God’s Plans For Training National Translators

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“Go To PLAN B!”

[Editor’s Note: the following story and petitions for prayer were written in August, 2010 by one of our career missionaries who live in the town of Madang, Papua New Guinea. ]

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“Flight cancelled! Flight cancelled! Another flight cancelled. All of our scheduled small plane and helicopter flights to Madang were cancelled due to rain and clouds on that day in July. Oh no! That was the day national translators were due to come in from the bush [Editor: the remote jungle regions of Papua New Guinea] for the Village Checking and Back Translation Course. So what did we do? We switched to Plan B!

We loaded the truck from the Nobonob Training Center with those who came in by PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) along with our Madang PBT staff and helpers and headed on up the hill to Nobonob. With only half of the students and teachers available for the first day of the course, the classes were combined and all the students began translating the five shellbook series ‘How the Jews Live’, which had been scheduled as a Saturday elective. This series of books provides cultural information that will assist the national translators in understanding foreign concepts found in the Bible.

The following day, the rest of the students and teachers arrived at Nobonob, and we were able to split the group into the planned two sessions and proceed with training that will hopefully enable national translators to progress beyond the rough draft stage of translation on their own and improve the quality of the vernacular translations they bring in for consultant checking.”

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Gratitude For Great Helpers

“We are grateful to Wycliffe Bible Translators for renting us their Nobonob Pacific Orientation Course facilities located on a beautiful hilltop location not far from Madang. We were also thankful for them providing meals for some 60 participants for this three week course. Though official plans have been drawn up for PBT’s proposed national translators’ housing in Madang, we do not have space for such a course as this, which involved national translators from nine different language groups. Please pray that sufficient funding will be available to begin construction on this project this fall or early next year.”

[Editor’s Note:  By faith, last year in 2011, the members of our PNG Branch of Pioneer Bible Translators made the decision to go ahead and construct a two-story building in Madang.  This facility will have 10 rooms with two beds each, two family rooms, and two large conference size rooms for teams who are working on Bible translation projects.  Praise God for the funds that have come in to have it mostly paid for.]

“We also rejoice that a former PBT translator was able to come from the U.S. to serve as a mentor for one of the language teams. He and our summer mission interns mentored several language groups. The interns also performed a myriad of other important tasks including a great deal of data entry and presentation of devotional thoughts in Tok Pisin, the trade language of PNG, which all of the language groups present could understand. The interns had worked hard to learn as much Pidgin as they could during their brief stay in PNG villages prior to the course.”

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Farewells & Prayer Concerns

“Our eleven summer interns returned to the USA August 10th, along with one of our Short-term Assistant ladies who oversaw most of the logistical needs for the Branch. Her service this past year has proved invaluable, and with her gone, that will leave a big hole in the operations of our Branch. But we pray some of them will eventually return to serve again with us here in PNG. Please pray with us about this.

Please also be praying:

  • That those who attended the Village Checking and Back Translation Course will be able to put their newly learned skills to good use.
  • For sufficient funds to construct our much needed National Translators’ Housing here in Madang
  • For our summer interns and the Short-term Assistant while they are back in the United States. Continue to pray for God’s guidance as to where and how they will serve Him.
  • For continued success in recruiting new workers to help complete the task of providing God’s Word for the Bible-less peoples of the world. The needs of our mission staff here in PNG are great.”

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[Editor’s Closing Note: there was certainly a lot of logistical details that went into the planning and execution of this program to bring 41 national men and women, and 21 missionaries and summer interns together to have this training course.  Things often go wrong in all that we try to do here in PNG, simply because of the rugged nature of the country and the unpredictability of the weather.

But we have lots to be praising God for now at this point.  We have a good number of national Bible translators who have had some training to get this task done of bringing God’s Word to the people of PNG in the language of their hearts.  It is a slow process and there is much to be done in doing a translation of Scripture as you will see in the next part of this two-part article.

And we also are constantly praising God for all the people who pray for this ministry of Bible translation in PNG, and those who support the work we do financially.  Without their help and God’s sustaining hand, we would not be able to accomplish this task for Him.  Together, we are all a part of a large team who are committed to bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.]

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 2

Every second Saturday of each month this year, I will be writing an article about this book by Max Lucado called, “GOD’S STORY, your story.” The first article per month will be an overview and my reflections on what is in the chapter for that month. The second article will pull out some of the questions from the back of the book. Listen to what Lucado’s intentions are for this section:

This guide is designed to help you reflect on God’s Story, Your Story and take action on the ideas contained in the book, to see how your own story fits into the grand plot of God’s story. Each chapter guide has questions to consider on your own or with a group devoted to discussing the book. Have your Bible handy in order to dig into the Scripture verses noted.       (p. 173)

There are certainly enough thought provoking questions and action points included within each chapter study guide to keep a person or a small group engaged in learning and growing more spiritually. It is not my intention to copy out these entire study guide sections. Rather, I will pick out a few questions from each section and reflect on them in my articles. I pray that you may find my reflections helpful and stimulating to your own spiritual growth.

