses and David who walked with Him, but for the most part His efforts have been rebuffed. Hardly would one generation wake up to their need for the Lord before the next would thumb their noses at Him again.

Finally, when there was no other way, God wrapped up His message in human flesh and came in person. What a revelation of God’s love in the incarnation! This message of unrequited love delivered to the world’s doorstep is at the heart of the Christmas narrative.  

In the most beloved Bible verse of all-time, Jesus revealed the motivation for His advent, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The greatest gift ever given was bestowed upon the least deserving. Why? Because it was inspired by agape love.

Think of the risk involved in such an endeavor. Every time you love someone a piece of your heart is offered. Your love could be rejected and spurned. Indeed that did happen in the case of the Christ child, “for He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).

C.S. Lewis once remarked, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.”[2]

Another risk is that the beloved will not fully appreciate the value of the gift. This was also the case in the birth of Christ. Jesus was so highly undervalued that there was not a single open room in which the Messiah could be lodged (Luke 2:7). The religious leaders at the Temple had no idea that their long-awaited Messiah had been born in Bethlehem by the time that the magi arrived from their journey. And when Herod found out about the birth of the King, he tried to have him killed (Matt. 2:1-18).      

This well-known verse elevates Jesus to thin-air loftiness by crowning him with the most regal of all title, “His only Son.” In the Greek the word in focus here is monogenes, which literally means “one-of-a-kind.” This is a word that John would use multiple times in his writing to underscore the uniqueness of Christ (John 1:14, 1:18, 3:18; 1 John 4:9).

Let’s face it, when God gave us Christ He gave us something extremely rare and of immeasurable worth. There is only one Jesus and God the Father was generous enough to share Him, even though the Father knew we wouldn’t grasp the significance of His gift. In God’s Christmas gift we see someone of incredible value and incredible vulnerability.

I think Max Lucado spelled it out better than I ever could, “Our finest love is a preschool watercolor to God’s Rembrandt, a vacant-lot dandelion next to His garden rose. His love stands sequoia strong; our best attempts bend like weeping willows . . . Look at the round belly of the pregnant peasant girl in Bethlehem. God is in there; the same God who can balance the universe on the tip of His finger floats in Mary’s womb. Why? Love. Peek through the Nazareth woodshop window. See the lanky lad sweeping sawdust from the floor? He once blew stardust into the night sky. Why swap the heavens for a carpentry shop? One answer: love. Love explains why He came and why He endured.”[3]         

Take the manger of Christmas and combine it with the Messiah of the Cross and you have an unmistakable message written in red from God saying, “I love you.” -DM    

[1] Richard Armstrong, Make Your Life Worthwhile (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970).
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace 1960), 121.
[3] Max Lucado, 3:16: The Numbers of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 38-39. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Shoebox and the Lamb

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Every year Samaritan’s Purse distributes millions of shoeboxes across the globe through its Operation Christmas Child. This is an amazing ministry that puts a gift and the Gospel in the hands of needy children all over the world. Recently, SP shared one amazing story about a shoebox that was received in 1996 by a six-year-old boy, Luis from Panama.

Luis recalled the utter joy that exploded from his heart when he opened his shoebox and found a stuffed toy lamb that played the melody of “Jesus Loves Me.” He wrote, “The stuffed lamb in my shoebox was the first toy I ever received. I still have it. It was really a treasure. It played a little song and was so beautiful. It was so tender, so soft.
The little face of the lamb was something I loved. I used to pretend I was playing with a real lamb. After I finished playing with it, I always put it back inside my plastic shoebox. The lamb made me smile every time I saw it because I would remember the day people gave me the shoebox.”

