Translating Ephesians

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Insights From Checking Ephesians

Earlier this week I finished doing the consultant check on the translation of Ephesians into one of the languages of Papua New Guinea.  It would take too long here to explain the process of doing a translation consultant checking session, so I will leave that for a future article.  What I would like to do now, and on each of the Thursday articles over the next seven weeks, is to share some insights that we have made into some of the verses of Scripture that we are checking.  Needless to say, in this limited space, I will only touch on a couple of the more interesting discoveries we have made.

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“In Christ”

This phrase, “in Christ”, is one of Paul’s favorite expressions to describe our state as Christians.  He uses this exact phrase 12 times in the book of Ephesians, and the idea of it is at least more than double that if you include phrases like “in Him” or “in whom”.  In other words, it is a very common phrase found throughout the book.  But what does it mean to be “in Christ”.

Most commentaries will use wording like “united with Christ”, or “joined with Christ”, and this is helpful.   But I love how the T. language handles this phrase.  It literally says “we who are stuck to Christ”.  To me, it gives the picture of us being super-glued to Jesus.  When we accept Jesus as our Lord, we do not have a casual “take-it-or-leave-it” relationship with Him.

It is more like we are “joined at the hips” and so what He wants, we want, and what He has (i.e. all the spiritual blessings of heaven – v. 1:4) we also have.  This is such a comforting thought to me.  The God that I believe in is not some distant deistic God who doesn’t care or involve Himself in our lives.  No, when we are “stuck to Jesus”, we have become partners and co-heirs with Jesus, who is the Son of God.

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“The Mystery that was Hidden”

Another word that is one of Paul’s favorites in the book of Ephesians is the word “mystery”.  This word shows up 7 times in the book, and it in itself is a bit of mystery when you first start reading the book.  Paul introduces the word in 1:9-10, and says that “God had made known to us the mystery of His will…which He purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment…

Paul goes on in the rest of verse 10 to explain what the mystery is, namely, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”  Even though this world and its course appears to be chaotic and meaningless to some, there is in fact a master plan which will all be revealed and order restored when Christ one day will come back to rule the world.

In chapter five, Paul talks about another “mystery”, and it is based on the picture of a husband and wife relationship.  Quoting from the Old Testament, in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  But then Paul says the mystery is the fact that what happens between Christ and His people is just like a marriage relationship.  There is a spiritual union that happens between Christ and the Church that is just as mysterious as the spiritual union of a husband and wife.

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But chapter three is Paul’s best use of the word “mystery”.  He uses the word four times, and he is so excited about the wonder of the mystery that had once been hidden but now is made known, first to him and then to us through Paul.  He says in verse two and three that people should know God had given the task to Paul to make this mystery known, and after reading his words, they too would understand the insight Paul has into this great mystery.

He then goes on in verse five to state that the mystery “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”  And by this time, after waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, you want to scream out to Paul, “So what is this great mystery?”

I almost believe that Paul did this deliberately, to tease us along for quite a few verses, just so that we would catch the full impact of what this mystery is when he finally revealed it to us.  And the key verse to this chapter, and to much of the entire epistle is found in verse 6 of chapter 3.  It reads:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

When we reflect deeply on this, it is truly amazing that after many millenia of bitter hatred and wars fought between those who were Jews, and those who were not Jews, it is amazing that peace and unity can be found for them in Christ, and together they will share the eternal blessings of God.

It is for certain that in Jesus’ day that such a statement of God’s will, namely the “breaking down of the walls of hostility” between these two ethnic groups, would have been quite a revolutionary thought.  But what is really profound is that God had intended from the beginning of time to bring peace to those who are by nature bitter enemies.  And if God can do that for the Jews and non-Jews, then God can do that between any two hostile groups today.  So let us pray that this peace of God, by means of the Gospel, can truly be known by all peoples today, and that all would see His unfathomable love for all mankind.

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The Leading of God’s Spirit

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“Does God Speak Today?”