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Chapter 1: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….

ORDINARY MATTERS

Question #4: Discuss how it might be reassuring that Jesus was “normal” and like you in many ways? How might it be reassuring to know he is unlike you in other ways?

I think what bothers me most about my own Christian walk is the great number of times that I blow it and I do not act in a godly way. This can be simple things like not wanting to talk with the person next to me on the plane, or turning my head away when I see the beggar on the street corner. It’s much more serious when I allow myself to become angry with someone else, when I allow lustful thoughts to dwell in my mind, or I become proud or arrogant.

It’s at these times that I remember that Jesus was just as much a human as I am. I’m sure there must have been times when he was exhausted from all his ministry work that he really didn’t want to see another person. I know that he got upset with the disciples often. And he must have had some struggles as a man in a world that had many attractive women around him.

But we are told in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” And in Hebrews 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” How wonderful it is to know that Jesus understands exactly what we are going through, and that he can help us get through it.

Question #5: Think about an ordinary person you know who has been a giver of extraordinary grace. What motivated that person?

When I think about someone who was quite ordinary by human standards, but was also a person of great humility and who demonstrated a wonderful spirit of compassion and service to others, I think of my Grandma. At a very young age, Grandma Knight determined that God was calling her to be a missionary to China. She went there in the 1920’s as a single woman, which speaks of her deep commitment to follow God wherever He would lead her.

She married my grandfather while in China, a British man who loved God but who she would say was a bit of a “stuffed shirt with a stiff collar.” But Grandma loved him, and served him well as a missionary wife. And she also served well the many demanding needs of a mission compound up to and through the beginning years of WW 2 over there, before they were recalled to Canada.

Then when my Grandfather became a minister in western Canada, Grandma would faithfully type out his sermons and patiently listen to him practice. They did this for many years. When Granddad died, Grandma continued to serve others by volunteering thousands of hours of service in our Calgary hospitals. And why did she commit her life to such service to God for all these years? Because she loved Jesus and she loved others, and she knew that by putting the love of God into action, others would come to see and know God too.

Question #7: In what ways do you need God to “dwell” with you this week? (See John 1:14)

This may sound bad, but I need an extra measure of God’s grace in this coming week and throughout the next month to really love these national men from Papua New Guinea that I am working with. We are working on the translation of the Gospel of John into their language.

The work of translating the Bible verse-by-verse into another language is very tedious and demanding. Most days, I find it to be a great joy to work with the Papuan people on these translation projects. But there are also many frustrating days where the heat in the room is not just the hot sun beating down; it can be easy after long days to let tempers flare and frustrations stop our progress.

So I ask for all who read this article to say an extra prayer for us as we work on this translation. We are hoping to smooth out a good translation of John in a six week period. Then it will be ready for the last consultant check before being published. Pray that I remember the goal: getting the Word of God into the hands of the people here in PNG.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

We Have Found The Messiah

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John 1:35 – 42

Introducing Others to Jesus

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). [1]

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Our last two articles have focused our study in on John the Baptist.  In this study, we will see the focus shift now from John to Jesus.  In this Gospel, we do not have very many words of John recorded for us, but here we see him repeat once more one of the most important messages that he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  (Read the last article to understand this expression.)

We do not know how long John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing out in the wilderness, but we do know that he had gathered some followers who were called “his disciples”.  Now it was time for John to introduce his disciples to Jesus.  And when he identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, two of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus.

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That takes a lot courage and humility to pass the spotlight off of yourself to shine on someone else.  It could have been very easy for John to want to hold on to his followers.  But he didn’t.  Actually, it was his own followers who had trouble with this shift.  If we jump ahead to John 3:22 – 36, we see that John’s disciples were jealous of the new attention and success that Jesus was having.  But John’s response in verse 30 is, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

So two of John’s disciples decided that they wanted to become apprentice-pupils of Jesus.  This was the common practice of that day.  If you wanted to advance your knowledge about God and the Jewish Law and Old Testament teachings, you would look for a Rabbi (a learned teacher) and attach yourself to him as a disciple, more literally an apprentice.

