Another Year – “Praise God!”

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My Birthday Reflections

Two days ago, it was my birthday.  I was not able to share this day with my family here in Dallas since they are all back in Canada.  But I’m really okay with that.  Of course it would have been nice to celebrate with them.  But what I did instead was to go out with a friend after church down here and we had a great time just talking and sharing stories about our mission work and interests.

Back to my family, they all sent me a card and either called me or emailed me to wish me a Happy Birthday.  That was nice.  I didn’t need the calls to be reminded that they love me, but it was still so nice to hear their voices and to see their messages.  It means that I was important enough to them to take the time to give me a call, and I am so grateful to God that I have a wonderful family.

    

As I went through the day though, I came to realize once again that I am actually part of another family, the Family of God.  Of course I don’t know everyone in this special Family, since there are millions of Christians in countries all around the world.  But there are a good number who do know me, either from growing up together, or through my mission work.  And now I have a number of new friends made through the ministry and fellowship we can have by means of the Internet.

Take Facebook for example. There are many hundreds of people whom I can call “Friend” on my personal home page of Facebook.  And the FB Page which is also entitled The Listening Post, has more than 750 people who are following it.  So by the end of the day on Sunday, because of the way I get notifications into my email Inbox, there were more than a hundred greetings from these various friends to wish me well and to pray for me to have another good year of serving the Lord.

    

But let me tell you another very big reason for celebrating my birthday, besides having a great family and lots of contacts on my FB account saying “Hi!”  I thank God for the life He has given me, (even taking into consideration my physical handicap).    Actually, because of my muscle disease, I have come to appreciate life more, and I often wake up and say, “Thank you God for giving me one more day that I can live for You here.”  And so having one more birthday means I have beaten this disease for another year.

You see, just about 3 years ago, I had been devastated by the diagnosis of my health condition.  And on top of that, things had not gone well with my mission organization back in Canada.   They had to freeze the financial books and some mission activity for a short while so they could deal with some governmental paperwork to keep the mission running.  I thought I saw all my dreams and hopes for life and ministry coming to an end.

There was about a month back then where my symptoms kept getting worse and I didn’t know if or when I would level out with my condition.  And I felt quite distraught about what was happening with our Canadian mission.  I felt so overwhelmed by circumstances out of my control that during that time, my pain increased to the point that I felt it was crushing my chest and I really thought I might actually die.

    

But God was watching over me and provided me with just the right kind of professional help that I needed to get through that rough period.  I was able to see a Physiotherapist who helped me to set some realistic goals on exercises and short distance walking.  And when I found myself becoming overwhelmed emotionally, there was a Social Worker within the same clinic who took it upon herself to meet with me for four weeks in a row and let me talk out about my emotional and physical pain.

It was truly amazing the transformation that happened within me after meeting with these two ladies for those four joint sessions.  As I spoke out about my discouragements and fears, the Social Worker listened empathetically, while the Physiotherapist made sure the pain remained under control and that I was not in any physical danger.  And through that process, God brought about some real healing to both my emotional heart and to my physical body.

    

What made the difference for me in these sessions was my steadfast belief that God was still in control.  I told these ladies of how I had served the Lord in either pastoral ministry or overseas mission work for many year, and I poured out my heart about how much I wanted to continue to do just that.  And as I talked about how faithful my God had been to see me through some tough periods in my past, I realized that God had not changed, and I could look to Him to carry me through the current crisis to future days of ministry for Him yet.

So I have been marking November in my mind now for more than just stating, “It’s my birthday.”  I have realized that each year I do have a birthday, it is a victory day to mark how God has been faithful to carry me through and on into another year of life.  And so, this is now Year 3 of my new life: life with Christ AND life with my disease.  Lord willing, (if He doesn’t return soon), I will be able to have many more years of service for God, and each time I have another birthday I will say, “Thank you Lord for another year.”


A Bible Translation Consultant

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Who Am I?  Part 24

In the last article of this series, we left off at the point in 2007 where we were able to reunite our family of four.  For about three months, we were actually split up into three places when Glen went back to Canada.  Jill and I stayed on in East Africa to finish our administrative duties, Eric had stayed in the basement suite of some friends, and Glen room-and-boarded at the home of some other friends of ours in Calgary.

But God brought us all back together as soon as we returned from Africa.  What was so neat was that in March when I brought Glen back to Canada, I overheard a friend say to his wife that he wished he could find some good tenants for his condo rental, and that led to us having a place to move into immediately when we returned to Canada ourselves.  And just as immediately, our two sons moved in with us and we were all together again.

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So that got our family settled.  Jill was able to get hired right back on to the same unit at the hospital (which happened to be directly across the road from our apartment).  Eric was going to take a year of classes at our local Bible college, and Glen had his Grade 12 year of online schooling to do.  And that gave direction for our boys.  Which kind of meant that I was left hanging, not knowing what I was supposed to be doing.