I have heard this question, and been asked this question, many times.  Often when someone asks this question the person is really asking, “Does God speak audibly to people today?”  And that is somewhat of a loaded question.  If the person asking the question has not had this experience and is skeptical, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might yet just write that off as simply “poppycock” or think that those who say God speaks to them are more likely fringe or fanatical Christians.

On the other hand, if the person asking the question has not had this experience and is asking it as a sincere question, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might ask, “Why then is it that God has never spoken to me?”  And from this perspective they can get the sense that there must be something wrong with them, that they are in some way an inferior Christian to those who claim that God has actually spoken to them.

Personally, I believe that the question itself or at least the interpretation of the question is wrong.  That is, to hear the question, “Does God speak today?” and to interpret it so narrowly to mean, “Does God speaks audibly to people today?’ is misleading.  We do know from Scripture itself that God speaks to His people, but He most often does it in ways other than just audible form.

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We accept this as true, for Scripture says in Hebrews 1:1-2a,

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

The writer of Hebrews is referring to the fact that God came down in human form in the person of Jesus, and through His teachings, recorded by the Gospel writers, God has spoken to us, and continues to speak to us through His written Word.  Scripture even says about itself that God’s Word is interactive within people, and thus we can say that God is still speaking to us today:

The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart.    Hebrews 4:12


And then we also accept that we have the Holy Spirit within us (1 Corinthians 6:19 ) and by means of His Spirit, God communicates with us today:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.    John 16:13

What a wonderful promise this is to know that the Holy Spirit that lives within us can communicate with us on important issues of truth and life.  Isn’t it wonderful that God’s Spirit can teach us truth to live by, especially with regards to the meaning of Scripture.  But I believe that the Holy Spirit can also lead us in day-to-day activities of life.

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Let me give you an example from my life.  When I was 19 and living in Florida and working with a group called Teen Missions, I woke up out of a dream and had a strong impression that I should go visit the Bible bookstore that was nearby.  I didn’t really know why I had this impression, but I followed what I considered to be the leading of the Spirit.

So I was walking up and down the aisles of the bookstore and finally a woman came over and asked if she could help me with anything.  I said no, and that I was just “browsing”.  But within my spirit I felt that it was very important that I find the “right” book and buy it that day.  I think I spent over two hours wandering all around the store.

Finally, just before it was closing time, I slowed down in this one section and carefully read the title and back cover of each book on the shelf.  Then suddenly, when I picked up this one book, it was like an electric shock went through my body and I knew that this was the book I was supposed to buy.  I knew within my heart that God was directing me by His Spirit to make this purchase.

The name of the book was “Explore the Book” by Sidlow Baxter.  In one volume, it gave a good summary and background information on every book of the Bible.  I bought the book and began to use it along with my devotional reading of the Bible.  For at least the next two years I used this book as an excellent companion to the reading of each book of Scripture.  It was amazing how much I learned, and I used the book as foundational background material for many Bible study groups that I led over the years to come.

I still have the book in one of my boxes.  And every time I come across it, I think about how the Holy Spirit “spoke” to me and guided me to find it in that Christian bookstore.  I learned from this experience from an early age to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  So I believe that I can honestly say that God still speaks today.  But it may be in ways that we may not expect.  We must remain ready though and be attuned in our spirit to see His hand and to hear His voice in whatever form it may take.

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Impacting Others for Jesus

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Part 1 click here.

Part 2 click here.

Part 4 click here.

Who am I?  Part 3

The man was beet red in the face and shook his fist near my face when he yelled at me, “You Bible Thumper!”  But then he backed off and calmed down when he saw that he was not going to get a reaction out of me.  And then he said the most interesting thing.  He said, “I’ve seen Bible Thumpers and Holy Rollers in my day, but you….you’re different!”  And then he just shook his head and walked away.

Now I kind of doubt that many people could guess where this little stand-off took place.  I was 17 at the time, and I was in the bunk areas of the HMCS Saskatchewan, a destroyer in the Canadian Navy.  Previously, from age 13-16, I had been a part of the Sea Cadets, which entailed going down to the navy base in Calgary each Wednesday night, and then had the option of going to navy boot camps on Vancouver Island each summer.