These two men spent the whole day with Jesus.  Right up until the late afternoon (4 pm).  It must have been quite exciting to hear Jesus teach, for the very first thing that one of them did, namely Andrew, was to go out to find his brother and tell him that he believed that he had found the Messiah, the man whom God had chosen to save the people.

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The reaction of Andrew is quite a common response for many people when they first encounter Jesus and take Him as the Lord and Saviour of their lives.  There is an excitement and a burning need to tell others about Jesus and what He has done for them in their life.  For those of us who have known Jesus as Lord for a very long time, we may have forgotten what those early moments were like for us.

I still remember though a special night in my life when I was about 14 and was still relatively new in my faith, only two years or less.  My parents took me on a weekend campout to attend a Square Dance rally.  Some people brought their motor homes and campers, others put up large tents to sleep in.  The big dances for the adults were usually in the evenings, which left us kids free to hang out and have fun in the tents together.

Fairly early in the evening, one of the kids asked me something about me going to church, and I responded that yes, I did believe in Jesus and what the Bible had to say.  Well, this generated quite a few questions which I gladly answered.  If I wasn’t sure of the answer, I would take the time to search my Bible to find an appropriate answer.  This spontaneous evangelistic moment and small group Bible study went on through the night until about 3 a.m.  I had never felt so invigorated in my young spiritual life as I did during that night.

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As I reflect back on that night of sharing my faith with about 10 other kids crammed into that tent, I can also see in my mind the same kind of excitement that Andrew must have felt.  We actually do not know much about Andrew in Scripture.  He is kind of one of those silent disciples of Jesus.  But he will forever be known as the one who brought Peter to Jesus.  And we know from Scripture just how much impact Peter had on the beginnings of the early church once Jesus got a hold of his life.

So let me encourage both you and me.  Knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is a wonderful thing.  But introducing others to Jesus is what it is all about.  And who knows what God might do in the life of that person that we lead to Jesus.  Maybe that person will become a modern day Peter.  I pray that would be so.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:35–42). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Life of a Bible Translator

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What Life Looks Like for a Bible Translator In Papua New Guinea

[Editor’s Note:  The missionary in this story is a very good friend of mine and is one of the most gifted linguists and Bible translator that I know. She is not a large woman, but she really knows how to take care of herself out in the deep jungles of PNG.  She has been known to stay out at her remote village for up to six months or possibly longer at a time.  As you read her accounts of these few days, extend that out over a few months period, and imagine that many days look exactly like this.  Enjoy the article.]

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“That section heading says, ‘He put good [healed] the mother-in-law of Jesus and Peter. That’s not right is it?” said the preacher at the checking session. I had come back to the section heading because I was uncomfortable with having Peter as the name in the section heading and Simon as the name in the text, an approach used by some translations to help the reader understand that Peter and Simon are the same person.

I had almost forgotten to ask about the section heading, but I was definitely thankful that I felt compelled to go back and check it. Thankfully the translation problem was solved by adding a subject marker between the two names. They also decided to say “Simon” rather than “Peter”. After that was corrected, I breathed a sigh of relief because I definitely did not want Jesus to have a mother-in-law due to a grammatically ambiguous construction – a reading of the text that I would never have even considered.

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This was one of many interesting translation “bloopers” that we encountered as we checked the book of Mark, which is the first book of the Bible translated in the second dialect of the language I am working in. These last two months have been packed to overflowing with translation and literacy activities. The last check of Mark was completed in a remote village where we lived for a week in a house without walls and bathed in the muddy river (though I sometimes skipped the pleasure of going up and down the steep muddy bank to the river and hoping to come out cleaner than when I started).

While I was in checking sessions, my co-worker and some visitors from the USA who are considering the Bible translation ministry were busy collecting firewood, hauling water from a cleaner stream that was a long walk from the village, and cooking over an open fire. Without their encouragement and hard work, I would have lost a lot more weight than I did during that week of eating bananas, pumpkins and other garden produce in addition to some Western style food.

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On 8 January those three younger folks got up at 3:30 AM, hiked for several hours in the dark crossing log bridges and arrived shortly after dawn just in time for the baptizing of 34 men and women at a neighboring village. Praise God with me for these new Christians. Please pray that these young Christians will grow in their knowledge of God and be able to withstand a whole new set of Western-style temptations that they are facing as the Sogeram River area becomes more accessible to the outside world.

After a week of translation checking during which the river was relatively low, we clearly saw God’s answer to our prayers as the river rose several feet over night. As a result, we were able reach the bridge where the road crosses the river by 10:30 AM after only 4 hours of traveling by boat.

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After hauling all of the supplies to a village near the river, we only had to wait a few hours for a ride into town in the back of a small uncovered truck. During the ride in the crowded vehicle we were only rained on for about 30 minutes – almost a welcome relief from the hot sun.

