Witnesses Who Tell Us Who Jesus Is

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John 5:31 – 47

31 If I speak for myself, there is no way to prove I am telling the truth.32 But there is someone else who speaks for me, and I know what he says is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he told them the truth. 34 I don’t depend on what people say about me, but I tell you these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that gave a lot of light, and you were glad to enjoy his light for a while.

36 But something more important than John speaks for me. I mean the things that the Father has given me to do! All of these speak for me and prove that the Father sent me. 37 The Father who sent me also speaks for me, but you have never heard his voice or seen him face to face. 38 You have not believed his message, because you refused to have faith in the one he sent.

39 You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me, 40 but you refuse to come to me for eternal life.

41 I don’t care about human praise, 42 but I do know that none of you love God. 43 I have come with my Father’s authority, and you have not welcomed me. But you will welcome people who come on their own.44 How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!

45 Don’t think that I will be the one to accuse you to the Father. You have put your hope in Moses, yet he is the very one who will accuse you. 46 Moses wrote about me, and if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. 47 But if you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how can you believe what I say?

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Jill and I enjoy reading books.  We do have slightly different tastes in the stories we read though.  I’m much more of the science fiction intense espionage kind of guy, while Jill likes to read a good suspense legal thriller with lots of courtroom drama.  So I will read about aliens and distant galaxies or a book by Tom Clancy, and Jill might read an Agatha Christie or John Grisham novel.  But I can appreciate a good legal thriller too.  And that is partly what we have here in these verses of John.

When we watch a legal fiction story on TV today, we all watch as the sleuths and the police search to find the one witness who will “make the case” and put the bad guys away for good.  Sometimes, the most important piece of evidence is not even a person, but an item which ties the criminal to the crime.  And now in our modern scientific world, all that is needed sometimes is just a tiny bit of DNA to close the case.

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That is not what it was like though in first century Judaism.  When someone was accused of wrong doing, it was very clear in the Law of Moses what standards needed to be applied in the case.  Deuteronomy 19:15 tells us what that was: “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  This standard for gathering solid evidence of something needs to be kept in mind as we look briefly into John 5:31-47.

Now we all realize that Jesus is not actually standing in front of the court and facing accusers at this time.  (That would come later.)  But in many ways, with the persecution of the Jewish authorities heating up, Jesus was being put into the court of public opinion.  Some people were believing that He was in fact the Son of God, and that He had the authority of God Himself to do all the miracles which He did.  On the other hand, there was a growing opposition arising against Jesus, what He did, and what He taught.

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So Jesus challenges his “accusers” in this passage and lays down some pretty solid evidence with regards to who He really is.  First of all, Jesus mentions the testimony of John the Baptist.  Go back to John chapter one and read how John declares that God sent him baptizing people for the express purpose of discovering and revealing who Jesus was.  He saw the Holy Spirit come down upon Jesus at the baptism and then declared, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

As much as John the Baptist was respected as a great prophet, Jesus then goes on to say that there is a greater witness than John.  He basically says, “Look at the works (i.e. “miracles”) that I do, and they will tell you exactly who I am.”  And in fact, God Himself is called upon as a witness.  God declared openly, “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.”  (See Mark 1:11)  And further, many of the Jews knew that only a person approved by God Himself could do the kinds of miracles that Jesus did.  Remember what Nicodemus said in John 3:2?  “For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

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Jesus has already given three key witnesses which clearly show Jesus to be “one sent from God.”  But the Jewish leaders might not accept these testimonies.  So then Jesus hits them right where they lived.  He claimed that the Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament), and even Moses in his writings could back up Jesus’ claim of being the great Messiah and the One promised by God to be the Savior of the world.  How much more evidence did they need to believe in Jesus?

And I now ask this question to all who read this.  Look at the wondrous universe we live in.  Look at the new born baby.  Remember when you “could have been killed” in a near-accident.  Look into the lives of really alive Christians who used to be not so nice people, but God changed them.  How much evidence do you need to know that what the Bible proclaims about God, about Christ, and those who follow Him in loving obedience are all true as well.  Think on that my friend.  Don’t be closed like these Jewish leaders were.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Practical Training For New Missionaries

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Weird Wiring & Medical Mishaps

One thing that Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) is keen on is providing good training for new missionaries so that they are ready when they get to the mission field.  Sometimes we know where we are going, and sometimes we don’t know where we will end up.  But even if we think we know what to expect, the one thing I have learned as a missionary is to “expect the unexpected”.

