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The Wonder of Bethlehem

Christmas should be a time of awe and reverence. Our salvation, our blessing, our life and our hope were made possible because God took on human flesh in a manger in Bethlehem.

by the late Fuchsia Pickett

The shepherds saw a babe in a manger. The wise men, arriving later, also saw a young child. But the One who emerged from Mary's womb that cold winter night in Bethlehem of Judea was much more than what was discernable with human eyes.

He was God. The sacred record is clear: "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

"Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.'

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" (Luke 2:8-14).

It is as much a marvel today as it was 2,000 years ago: God the Father so approved of the One born that night in Bethlehem that He bid the angels to worship together—even though the second person of the Trinity wore a menial garb of swaddling clothes and had been laid on a bed of hay!

A Lasting Wonder

We can only approach the high and holy subject of Christ's incarnation with awe. His name is called "Wonderful" (Is. 9:6). The angels of God are commanded to worship Him (Heb. 1:6). The one born in Bethlehem's manger is Immanuel, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23), and the "Mighty God" (Is. 9:6).

In Jesus Christ, God was born, lived here in this world, died, rose again and ascended to heaven as the God-man, becoming the object of lasting wonder to all creation.

He is entirely unique. His birth has no precedent, and His existence has no analogy. Placing Him in a category cannot explain Him, neither will an example adequately illustrate Him.

The Scriptures reveal His person, yet they never present an exhaustive definition of Him. We are told, "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16).

Moses' experience in the wilderness—when the angel appeared to him in the burning bush—is an Old Testament type of the presence of God indwelling the man, Christ Jesus. The Exodus account clearly speaks of the flame of fire being "in the midst" of the bush without consuming the bush itself (Ex. 3:2). This is seen by some as a foreshadowing of the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ.

Yet the wonder of an unconsumed bush burning with fire does not ultimately compare to the mystery of Jesus, as a man, being indwelt by the fullness of God. How is it possible that this one person could be infinite and finite, mortal and immortal, omnipotent and vulnerable?

It transcends all human understanding that two wills, two natures and two memories can constitute one person who is God in the flesh. We cannot explain how both natures, in all their attributes and acts, can grow together and unite in one whole being, acting in concert in one person. Yet God declares that it is so!

Christ, in becoming man, did not cease to be God. He did not lose His position or His divine attributes. Rather, He voluntarily set them aside to take on our humanity.

Yet the humanity of Christ was not destroyed or consumed by His deity; its own human characteristics were preserved. As Luke says, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

In the Incarnation, God in Christ Jesus established a personal union between Himself and a human spirit, soul and body. Theologian A.A. Hodge declares the union between these two natures is not mechanical, as it is between oxygen and nitrogen in our air; nor is it chemical, as it is between oxygen and hydrogen when water is formed; nor is it organic, as it is between our hearts and brains.

Rather, it is a union more intimate, more profound and more mysterious than any of these. It is personal. And, as Hodge points out, if we cannot understand the nature of the simpler unions, why should we complain because we cannot understand the nature of the most profound of all unions? read more

What Mystical Longing Calls Us Home for Christmas?

by the late Jamie Buckingham

I write this aboard a jet airliner speeding south from one of the nation's greatest northern cities. I am heading home for Christmas.

How eager I am to see the face of my wife, embrace my now-grown children who are gathering at the old homestead, grab my little grandchildren and swing them high as they squeal: "PaPa's home."

How eager I am to sit quietly with my dear friends, my extended family, to embrace and whisper "I love you" in the ears of those as committed to me as they are to their own blood relatives. We will embrace, take off our shoes, sit in front of a fire (sipping egg nog), and feel "at home" in each other's presence.

Home for Christmas! My oldest son will be driving through the night after finishing his work in the nation's capital—joining his family in Florida. Our youngest daughter will fight the mobs which throng the airports, winging in from college in middle-America.

In all of our efforts to get home for Christmas, we touch others—desperate, happy, lonely, cheerful—thronging crowded terminals, all trying to make that mystical deadline.

What is it on this day that so drives us to be among loved ones?