We arrived in town about 3:30 and I was more than ready to take a hot shower and put on some clean clothes. My days of real “jungle” living are definitely numbered, but the checking session at this village was so good that I am hoping to repeat the same experience next year if we can complete the preparation work on Jude and Titus by the end of the year.

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Life “in the bush” as we say, is so radically different from the comfortable lives that we can live in North America.  Our missionary above speaks about sleeping in houses without walls (good for cool breezes, not so good for the mosquitoes, rats, flies, lizards and snakes that can come inside.)

She mentions cooking over open fires, hauling dirty water from quite a distance, having to walk many hours along the jungle trails, fording rivers and then having to endure the vagaries of the weather (which usually means you end up getting drenched in a downpour).

So why are all of us Bible translators ready and willing to live in conditions just these of my colleague, or worse?  Well, notice the joy that the co-worker and the visitors had when they got to the end of their hours long jungle trek?  They witnessed the 34 baptisms and celebrated in their new life in God.

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And for my missionary lady friend, these checking sessions are very rewarding.  And as she sees the national people really grasp God’s Truth in their heart language, she has already decided to commit to repeating these intense experiences again in the next year.

That my friend is what missionary work is all about: being willing to give up all [comfortable] things in order that we might be able to present the Gospel Truth about Christ, and that others might believe.

A Little Piece of Paradise

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Bitter Sweet Memories

Here I am, looking out my window at the luscious velvety green rolling hills of the Aiyura Valley up in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  There are some puffy white clouds sitting lazily within the gorgeous blue skies above.  I am once more living here, if only briefly, in what I consider to be one of the truly peaceful little places of Paradise here on earth.

Those were the thoughts I had while I was at the mission base again up in the highlands of PNG.  I was doing the translation consultant check on the Gospel of John for one of the language groups there.  The missionary couple that work in that project are friends of ours and are also fellow Canadians.  They graciously opened their home for me to live with them for the three weeks that we worked together.

In that quiet moment, I thought back over the many years that I have come and gone and done mission work here in PNG.  And especially when I have been at this highlands base and get reflective, I see all the good times, and the not so good times.  But in all of these times, God has been there.  Allow me now to share some of these with you.

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The PBT mission house is located in one of the corners of the center where it is a sharp dip down from one of the more major roads to our side road area.  The roads are not paved, so they are dusty and bumpy when it is dry, but muddy clay and slick when it rains.  That does not phase the children here though as they play their various games on the center whether on the grass sides or on the rock-strewn dirt roads.

We will never forget that one day our son Glen decided to try to ride one of those stand up foot scooters down the steep curving road near the PBT house where we were.  I think he would have been fine, except for the anxious shout from Jill who said, “You be careful son!”  That is when he looked up and the front wheel hit a rock.  Glen went flying off the scooter and landed on his chest and slid down the road.  Oh, we wish he had been wearing a T-shirt that day.  Yowwee!!  Gravel and skin are not a good mix.

I also remember the times that I was done my work and Eric was nearby and it just felt like having a “father-son” moment.  We would go across the lower road to a little grassy knoll that overlooked the beautiful valley.  We would talk about nothing and everything, whatever seemed to be the most important thing to talk about that day.  And we connected in a powerful way in that place of quiet and peace.

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And then came the fateful day in 2002.  Eric had found a place for himself in the International School there on center.  He had presented a good case for leaving the village and starting his Grade 7 up there and to live in one of the Youth Hostels.  He had made some friends, and he felt like that was where he belonged.  The other three of us in the family had gone up there to spend some time with Eric before we went back down to the village where I would continue the Bible translation work.

But a nagging string of little illnesses caused us enough concern that we had Eric checked one more time.  The blood work looked suspicious and we suddenly found ourselves packing up overnight and heading to Brisbane, Australia instead of to the village.  It turned out that Eric did have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia which sent us all on a three year road of chemotherapy treatments.

But God had not abandoned us.  Just like we quickly picked up Glen after his wipe out and tenderly treated his bruises and scrapes, we saw over those cancer years some wonderful ways that God sent us encouraging letters and prayers from others and gave us special moments for Eric that were only made possible because of his illness.  No, God does not abandon us, but He may change the path we are on.

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And I thought that was what was happening for me when God opened the door in 2007 for me to return to the mission base to get the training to become a Bible translation consultant.  I was so thrilled to be involved again with language projects, and this time I would help with the last check to be done before a book of Scripture goes to be published.

