What Is Wrong With This Picture

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Jesus Clears Out The Temple

John 2:13 –  17

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

While growing up, I loved to do all kinds of games and puzzles: logic problems, crosswords, find-a-word, hidden objects, etc. Even today I enjoy working on these kinds of mind games. One of them was called, “What’s wrong with this picture?” You compared two pictures side by side and you tried to see what the difference was between them.

As I was looking over the verses for today’s study, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something terribly wrong with this picture, and I think there is much that we can learn from it. In fact, there is a lot wrong in what happened when Jesus went into the Temple area, but to appreciate what was going on, we will need a little background information.

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 In the Old Testament period, during the period of the kings, according to the Laws and Regulations handed down by God to Moses, the people of Israel were to come to Jerusalem at least three times a year to hold a celebration feast that honoured God for what He had done for them in the past. The Temple was seen as “God’s dwelling place among men”, and so Jewish people from all over the land would come to the Temple to offer their sacrifices and thanks offerings.

Certainly one of the greatest Festivals was the “Passover”, which was a time to remember how God had sent a “Destroying Angel” to kill the first-born sons of every Egyptian family for their enslavement of the Israelites. But God would spare the sons of the Jewish people if they killed a perfect lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their house. Seeing the blood, the angel would “pass over” their house and spare their family. (See Exodus 11 – 12)

Thus, when the people came each year to Jerusalem to remember God’s grace and mercy that delivered them from the Angel of Death, it was to be a time of great joy. And part of that celebration was to offer sacrifices to God at the Temple. The only problem was that it was a long journey for most, and so it would be difficult to bring an animal with you on the trip. Instead, you would just buy an animal for sacrifice when you got to Jeruselem.

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Now here is where the picture really starts to go wrong. Over time, the religious leaders had determined that only animals that they considered to be “perfect” could be purchased for the sacrifices. They ended up having a monopoly on “sacrifice animals” and sold them in the outer courts of the Temple.

These leaders further considered that Roman coins (the currency of the day) were not “sanctified” and could not be used to purchase these animals. Instead, people had to use Jewish Temple money. And to assist travellers with this, the religious leaders approved currency exchanging “money tables”. And of course there was a mark-up on the exchange rate which resulted in even more profit for these religious leaders.

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No wonder that Jesus was so upset when he came into the Temple area on that Passover. Not only were the religious leaders “scalping” the people by having a monopoly on the sacrifice animals, but they were gouging them too with excessive exchange rates so that worshippers made sure they had the right currency to buy the animals.

This is one of the few times that show Jesus being outraged by the evil intentions and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day. He demonstrated what we call today “righteous anger”. But note that His anger is not on account of what the leaders or others did to Him. He is angry at how they were abusing God’s Name and His House, and he was angry at how they were defrauding the people of God who had come with the intention of honouring and worshipping God.

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So here is my question for this study: Are there churches and leaders among us today who have used religion to bring profit to themselves, instead of bringing glory to God? Sure! We can think of a handful of televangelists and money schemes done in the name of God that were in it for what they could gain. And we ought to be “righteously angry” against such practices.

But let me bring this a bit closer to home for some of us. Haven’t we built some churches in North America that go beyond presenting God to the people to merchandising God for the people? We have bookstores in our lobbies, and we sell the sermon series on DVDs, and hold sell-out crowd performances, all in the name of “feeding” the people spiritually.

Jesus said that God’s House was to be a “house of prayer”. What has happened to good old fashioned prayer meetings, where people come to lay their lives before the Lord in confession and in worship? Have we perhaps gone too far in our western capitalism and commercialized God too much? Jesus gave His life to fight against this. What are we prepared to do to return to true and honest worship of our God?

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God Loves The People

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“God Loves Them More Than We Ever Could!”

There are at least 850 language groups in Papua New Guinea. It could be a lot higher than this, depending on how the term “language” is defined. The reason I keep coming back to PNG is to help the people of these various language groups get the Bible translated into their languages. I don’t know the story about most of these groups, but I do know the stories surrounding a few of them.

The general approach for running a translation project of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, has been to allocate a trained Western missionary to go and live among the people and to learn their language and culture. Once the missionary has achieved a high enough level of proficiency in knowing both the language and culture, then he or she is granted permission to go ahead and begin doing the actual translation of Scriptures.