It turned out that the answer for what I should do next came rather quickly.  An invitation by email came to me from our Papua New Guinea Branch to consider coming over there in August 2007 so that I could attend a six-week course to be trained to become a Bible Translation Consultant.  This meant leaving the family again within weeks of coming back from Africa, but Jill encouraged me to get this training since we didn’t really know yet what lay ahead for us.

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The time went quickly, and it seemed like suddenly there I was, back at the mission base that we had so hastily evacuated as a family five years before when Eric began his cancer journey with leukemia.  (You can read about that story here.)  Now I am not known to be a real emotional guy, but I must admit that for many days I had tears in my eyes as I went around the mission center and memories came back to me of our time as a family there.

But those were tears of joy now, not tears of grief and despair.  And I knew that God was healing a part of me that had been seared with pain when I saw my son so sick back in 2002, and as I also realized that our ministry in PNG had come to an end.  But God is so good, and He not only healed me of the past, He also gave a brand new future to me.  I was there to become a Translation Consultant.

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Let me explain for a minute the importance of the training I was about to receive at this course in PNG.  The goal of everyone in our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, whether directly or indirectly, is to get the translated Word of God into the hands of the local people in a language that speaks to the hearts of the people.  So we start the process by making an initial rough draft of the Scripture portion we are working on, and after a lengthy period of testing and revising, we bring that portion to the trained consultant for a final check before the Scripture can be published.

The problem is that we see more Scriptures being prepared for the consultant checking phase than there are consultants available to do the actual checking.  We have had a serious bottleneck over the years of backlogged material ready to go forward, but very few consultants to come check the translations.  So I was eager to get this training, not just so I could become a consultant, but because I saw the importance of doing what it took to help out to get this backlogged material through.

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I must say now as I look back on that training, that I think I felt more fulfilled in this experience and in the direction it was taking me than in just about anything else I have ever done.  All of a sudden I realized how all of the experiences of my life had added up to this moment of becoming a Bible Translation Consultant.  Obviously the five years we had done translation work in the remote village of PNG gave me excellent field experience to draw on.  But everything else made sense too.

The theological training from Bible college and two seminaries helped prepare me to do good exegetical inquiries into the translations.  The linguistic training helped me to probe the translations grammatically and semantically.  All my cross-cultural experiences helped me to ask good culturally sensitive questions.  And the 5 years of pastoral work back in North America helped me to see how the translated Word of God would evangelistically impact the people who would receive the translated Scriptures.

Certainly there have been a lot of things that I have thanked God for Him bringing into my life.  But I think the translation consultant training would rank as my  best experience of my entire life.  And after it was over, and when I actually got to use the training in February of ’08 back in PNG, I knew I had found what I had always been looking for.  So as I turned 47 that year, I guess I finally answered the question of what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Listening Post 1st Anniversary

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Wow, can you believe it?  Exactly one year ago today I started to write articles for this blog site. And in that time, I published 162 articles.  Again a big “Wow!”, as I never thought I had that much stuff up in my head.  And seeing as most articles average around 1,000 words, then in the last year I have written 162,000 words.  Yikes!!  That’s a lot of ink, or should I say, “That’s a lot of keystrokes!”

The questions some of you may be having are, “So how and why did I start writing last November?” and “What has it all been about?”  These are excellent questions, and I too want to look back and reflect on this past year.  So let’s all journey back in time together and see what we find.

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 The idea of writing goes back many years.  To be honest, I can’t really remember when it first happened.  But my wonderful mother began to suggest to me that I should write down all the interesting mission stories that I would tell her about which had occurred at some point in my life.

As a typical young man, I would just nod and say, “Thanks Mom, maybe some day.”  Part of me felt that there was too much ministry to do to slow down and take the time to journal on a regular basis.  And I really didn’t want to take the time to sit down and think back and write stories about the past.

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But then a few significant things happened within the past few years.  My mother was still urging me to write down my “story”.  Part of me still thought that would be a bit egotistical to do that.  But part of me thought, “Well, I am approaching age 50, and it might be time to reflect on what I have done up to this point.”

Then, in 2008, I was hit with the full force of my muscle disease symptoms.  Within a year, I not only resigned all my responsibilities with our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, but I thought that my years of being a traveling missionary were over and done.  In fact, for a short while I wondered if my life was soon going to be over and done with too.

To say that I was a bit depressed in early 2009 would be quite an understatement.  But with time comes healing.  And then with the encouragement of my wife, Jill, along with supportive people in our Papua New Guinea Branch, the door remained open for Jill and me to still make some short trips to PNG so that I could continue working as a Bible translation consultant.

