Happy About Serving God Full-time

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This article will probably be shorter than most.  “Why is that?” you might ask.  Putting it simply, God has allowed me the privilege to be so active in the mission work we are doing over here in Papua New Guinea that I find it is getting harder to carve out time for my article writing.  Normally, there would be the next instalment of the Bible study on the Gospel of John right here, instead of this short personal article.

But let me tell you what I have been up to this past week.  It’s really quite exciting when I think about it.  First of all, I am involved with a team of men who speak the Tay language in PNG.  We are checking the translation of James, 1 & 2 Peter into their mother tongue.  I am the consultant who comes along at the end of the translation process (after they do the rough draft, village check and exegetical check of the books), and I listen to an oral back translation of the material and asks lots of questions.  We want to make sure that the translation communicates well and is accurate to the Greek New Testament.

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The second thing that has been keeping me busy for a few weeks now is to sit down with many people here in the PNG Branch of our mission and have meetings with them.  Now that may not sound very exciting, but we talking about BIG ideas in many of these meetings.  We are looking at ways of how we can continue doing Bible translation, Literacy and Scripture Use among over a dozen languages here in PNG.

The second reason that I am in many meetings these days (mostly lunch meetings with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) is that I will be assuming a position of leadership within our Branch very soon.  At our annual meeting in January, I was elected to become the next Director of Language Affairs (DLA) who oversees all the linguistic projects that we are involved with within the country.  This position will begin officially on May 1st, but I have already begun doing some of the work of this position.

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Finally, one more thing that I am involved with each week, is to hold a Bible study with all the national men who may be in town at the time.  These men put in long hard hours just like all of our missionary translators doing the work of translating the Scriptures into their languages.  But most of them have never had the opportunity to go to any Bible College, and may have very little background on the whole message of the Bible.

So it is my privilege to prepare studies of various biblical topics each week and have a time of learning and sharing with these men.  We read verses from the Tok Pisin Bible (the trade language of PNG) to see what God’s Word says about the topic, and then go around the room to see if people are understanding what Scripture says.  This Wednesday we will conclude a three-week series on “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”  Praise God for these committed workers of God who want to learn more and more about Him.

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So that is what my weeks are looking like right now.  I have a very full plate of activities here in PNG, but I am filled with joy in what I am doing for the Lord.  It was not that long ago that I wondered if I would have the strength and ability to do much for God any more.  But God has been so good to me.  He began last summer to increase my strength and tolerance of being more active.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am doing what I am doing by the grace of God.

Well, I said this would be a shorter article.  And it is slightly.  But I am just so excited about what God is doing in me and through me to advance His Kingdom work over here in PNG that my fingers just keep flying over the keyboard.  There is so much more to say about all this, but I will need to take the time to make separate articles about these things.  And then you too will be rejoicing along with me at the marvellous things that God is doing to reach the nations with His Word, and transforming their lives.  Stay tuned, there will be more to come.

Praise God

More About Cool Computer Programs & Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation – Pt. 2

Last week I gave you some of the interesting background of how the advance of technology and the computer age we live in has helped the cause of Bible translation work.  Isn’t it incredible to think that only a few decades ago, translators had to write all of their language data on 3″ x 5″ recipe cards and file them in their appropriate shoebox.  Read about that here.

Now it is impossible to think that we can do language learning and translation work without the use of a computer.  Even by 1997, when I started learning the village language in that remote location in Papua New Guinea, we had brought along with us solar panels and deep cell batteries to run my computer in the village.  Thank goodness for the advance technology of laptops though, because that first IBM desktop was a real bear to get to and set up in our village.

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Back to the present now, I had started to tell you in the last article about a very cool program called “Paratext”.  Remember all those windows that were open in the one program?  I had Greek or Hebrew in two windows, English Bibles and commentary helps in a few more.  I would look at the Tok Pisin (PNG trade language) in another, and then a few more held the vernacular village language of the text I was going to do the consultant check on.  I’ll show you again what it looks like:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

So at any given time, I usually have about four languages going on inside all these windows.  It would take a lot of time (or sentences) to explain everything that I can do with this program.  But let me give you a peek into one corner, and show you what I do.  I will open up the Hebrew language corner where I am working on the Psalms.

