mission

Leadership and Vision

Vision, leader(ship), and goals are words often used to identify or describe Christian organizations.

 In the case of Mandate, to make this personal, vision is the expectation, shared by the entire team, of what we think God wants us to accomplish.

 The leader is someone God brings to team who can share the vision, help the entire team accept it as their own, and guide them towards making the vision a reality.

 Since vision is sometimes a fuzzy concept, the goals are specific, measurable outcomes which lead to the realization of the vision.

Wow, that sounds a bit dry and academic. Sorry about that. But keep on reading.

Over Mandate’s 20+ years, God has provided three leaders to take the position of Executive Director. I’m not going to name names here, but do want to highlight the leadership roles of these three.

The founder of Mandate was a man with a lifetime of cross-cultural experience. He was able to foresee the necessary changes in missionary methods needed to bring the message of Christ into areas where traditional missions could not go. With the help of others who could catch his vision, he was able to build a new type of organization around our first written vision statement.

To lead mission agencies and churches worldwide in partnership to place their people in key locations in order to reach the least-reached people of the world according to the Great Commission by providing to provide highly qualified personnel to serve in the areas of health, education, enterprise development, appropriate technology and economic development.

 Through his decade of leadership, this pioneer established Mandate and led workers into India and Nepal. In the process, he helped other agencies and churches unselfishly pool their personnel and resources to effectively pursue both vision and goals. His final leadership role was setting the example for an orderly leadership transition, which brought in . . .

The man who became Mandate’s second Executive Director was hooked by an e-mail which began, “We’ve been waiting for you.” This man also had many years of missionary experience, including establishing churches among unreached tribal groups and home office administrative and leadership roles. He fully embraced the vision and Mandate model and helped streamline the purpose statement.

We are working to grow God’s kingdom among the least reached peoples of the world through the relationships and proactive witness of development-oriented Christian professionals. 

And, in an even more succinct purpose statement:

Serve the people, build His Church.

During his leadership, Mandate moved from the two original countries of service into Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Over the past three years, Mandate had developed and carried out a plan to bring in a new leader in 2019. This led to a newest Executive Director being appointed by the Board of Directors earlier this month. Younger than those who’ve gone before her, with both organizational and cross-cultural experience, she is poised to expand Mandate’s draw in the U.S. and outreach overseas. She and the entire Mandate organization believe that God has called and gifted her to lead us into the next decade and beyond.

Our new Executive Director will take this page next week to share more about herself and express some of her goals for the future. Having heard these goals directly from her, I know you’ll be thrilled to read them here. So, please come back next Friday, March 29, and help us look into the future.

What is a rubber dummy?

“What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 Jen is a computer programmer. She had been describing the process of developing a new commercial program. “Then,” she had explained, “when I think I’m all finished, I have to use a rubber dummy.” That’s when I interrupted her. “What in the world is a rubber dummy?”

 “When I think I’m finished with the whole program, I have to make sure other people know what it’s all about and how to use it. I look for the least computer literate person. He or she becomes my rubber dummy. If I can explain things so that person understands, I can consider my job complete.”

 It seems to me there are many times when God works like this. He brings us into what he is doing, not because he needs us, but because he wants us to see and understand what is happening. We become God’s rubber dummies. For example:

 I was at Lighthouse of Hope camp in Russia’s Central Black Soil Region as part of the discipleship process for a group of teenagers who had recently given their lives to Jesus Christ. In our first meeting together, I wanted to give some of them the opportunity to verbalize the commitment they had made.

 “Who wants to come up here and tell . . .” I hadn’t even completed the sentence before the figure jumped from the front row of seats and bounded onto the platform next to me. Not saying a word, she stood there looking at me with a knowing smile. I recognized her from photos of previous camps, but must have looked confused because she said, “Don’t you remember?”

 

I was still confused. Remember what? “The picnic table.” The picnic table! It came flooding back to me.

 Two years before this, while visiting the same camp, I had been called off a construction project to fill in for another speaker who had been delayed. Since that had been an evangelistic camp, I probably challenged the kids to talk to their counselors about what it meant to follow Christ. I had finished up, spent a few minutes talking to people around the campfire, then headed back to my room at the Center.

 Suddenly Irina, one of our interpreters, came running to me. “David, you have to come with me. Right now!” After a long and hard day, I was ready for bed, but had learned to trust Irina ‘s judgment. I followed her back toward the campground where she led me to a group of girls sitting around a picnic table.