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The second major health crisis came in 2010 and hit our PNG Branch Director.  In August of that year, she suddenly started to not feel well, and then her skin turned yellow.  She and her husband, Jan, immediately flew down to Australia to see what was wrong and were given the diagnosis of rare bile duct cancer.

The cancer was so far advanced, and in just over a month, our friend Jan had to say his last goodbye to his lifelong mate and best friend.  What amazed many of us was how open and transparent he was in his regular blog articles.  He had written for years, and shared his joy of life and living in PNG.  But now he poured out his heart through his blog writing.

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And that was when Jill prompted me to consider doing the same thing, to write in a blog to express my thoughts and feelings about life, my disease, and my hopes to keep on doing mission work.  She knew that it would be therapeutic for me, even if I didn’t realize that myself at the time.  And so I did, starting on November 24, 2010, I began to write my story.

I look back and I can see that the early stories are a bit silly, rather self-focused, and did not have much in terms of a direction or purpose.  But within the first few weeks, I noticed that people were coming to read the stories I was writing.  And by the end of December, seeing that over 500 people had come to my site, I suddenly felt compelled to write with purpose.

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Even as I continued to write “my story”, I found that in almost every case, I could see that God’s hand was upon me and has worked through me to touch others.  And as I have reflected on my life, I can see that for the most part, my life’s desire has been to glorify God and help advance His kingdom here on earth.

And so as I began writing in January of 2011, I mapped out many themes that people might find interesting, and would at the same time give glory to God.  Two year-long series have been “Who Am I?” with the goal of seeing how God has worked in my life, and the second is the Atteberry book to help us all travel the “Hard Road Journey”.

Other things have appeared on a regular basis, like short sermon series, regular sharing from a devotional site called “Connections”, and mission stories, either from my past, or what is happening currently.  And from so many people’s feedback I know that God is using these articles to be a blessing in people’s lives.

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There is a verse in Psalms that talks about “the world is watching us”, which reminds us that we are to be a testimony of faith to others as we live our lives and as people see us for who we really are.  I am humbled and amazed that in this first year of my blogging, that over 10,000 visits have been made to my site.

And so I guess my mother was right that I have a story to tell that others would be interested to hear.  And I thank my wife Jill who was the one who really prompted me to start this blog.  Most of all, I thank my God, who continues to work His miracles in me and through me and it is really His story I am telling.  And then I say thank you to my audience for your continued faithfulness in coming back to read these articles.

It has been a great first year.
Let’s all look forward to another good year to come.

Filling The Gap For God

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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God Looks for Those Who Will Intercede

One of the areas that I believe is least understood by Christians is the partnership that God has called us to with Himself in the area of prayer. God, in His wisdom and sovereign power, has chosen to accomplish His will on this planet through the prayers of His people. God has decided not to arbitrarily move in and out of situations on earth, even though He is able to do just that.

Instead, He waits on His people to pray and then pours out His power in response to those prayers.

Ezekiel 22:30 is a passage of Scripture that illustrates this principle of how the Lord works. “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” God uses the illustration of a walled city to demonstrate His commitment to prayer.

The walls protect a city from enemy attack. But through neglect (sin), the walls can begin to crumble and a gap or opening in the wall can create a dangerous situation where the enemy can come in. God said of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, that they had allowed such a situation to develop. It was going to result in the destruction of the land, unless someone stood before the Lord in the gap on behalf of the land. This is a clear picture of God’s desire for us to engage in intercessory prayer.

What is absolutely heartbreaking is that God Himself was looking for an intercessor. He was looking for someone who would stand before Him in prayer on behalf of Israel so that He would not have to destroy her because of sin and rebellion. God’s desire is made clear here. He did not want to destroy Israel. He was waiting for an intercessor so He wouldn’t have to. God had chosen to reserve His power to save the nation of Israel for those who prayed. But no intercessor was to be found. Israel was defeated by the Babylonians and her people were in exile for 70 years.

–Adapted from the article Partnering with God in Prayer by Dave Butts.

Posted 15 Nov 2011

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I’ve heard this phrase used many times, that we need people to “stand in the gap”.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that the people who used this phrase always understood what the phrase meant.  But to be honest, I know there have been times when I have not applied this Scripture properly in my life either.

The idea presented to me when I was younger was that there are people who are lost and God is ready to pronounce His judgment upon those who are sinners, and so He is calling out for Christian workers to “stand in the gap” between Himself and those who are lost.  We are to pray for them and seek to evangelize them so that they might turn to God before judgment comes.

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But it is not the unbelieving heathen that we need to be praying for.  Rather we are to pray for God’s own people who have lost the way of the Truth, and especially for those who have been called as leaders of God’s people.  It is bad enough when those who are God’s children start to engage in ungodly practices, but imagine how much worse it is when it is the leaders of God’s people who go astray and teach others to do so too.

