Tuesday, December 31, 2019

This One Thing I Do

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In 1959 Wycliffe Bible translators Al and Sue Graham answered God’s call to the mission field by going to the jungles of Brazil. A thousand-mile journey up the Amazon River they worked with the Sateré people, who were named after a gorgeous florescent insect that hovers above the canopy of the jungle.

Because of the low self-esteem of the Sateré, they were killing themselves off by suffocating their newborns. When the Graham's arrived, they only numbered 1,500. On top of their infanticide problem, the Sateré had no written language. The Grahams had their work cut out for them; before they could begin translating the Bible, they first had to invent a written language for the people they were trying to reach!

One verse that kept the Graham’s going through the long, grueling process was Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…” Notice Paul’s motto of singular, laser-beam focus—this one thing I do!

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Sue Graham

During the early years of their ministry, the Graham’s also prayed that God would help them find a way to break through the Sateré. How could they relate the Gospel to them in a context they could understand? A few years into the project, the Graham’s heard the legend of the Wasidii (The original grandfather of the Sateré).  The Wasidii arrived in their land as a prisoner of unknown captors. While hidden in a cave, a “god” gave him ten rules for living and Wasidii carved them on a canoe paddle; five positive and five negative. The paddle still exists today and anthropologists who have examined the paddle cannot identify the writing or the wood. These rules had then been passed down to each generation’s chief. The legend promised that someday someone would come and explain the writing to them.

This was the Gospel key the Graham’s had been praying for. They were able to relate the legend of the Wasidii to the Ten Commandments and how God had given rules to live by. However, mankind had broken his laws and needed a Savior. When the Graham’s connected the dots for the people, a Gospel breakthrough happened.

By 1982, the tribes no longer killed their young and they had grown to over 5,000 with 9 flourishing churches. The New Testament translation was finished April 20, 1986. Al Graham went to be with the Lord in 2010, but Sue kept working diligently and on April 20, 2017 her translation of the Old Testament was complete.

Think of the legacy statement of this one couple. They lived out Phil 3:13 by focusing on one thing—bringing the Bible to an unreached people group. God did the rest.

As you plan for another year let me ask a question—do you have a long-term goal? You may not be translating the Bible on a frontier, but what’s the one thing you are focused on doing? All the heroes of the Bible had a single-minded focus. Noah built an Ark. Moses led a nation. David composed songs. Jesus carried a cross. Paul preached the Gospel. Can you say—"This one thing I do!”  
If not, let’s purpose in our hearts to fix our focus in 2020 and ask the Lord to show us what one thing we can do for His glory.   -DM


Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Perhaps Today (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2001), 126.  

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Wonder of Christmas

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On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts James Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders entered lunar orbit. They became the first humans to see the dark side of the moon, circling 10 times. Perhaps, the most poignant moment of the historic occasion happened when the astronauts decided to end their broadcast by reading from the creation account of Genesis. Later Frank Borman said of that Christmas Eve, “I was awestruck. With my thumb I could cover up the whole planet earth. I thought ‘This must be what God sees.’”[1]  Millions of people across the world watched, and the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever.

Fast forward less than one year to July 20, 1969. The Apollo 11 mission would put the first humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Adrian, on the lunar surface. By now the whole world was utterly fascinated. Experts say that over 600 million people around the globe (1/5 of world population) watched Armstrong take his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In the United States, 94 percent of people watching television were tuned into the event. Even CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, who was usually cool and composed, was momentarily at a loss of words.[2]  

            But something funny happened, soon after the success of Apollo 11 people quit caring about the space program. Remember the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” In the years that followed the public simply lost interest in going to the moon.  Surveys in newspapers such as the New York Times and the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin found that the majority of Americans could not remember Neil Armstrong’s name just a year later.[3] By the time of the last moon mission, Apollo 17 in 1972, few people watched or even knew that it was happening. Chris Kraft, NASA’s first mission control flight director said, “The blush fell off the rose after Apollo 11. In the minds of many the mission was over. We had been there and done that.”[4]

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It’s human nature for our interest to fade once the novelty wears off. After a while, we can easily become bored with something, even when it’s as amazing as putting a man on the moon.

