Dr. J. L. Williams was an evangelist and teacher who traveled around the world in apostolic ministry as God led and enabled him. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, he mentored key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures. He was relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships. J. L. went home to be with the Lord on December 28, 2016.
Dear Prayer Partner,
I am sending you this Prayer letter from Amsterdam on my way to Accra, Ghana. It will be the first stop on a 5 country trip that will take me to the following countries:
The Lord willing, I will be back home on Feb. 17th. So I count on your prayers for this diverse and intense 3 weeks of ministry. At least two of the countries—Sudan and Zimbabwe, are going through great political instability and economic crisis. Also, there is a major cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe that has taken the lives of over 2,000 people.
But in spite of the many problems the continent of Africa is struggling under, there is an incredible new expectation and respect due to the recent Inauguration of President Obama (I hope you have read my blog on that). And if you think that expectations for President Obama are high in America—they are “off the charts in Africa!” So his election ushered in a new day of opportunity for America and Americans in Africa.
Last night before I left on this trip, I received an exciting email from Ambassador Lewis Lucke. On his last day in office, President Bush sent a personal note of thanks to Ambassador Lucke. Obviously a great honor!
What makes this very special to me is the fact that Ambassador Lucke is an “ND Alumni,” going back to the very earliest years of our existence. He was with our ministry part of his senior year in High School. Unfortunately, we had lost touch with each other for a number of years. Then a few years ago, God connected us together again. Since then we have exchanged regular emails about our various parallel ministries in many parts of the world. As you will see from a few of the highlights from his career bio immediately below, he has served the US Government in many of the same countries NDI has been involved in for years.
Lewis Lucke was nominated by President George W. Bush to be US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Swaziland in early 2004 and was confirmed soon after by the US Senate. He served as Ambassador to Swaziland through July 2006. Prior to joining the US Department of State, Ambassador Lucke had been a career senior Foreign Service Officer who served for 26 years with the U.S. Agency for International Development. His prior position was that of first USAID Mission Director to Iraq, where he managed a $4.0 billion reconstruction and economic development program from Baghdad in 2003-2004, USAID’s largest program ever and the largest reconstruction effort funded by the United States since the Marshall Plan.
Ambassador Lucke is originally from North Carolina, now living in Austin, Texas married to Joy Willeford with three grown children. Mr. Lucke graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and has an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. Ambassador Lucke has served in the U.S. Foreign Service since 1978 in ten countries: Mali, Senegal, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Bolivia, Jordan, Haiti, Brazil, Iraq and Swaziland. He had been USAID Mission Director in his last five posts of Bolivia, Jordan, Brazil, Haiti, and Iraq.
Mr. Lucke has received USAID’s two highest awards, the Administrator’s Distinguished Career Award in 2001, and the Agency’s award for Heroism in 2004. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of 2003 from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He received the Secretary of Defense’s Award for Exceptional Public Service in 2004. Mr. Lucke is fluent in French and Spanish and has a working knowledge of Arabic. He is the author of “Waiting for Rain: Life and Development in Mali, West Africa” published in 1999. Ambassador Lucke now manages his own international consulting firm from Austin specializing in the Middle East. Among other activities, his company is building affordable housing and schools in Iraq and brokering Texas investment into the Iraq oil and gas sector.
So I wanted to pass this email along to you as a source of encouragement and blessing. Both Ambassador Lucke and I are “Ambassadors for the Kingdom of God,” as Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5. He just has a “dual Ambassadorship” while mine is single!
Thanks again for your prayers for both of us as we seek to be faithful Ambassadors of our wonderful country, but even more for the Kingdom of God! While he has faithfully served America under several Presidents, both of us are seeking to faithfully serve the “King of kings and Lord of lords” as Ambassadors of love and reconciliation in a hurting and fragmented world!
In His Service,
PS: While I am gone, my associate Daniel, will be sending out a series of Reports from my past few trips that I haven’t had time to report on. They will cover Nepal, India, Bangladesh and the Congo. I hope you will be blessed and encouraged over what your prayers and partnership make possible.