In my last article about PBT, I shared about the vision of PBT to reach the regions of the world that have the most “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  (Read that article here.)  Part of the training that I was involved with last week at our annual training and recruitment week was in the area of “Language Learning and Linguistics”.  But our new PBT missionaries do not just get linguistic training for the field, they also get a number of very practical hands-on training.

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Let me share with you all here some comments from a student who took these practical courses, and then some words from a couple who help to teach these classes.  First of all, one of our new women missionaries who took these courses back in 2010 had this to say:

One of the training classes I took was Primary Health Care which teaches you how to take care of yourself when medical care is not available.  This will come in handy in the villages of Africa.  I learned that if you smell like stale beer but have not been drinking you could have bubonic plague.  If you smell like fresh baked bread, you might have enteric fever.  Some of the other case studies I did diagnosed diseases like HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, cholera and even rabies.  

We learned how to deliver babies including a breech.  Although I learned how to suture a wound you should make a quick note to self that you really don’t want me to stitch you up.  Before that great class I had taken a few others including a Bush Mechanics class.  In that class I learned to wire from solar panels through batteries and a converter to electrical outlets and a light bulb that actually lit up!  These classes were great fun and will be very useful in the near future.

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As you can see, this young woman was really preparing herself for just about anything that might happen while she will be on the mission field, from doing medical care for herself and others, to doing major renovations and repairs to any house she will be living in.  Thankfully for us, Jill was a nurse (who also took an intensive “Medical Mission” crash course), and I had had some experiences in building projects when I worked for a summer mission ministry called “Teen Missions, Intl.”

Now that we have had a word from the student, let’s hear a word from two of our trainers, a married couple who have a passion to train new missionaries.  Steve has had lots of practical handyman jobs and so he helped with the “Bush Mechanics” workshop, and Becky, who is a registered nurse, helped to teach the “Medical Missionary Intensive” course.  This is what they said after the courses were finished in 2010:

I (Steve) enjoyed helping teach the Bush Mechanics class to 13 recruits. The Bush Mechanics Course is four days in length and many skills are taught such as electrical wiring, small engine repair, designing and maintaining solar systems, making a solar oven and then experimenting with cooking in the solar ovens, lantern operation and maintenance, plumbing, soldering, and designing a bush kitchen.

I (Becky) want to thank the other two RNs and the ARNP person, plus one more volunteer who for helping us with the 9 day Primary Health Care Course (PHC) June 29 – July 7th. We had a great group of 13 students. It was fun to observe them gain confidence as they learned to give injections, role play emergencies, suture, apply splints, and become so familiar with the Village Health Manual that they could take a list of symptoms, find the probable diagnosis, and then come up with a treatment plan.

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I think that perhaps the teachers are more confident in the students, than the students are confident in themselves.  But for the most part, all of us are confident that these budding new missionaries will do well once they get over to their field of service.  I’m sure they will find themselves in some awkward and difficult spots, but with at least this minimal training, plus some help from fellow missionaries, will help them to succeed well on their first term over there.

I know that I quickly had to learn to be a plumber (with pipes of slightly different diameters), and a carpenter (working in wood that bent nails), and an electrician (yes, I have a current when I touch the ends of the bare wires and I see sparks fly.)  J  And even though Jill had her Canadian nursing license, it was illegal for her to practice direct medicine, so we did some “back door” medicine and helped as we were able to.

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So some of us PBT people do have some of these basic skills, but they are mostly for potential emergencies.  And so like our woman missionary above who went to East Africa and told a teacher of 90 students who live away from home to be at school, but also who work to take care of their daily needs, with regards to helping out she told her, “the only thing I could do for them was to share the gospel.”  Then the head mistress of the school very sweetly smiled and gently touched my arm and said “don’t you understand?  That is all we really need.”  YES!  Jesus is the answer for the world today.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 11

Death!  It seems so final.  A Person is born, lives a number of years – perhaps as much as 100 years – and then dies.  That’s it, lights out!  Into the grave or the crematorium goes the body.  All that is left is the ashes or a slowly rotting body in the ground until there is nothing left of that person except a few bones.  The only way to identify who lay there is a name etched on stone, and perhaps teeth that can be matched to a dental record.