Do you find the same thing happens with Christmas? As you grow older the tree doesn’t glow as bright, the presents aren’t as exciting, and the anticipation of Christmas morning gets lost in the hustle and bustle. Many adults have heard the Christmas story so many times in the sermons, carols and pageants that the wonder of God becoming man has become ho-hum.

Ravi Zacharias observed, “Our souls yearn for a wonder that reaches beyond the dimensions of our finite minds, and if we don’t allow a wonder towards God, we’ll search for it elsewhere, in false gods . . . The older you get the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder and only God is big enough to do that.”[5]

Are you having trouble rekindling that child-like wonder this Christmas? Let me suggest at least four areas of Christmas, that in my estimation, will always stir up amazement in our hearts.

First, there is the wonder of Scripture. The birth of Christ fulfilled many ancient prophecies; 19 to be exact.[6] Not only does fulfilled prophecy prove that the Bible is uniquely inspired, but it authenticates Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Several of these prophecies stagger the mind when you consider that they could only be fulfilled by God entering our time and space. For example, how could you accomplish a virgin conception (Is. 7:14)? How could you arrange circumstances so that you are born in a particular town—Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)? Moreover, how could you plan to be born in a very narrow window of time (Dan. 9:24-27)?    

Second, there is the wonder of the star. Remember the lyrics to the classic carol, “We Three Kings?” “Star of wonder, star of night / Star with royal beauty bright / Westward leading, still proceeding / Guide us to thy Perfect Light.” Astronomers and Bible scholars have wondered exactly what the celestial body was that led the wise men to the Christ child (Matt. 2:9). Some have speculated that it was a comet, others have said it was a conjunction of constellations, while some have said that it was the shekinah glory of God. Whatever it was, the lesson of the star is that God uses creative and beautiful ways to draw all men unto Himself.

Third, we must consider the wonder of the shepherds. The shepherds keeping their flocks on quiet, rolling hills of Bethlehem were privy to choirs of angels announcing the birth of Christ (Luke 2:9-14). These weren’t angels in disguise, because the Bible tells us they shined with “the glory of God” (Luke 2:9). We can only imagine how the shepherd’s mouths dropped and their knees buckled with they saw the brilliance of these celestial creatures. We are filled with fascination about angels, but the amazing thing is that according to 1 Peter 1:12, the angels “long to look” into gift of salvation we have been given.      

Finally, there is the wonder of the Savior. Perhaps, Charles Swindoll said it best, “The incarnation is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, stuffed inside an enigma.”[7] There’s nothing in world of fiction as incredible as the truth of God becoming a man. Mary’s heart swelled with awe as she reflected on her miraculous child (Luke 2:19). Isaiah said one Christ’s names would be “wonderful” (Is. 9:6) and Paul wrote, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). If the incarnation does not engender awe, I don’t know what will. The Creator was in a cradle. The Infinite became an infant. The Messiah lay in the straw of a manger. Deity wore diapers. Christ was is the earthly child of a Heavenly Father and the heavenly child of an earthly mother. As the Ancient of Days, when Jesus was born he was as ageless as His Father and older than His mother. His is the cradle that rocked the world, for when eternity invaded time Christ split our timeline in half and our world has never been the same since. -DM  

[1] JESSE GREENSPAN, “Remembering the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast,” History, 17 Dec. 2018
[2] Tiffany Hsu, “The Apollo 11 Mission Was Also a Global Media Sensation,” The New York Times, 15 July 2019
[3] Franz Strasser & Ashley Semler, “Why Americans lost interest in putting men on the Moon,” BBC, 24 July 2014 <https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-28450386/why-americans-lost-interest-in-putting-men-on-the-moon>
[4] Alex Stucky, “The Other Apollo Missions,” The Houston Chronicle, 18 July 2019 <https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/space/mission-moon/article/The-other-Apollo-missions-Despite-cutbacks-14097551.php>
[5] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994), 89.
[6] David R. Reagan, “Prophetic Facts about the Nativity,” Lamb & Lion Ministries <https://christinprophecy.org/
[7] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrates, Quotes and Stories (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas: The End of Loneliness

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Christmas Eve 1906 was a historic day for humanity. Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor and university professor who began his career working for Thomas Edison, figured out that by combining two frequencies together, radio could do more than simply transmit Morse code. It would be possible to speak over the airwaves. Thanks to him, radio became a sound medium.