Busy businessmen forget about buying and selling, creating and convincging, to lounge around the house with the family. Things like trade agreements, real estate deals, marketing and sales—all take a back seat to important things like carving the turkey and opening inane but precious gifts under a tree.

Dignified college professors, their cheeks ruddy and hair blowing in the wind, race up and down sidewalks, laughing and shouting as they hold on to small children riding bikes with training wheels.

Ranchers and dairymen quickly finish morning chores so they can take off muddy boots and join laughing families at Christmas breakfasts.

Computer experts, physicians, engineers—(all intellectuals, all degreed and pedigreed) sit cross-legged under trees, waist-deep in wrapping paper, turned into little children—at least for the day.

Gangsters, tax evaders, liars, drunkards, adulterers, prostitutes, even members of the Mafia—all turn aside on this day to kneel at altars and shed a tear in a communion cup for a baby in a manger.

Home for Christmas! Broken-hearted parents sit and wait by the telephone, anxiously scan the mail, hoping memories of Christmas past will stir the heart of a runaway child and bring word of safety.

Runaway children, some young, some very old, walk city sidewalks, huddle in lonely motel rooms, sit and stare in drab apartments on this, the loneliest day of the year—yearning for some power so they can hurdle the wall of pride and reach out for home.

Soldiers in far-flung military outposts, wet and cold, sweaty and sticky, stand lonely watch around olive drab vehicles or shiver in isolated guardhouses at the gates—all dreaming of home.

Airman, cramped in the cockpits of flying cannons high in the darkened and silent skies on Christmas Eve, look upward for a star, then down over tilted wings at the winking lights below Misty-eyed, they dream of the touch of a mother's hand, the warmth of a father's chuckle, the squeals of little ones, cookies, candles and a choir singing "Silent Night." read more

This Christmas, Let's Be Givers

Every couple of years, starting in 1984, I have encouraged Charisma readers—much as I am now with Ministry Today readers—to do what my wife, Joy, and I have done for years. And that is, give a tithe of what we spend at Christmas to the poor.

This was etched in my mind as a child when my parents asked my brother and sister and I to pick a gift from the many we'd received and give it to a family in our church that didn't have much. I don't remember details, but I think the dad was out of work. I can't remember what I gave. But I can remember going to their house to give them our gifts and how happy they seemed.

Christmas is about giving. It's when God gave His Son. And didn't the tradition of gift-giving originate with the Magi, who gave gifts to the Christ child?

Yet Christmas has become an orgy of consumer spending. Many retailers make most of their annual profit at Christmastime. Even as believers we tend to get caught up in the world's values of buying gifts. Usually our purchases are for loved ones who already probably have much more than they need.

The antidote, I believe, is to be proactive, to consciously give to the poor and to encourage others to do the same. When I first urged Charisma readers in 1984, and in many December issues since then, to give to worthwhile ministries at Christmas, it was because I believe that in giving to "the least of these My brethren," as Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, you're giving to Christ Himself.

A practical suggestion on how to do this is to give a tithe of what you spend on others. So if you spend $1,000 at Christmas on gifts, determine you'll give $100. My family does this. Over the years we've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it through Christian Life Missions, our nonprofit partner. If every reader of Charisma and Ministry Today gave only $5, it would total more than $1 million this year.

As a way to focus attention on ministries you can bless this Christmas, and to make it easy to give, we have included this section that shows the ministries supported through Christian Life Missions, the nonprofit partner we've worked with for more than 25 years. Every penny you donate through Christian Life Missions will go to the ministry you choose. If you give through Christian Life Missions, your gift will be sent to the ministry and you will receive a receipt for income-tax purposes.

There are many other ministries or needs you can give to. It doesn't matter so much whom you give to, but that you do give and do it as unto the Lord. We believe it will make all the difference in the way you celebrate Christ's birth this year. Click here for more information on Christian Life Missions.

Also, starting Thursday, Dec. 8, be sure to visit the Ministry Today website for touching articles and features on Christmas as we focus on celebrating Christ's birth. read more

Don't Miss Marriage Expert Jimmy Evans For Our Next Conference Call on Tuesday, Dec. 13

You don't want to miss the Ministry21/Ministry Today conference call next week with pastor, marriage expert and author Jimmy Evans. Join us for an hour of engaging conversation with the senior leader of 10,000-plus strong Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas, for the past 29 years on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 4 p.m. EDT, 3 p.m. CDT, 2 p.m. MDT and 1 p.m. PDT.