Look at the first words of the four verses leading up to Ezekiel 22:30.  Verse 26, “Her priests have done violence to my Law…”; verse 27, “Her princes within her are like wolves…”; verse 28, “Her prophets have smeared whitewash…”; verse 29, “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery…”  No wonder God was going to bring punishment down upon the whole nation.

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But what Dave Butts reminds us above, is that God is looking for truly godly people to care passionately about God’s people and to make a difference through intercessory prayer.  What I see God doing here is asking for someone from within the nation to pray for the nation.

Now if I contextualize this message for today, I take it to mean that if we find ourselves in a church or some other Christian setting and we see moral and spiritual drift and decay going on around us, then we are called first and foremost to pray on their behalf.  To intercede on their behalf.

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But what do you think the tendency is for people to do today?  If things aren’t right, or even if it comes down to preference which can be defined as “I don’t like this church”, then the tendency is to go “church hopping”  (or should I say “church shopping”) until that person finds the church that they happen to like at that moment.

So what am I trying to say here?  Basically this: we need to honestly evaluate the spiritual health of the group we are a part of.  And if we find Scripturally that they may be lacking, then we have an important mandate given to us by God, namely to get on our knees and to seek God and to intercede on their behalf.  What an important ministry God has given us to do.  To “fill the gap” wherever He may have placed us.

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Follow Where God Leads – Pt. 1

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Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show Intro

Yes, that’s right.  I’m going to start this article which is a continuation of our “Hard Road Journey” series with the famous Warner Bros. 1961 song that would start the Bugs Bunny & Tweety Hour show every Saturday.  (I loved that show.)  Read the words for fun the first time (and hum the tune if you know it, or look it up on You Tube).  Then read them again and see what words of wisdom are contained in the lyrics:

Overture, curtain, lights
This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part
We know every part by heart

Overture, curtains, lights
This is it, we’ll hit the heights
And oh what heights we’ll hit
On with the show this is it

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So here we are, ten months later, and still talking about walking through difficult wilderness experiences.  We have been following the story of the nation of Israel as they walked through the desert for 40 years and learned from their experiences as highlighted and taught by Mark Atteberry in his book, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be one of the Israelite children growing up and wandering around in the desert for 40 years?  Now I’m sure that they would have camped out in some spots for long stretches of time, and had found some oases to enjoy along the way.  (Read the article on “Oases“.)  But it must have been nearly unbearable to hear the stories of how they failed as a nation to enter the Promised Land once, and were still yearning for the next opportunity to come.

And then suddenly, 77 chapters later (from Exodus 13 to Numbers 33) and 40 years after they had left Egypt, they finally camped beside the River Jordan and were able to see across to the other side where God was leading them, the Promised Land of Canaan.  A land that was said to be “flowing in milk and honey”.  But one that also still contained great walled cities and those nasty giants (over 7 ft tall) called the Anakites.

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And this became the great moment of decision once again for the Israelite people.  Did they dare to believe that this was the moment they had all been waiting for.  Just like the lyrics up above, the people had been rehearsing for 40 years to be ready to answer to God when He called on them to act in faith, to follow Him, and to take the precious gift of that abundant land that He had always promised He would give them.

And this is the point to which we have come in Atteberry’s book.  Mark has been encouraging us in his previous eleven chapters on how to walk through the dark valleys of our life experiences, and hang on to the hope that one day, God would bring us out of the wilderness experience.  And when that happens, we are encouraged to not falter in our faith and fail to take hold of what God has placed in front of us.  Hear what Atteberry says on this important point:

When God brings you to the edge of your wilderness and offers you a way out, take it.  Don’t allow fear to paralyze you, which is what the Israelites did the first time around and what a lot of people do today.                                           (page 148)

I believe what can so easily happen to us is that we look back on the previous disappointments and disasters of our lives which resulted in such emotional and psychological pain that we are too afraid to even try to improve our lives.  And Atteberry recognizes this as he does not suggest that we just run forward and throw caution to the wind to grasp at what could be a better life.

Rather, he does suggest that we exercise some wisdom and discretion, even as we push forward to leave our desert experience and follow God into whatever new and wonderful experience He may have in store for us.  In fact, when something looks almost too good to be true, that just might be the case.  But then again, maybe not.

So Atteberry advises us to ask three important questions which will help us to know if this new and wonderful opportunity in life is in fact what we ought to do.  And they are:

Question 1: Having studied, what is my Bible telling me?
Question 2: Having prayed, what is the Spirit telling me?
Question 3: Having listened, what are my friends telling me?

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These are excellent questions to ask when trying to determine God’s will for you in any given moment when you need to make a decision.  We first need to determine if this “better life” that we are pursuing after is in any way going to compromise or hinder our relationship with God.  Then we need to allow time for God’s Spirit to speak to our spirit about this, and confirmation of a good decision should always be accompanied by the inner peace that only God can give.

