Christmas

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In the month of November, Kelly, Jonathan and I (Dave), had the privilege of attending the first-ever National Evangelism Conference in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a beautiful sight to see the more than 1,800 participants commit to spreading a message of love and hope in the location where, 500 years prior, the Spanish Conquista had unleashed a wave of oppression.

Still, even with the enthusiastic response in Veracruz, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted with the unfinished task in Mexico: over 113 million who still don’t know Jesus, 3 million of them considered unreached, in a nation becoming more violent and less secure by the year. How can so few make a difference in the face of so great a need?

Then, I think of the Christmas story, and how God came to Earth in the form of the baby Jesus, so small and seemingly insignificant. His bed was a feeding trough. His first visitors, simple shepherds. Even at the height of his popularity, he could be described as a homeless, itinerant preacher. His best friends were among the most marginalized of Jewish society. Yet, it was through that one life that God culminated his plan of salvation and through those few followers that he literally changed the world. That is the hope of Christmas.

And that is the hope that we share, that God will bring peace on Earth, fullness of life, as well to Mexico. But who does he have to represent him in that country? Many are like Roberto (photo, bottom left), an illiterate pastor in Kini, certainly not wise by the world’s standards, but with God’s help, he’s planted 8 churches. Or there’s Lupita (photo, top right), not powerful or influential, not even in her local church, but, through her diligent visitation, she’s led dozens to Christ. Against the sheer numbers of those who still don’t know, the 1,800 who attended the evangelism conference may seem a weak witness, but God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

So take heart wherever this word might find you this Christmas season. The outlook may be grim, and the future may seem dark indeed, but the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Experience the hope of Christmas and be sure to pass it on.

(This article appears as well in our winter newsletter. Download a PDF copy to print or share electronically.)

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There is a chill in the air even here in the Yucatan! As we we welcome the winter months, we welcome the opportunity they bring to update you on all that’s been going on in the last ministry quarter.

Click on the image, or click on the link and you’ll get in on all of the action with:

  • Kelly’s opportunity to join a medical team bringing hope to the hurting of Oaxaca.
  • A reflection on the light and life of Christmas,
  • And updates from our family as we move into the new season.

Remember, our newsletter in PDF format viewable in Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Adobe Reader installed, you can download it free here:

https://get.adobe.com/reader/otherversions/

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“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:2 NLT

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, it is important to understand what, in essence, occurred on the day of Christ’s birth. John 1 speaks of the event as the incarnation of the Word (1:14). To explain it, however, he uses two other ideas: life and light. Life, in that His was the active force of the creation that which brought into being all things and, as Colossians 1:15-17 states, that which sustains it. Light, referring to the revelation of this truth, the hope and direction that a belief in this creating and sustaining power and submission to it brings.

What strikes me about the nature of Christ’s birth, which is consistent with this concept of light and life, is its pervasiveness; it refused to be contained. From the announcement of the angels to the shepherds and their subsequent testimony of the event (Luke 2:8-20), to the star that led the wise men to announce and seek out the “king” who had been born (Matthew 2:1-12), the news spread far and wide. No one, not even those in the loftiest places of power and influence or the holiest places of worship were immune to its effect or exempt from a response to this revelation, this breaking in, this invasion.

John the Baptist, the witness to the light, illustrates its effect on the society of the day. His testimony of that light had created such a ruckus, making honest men out of tax collectors and moving Roman soldiers to repentance (Luke 3:7-14), that even the religious elite of the day were forced to deal with him (John 1:19-28).

It is that light of Christ and the example of his light bearers that we desire to emulate here in the Yucatan. As we continue with our efforts to see the Yucatan full of churches, our prayer is that that pervasive quality of the light of Christ would again be felt. Since September, we’ve held five major events calling on both leaders and laity to plant churches. It is our desire that the more than seventy individuals registered to start works in the coming months, the fruit of those events would be but the beginning trickle of the flood that will pour forth from the four walls of the church to proclaim the message of Immanuel, God with us, and that society again would be moved.