Those were great years, as I proudly wore the uniform, marched in a number of important parades as part of the Cadet Navy Band, and got to spend summers on the west coast of Canada while I was still young.  Then, when I heard that a person could join the Reserve Forces as long as they turned 17 by the end of the year, I immediately joined up in March of 1977, eight months before I turned 17 in November.

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Much of the Reserves was like the Cadets, except that now I was in an adult world.  I worked hard that Spring and qualified for summer boot camp training again on Vancouver Island.  After surviving Boot Camp, I opted to stay out there, and worked in the naval dockyards for the rest of the summer.  Then the big moment came at the end of August.

An officer came up to me and asked if I would like to join the crew of a destroyer and be a part of a fleet maneuvers exercise for ten weeks.  We would sail from Victoria, British Columbia all the way down the west coast of the Americas making stops in San Diego, Manzanillo (Mexico), Panama City, Guayaquil (Ecuador), Lima (Peru), the Galapagos Islands, and Long Beach (Calif.)  So I phoned home to Calgary and said to my parents, “I’m heading to Peru with the Navy, but I’ll be back for Christmas.”  And they said, “Okay, see you then.”  : )

So at age 16, I sailed the ocean blue and saw the world, or at least a part of it.  And I loved almost every minute of it.  I’d been in Cadets, and then Reserves, for almost four years and now I was finally sailing on a large ship bound for adventure.  (Funny thing is, when I got back to Calgary, I quit the Navy, because all I really wanted was a chance to go out to sea, and I did that.  Then it was time to pursue my calling into missions.)

Back to my experience on the ship.  It was hard work, but I felt alive.  And spiritually, I felt like I could connect with God out on the ocean in a way that I couldn’t back home.  Which is kind of funny because of the 200 crew members or so, I only knew of three Christians.  One was the chaplain, one was a low ranking sailor at the other end of the ship whom I didn’t see much, and the third was the XO (Executive Officer, second in command.)

So spending time with God was pretty much a solitary journey for me.  When off duty, I would often sit near the stern and sing hymns and songs to myself.  When in port, I would go alone to try to find a church in the area.  And when I woke up each day, I would sit on the edge of my bunk and pull out my Bible and read from it for a while to give me some good things to think about during the day.

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What I didn’t do was to tell people I was a Christian.  I didn’t have to.  It didn’t take too many mornings before someone noticed me reading my Bible, and then everyone knew I was a Christian.  And that is when all the jokes, and ridicules began.  And of course I was always given the dirtiest job assignment to do.  I was even almost pulled into a prostitute house twice, but God saved me in those moments.  And for the most part, I never raised my voice or spoke back at these men.

Now I’m not saying I was a pushover or a pansy.  When I was mistreated, ridiculed or given dirty jobs, I would stand there and look them in the eyes for a minute or two to let them know I was a man inside who could stand his ground, but then I would turn away and go with a smile or a tune on my lips and go about doing my job.

And that’s what led this other man to confront me on the day we docked back in Victoria.  He had called me so many names, and tried to get me to drink, to smoke, to swear, to lay with a woman, but he had not succeeded.  And he had not broken my spirit.  And through all this, I rarely ever said a word.

And this was more than he could take.  He loved to argue with those “Bible Thumpers”, and he loved to mimic and ridicule those “Holy Rollers”.  But he didn’t know what to do or what to make of this quiet, yet strong, devoted Christian young man.  I realized then, when he said, “You’re different!” that it was a compliment.  Not to me, but to Jesus who was living in and through me.  I saw that by not saying a word, I had the opportunity to impact someone for Jesus.

God Will Watch Over Me

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I have arrived safely here at the mission center here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  I would say the whole trip from Canada to PNG went very smoothly.  Except for the takeoff from LA to Brisbane.

The guy in the middle seat next to me was acting kind of strange I thought.  He came in and sat down quite a while after the young woman had come and sat down at the window seat.  He had pierced ears and wild tattoos running down his arm.  And then I thought he was trying “hit” on the woman.  It turned out that they were together.