Three days before Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden had notified ships off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts to monitor the airwaves. At the appointed hour, 9:00 PM, for the first time in history a man’s voice moved through the atmosphere without wires. It was the beginning of what we call “radio.” According to his own account, Fessenden read the Christmas story from Luke 2, then he picked up his violin and played, “O Holy Night”—the first song broadcast in radio history.[1] (To listen to that broadcast click this link)

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Reginald Fessenden

2,000 years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as radio to spread the Good News of God’s Son breaking into our planet. However, God dispatched his own messenger service—throngs of angels, who announced to lowly shepherds outside Bethlehem that Christ was born (Luke 2:8-13). As the hymn says, “Fall on your knees / O hear the angels' voices / O night divine / O night when Christ was born.”

A commentator for NPR gave this interesting perspective on the historic 1906 moment, “It was the birth of a new thing that would utterly change the century that followed. On the very eve of the day set aside to commemorate that birth described in the Gospel of Luke. And what was born was an end to loneliness.”[2]

Thanks to Fessenden, a fellow human being could whisper into another’s ear from far away and reach the innermost recesses of the imagination. But in an even more profound way, the birth of Christ into this world is an end to loneliness. Don’t forget the prophetic name of the Christ child is “Immanuel”—God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Prophets weren’t enough. Apostles wouldn’t do. Angels wouldn’t suffice. God sent more than miracles and sermons. He sent His Son. There is no greater mystery or message than Immanuel. Didn’t He say, “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20) and “I will never leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5)? At Bethlehem we see God with us, at Calvary we see God for us and at Pentecost we see God in us. The One who came to walk our streets and be touched by our infirmities, also says He will make our heart His home.  

Max Lucado wrote, “In God’s great gospel, he not only sends, he becomes; he not only looks down, he lives among; he not only talks to us, he lives with us. He swims in Mary’s womb. Wiggles in the itchy manger straw. Totters as he learns to walk. He knows hurt. His siblings called him crazy. He knows hunger. Tempted in the wilderness by the Devil to make bread out of stones. He knows exhaustion. Sleeping in a storm-tossed boat. He knows betrayal. He gave Judas three years of love. In exchange, Judas gave him a traitor’s kiss. Most of all He knows sin. Not his own, but yours. He knows the agony of the Cross the price it cost to have those sins forgiven (1 Peter 3:18). Before you knew you needed a Savior, you had one.”[3]

Christmas is the end of loneliness, because it was the Savior’s first step towards the Cross where He would do away with the sin that separated us from God (Eph. 2:13). -DM       

[1] David Jeremiah, “O Holy Night: The Story Behind the Song,” Turning Points, December 2019, p. 8.
[2] Dean Olsher, “Christmas Eve and the Birth of ‘Talk’ Radio,” NPR: All Things Considered, 22 December 2006
[3] Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 66-67.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Joy to the World: The Story Behind the Song

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The Christmas season would hardly seem complete without the singing of one of the most beloved carols of all time, Joy to the World.  The hymn's author, Isaac Watts (1675-1748), is universally acknowledged as "The Father of English Hymnody" because he wrote over 600 songs. 

According to tradition, Watts began writing verses as a child and showed signs of his prodigy early on. In his teen years he complained that the congregational songs in church were difficult to sing, not mention bland and boring for his taste. Watts' father, who pastored a small congregation in Southampton, England, challenged the budding musician after a Sunday service, “Well son, if you think you can why don't you write some hymns that are better?” 

Instead of feeling defeated, Isaac took up his father's challenge. He showed his father a hymn that he had written, Joy to the World. Apparently, Mr. Watts had no inkling that his son was so gifted. He eagerly presented his son's composition at church the next Sunday. It was so well-received he was asked to write another for the following week.  Watts wrote a new hymn every week for the next four years. More than a century after Watts, in 1839 American composer Lowell Mason, set Watts’ words to a new melody taken from Handel's Messiah.[1] 

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Interestingly, if you notice the lyrics of the song, you will see nothing about shepherds, a manger, wise men, angels, or any other element that we normally associate with the Christmas story. The reason is that Isaac Watts did not write Joy to the World to be a Christmas song. The inspiration for this song came from Watts’ study of Psalm 98 which he thought pointed forward to the universal jubilation which would arrive as a result of Christ's Second Coming and Millennial Kingdom. Just think about the lyrics for a moment.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.