But immediately following my first trip to do consultant work in Feb. ’08, my own disease hit me and I have not been able to walk since then without experiencing pain and fatigue.  I thought my time of Bible translation work was finished when this hit me.  But I could never have been so wrong.  This is now the sixth time in four years that I have come back to PNG to do the consultant checking of a Bible translation project.

I don’t know why I feel that this mission base seems to be just a little closer to God than in other places.  I just know that it does.  And even though my family has experienced many bumps and bruises, and even life-threatening diseases which have been partly connected to this center, I still know that God is with us and loves us.  Maybe that is the point.  Through thick or thin, good or bad, God is still God and His loving kindness is always there.  We just need to open our eyes sometimes to see it.

Jesus Is The Lamb of God

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John 1:29 – 34

“Behold The Lamb of God”

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”[1]

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There certainly were a number of things that were unusual about John the Baptist.  We know from the other Gospel accounts that John wore strange clothes (made out of camel’s hair) and he ate strange food (locusts and wild honey).  And then he was out in the wilderness for quite some time announcing, “Repent of your sins, for the Kingdom of God has come near,” and was baptizing people as a sign of their repentance.

And then Jesus arrived on the scene.  And what did John say: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  What an interesting saying.  And then note how John mentions that he had not known Jesus and who he truly was until God revealed it to him.  In fact, he says that the primary reason that God had called him to be an evangelist in the desert was for the very purpose of being able to identify Jesus as the Lamb of God.

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What does that mean, “Lamb of God”?  To appreciate the depth of meaning of this expression, we would have to go back and read much of the Old Testament.  It was made clear by God to the Israelite people as far back as their time of bondage in Egypt that they would be saved only if a lamb, a pure lamb, were killed and the blood of the lamb be put on the doorposts of their homes.  (Read Exodus 12:1 – 29.)

Over the many hundreds of years since God sent Moses to rescue the nation of Israel, each year at Passover the Jews would kill a lamb and eat the meat to remind them of God’s great salvation.  It was a great reminder of God’s love for His people.  But whether it was the lamb killed during the Passover, or the goats and rams killed on the Day of Atonement (sacrifices made to bring forgiveness of sins for the people), they knew that this was still just a temporary reprieve from the guilt of their sins.

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But there was still the hope and the promise that one day God would send a Deliverer who would rescue people for all time from their sins.  And that promise became real for John when he baptized Jesus.  John saw the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus and confirm for him that Jesus would be the One who would take away our sins once and for all.

Now speaking of the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus, I want to look at that for a moment.  Notice that it says the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven “like a dove”.  It does not say that the Holy Spirit was a dove.  And yet we have this picture of the Holy Spirit as a dove gently fluttering down and sitting on Jesus’ shoulder.  That is not the image I see.

We know that when people have God’s Spirit, it comes and fills them and empowers them to do whatever God leads them to do.  Whether it is Samson, David, Elijah, early Christians or you and me, Scripture talks about “being filled with God’s Spirit” and with this comes the power of God. Whatever John saw, I do think that it came down gently “like a dove” but I kind of imagine that it was much greater than our image which came down and then filled Jesus with the power He would need for the ministry that lay before Him.

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So as I look at these verses in John, I see a couple powerful theological truths here.  Let us not miss the fact that this passage gives us support for the idea of the Trinity.  We know that God (the Father) had sent John and spoken to him concerning Jesus (the Son) who would come, and upon whom the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) would descend.  A divine incomprehensible truth for us humans, and yet it is still a Truth of Scripture.

Secondly, we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry begin in humble submission to John’s baptism (which He says in Matthew 3:15 was really submission to doing all that God requires of men).  But we also see that He will go forward filled and empowered by God’s Spirit for what lies ahead.  And ultimately His life and death and resurrection will prove, as John says here in verse 34, that in fact, Jesus is really the Son of God.

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And what does this passage do for us?  It prepares us for all that will come in the rest of this Gospel.  But remember, this is not to be just an intellectual pursuit of knowing about the life of Jesus.  It should be preparing us to know Him better as our God and as Saviour, the Lamb of God who would die us.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:29–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Love, Sex and Romance

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What Does The Bible Say About This?

I think it is time for me to write about this subject that is so misunderstood.  I believe that people without faith in God have it wrong, mostly because they have no higher standard than themselves to guide their thinking and their actions.  I believe that many Christians have it wrong, either because their church traditions placed a taboo on this topic long ago, or because they are being too influenced by the thinking of the world around them.