 Irina looked at the girls, who all seemed to be studying their hands in their laps or the top of the table. “Tell him,” she demanded in the Russian way. Hesitantly, one by one, six teenage girls told me that they had just invited Jesus Christ into their lives.

 Wow! I didn’t quite know what to do. I asked them each to tell me about the experience, then sat with them for the next couple of hours, no longer concerned about getting to bed early. We talked about the decisions they had made, and what they meant in practical terms. I encouraged them. We prayed together.

 Jump ahead two years and I was back at the discipleship camp, looking at this young lady, Masha, and picturing her sitting at that picnic table. “You.” I said in English. Masha understood and nodded at me. And before I knew it, she had turned to the whole group and began telling them what happened to her and how she had grown in Christ in the two years between that picnic table in this platform. What an amazing start to a week of helping these new believers walk with their Savior.

 I was God’s rubber dummy! He certainly didn’t need me there, either when Masha came to know him or when she gave her testimony to the other campers. In both cases, he arranged the circumstances and actions to extend his kingdom and to bring glory to himself. He further arranged things to make sure that I would understand what he had done and how he had done it.

 I guess I don’t mind being a rubber dummy in circumstances like this. I’m also somewhat of a storyteller. And what happens when you combine a rubber dummy and a storyteller? Well. . . You get something like what you’ve just read.

A girl named Inna

You’ve heard it said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I like to think a good picture should not only be worth a thousand words, but should tell a story. Some pictures can go beyond that to tell multiple stories.

 I’m looking at a photograph I ‘ve carried with me for over a decade. In some ways, it is self-explanatory. This is obviously a baptism, probably in Russia. The man in the blue robe seems to be the pastor. The three younger people with him, the baptismal candidates. Just that makes a good picture. But there’s more.

 My attention was caught by the girl at the end of the line. With her head bowed, it’s difficult to see much about her, other than she is a young woman. Something about her caught my heart, and I made an inner commitment to pray for her. I prayed regularly that she had indeed found Christ. I prayed that she would grow in Christ. I prayed that God would bring a support group around her.

As time went on, I learned her name was Inna. She had been a addicted to drugs and alcohol, and was then in a rehab program at Transformation Christian Center. I was told she had met a young man at the center and they planned to be married. All of this information fueled my prayers as I held her before the Lord.

 A couple of years later I had the opportunity to visit this center in Russia. I was very excited about the possibility of actually meeting Inna. To me she was the both a real Christian sister as well as a living representation of the work being done through that ministry.

 At my first chance on site, I began wandering around the complex, looking for someone who might be Inna. After walking around fruitlessly for a time, I spied a small figure sitting on a step. Going by the only photograph I had, it would be difficult to identify her, but I would give it a try. Walking up to her, I pulled out half of my Russian language knowledge and said “Menya zavut David” -- my name is David. She responded “Menya zavut Inna.”

 It was her! Now what? I didn’t know any more Russian, and it was obvious she knew even less English. We smiled at each other, became mutually embarrassed, and I finally waved my hand, mumbled “da svedanya” or good-bye, and walked away.

 The next day I was standing with a bilingual missionary when I saw Inna walking past. Calling to her I asked Rick to translate for us. I began by telling her about the photograph. Yes, she smiled as she remembered the day she was baptized. “Inna,” I said. “Ever since I saw that photograph of your baptism, I’ve been praying for you.”

 Inna looked confused for a moment, then looked up at Rick and began to say, “why would anyone pray for someone that they did not know?”

 Before she had even finished that question, I saw something new come into her eyes – an answer to her own question. This was something she had never thought of before. As she looked to me, it was as if a bright light came on behind her eyes. For possibly the first time in her life, Inna realized she had a larger family beyond her new husband, beyond her fellow residents in rehab, even beyond the missionary community. In a new burst of understanding she realized she was part of a worldwide family – – God’s church, where people knew who she was, prayed for her, and loved her unconditionally.

 On that day Inna learned something new. So did I. I saw the power of a simple photograph and understood anew the power of prayer and encouragement within the family of God.

 Maybe the best thing about this story is that this is only part one. Stay tuned.

What Drives Disciples?

Orphaned at age 14, dismissed from college for criticizing a teacher, unsuccessful in his first attempts at ministry, this man did not seem much of an inspiration.

 In the mid-1700’s, David Brainerd became a missionary to the Seneca and Delaware Indians then living in the colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. More recently, as I’ve had the chance to drive highways and back roads in those areas, I’ve actually seen historical markers noting his paths of travel.