Here is the call information: Dial-in number (712) 432-1001; access code: 467245262#. Listen in as we to talk to Jimmy about strengthening marriage, the theme of the November-December issue of Ministry Today, now available.

Jimmy is also the founder and CEO of Marriage Today, a ministry that is devoted to helping couples build strong and fulfilling marriages and families. You can read Jimmy's informative article about avoiding the traps of ministry marriages in the November-December issue of Ministry Today by clicking here.

You will want to get a copy of the magazine because the issue is full of good material by nationally respected leaders such as Dr. Doug Weiss, Gary Smalley, Dr. Tim Clinton, and Larry and Jonathan Stockstill—who were Ministry Today guest editors last year on the issue of "integrity." So there is plenty here to minister to you in your own brokenness, and to help heal those whom God has entrusted into your care as a leader.

Now is the perfect time to subscribe to Ministry Today—a great gift idea for Christmas. We're currently offering a special promotion that includes two free gifts—evangelist Reinhard Bonnke's "Full Flame" DVD series and the ESV (English Standard Version) Thinline Bible. Click here to subscribe to Ministry Today. read more

Cultivating the Attitude of Gratitude

by Pastor Paul Bryan

What an exciting opportunity you and I have to embrace this Thanksgiving season with the right heart attitude.

Begin by thanking God for everything that you are and have. Thank Him for every breath you breathe in today, and practice the attitude of gratitude. Make a list of 100 of the people and/or things that you are thankful for, and give God your honor and worship. Make it a habit this week to let God know just how aware you are of His grace and mercy.

Muscles strengthen with use. Develop your gratitude muscle by being appreciative the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night before you go to bed for the next 21 days. The passage below is a significant key to living the abundant life that Jesus paid for. Saying "thank you," not only opens doors with God, His presence and abundance, but it works with people too. Life is too amazing and too short to only be grateful one day of the year.

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." —Ps. 100:4-5

Every day is a choice. You have to choose to be thankful. You choose whether or not you are going to take time out of your busy day and recognize where all of your blessing and salvation comes from. Thankfulness is an art form that must be disciplined and practiced in order for you to become a master of it. Ask Daddy God to open your eyes to all of the blessings in your life, so that you can give Him the praise and glory. I guarantee that if you master this right heart attitude, you will see positive lasting change in every area of your life.

Pray: Daddy God, baptize me with Your love. Destroy every work of darkness and bitterness in my life. Remove every barrier and hindrance that keeps me from hearing Your voice and being lead by Your Spirit. Eliminate the time wasters and opportunity thieves that have kept me from experiencing the abundant life You designed for me. Grant me the wisdom and the strength to make the necessary changes for my growth and success. Change my attitude to one of gratitude, and help me to express it in word and deed. In Jesus name, Amen.

You were created to live a life with the attitude of gratitude. Be the revival and transform your world. Jesus believes in you.

Paul Bryan is the senior pastor of Lighthouse Church in Deland, Fla. Check out his "21 Day Thankfulness Challenge" by clicking here. read more

Historical Thanksgiving Proclamations to God

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, it's good to remember that Thanksgiving is inextricably tied to our nation’s founding and its times of war, as well as its Christian heritage.

In 1777, the first official Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by the Continental Congress after the American victory in the Battle of Saratoga. The proclamation asked God to "... smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties."

On Oct.3, 1789, eight years after the surrender of the British army at Yorktown, President George Washington issued a proclamation "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

President Washington assigned "... Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation."

It was President Abraham Lincoln who began issuing a proclamation in 1863 for a national day of thanksgiving, when it became the custom of U.S. presidents. During the Civil War, President Lincoln established a permanent observance by calling on the American people "... to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November (to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy). After a storm of protest, Roosevelt changed the holiday again in 1941 to the fourth Thursday in November, where it stands today. It was 1941 when Thanksgiving became an official national holiday. Since then, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation calling for a national day of thanksgiving each November.

