God’s Kingdom Will Come

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 19

We now come to the last chapter in this great book of Max Lucado’s that we have been looking at throughout this year.  As we have gone through the book, we have learned much about God and how He is very interested in and involved in our lives today.  That fact alone is a great encouragement to us, knowing that God is with us, guiding and helping us as we go through the difficult stages and events of life.

But now we must ask ourselves about what to expect at the end of our lives.  For those who do not even believe that God exists, or that there is anything past this life, they have absolutely nothing to look forward to at the end of their lives.  And that is why they try so desperately to experience and enjoy all that they can now.

But that is not really a satisfying answer for many people.  And for those who do believe that there is some kind of afterlife, there is often the accompanying feeling of fear or worry because they have no certainty that they will be granted access to the eternal life of joy and happiness.  Even those who joke about the idea of going to Hell would tremble at the picture of what Hell is really like as portrayed in the Bible.

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Blaise Pascal was a famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician.  He came up with what is known as “Pascal’s Wager“.  He stated that if we had to bet on whether God exists or not, then the obvious (or rational) decision would be to say that God does exist.  For if we gamble and say yes, and it is true, then we will win with eternal consequences.

Thankfully, as I believe, we do not need to wager as to whether God exists or not.  I work from the point of the resurrection backwards.  If Jesus (whom all people now state that he did actually live and die in 1st century Palestine), actually did rise from the dead, then all the things that He taught and claimed to be true, must be true.

Now giving evidence that supports the resurrection is a whole other topic, but I also believe that there is sufficient strength of evidence and testimony to support this.  Perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on this topic was written by Frank Morison called “Who Moved The Stone?”  Suffice it to say again, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then all that He taught about this life and the next life to come must be listened to as credible.

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And this brings us to the topic that Lucado writes about in chapter 10 of his book, namely that there is going to be a day when God will wrap up things here on earth and will usher in His eternal Kingdom.  This is really big news! And the Bible tells us that this will not be quiet or hidden like the first time that Jesus came to earth.  Mark 13:26 says, “Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.

Jesus also talked about how His coming would be like lightning as it streaks across the sky.  Everyone is going to see this great event when Jesus comes back again.  But please note this, that great event will not be received the same way by everyone.  This is what Lucado says on page 158:

“There will be one monumental difference.  Some people will continue the confession they began on earth.  They will crown Christ again, gladly.  Others will crown him for the first time.  They will do so sadly.  They denied Christ on earth, so He will deny them in heaven.”

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 There is perhaps one aspect about the “Kingdom of Heaven” that some people sadly misunderstand.  There are many people who want to be included in God’s Kingdom, and many who believe that they are in fact going to be enjoying the rich blessings of heaven.  But if they have not made the King of the kingdom also the King of their lives here and now, then it will be too late when Christ returns to take His people back home to be with Him and the Father forever.

It is really quite heartbreaking to know that people all around us are unaware of the danger that is coming if they are not prepared to meet with God.  Matthew 24:37-39 puts it this way:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

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But for those who have accepted Christ into their hearts and made Him the Lord of their lives, this future day (which may not be too far away any more) will be the greatest day ever in all of history.  No matter how difficult life may have been here while on earth, the eternal life of God’s presence and His blessings for those who have faithfully loved Him and His Son will greatly outweigh all that has been so painful to bear in this life.

Let me close with a beautiful quote from Lucado on page 159:

“Let this sink in.  You will see the face of God.  You will look into the eyes of the One who has always seen; you will behold the mouth that commands history.  And if there is anything more amazing than the moment you see his face, it’s the moment he touches yours.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes”  (Revelation 21:4)

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

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The Truth Will Set You Free

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John 8:31 – 38

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

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As we begin to look at our passage above, we must remember that this portion is one small part of a larger section.  To find the extent of the larger context, we would have to go back to chapter 7 beginning with verse 14 when Jesus first stands up in the middle of the Temple courtyards and starts to teach the people during the Festival of Tabernacles.

This festival was also known as “The Feast of Lights” as people lit torches and lived in tents to remember God’s protection and providence during the time of living as nomads for the forty years as they wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus used this background and in the early part of chapter 8, He declared, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus’ message is not received by the religious leaders, as we saw in chapter 7.  When Jesus turns and teaches further in chapter 8, it is now to the common Jews whom He was speaking to.  He challenged His audience in verse 24 to believe in Him, or they would die in their sins.  And we see in verse 30, that “many who heard Him say these things believed in Him.”