Dear NDI Friend & Partner,
I have attached a link at the bottom of this report to a slide show of some pictures from my recent trip to Nepal. I have spent two full decades of my life traveling and ministering there – first going there in 1989. We were privileged to be on the “cutting edge” of what God was doing there and experience first hand one of the greatest spiritual revivals of the Twentieth Century! From only a hand full of known Christians in 1954 to over a million today meeting in several thousand local churches. Through the support of NDI partners here, we were able to build hundreds of churches throughout Nepal – and continue to do so today.
There is no way I can begin to report all that God has allowed us to be a part of in that Himalayan Kingdom. But I hope these pictures will give you a little overview of our strategic partners and projects there. We will be reporting more in the weeks and months ahead.
If you did not open and read my “field report” that I sent out while I was in Kathmandu, I hope that you will. Between that report and these pictures I know that your heart will be blessed and challenged.
Finally, when you open and read this email, don’t forget to be praying for me since I will be traveling and ministering in Africa for 3 weeks. This time I will be in Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Kenya – and in that order. Please enjoy the following slide show on Nepal.
On the cutting edge for His Kingdom & Glory,
Like some 2 million people in Washington and tens of millions of people around America and across the globe, I watched the Inauguration of President Barack Obama yesterday with a great sense of excitement and pride. Regardless of your race, religion or political ideology, you could not help but be “Proud to be an American!” as the popular patriotic song by Lee Greenwood says.
What an incredible sight to see some 2 million Americans gathered in Lafayette Park between the Washington Monument and White House. It is often called the “Nation’s Front Yard” and some of the most significant events in American history have taken place there. So to see that sea of American humanity braving the bitter cold for hours and hours to experience this “tug of history” into a new era of American politics was riveting and inspiring! And to watch a pulsating crowd of some 2 million Americans proudly waving American flags was a sight to behold! It is already being called the largest single event in American history!
So for a few hours yesterday, we were not Black or White… Republicans or Democrats… Conservatives or Liberals… Left or Right – we were just proud and patriotic Americans!
Even to the most casual observer, you could not fail to recognize the strong tradition of our Judeo-Christian heritage coming out in many of the traditions and trappings of the Inauguration. The very first thing that President Elect and Michele Obama did on their Inauguration day was to go to a private Prayer Service at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church – with the noted Black preacher presiding, Bishop T.D. Jakes. Unlike some other countries, this service was overtly Christian rather than Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – or even secular.
After the brief coffee at the White House, the official Inauguration was begun. And one of the first events was a poignant prayer led by Pastor Rick Warren, a noted evangelical leader of one of the largest and most influential churches in America. Then President Obama was sworn in with his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible – not on a Koran or Bhagavad-Gita! Rather than a Muslim call to prayer, a Hindu puja or a Buddhist time of meditation, there were Christian prayers to the Judeo-God of the Bible. Then President Obama sealed his sacred Oath of Office with the words begun by our first President, George Washington: “So help me God.” Finally, the Inauguration was concluded by a flowery and prophet prayer by the 87 year old Civil Rights Activist and pastor, Rev. Joseph Lowery.
So from start to finish, there were definite Judeo-Christian traditions running through the entire Inauguration Service. And while we all know that the secularists, humanists and atheists among us want every vestige of this removed from public life, I am thankful that it continues to this day. Every Christian needs to be very proactive, supportive and vocal about this or this growing tide of secularism will sweep it from every public forum in America! So the “cultural war” is real and intense and we Christians must continue to “…fight the good fight of the faith” (I Tim. 6:12) – but we must do so with love, humility and civility. Otherwise, our future Inaugurations might be very different from what we observed yesterday.
Americans from every corner of our country and from every walk of life were there to celebrate the inauguration of the first African American President in our nation’s history. Long before his official swearing in, President Obama was widely embraced by the American people. It was even more historically and geographically significant to see his Inauguration take place on the very same plaza that once was used to sell Black slaves from Africa! Times have truly changed slowly but surely – and our Union is much stronger because of it. So is our witness to the other nations of the world who are still far behind in their march toward freedom and equality.