Luis came from a family that had never been to church, much less heard the name of Jesus. Yet, his life changed when he read the letter inside the box which said, “Jesus loves you and I love you.” Luis said, “Because someone took a moment to write down “Jesus loves you and I do too,” it allowed me to see that even though I didn’t have a father and even though I don’t have a perfect life, He’s there for me. I lived in the ghetto. We didn’t have anything. I was hopeless. The shoebox allowed me to understand that God cared for me.”[1]

At age fourteen, the dots were all connected for Luis when he understood the Gospel message and the significance of the lamb in the shoebox. It’s a story that goes back long before the first Christmas to Exodus 12, the first Passover, which today still commemorates God delivering the Hebrew slaves from bondage. Every house that was covered with blood of the lamb escaped death. In the same way, Jesus became our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) when He perfectly fulfilled everything in the symbolism of the sacrificial lamb. Those who are covered by the blood of Christ have forgiveness of their sins (John 1:29) and escape God’s eternal wrath (John 11:25).       

That incredible story highlights the importance of this special season. In so many ways, Jesus’ birth was like that of a lamb. The birth of this Messiah-King was celebrated that night only by Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds. The shepherds had been in the fields around Bethlehem, guarding the lambs which would die at the next Passover.

When the angels appeared to them they told them about a special sign to look for when they went looking for the Christ-child. In Luke 2:11-12 we read, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Have you ever wondered why this would be a sign?

We gloss over that verse and don’t catch the significance of what God was trying to communicate to the shepherds. But this sign was something they would understand because of their occupation. The shepherds knew what this sign was all about because they had done it.   

Sheep that were raised in the fields of Bethlehem and destined to for the Temple in Jerusalem had to be perfect specimens. They could have no spot, blemish or broken limbs. When the shepherds would birth new born lambs they would reach into the mother’s womb, pull the lamb out, then they would wrap the lambs in swaddling because if it harmed its limbs in any way it would be disqualified as a sacrifice. Once the lamb was wrapped, he was laid in a manger until it was calmed down and ready to return to its mother.[2] 

No wonder then that the shepherds recognized the significance of what they saw in the manger. The birth of Jesus was orchestrated in such a way that it would be a preview of his sacrificial death as the Lamb of God. The angels declared to men who were considered sinful and out of fellowship with God that the ultimate Passover Lamb had been born and His blood would cleanse sinners and bring even the outcasts into fellowship with God. Mary’s little lamb, was destined for the altar of Calvary.

I am reminded of a poem that I first heard Adrian Rogers recite:

Mary had a little Lamb. His fleece was white as snow.
Son of God from Heaven above, for sinners here below.
Mary's Son, Eternal God, He — the Great I Am,
With wool so white on Christmas night became a little Lamb.

Mary had a little Lamb. His fleece was white as snow.
That spotless Lamb was crucified to pay the debt I owe.
Oh, spotless Lamb, with wool so white, Thy crimson blood, I know,
Can take away my crimson sin, and wash me white as snow.[3]    -DM

[1] “Luis and a Lamb,” Samaritan’s Purse <>
[2] Michael Norten, Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson/Westbow, 2012), 5-6.
[3] Adrian Rogers, “Mary’s Little Lamb,” Love Worth Finding <> 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

One Small Step for God

Image result for one small step for mankind

On July 20, 1969, as astronaut Neil Armstrong took that historic first “step for mankind” onto the dusty, desolate surface of the moon, there was great excitement and joy back at Mission Control in Houston, Texas and all around the world as millions watched and listened to this amazing event. Almost 2,000 years ago there was an event even more amazing and more significant, when God visited the earth in the person of Jesus at the first Christmas. In reviewing these two events, we find some striking parallels.

For example both of these events were the result of years of planning and preparation.  The Apollo missions spanned a decade of careful research to develop the technology for space travel and a lunar landing. Likewise, God prepared mankind for His earth visit over many years of prophetic revelation starting with the first hint of His plan of redemption in Genesis 3:15. 

Both of these visits required great amounts of power to accomplish. With the moon almost one-quarter million miles away, it required the most powerful rocket (Saturn 5) ever built for astronauts to break free from Earth’s gravitational pull.  God demonstrated his infinite power by miraculously impregnating the Mary’s womb and calling a brilliant star to shine in the heavens to aid the Magi in their pilgrimage.