 Brainerd literally coughed his life away on those colonial roads as he traveled and preached, all the while dying of tuberculosis. Contemporary accounts say that his path was often marked by two knee prints in the snow -- where he had knelt to pray -- and spots of red between them where he had coughed blood during his prayers. He died in 1749, at the relatively young age of 29.

 In his journal he wrote about the Indians he was trying to reach, noting their ". . . inability to extricate and deliver themselves from [their fallen state]" and the " . . . absolute need of Christ to redeem and save them . . . “This certain belief led Brainerd to teach ‘of Christ as the only way to the Father’."

 What drove this disciple? What made David Brainerd leave his home to travel by horse and foot through some of the wildest lands these colonies had to offer? What compelled him to shorten his life by expending what little strength he had in pushing forward again and again?

 The most obvious answer is that he believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

What Drives Disciples; Peter

This is coming to you from the same driven personality who wrote last week’s blog, where I concluded with the question, “What drove Jesus to come to earth and die for the sins of humanity?”

My conclusion then was that Jesus was driven both by the Father's love for his creation and the necessity of God's redemptive plan. Jesus knew that without his sacrifice, there would be no hope. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is already lost and condemned. (John 3:38) No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Having accomplished that way to God the Father, Jesus also knew that truth had to be shared beyond his small band of followers. When he told his disciples -- and, through them, us -- to "go and make disciples of all nations . . ." (Matthew 28:19a), he gave them the foundation on which to build his church.

That first generation of disciples did a better job than any since. They reached their entire known world with the gospel message. What enabled them to do this? What drove those disciples?

I love the whole Bible, but those who know me well should have no doubt about my favorite Bible character. Some years ago, in the Sunday school class we attend we studied 2 Timothy. Our teacher liked to give study questions. At the end of this unit, one of his questions was, "What would you like to ask Paul when you see him in heaven?" My answer to that was, "Do you know the way to Peter's house?" Without doubt he is my favorite, and I plan to spend a lot of my time in eternity comparing notes with Simon Peter.

Peter was probably the most prominent of the disciples from the time of the resurrection until Paul came on the scene. As the most visible, and probably most vocal, follower of Christ, he had several run-ins with non-Christian authorities. During one of these encounters, Peter and John were arrested and jailed overnight. When brought before the Jewish leaders the next day, “they were commanded . . . not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

The smart thing to do would have been to agree with the authorities and either stop preaching or at least tone things down. It might have been a good time to make a strategic withdrawal or to just get out of town. The book of Acts records that the rulers called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20). With this, Peter was referring to what he had already told them, in what we read as Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

What drove Peter? What made him take the lead on the day of Pentecost and share Christ with thousands of people? What made him stand up to these authorities? He believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

 Though Peter lived almost 2000 years ago, he was not the last person to be driven by that truth. Next week.

 

Holding the Ropes

The greatest missionary was almost stopped before he got started! Acts 9:23-24 tells the story of Saul who had just come to Christ and was sharing his new faith in 1st century Damascus. Knowing his enemies wanted to shut him up, his friends took him to the city wall one night, put him into a basket, and lowered him by rope to safety outside the city walls. From there he was able to make his way back to Jerusalem, then eventually on to Antioch, Asia, and Europe. We also know him as Paul the apostle.

 Paul’s friends are unknown to us. They most likely didn’t seek honor or publicity for their brave deed. As the years went by, though, they saw the value of holding the ropes for Paul. I’m sure God noticed!

 It’s a truth that missionaries cannot work alone. Yes, they might go out in teams, they might interact with national workers and churches, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

 They need people to figuratively hold the ropes for them so they can concentrate on going where God sends them and doing the work for which they have been called.

 As surely as God calls some to go, he calls others to support them prayerfully, financially, and in encouragement.

 I’m looking today for some people to hold the ropes.

 Beginning next Monday, Mandate’s four-person leadership team is leaving the U.S. for a two-week visit with our national ministry partners in Vietnam and Laos. We want to encourage our front-line workers. We want to personally see the results of their ministries. We want to come back with photos and stories to share so that we can encourage more people to join them in their works.

 We are going into spiritual battle. We have prepared ourselves as best we can. We have our tickets, our visas, accommodations booked, packed suitcases. Now we’re looking for people like you who will join together in praying with and for us as we go.

 PRAY for our travel. We’ll leave our individual homes in the U.S. on September 17 and arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam the next day. So PRAY for safety and comfort through our travels.

