God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief

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Mark 9:22b-24

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he answered.  “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Everyone struggles with doubt and some level of unbelief.  No matter how strong our faith may seem, there will always be moments when we have our faith challenged and we seem a little shaky in believing for the best.  Sometimes it feels like we are believing for the impossible.  Don’t despair though, this is exactly where God excels.

The context of this story here in Mark 9 is that there was a father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that caused the boy to throw himself into fire or into water to injure himself.  The disciples of Jesus had not been able to heal the boy, and so the father turned to Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus could heal the boy.

The man had faith and believed that healing was possible for his son.  But his faith had been shaken when the disciples could not heal the boy.  Jesus’ challenge was that we who believe must hold strong on to this belief.  Even when we do not see the immediate results of our prayer and faith, we are still challenged to stand strong and believe.

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I can identify with this story considering what has happened to me this past month.  Exactly four weeks ago, I was boarding the first of four flights that would take me from Madang, Papua New Guinea all the way back to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  One day I was still serving the Lord doing my Bible translation work, and the next moment I was flying to Canada to get laser surgery to fix a retinal tear in my right eye.

Now my faith has always been there believing that God is with me no matter what the circumstances are, that He will take care of me, and that He will bring good out of every situation for those who love Him.  (see Romans 8:28)  And so I trusted God that He would work things out as I left PNG on this medical emergency.

And God did take care of me.  In an amazing 52 hour journey from PNG to Canada, I was given such good treatment all the way, made all the connections, and had an incredible amount of energy that sustained me through the trip.  That alone was like a miracle to me, since for the past five years that I have battled with a muscle disease I have not had the stamina to travel far without needing to get rest.

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The next incredible part of this journey was this: after I landed in Calgary, my family picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to the hospital with the eye clinic and within four hours I was seen and scheduled for laser surgery by the city’s top retinal doctor for the following morning.

Then came the hard moments, both physically and spiritually for me.  The first laser surgery was blinding, painful (when the laser burnt some nerve endings), and not conclusive.  This led to a second surgery.  This time the doctor opted to go in the other direction and used the freezing method, not the laser surgery to seal the tear.

This second procedure is called cryopexy.  The doctor had a hand device that was connected by a tube to a tank of nitric oxide.  On the other end of the hand tool was a long metal probe.  The procedure was to insert the metal probe around the side of the eyeball and get to the retina from the backside and use the freezing gas to seal up the retinal tear from behind.

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Needless to say, this second procedure was extremely painful.  (Imagine getting a fat needle poked around behind your eyeball, then afterwards the gas gives you a “slurpie brain-freeze”.)  I was sure that this would take care of everything.  The doctor told us to visit in a week for a follow-up, and we began thinking, “Maybe I can go back right away to PNG and continue my ministry work there.”  But to our surprise, the doctor said it still wasn’t complete and I immediately got a third surgery, this one being again a laser surgery.

When the doctor said he hoped this would take care of it all, but he was worried about an artery that was crossing the tear which might mean an invasive surgery to remove the artery, we didn’t know what to think.  And for two weeks, we wrestled with this question, “Do I believe that the surgeries are finished, or will the situation continue to get worse.”

We were just like this father who had said so long ago, “I believe.  But God, help my unbelief!”  We prayed and prayed and asked many others to pray too.  And then we left it in God’s hands.  We went in yesterday to see the doctor.  He carefully examined the retina.  And then with a broad smile he said, “I got that pinned down really good, didn’t I!”  Oh what a relief to hear those words.

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As I reflect on the mental and spiritual battle I went through, I knew that my mind was playing all kinds of mental tricks on me which fought against my faith.  But my heart believed, ultimately, that God would see me through this positively.  And even if it had meant a fourth surgery, my God had never changed from being my God who loves me.

I know He would have brought me through and restored my eye no matter how many surgeries it would take.  And I believed that God would allow me to return again to PNG (in His timing of course).  And so this is now our prayer and belief that by the end of September I will be in PNG continuing to do my ministry for God there.  I invite you to stand in faith with us and also believe.

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 4

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Previously, I mentioned that from an early age I felt a strong sense that I would be involved in mission work.  (Read it here.)  At the beginning of this series, someone asked me how I dealt with discouragement, realizing that it took me 20 years until I became a Bible translator in PNG.  Putting it that way, it does sound rather discouraging.