Also, for this Inauguration to take place the day after “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day” made it even more significant. As we all know, it was on that very same plaza in 1963 that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream!” speech. That rally and speech galvanized and summarized the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for President Obama’s election. Yesterday, much of Dr. King’s dream for America became a reality! The nightmare of American slavery and segregation has forever passed and the dream has come true for a “more perfect union” where people of all races can live together in harmony as equal citizens of this great Republic called America!
I am also very thankful that NDI has played a 4 decade long role in racial reconciliation that helped in some small way prepare the way for President Obama’s election. Right from the very beginning of this ministry in 1968, one of our greatest purposes was to demonstrate and incarnate the love and reconciliation that only Christ can lastingly bring. And since I shared more about that in my blog in November when Obama won the election, I will not say more at this time. But if you did not read that blog, I hope that you will read the article: “Reflections on the Elections” at the accompanying link:
So yesterday, our nation did what few historians, politicians or pundits thought was possible. We inaugurated an African-American to the Presidency of the United States – the most powerful office in America and arguably in the entire world. And we did so peacefully, orderly. civilly and respectfully – with a dignity and grandeur that was awesome to behold! This transition of power showed America at her greatest. It was a fresh revelation to the rest of the world of how a true democracy operates. It was the demonstration of a political freedom and liberty found nowhere else in the world.
For me, it was inspiring and assuring to watch yet another peaceful transition from one administration to another…from one political party to another…from one race to another. Especially since I was in Kenya last year right after the tribal carnage that took place after her Presidential elections. And right before Christmas I was in the Congo and will be in Sudan the first of February. Both the Congo and Sudan have experienced decades of tribal fighting and political intrigue that have caused the genocide and death of millions of Africans. And the on-going fighting and instability has resulted in millions of others being reduced to refugee status where they have lost everything! The current cease-fires and peace accords in these two countries are so fragile and tenuous that they are only being propped-up by huge United Nation Peace Keeping Forces. At any moment the fighting and destruction could break out – just as it did in the Congo while I was there in December.
What a difference America is from the rest of the world when it comes to political change! We have made transitions of power peaceably now for over 200 years – and did it again yesterday. So to watch former political opponents greet each other with a smile…a handshake…a pat on the back…an embrace – and to do so after a long and fiercely fought campaign, was uniquely American. This peaceful “changing of the guard” makes America the political envy of so much of the rest of the world where changes of government only take place through violent and bloody revolutions which are usually accompanied by various degrees of genocide against the losing party, tribe, race or caste. But not in America. We make the transition of power in the peaceful context of church services and prayers… dressed in tuxedos, top hat and ties…followed by banquets, teas and balls! During our Inaugurations there are no tanks in the streets of Washington – just an armada of chauffeured limousines!
What an incredible sight it was to watch President and Mrs. Bush graciously greet President Elect Obama and Michelle to the White House for coffee before the Inauguration. Then to watch the President and President Elect ride off together in the same limousine to the Inauguration was a further testimony to our resolve and reserve as a Democracy. And after an inspiring Inaugural address, how amazing it was to watch President Bush embrace President Obama and congratulate him – even after being criticized in Obama’s speech! Then to see the new President and Vice President and their wives send off former President Bush and Laura in the Presidential helicopter with hand shakes and hugs was democracy at her very best!
I was in Nepal until just a few days before the Inauguration. I have been ministering there for 20 years now and have seen first hand her long and violent transition from being the “World’s Only Hindu Kingdom” to being a “Secular Republic.” After a decade of revolution and fighting, the Maoist have won the day. But there is such political division and chaos between the ever-fragmenting parties that nothing positive is taking place for the people (see my “Field Report” from Nepal on this blog). In the midst of the daily news of political posturing and gridlock, it was so refreshing to catch a glimpse of a BBC news report on the recent “President’s Dinner” that was taking place in Washington, hosted by then President Bush. He was hosting at the White House a special welcoming dinner for President Elect Obama . What an incredible sight to see three former Presidents, the current President and the President Elect all standing side by side in the Oval Office!