Moreover, both missions had to be timed precisely. Any deviation from the launch schedule and NASA would have lost its best window of time for reaching the moon.  Likewise, God in His wisdom worked out His plan of salvation for mankind on a precise schedule. As Paul wrote in Gal. 4:4, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son…” 

Both undertakings required the invention of special bodies. Space suits designed so the astronauts could survive in the harsh, airless environment of the moon.  When God visited our planet earth, He too chose to put on a “special body,” appropriate for His ultimate mission objective of death and resurrection (Phil. 2:5-8). 

Both of these missions involved an unspectacular landing spot. The astronauts left their home planet (a place filled with beauty and teeming with life), to visit a drab, lifeless place with no air, no oceans, no blue sky, no clouds, where the sky is always black, and the "terrain" strewn with dust, rocks, scars, and impact craters.

Likewise, Jesus left the unimaginable glories of His heavenly home to descend to a spiritually dark, sin-cursed planet filled with misery, sickness, oppression, and death. He did not land in any great city like Rome, Athens, Alexandria, not even in Jerusalem, the holy city, the "city of peace." Instead He chose to come to the humble little town of Bethlehem, ". . . little among the thousands of Judah . . ." (Micah 5:2). And thus He condescended to be born in a stable and sleep in a manger.

Finally, both missions entailed great cost. The Apollo program cost over $30 billion to accomplish its mission. God also paid a great price for His mission. It cost Him the shed blood and sacrificial death of His beloved, only-begotten Son (John 3:16).1  -DM  

1. Helmut E. Schrank, "Man's Visit to the Moon Compared to God's Visit to the Earth," Institute for Creation Research: Acts and Facts, 1994, vol. 23, p.12 <>.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Messiah in the Manure

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Geoffrey T. Bull (1921-1999) set out from London to be a missionary to China in February 1947. Little could he have imagined the drama and suffering he would endure in the ensuing years. He studied the Chinese and Tibetan languages, traveled thousands of miles preaching and teaching before entering Tibet in 1950.

Bull witnessed the last days of Tibetan independence from China and was eventually imprisoned by the Communists on the pretext of being a spy. At first, he was kept in solitary confinement. There he established a daily routine which included praying, memorizing the Bible, singing hymns, composing poems, and meditation. When he wouldn’t crack, his captors tried brain-washing, but he claimed that his “faith in Christ kept him from mental breakdown.”

In his incredible autobiography, When Iron Gates Yield, Bull recounted how the Communists seized him and drove him across frozen mountains until he nearly died of exposure. Late one afternoon, his captors staggered him into a small village where Bull was given a small upstairs room for the night.

After a meager supper, Bull was sent out to the stables to feed the horses and tend to the animals that his captors rode. As he clambered down into a stable from a rickety ladder the intrepid missionary found himself in total blackness. His boots squished in the manure, mud and straw on the floor. The fetid smell of the cattle, mules and horses was utterly nauseating. That’s when the Holy Spirit tapped Bull on the shoulder and reminded him of something important. Bull recorded in his memoir:

“Then as I continued to grope my way in the darkness it suddenly flashed in my mind. ‘What’s today?’ I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Suddenly, it came to me. ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood suddenly still in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way down from heaven to some wretched Eastern stable, and what is more to think that He came for me. How men beautify the Cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts and at death exposed him to the shame of rogues. I returned to the warm, clean room which I enjoyed even as a prisoner, and bowed in thankfulness and worship.”[1]  

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The great detriment of our Christmas imagery is that we try too hard to sanitize the birth of Christ. He did not come to be born behind safe castle walls, or to be laid in a soft, pillowed cradle. This was no clean hospital room with white sheets and lab coats. No, this was the Messiah amidst the manure; the Son of God just a few inches from the sawdust and straw of the mud floor. There were no nurses or doctors to check the baby’s vitals, just the bleating of sheep and the scratching of hoofs.

Christ was born this way to totally identify with the meek and impoverished. His birth was just a notch below third-world standards so that no one could claim that He was given some advantage they didn’t have. He was born this way because He was condescending to humanity’s need—a Savior who was not afraid of the dirt, the stench or the blood. As Paul said:

“Christ Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion” (Phil. 2:5-8, MSG). -DM

[1] Geoffrey T. Bull, When Iron Gates Yield (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970), 158-159.