And yet I believe that God was working within me to prepare me for all that I would do for Him in the future.  Even bad choice I believe can come around to be important building blocks in our life-long goal of becoming godly.  But you must believe that God is with you, and will not abandon you as you search for the path of life that is best suited for you.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, as Moses was approaching his death, he gave instructions to Joshua who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Despite the obstacles, the fortified cities and fierce armies to fight, Moses said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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Let me now reflect on a few decisions that I made when I was 18 and 19.  I had finished one year of studies at University, and even though I pursued some courses which could lead me towards Bible translation work, I was quite discouraged by the extreme humanism that was being taught.  Even though I had won four different scholarships that would have paid for my four years of University, I didn’t have the heart or passion to continue those courses.

Instead, I went after an idea I’d heard in the previous summer.  There is a mission group called “Teen Missions, Int’l” and they accepted youth from 13 to 21 years old, to go to their Florida “Boot Camp” training to learn how to be a teen missionary.  Now that sounded exactly like what I was interested in.

So I applied to go on the team that would help build block houses for a mission down in Brazil, just off of the Amazon River.  WOW!!  What a fabulous experience that was for me.  And when I got back to Florida at the end of the summer, I decided to stay with the mission for four more months to join a young adult “Travel Team” that would visit churches and Bible schools all over the country to promote the mission.

Teen Missions

That summer and fall of 1979, I felt like I was in Heaven on earth.  I got to follow my dream of doing overseas mission work.  I realized that I had just thrown away three years of free tuition at University.  But I decided that following after God and the passion of my heart over-ruled a possibly wise choice to finish a university degree.

At the end of my six-month mission experience the mission leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to join on staff with them as part of a year-long “Staff Travel Team”.  I immediately jumped at that chance.  There were six others who also accepted this invitation, and after a brief orientation, we toured through much of the United States.  We became Assistant Leaders to teams the next year, and I went to help lead a team of teens to build a mission hospital wing in the interior of Honduras.

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Now all this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  But let me share the difficult side of this experience.  It surprised me that I found I was missing home and my family.  I had been going on “adventures” and doing travel around North America on my own for some time already.  But being away from home for another year, and going all the way to Honduras in July/August, and then to Scotland in November, made me feel the distance from home.

What compounded this was the fact that our Travel Team of seven young adults (from age 18 to 24) had a tremendously hard time getting along with each other.  We seemed to argue about things all the time.  I had never dealt well with tense relationships, so I felt even lonelier and cut off from my family and people back home.  I remember crying on the phone and saying I wanted to come home.

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It was at my lowest moments that God reminded me of the things that were most important.  First, He showed me in a variety of ways that He truly loved me and would be with me through this experience, just like He had been with Joshua.  Secondly, He reminded me that what I was doing was very important work for Him, which included what was going on inside of me.  I turned to God more in prayer, and I was building character through a tough time.

God also would remind me of how incredible it was that I was on this Staff Travel Team.  As a Canadian, I had to enter back into America and be allowed by U.S. Customs to stay for six months to be with this team.  But at the airport in Calgary, I was detained for almost an hour and a half answering all kinds of questions to try to prove that I was not coming into the country illegally, or that I would work at a job while there.

One Supervisor, “I wouldn’t let this guy through, but that is up to you.”  The man I talked to flipped through two six-inch Immigration Rules and Policies books to find all the reasons why I shouldn’t go through.  But suddenly an odd expression came over the man’s face, he closed those big books, and then said, “Oh go on, get out of here.”  I literally ran all the way to the airplane and got on just as they were closing the door.  So why was I on that Travel Team?  Because God wanted me there.

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 3

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I ended the last article by saying, “It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.”  This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Christian way of life for many believers today.  Our western culture has taught us how to be “independent”, “self-sufficient” and “successful”, which has at its core the fundamental belief that we can accomplish anything we want to in our own strength if we will put our minds to it.

The problem with this is that we usually leave God out of the situation, until something goes terribly wrong and then we look to God to “fix it”.  No wonder people today are over-worked, stressed out and living with high levels of anxiety, and/or guilt.  Mankind has never been able to control the world around him.  That was certainly true in past centuries, but even in our modern day we can never be fully prepared for the sudden loss of a loved one through death, an abrupt change in our economy, a fractured relationship with someone else we care about, or a myriad of other crises that can hit us at any time.