So to watch from Kathmandu, Nepal, our 39th President, Jimmy Carter, our 41st President, Herbert W. Bush, our 42nd President, Bill Clinton and our 43rd President, George Bush, standing around the soon-to-be inaugurated 44th President, Barack Obama, was incredible – and so uniquely American. And while they represented different political parties and ideologies, they were there to welcome, encourage and support the new President Elect. In few other countries of the world has that ever taken place. For most other nations of the world, that kind of civil camaraderie is unthinkable and impossible. In most other countries the former Presidents are either imprisoned, killed or banished! But there they were – 5 Presidents, standing side-by-side in one of the most unique fraternities on earth!
Regardless of our different political ideologies, we Americans generally respect and honor our leaders – whether or not we agree with them. We have been raised to respect the office even if we did not respect the person holding that office. Because of our wider sense of patriotism and love for our country, we want our leaders to succeed. That’s because we know that when they do well, we do well. And we not only respect our leaders, we even celebrate them from time to time – just as we did President Obama at his inauguration.
There was an unmistakable air of celebration and anticipation surrounding his election and inauguration that was almost electric. The momentous excitement that he generated throughout his campaign was increasingly described as “Obama-mania.” The very obvious and blatant “pro-Obama” bias of the media was unmistakable. Certainly no one in recent years has galvanized people of all ages, races, classes and creeds like he has. And everyone agrees that his oratory skills have ranked him along side, if not above, two other Presidents with great public speaking charisma like Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Regan.
One thing that every American in general and every Christian in particular must rejoice over is the positive role model President Obama and Michelle are. Flanked by their two beautiful and precocious daughters, Malia and Sasha, they are a refreshingly positive model of a good loving marriage and family. And in a day and age when the African American family has been largely decimated by desertion, drugs, alcohol, crime, school drop-out, teenage pregnancy and welfare – making the single parent mom the norm on the one side and the incarcerated male on the other – how wonderful to see this wonderful image by our new “First Family!” Now the African American child and teenager have a new and healthier model of success other than the pro-athlete, super star musician, hip-hop artist and gangs’ta-rapper. We have a beautiful “Bill Cosby-Huxtable-type-family” enter and grace the White House. And they incarnate marital love and fidelity, warm family relationships and the importance of education for success in life.
To quote one African American College student: “No more excuses. No more blame. No more victimization mentality.” To echo the campaign slogan of President Obama, the new mantra of African American youth can now be “Yes we can!” He has proven that the “sky is the limit” in America for anyone regardless of race or humble background. Because of both of their Ivy League educations, they have now made education “cool” rather than the lack thereof
So while I still do not agree with a lot of President Obama’s political ideology, I will still pray for him and support him as my President. Very quickly now the sobering weight of the problems of America and the world will settle on his young and untested shoulders as a national and world leader. Two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression confront him – to say nothing of the intractable Middle East Crisis. Like few Presidents in my lifetime, he has engendered an incredible new sense of hope and optimism for “Change you can believe in.” Expectations are unbelievably high. That’s why he will need far more resources than the discipline, education, sense of confidence, optimism, hope and political momentum that have helped bring him to this point of political victory and opportunity. I believed he sensed that because of how he soberly said in his address that there will be no quick or easy solutions to these domestic and international problems. He acknowledged that they are far too big for him to solve alone. So every American was going to have to get his or her shoulder under the load with a new sense of responsibility.
There was one thing that President Obama said leading up to the election that particularly challenged me: “If you want to be President, do it when it counts!” What a parallel to Christian living and leadership. Never has there been a more crucial kairos moment in American and world history than now for bold, visionary servant-leadership! Our strategic involvement in the Great Commission to “…go make disciples of all the nations,” and the Great Command to “…love as Christ has loved us” – is needed now more than ever! Regardless of the current economic down-turn, we must pray…work…give…go as never before.
Little did Barack Obama anticipate that the single biggest issue he would face from day one of his presidency would be a Great Depression type of economic crisis. In the last few months there has been an economic melt-down unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. Trillions of dollars of assets have been forever lost! And because the “business of America is business,” this economic crisis will be his number one challenge. The prevailing fear that has seized American investors has swept across America like an economic tsunami! Banks and investment firms have gone under. Thousands of homes have been repossessed. Retail sales have hit bottom in many sectors of the economy. Unprecedented numbers of businesses have filed chapter eleven. So what money people do have, they are holding onto with a sense of fear about the future. As a result, giving has also gone down in most churches and Christian organizations.