Did the world receive Christ at His first coming? Not according to John 1:11, “He came unto His own and His own people did not receive Him.”

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

Nature did not rejoice when Christ came the first time. There was darkness and earthquakes when He died on the cross (Matt. 27:45, 51). However, when He returns to set up His Kingdom the creation will respond according to Isaiah 11:6-9.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love. 

The nations haven’t yet recognized Jesus as King of kings, but they will according to Phil 2:9-11, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Perhaps one day we will sing this hymn one day in the Millennial Kingdom and every word of it will be literally fulfilled. I hope you’ve made plans to be there. The way you gain entrance into the Kingdom is by bowing and recognizing the Lordship of Jesus Christ today.    -DM

[1] Robert J. Morgan, Come Let Us Adore Him: Stories Behind the Most Cherished Christmas Hymns (Nashville, TN: Countryman, 2005), 20-21.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Dreamin' of Christmas

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Some time ago I read a fascinating true story in Guideposts magazine about a couple (Joyce & Ken) who had a scary moment that led to an emergency trip to the hospital. They wrote to the magazine sharing their amazing story.  

By the time Joyce got Ken to the hospital, he was ghost white. Nurses screamed for the crash cart, knowing he was near death. Doctors told Joyce that Ken was bleeding internally. He would need immediate blood transfusions to keep pace with his blood loss until they could find where the bleeding was coming from and patch him up. Eventually, Ken’s condition stabilized.

Joyce was utterly drained from the experience. In a quiet moment she muttered a soft prayer, “God help us through this night,” then she dozed off. Suddenly, a frightening dream gripped her. She was in a hospital room filled with floor-to-ceiling mist. Joyce could see Ken slowly sliding through the misty wall. And she knew if he went through, he would die.

She grabbed his arm, putting one hand above his elbow and the other just below it. She was tugging with all her might but was losing him to the mist. Joyce pulled one last time, and he was free.

When Joyce awoke, she called a nurse in to check on Ken. Nurses noticed something was wrong and began working feverishly. Joyce was asked to step out of the room while they made emergency adjustments. About a half-hour later, a doctor came to Joyce and explained that Ken’s transfusion line had clogged, shutting off the blood he so badly needed. “It's a good thing someone went to check on him or he would have surely died,” the doctor said. “How did you know?” he asked.

Joyce looked down at Ken's arm. He had black and blue marks just above and below his elbow in the places she had clutched in her dream. Suddenly, Joyce knew God had answered her prayers.[1]

Studying the Christmas story again I was reminded how dreams pervaded the lives of those involved. In the first two chapters of Matthew I counted five dreams. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, convincing him to take Mary as his wife and to name her child “Jesus” (1:20-21). The wise men had an angel visit them in a dream telling them not to return to Herod (2:12). In the next verse Joseph had another angelic visitor in his dream instructing him to take Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt so they could escape the clutches of Herod (2:13). The Bible records that Joseph had two more dreams after this in which God gave him specific instructions (2:19, 2:22).    

Naturally, the questions arises—does God still speak through dreams today? Honestly, there’s nothing in the Scriptures that says it’s impossible. God’s primary means of communication to us today is through His word and His Spirit. But if He chooses to use a dream He can.

I’ve read numerous stories of people in closed countries having dreams/visions that result in them coming to faith in Christ. Accounts of people in third world countries being told to go to such and such a place at such and such a time to speak with God's messenger, only to bump into a missionary at the exact place and time.  In fact, Lee Strobel writes in his book The Case for Miracles, “More Muslims have become Christians in the last couple of decades than in the previous fourteen hundred years since, Muhammad, and it’s estimated that a quarter to a third of them experienced a dream or vision before their salvation experience.”[2] 

I would not be so quick to put God in a box and dismiss these stories. At the same time, we must be discerning and not be so gullible that we establish doctrine on a dream (1 John 4:1-3).

The dreams of Joseph in the Christmas story are a powerful reminder that God is not shut out of our world. He breaks through in our sleep. He interrupts the ordinary. He is there and He is not silent. 


[1] “An Inspiring True Story from Guideposts’ ‘Miracles Do Happen’” <https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/entertainment/books/an-inspiring-true-story-from-guideposts-miracles-do-happen>
[2]  Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 139-141.