Finally, since we do not live in a vacuum, or on an island as they would say, we should always try to consult others who may be affected by this decision.  And seeking out wise advice from godly people will often help us to gain a perspective that we may not have had otherwise.

But then it ultimately comes down to us.  At the end of the day, we will need to make a decision.  And if we have followed through on Atteberry’s three questions and found the answer is yes, then we need to boldly go forward into whatever lies ahead.  Now Atteberry has two more key thoughts to consider as we go forward, and they will be the body of my next article.  I’ll see you then.

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Walking By Faith

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A True Story

Recently, I got a cute and amazing story about a dog in an email in my Inbox.  I don’t always read them, but this one caught my attention, and I’m glad it did.  Not only are the story and the pictures I share with you incredible, but I believe that the story has a lot that can speak truth and hope into our lives by analogy.

The original story that was sent to me will be in italics below.  My thoughts and reflections on life will be in regular print. Ready? Let’s go.

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This dog was born on Christmas Eve in the year 2002. He was born with 2 legs.  He of course could not walk when he was born. Even his mother did not want him.

His first owner also did not think that he could survive and he was thinking of ‘putting him to sleep’.  But then, his present owner, Jude Stringfellow, met him and wanted to take care of him.

She became determined to teach and train this little dog to walk by himself.  She named him ‘Faith’.

[How appropriate that name is.  And you know what?  All of us are actually like this puppy in that we too have been born with a handicap.  We were born with the propensity to sin, and that handicapped us from having a whole spiritual walk with God.  But when we put our trust in Jesus, we also learned to walk by faith.]

In the beginning, she put Faith on a surfboard to let him feel the movement. Later, she used peanut butter on a spoon as a lure and reward for him for standing up and jumping around.

Even the other dog at home encouraged him to walk.  Amazingly, only after 6 months, like a miracle, Faith learned to balance on his hind legs and to jump to move forward.

After further training in the snow, he could now walk like a human being.  Faith loves to walk around now.  No matter where he goes, he attracts people to him.

He is fast becoming famous on the international scene and has appeared on various newspapers and TV shows.  There is now a book entitled ‘With a Little Faith’ being published about him.

His  present owner Jude Stringfellew has  given up her teaching post and plans to take him around the world to preach that even without a perfect body, one can have a perfect soul’.

In life there are always undesirable things, so in order to feel better you just need to look at life from another direction.  I hope this message will bring fresh new ways of thinking to everyone and that everyone will appreciate and be thankful for each beautiful day.

Faith is the continual demonstration of the strength and wonder of life.  A small request: All you are asked to do is keep this story circulating.

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So what do you think?  An amazing story isn’t it.  As I said in the middle of the story, all of us have been born with the handicap of sin in our lives.  But once we have Jesus in our hearts, that barrier between us and God is removed and we are made spiritually whole.

But I offer one more challenging thought, and this one is specifically for Christians now.  How many of us have been freed from the guilt of sin, yet are weighed down by the burdens and the worries of life.  Jesus tells us not to worry about the things we need in life because our Heavenly Father takes care of us.

And Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that we are to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  This is not just wishful thinking that we can have a joyful and optimistic spirit in life, this is God’s will for our lives.  I believe we can be as free and as happy as this amazing dog named Faith.  What do you think?

Presenting God First

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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His Mission…Our Mission

Pray for God’s kingdom to come! The disciples must have asked Jesus how to pray. After coaching them on their motives for prayer, Jesus told them to pray like this: “Father, Your name be praised and honored. Your kingdom come and Your will [Your mission] be done” (Mt. 6:9-10, italics and paraphrase mine).

Jesus, the son of God, tells us to pray for God! For His glory, His name, His fame, His kingdom, and His mission. God desires our praise. He wants us to participate in His mission of a blessing for all peoples (Gen. 12:3-4) as He establishes His kingdom today on earth and forever in heaven.

So, pray for God to call out His laborers into His harvest fields more than ours. Pray for the establishment of His Church, more than our mission organization or denomination. Pray for the reputation of His name, more than our recognition. It is no accident that the most effective missionaries are often standing in the background, not upfront in the spotlight.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to convince unbelievers through His teachings more than our clever arguments. Pray for new believers to obey His commandments more than our traditions. Pray for the new church to find answers from His Word, more than our words. When we pray like this, He inevitably will surprise us. After all, it is His mission. And He will accomplish it.

–Adapted from Chapter 66 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (Strategic Prayer for God’s Mission and Missionaries by Mike Barnett).

Posted: 24 Oct 2011

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I totally agree with the message presented to us in this devotional thought.  So often we get caught up in our plans, and have our own agendas to which we ask God to bless and be actively involved with.  But that really is in essence putting us first and God second.  It must be the other way around.