The first thing I want to show you, even though you probably don’t know Hebrew, is what amazing things you can learn when you can read the Bible in the original language that it was written in.  (The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.)  I will paste the blown up picture of the Hebrew-English Interlinear text.  It looks like this:

Psalm 121 in Paratext Hebrew (800x427)

Underneath the Hebrew text you get a grammatical breakdown of the words in green, and then an English word gloss for the Hebrew word in the light purple.  I highlighted one word in yellow.  One of the interesting things about Hebrew is that most of its vocabulary is based on a three consonantal root form.  This particular root (שׁמר) has the basic meaning of “to guard, to watch over, to protect” .

This passage is from Psalm 121 which starts with a statement and then a question in verse one, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from?”  That was a good question back in the time of the Israelite kings, because there was a great deal of worshipping of idols and false gods going on back then.  And many of them had shrines up on top of the mountains.

Do you see the answer in the next line, which is the first purple line above?  (Remember to read Hebrew from right to left.)  The psalmist was very confident that his help would come from the LORD, the One who made the heavens and the earth.  He goes on to write further about his God, and he used this Hebrew root of (שׁמר) three times in verses 3, 4, and 5.  (Can you see them?)

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This verbal form is called a “participle”, which is often used to help describe someone or something.  The literal translation for this Hebrew root in the participle form would be “the One who protects”.  The psalmist was confident that YHWH was the One true God, above all other gods, who could protect him.  This is good, but it gets better.

It is one thing to believe that God is capable of protecting those who trust in Him.  It is another thing to state emphatically that He will indeed protect you in times of trouble.  And this is what the psalmist does in verses 7 and 8.  He again used the same Hebrew verbal root, but in these verses (and three times) he put it in a future tense, what is called the “Imperfect” form.

You can see this twice in the picture above in verse 7.  It looks like this:  יִשְׁמָר.  There is an extra consonant on front, and it can be translated as “He will protect/watch over”.  No longer is the LORD simply described as the One who is able to protect, but now with bold confidence, the psalmist tells his readers, Yes, in fact He WILL protect those who trust in Him.

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Isn’t that so cool what you can learn about God when you are able to read the Scriptures in its original language?  I’m glad that I do know a lot about basic biblical Hebrew.  But imagine if I didn’t know that much about it, but still had a program like Paratext that is able to analyze a lot of the language for me.  A whole world of meaning is opened up when we have great computer programs like these to help us to read and understand the Bible.

I wish that I could let all of you who read this to be able to have this program I use.  But a program like Paratext is given out primarily to those involved in active Bible translation projects.  If you are really interested in this though, you can do an internet search for Greek-English Interlinear or Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles online and find lots of helps.

One good site is http://interlinearbible.org/ which will allow you to choose either the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Greek New Testament.  We are so very fortunate to have so much available to us electronically.  I will have more to say in the future.

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.

The Connection Between Heaven And Earth

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John 3:31 – 36

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.

34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

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These six verses taken just by themselves can be extremely difficult to follow and to understand.  Often, when we encounter a difficult teaching passage like this, there are at least two ways that we can gain help from Scripture to understand Scripture.  I will do my best here to try to unearth what I believe are the deep truths being taught here.

First of all, we must try to see if we can find a key thought or central message that is being taught here.  It seems to me that verse 35 may be the most important truth which will shed light on the rest of the passage, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand”.  This shows the preeminent place that Jesus holds, and establishes His divine authority.  Keep this in mind as we unravel the rest of the passage.