For the most part, Western culture has placed way too much significance and emphasis on the physical aspect of love, and has neglected to nurture the emotional and spiritual side of relationships between a man and a woman.  As portrayed in Hollywood, a quick physical/emotional response when meeting someone (which they call “being in love”) leads just as quickly to sexual intercourse (as a means to demonstrate their “love”), and the longer road of relationship building is barely mentioned.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, a highly commercialized day, but still a good day to remind us to demonstrate our affections towards our friend/partner/mate.  Jill and I have been married for 27 years now, and we are going to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a very special way this year.  Jill is flying internationally from Canada, bouncing off of Los Angeles, Brisbane (Australia) and Port Moresby (PNG) to arrive midday on Feb. 14th in Madang, Papua New Guinea.  On this same day, I am coming down from the highlands of PNG to arrive just before Jill in Madang.

Over the past six months, for health and ministry reasons, Jill and I have only had 27 days together.  Now we will be reunited on Valentine’s Day for six weeks, halfway around the world from our home in Canada.  Is that romantic, or what?  There is no doubt that being away from each other has been difficult for both of us.  But we have a bond that keeps us strong in our marriage that is bigger than just the two of us.  We are both strongly united to God by our faith and that helps keep us strongly united to each other.

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So what does the Bible say about love, sex and romance.  Let’s talk about love first so that we can set the stage properly for understanding sex and romance.  It is not uncommon for most people to adopt the proverb “Love your friends but hate your enemies,” as Jesus mentions in Matthew 5:43.  But then he turns this proverb on its head by saying, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

These are not empty words that Jesus spoke, for the Bible describes us (who all sin against a holy God) as his enemies, and yet Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus also said in John 15:12, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” God has shown us clearly that love, real love for another, is not just an emotion.  It is a deep commitment to want the very best for the other and is demonstrated through our actions.

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Now don’t misunderstand me.  Even though real love is an act of the will, there is a component of emotional response that is also real.  There is no doubt that there is a certain “chemistry” or attraction that will happen between a man and a woman.  Nurtured and matured properly, it will fulfill what God intended from the beginning, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

What we must come to accept once again is that the sexual joining of a man and a woman is to take place within the God-ordained limits of the marriage commitment of husband and wife.  Paul says it well in 1 Corinthians 7:8 – 9, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

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Paul recognizes that sex is a passionate drive within all of us.  God designed us this way.  And He approves of it, as long as it stays within the context of a husband and his wife.  If you don’t believe that God approves the act of passionate sex, then you need to read the “Song of Solomon” (also called “Song of Songs”).  Read especially chapter 7 and see how passionate biblical love likes like.

But lest we read the Song of Songs in the wrong way, study it more closely and you will see that the book is full of praise for each other.  There is a winning and a wooing of each other’s affections.  This is true romance.  And what we are reminded of by good family counsellors, yet fail to follow very often, is that this kind of romance should be an ongoing part of a marriage.  The best way to hasten the end of a marriage is to take one’s mate totally for granted and think that there is no need to be romantic any more.

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I hope my thoughts have been helpful.  We are bombarded with so much garbage and misinformation in all the movies and magazines that are not just “out there” but are in most of our homes today.  I really look forward to my reunion with my wife and the time we will spend together over the next month and a half.  I’m looking forward to holding hands again, sitting and watching a movie together, going out to a nice restaurant.  I look forward to romancing my wife once more.

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt 1

It has not been too long since we all enjoyed celebrating Christmas.  For many people, Christmas is a time of presents, good food and visiting with family members and relatives.  For Christians, we too enjoy all of these wonderful things, but we also celebrate Christmas as the time we remember when God came down and entered the world of men as a little baby boy in Bethlehem.

When we go to church during the Christmas season, we often wonder what new perspective the preacher may present in his “Christmas Message”.  We look forward to new musical arrangements and choir presentations at this time of year.  But one thing that we hardly ever get tired of is seeing the children of the church present once again the Christmas Story.

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In Max Lucado’s new book, “GOD’S STORY, your story”, he opens Chapter One with a wonderful description of the joy we all experience as we watch the children in their bathrobes and angel outfits tell us the story about the birth of Jesus.  But it is not just because the kids are so cute that we remain captivated by the same story we have seen year after year.

Lucado puts it this way:

They love the song, the kids, and they cherish the story.  But most of all, they cling to the hope.  The Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.    (page 31)

When we watch the Christmas play, part of us will always be astounded by the fact that when God entered the world as a human, He did not do it with a grand fanfare.  In fact, that goes against our very nature of wanting to be recognized and to think that we are important.  And so we think, “If God was going to make an entrance, wouldn’t He do it in such a way that people would have to recognize who He was, and then be treated accordingly, like royalty?”