This reminds me of how Jill and I went about raising our financial support as we prepared to head over to Papua New Guinea in 1997.  During the three years prior to our departure to PNG, we had made contact with a number of friends and churches throughout Canada asking them to support our Bible translation ministry.

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We were very pleased that so many people took an active interest in our work, and God did raise up a good number of financial partners to help us.  But it was quite clear by the Spring of ’95 that we would not have enough support from just our Canadian contacts.  So we wondered if we might be able to present the message of our work and our need of financial support to some American churches.

The problem was that we did not have any real leads on who to contact, except for three men I had become friends with while in Seminary in Illinois and who were then ministering in different churches in Illinois.  I called them up, and they were quite happy to have me come and preach in their churches, and to talk about the ministry of Bible translation.

That was great!  We now had three opportunities placed in front of us in Illinois to present our desire to work as missionaries in PNG.  We took that as an indication from God that we should look to God for more open doors to be presented to us in Illinois.  But how?  I didn’t know anyone else in Illinois to ask.

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So this is what Jill and I did.  We took the “Directory of Ministry” book of our church’s background and found there were over 500 churches of our movement in Illinois alone.  So we prayed and asked wisdom from the Lord as to which churches to be contacting.  And God impressed upon me to look to the small churches, ones with 150 members and less.

That led to a list of about 130 churches still.  But we were trusting God that He was in control of all this.  And I prayed then to ask what message I should write in the letter, since none of these churches knew anything about me.  But then I realized, the message was not to be about me, but about God, and His Kingdom, and His mission work.

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And that is exactly how I wrote the letters I sent to the churches.  I presented God first, reminding the pastors and elders that God is a Missionary God as we see Him reaching out to lost mankind by His grace.  Then I explained about this key strategy of Bible translation, a means by which we could reach lost people with God’s Word in a language they could understand.

Then finally, I talked in my letters about the desire that Jill and I had to become missionaries with Pioneer Bible Translators so that we could be active in a mission in PNG that helped to bring people back to God through translated Scriptures.

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So then I sent off the letters to those 130 or so churches, putting God first and ourselves last.  And I asked if we could come to present this message to the congregation on a Sunday morning.  And you know what happened?  Out of the 130 churches, 28 of them said, “Yes, come and preach in our church.”

And from those 28 churches, about a dozen of them helped support us financially to send us to PNG in 1997.  And 15 years later, there are still half of these churches who still support the work we do in this Bible translation ministry.  And do you know why I think they still support us?  Because we continue to present God and His work first, and ourselves last.  And I believe that is how it ought to be.

Entrusting Our Children to God

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Who Am I?  Part 23

In the last article about our family and my life journey, we had all moved together in January, 2006 to live and assist with the ministry of Bible translation in a country in East Africa.  But very quickly, we all saw that it was not going to be the nice fit for our family that we had hoped for.  At least we would not be able to recapture the wonderful family times that we had experienced together while living in a remote village of Papua New Guinea.

Within a few weeks, our older son felt strongly that he would do better if he were to return to Canada and finish his last grade of High School there.  Meanwhile, I was loving the new country I was in, and learning the language and being fascinated by the different culture there as opposed to what I had seen and experienced in Papua New Guinea.

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So I tried to hold the family together and convince my son to stay.  I felt like David did in the Bible when he wrote words like these below:

8 O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9 O fear the LORD, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.
11 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

(Psalm 34:8-11)

The problem was that I was equating keeping the family together with God’s blessings on the family.  It took a few months, and many discussions in the family, for me to get to the point where I could see that the lack of social peers, the importance of my son’s schooling, and the pull on him of his Canadian culture meant being in Canada would be better for him.  I had to let go and entrust him into God’s care.

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In August of 2006 then, our first son flew by himself from East Africa and went back to Canada.  (God did provide a contact of a really neat Christian family who lived not very far from Heathrow airport who took care of Eric on his halfway layover in London.)  That left Jill and I with our younger boy, Glen.  Being only 21 months younger than Eric, and having traveled and lived all over the world with his brother at his side, imagine the impact of losing his best friend, his brother.

It wasn’t long before he too was asking us, even telling us, that he needed to return to Canada as well.  Now you think I might have learned something from having worked through the very same issues with Eric that I would have been more sensitive to Glen’s needs at that time in his life.  But no, I have to admit now that I came down rather hard on Glen, and even got overly spiritual with him and suggested that he was rebelling against his own father.

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I think I may have even thought of the passage below, and I figured that if my son would just admit his rebellious attitude toward me, then I could be just as forgiving as the Father above is to his wayward children:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

(Psalm 103:8 – 13)

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Well, I can tell you now how awful I feel about how hard I was on my own son.  I knew that it was my responsibility to raise my children to love the Lord and obey Him, and to respect and honor his parents.  I mean, that is what the Bible says, right?  But what I had forgotten was that along with this, there is a strong admonition for fathers not to be so over-bearing that the opposite effect than you want will result.