This is the ending that every person who has lived on this earth has to look forward to.  There is no escaping it.  As our author (Max Lucado) quotes on page 96 from Fred Carl Kuechner:

“Death is the most democratic institution on earth….It allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions.  The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over:  one death per person.”

Looking at it this way, it would be easy to become either very depressed about life, or to value it so much as to try to get everything you can before the end comes.  And the worst part is that none of us know the future, so we really don’t know how many more days or years we have left to live.  No wonder there are so many people today who follow the saying, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

    

As a missionary who lived in a remote village of Papua New Guinea for five years, death took on a whole new reality for me.  The only people who were close to me and died before going to PNG were my grandmother and my sister.  My grandmother was 88 years old and the funeral was a celebration of a believer in Christ and a life well lived.  My sister died while in Jamaica in her 30’s and we held a memorial service for her.  Death hit our family, but I never really saw it up close.

This changed quickly when we went and lived in our little village in the jungle.  In those five years, there were quite a number of deaths: some people died of old age; some children died from cerebral malaria and some from eating rotten food which led to fatal food poisoning; and some women died in child-bearing due to retained placenta.  The worst experience was watching one of my best friends and a co-translator suffer over a six month period and finally die due to a brain tumour.

    

What made these deaths so hard to witness was watching the despair and the fear that everyone else displayed at the time of these deaths.  There is nothing else I know that is so piercing of a sound that cuts deeply into your heart and soul as when the shrieking death wail went up when someone died.  That piercing cry is started by a family member as soon as the person dies, and then it is joined by other family members and friends when they come to the hut to share in the sorrow.

Day and night this wailing can be heard across the village for days.  But even as the death wail continues, rumours and murmuring go on among the people, for everyone is asking the question, “What evil spirits were involved, and who among the village is responsible for these deaths.  These are the natural questions that are asked by people who live in an animistic culture.  They live in fear of all the evil spirits that surround them, and they fear death most of all.

    

 The Bible on the other hand, speaks to us about the victory that we can have over death.  Up until the time that Jesus lived, the world did lie under the curse of disease, destruction, despair and finally death.  Bur Jesus broke that power of death by rising Himself back from the dead.  He was then able to say along with the Psalmist, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?”

Jesus told His disciples in advance that He would die, but also that after three days in the grave He would rise again and be alive.  The promise Jesus gave was that just as He would conquer the grave and live again, so also would the people who put their trust in Him.  It is at this very point, this claim of resurrection life, that the whole of Christian faith stands.  If Jesus claims (as He did) to grant life after death, but He Himself never rose physically from the grave, then all His promises are not worthy to be accepted as true.

    

 Now some people still think today that Jesus’ claims were outrageous and couldn’t be true.  The most obvious alternative would be to say that the disciples invented this hoax, or at least created this myth about Jesus and the “risen Christ”.  But I challenge any person to read the last few chapters of all the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  The Bible presents terrified disciples, and women who went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body there.

But instead, we see very quickly a faith story burst out after very serious misgivings and denials of the resurrection.  And those men all went on to become martyrs for their faith.  Only a true and real resurrection can account for this change.  And so, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then death is no longer the end of the story for all of us.  Therefore, we do not need to be afraid of death anymore.

Rather then an ending, death can be seen to be a beginning, a new start to an eternal life with God.  In fact, I see death as simply a doorway that all of us must go through one day.  Or perhaps an even better picture is that death becomes a graduation from this limited life to the unlimited life in the next one.  Hallelujah, He is risen.  And one day, so will we.

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

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Jesus, The One Equal To God The Father

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John 5:16 – 30

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

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In this passage, we see the open hostility of the Jewish leaders that broke out against Jesus.  It was bad enough in their opinion that Jesus had performed a miracle on the Sabbath, the holy day of rest for the Jewish people.  (See my last article on “Christian Compassion vs. Religious Criticism“.)  But now they hear Jesus utter words that show that He equated Himself with God the Father.