Secondly, it is always important to see the larger context in which a passage is found.  The last verse revisits the themes of spiritual life and salvation to those who believe in Jesus, vs. spiritual death and condemnation to those who don’t believe.  That was the concluding thought in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Verses 31 – 33 become clearer when we realize that this comes immediately after John the Baptist states that Jesus must become greater and he (John) must become less significant.

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It would probably be very helpful if we were to replace the many pronouns “he” with the person who is in view, and to bring out explicitly the things that are implicit (i.e. the things that are truths below the text but can be brought up to the surface of the text to be seen more clearly).  See if this helps:

31 He (Jesus) who comes from above (Heaven) is above all (greater than any other). He (John) who is of the earth (i.e. is a human) belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way (speaks about matters that concern us in this earthly life). He who comes from heaven is above all.

 32 He (Jesus) bears witness to (shares a message concerning) what he (Jesus) has seen and heard (in Heaven, ie. “spiritual truths”), yet no one (humanity in general) receives his testimony. 33 Whoever (a person who has faith) receives his testimony (Jesus’ message) sets his seal to this (gives his approval, or agrees), that God is true (that the message about God is true).

You can see how tricky it can be to understand these verses unless we first carefully define each person and idea in these verses.  But once we do that, then the meaning becomes so much clearer.  There is a fundamental reality here, namely that there is an earthly existence (that which you and I are experiencing right now), but that there is also a spiritual existence.  That is the realm of God.

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These two realms though, that of Heaven and that of earth, are not to be thought of as separate and isolated from each other.  No, we see immediately in verse 34 that “the Father sent him (Jesus)” to come into the world and “utter the words of God”.  In simpler terms, Jesus came down from Heaven to teach us all about who God is and what the Kingdom of God is like.

Note one very important detail here.  Even though God had sent many messengers before to proclaim the truths of God, namely prophets, Jesus is different from these messengers for it says in verse 34 that God gave His Spirit to Jesus “without measure”, i.e. completely and without limitation.  Prophets had a portion of the Spirit to declare divine truths, but Jesus was given limitless access to God’s Spirit which gave him full ability to bring messages of divine truth to mankind.

Regarding John 3:33-34, Carson’s Commentary on John says:

Throughout redemptive history, God spoke to his people through many accredited messengers. Each received that measure of the Spirit that was required for his or her assigned task. Three centuries after John wrote, Rabbi Aha rightly commented that the Holy Spirit who rested on the prophets did so according to the measure of each prophet’s assignment.  Not so to Jesus: to him God gives the Spirit without limit.

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This brings us to the key verse of 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”  And verse 36 goes on to state specifically what it is that God had given to His Son.  As Heaven and Earth connect through the Person of Jesus, it is declared by the Father that the Son has the right to give eternal life to whoever would believe in Him.  The opposite is also made clear.  To those who do not believe in Jesus and thus disobey God, to them comes condemnation and eternal punishment.

Dear friends: this life is the prelude to the next life.  What you decide here in this earthly realm will determine your fate and condition in the spiritual and eternal realm.  What will you decide?

My Life Testimony – Pt. 1

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing The Gospel of John

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The Gospel According to John

In the last article, I mentioned that because it was the start of a new year, I would start on some new ideas for what I want to do with my article series this year.  Tuesdays will be the day that I share interesting and exciting stories from the mission field written by my colleagues within Pioneer Bible Translators.  Now I want to tell you my idea for the Thursday articles.

I realized last month that I will be doing a lot of preparation to do the consultant check on the Gospel of John for two completely different language groups in Papua New Guinea.  So then I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be neat to do a number of articles on the Gospel of John?”  So far, I have worked on both translating and checking the translations of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Now is my opportunity to study more deeply the Fourth Gospel.

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Most people agree that the Synoptic Gospels are easier to read and to translate.  There is so much more narrative material in these books which gives us more action and fewer extended  passages of deep and difficult theology to try to unravel in the translation.  But that does not mean that there are not difficult sections to understand and translate in the Synoptic Gospels.

