Pioneering New Mission Fields – Pt. 3

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[Editor’s Note: The third article of this series was written by a missionary who serves with Pioneer Bible Translators and works in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. ]

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Of Shepherds And Stories

“Our friend is a shepherd. He tends a flock of 200 “sheep” who form the network of house churches that he and his wife have helped plant in the Caucasus region. The members meet regularly around meals in each other’s homes. They sing songs, encourage one another, and tell stories they have learned from the Scriptures. Many of them had become disciples because someone shared a Bible story with them and they thirsted for more.

The shepherd’s wife explained, ‘During meetings we don’t have preaching, since no one is trained to preach. Instead, we learn and share stories from the Bible with each other. Even the children learn stories and some are sharing them with their classmates in school.’”

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“Storytelling is a celebrated tradition throughout this region. Relying on this tradition as a way to share their faith has allowed these believers to enjoy relatively good favor and to remain in their own communities, even though these communities practice a religion that is hostile to followers of Jesus. In fact, some leaders of the traditional religion are now sharing with their own followers stories about Jesus that they heard from the believers.

The members of this flock have found that sharing personal testimonies and Scripture stories at specific times is effective. One believer testified, ‘Sometimes I tell a story from the Bible that speaks to a problem someone is facing. People really appreciate this, and it communicates that I love them and care about them.’

This should not surprise us. Much of what God tells us of Himself is revealed in the narratives–the stories–that we read in the Old Testament. Jesus taught in parables, using stories to explain Kingdom truths and to call people to follow Him. The spoken word that went straight to the heart with power to transform lives during Jesus’ ministry can do the same today.”

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“We ourselves can testify to this. We have been deeply impacted as we have begun practicing the craft of oral Bible storytelling. It is not possible to tell a Scripture story well without first having internalized and digested it, and no one digests the living and active Word of God without being changed in the process.

The shepherd’s house church network and others like it are using a culturally appropriate, reproducible, and sustainable method of church planting and discipleship. The transforming Word of God, written on the hearts of these believers, becomes a testimony to everyone with whom they come into contact.

As people respond to the stories they hear, and as new house churches are formed, new believers want to know more. Our team can partner with those who desire to craft additional Scriptures into oral story form. Our role includes helping ensure accuracy in the translation and telling of each story. We also make recordings of each story that can be used as a reference. ”

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“One beauty of oral Bible storytelling as a translation strategy for reaching Bible-less, church-less people groups is that church planting and discipleship do not have to wait until people learn to read or until the Bible is printed. The church that forms around the sharing of translated Scripture stories will eventually desire a printed translation. When that happens, they will already have the beginnings of a print translation team in place.

Our teams desire is to partner with leaders like the shepherd by continuing to help them accurately craft Bible stories into oral form. We want to mobilize local believers who take these powerful stories and tell them in the heart languages of all the peoples of this region. It is our hope that through the transforming power of the stories they will learn to know the Good Shepherd as a friend.”

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[Editor’s Note: Bible translation work had been almost solely done by means of the “printed Scriptures” up until just a few years ago.  In 2005, I went to the first “World Wide Scripture Use Symposium” in England.  I was fascinated at that time when I first heard about “storying” or “dramatic oral presentations” of the Gospel.  But considering the high level of illiterate people in these minority people groups that we work in, it makes a whole lot of sense to bring the Gospel to the people in an oral form.  Pray that we will continue to find excellent avenues to pursue this aspect of bringing God’s Word to the nations.]

Population in this region: 14.4 million people

Languages in this region: 33

Languages without Bibles: 30

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Used by permission from Pioneer Bible Translator’s monthly publications.  If you would like to receive this quarterly magazine, click on the link here for “The Latest Word ” and subscribe to it.

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God’s Plans Are Bigger Than Ours

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Our Tour of Churches in Illinois

Two months ago, an idea came to me that it would be good to visit one of our supporting churches in Illinois.  What I mean by “supporting churches” is that the mission work that Jill and I do for Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) is supported financially by the donations that come in from churches and individuals who believe in the importance of the work we do.

The primary goal of PBT is to “transform lives through the translated Word of God”.  We believe that everyone has the right to read the Bible and learn about God and His Son, Jesus Christ in their own language.  But of the 6,900+ languages that exist in the world today, there are still over 2,200 languages that do not even have one verse of Scripture in their own language.

We strive then to make God’s Word available to these Bible-less people groups around the world.  In Papua New Guinea, where Jill and I have done most of our work, there are approximately 870 languages, and many of them do not have any portion of the Bible.  In fact, many of them do not even have a written alphabet.  It is up us as linguists to listen to their speech and create an alphabet based on what we hear.