As I reflected on the blindness of the Jewish leaders, I realized that they did not have the benefit of living in the period of “post-resurrection”, nor the hundreds of years that the Church has had to understand the implications of Jesus Incarnation, His death, and His resurrection.  The Jewish people were all waiting for the Promised Messiah, the One whom God would anoint and bring salvation to His people.

I do wonder though, what exactly they expected to see when they would meet the Messiah.  Would He just suddenly appear, without having any background of a birthplace or a family such as Jesus had?  Was the Messiah going to just appear as some super human and lead the nation to victory against their enemies in this world?  We know that is partly what they thought.  What caught them off guard was that Jesus was rather ordinary, being born in Bethlehem and raised as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth.

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And then Jesus elevated Himself high above all other humans by making claims of being equal with God Himself.  In this passage we see a number of ways in which Jesus is equally compared to God the Father.  We see these similar things:

  • God is always at work in the world, and so is the Son (implying supernatural activities)
  • what the Father does, He shows to His Son, and the Son also does the same things
  • the Father and the Son can both raise the dead and give them new life
  • God gives the authority to judge all men into the hands of the Son
  • people will honour the Son just as much as they honour the Father
  • the Son is the source of Life just as the Father is also the source of Life for all people

That is quite a list of qualities that Jesus attributes to Himself.  No wonder that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him.  They were actually right to challenge Jesus, for no ordinary man could claim these things.  But Jesus was no ordinary man.  Twice Jesus refers to God as “the One who sent Me”.  As people who now live after the Resurrection, we know that Jesus’ claim to be God the Son was validated by Him rising from the dead.

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And it was the will of the Father that caused Jesus to leave Heaven and come down to earth.  He in fact was the awaited Messiah.  And the promise here is that for anyone who will accept Him as the One who is equal with God and who was sent by God the Father, that person is able to come to God by means of Jesus (like walking across a bridge) and will no longer be under the penalty and curse of death, but will receive the gift of eternal life with God forever.

It really is too bad that the Jewish leaders did not have all the information and insight that you and I have today.  So it is easy to criticise them as being so blind that they could not see Jesus for who He really is.  But I wonder if we would have done much better ourselves?  The key thing right now is for us to not miss the point, namely that Jesus really is the One who is equal to God the Father, the Author of Life, and the One who saves us from death and brings us into eternal life.

Overcoming Extreme Spiritual Poverty

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Training New Missionaries To Reach “The Lost”

For many years, Christians have talked about “Reaching the Lost”.  For some people, that expression has made sense, but I think that many people today would not really know what this means.  What exactly does the word “Lost” refer to?  In religious terms, it means to be “spiritually lost”, to not know Jesus as the One who rescues us from sin and the punishment of eternal death in Hell.  In simple black and white terms, we could talk about those who have accepted Jesus and are “Saved”, and those who have not accepted Jesus and are “Lost”.

The reality of “spiritual lostness” in this world is more complex than this though.  There is in fact a direct relationship between those who have accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives and the accessibility to the knowledge of Jesus as presented to us in the Bible.  It makes sense that where the Bible has been made available to people in a language that they understand, and where there is a network of churches which use and promote the message of the Bible that there will be people who have had their lives transformed by that message and have a strong faith in Christ.

This leads us to the next obvious conclusion.  Where there are few or no churches within a distinct language and cultural group, and where there are no portions of the Bible in that language, there will also be very few or no Christians at all in that group.  It is this reality that has led our leaders of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, to coin the term “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  In a sense, there is a degree of “lostness” among the people groups of the world, and it has become the mandate of our mission to try to bring relief and the message of the Gospel to these “least reached” people of the world.

    

To get a better understanding of what is involved in impacting the most spiritually needy areas of the world, it is helpful to break it down into three categories of people groups as identified by their languages.  According to most of the official counts, there are almost 7,000 language groups in the world.  This does not include dialects.  These are all considered distinct languages.  Of this number, we know that there are just over 2,250 languages that definitely have the need to begin a Bible translation project in that language.  This represents over 350 million people who do not have even one verse of the Bible published for them in their language.

That is a lot of people who can’t read about Jesus in their own language.  Thankfully there are some of these language groups that do have churches established within them, but they are relying on Scripture that is not in the mother tongue of the people.  But of these 2,250 language groups, there are at least 900 groups that do not have a church of any portion of the Bible in their language.  This represents over 200 million people.  It is these church-less and Bible-less language groups of people that PBT is very concerned about reaching with the Gospel message of Christ and whom we consider to be the most extreme spiritually poor people in the world.