Certainly the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chs 5 – 7 is full of complexities.  And the many parables throughout all the gospels contain every day words on the surface, but also carry some deep spiritual truths below the surface form which must be handled very carefully.

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Let’s take a quick tour then of the Gospel of John to see what spiritual treasures we will encounter as we go through this book:

The Prologue

Chapter 1 gives us not so much a historical setting as a theological setting for this man, Jesus.  We know from the other Gospels that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a Jewish mother who was able to become pregnant through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit of God.  That tells us that Jesus was no ordinary child.  He in fact was God who came down from Heaven and took on the form of a man.  John’s Gospel will give us more insight into the divine nature of Jesus even from his opening words of his prologue.

The Book of Signs

Chapters 2 – 12 cover the entire ministry of Jesus up until the last week before his death.  We see Jesus traveling extensively, starting with his baptism by John east of the Jordan River, and then moving back and forth between the province of Galilee in the north to the city of Jerusalem in the south.

Everywhere Jesus went though, he astounded the people by his insightful and authoritative teachings and amazed them by his miraculous deeds.  Jesus demonstrated that he was from God by exercising supernatural power over nature (turning water into wine and multiplying bread) and over any sickness or disease (healing a crippled man and also a man who had been blind since birth).  Jesus even had power over death itself as he was able to bring Lazarus back to life after being dead for four days.

The Book of Glory

Chapters 13 – 20 have been called “The Book of Glory”.  They reveal the true depth of Jesus’ love for his disciples, and let us hear his heartfelt prayer to God on their behalf.  Then Jesus demonstrated his magnificent love and his power by being crucified on a cross, followed by his resurrection from death.  There is no way that you can read these chapters and not get caught up in the deep emotions (“pathos”) of those few days in Jerusalem.

But all of the book of John up to this point was not written just so that we would have an emotional response.  Certainly we do feel awe when we read about the amazing miracles he performed.  And we feel despair when Jesus died but then we rejoice when he rose to live again.  No, this book was written for a much more important reason.  John himself states in chapter 20 verse 31 the purpose for recording the life of Jesus.  He wrote:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The Epilogue

Many scholars think that John finished writing his book at the end of chapter 20, and then later added chapter 21.  We will never know that for sure.  Most likely, there was some later concern among the early believers with regards to Peter who had denied his faith in Christ before the crucifixion, but afterwards was reinstated as an apostle and leader of the church by Jesus himself.

This gives us a very rough outline of John’s gospel.  I do hope that this is helpful to those who read this.  Now what I would like to do is to go back and start at the beginning and work through the book slowly, one passage or section at a time.  My desire is to try to have a balance between what the text is saying (interpretation) and how its truths can still impact us in our lives today (application).

Please be praying along with me that I will be able to write very good, meaningful and helpful articles.  I invite everyone who reads these to feel free to respond and interact with me as we go through the book.  May God bless you as we go on this journey together.

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[If you find these articles to be an encouragement to you, may I suggest that you subscribe to this site on the right hand side to get these sent directly to your email Inbox.  God bless.]

The Practice of Prayer

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“We Believe in Prayer” – Part 4

This is the last article on the series on “Prayer”.  I have been blessed to be able to attend the Sunday School teaching hour at Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.  In previous articles, we have covered the topics of “The Power of Prayer“, “The Passion for Prayer“, and “The Purpose of Prayer“.  Now we will try to touch on “The Practice of Prayer“.  Of course we will never be able to completely cover this topic, and we will be fortunate to just mention key ideas here right now.

The lesson for the day came from Matthew 6:5 – 13 which covered what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer”, and also includes the preamble of Jesus just before He uttered what is perhaps the best well-known prayer in the world.  And the Lesson Overview given to us is quite straightforward, “This lesson is to show us what vibrant, effective prayer looks like and how we can deal with the things that hinder our prayers.”