So then while we were taxiing up to take off, suddenly he reached for the bag and threw up three times.  YUCK!!  And then he jumped up and went down the aisle to the bathroom while we were moving towards the runway.  Well…you should have heard the male flight attendant yell out, “YOU…GET BACK TO YOUR SEAT!!”  But they did help him at the bathroom.

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Then after we got to cruising altitude, the Captain came to our row.  He wanted to know if the man was okay.  He was not too bad at that point.  Then the Captain asked if he had felt sick before the flight started.  The man said he had felt poor for two days.

So then the Captain said to him in a very stern tone, “You’ve been sick for two days and came on MY plane?  It would not be very good if we have to divert and land in Hong Kong.  There would be a lot of very unhappy passengers.  And don’t you EVER get up and run down the aisle on a plane again when it is taxiing to take off.  Do you understand me?!!”

Well, just when I thought he was starting to look well, after this tongue lashing, the man looked a bit pale again and just said, “Yes Sir.”  Meanwhile, as the Captain was leaning over me to talk to this man, I was desperately trying to look away and appear invisible.  If I could have whistled nonchalantly and gotten away with it without getting a glare from the Captain, I would have.  Whew….what an awkward moment.

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I felt bad for the man.  And then it hit me.  What if he had some kind of “bug” and was contagious?  Could he pass on to me his illness?  And I would have to share his space for the next 13 hours!  So I sent up a prayer and asked God to protect me from any illness this man might have.  The last thing I would want would be to get to my PNG destination and then come down with some sickness.

And then it got me thinking.  I have a muscle disease that has weakened my entire body, and probably has weakened some of my natural immune system.  I think in many ways I have learned to live with my disease, and using mechanical aids like crutches and walkers, getting wheelchair assistance, and adapting my environment to help me to function and live more comfortably has become second nature.

But the idea of getting some secondary illness, one that could seriously jeopardize my health, is a thought that lurks in the back of my mind and occasionally surfaces.  It causes me to think about the death of my grandmother, and my sister.  Their situations were quite different from each other, but there is one thing that they do have in common.  It was a secondary cause to something else that killed them.

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In my grandmother’s case, she was generally healthy as far as I know for most of her life, and she didn’t die until she was 88.  In fact, she was very active in life, then as a retiree doing hundreds of hours as a Volunteer at the hospital, and then she was always going around her nursing home and cheering others up.  She always seemed to be on the move.

But then one day, she got a cut or a break in her skin that she didn’t take too seriously.  This small area got infected and became a skin sore.  In her usual way of not wanting to bother anyone, she didn’t tell anyone about it until it became a very bad sore.  By this time it was very infected and had gotten into her system.  The doctors tried to cure it with strong antibiotics, but it was too late.  She gave herself blood poisoning and died within a very short period after being admitted to the hospital.  It could have been avoided.

In my sister’s case, she had the same or very similar muscle disease that I have.  The main difference between her and me is that she had always been weak from the time she was a teenager, but thankfully for her, she did not suffer the intense pain that I have.  What led to my sister’s death was a reaction she had to some aloe juices that she mixed up from raw ingredients.

But in truth, it was her weakened body, and the fact that she had had a string of bronchial problems and a case of pneumonia in the winter, that combined with the allergic reaction that overwhelmed her body and she died at age 32 from congestive heart failure.

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So how does this all relate to me today?  I know that right now I have a serious muscle disease.  And unless God heals me, there is likely going to be a day that the weakness will be compounded by some other illness, or some organ that starts to fail.  The question is this:  will I live my life in fear of what may happen one day?  No, I refuse to do this.

I would much rather trust God that He is always in control of my life until the day He decides to take me Home.  I want to be like David who wrote these words:

The LORD will protect you from all danger; he will keep you safe.                                    He will protect you as you come and go, now and forever.

Psalm 121:7-8

My Bucket List of Countries

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The Plinky Question for this week is:  “What 3 countries would you like to visit?”