It is also interesting and revealing that the highest per capita giving by American Christians was during the Great Depression – 3.5%. As incredulous as it may seem, that’s the highest rate of giving in our history as a nation! And by the end of the Great Depression, giving was down to just 1.5%. While we Americans are still the most generous people on earth, our giving as a people has continued to hover at a national average of between 1% – 2%—which is paltry and pathetic! And although Christians in general – and evangelical Christians in particular, are the highest per capita givers, we do not even come close to the Biblical tithe of 10%! In fact, between one fourth and one half of American churchgoers give absolutely nothing to the cause of Christ. They are what I call “Welfare Christians” who live off of the generosity of other saints! Sadly, only 2 pennies of every dollar given in the church goes for the cause of global missions. And that’s my “two cents worth” on giving at this point!
Why am I pointing this out in a blog about President Obama’s Inauguration? Simply because I am convinced that there is a direct relationship between our prosperous level of living and paltry level of giving and this current economic crisis. Just read the Bible and you will see. Or, order my book Will A Man Rob God – subtitled “Thieves in the Church,” for a fuller study of this giving crisis in America.
So along with millions of other Christians, I will be praying that God will protect and bless our new President. I will especially be praying that God will continue to bring around him the “counsel of the Godly” rather than the ungodly (Ps. 1:1). Then and only then can he give the bold leadership in making decisions that God can bless and use to bring renewed peace and prosperity to America. I praise God for the respect, relationship and access that people like Pastor Rick Warren and Bishop TD Jakes have to President Obama. The weight of the American Presidency has a way of humbling the proudest and most confident of men. So my prayer now for President Obama is that he would heed the words of the ancient prophet who said:
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Then and only then can “God Bless America!”
PS: For the sake of our National Partners in many countries of the world, I am providing a link where you can read the entire Inaugural Address given by President Obama since many of you may not have access to it in your country.
Dear Prayer Partner,
Loving greetings in Christ from Nepal—the “top of the world!” I also bid you a “Happy New Year” from here since it is the year 2065, while it has just turned 2009 there in the States. So when I stepped off the plane here, I got much older! Expect to see a lot more grey hairs on my head when I get back home this weekend! As usual, when I landed here in Kathmandu, I “hit the ground running!” My son, Joseph and associate, Scott Hahn, were with me for the first 3 days. Then they went to India for a couple of days of meetings with two of our key leaders there, Murli Menon and Bishop Ezra Sargunam. I have stayed here for another week of meetings with as many of our partners as possible. I will send you a pictorial report when I get back.
To say that Nepal has gone through some cataclysmic political changes in the last few years would be a big understatement! After over 200 years of being “The World’s Only Hindu Kingdom” where the king and queen were incarnations of deity, to being a “Secular State”, is off the charts politically! This means that there is a total freedom of religion that has never existed before. No one could have ever imagined this a few years ago. When I first came to Nepal in 1989, the church was very much “underground” and under a great deal of persecution. Now all of that has changed. While this new freedom of religion was brought about by the Maoist insurgency over the past decade, it was obviously not done with the Christians in mind. But I believe that God sovereignly orchestrated this for the advancement of His Kingdom here. So, this is a very strategic time that we must seize for the Kingdom of God.
The Maoist leader, Parchanda, is now the Prime Minister. However, like most revolutionary leaders, he is finding that it is much easier to lead a revolution than to build a new government. There is also a growing dissension and division in the Maoist ranks between the Prime Minister and his young followers, to whom he promised the “spoils of battle” that he is now unable to deliver. Only time will tell how this division will be played out—peaceably or violently.
There are many economic challenges here just like in America—only much worse. Because of an antiquated and worn-out infrastructure, there is little consistent electrical power. In fact, the norm is now no electricity 16 hours a day. And when it is on, it is usually between midnight and 5:00 AM—not a time when most of us depend upon our electricity! The government is saying that in the next few days the power will be cut down even more. This lack of power has caused hundreds of big and small businesses to shut down and close their doors. Few can afford the scarce diesel fuel to operate off generators. This has resulted in the loss of many more jobs—only further intensifying the high jobless rate that previously existed.