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Here is what we can learn from this passage:

1.  We Need to Pray Privately (vv. 5 – 6)

In these two verses, there is a parallelism that puts two very opposite practice of prayer into sharp contrast.  The ritually religious leaders of that day would have the habit of standing up in public and delivering loud and elegant prayers in the presence of many witnesses.  Even if their prayers were genuine petitions before God, it is clear that their motivation was to be seen in public, and to be considered “highly religious” in the eyes of the average person.

The bottom line for the religious leaders was that they wanted to be seen publicly and so receive the praises of men.  This form of outward religious performance is the very opposite of what God wants from His children.  His desire is that we withdraw from others when we pray to God, because He wants us to put our full attention on the Lord, and not seek approval or admiration from men.  Such people who do that Scripture says they already have received their reward (people’s approval), but we are to seek an intimate relationship with God, and He in turn will bless us here in this life, and also grant eternal life in the next.

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2.  We Need to Pray Effectively (vv. 7 – 8 )

In this next short section, before Jesus tells his disciples how to pray, He first reminds them of how not to pray.  Jesus says that we are not to babble when we pray to God.  The picture here is that when “pagans” (unbelievers) pray, they continuously mumble repetitive prayers to God in the false believe that if we pray the same stuff endlessly to God, then surely He will hear our many prayers and He will have to answer.

In effect though, these people are trying to manipulate God and believe that God will eventually give in to whatever they want.  In contrast to this, Jesus tells the disciples that God already knows what our needs are.  And in fact, Jesus says that God already knows what we need even before we ask Him.  Remember, God is omniscient, and He is motivated by love.  Part of the purpose of prayer is to recognize our needs and our true dependence upon God.  That is often the time that God pours out His richest blessings to us, when we are humble, obedient servants who bow to His authority.

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3.  We Need to Pray Specifically(vv. 9 -13)

In this model prayer, which we call “The Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus shows how we can have an intimate time to talk with our Father.  But he clearly demonstrates for us that we need to be very specific in our prayers.  We can’t be like our little children who often start out a prayer life by simply uttering a catalogue of names and events and then asking God to “bless them”.  No, we need to be carefully and specifically mindful of what we are actually saying when we repeat the Lord’s Prayer:

  • Person: we must always remember to whom we are praying.  But also rejoice that even as we pray to God, we can call Him and pray to Him in the intimate of ways by saying, “Our Father…”
  • Perspective:  when we say “who is in Heaven; Hallowed be His name”, we perceive ourselves more accurately that we are just the creation, but He is pure and holy Creator God.
  • Presence: above all else, we want His Kingdom to come, for Scripture tells us in the book of Revelation that when Christ comes next time, it will be an everlasting presence of God among us.
  • Purpose:  But considering that not all things are rightly in tune with the Father here on earth, then is should be our passion to seek for people to come to God and follow Him and His ways.
  • Provision:  It is finally at this point, when we recognize and honor God and seek to help establish God’s kingdom here, then we have the right to come and ask God to meet our daily needs.
  • Pardon:  And the key to all of the above is that God forgave us our sins and allowed us to have a relationship with Him.  And in like manner, we are to pass on this forgiveness to all others.
  • Protection:  Then finally, we must pray for God to help us and protect us in the spiritual battle that we are engaged in with the author of our sin and our greatest enemy, Satan.
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This is quite the awesome prayer, isn’t it?  What’s truly amazing is how simple this prayer is in reality.  But I challenge you to follow the pattern of this prayer and to practice it, in the quiet part of your home and life, and see if you might just discover that the God of Miracles, and the God of Great Power is in fact still present with us today.  We simply need to unleash Him through our reverent and faithful prayers.

The Power of Prayer

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“We Believe in Prayer” – Part 1

While I have been in Dallas for these past two months, I have been attending Crossroads Christian Church in the nearby city of Grand Prairie, Texas.  I have enjoyed the worship and the teaching at this church.  The membership is in the thousands, and so they offer three morning services as well as having a Wednesday night teaching service.