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This is the place at which I found myself in 1998. I had learned enough of the local village language by then that I could move forward to be doing translation. It wasn’t long before I was digging into Mark and translating it, and by the end of January of 1999, we had a rough draft translation of Mark. But there were still a number of important checking sessions that we would need to do.

We would need to do the Village-level community check, Exegetical check, Advisor check, Spell check, etc. before we could do the final Consultant and Comprehension check of a translated book of Scripture. All of these are critical checks we have and need to use to help assure us that this translation is: 1) Natural to native speakers; 2) Accurate to the original Greek or Hebrew text; and then 3) the translation is clear and carries a high degree of understandability or comprehensibility.

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Let me tell you what happened next for us, our family and our project. We thought we would be working in our project for the next 15 – 20 years. So on our first furlough back to Canada, I built an 8’ by 8’ by 4’ wooden crate to send back to PNG with all of our most important possessions in it. We were able to retrieve the crate through customs here, and set up our things within our village house. But 18 months later, we found ourselves heading to Australia, and then back to Canada, seeing as our son, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Undoubtedly, what happened with Eric was one of the most difficult events that we had ever had to experience. We ended up walking away from our house (abandoning almost all of our possessions), we lived with the anxiety of not knowing what would happen to our son, and we felt the pain of having to desert the people.

It has been on my heart many times to ask God for us to return to serve among the people group with whom we lived and served. But God seems to have had different plans for them. What was most difficult for me to handle, was the fact that we were 3 weeks away from doing the final Consultant Check on Mark. After revisions, the book would be ready to be published.

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What confused me in my faith at that time is why God helped us make such good progress on the book of Mark, only to stall the publication of the book about two years. We were so close to finishing and publishing Mark. But from this perspective now, 10 years later, it seems to me that the people were not ready to receive the book, and the message of the Gospel. But I think they are ready now.

Just like Jesus told the disciples that the “field was white unto harvest”, so too, I see how there has been more preparation time, and maturing of these peoples in being open to God and being ready to hear and obey God. We wish that translation work would proceed forward without any problems or delays. But we have to believe that God in control of all things (including language Projects).

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It was someone else then who went in to do the final consultant check on the book of Mark. It’s only natural that I would have liked to have been that person who carried the published book across the finish line. But that is my human flesh speaking. What we have to remember is that God loves these people more than we ever could. And so He will make sure that they get His Holy Word, whether that is through us, or through someone else.

Even now, I know of two projects where the primary missionary is not able to be the one-on-one advisor to the language group that God has so laid upon their heart. One man agreed last year to be the “Acting Director” for the Branch to take care of important administrative decisions. And the other man has put his full-time attention towards being the Finance Administrator for the Branch. These are huge sacrifices, and I believe God will bless them for the decisions they have made.

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But let me share in closing what one of these colleagues said when we thought it was a shame that he was not able to work on the language project: “I know that God loves the people in this one project, but He also loves all the people of these various projects. And when I do my work in the main office, as much as I would love to go back to doing translation with this one team, the work I do now has significant impact on 12 teams.” How true, that God’s loves is always greater than we can ever picture or imagine.

Satan Is The True Enemy – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 3

In Chapter Two of “GOD’S STORY, your story,” Max Lucado reminds us of how dangerous our true enemy is, whom we call “Satan”. Lucado gives us an overview of the great battle that occurred in the Judean desert so long ago between Jesus and Satan. Jesus is tempted to “look out for number one” (to turn stones into bread because He was hungry).

Then Satan encourages Jesus to show off His great powers and impress the religious people by jumping off the Temple pinnacle and having thousands of angels swoop in and rescue Him. And finally, Satan tries to bribe Jesus by offering to Him all the riches of the world, if only Jesus would bow down and worship him.

But as Lucado says, “Satan just showed his cards. He wants worship. He wants you and me to tell him how great he is. He wants to write his own story in shich he is the hero and God is an afterthought.” (p. 50)

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What Lucado does very well in this chapter, is to give us a clear of how devious Satan is, and how much we must remain on guard against all of his crafty schemes and strategies to tear us away from God. In fact, as Lucado points out, the root word for “devil” which is a character trait of Satan carries within it the idea of “splitter” or “divider”. And he will use any means possible to do just that, keep us divided and separated from God.