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But that is the very point I believe that God wanted to make by allowing Jesus to enter into humanity in such a humble way.  Jesus was born of a simple town girl in a smelly old barn and first greeted by lowly sheep herders to emphasize that Jesus is one of us.  He put aside His claims to royalty and lived a pretty ordinary life until He began His public ministry at the age of thirty.

What this means for the majority of us who live such common, ordinary lives, is that Jesus can understand us well and what we deal with in life, because that is the same kind of world that He grew up in – ordinary.  Lucado puts our hearts’ cry into these words:

Had Jesus come with such whoop-de-do, we world have read the story and thought, “My, look how Jesus entered their world.”  But since he didn’t, we can read the story and dream: “My, might Jesus be born in my world?  My everyday world?”     (page 33)

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Consider for a minute what greatness Jesus had before He became a human.  In Colossians 1:15 – 17 it says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In the opening words of the Gospel of John, it tells us that not only was Jesus with God, but He is God.  WOW!!  And yet He left all that to live as the son of a carpenter.  Then when He was 30 years old, He walked the dusty roads all over Palestine, hung out with outcasts and known sinners, and taught twelve of the most unlikely candidates to be His successors and the foundation of the early church.

It shames me to think that Jesus was willing to go to these lengths to share the Good News about the love of God and then to lay down his life by dying on a cross in order to make the way open for people to come back to God.  First He gave up Heaven to live among us, and then He gave up His life to save us from our sin.

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This makes me think back over all the years that I have been active in ministry myself, either as a pastor in North America, or a missionary overseas.  I do believe that I was serving the Lord out of an honest desire to help others know God and come to Him.  But I also know that my motives have not always been pure.  There have been many times when I was seeking to be noticed and to get the approval of men.

I remember what one pastor with whom I worked as an intern said to me, “What is it you are trying to prove?”   He was right.  I was not satisfied with just doing what God was asking me to do.  I wanted others to notice me.  What I forget many times is that God is not so concerns with our abilities as He is with our availability to serve Him.

In these past few years I have become much more content to simply be used by God and let Him be the one to get the glory.  Consider what Mary said when the angel announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  May we all be like her, and certainly like Jesus.  It is God’s domain to do the extraordinary.  That allows us to be ordinary, and still see great things be done in and through our lives by the power and the grace of the Almighty God.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Who Is John the Baptist

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John 1:19 – 28

John’s Testimony Concerning Himself

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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In our study today of the Gospel of John, we see that “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”  This may appear to be an innocent request from some of the religious leaders of John’s day, but that could not be further from the truth.  These leaders are mystified by John’s ministry, and his success as mentioned in Matthew 3:5 – 6, immediately leads them into a conflict with each other.

You would think that the question “Who are you?” was rather straight forward and simple.  What’s interesting is John’s response, “I am not the Christ.”  Obviously there is more going on here than our text is able to tell us.  Clearly these priests were expecting John to be some great person since they went on to ask him whether he had the spirit of one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, or even the special “Prophet” that Moses hinted about in Deuteronomy 18:18.

In order to understand what is happening, we must look at some of the key words in this text, and then build a picture that makes sense of all of the parts.  Then we will understand what’s going on.  So allow me to give you some important Old and New Testament background, and then let me ask each of us an important question, especially to those of us who are in Christian leadership positions.

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In John’s Gospel, even more than in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the term “the Jews” which occasionally does refer to all members of the Jewish nation, is much more narrowly used by John.  Throughout John’s book, “the Jews” are for the most part the religious leaders (comprised of Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes who were experts in the Law of Moses, the priests, the Levites and the elders of the nation).

And we constantly see “the Jews” debating and arguing with Jesus and ultimately demanding that Jesus be crucified. What first starts as arrogance and skeptical resistance, turns in time to become defiant challenge and then open hostility.  So you can pretty much know then from the start that these are the bad guys, the antagonists to all the men of God, and by extension are found to be the enemies of God.

But they should have known better.  They were the inheritors of the Word of God, and the protectors of the Temple and the religious rituals that were to lead the people into the true worship of God.  And we too see time and time again, that it is the church leadership which has become cemented in its ways of religious traditions that have actually managed to keep people away from finding God for themselves.

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And so they challenged John, what he was doing, where he was from, and from whom he got the authority to lead this spiritual revival.  (It certainly did not come from the Jewish leaders.)  But they figured if John was not sponsored within their religious structures, then perhaps he must be one of the three great people who were prophesied in the Old Testament who would come back to help the nation of Israel.

But even before they speak, John denies that he is not the Promised Messiah, the Christ (or Anointed One) whom God would one day send to rescue the nation Israel and becomes its King.  Unfortunately, the leaders and the people had it wrong and thought God would send a human political Saviour who would rescue the nation from the oppression of the Roman occupying forces in Palestine.