It can be difficult for me to attend church with the muscle disease that I have, but thankfully the building is relatively flat, including their main sanctuary.  In the sanctuary they have very comfortable theater style padded chairs that don’t hurt my legs.  The church also offers multiple Sunday School teaching classes during each service.  Again, I am thankful that their smaller Chapel room, which can seat over a hundred people, has nicely padded pews. So I have been able to attend a class in there too.

Right now, the church is proposing an amazing building expansion that will focus just on Children’s Ministries.  It is a huge step of faith to believe that they can accomplish this over the next year, but it has the potential to reach thousands of kids in the surrounding areas.  And so they just had a church-wide emphasis on prayer.  I would like to share the summaries of the lessons taught on prayer over the next four weeks in my Thursday postings.

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Lesson Overview:  “Jesus never questioned whether or not if believers should pray. In Matthew 5:6, he said, “When you pray…” Paul knew how essential prayer was. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul reminded believers to “pray without ceasing.” Still, most believers will tell you that they do not pray enough and many will confess their lives are almost completely without prayer.”

The key text that our leader focused in on during this first lesson was Acts 12:1-19. The background to the story in this chapter is that the church in Jerusalem was flourishing well in the months that followed after Christ’s death and resurrection. The Jewish political ruler at this time was another King Herod and he tried to keep the Jewish leaders happy as well as the powerful forces of Rome which occupied and governed Palestine.

In order to do this, King Herod started to persecute the early church and even had one of its leaders killed, James the brother of John. This pleased the Jewish leaders, and so King Herod went on and had Peter arrested and put in jail. This galvanized the Christian believers into action as we can see from verse 5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Let’s now consider the main points that we can learn from this story in Acts 12.

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1.  “They were praying for the impossible.”

Looking at Peter’s situation from a human perspective, there was really no hope of Peter being released. Remember that Jesus had been arrested, put on trial, and killed in less than one day. The text also implies that James was immediately put to death. And to make sure that no one was able to come and rescue Peter, Herod put four squads of four highly trained Roman soldiers to guard him at the jail. And yet, the church’s immediate response to the situation was to gather the believers and pray.

2.  “They were praying specifically.”

It is possible that the Christians prayed about other things, but the text is very clear that they were earnestly praying to God concerning Peter. Looking at the Greek verb here, we also learn that this was not just a single prayer offered up, but they were continually, constantly praying to God. This sounds similar to the “Persistent Widow” in the parable found in Luke 18:1-8. That passage teaches us about the importance of persisting in prayer and then seeing the request being granted. The question for us to consider is whether we practice this kind of praying.

3.  “They were praying corporately.”

Verse 12 of our key passage tells us that “many people had gathered and were praying.” I believe there is an important lesson to be learned here. Think about what we do today. When we hear about a critical situation that needs prayer, what do we often do? Nowadays, we will usually get the news through an e-mail or perhaps by a telephone call, which does make it harder, but is our first thought to gather with other Christians and to pray together about this matter? Sadly, it is not.

4.  “They were surprised at the answer.”

I think this is the most amazing aspect about this story. The church responded quickly, decisively and specifically in prayer when the crisis happened. God answered their prayers and Peter was standing at the door outside, but the people did not believe this report of the servant girl that Peter was alive and standing at the door. For me, this actually makes the story more believable because it shows how human the early Christians were.

This raises the biggest question of all for us as believers. When we pray, do we not expect God to answer our prayers? Are we perhaps more similar to Thomas then we care to admit? Remember how Thomas heard the reports that Jesus was alive but it wasn’t until he saw Jesus with his own eyes that he believed.

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Recall what Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” and also 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” And finally, grab hold of and believe what Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Dear reader, it is my hope that you will not only pray regularly to God yourself, but that you will seek out other believers to pray together with and truly experience the power of prayer.