This all reminds me of one of C. S. Lewis’ most famous best seller books called, “The Screwtape Letters.” In this book, the main character is Uncle Wormword, one of the senior demons of Satan, who (fictitiously) wrote letters to his much junior demon Screwtape, who happened to be his nephew.

What is fascinating about Lewis’ book is that he suggests that some of the best strategies of Satan are not the all-out-frontal attacks that we might expect. But rather, Satan often succeeds the best if we end up being complacent about our spirituality and do nothing to pursue a relationship with God. But if Satan must step in, he will use such sly tactics as materialism, self-centered egos, or just plain old busyness of life.

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Listen to how Lucado points out these very same thoughts on pages 42 – 43:

Distraction would work better. I hate spiritual focus. When you or one like you gazes intently on God for any length of time, you begin to act like Him. A nauseating sense of justice and virtue comes over you. You talk to God, not just once a week, but all the time. Intolerable.

So I’d perch myself on every corner and stairwell of your world, clamouring for your attention. I’d flood you with e-mails and to-do lists. Entice you with shopping sprees and latest releases and newest styles. Burden you with deadlines and assignments.

If I were the devil, I’d so distract you with possessions and problems that you’d never have time to read the Bible.

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I believe this last sentence of the quote above should be sounding an alarm for all of us who are believers in Christ. If we think that there is no time in our lives to read God’s word on a regular basis, then our lives are out of balance with what is truly important. Even worse, if any of us think we don’t need to be reading God’s Word as part of our daily and weekly lives, then Satan will find it that much more easy to bend us to his will, rather than God’s Word bending us to God’s will.

Here, let’s get even more clear and specific about who we are up against. Scripture describes Satan in the following ways (quoted from pages 45 – 46):

Serpent (Genesis 3:14; Revelation 12:9; 20:2)            Enemy (Matthew 13:25, 39)
Tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5)               Father of Lies (John 6:44)
Evil One (Matthew 13:19; 1 John 2:13 – 14)                Deceiver (Revelation 12:9)
Dragon (Revelation 12:7, 9; 20:2)                               Roaring Lion (1 Peter 5:5)
Prince of Demons (Mark 3:22)

These are only some of the names that are used to describe what Satan is like. I’m sure we can find much more in Scripture to tell us just exactly who our true spiritual enemy is.

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So what is the point of all this discussion? Namely this: if we are to really understand how the story of our lives fit into the bigger story of God’s life, then we need to also realize that while we are in this life, and this world, Satan too is a part of that picture. We should not be taken by surprise as much as we are when bad and terrible things happen. There is an author behind all this — Satan.

What we need to do is to follow the example that Jesus gave to us when He faced off with Satan in the wilderness. We must be confident of who God is. We must continually be reading God’s Word and putting it into our hearts so that we have the spiritual tools to fight back against Satan. And we must trust that God can and will bring us through these times of spiritual wilderness experiences as well as the spiritual battles that come our way in life.

An excellent preacher I know has said that research into spirituals habits show that reading the Bible up to three times a week shows little improvement in the overall wellbeing of a person (emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise). But those who read the Bible on average four times a week or more, have better marriages, families, church experiences, general health and success in business. So what are you waiting for. Get out your Bibles, turn to God, and resist Satan and his ways. He is the Enemy.

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

Jesus Is Always In Control

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Jesus’ First Miracle in Cana

John 2:1 – 12

2 1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.

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9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

This event in the life of Jesus is well known by both Christians and some non-Christians.  If a general survey were to be done, and people were asked, “What was the first miracle that Jesus performed?” many people would say, “Wasn’t that when Jesus turned water into wine?”  And they would be right.  But I’m not sure that many people catch the importance of what happened that day.

On that day in question, it may appear that Jesus is just caught up in the middle of the story, and then when his hand is forced, Jesus performed a great “parlour trick” as some might say, and the party went on.  But as I look at all of the participants in this story, it seems to me that while many of them think they are in control of the situation, in fact, it is only Jesus who is truly in control.  Let me explain.