But John also said he is not “The Prophet” who would be just like the greatest Old Testament leader, Moses, who rescued Israel out of Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses prophesied that a Great Prophet like him would one day come to help Israel.  But that was not to be John.  And in Malachi 4:5, the second last verse of the Old Testament, a prophecy was made that Elijah would return before the coming of the Lord.

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I can say that these Jewish leaders had some good questions in one sense.  They knew that John was special.  They just did not know how or why.  The truth of the matter is that John came as a simple servant of the Lord, and even in the midst of great success, he exercised even greater humility.  And why was that?  Because it is never meant to be about us, no matter how important we think we are at times.  No it is all about Jesus, the Man who would come after John.

So let me ask each of us who are Christians?  Are we more like The Jews, or are we more like John.  Think about it.

God’s Work In East Africa

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Equipping National Men and Women in East Africa

In going through some newsletters from colleagues of mine in Pioneer Bible Translators, I came across one written two years ago by a couple who are helping to equip national men and women in East Africa to also become Bible translators.  Their story stirred up some good memories for me as I was also involved in this national training program in the past.  I will interweave their story (in Italics) along with my thoughts in this article.

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One Sows and Another Reaps

“In John 4:35-38 Jesus says that the fields are ripe for harvest. The passage ends with, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” This describes our situation in East Africa. We were blessed to come to a field where translation projects were already in full swing. We have already been able to taste some fruit of our labors and it tastes good!

Most Bible translators have to spend years on the field laying linguistic ground work before translation can be started. Because the East Africa branch of PBT has existed for many years and is using the cluster method, we have already been part of things like handing out Scripture portions, hearing testimonies of lives changed through Bible translation, and have even attended dedications.”

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One of the great breakthroughs for Bible translation has come through this concept called the “Cluster Approach”.  This approach is significantly different from what we could call the “Traditional Approach”.  Let me explain the two different approaches so you can appreciate the benefit that comes by using the Cluster Approach.  And you will also see why I am excited about it.

Traditionally, for almost 100 years since the sudden burst of activity in Bible translation projects, the typical way to do translation was to send one missionary team (single or married) to go live among one distinct group of people to learn their language and culture and then translate the Scriptures into that language.

The missionary team would prepare themselves for a number of years by getting theological and linguistic training, and then they would spend their first few years doing language learning in the new culture.  When you add in the extra time (usually 1-2 years) for them to go out and raise their financial support from churches and individuals so they can live and work overseas, it ends up that it could be about 10 years before a missionary Bible translator finally gets to actually do any translating.

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After all that, because we as missionaries will never become truly fluent speakers of the language, even with help from nationals, it could take another 15 to 20 years just to translate the New Testament.  It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that by using just the Traditional Approach, it would take an enormously long time to do a translation for the 2000 or so languages that still need a language project started.

In light of this, the leadership of most of the key Bible translation organizations started to dream and strategize as to how we could get the job done faster and more proficiently.  One idea that came out of this was the Cluster Approach.  It has long been realized that getting the national people involved in the programs would greatly improve the speed and quality of a translation seeing as they already know the language and the culture for that group.

It has also been recognized that languages are never found in total isolation from other languages.  In many cases, there are so many languages in close proximity to each other that they will share a high degree of similarities which could be useful to multiplying our work efforts and results.

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Add to all this the key strategy that is now becoming the norm, and that is that we need to put a strong emphasis on equipping the national people through training programs.  The Cluster Approach then recognized pockets of closely related language groups and recruited gifted speakers of those languages to come to a central location to be trained all at the same time and release them to start their own translations.

We found that after only one summer of linguistic training, many of the nationals were able to jump right in and start doing Bible translation for their own people.  We saw that when these students came together for training, or if they worked in close proximity to each other, they often would cross fertilize each others’ translation ideas.

One more thing that we see is a possibility is that when one language group finishes their translation of one book, then that could potentially be a base source from which the second group starts, and then the focus is more on revision translation instead of rough drafting or starting from scratch to do their translation.

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This new approach has been going on for 8 years now.  I had the honor and the privilege to help teach part of this national training program right when it started, in 2004.  And then again I taught classes in 2006.  Remember how I said that the Traditional Approach could take a missionary up to 20 years of more to get a translation done.  Well, guess what?  This Cluster Approach in East Africa is going so well, that the first cluster of 10 language groups are all getting very close to completing the New Testament.

Can you believe it?  Instead of only getting half of one translation done in ten years, we are looking at publishing 10 New Testaments in 10 years.  Is that good?  No, that’s fantastic news.  And for all of this, we give thanks and praise to God.

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