Read the two verses below:

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

(Ephesians 6:1 & 4)

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Thankfully, I finally got it.  And I had to ask forgiveness from my son.  And I actually flew with him from East Africa to Canada to bring him back and set him up to live with some very good friends of ours in Calgary.  He was 16 at the time.  I went back to Africa and Jill and I finished out our assignment there and then we too came back to Canada three months later.

We were able to join the family back together at that point.  We bought a nice condo and set up our home and our family once again.  At that time, Eric was going to a Bible college (and got his 1-yr certificate) and Glen was just finishing High School.  We treasured the few more months that we had together as a foursome.  This was to change soon, as the next year Eric got married.  And then we were a fivesome.

Children are a blessing.  But we need to remember that they are on loan to us from God.  We are to raise them the best we can, encouraging them to have faith in God, but still allowing them to have their own personal space and freedom in life.  We found that when we entrusted them to God, He turned around and gave them back to us.  And my response is, “Thank you God!”

Help Me Keep Focused Lord

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There is a pithy, wise saying that I just came across in the Bible in Ecclesiastes 10:18.  It reads:

“Through laziness, the rafters sag;
because of idle hands, the house leaks.”

I think the metaphors in this verse may not seen relevant to today’s world.  Try to imagine if you will, part of your own house having a spot that literally sags when you walk on that spot.  Or imagine that the seal is loose at the base of your toilet so that every time you flush, water starts leaking across the floor.

What would your response be?  Wouldn’t you call in an expert such as a carpenter to fix the flooring and a plumber to fix your toilet.  And I would guess that most of us make that call to bring in the expert as soon as possible.  We may procrastinate on some things, but on emergency issues, we respond very quickly and get the problem fixed right away.

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The same cannot be said to be true of the majority of the people living in Papua New Guinea.  When the thatched roof material starts to leak inside the hut, it may take days or weeks to fix the roof.  And in the meantime, they just move their belongings around and sometimes place a pot under the leak so as to not waste this precious rain water.

Now almost all rural houses in PNG are built off the ground on stilts, large tree trunks at least 20 inches wide and about 8 feet long.  After these posts are evenly placed in holes, the foundation level of the house can be built.  Then the wall frame-work is done, the roof frame is put on, walls made out of interwoven bamboo strips are joined to the frame, and then the thatched roof is added on top to protect against the sun by day, and the rains by night.

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It is amazing what the Papuans can build simply out of material that they can get from the jungle all around them.  But one of the principles by which the people operate is this: if it hasn’t broken yet, then don’t worry about it.  Doing regular maintenance on the house and taking proactive steps to avoid the house falling down just doesn’t compute in their culture.

So what happens is what we expect to happen: the floors start to sag, and the roof starts to leak.  The men don’t do anything about the house problem until it is sagging and leaning over to at least a 45 degree angle.  And their solution is to start gathering new material from the jungle and build the second house right next to the first house.

Stripping the metaphorical language in this one verse, we could perhaps translate it very meaningfully by saying, “If we put off until the future the things that we need to take care of today, then we jeopardize the very foundation of anything we are trying to accomplish.  And if we just sit around and ignore any issues when they are small, then when the issues start to become big, they can cause all kinds of damage.”

Now at this point in my life, I think I can say that I do not have a problem with being lazy or being idle. In fact, I am more busy now in my various ministry roles than I have ever been since all the way back to 2007, when Jill and I carried the weight of the Branch in East Africa.

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So let me tell you what some of the aspects of ministry that I am involved with right now:

  1. Doing exegetical background reading on the Gospel of John, in preparation for doing the consultant check of it in two languages. And then preparing to check either Romans or Ephesians in another language and finally Daniel for another language all in PNG.
  2. Reviewing revisions on the book of Acts, for a project in Southeast Asia, as well as starting to consultant check Matthew for the same group through internet file sharing.
  3. Helping to train new missionaries for our mission: Pioneer Bible Translators.
  4. Keeping in good contact with all of our regular donors, and with our Prayer Warrior people on a weekly basis.
  5. Last, but certainly not least, I need to stay in good, healthy contact with my family, in order to support and encourage my children, and love my wife from a distance who is back in Calgary.
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So definitely I have way too much on my plate to do.  I won’t have time to be idle to get these things done.  But staying so busy can lead to other difficulties.  Unless I am able to exercise tremendously good time management skills, then I will very possibly drop some of the balls I am carrying.