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First of all, you have the bridegroom, and this ought to be his day.  After all, he is the one who just got married and he would have been the one to invite all the guests.  It would appear that Jesus’ mother was an invited guest.  But did the bridegroom invite Jesus and his disciples?  Or was that arranged by his mother, who was probably a close friend of the family.  Jesus seems somehow to be “tacked on” to the guest list.

Then you have the Master of the Feast, whose job it was to make sure that everything went smoothly at the banquet feast after the wedding.  Everything was going so well, until the water which had been turned into excellent wine showed up.  He became upset with the bridegroom for apparently hiding the best wine until the end instead of offering it first to his guests.

And then there is Jesus’ mother.  We have to wonder a bit about her motives in all this.  Scripture says that from the day Jesus was born, Mary treasured in her heart all the prophetic messages that had been spoken about her son.  She knew that Jesus was meant for greatness.  But was it right for her to push Jesus forward at the wedding to show his hand of power in front of all her friends?

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In spite of all the people who were trying to take charge that day, Jesus remained calm.  I believe He knew all along what He would do.  His words to His mother may appear strange, “My hour has not yet come,” when He turns right around and performed the miracle.  I think this was a chastisement to His mother to remind her that Jesus’ ministry was to be of His own choosing, as directed by God.

Now notice the other two participant groups mentioned in the story.  When the servants offered the water turned into wine to the Master of the Feast, they knew full well that they had put water in the large jugs.  They had just witnessed about 150 gallons of water miraculously turn into wine.  When they went home later, don’t you think that they would have shared this story with others?

And Jesus’ disciples were there too.  They may not have been with Jesus very long by this point, perhaps only a few weeks or months.  But they knew enough about Jesus that when He performed His miracle, they were ready to put their full trust and belief in Him that He was the promised Messiah sent by God (even if they didn’t understand all the implications of that yet.)

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So who was really in control on that day?  It wasn’t the bridegroom, the Master of the Feast, or Jesus’ mother.  Jesus was in control of everything that was happening.  And He was laying the foundation in the lives of ordinary people (the banquet servants and His disciples) to demonstrate that his powerful actions more than matched His powerful words, such as, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”  (See Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15)

And so I ask those who are reading this article: Are you still trying to be “in control” of all of your life?  Consider Jesus, who is the true and loving Master, and let Him be in control of your life and see what amazing things He just might have planned for you that you never would have dreamed of.

Training National Translators Goes Well

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Back Translation & Village Checking Workshop

[Editor’s Note: To understand the complexity of running a workshop here in Papua New Guinea like that described below, read Part One of this two-part story. To appreciate the importance of running a national training program like this, you must realize that in the 36 years that Pioneer Bible Translators has worked in PNG, we have only finished translating the New Testament in two languages, and have three more that are close to being done. So training nationals will speed up this process and give us the breakthrough in Bible translation that we have been praying about for a long time.]

                                          

“On the 13th of July, PBT-PNG ventured into a new territory; not a geographical one but a training one. We began planning for this workshop over two years ago. The workshop was held at the SIL Pacific Orientation Course Center on Nobonob Mountain just outside of Madang. It involved 41 men and women from 9 different language groups that PBT works with here in PNG.

“Some of these translation projects are nearing the completion of the New Testament and others are just starting out. It was good for the more experienced national translators to have interaction with the “new people on the block.” The new translators could learn how experienced ones tackle problems that they have in translation. They also were an encouragement to each other and they realized that they were not in this alone.”

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“Half of the participants were in the Village Checking side of the course where they worked at taking the vernacular rough draft translation and checked it against the Tok Pisin Bible. They checked for improper translation, missing information or added information. Then they did revisions to the draft. Some of the newer guys were amazed at the amount of revising that takes place. Then that second draft was sent to the people that were in the Back Translation part of the course.

“The other half of the participants were in the Back Translation group where they worked at making a literal translation back into Tok Pisin from the vernacular. This work later provides the consultant a clear view of what the translation is actually saying. Otherwise, the consultant who has come to do the final check of the translation would have to be fluent in the vernacular.

“After the Back Translation group was finished with that, they sent their work back over to the Village Checking group. The Village Checking group looked over the Tok Pisin back translation to see if it matched what was being said in the vernacular. If it didn’t, then revisions had to be made to the back translation. Then the Village Checking group made questions in the vernacular language concerning the section of text that they were working on.”