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Although the temperatures don’t seem to recognize it, as we turn to the last page on the calendar, we welcome the winter months here in the Yucatán! With the change in season comes the opportunity to inform you on all that’s been going on in this last ministry quarter.

Click on the image, or hit the link and you’ll get in on all of the action with:

  • A reflection on our last decade of Christmases.
  • A report of the fruit of our church planting program,
  • And updates from our family as we move into the new season.

Remember, our newsletter in PDF format viewable in Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Adobe Reader installed, you can download it free here:

https://get.adobe.com/reader/otherversions/

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It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since we spent our first ‘winter’ in Mérida. Although we headed into the Christmas season without the typical blustery winds or early snows of home, we could still hear the carols and melodies both in the stores and on the streets as choruses would sing the message of Christ’s birth for all to hear. There was also the smell of pine, as families purchased live trees to decorate to transform their homes for family gatherings and Christmas celebrations.(Here’s a video clip from our own Christmas tree adventure!) We learned that piñatas were popular with both kids and adults alike during this season, not just for birthdays. Reenacting the Christmas story was also a tradition. One year, our daughter even got to perform as Mary (see picture above).
 
Our first Christmas here, we were invited to share in the festivities of our pastor’s family. There, we discovered that gift giving happens at midnight after the Christmas Eve service and a late family meal. Christmas Day, then, becomes a continuation of family time and eating those all important dinner leftovers.
 
Throughout the past 10 years, we’ve seen that, although the expression may be different, the hope and expectation of the Savior is what unites us regardless of our differences. Thank you for joining with us that we may continue to proclaim this message so that this universal Body of Christ might continue to expand. 

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Christmas is all about Christ, isn’t it? At least that was the core of the debate over the use of “Xmas,” a popular one in my childhood. Even now, with the plurality of holidays that seem to clutter the end of the year, the thoughts of many still turn to that event that split the calendar that we still use in two–the birth of Jesus.

Still, even though so many reflect on this day when God came near, it often seems so hard to enter into the spiritual interactions that we long for. With so many relatives, friends, and even strangers gathered together, the opportunities to turn the conversation to the spirit of the season, God’s activity in the here and now, seem to abound. Nevertheless, for many of us, it can be hard to move the conversation much deeper than the amount of snow that’s fallen outside.

What’s one to do? How can we interact with one another in a way that the season or any day truly deserves? How can we invite God into our conversations this Christmas?

I believe that the Bible, specifically the book of Acts, provides a template that we can use to direct our activities throughout the holidays and beyond, and it’s my prayer that this insight from Scripture will help you and your family put Christ back into Christmas, even it if be only in your circle of influence. First let’s look to the text:

Acts 8:26-401

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

Now for those of you who are headed out the door to that office party or holiday potluck and are just interested in the steps to take to facilitate spiritual interaction here they are:

1. Pray for direction. (v.26, 29)
2. Obey the direction your receive. (v.27, 30)
3. Observe; hear the person’s story. (v.30)
4. Ask about their impressions, understanding, or need. (v.30)
5. Begin with the thoughts expressed. (v.35)
6. Explain God’s place in their story. (v.35)
7. Allow for the other to respond. (v.36)

For those of you with a bit more time, I offer some explanation:

The above passage is an excerpt of the account of Philip “the evangelist,” one of the seven deacons, “men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” chosen in Acts chapter 6 to assist the apostles with equal food distribution among the church’s dependent widows. Prior to this passage, we see him, having fled the persecution of the church carried out by Saul of Tarsus, preaching in Samaria and carrying out a rather successful ministry. Under his work, the residents of this community received the message of Jesus, and many believed and were baptized after seeing the miraculous signs that accompanied his ministry.

Therefore, this encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch is a bit unexpected. At the center of a successful outreach, we would expect Philip to remain in order to consolidate the work, but, apparently, God had other plans. This leads us to the first step in building bridges toward spiritual interactions:

Pray for direction: Now while it is not overtly stated how Philip received his message in verse 26 to go to the desert road, we can assume that he was at least in an attitude that facilitated spiritual direction. In my mind, that points to an active devotional life, one which enables us to hear from God and recognize his voice.