Now that we know what the need is, what is PBT doing about it?  For a number of years now we have been recruiting and sending new missionaries over to these parts of the world which so desperately need churches that use translated Scriptures to transform the people of their language group.  God has truly been blessing our mission as we have grown from 185 members to 353 members in just 5 1/2 years.  By the end of this year, we expect that we will have doubled in size for the number of career missionaries.  Our prayerful goal is to double the number of our personnel again in the next six years.  There is so much work left to be done in the world in the area of Bible translation that recruiting new people to be missionaries is crucial to getting the work done.

    

And that was exactly what we were doing this last week.  We just held our annual recruitment and training week here in Dallas, which is known as “Pioneer Mission Institute“.   For 36 years now we have been training and introducing the work of PBT to people who have an interest in mission work and specifically Bible translation work.  This year, we had over 70 students, with just about half that number in each of the two levels, the first level being the “Discovery Track” and the second level doing specialized seminars on practices and procedures for cross-cultural missionaries.

I had the privilege to once again teach the introductory linguistics class to the Discovery Track students.  I introduced them to such topics as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Language Learning and a few other topics.  It is always exciting to me when I see other people catch the vision for getting God’s Word translated and available to the minority languages of the world.  But more importantly, they caught the vision that there are still a great number of people who are living without the transforming message of the Bible.  For it is not just translation work and linguistics that matter, but the lives of people who live on this edge of extreme spiritual poverty that we need to reach.

I ask you to be in prayer alond with us that we would find the right people to be added to our mission group that could work together to help bring the Gospel to these last pockets of people in the world who don’t know Jesus, and without a church presence and the translated Word of God, will probably never have the chance to know Jesus.  By faith though, we are believing that by 2050 or so, we will have provided a translated New Testament to all these groups and overcome extreme spiritual poverty in the world.

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 10

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 5: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU WON’T BE FORSAKEN

Question #1: What does “forsaken” mean to you?  Share a time in your life when you felt forsaken.  How did someone encourage you?

The word “forsaken” to me has got to be one of the loneliest and saddest words in our English vocabulary.  It would be one thing to go off by yourself and feel alone.  It would be similar if say perhaps you had an accident, like a boat crash, and you were marooned and isolated on a remote island.  Yet these two kinds of experiences would not be as bad as “forsaken”, because you could either choose to join people again, or at least have the hope that you could be rescued and be with people again.

But to be forsaken means that there were plenty of other people around, but they all left for one reason or another, and then you were completely left by yourself.  You were abandoned, and you had no hope of rejoining the group.  I recall very vividly the few times that a baseball game or football game was started in our park or school ground, and I was not chosen to be on a team.  Everyone lined up, and they took turns picking team mates.  I was the last one, and even then, neither captain of the two teams wanted me.  They left to play the game, and I was forsaken.

    

Thankfully I have matured past those silly old ball game days.  But at that age I do remember feeling left out of life itself and didn’t seem to be accepted anywhere.  I praise my God that He found me, and I found Him, and invited Christ into my life.  Ever since that, I have always known that I am accepted by God and would never be alone again.

As a Christian adult and aspiring missionary though, there was still a moment when I felt rejected and forsaken.  Jill and I had made a tentative start with one mission group, and had submitted our application.  But just as I thought they were going to accept us, they told us that “we were not ready yet”, and that there were some life issues and finances to get straightened out first.  I felt so rejected.  But again, I praise God that a caring friend a few years later said, “I thought you were going to be a missionary?”  So we moved forward again, and that time we were accepted and we have been doing Bible translation work ever since.

Question #4: How crucial is the cross to your personal story?  In what ways has the fact that Jesus died on the cross changed your life?  How would your life be different today if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross?

This is an easy question for me in some ways.  Simply put, without Christ and His offer of spiritual life through His death, I would be so truly lost and messed up, not just in this life, but for eternity.  I now know as I look back over the years, that if I had not accepted Christ, then I would have become such a self-centered and self-serving person.  But knowing that Jesus, God’s Son, gave up his life for me so that I could live, that helps me to give up my life to serve others in order that they too might live eternally with God in the glorious Kingdom that He will usher in one day.  All I can say is “Thank you, Jesus!”