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Now in verse 31, Jesus turned to those who believed in Him and He extended a challenge to all of them.  Notice how He says, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.”  This statement implies that there was a difference at that time between “those who believed in Him” and a “disciple”.  That causes me to ask the question, “What is it within this context that the people believed? And why did that not automatically make them a disciple of Jesus?”

I believe if we are very careful to understand the whole flow of these two chapters in John, what Jesus first presents to people is His claim to be God, the “I AM” of Exodus 6:2-3, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to save His people.  That is an important truth statement which must first be accepted for someone to start on the path to discipleship.

But accepting this truth statement only without a change in one’s being and behaviour is not enough.  Look at what James 2:19 says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  We all must go one step further to becoming a disciple of Jesus: we must “be faithful to His teachings”.  This means that we will not only seek to understand what Jesus tells us, but we will put into practice what He is telling us to do.

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All this will help us to understand properly the famous saying of Jesus in verse 32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The biblical word here for “know” does not mean just to have knowledge about a certain fact, but to be fully engaged in doing that which we know to be true.  It is the difference between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge.  And it is the daily experience of having Jesus active within our lives that keeps us safe from the grip of sin that we once were experiencing.

Unfortunately the Jewish people do not understand that Jesus is talking about this experiential knowledge of truth that would keep them free from the power that sin has on people.  Ironically, they say they had never been slaves to anyone, when in fact, they were being dominated by all the forces of Rome in that day.

Instead, the Jews looked backwards to their bloodline inheritance of being descendants of Abraham to save them from their sin.  This is still a fallacy for people today.  They say they were “born into a Christian family”, and that automatically makes them a Christian.  But as some people jokingly say, “Well, if someone was born in a barn, would that make them a horse?”  Of course not.

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You see, what it really comes down to is this: if we want to truly be a disciple of Jesus, then we must not put our trust in some external factor, such as lineage, inheritance, rituals or behaviours.  We must look to the inner person of our soul and find out if we have submitted ourselves in obedience to make Jesus Lord of our lives.

The “truth that sets us free” is not mental assent that Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh.  Rather, it is the experiential knowledge that Jesus is Lord, and this can only be obtained by submitting in obedience to Him in our lives.  Then, and only then, will we be truly set free from bondage to sin.

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

First Exciting Months On The Mission Field

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[Editor’s Note: It is always exciting to go to another country and experience the richness of a new culture and a new language spoken around you.  Below is a portion of a newsletter that was written by some friends of mine with Pioneer Bible Translators back in August of 2010.  Try to picture yourself being with them as they discover new things, strange things, and maybe a few things to be worried about.]

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6 Months…

Wow! We have already been here six months . As we reflect on our time here we can definitely say that we are truly blessed. God has provided for all of our needs and even some of our wants. Sometimes as we live day to day, it is easy to overlook just how far God has brought us since arriving in February.

We have settled into our home here and into somewhat of a routine. We are now more than 2/3 through our formal language study and are gaining more confidence with each passing week. God has blessed us with new friends both expats and nationals and we have been able to strengthen some of the friendships which began while we were in Texas.

None of what has happened in our lives during the past 6 months would be possible without an awesome and faithful God and wonderful and faithful supporters like all of you. Praise be to God and many thanks to you for your prayers for us and our ministry.

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A Volcano

About 30 kilometers north of the city that we live in is an active volcano. The last time it erupted was about 27 years ago. Now it is a popular place for tourists to visit. You can hike or ride up to the top of the mountain and view the crater.

This month we had the opportunity to visit and experience some pretty amazing sights. The thought that kept running through my mind was, ’God is so cool!’ I am sharing a few pictures but they really do not compare with the beauty of God’s creation. Oh, and the (not so pleasant) sulfur smell could be very strong at times as well.

We spent the day with some friends sightseeing and hiking around the mountain. The weather was cool at the top of the crater and the hiking was extremely pleasant. Although somewhat scared, I even enjoyed looking over edges where there was either no railing or a railing made of bamboo or walking across a bridge constructed out of bamboo and rope that looked like thick yarn (not bad for an acrophobic!).

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Independence Day

Independence Day was celebrated this month but we were told that this year was not typical. Usually there are neighborhood parties, games, food and lots of excitement. This year we were told it was much quieter than normal because of fasting month. People of the majority religion (about 85% of the population) do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. So this puts a damper on celebrations because people have much less energy.

Last weekend however our church held a small gathering in honor of Independence Day. After worship service we listened to the children sing songs, joined in playing some traditional games and had a lot of fun.