The photo image is a copy of a 1789 newspaper that published President George Washington's proclamation of the first official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

Let us know your thoughts about presidential Thanksgiving proclamations by commenting below. read more

A Grateful Nation

by R.T. Kendall

Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.

—Ps. 106:47

God loves a grateful nation. Just as an individual cannot "out-thank" the Lord—for God pours out His blessing more than ever, so a nation cannot out-thank God either.

Just as those individuals who praised God on Palm Sunday possibly did so selfishly, even ignorantly and for the wrong reasons—and God accepted their praise, so God accepts the praise of a nation that attempts to show gratitude to Him. It does not necessarily matter that every single person who participates in such thanksgiving is a faithful servant of God in his or her private life; God just notices a nation overall that makes any attempt to show gratitude to Him.

If this message were to get through to heads of state, even if they are not themselves born again, I believe most of them would still want to lead the nation to show thanks—if only for what it would do for that nation. God inhabits the praise of people. If any nation were to show thanks to the true God—the One who sent His only Son into the world, that nation would be so much better off.

We should be continually thankful to God (and remember to tell Him so) for laws in the land that outlaw theft, murder, and other crimes; for medical people, for the police, for firemen. God's common grace preserves a measure of order in the world. However chaotic things may seem from time to time—whether through terrorism or natural disasters, the truth is that if God utterly withdrew His hand from the world, all hell would break loose and civilization as we know it would end overnight.

It is in the interest of any nation to show reverence to the God of the Bible.

You can read more and purchase R.T. Kendall's book, The Word and the Spirit, which this article is derived from, by clicking here.

R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for 25 years. Born in Ashland, Ky., he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University. He is well known internationally as a speaker and teacher. He is the author of more than 40 books, including The Power of Humility, The Word and the Spirit, The Sensitivity of the Spirit, The Anointing, Just Say Thanks! and Total Forgiveness. read more

Jerry Falwell

12 Keys to Thanksgiving

by the late Jerry Falwell

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, I want to briefly examine how the Bible exhorts us to respond to God's faithfulness. The answer is very simple: to be thankful.

King David thought the virtue of thankfulness so important that he appointed a large group of Levites (priests) who did nothing else in the House of God but to thank and praise Him. As Christians, we must continue to show our thankfulness to God.

Here are 12 things for which we should give God persistent thanks.

1. For creating us in His image

Psalm 100:3, 4: "Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name."

How wonderful and comforting to know we have not evolved from some ancient muddy glob, but rather have been created by the hand of the Mighty God. Like God, He made us a trinity: body, soul and spirit.

2. For redeeming us by His blood

Revelation 5:9: "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation."

3. For sending His Son

2 Corinthians 9:15: "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift."

4. For His holiness

Psalm 97:12: "Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." Unlike the cruel, immoral pagans Gods, our God is holy!

5. For His mercy

Psalm 103:1, 8: "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy."

This virtue is so important that the psalmist refers to it no less than 26 times in Psalm 136.

6. For His shepherding ministry

Psalm 79:13: "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations."

7. For other Christians

That's right. We are instructed not only to pray for other believers, but to actually thank God for them.  Time and again, the apostle Paul did this. Philippians 1:3 is a great example: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you ...."

8. For victory

I Corinthians 15:57: "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This means we have victory over the world, the devil, temptation, lust, fear and ultimately death itself.

9. For that specific work God has called us to do

Ephesians 2:10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

10. For allowing us to give to Him of our tithes and offerings

Psalm 50:14: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High."

11. For Christ's coming millennial reign

We should be vigilantly thankful to God in advance for the story that will ultimately have a happy ending.

12. For anything and everything

I Thessalonians 5:18: "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

This is certainly the most difficult of all to do. How can we possibly thank God when financial loss comes our way, or when medical crisis comes to us? During these critical moments we must ever remind ourselves that God often permits these tragedies so that through them we might ultimately be blessed.

He is a perfect God, my friends, and worthy of our constant praise. May we all spend time thanking Him for these essential gifts to us this Thanksgiving.

This article originally ran in Jerry Falwell's November 2006 e-newsletter.

What are you thankful for? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below. read more


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