 We’ll spend days visiting ministry sites in Vietnam. So PRAY that we’ll have good communication with our hosts and Vietnamese people in general.

 I’m hoping to share my testimony with one specific communist official I’ve met before. So PRAY he will be receptive to me and, especially, the gospel.

 Lord willing, I’ll come back to this page next Friday (or when I have a safe and secure internet connection) with updated prayer requests for the second part of our trip – Laos, and the following week with news for our journey home.

 We can’t do this without the help of God’s people. That’s you.

 Will you join together to hold the ropes for Mandate?

Specific Prayers, Specific Answers

I am both purpose driven and goal oriented. When I set goals, I am very specific about what I want to do or to happen. If I don't know what I want to get done, it usually does not get done. Even worse, if I don't know what I want to get done, I don't know if I am really accomplishing anything at all!

In a similar way, shouldn’t our prayers also be specific so that we can see specific results from that prayer? Think of Elijah's prayer referenced in James 5:17-18, Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

This passage refers back to 1 Kings 17 and 18. Elijah prayed specifically for a drought and got a drought. Later he prayed specifically for rain and got rain. In between that time, he challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown on Mt. Carmel. He prayed specifi­cally that God would send fire from heaven to consume his offering, and God answered in that specific method. God not only answered the prayer, but made that answer a visible testimony to his power, causing a turning from Baal to Himself.

I wonder sometimes if our general prayers are not from fear that if we pray too specifically we might not see the answers we're looking for and so fail. Seriously? Once we give something to God in prayer, it’s His. It’s up to Him to respond in whatever way He thinks best. We neither succeed nor fail in prayer, but trust in God’s judgment. God will work out all situations for His good and the good of those that love and follow Him.

A former missionary to Indonesia has written:

We had just built a new house for a co-worker and were planning a house warming to thank the other missionaries who had helped. We had invited them and our local missionary pilot. The only problem was that dry season was upon us and we didn't have enough water in the river for a float plane landing.

People started to pray for this. Up to the afternoon before the housewarming, we had no rain. Esther, a nearby missionary and one of the invitees, radioed that she and the Christians in her village were praying for rain. The next morning, she radioed over early, with obvious disappointment in her voice. She was so sorry they couldn't come, because there had been no rain on their river, and assumed none on ours.

"Esther," I said, "last night after dark it began raining here. It rained all night. Then, just as the sun came up, it stopped and the clouds broke up. We're fine for a landing!"

I later checked around. Five miles to the east, west, north and south of our station, there was no rain. Over us and in the surrounding jungle, it rained all night. Then, just at dawn the rain stopped, the clouds broke up, and the conditions were perfect for a landing.

Specific prayer brought a specific answer.

On another continent and another time . . .

In 1984 Open Doors with Brother Andrew and other Christian organizations "called for a seven-year campaign of prayer for the Soviet Union . . . with the specific goal of complete religious liberty and Bible[s] available for all." In 1990 multi-party democracy was instituted. In 1991 a failed coup led to the total breakup of the Soviet Union and the banning of the Communist Party.

Do the math! 1984 + 7 years of prayer = 1991 on the dot!

But there’s at least one more story of prayer here.

When dictator Joseph Stalin wanted to stamp out Christianity in the 1920's, he confiscated Bibles. For some reason, though, he did not destroy them. He stored them in local warehouses. In the early 1990's a mission team discovered a storehouse of Bibles not far from them and received permission from local authorities to take and distribute these Bibles.

Going to the warehouse, they hired some locals to help with the work of transferring the books to cars and trucks for transport back to the city. One of the young men hired was not a believer and spent his time mocking and harassing the Christians. As the day wore on, the missionaries realized that this guy was no longer around. Searching, they found him crying in the back of the warehouse.

This young man had decided to see why these books were so special, but did not want the Christians to see his curiosity. He went to the back of the warehouse to look at one. Choosing a Bible from the top of the stack, he opened the cover and found his grandmother's name written on the first page. God had arranged to have his grandmother's Bible taken from her and stored in that warehouse for 50 years until this very man came along to find it.

They later found a prayer written by that grandmother when her Bible was taken. “God, don’t let the church die. Help my grandchildren to know you and believe.”

How specific can you get, in both petition and God’s response?

I’ll not say much more, because I don’t want to take away from the impact of these true testimonies. Go through the Bible yourself. Look at the prayers, in the form of specific requests, spoken by God’s people through the word. Look at God’s responses. Then, by faith, make your own prayers as specific as theirs and watch what God does.

I don't want to die!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.