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Cultural Corner

There are many things to get used to in a new culture. We will share some of the things we are learning about the culture here.

In the area where we live it is not polite to point to things or to point at people with your finger. There are several ways to indicate what you are referring to without pointing your finger. You can move or nod your head in that direction, use your elbow or simply use your thumb (which is our favorite). This does take some getting used to.

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Neighborhood Noises . .

In the neighborhoods here you can buy many things right in front of your house if you want. There are vendors that walk, ride bikes, motorcycles or trucks, push carts, or carry large items who roam the streets daily selling their goods. Each will have a certain sound that after a few months becomes very familiar. Some will play or sing a jingle, others will bang on hollow bamboo with a stick or tap on a plate or bowl with a spoon and some will repeat a phrase over and over again.

At first the sounds in the neighborhood were a little hard to get used to. Five times a day we hear loudspeakers that call the people to pray and several times a week speaking is also broadcasted. During the night there are security guards in the area that will bang on the metal street lamp poles as they make there rounds. This usually begins around 10:30 pm. Now all these sounds are becoming normal and at times even welcome (like when we need bread).

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[Editor’s Note: Cultural anthropologists and psychologists will say that the first few weeks to about the six month mark for a person in a new cross-cultural experience will be exciting and even euphoric.  This is called the “Honeymoon Stage”.  But at some point the newness wears off and it becomes difficult to work in the foreign environment.  During this time, a person can get depressed or even hostile.

If the person stays long enough, they may go through a period of resignation, where they function in the culture, but they lack joy.  Hopefully, the person will stay long enough to be able to adapt and integrate joyfully into the local culture and world around them.  This couple who wrote this newsletter has reached the last stage of cultural adaptation.  But please pray for any missionary you might know who may be struggling and has not reached that final stage yet.]

God Promises All Things Work For Good – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 18

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 9: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
ALL THINGS WORK FOR GOOD

Question #1: In what kind of circumstances is it difficult for people to see “all things” as working together for the good of those who love him?  (See Romans 8:28)

There is no doubt that it is difficult for any person to see good in an event that we would classify as “tragic” or where great suffering is involved.  There is a quote that still haunts me from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies.  When King Theoden mourns at the side of his son’s grave, he says to Gandalf, “No parent should have to bury their child.”  I can truly empathize with Theoden as my wife and I buried our stillborn daughter (29 weeks in).  And then we feared for the life of our 12 year-old son who battled leukemia.

It can be very easy, and trite, for someone to say, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”  Even though this old religious saying is ultimately true, it does little to comfort those who have lost a loved one.  And this is especially true, the younger the age of the one who has died.  So it is quite natural for people to feel anger towards God when they see no good reason for that death.

And yet I have seen in our life, and in the lives of others, what a tremendous impact it has on people when we rise up in these moments of despair and still hold on to the promises of the Bible that God is a good and loving God.  One verse that has meant so much to me is Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him.”  I believe that one day I will see my daughter again, and because all my children have a strong faith in Jesus, I know we will all live with God forever in a world where there will never be any more pain or sorrow.  (See Revelation 21:4)

Question #3: Which of your life experiences of privileges is God using, as He did with Paul, to His advantage?  How are you uniquely able to do what others may not be able to do?

Paul talked about having a “thorn in his flesh”.  Some say that was a spiritual temptation that he could not overcome.  But most believe that it was some physical ailment or condition that he sought healing for, but God chose not to heal him.  No matter what it was, God was still able to use Paul in great ways to advance the work of God and tell others about Christ.

Now I know that I cannot be compared to Paul, but I can empathize with him with regards to having a physical limitation.  For four years now I have lived with the challenge of the genetic muscle disease that has limited my mobility and causes me great pain.  (By faith though, I am believing that God is in the process of healing me, and I have seen some great positive progress in the past few months since some churches prayed with me and over me for healing.)

But these four years have not been easy.  And yet, I have seen God work through me to bless others in ways that I do not think would have been possible if I had been healthy.  When I travel over to Papua New Guinea to do the Bible translation consulting work, people are amazed at what gets accomplished on these trips.  I tell everyone that is is by the grace and strength of God that I can do what I do.

And then when I started this devotional blog site two years ago in November 2010, I had no idea that so many people would come to the site and read the stories.  In 22 months, there have been over 22,000 visits to this site.  Praise God!!  And I love how my wife Jill describes this work that I do propped up in my easy chair with my  laptop in front of me.  She calls this my “Armchair Ministry” to the world.  And for that, I am very grateful to God.