This can be a big hurdle for many of us during the holiday season. With additional tasks on our list and events to attend, it can be tempting relegate to our daily time with God to the perfunctory prayers offered up at mealtimes or perhaps during the religious events that dot our calendar, but with Philip, we see just how essential his prayer life truly was. It was the catalyst that turned his attention to an encounter that would change the life of one man and perhaps opened an entire nation to the message of the gospel.2 Our prayers, as well, may be just what we need to prepare us to cooperate with God in the life of a loved one or sensitize us to a need lying just below the surface.

But how should we pray? A retired missionary, Lloyd Marsh, offers advice on this point. During his instruction on helping others to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, he would teach them to ask God, “What do you want to do?” God has a plan for the people that we meet, we should be asking Him how He would like us to cooperate with Him in fulfilling that plan.

Obey the direction you receive. Some would argue that this point is unnecessary, as one should obviously do what God tells us to do. Nevertheless, many of us could probably recall the myriad opportunities that we had allowed to slip by for fear of awkwardness or rejection. However, determining to act upon the message that we receive or the impression that we feel can help us tremendously when the event arises.

In the case of Philip, we see two occasions when he received specific direction (v.26 and v.30), and, in each case, action immediately followed. It was his obedience to the direction that he received that made the real difference in the situation.

Likewise, although we pray, unless we take action, no difference will be made. A little book, The Ten Second Rule has been helpful to both Kelly and myself as we try to overcome our natural reluctance to take the next step in obedience. The basic premise of the book revolves around this idea: “Just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do,” and do it in ten seconds or less.

Perhaps it will be a direction to speak with that uncle you’ve always avoided or an impression to get to know that other family during the school presentation that will lead to an unexpected blessing. You never know. One thing, however, should be determined in advance: inaction isn’t an option.

Observe; hear the person’s story. This is perhaps the biggest gift that we can give this holiday season, especially when our conversations have tendency to turn into competitions instead of true giving and receiving, if this Brian Regan video is any indication. James 1:19 says it best, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

This is precisely what we see in Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian. Having obeyed the command to walk beside the carriage, he was able to hear that the eunuch was reading from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the prophecy of the “Suffering Servant,” one that Jesus fulfilled with his crucifixion and death. This observation supplied the explanation behind his unexpected direction and provided the opportunity that he needed to be able to intervene appropriately in the life of this high-ranking official.

As we spend time with others this holiday season, it could be a look or a sigh that, when noticed, might bring about an area of need where we could minister. On the other hand, a sermon or a reading from the Bible might generate an opportunity for sharing. The difference will be made when we intentionally choose to observe and develop our desire to bless others.

Ask about their impressions, understanding, or need. Sometimes, statements are made and are allowed to fall to the ground. Philip, having heard the scripture, could have walked away, satisfied that others, too, were reading the word of God. He didn’t. He asked a simple question which served to catapult the conversation into an explanation of the gospel: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v.30)

We too can ask simple questions that may lead to deeper conversations. Questions like, “Why did you say that?” or “How did that make you feel?” may lead those around us to open up in a way that they normally wouldn’t. This is especially effective if they see that we’ve taken a genuine interest in the conversation that we’ve begun with them.

Begin with the thoughts expressed. When the opportunity does come for us to turn things to spiritual matters, a canned sermon, or a memorized script shouldn’t be our fall back. Instead, we should use Philip as our guide. He began with that same Scripture from Isaiah 53 to explain the gospel to the Ethiopian. It effectively answered the man’s question and stimulated his faith.

An admission of anxiety might allow us to share about God’s peace. An expression of loneliness might give us the opportunity to share about God sending us Immanuel “God with us” (further emphasized by our own presence with the person to whom we are ministering.) In each situation, we validate the person by hearing and responding to their situation.

Explain God’s place in their story. With Philip, the progression was natural. A scripture lead to an explanation of the ministry of the Messiah. For us, it may take a bit more thought, but the key lies in viewing our lives not as segmented compartments but as a unified whole. Once we allow God to encompass and invade every area of our own lives, connecting the current situation expressed with the activity of God in the person’s life will come more naturally.