In addition, there is a scarcity of gas, diesel fuel and kerosene for the people. There are long lines at most gas stations. All of this has resulted in a lot of demonstrations and strikes throughout the country and particularly here in Kathmandu. As a result, there are a lot of riot police throughout the city.
To me, one of the saddest things is the new division within the church here. When I first came to Nepal, there was a pristine unity like the 1st century Church. As I have often described it: “The church was neither bound by tradition or divided by theology.” But because of the great spiritual revival that has been taking place here for the last couple of decades, western Christians have rushed in with their denominational destinctives which have tragically divided the Christians. Previously people did not know what a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or Pentecostal was. They were just the Body of Christ! But now the tragic denominational divisiveness in America and the west has flooded Nepal! God forgive us! And the cults are also coming in—just as they did in America from the 1960s onward.
In addition to our denominational divisions, there is also a growing influx of American and western “superstar Christian leaders” who are coming into Nepal with their spectacular crusades and healing and miracle meetings. Ironically, the Nepali church has experienced more legitimate healings and miracles than most of these “healing evangelists” have ever seen in their lifetime! Most of these “barefooted evangelists” have faced down, and cast out, more demons than western Christians have ever experienced. The spiritual arrogance coming in from “superstar Christians” is both absurd and heart-breaking.
Recently, a famous American TV evangelist came to Nepal for only a few hours. She flew in on her private jet and drove to the Crusade venue in a motorcade fit for royalty. During the brief time she was here, she never even shook the hand of one of the local pastors or Christian leaders who had worked so hard to set up the meeting for her. She was buffered by her “security guards” around her at all times! Then she left the stage and went back to her luxury jet and flew back to the States. However, I am sure her people shot enough video for her to raise another couple of million dollars for her “Nepal Ministry!”
What a travesty this is in the name of Christ! What a mockery of servant-leadership. Can you imagine Jesus or Paul traveling with “security guards?” Both were constantly “pressing the flesh” as they immersed their lives in the throngs of needy people that followed them. This kind of glamorous spirituality is grievous in America—but even more so in a country like Nepal! The Christians here have so much more to teach the American Church than we have to teach them!
Thanks for your love, prayers and support that have enabled us to love and labor among the “least of these His brothers and sisters” in Nepal for some 20 years now. I look forward to sending you a fuller report with pictures when I get back home and before my next trip to Africa the last week of this month.
Finally, I plan to be back here in both April and October. I hope some of you will give some serious thought and prayer about joining me for a “Asian Kingdom Adventure” here at the “top of the world!”
In His Servant Love,
When you receive this email, I will be on another “mission journey” – just like the Magi. This time to Nepal and India (I haven’t even reported to you yet on my pre-Christmas trip to Kenya and the Congo – but will soon). My son, Joseph will be with me, plus our associate, Scott Hahn. It will be my first time to be back in Nepal for over two years – and I am very excited! I will be counting on your prayers while I am there. And as you can see from the picture below, I will be completing another book on the long 15 hour flights back and forth. So this is how I spend my “flying time” rather than watching movies. This latest book will probably be entitled: The Stewardship of Your Living and Giving and is based around “20 Biblical Principles of Finances.”
From December 1st leading up to Christmas, we looked in depth at the various Christmas Narratives. In doing so, we related them to many other Scriptures since the Advent Story is a seamless spiritual continuum leading right up to this present time. And Epiphany is a vital part of the Christmas journey. While most Christians in the West combine the celebration of the visit of the Magi on Christmas, most of the Eastern Church celebrates it on January 6th because the coming of the Magi definitely took place after the other Christmas events, possibly up to two years after the birth of Christ. So we are going to look at as a special “New Year’s Study” as we have just crossed the threshold of 2009.
In the last couple of devotional studies before Christmas, we looked at the gift that God gave the world and how He uniquely “wrapped Christ” as His great gift of love to the world. Now I want to change focus to the only other people in the Christmas Narrative who actually gave gifts to the Christ Child – the “Magi from the east.” Their visit to Bethlehem changed their lives forever. I believe a study of their journey and giving will do the same for us if we learn several lessons from the “wise men.”