Question #4: How would you like God to sift and stir the difficult situations you see around you into a well-prepared ending to the story?  Describe the preferred future you would like to see in these situations.

This is a hard one.  I really am reluctant to paint a picture that I then turn around and expect God to fulfill it for me.  I have learned so much in these last four years to simply take one day, one week, and one month at a time.  In many ways, that has released me from worrying about the future.

But there is still part of me that is quite human, and I do have a couple of things that I talk to God about from time to time.  I do pray for my own healing and believe He is in the process of doing that.  I would have to say that I yearn at times to be able to walk and run like I used to.

But even if that doesn’t completely happen here, I know I will be running again when I get to heaven.  The other thing that Jill and I talk about frequently is the idea of being able to return to living overseas in Papua New Guinea again full-time.  This one too is possible, but we leave this also in God’s hands.

* [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.

We Must Put Our Faith In Jesus

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John 8:21 – 30

21 Jesus also told them, “I am going away, and you will look for me. But you cannot go where I am going, and you will die with your sins unforgiven.”

22 The Jewish leaders asked, “Does he intend to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying we cannot go where he is going?” 23 Jesus answered, “You are from below, but I am from above. You belong to this world, but I don’t. 24 That is why I said you will die with your sins unforgiven. If you don’t have faith in me for who I am, you will die, and your sins will not be forgiven.”

25 “Who are you?” they asked Jesus. Jesus answered, “I am exactly who I told you at the beginning. 26 There is a lot more I could say to condemn you. But the one who sent me is truthful, and I tell the people of this world only what I have heard from him.” 27 No one understood that Jesus was talking to them about the Father.

28 Jesus went on to say, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know who I am. You will also know that I don’t do anything on my own. I say only what my Father taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me. I always do what pleases him, and he will never leave me.” 30 After Jesus said this, many of the people put their faith in him.

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In our study of the Gospel of John, we have seen many times that people were having trouble understanding what exactly Jesus meant by some of His teachings.  Certainly the religious leaders had no idea who Jesus really was, for if they had, then they would have gladly welcomed Him as their long awaited Messiah, the One who would bring salvation to the Jewish people.

But the people who lived at the same time that Jesus lived among men could not fathom these truths either.  So when Jesus talked about His Father, the people wondered about Joseph and Mary and the rest of His family.  When He talked about going where they could not follow Him, the Pharisees thought He was going to teach Jews in some other countries.  And the people in this passage thought maybe He was going to kill Himself.

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And so Jesus tried His best in this passage to help clear up this misunderstanding among the people.  He tried to reveal to them His true origin and His true identity.  Although still in veiled speech, Jesus made a powerful statement in verse 23.  To get the full impact of this verse, allow me to give you the literal translation of the Greek of this verse into English.  It would go like this:

“You, of the things below you are; I, of the things above I am.
You, of this world you are; I, not I am of this world.”

Although written in Greek, much of the New Testament clearly shows us how much the Semitic Hebrew language and way of thinking affected the way their expressed themselves in their Greek writing.  What we have here from Jesus is an excellent example of Semitic Old Testament style of writing called parallelism.  Parallelism usually has two lines of thought that closely parallel each other.

In verse 23, there are four distinct parts which we will label 1a and 1b, 2a and 2b.  The second line elements usually expand or explain the meaning of the first line.  Or, the second line will be a sharp contrast to the meaning of line one.  Look closely what we have here.  We clearly have an expansion of 1a in 2a: “You are of the things below / You are of this world.”  So we are surprised when 2b is not also an expansion of 1b, “I am of the things above / I, not I am of this world.

In terms of Semitic thinking, Jesus is making a HUGE statement here.  In a literary way, He does this by switching from expansion (2a) to sharp contrast (2b).  And notice how in 2b that Jesus moves the verb from final position to a more fronted position to really give His sentence emphasis, “I, not I am of this world.”   Jesus is part of the Divine Trinity and His place of origin is Heaven.  And the Greek work order and Semitic parallelism are blasting out this message to the people.

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Finally then, Jesus speaks out clearly in verse 24 regarding who He is, and how important it is to believe in who He is.  Understanding now that verse 23 is speaking of Jesus’ divine nature, it makes it easier to accept it when He says, “You will die with your sins unforgiven.”  The clear reason is then given, “If you don’t have faith in me for who I am, you will die, and your sins will not be forgiven.