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It’s at this very point that we ought to be turning to God.  But this doesn’t mean that we are to look to God like He is a giant ‘band-aid” who treats our “owwies” when we feel hurt, or a genie in a bottle that will do anything we ask of him when we rub His magic lamp.  No, we are to come to God and trust that He really is the Author of all we can see, and that just as He takes good care to hold the Universe together, we trust that we can put our lives in His hands, and He will watch over our lives as well.

So when I feel discouraged in life and wonder what it is that I am doing now and what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, I remember the words of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Many Christians know this verse and understand that it is as we read the Bible and come to be more familiar with God’s Word that God will help to direct us in our daily lives.  That is exactly right, but there is so much more in this verse.

I’ve had the privilege to work for five years in a remote jungle area of Papua New Guinea.  It was during these years that I really truly understood the words of Psalm 119:05.  There were a number of times that I had to walk down a jungle trail after sunset and only had a small kerosene  oil lamp or a weak flashlight to light the path in front of me.  I literally could only see a few feet ahead of me, and even less could I see behind me.

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Try to imagine what that is like for a minute.  You are absolutely and totally surrounded by pitch black darkness.  If we put our lights or lamps out, I could not see my own hand even if I put it in front of my face.  So that small amount of light from my oil lamp or my mostly dead battery flashlight was my only hope for finding the path forward to take me back to my home village.

Now I could have let my fear of the dark, that fear of the unknown beyond my little cone of light, immobilize me there and stop me dead in my tracks.  All I really knew was that it was safe for about three feet in front of me.  I believed though, that there was a safe passage out there in that darkness ahead, even though I could not see it.  So what did I do?  I took one step forward.

And guess what I saw?  As I took a step forward, I was able to see a couple more feet in front of me.  It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to keep me safe from making a step in the wrong direction.  And every time I kept taking one step forward, I saw more of the path in front of me and the closer I knew I would be to my destination.

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That I believe is how we are to manage the decisions in our lives.  We are not God, and will never be able to see the “whole picture”.  But we almost always know and can see just enough ahead, that we can dare to take a step forward in one direction.  Psalm 119:105 tells us that it is God’s Word that will help reveal to us what steps and what direction to take.

Therefore, it is an act of faith for us to put our lives into God’s hands, trusting that He will guide us step-by-step that will help us to overcome the obstacles of life and to find the direction we need as we make our choices in life.  But remember too, that it is as we read and study God’s Word that we can best get our bearings in life and be steered clearly in making good and wise choices.

In further articles, I would like to share with you some of the decisions and cross-roads that I encountered as I grew up.  I can’t say that I always made the best decision.  But no decision can sometimes be worse than a bad decision.  At least we can try to learn something after making a bad decision.  Keep reading these articles then and see how my faith in God and my life decisions all turned out.  See you in the next article of this series.

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 2

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“Would you be willing to share with us some of your story of the difficulties you had on the journey to PNG, the doubts or discouragements that came up in those years? How did you keep “the big picture” in view while being a pastor, a youth leader, a “regular employee”, a student for years in different cities? How did you deal with having that dream interrupted when you came back to Canada?”

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This paragraph was posted on the top of Part 1 of this short series on “Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith.”  It would be wonderful if I could just say to others who are facing disappointments and discouragements in life to “just believe”, and have everything turn out alright.  But I have lived long enough and been through enough experiences of life to know that everything does not always work out alright, or should I say, the way we had first wanted things to turn out.

And even as I say that, I think I am partly able to answer the questions being asked above.  There is nothing wrong with a person having a dream of how their life will turn out.  I believe that we were built this way, and part of us dies when we allow our dreams to die.  There is a verse in the Bible that I think is helpful, but can be misunderstood.  Proverbs 29:18a says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (King James Version)

Some speakers have made a lot out of this verse.  They will say, “You need to have a BIG idea.  You need to have a “dream” for your life.  You need to have a goal, a sense of purpose, something that will be your driving force.  And if you don’t have that, then your life will be doomed for failure.  So figure out what you want to do with your life and get out there and do it.