God’s Perspective (Phil. 1:12-18a)

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Looking At Things From God’s Perspective

Philippians 1:12-18a  Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

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In our study of Philippians, it was hinted at in verse 7 that Paul had suffered imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel.  Now he makes it very explicit that he in fact is a prisoner, and it is because he preached Christ that he is in chains and being called on to defend publicly the claims of Christianity.  Meanwhile, there are some Christians who continue to preach Christ, but not out pure motives, but out of selfish motives which are causing a disturbance among the true believers of Christ.

For this fledgling church in Philippi, things seem to look very bad.  The founder of their church, and the man who could be the most encouraging to them is in jail.  And there are glory-seekers and hot-shot “preachers” who appear to be causing trouble for this small, but growing Christian movement.  From their perspective, everything looks bad.  And so Paul writes these verses to show them that in reality, what looks bad, is in effect really a good thing.

Consider this quote, “The letter to the Philippians was written in part to address their concern for his circumstances in prison and its affect on his ministry. From their perspective, imprisonment meant a huge setback. Paul shatters this notion in 1:12, claiming that his circumstances actually served to advance the gospel rather than holding it back.”  (Runge, S. E. (2011). High Definition Commentary: Philippians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

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I think this is an important spiritual principle of life for us to learn well.  What we may consider to be bad and detrimental to the advance of the Kingdom and God’s work, can actually be something that God can use in a more powerful way than we can ever imagine.  Romans 8:28 promises us that God can bring good out of every situation.  I have seen that to be very true in these last three years of my ministry and life.

At the beginning of 2008, I felt like I was on top of the world in my ministry experience.  And in fact, I was being asked to help with training nationals in East Africa, to return to Papua New Guinea on a regular basis as a translation consultant, to help open up a new field of work in the subcontinent of Asia, to teach new missionary recruits in the States, and to be the head of our mission group in Canada.  And then this muscle disease hit.

I literally went from being a globe-trotter to barely walking across our living room floor.  Over the coming months of 2008, every aspect of global ministry had to be released and let go except for occasional trips to PNG to do consultant checking work.  I thought that it was the end of my ministry life.  But instead, as I trust God to give me strength, I have seen God bless others in mighty ways that I might never have seen happen before as they witnessed God’s power working through me to get this work done.

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The second thing that discouraged the Philippian believers was seeing many other people “preaching the gospel” but in such a way that these people were getting all the attention and glory.  Paul talks about these kinds of people and he uses the Greek word “eritheia“.  This is a strong word and can be translated as “rivalry” or perhaps better “selfish ambition”.

The “Translator’s Notes on Philippians” says that “Paul meant that these people wanted to be important. They wanted people to respect them and obey them rather than Paul, so they tried to get more people to follow them than Paul had.”  Do you remember the evangelistic fiasco of Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker?  Or the scandal caused by Jimmy Swaggart?  What shame they gave to true Christians.

And then I recall meeting a missionary in the back hills of Honduras in 1979.  He spoke of all the thousands of dollars that he had gotten churches to donate to his work of planting churches.  Meanwhile, he had built himself a virtual rustic mansion as he did his work of “ministering” to the nationals.  I heard a few years later that his financial “irregularities” caused him to resign and fade back into American life.

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So what are we to think about these kinds of Christians who speak about Christ, but are often in it more for the money and the glory?  Paul says in verse 18, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”  I must say that I feel bad for those who were hurt or disillusioned by these Christian hot-shots.  But then I also have to recognize that there were still many true and lasting decisions for Christ made under the Bakker’s work or under Swaggart.  And there are still some good functioning churches up in the hills of Honduras.

So the bottom line is this:  we are to serve our God with integrity and honesty.  And we are even to be thankful for the fruit that is borne even by these masquerading Christian leaders.  Above all else, we are to give thanks to God whenever the name of Jesus is exalted, whatever the motive might be.  We are to rejoice in this, just like Paul did while he was in prison.