Allow the other person to respond. Philip, after sharing his explanation, gave room for the eunuch to express his belief. His desire to be baptized signaled his acceptance of the explanation and his willingness to be initiated as a disciple of the one in whom he believed. Allowing room for others to express their reaction to our explanations may result in a request for prayer, an invite to talk further, or even, like in the case of Philip, a chance to lead someone to the Lord. The key is to make space in the conversation and to invite their response to your explanation.

Can move past superficiality this holiday season? I believe that the answer is yes, and the template that Philip models for us in Acts 8:26-40 shows us how we can. May the Lord help us to put this knowledge into action as we gather with others this Christmas and all throughout the coming year.

1 Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2Irenaeus states that the Ethiopian eunuch was “sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed.” CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies, III.12 (St. Irenaeus). Ed. Kevin Knight. New Advent. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103312.htm

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As you may know, I’ve been taking classes in the Mayan language. I’m currently in the second term. This past weekend, as we closed out our classes in 2013, we had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas, Yucatan style. Part of that celebration was a rendition of Silent Night in Maya. I was able to record a portion of it here:

What do you think? Were you able to sing along?

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Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. There is just something about this celebration of our Lord’s incarnation. First, there’s the anticipation of special events and family gatherings. Then, there’s with the expectation, both in the minds of the kids wondering what they’ll receive, and the adults wondering what their reaction will be. This translates into an excitement, even as the cooler temperatures bring a pleasant crispness to the air. At the same time, good cheer translates to warm greetings and quick smiles, whether among friends or even in the presence of perfect strangers. It’s a special time that I always hate to see come to an end.

Still, though the season may come to an end, our memories of Christmas 2012 can live on. One such memory I’d like to share, was our outreach to Yaxkukul, where we were able to participate with our home church, Centro Cristiano Gólgota here in Merida and Sparrow Fellowship in Waterford, PA, to make the Christmas holidays just a bit warmer for the kids of Yaxkukul.

If the name Yaxkukul sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been there before. That time it was to help coordinate efforts to put a new roof on a building that had previously been declared structurally unsound. Well, the roof is back on, and Pastor Rudy and his church are reaching out again to the community, but, in order to bless their kids, it was going to take a coordinated effort.

That’s where the efforts of Centro Cristiano Gólgota and Sparrow Fellowship come in. Earlier in the year, the kids at Sparrow gathered together their coins to bless kids in Mexico. Working together, they were able to collect over $80! Meanwhile, the kids at Gólgota answered pastor Rudy’s appeal for help. On the day of the outreach, Kelly, the kids and I, used the $80 to purchase blankets, and later joined with the Pastor Maria Jesús Salazar, the parents, and kids of the church to put together a Christmas party for the kids of Yaxkukul.

At the church in Yaxkukul, parents, kids, and church members joined together to sing, play, eat, and gift each child (23 in all) a new toy, blanket, and new clothes as well! It was a great time of togetherness, cooperation, and blessing, for those who gave as well as those who received. There were even fireworks, a decidedly Mexican touch, to cap off this special event brought about by a truly international effort.

Thanks to all who made this outreach possible. Be sure to check out the pictures here!

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wakeupOne of my favorite Christmas gifts was one I wasn’t even wishing for, a set of world-shaped coffee mugs. My mother-in-law had one of these in a cabinet for several years, and I always tried to get my hands on it when breakfast time rolled around. It just seemed appropriate, me being a world missionary and all. She picked up on the hint and bought me an entire set this year.

Of course, I’m not the only one waking up to world missions in this new year. Several students who attended the World Missions Summit have also woken up to their responsibility to be a part of the great commission. Over 4000 attended the conference with 845 commitments to “give a year and pray about a lifetime” made at the event, a number that is sure to rise over the coming days.

064We were blessed to link up with several of these students as we hosted four “Meal with a Missionary” events throughout the week. We had a chance to share our call, while we affirmed each participant in what the Lord was doing in their lives. We wish them well as they follow God’s direction.

How about you? How are you waking up this year to the Great Commission? Drop me a comment and let’s talk about it.

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