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Now I suppose I am over dramatizing this viewpoint a bit, but maybe not for some people.  I do think there are some young people out there today who think that if they don’t have the direction and the vocation of their life figured out by the time they are 24, then there is something wrong with them and they will probably end up wandering aimlessly about in life.

First of all, let me correct the idea above of what Proverbs 29:18 actually says.  To do this, it would be best for me to show how other English translations of this verse have handled the Hebrew.  Compare the following:

NIV:  “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

TEV:  “A nation without God’s guidance is a nation without order. Happy are those who keep God’s law!

NLT:  “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy.

It is not hard now to see the common thread here.  Whenever people are unwilling to look to God and listen to His divine guidance for their lives, that is when they will run into all kinds of problems in life and end up running around aimlessly, and without purpose and meaning.  To counter this, one needs to get into God’s Law (the Bible) and see what He has to say about how to live one’s life.

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Therefore, when I say “have faith” and mean by this that things will turn our alright, we need to define what (or whom) we have faith in.  Proverbs 3:5-6 helps us to properly define the content or object of our faith.  It says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

So it really is not left up to us to have to “figure it all out” when we are young.  If we have made the decision to trust God with our lives, then the Bible tells us that He will help us by directing us in making these important decisions of life.  We have to get this one thing straight first, who is really in control of our lives, us… or God?

If the answer is God, then we can properly understand and be encouraged by a couple of other key Bible verses.  Take Psalms 37:4 for one, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”   When God is truly first in our lives, then we will be so in tune with God that His desires will become our desires, and God will inevitably fulfill the desires of our hearts, for they are the same as His.  This protects us from the danger of reading into this verse that God is obligated to give us whatever selfish desires we may have in our hearts.

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This leads us to one final verse that I want to look at in this article.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  This is such a powerful verse, and I think one of the verses of the Bible that helps me the most to be able to deal with disappointments and discouragements in life.

There is no question that bad things do happen in life, and that not everything works out exactly the way we had hoped.  Sometimes, not even close to what we hoped for.  But God is promising us in this verse that He can take any situation in life, no matter how bad, and bring good out of that situation.  It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.  More on this in the next article.

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Beginning Challenges of Cross-Cultural Ministry

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[Editor’s Note: A young couple with two young children (one 2 years old and one just 6 months old) began their first term as missionaries in East Africa in June of last year. After their first four months on the field, the wife wrote an article in their newsletter that speaks of the challenges she faced and why she continues to be willing to face them.]

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My Life as a Big Baby

People learn to bloom where they are planted. I grew up in America, so I learned most of the important skills for living there. I can boil spaghetti as well as the next person. I can drive in Dallas rush-hour traffic while eating a cheeseburger. I have learned how to write a good term paper, how to find a bargain on quality children’s clothing, and how to use the internet to expedite nearly every facet of my life.

But now I live in East Africa, and the three-year-old next door knows more about how to survive here than I do. I scorch the beans and let the milk boil over. I don’t know how to wash my clothes when the electricity goes out. I can’t drive myself to the grocery store.

I don’t know the names of the trees in my own yard, and I had no idea that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant. I’m reminded of the little farm girl in the movie version of Love Comes Softly, who asks her citified stepmother, “How’d you get to be so old without knowin’ how to do nothin’?”

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I speak like a toddler, with halts and mistakes and frustration at not being able to explain myself or ask a simple question. Many times I want to tell a story from my childhood or make a joke or just explain that the reason I’m cranky is because I miss my family. But like a child in the throes of the terrible twos, I don’t have the words to say what I mean, and I’m reduced to awkward silence in order to avoid bursting into culturally inappropriate tears.

It is a humbling experience to find myself in a world different from the one I have always known. I grew up in a charmed place where clean water flows from every faucet, public restrooms exist, we have entire retail chains devoted to pet supplies and baby care gadgets, and the amount of food that we throw away is more than enough to feed every hungry person in the world.

I have thrown away half a casserole before just because I had so many other things to eat that it lost its appeal before I had a chance to eat it. That thought actually brings tears to my eyes now. I have been padded and protected from the realities of life. I have learned to bloom in a greenhouse, but I know nothing about how to sink my roots deep to find water, push my way up through the weeds, and stretch my leaves high for my share of sunlight.