To bring this all back to where we started in Ecclesiastes, it will not be a desire on my part that some of my “house” may fall down. And yet still, not due to laziness, but rather to taking on too many responsibilities in life and ministry that will end up with the same result in that our untended house may “sag” or “leak”.

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And this all leads us now to an important point that I want to make for all of us, whether we are under-achieving in our lives, or we are over-achieving kind of people.  The most important ingredient to a well-balanced and successful life is to put God first into our lives.

I find that when there are times that I am idle (not too often), I turn my attention to God and ask Him what I should be working on today.  And when I am over-working myself, I ask God how to organize and prioritize my life so that every moment matters and is maximized.  And by the grace of God, everything always seemed to get done.

Satan’s Attack On New Believers

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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  Blinded Unbelievers

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Maybe your story is like mine. I became a believer as a teenager, but nobody taught me to be a disciple of Christ. My church told me what I needed to do (like read the Bible, pray, and witness), but it did not show me how. Nobody told me how to walk in truth, righteousness, and faith (see Eph. 6:11-17). As a result, I lived a defeated Christian life for far too many years.

The enemy aims his arrows at young believers who have not been discipled. He strikes them with doubt and discouragement. Sometimes he hits them with loneliness, as they move away from their non-Christian friends and try to fit into a church that is unfamiliar to them. At other times, he lures them with the same temptations they faced as non-believers. Whatever his strategy may be, he wants to strike at new believers before they are solidly planted in the Church.

This issue is related to prayer in at least two ways. First, many new believers are never taught how to pray. What they are told to do, they are not taught to do—and the result is a frustrated believer who longs to pray but does not know how. The enemy thus wins when the new believer gives up trying. This failure to disciple is, in my estimation, a primary cause of prayerlessness in the Church today.

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Second, undiscipled believers often live defeated, sinful lives that hinder praying in the first place. Both Isaiah and the psalmist (Isa. 59:1-2, Ps. 66:18) knew that God chooses not to respond to the prayers of those who live in sin. It is the fervent prayer of a righteous man that makes a difference (Jas. 5:16), not the prayers of one living in unrighteousness.

How, though, does a new believer know how to stand for righteousness and fight against temptation unless the Church teaches him? An undiscipled believer may realize that his praying is ineffective, yet not know enough to understand why—and he gives up on the power of prayer. The enemy again wins.

A brief summary is in order here. The enemy seeks to keep unbelievers blinded to the gospel, thus holding them in bondage. He further schemes against believers, striving to discourage and defeat them so their faith is weakened and their prayers are ineffective. Powerless, prayerless believers make little difference in the war inherent in evangelism.

–Adapted from Chapter 69 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (Strategic Prayer for God’s Mission and Missionaries by Mike Barnett).

Posted 30 Oct 2011

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This devotional thought strikes home and pierces me more than I would like for it to do.  It is true what was said above that many of us have been told what it is we are to do as Christians, but I dare say that few of us have had vibrant Christianity lived out in front of us so that we learn by modeling our lives after those who have and exude this kind of living faith.

As I was being drawn to God as a teenager, I was attending a church where there were excellent sermons preached every Sunday.  I still remember vividly how I would go to the preacher each Sunday after the sermon and ask plenty of questions as I sought out to know if the Bible was true or not.  It took over six months of dialoguing with different preachers before I came to fully believe and accept the Gospel message as truth, and was baptized into Christ.

But in spite of the fact that we had excellent sermons, I can’t remember seeing many of the believers live out their faith in such ways that I could model my faith after theirs.  I went down the path that many new Christians went, which was to major in intellectual Bible knowledge and minor in practical daily Christian disciplines and habits.

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That was when I was a child.  When I became a father, I had greater hopes of being able to be a good role model for my children.  I did have the tremendous honor of baptizing both of my sons, and I think that says a lot about how Jill and I were able to pass on our faith to the next generation.  And yet I know that there were also many lost opportunities to teach and to live out our faith in front of their eyes.

The key for me to actually believe that I had done a decent job in raising our sons in the Faith, came when I realized the meaning of the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Translating Romans 1:17 this way hindered me as I would think “I’m not a righteous man, and in fact no one can claim to be righteous people seeing as we are all sinners.

But you can translate this as “The one who does the things that God says are right to do, that person will experience real life (eternal life) as a result of their faith.”  And I can live with this a whole lot better.  When I publicly declared that Christ was my Lord and Savior, salvation became mine, as well as the ability to discern from God and His Word what behaviors would be pleasing and have the inner strength to do all that God would want me to do.

And so as I look at the faith that both of my sons have at this time, I know in my heart that we taught them well.  But more than that, with our mission work, we lived out our faith and were constantly praying for and showing the boys how important it is to ask God what the right thing to do is.  And with our attention focusing like this on God, there was not any room for Satan to launch a successful attack against the faith of us all within our family.  And for all that, I say “Praise the Lord!”

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