First, they were not discouraged by the pilgrimage:
Theirs was a long, arduous, costly trip—an intentional journey. They were not just aimlessly wandering around, like so many people live their lives. They were neither driven nor drifting—but divinely directed! The Bible says they were motivated by a desire to find and “…worship Him” (Mt. 2:2). They were not motivated by curiosity, selfishness, guilt or gain—but by the desire to find and worship Christ.”
The same motivation must be true for us today. Any lesser motivation other than worship will always ultimately lead to discouragement and disillusionment on our Christian pilgrimage. There are far too many detours, difficulties, delays and defeats to be motivated by anything less than worship. That’s why Paul said: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).
Chronic discouragement is one of the most widespread spiritual diseases among Christians today. If you are struggling with lingering discouragement, check your motivation as a Christian. Are you really living to “…worship Him?”
Secondly, they were not distracted by the palace:
Their spiritual pilgrimage providentially led them to Herod’s palace. King Herod was both a shrewd politician and master builder. So successful was this half-Jew, half-Idumaean in maintaining order in the perpetually troublesome Jewish province of Palestine, that the Roman Emperor, Marcus Antonius, honored him in 40 BC with the title “King of the Jews.” Herod’s acceptance of that title only further inflamed Jewish hatred.
History attributes to him the building of great palaces and fortresses, some of which are still standing in Israel today (The December, 2008 issue of National Geographic has a timely feature on this master builder of the Holy Land). He is perhaps most remembered by both Jews and Christians for building the Third Temple in Jerusalem, preceded by the ones built by Solomon and Zerubbabel. Herod was powerful, prosperous and pretentious! His palace was a marvel to behold! How easy it would have been for the Magi to become distracted by the grandeur and opulence of his palace – and the attention it temporarily afforded them!
When our pilgrimage likewise sovereignly leads us temporarily to the “palace” of financial success and social position, how easy it is to become distracted and intoxicated by the splendor and trappings of power and prosperity! How quick we are to rationalize and justify luxuries, excesses and extravagances. How very easy it is for all of us to compromise, to become comfortable and complacent. Could it be that this is one of the reasons that God “burst our financial bubble” as a nation and world in the last month of the year? Perhaps we had become too preoccupied with building our own little palaces rather than His Kingdom.
So my friend, beware of the palaces in your pilgrimage! They can so easily distract us from His will and detour us from His glory. All of us “adjust upwardly” far better than we “adjust downwardly.” But so often the call of the Gospel is to do what Jesus did and “go down” to the lowest places in life with the love and compassion of God! Jesus came “down to earth…down to humanity…down to servanthood…down to death…down to the grave (Phil. 2:6-10). The palaces of life make it so hard to follow in His steps on this “downward journey” to the lowest, lonely and lost of life.
Thirdly, they were not defrauded by the priests:
The word “defraud” is a Biblical term, especially in the King James Version of the Bible. But we don’t use it much today in our contemporary English. In the Hebrew and Greek it variously means: “To rob…to spoil…to deceive…to violate…to use.” Jesus reminded the Rich Young Ruler of the Commandment which said: “Do not defraud” (Mk. 10:19). Likewise, Paul warned about false religious teachers of depraved minds who are deprived (have been “defrauded” or “robbed”) of the truth”. He says that they suffer such spiritual darkness because they “…do not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness” (I Tim. 6:3-5).
How easy it would have been for the wise men to be defrauded by the priests who were consulted by King Herod concerning the prophesied birthplace of Christ. They were theologically trained and religiously active. They knew by heart all of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. They could recite them back to Herod in a heart-beat. However, they were not even willing to follow the wise men the short distance to Bethlehem to see the promised Christ Child. Apparently they had become infatuated with Herod’s palace they had been invited into. Their spiritual complacency and lukewarm religiosity defrauded them of the joy of seeing the long-awaited Messiah. Like the majority of their contemporaries on the Sanhedrin, they had become so committed to perpetuating their Jewish religious traditions that they could not afford to personally become involved in something that might turn their little religious world upside down. It was fine to have a detached theological discussion on prophecy in answer to Herod’s questions—but that was all the further they dared to become involved. They liked their little “religious palaces” too much to let them be turned up-side-down by some new Jewish king!