(And lest you feel sorry for me in my exotic plight, I confess that even here I am still sheltered from the hardships of life. I live in relative luxury, and I stand in awe of the strength and grace of the people around me.)

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But Christ did the same for me. He left his blissful home and the perfectly comfortable relationship with the Father that he had known for all of eternity. He came to live in a sweaty, thirsty, unsafe place. His new friends didn’t “get” him, no one appreciated what he was giving up, and the demands placed on him were overwhelming. He was willing to look awkward, to be misunderstood and even victimized in order to reach his long-term goal.

We aspire to have a small piece in that same work. Whether or not we succeed in our translation endeavors, I hope our willingness to be overgrown babies in this culture will show our neighbors that we are here because the love of Christ – both his love for us and his love for them – compels us.

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This story reminds us that we who have grown up in highly developed countries are rich beyond comparison to most of the rest of the world.  But our greatest treasure is not some material object or privileged status in the world.  No, our greatest treasure is the knowledge and the faith we hold that Jesus crossed the greatest cultural barrier by leaving His place in Heaven and coming to live among mankind.

This is a treasure that is available to every man, woman and child on the earth, because the love of God is no respecter of person, He loves every person on earth equally.  But to get this message of hope and love to people, some of us may have to go like this young couple and cross geographical and linguistic boundaries to share this message.

It’s not easy to live and work cross-culturally.  It can be downright frustrating and often times humiliating as was shown in the story above.  And yet it is all worth it.  When we do find the right words, in a language that the people do understand, so many times their faces light up to know that God has not forgotten them.  Knowing that Jesus came to die for them and grant them God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life is life steams of living water bursting forth in the middle of a great desert.  What a privilege and an honor it is to serve people in this way as an ambassador of God.

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The Lord Will Get Me To Papua New Guinea

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We Make Plans – God Has Different Plans

I felt so sure that once I got on the plane in Calgary, that everything would go smoothly until I reached my destination of Madang, Papua New Guinea.  Who would have guessed that a) the flight crew were late coming in from Vancouver to start up our plane; b) that a snow storm would happen the moment we sat down in the plane (which meant a delay of de-icing), and c) more unusual (actually weird) was the fact that the flight attendants could not agree for 45 minutes whether there were 81 or 82 passengers on the plane (that delayed us at least 45 minutes)

So… I missed my connection to the Qantas long flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia.  Suddenly I was faced with making rapid changes and new arrangements to get new flights and some lodgings booked in both Brisbane and Cairns down under.  I have to admit that I let the situation get the best of me for a while as I complained, and then worried about how this would all get worked out.  I took my eyes off of Jesus for a short while, and I found fear and anxiety replaced my normal peace of God in my heart.

There are a number of things that I have realized, now that I have time to reflect on all that happened.  I hope I can express well in words what I want to pass on to others of how we who are Christians can better handle difficult situations that can confront us in life.  Let’s look then at how I did react, and how I could have reacted to the situation.

Takeoff

When I first booked all my flights, to get me from Canada to Papua New Guinea, one of my first concerns was to try to save money.  Now there is nothing wrong with being wise stewards of our money.  Jesus gave many teachings and illustrations on this topic.  But I added some pride and self-reliance along with my sense of “frugality”.

It is true that my health has been much better in the past six months, and this in part led me to think that I could do the 30 hour trip from Calgary to Port Moresby, PNG in one long day of traveling.  I realize now that I was kind of proud of myself that I was going to do the long haul on my new found strength, and had not really asked the Lord about the wisdom of this.

And then, as we sat and waited and waited on the plane in Calgary, ready for take-off, I found I got more and more anxious about the possibility of missing my next plane.  “All my efforts of my planning and scheduling will get ruined,” I thought.  We did make it to Los Angeles, but with all the effort of people getting me my wheelchair assistance from one terminal to the other, I arrived 15 minutes after they closed the check-in desk, even though the plane had not left yet.

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So it was when I finally recognized that I was trying so hard to make my plans and solve this crisis in my own strength that I gave the situation over to the Lord.  And then things actually did start to fall into place. I was going to be okay from LA to Brisbane as Qantas just switched my ticket to the next night.  And I was able to book my Australia to PNG flights with air miles, so that I paid only 1/10th of what a new ticket would cost.  And with Jill’s help, I was able to get bookings as two nice hotels in Brisbane and then Cairns.