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“These include the basic 5W (and H) questions of Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? These questions will be the basis for checking the Scriptures in the village. They will gather some people out in the village who have not been involved in the translation and read the passages to them in the vernacular and then ask them these questions.

“It is important to ask these comprehension questions to see if the meaning of the text is coming through, and if the vernacular translation sounds natural to the people. If the answers they get back show good comprehension, then the section passes the village checking phase. If not, then more revisions need to be made to fix the text.

“Previously, it was typical for these village checking sessions to be run by the PBT missionaries. But now that we have a shortage of missionaries, we are trying to train the nationals to run these sessions. This workshop provided a practical means of teaching our national co-workers in this task of bringing God’s Word to the peoples of Papua New Guinea.”

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Fun Facts from the Workshop

41 nationals

21 missionaries and interns

180 dozen eggs

441 pounds of rice (before cooking)

1,014 pounds of flour

100+ pineapples

25 watermelons

                                          

[Editor’s Closing Note: thanks go out to the missionary couple who wrote this story and who were actively involved in this National Translators’ Training Course in 2010. Their project is still one of the “younger” translations that would traditionally have many years ahead of them to see the New Testament translated into the local language. But thanks to courses like these, national men and women from that language group are being equipped to see their project advance at a much faster pace.

As a Translation Consultant, I very much appreciate courses like these that hone the skills of the missionary translators, and advance the skills of the national translators. This means that when the biblical text comes to me, along with the English or Tok Pisin back translation, I can expect to see greater quality in the translated text. That will make my job easier.

Ultimately, the goal is to get the Word of God into the hands of the people in their own mother tongue language. With trained missionaries and equipped national translators working together, we are going to see more Scriptures getting into the people’s hands that much faster. And for that, we all give praise and thanks to our God who has called us all in this task to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.]

My Life Testimony – Pt. 1

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 1

 Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now.  I would like to share in a few articles the questions that I was asked, and what answers I gave to the editor of that magazine.  My hope is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q1:  What kind of child were you and what did you dream of becoming at the time? How would you describe yourself as a young adult? Could you share one of the episodes in your early years that hint toward your future dedication to God?

Many people would describe me as a bright young child, and I was usually at the top of my class at school.  I was adventurous and independent from the time I was 11, always exploring the hills around Calgary where I grew up (a city of 3/4 million people), riding my bicycle for hundreds of miles inside and outside of the city.  I even loved to crawl through sewer tunnels.  (Read “Tunnels, Caves & Claustrophobia” )  I got into trouble with the police once, but that taught me the importance of honesty.  (Read “Caught by the Police” )

I was almost 12 when I first really heard the Gospel message about Christ at a big Youth Conference.  I had many questions, and then early in 1973 I was baptized and gave my life over to Jesus to be my Saviour and Lord.  (Read “For My Tears, Jesus Died” Nov. 18, 2010)  When I was 14, I heard a missionary speak at our church, and from that moment on, I felt that God was calling me to be a missionary myself one day. 

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Then when I was 16, I was in the Royal Canadian Reserve Navy for a year and the ship I was on docked in Lima, Peru.  I knew of a missionary family that our church supported and was allowed to go visit them for three days up in the mountains at Cuzco, Peru.  They were working at translating the Bible into the Quechua Indian language.  I was fascinated by this and knew that was what I wanted to do one day.  (Read “God Spoke Through People” to see how I was influenced to be a Bible translator)

To answer your question about an episode in my early years that showed my dedication to God, let me paste a paragraph from an article that was just published on Feb. 23, 2012.  This article called “Introducing Others to Jesus” is part of my Bible study article on John 1:35-42 where Andrew gets Peter and introduces him to Jesus.  Here is what happened for me in 1975:

“I still remember a special night in my life when I was about 14 years old and was still relatively new in my faith, only two years or so.  My parents took me on a weekend campout to attend one of their Square Dance rallies.  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 being a Christian, 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 as invigorated in my young spiritual life as I did during that night.”

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Q2: When was your first serious encounter with God? Was it the big conference that took place when you were 11, or sometime much later? Could you describe that special moment in details?