                                          

[Editor’s Note:  In the “Ideas” part in this section for Chapter Five at the back of his book, Lucado challenges his readers to consider what we used to be like and how we felt before we knew Christ and accepted Him into our lives, and then what our lives became after we invited Christ into our lives.  He suggests making a list of the two sides, a “Before” and an “After” shot.  He provides some good examples for us.  I challenge my readers to look this chart over and then make a list.  You can use some of Lucado’s examples if they fit, but try to think of other features so you can reflect well on your true identity as it stands now by being “in Christ“.]

OLD

NEW

I was alone because of sinful choices.

I am complete in Christ.

I was accused and ashamed.

I am free from condemnation.

I was fearfully running from God’s purpose  for my life.

I am established and anointed.

I was lazy and unmotivated.

I am God’s co-worker.

I was harming my body with my actions.

I am God’s workmanship.

I was living without care or responsibility.

I am a royal priest in God’s eyes.

I was unethical.

I am honest and hard-working.

I was a bad parent.

I am a good, intentional parent.

I was feeling forsaken.

I am forgiven.

I was prone to wander.

I am a faithful spouse.

I was addicted.

I am dependent only on God.

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

Christian Compassion vs. Religious Criticism

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John 5:1 – 15

5  1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

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In this story which records for us how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, we get our first glimpse in John’s Gospel of the tension between Him and the Jewish authorities which ultimately led to His crucifixion.  In this event, we see the compassion that Jesus has for those who suffer.  On the other hand, we see the Jewish leaders lack of concern for the sufferer who had been healed as they criticize Jesus for breaking their religious rules and regulations.

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To more fully understand this story, let me first unpack some of the cultural and religious aspects that are going on here.  The story opens with Jesus leaving the province of Galilee and going up to Jerusalem.  (The city of Jerusalem is situated on the top of a mountain ridge, so almost all biblical writers talk about going “up” to get to Jerusalem.  There were three major Jewish festivals that occurred in a year that caused many thousands of Jews to come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate and worship God.)

We don’t know for sure which festival this was here in chapter five, but in any case, we see Jesus coming to attend, partly I think to fulfill the requirement to come to Jerusalem for this festival, but also I’m sure to continue doing God’s Kingdom work among His people.  What we do know from this text is that many sick and disease stricken people were also there lying beside a pool of water which was near one of the large entry gates into Jerusalem.

(The footnote in some versions, which is considered to be verse four, states that when the water was stirred up for some reason, the people believed that an angel had come down and was causing this and that by going into the water, a person could be healed.)

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So when Jesus entered the city, even though He would have been surrounded by thousands of people, His attention was immediately drawn toward this man who had been paralyzed for so many years.  Jesus went over to him and then asked him, “Do you want to be well?”  Now that might seem like a dumb question to ask a paralyzed man, but really, I think that Jesus was basically asking the man if he wanted Jesus to help him to be healed.

The man misunderstood Jesus, thinking He was offering to help him get down into the water once the water would begin to stir.  But Jesus was going to bypass the use of an intermediary agent and by His own authority He healed the man.  He then basically asked the man to trust His word by standing up (something he hadn’t done by himself in 38 years), picking up his mat and walking away with it.  When compassion and Divine Will come together, amazing and miraculous things happen.

But then religious ritualism reared its ugly head.  When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath (the day set apart to only worship God), they accused him of doing work on the Sabbath, which they proclaimed to be forbidden by God in their laws.  (In reality, this was their narrow human interpretation regarding this law which we know to be part of God’s “Ten Commandments”.

The problem is that the Jewish leaders were so zealous to observe religious rituals that they could not see the hand of God working in this man’s life.  They thought that “proper” human behaviour took precedence over the needs of the human soul which needed deliverance from the curse and bondage of extreme physical sickness and disease.

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We must all remember that God’s compassion extends itself to mankind in order to bring honour to Him and freedom to us to willingly return our love and submission back to Him.  Rules will never save a person from sin and bondage.  If that was true back then, it is still true for us today.  Let us now be careful not to impose religious ritualism on fellow believers in hopes to make them more “acceptable” to God.  God already accepts us just as we are, if we have turned to Him in faith.

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