The neatest part was that some good friends from a very long time ago heard about my situation and they emailed me to let me know they could pick me up at the airport in Brisbane and take care of me for a few hours until I could check in at the hotel.  That was very special, seeing as I might have had to wait four hours in the hotel lobby until I got a room.

Better yet, we spent those few hours together sharing wonderful stories of how God has taken care of us all over the years.  And we shared testimonies of how God has worked through us all to bless other people.  What a special time of sharing that was for me, and for them too they told me.

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So now a few questions.  Did God create the crisis as a penalty for my independence from Him?  I don’t accept that one as that makes God to be a God who punishes people if they step out of line just a little bit.  Did Satan and his forces of evil send this “attack” against me?  No, I doubt it.  But he certainly could be behind me taking my eyes off of Jesus.

Was I supposed to learn something from the situation?  Very probably.  Or at least I would hope I learn from each situation in life.  I do know that God promises us peace in the midst of storms.  (And I was forgetting that.)  And He promises to bring good out of every situation.  (That came true as I spent a wonderful day with dear Christian friends in Brisbane that would not have happened if this crisis had not happened.)

There is more I could say, but this gives you an idea of how my last couple of days have gone.  More importantly, it tells you that I am doing okay and God is taking care of me and the various details of rearranging my trip to PNG.  As Scriptures says, I made plans, but God had better plans.

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Parents Of Missionary Kids

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It’s Hard To Let Them Go

For most of my life, I have been a missionary.  That means my Mom and Dad were parents of a missionary kid.  I’m still a missionary kid who also happens to be a father of two great sons.  Both of them are launched out into life, but that does not mean that I don’t still worry for both of them and commit them and all their ways to God.

I read an excellent book recently by Will Hathaway called “What If God Is Like This?”  In this book, Hathaway presents some intriguing ideas and insights into what God might really be like, if we would take the time to really get to know Him.  Many times in the book, he states that he has such a better grasp of how great God is and how much He loves us, because now he is a father too.

    

There is just something that is very special that can exist between a parent and a child.  I do realize that not every parent is a good parent, but nevertheless, even the toughest and meanest person can have their hearts broken when they sense their child is in danger or just simply needs love and approval.

Back to the thought of me being a missionary kid, I’d have to admit that there have been many times in my life when I headed overseas (even as young as 16 years old) when all I could see was the adventure and the challenge that lay ahead.  It had to be hard on my parents to let me go at times (even when I was grown and had a family).

Then recently, I read a newsletter written by a colleague of mine that helped to remind me (and anyone who has read their newsletter) just how tough it can be to be a parent of a missionary kid.  It reminded me to be thankful for parents who worried about me, but still were okay with letting me go.  I pray that this letter below will help you too to appreciate your parents, even if you might not be a missionary kid.

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“My dad asked me jokingly the other day if he could take us to court to prevent us from taking his grandkids to Africa. I told him that if the judge were a grandfather, he would probably side with dad against us. We both spoke in jest, but we knew that the feelings involved in taking our family overseas are very real.

Most people know that packing up their children and moving to Africa involves some sacrifice. But what about the sacrifice of those we leave behind? We get all kinds of accolades for what we are doing. We get to go through the line first at church potlucks. People bring us up in front of crowds of kids and tell them to make us their role models.

One might say we have received our reward in full. But there are no awards for being the parent of a missionary. Yet what they give up to allow us to follow God’s calling are some of life’s most treasured moments – birthday parties, ball games, heart-to-heart chats, Sundays around the dinner table, and thousands of precious hugs.

    

They had little say in our decision, but just as with so many things over which one has no control, they got to decide how they would respond to it. Our parents would have had every right to be angry with us, to obsess over the perceived dangers we are exposing ourselves to and discourage us at every step, or to refuse to do anything to move us closer to our goal.

But they also have the option to offer us up as sacrifices willingly, to embrace and make the most of their position as long-distance grandparents, and to encourage us like no one else can when we face difficulties. What a blessing it is to us to have parents like that!