In some ways, I feel like God built me to be an explorer.  As early as age 12, I was on the road with youth group trips at least a couple of times a year.  When I was 16, I was in the Canadian Navy and sailed all the way to Peru and back.  (That story will be published in the next Post.)  My first mission trip was to Brazil in 1979 with Teen Missions when I was only 18 years old.  And I have been traveling the world ever since.

So being a traveler, it’s quite natural to have a sort of “Bucket List” of countries I would want to see one day.  I suppose most of us have this kind of list, but many do not have the privilege and opportunity as I have had to see the world.  In fact, I have been very fortunate to have accomplished the following stats.  I have:
  • lived in 6 out of the 10 Canadian Provinces, and visited 3 of the remaining 4
  • lived in 3 States, and visited all 48 USA continental States
    • (Alaska & Hawaii here I come! : ) )
  • set foot on 6 out of the 7 world continents (not interested in Antarctica)
  • been in 26 countries of the world, 13 of which I have done ministry work for God

I certainly do not want anyone to think I am boasting about all my travels.  Heaven forbid!  No, I stand back in awe and amazement that God has chosen to use me, and it has been by His grace that I have been able to be His servant in some of the remotest places on earth.  And it amazes me even more that He can still use me and allow me to travel so much, in spite of my muscle disease.

And so, being the dreamer that I am, I do play around with my “Bucket List” of countries that I would still like to see.  I do recall that during my teenage years that one of my goals was to visit a tropical paradise island, say like Fiji, or Tahiti.  And while I was with Teen Missions, I had this strong pull to go to Vanuatu.  These kinds of countries bring up images of white sand, palm trees swaying, and aqua-marine blue waters.

Well I may not ever make it to Tahiti or Fiji, but God certainly allowed our family to experience some great moments in the beautiful and tropical island of New Guinea, specifically living on the eastern half of it in the country of Papua New Guinea.  For most of the time from 1997 to early 2002, we lived in a small village tucked deep into the lowland jungle, and then paid visits to the majestic highlands and to the idyllic coast lands of that country.  And in 2001, I spent a week in the fabulous country of Vanuatu to attend a nation-wide church centenary celebration.

So then my second choice I think of a country I would like to visit is Germany.  This country has such a fascinating history and has showcased both the very best and the very worst of humanity.  Some of the greatest minds, especially theologians, were from Germany.  And of course, one of the world’s worst tyrants ruled in Germany.

If I was able to actually visit Germany, the one thing above all else that I would want to see would be the remains of the Berlin Wall.  This wall, which separated East from West, Communism from Capitalism/Democracy, is symbolic to me of what lies within the hearts of all people.  Part of being human is the desire to conquer and control, but no matter how oppressive the regime can be, nothing can ever stamp out the desire of the human heart to be free.  And thanks be to God for tearing down this wall and bringing freedom (even with all its problems) to the people of Eastern Europe.

But if you were to ask me what is still probably my number one country that I would most like to see, it would have to be Israel.  Not only would I like to see Israel because I am a historian and a theologian, but simply because I am a Christian.  So many of the events recorded in the Bible took place in such a small geographical part of the world.

It would truly be amazing to me (if I could do it) to see places like Jericho, where God brought down the walls, or the wide lands where Abraham dwelt and David kept his sheep.  But most of all, to see Nazareth where Jesus grew up, to walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught, to see Jerusalem where men from David down to Jesus our Lord are hailed as kings.  And then to see the Garden where Jesus prayed, and the hill where He was crucified, and the tomb from which He arose victorious over death.  Oh yes, now that would be my heart’s desire, to see the Holy Land.

So these are the countries that I have thought about for many years.  Each one fascinating in their own way.  But one more country that I long to see, and one day I will, is Heaven itself.  To walk the streets of gold, to drink of the pure living water, to eat of the fruit from the Tree of Life, to walk side-by-side with my Lord Jesus and to see God face-to-face.  Now that is definitely something to look forward to.

My prayer for you, my dear Reader, is that you too have put your faith in the Lord Jesus, so that when He returns one day to gather His followers, I might see you in Heaven one day as well.

“Even so Lord Jesus, Come!”

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