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Partners In The Gospel (Phil. 1:3-7)

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Sharing in the Work of the Gospel

Philippians 1:3-7 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.  Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

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It is very clear that Paul had a close and special relationship with the believers in the church at Philippi.  He prayed for them, often.  And it says here that he gave thanks to God whenever he remembered them, and in his prayers for all (not just some of them, but all of them), he was filled with joy as he prayed.  And note how he says, “for you have a special place in my heart.”

We must ask ourselves, why did Paul has such a strong and positive emotional attachment to these people in Philippi?  If we look back into the book of Acts (chapter 16), Paul spent a very short time in Philippi, probably a few weeks or so.  And the highlight of his visit there was spending a night in a dirty, dingy jail.  Or was it?

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We are fairly certain that there was no active worship building, like a synagogue for the Jews.  Paul and his companions had to go outside the city to the river where they found only a few woman gathered there for a time of prayer (Acts 16:13).  By the time Paul left Philippi, he had preached the gospel and we know that Lydia and her household, plus the jailer and his household had accepted Christ and were baptized.

There may be more who joined the fledgling church when Paul was there, although we don’t know who they were.  But what we do know from the book of Philippians in this short passage is that Paul says they were “partners in spreading the Good News about Christ.”  And in 4:15 he says, “you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.”

To fully appreciate what is going on here, we want to exercise the skills I introduced a few articles back about doing an Inductive Bible Study.  There are a few very interesting key words in these verses that are worth taking a closer look at.  Specifically, I want to examine “partners”, “defending and confirming”, and “special favor of God”.

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Partners:  In other versions, the term for “partners” has also been translated as “partnership” or “participation”.  Upon reflection, it suggests to us that there was a close relationship between Paul and the people in Philippi in evangelizing the city.  It was not as we might think today of a “business partnership” where the executives decide how the employees should do the work, but they themselves do not get involved.

The partnership in mind here is the shoulder-to-shoulder “let’s go out and get this work done together”.  Now the reason why I find this word so interesting is that it comes from the Greek work “koinōnia“.  And this word is quite often translated as “fellowship”.  In one Bible dictionary, this word is explained as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement”.

The key for me here is that “Christian fellowship” is meant to have an emphasis upon “involvement” with others and in other’s lives.  Don’t get me wrong, I love when we have potlucks at church, but I wonder how deep the thought is when we say, “Let’s stay for the potluck fellowship.”  I think it often just means to people, let’s chit-chat and fill our bellies with food.

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Defending and Confirming:  This leads us to consider in verse 7 what it was exactly that Paul was doing, and that which the Philippians were partnering together to do.  We have already said that they were “spreading the Good News“, but in this verse, Paul says that he was defending it and confirming it.  And the implication in this passage is that Paul was engaged in doing this activity whether he was free or whether he was in prison.

Both of these key words are Greek words which carry a legal courtroom-like aspect to them.  The first one “apologia” means to “defend publicly that something is not wrong”.  We get the word “apologist” and “apologetics” from this word.  And many 1st and 2nd century Christian leaders were called apologists as they stood up and declared that Christianity was not a false religion, but was the very Truth of God.  And that is the other side of what they did, they were “confirming the Truth of the Good News“.

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Special Favor of God:  Now I don’t know about you, but I must admit that there are many times that I feel awkward and embarrassed to share my faith.  But Paul tells the Philippians that it is a “special favor of God” or “grace” (the literal Greek) to be serving God by publicly standing up for the faith.  And if that is the case, then God would provide the courage and the words to be His spokesman or spokeswoman.

And Paul says here that for these kinds of people, those who count it a privilege to be followers of Christ and let others know publicly about it, he has a special place in his heart for them.  Just as Paul is bound or “united” with Christ in his faith, so he is also bound intimately with those who are willing to share their faith with others.

So how about you?  Do you feel the same kind of passion as Paul had, to be willing to live out your faith in public?  And even to suffer because of it?  Then you stand as a partner with Paul, and are in true fellowship with the apostles and prophets, and are united (stuck) to Christ, who grants us His grace / favor to do this awesome and important task.  May God bless you as you live for Him.  Amen.

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