Our families have given of their time, their finances, and their talents to help us every step of the way. They have made plans for how to stay connected with us and our kids once we leave. They have said they would like to make the long trip across the Atlantic to visit us if they have the chance. And, perhaps most difficult of all, when faced with the opportunity to remind us of what we are asking of them and saddle us with guilt, they have refrained.

    

I hope that someday, if our children tell me that God is asking them to go to some place where I can’t follow, where I can’t keep them safe or get to hug and kiss them every day, that I will have the faith to give them my blessing and help them on their way. Our children are the most precious of God’s gifts, and nothing is more natural and right than to hold them close.

But at the same time we have to remember that they belong to God first of all. We have to raise them to be the kind of people who will love Him with their whole being and follow Him anywhere. And when they follow Him far away from us, we have to pray and give and speed them on their way, even when it breaks our hearts.

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I want to thank my colleague for the honesty shown in writing this message that should be a challenge to us all.  Let us all be thankful for our parents, and let us in turn do all we can to be the best parents possible to our own children.

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

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.

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

                                           

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

Satan Is The True Enemy – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 4

As mentioned two weeks ago, 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 2: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU KNOW SATAN’S NEXT MOVE

Question #1: This chapter talks about the distractions of “possessions and problems.”  Share with the group the distractions you seem to encounter most — distractions that keep you from engaging the story of God in Scripture.

Most people know that the ministry work I do is Bible translation.  Our family lived out in a remote village in Papua New Guinea for five years.  During that time, I learned the language and culture of the people, and helped to get the Gospel of Mark translated into their language.  Thankfully, I had a basic word list, a grammar paper of the language and some notes on Mark from the man who had started the language project years before we got there.

In light of all the resources I had, it still surprises some people at how long it still took us to finally finish and translate Mark.  The reason is that there is so much more involved than just doing translation when you live out in these remote villages.  The translator before me also built the house we lived in out of hewn and planed timbers from trees in the jungle.  That was nice, but the upkeep seemed to be never ending.  In those five years, I also learned to become a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, a small engine mechanic, and much more.

I found then that this nice home out in the jungle often became a distraction from what I had come to PNG to do, to give God’s Word to the people who had never had the Bible in their language before.  But I know I spent a lot of time making sure that our own family was safe and secure and comfortable, while all around me the national people were living in small huts made out of jungle material that usually fell down in about five years.  I would not call this a direct scheme of the Devil, but I do have to be honest that my “mansion” was a barrier between me and the people.

Question #2: What kind of personal attacks does the Enemy plot?  How does he attempt to divide people?  Have you seen the Devil at work?  Do you tend to underestimate or overestimate the Devil’s activity?

Let me continue now to give some other background to our life in the village that shows how Satan has been (and still is in places) very active in dividing the people and attacking them with lies that destroy people’s lives.  One legend that is popular in PNG is the creation story.  In this story there are two brothers who either through their positive creative energies, or through their negative battles for supremacy, created the spark of life and the world came into existence.

The story continues with the elder brother leaving the younger brother on this island called PNG.  The older brother was going to go out into the world and discover all the riches and treasures and wisdom that the world contained, while the younger brother was left behind with nothing.   But the legend says that one day the older brother would come back and be reunited with the younger brother and share all the goods (called cargo) and the secrets to obtaining them.

Interestingly, some of the PNG legends end by saying that the older brother, when he came back, was a white-skinned man.  So…imagine what some of the people in the villages around us thought when the translator before me was going to come back after being away for almost ten years and join me in a “return celebration”.  Word went out, and immediately the legend rumours were ignited and it was thought that this other translator and I were finally going to tell the secret to get the “cargo” or material possessions of this world.

    

What’s sad is to realize that many of these people who live in this remote area have seen many “rich white people” come with huge amounts of clothing, food, amazing gadgets and objects with them.  And we never seem to “work” for what we have.  (Sitting at a desk over a laptop all day is work??)  And they never see us use money out in the bush.  We would just ask over our two-way radio for more goods and supplies, and presto, there they were on the next plane.  No wonder they thought we knew the right “magic”.

The end result from our big “celebration day” is that we had a wonderful reunion with our friend who came out to our village.  But none of the villagers received this magic cargo from the skies.  And this produced such heated arguments that it almost started an inter-tribal war.  Thankfully, I had been told what was going on, and I was able to hold an all-evening teaching/preaching time of explaining that these pursuits for material wealth do not come from God.  These evil desires come from Satan.