But we can flip this coin over and say with confidence, “Any person who DOES have faith in Jesus for who He really is, that person will not die and his/her sins will be forgiven.”  There is more we need to say about this, especially with regards to the Greek phrases “I am” which will come up again in verse 58.  Suffice it to say, it is still very important today that we must put our faith in Jesus if we want our sins forgiven, and if we hope to live with God in Heaven forever.

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

God’s Rainbow Colored Children

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God’s Rainbow Colored Children

[Editor’s Note: The story below was written in 2010 by one of our missionaries who works with Pioneer Bible Translators while living and working in an unstable area in North Africa.]

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“A few months ago, before the rains had graced us with their presence, we took our 500 liter tank to a nearby borehole one morning to fill up with water. While my husband worked the hose and pump, I sat in the shade across the road and chatted with a handful of curious neighborhood kids who had gathered around. It didn’t take long for their initial shyness to wear off and I was soon engaged in an Arabic ver-sion of 20 Questions.

About half a dozen six-year olds jumped on the opportunity to ask me everything they had ever wondered about ‘khawajas’ (referring to us as western white people). Though some questions were hilarious (“Does your husband sleep in that little car?”) others were more endearing. “Where is your baby?” they asked. “I don’t have a baby.” I replied.

They pondered the plausibility of this response for a moment then one piped up. “Well, when you do have babies, do you want black ones like me or red ones like you?” That afternoon I stifled laughter and truthfully told them I would be happy with whatever kind of baby God chooses to give us – red, yellow, black or white.”

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“Today I am still smiling as I wonder about the colors God is knitting together inside of me now. We were so honored and thankful to find out we are pregnant a few weeks ago. We have been praying for God’s grace and wisdom in this matter for many months now and we feel like He has answered our prayers. We are so excited about the many ways we believe this new life will prove to be such a rich blessing. We are eager to learn more about unconditional love and to grow in the knowledge “that life is simple after all”, as one wise friend described parenthood.

We are looking forward to yet another reason to learn to trust more fully and freely in God. We are excited to see how a baby will draw us into more authentic relationships with parents and families here in North Africa. And we are joyfully anticipating meeting this new person and witnessing the incredible ways he or she will be shaped by the experiences, peoples and languages of this place over the years to come.

Our deep hope is that this pregnancy will be a testimony to the faithfulness of God and bring Him great glory in the months and years ahead. We are not without trepidation as we enter unknown territory yet again, but we are filled with peace and the memories of God’s faithfulness demonstrated over and over again in our lives. Please join us in prayer throughout the months ahead as we anticipate the arrival of the newest member of our team.”

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In the following year, on April 16, this couple was blessed by God to have a beautiful baby girl born to them while living in East Africa.  The unstable elements of North Africa exploded wide open which resulted in many people, including all of our PBT missionaries, needing to evacuate to another country in Africa.  No doubt there was sorrow in having to leave newly made friends, and also some fear as battles raged closer to where they lived.  But for this couple, there was joy at the end as they welcomed their newborn daughter into their lives.

Thankfully, it has not been very often that our missionary families have had to evacuate their homes and flee out of country due to civil unrest or outbreaks of violence.  One of the questions that many people have asked our family has been, “Was it safe for you to live by yourselves in that remote village in Papua New Guinea?”  We quickly responded that we always felt safe.  And whenever there was even the hint of trouble coming our way, we would have some of our men from the village patrol around our house throughout the night to make sure no harm ever came to us.

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What caught my attention in the story told above was the comment from the one child about how there are some babies who are “black” and some are “red”.  The children see there is a difference in the color of the skin, but in reality, they do not see any difference between the actual person of the child, they are all babies sent by the hand of God into our lives.

I have a couple of cute stories to tell which point out how wonderfully innocent children can be in their perspectives, and also how wonderfully creative our God is in how He has made us all.  One day in the village we asked our older son to go get our younger son who was playing at the end of the grass airstrip.  There were a bunch of kids playing down there, and so our son said, “How can I tell which one is Glen?”  We laughed as we pointed and told him, “Glen is the one with blond hair!”

The other cute story comes from another missionary family who were back home in the States to visit family, friends and churches.  They brought out photo albums of their time in Papua New Guinea.  When the young boy of this family showed pictures of his friends to others (some Papuan and some American) he would say, “Now these are my chocolate friends, and these are my vanilla friends.”  God bless our children who have such love and acceptance of others, no matter where they were originally born.

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