Let me expand on what I said above.  The article “For My Tears, Jesus Died” definitely tells about the beginning of God working in my heart.  I will add to that story here:

“Although there was much that was good about my childhood, in my elementary years (ages 6-11) I was not accepted by many other children (largely because I was so smart and liked to read books instead of going out to play sports) and I encountered many bullies who would beat me up.  My parents were busy, my other brothers were much older and not around in my school.  I felt very alone and in my childish perspective I thought that no one loved me.

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“And so in Grade 7, when I went to that Youth Conference, I was in the midst of over 500 young people, and yet I felt completely alone and unloved.  I had shed many tears over the physical and emotional beatings I had received from others around me.  Then I heard that song, that it was for my tears, my tears, that Jesus died.  WOW!!

“And so I thought, could there actually be Someone who really loved me?  And it was because of the truth about His love that I was drawn to God.  For almost 40 years now, I have known that love of God.  Even through all that we have experienced of difficult times, and the trials and tragedies of life, I have never doubted that God truly loves me.”

Jesus Knows Our Hearts Well

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Jesus: Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent

John 1:43 – 51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

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This short passage looks deceivingly simple. One of the first disciples that Jesus called out to follow him, Philip, quickly got excited and went to find a friend of his, Nathaniel. And Philip told Nathaniel that he believed that he had found the Great Prophet, the man whom God had promised that He would send one day. (Read Deuteronomy 18:18)

Nathaniel is sceptical at first, but still comes. Then after a short dialog, he too finds himself putting his trust in Jesus and also believes that Jesus is God’s Son, the one who would usher in the Kingdom of God and bring salvation to all the Jews. Even greater than what Philip said, Nathaniel believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world.

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As I read this, I ask myself this question: what happened and caused this critic of Jesus to become a crusader for Jesus. I think we can possibly see part of the answer in the opinion Nathaniel gives regarding the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth. And Nathaniel can’t believe that someone as Great as the Messiah would come from this unimportant town in the Province of Galilee.

But the very fact of his disappointment shows that Nathanial had in the past held some hopes and beliefs that the Messiah would actually come one day. He just wasn’t prepared to believe at first that this Messiah would come out of Nazareth. And that I think is a clue for why people still yet don’t put their trust in Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in a dirty, smelly barn and shared his first days in the midst of these stinky old barn animals. Then later, when Joseph took his family to Nazareth, Jesus grew up as the son of a carpenter, and he learned that trade. So people today still cannot accept that the God of the Universe could ever have come out of this simple humble beginning.

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But notice what happened when Nathaniel came and met Jesus. Even as Nathaniel is walking up, Jesus makes a statement to show that He has insight into what kind of man was coming to greet him. Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” This was a rather bold statement by Jesus. But think how amazed Nathaniel must have been if this statement about him was true, that he was an honest and pure-hearted man.

When Nathaniel asked Jesus how He knew him, Jesus said to him, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Now since Nathaniel had indeed been sitting under the fig tree before Philip had called him, then Nathanial knew also that this man Jesus not only was omniscient and knew what was in his mind, but Jesus was also omnipresent, to be able to actually be somewhere else and see the place where Nathanial had been sitting.

Wow!! What a shock to the system! How unnerving! And yet remember, we saw hints that Nathaniel had probably been looking intently before to find the Messiah. Just that in every other case he only found disappointment. But this time was different and with the little knowledge he had about Jesus, it was enough to convince him that Jesus was God’s Son.

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What’s really cool, is that after Jesus demonstrated his ability of omniscience and omnipresence, He goes on to describe to the men how He too is also omnipotent. These first demonstrations of Jesus were fantastic for sure, but He says that the disciples will witness much greater and more powerful things than this. And He was right. As you look through each Gospel, you see Jesus giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, casting out evil spirits from people, and even raising people from the dead.

Yes, this is my Jesus. This is the Man whom I fell in love with, just as these early disciples did so long ago. I believe and have seen Him do mighty things in my lives and in others lives too. I know that He is always with me, ready to strengthen and comfort me. And last of all, and just as important. I know that He knows my every thought.

For some, that would be a scary thing. But for me, it is a constant reminder for me to follow the path of righteousness. For I do not ever want my Lord to know my thoughts and see that I am not being fully committed to Him as my Lord. No, I want Him to be pleased with me as I lean on Him, as I follow after Him, and as I allow Him to control me and my inner most thoughts. Thank you Jesus.

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