That is what we need to remember most.  The material objects themselves are not evil, but in Satan’s hands they become so if our focus is twisted to be only pursuing after them, instead of pursuing after a better relationship with our God.  How easy it is to let the things of this world distract us from seeking after our God.  Our true enemy in all of this is Satan.

                                          

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

Make Your Life A Testimony – Pt 2

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Impacting Others for Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.            (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It has been said that there is nothing more powerful that a personal testimony concerning something extraordinary that has happened to a very ordinary person.  This is the last article I will write on the book written by Mark Atteberry, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.

On page 176, Atteberry writes:

The great value of a true story is that it places a finger under the hard-road traveler’s chin and gently pushes up.  Unlike fiction, it forces the person to ask, “Could God do something like that for me?”

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We tend to put so many others up on pedestals, like sports heroes, movie stars, gifted speakers, etc.  So many of us feel like we have very little to offer to other people.  But the Scripture I quoted at the top of this article says otherwise.

I think it would be fair to say that every person who has ever lived has encountered difficulties and painful experiences.  That is simply part of being human.  What is also true for those who believe in God is that many of us can tell stories about how God came through for us and brought us through those difficult moments.

And it is these stories, these testimonies, that Atteberry says we all need to share with those who are around us.  Rephrasing the Scripture above, God is a God of great compassion who helps us in our times of greatest need, and that often, He allows these difficult times to come in order that we can then in turn help others who are now going through what we just came through.

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In his book, Atteberry anticipates that some people will shy away from the idea that God could ever use them and their situation to be of help to anyone else.  He expands on three possible objections that someone might give for  not sharing their life stories and experiences with others:

  • I’m not a great communicator.
  • I have no platform from which to share.
  • My story isn’t dramatic enough.

Some of these statements may actually have some truth in them.  Moses was someone who stuttered.  The widow who gave her last pennies at the Temple as Jesus watched probably never thought she would be important.  I was never a drug user who “saw the light” and came to believe in Jesus.  (Why do we always use the example of drug users.)

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But all of these objections (and more) have missed the point.  It is not the quantity of what we do in life that is most important, but the quality of whatever we do, no matter how small that might look to us.  I like Atteberry’s comment on page 177:

The big thing to remember is that your testimony is simply your story.  It doesn’t have to be a sermon.  It doesn’t have to be theological.  It doesn’t have to answer all the difficult questions people might feel inclined to ask.  All it has to do is show how the Lord helped you as you walked with Him along your hard road.

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It has been just a little more than a year ago when I started writing articles on this blog site.  I had the choice at the beginning to use my site as a venue by which I could whine and complain about all the pain I suffer with my muscle disease, and how hard life is for me.  I could view my world as having shrunk down to sitting in my sofa recliner day after day within the confines of my living room and apartment.

But God challenged me to view my struggles as an opportunity to reach out to other hurting people.  Very quickly I saw that by means of my internet connection, I could potentially reach thousands of people with my stories of what God has done in my life in the past, and is still doing through me today as I take one day at a time by faith.

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In fact, as you look at the visitor counter, you can see that there really have been thousands of people who find it worthwhile to visit and read the articles that I write.  But as soon as I say that, I have to figuratively knock myself on the side of the head and remind myself that I am not writing for the thousands, I am writing for the one person who really needed to hear the word of encouragement that I offer in a given article.

Atteberry goes on to say:

The best way to measure the value of a testimony is not by the size of its audience, but by the impact it has on the people who hear it. If your story helps even one person stay faithful to the Lord — or perhaps return to the Lord — then it has had an eternal impact.

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And this is where we conclude our study of this book.  I really hope though that these “Hard-Road Journey” articles have been more than just a book study.  I pray that we have been able to walk along side of each other and be encouraged in our faith and walk with the Lord because we’ve gone on this journey together.

I am amazed and thrilled that God has used me in this last year to impact others.  All I’ve done though is to be open and honest and share “my story”.  Even if you never go public like I have, I’m going to promise you that if you are open and honest with others around you, then God will use “your story” to also be a blessing to someone else who really needed to hear what you have to say.  May God bless you as you do this for Him.

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