How tragic it is that so many of the religious professionals today who should be leading the search for Biblical truths, are the very ones who are so often suppressing it! Just note on any documentary on the History Channel or National Geographic, how these “religious scholars” call into question every revelation of the Bible. There were a number of them during the month of December to call into question almost every aspect of the Christmas narrative. And they do so in the name of objective “science,” “history” and “archaeology.” But their biases are blatantly obvious. Objective they are not!
Sadly, many of the very preachers and priests who should be totally committed to the person of Christ are defrauding so many in their congregations from the truth through liberalism, humanism and sexual perversion! So little has changed in the religious realm from the First to the Twenty-First Century.
The wise men however, were neither distracted by the dazzling opulence of Herod’s palace; nor were they defrauded by the dead orthodoxy of the priests!
Fourthly, they were not disappointed by the place:
As is so often the case, the guiding star from God led the wise men to a humble, lowly place. It directed them from splendor to simplicity…from a place of prosperity to a place of poverty…from a high place to a humble place!
Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh would have seemed so appropriate in the splendor of Herod’s palace – but so out of place in the simplicity of Joseph’s home!
How like the true God that is. He is so extravagant in the most unexpected places. He lavishes His love on the most unlikely of people. And He so often calls us to give our best—just as He has done—in the most unlikely, unpromising places! To those places of poverty and ignorance we do not mind giving our leftovers…our unneeded excess…our worn-out and “used”—but not our best! We save our best for the “high and mighty,” not the “low and powerless.” But remember, the motivation of the wise men was to “worship Him”.
Therefore, “…opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mtt. 2:11). Remember this great liberating principle: When our gifts of time and money are first and foremost being presented to Him, the place is relatively unimportant! Ministering to Him through others in need transforms the most humble circumstance into the heavenly! That motivation lifts every gift, regardless of how great or small, to a place of eternal significance. How the life of Mother Teresa demonstrated that truth in the slums of the world!
If you find yourself disappointed by the place you are living, working or ministering in, begin to look for His presence there. As the Fifteenth Century Christian monk and mystic, Brother Lawrence found, you can “practice His presence” in any situation. Even though he greatly disliked kitchen work, Brother Lawrence learned the discipline of practicing the presence of Christ there to the degree that he ultimately experienced the Lord no less in the kitchen than in the sanctuary! He learned to commune to the same degree with the Lord in washing dishes or in celebrating the Mass. That’s the testimony of a heart set on worship.
The presence of Christ lifts any act of love from the mundane to the miraculous!
Lastly, they were not disobedient to the plan:
After their pilgrimage had led them from the palace to the priests to the place of Christ’s birth, God appeared to them in a dream, and gave them a new plan. That plan was to “…return home by a different route” (Mt. 2:12). God literally gave them a “new direction!” To take a new way home other than the now more familiar one they came by, was an added inconvenience. It would no doubt take more time, energy and money. However, in obedience to God, they went home “another way”—even though it inconvenienced them and enraged King Herod.
Without overly spiritualizing that phrase: “…they returned home another way,” I want to emphasize an important truth. When we have truly met Christ, we are invariably changed. We always return to our homes and businesses differently than the way we were before we met Him. When the direction and priorities of our lives are unchanged, we have not really met the Messiah. Also, when we go home a “different way”—that difference always produces difficulties and divisions. But we, like the wise men, must not be disobedient to the heavenly plan—whatever the cost.
I trust that these brief “Lessons from the Wise Men” will help guide you in your journey through this New Year. And just as they gave their best to the Lord Jesus, I pray that you will do the same in 2009. I know that from a human perspective the economy does not look very positive and promising right now. But it was costly for the wise men to “…open their treasures and present Him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh” – just as it will be costly for you to give your best to Christ in this New Year. But I challenge you to begin the New Year with new “bold faith” in you living and giving!
Following the Wise Men,