Monolingual Approach

Above you can see me as I presented to a congregation in Pleasant Hill, Illinois, a demonstration that we call the “Monolingual Approach”.  What happens is that I will speak my village language that I learned in PNG, and an assistant will work with me who speaks another language besides English.  I have to draw out from my assistant words and phrases in their language by only using gestures or pointing at objects.

As my assistant speaks in the other language (and this time is was in Colombian Spanish), I write down everything I can in phonetic symbols.  After about twenty minutes of pantomiming and pointing at things, I have a chalk board full of words and phrases.  And from that, I can begin to construct a preliminary alphabet, and I begin to make some grammatical observations of  the language.

I have done this demonstration about 10 times now.  I’ve worked with assistants from various parts of Africa, as well as some who spoke Spanish or French.  And in 20 minutes, many people are quite amazed at how much information I have gathered and what I can say in repeating their language.  One time, after working with an African student, at the end of the seminary class he ran into the hallway and declared to a friend, “This man knows how to speak my language!”

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Now back to the story about me visiting a church in Illinois.  Two months ago, one small church in Illinois decided to send in a large donation.  Wow!  Praise God!  Now how could I adequately say “Thank you,” to them.  I realized that I would be down in Dallas for two months to do the preparation work for the upcoming trip to Papua New Guinea, and thought that it would not be too hard to jump on a plane and go visit this church in Chicago.

So I contacted the pastor of the church, and he thought it would be a great idea for me to come just after Thanksgiving and to preach about and present our work of Bible translation.  That sounds great, but then I wondered where I would stay for a few days after flying to Chicago and how I could get to the church, since my muscle condition prevents me from driving long distance.

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That’s when I remembered that I have a friend named Christian (what a fabulous name), who lives in a northwest suburb of Chicago.  I phoned him and asked if he thought it would be possible for him to help me with a place to stay and to be my driver.  Praise God, he was more than willing to help out.  He told me that he would do whatever I needed help with seeing as he is self-employed.

Then I asked him if it would be okay to visit more than one church, if they responded favorably to me coming to visit them.  Well, can you guess what happened?  That’s right, God had plans so much bigger than mine.  In eight days, I ended up speaking in three churches and in three small group gatherings.  They were all so eager to here more about this ministry of Bible translation.

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What is truly amazing is the interest in our work that came from a small country church all the way across the state, five hours drive from Chicago, that is near Hannibal, Missouri and is almost beside the Mississippi River.  They read one of my emails out loud to the whole congregation that I had sent to the church asking if I could come and preach and present our work.

When I heard back from the woman who is helping to do the admin work of the church, she said, “Everyone is so excited to hear that you are going to come.”  And then she prepared an article for the local newspaper to let the whole community around the church to know that I was going to come.  It was very cool to see it on their front page of the paper. Below is the copy of the newspaper article.  And all I can say is, “Thank you God for expanding the opportunities to speak for you.  And thank you to all who support this ministry work.”

Norm NewsPaper

* If you would like to know more about how you can pray for this work or to help support this work financially, please send me an email at norm.weatherhead@gmail.com .

* You could also follow me on Twitter or on Facebook.

Power Can Blind People From The Truth

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John 7:45 – 52

45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

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It is really sad when we see people in places of authority abuse their power and consider themselves “better” than the average person.  This is the case with the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  These men, who either inherited their positions or achieved them through years of rigorous study of the Scriptures, truly thought they were above ordinary citizens.

For quite a few generations, the religious leaders believed that they were the only ones who really understood what God’s Word had to say and what it meant.  And they reinforced this by creating a myriad of rules that the people were supposed to obey in the hopes that their good actions and their animal sacrifices to God would make them acceptable to God.

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Then Jesus came along and preached a different message.  He talked about loving God and loving people as being the greatest commandments, not the religious rules and rituals that the Jewish officials said were so important to uphold.  In effect, Jesus challenged not only their teachings, but also their very positions of authority.

They had to put a stop to this then and they sent out temple guards to arrest Jesus.  But when the guards heard Jesus cry out, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (vv. 37-38), they found themselves unable to arrest Jesus.  For this was the kind of spiritual message they had always longed to hear, but had never heard before.

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This response of the guards infuriated the Jewish leaders.  They attempt to condemn the average person by calling them all fools, ignorant of God’s laws, and people whom God would curse, meaning they would be destroyed by God’s wrath in the final day of judgment.  In their jealousy and anger, they did not realize that they were condemning themselves to face God’s wrath.

Check out Matthew chapter 23 where Jesus declares that they are all hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs, and snakes who are full of wickedness.  Even though one man, Nicodemus, tried to be reasonable and suggest that they look carefully into this matter of trying to arrest Jesus, the leaders turned on him and accused him of not knowing their own Scriptures.

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This passage is relevant for us today, for there are leaders even within our churches today who would place religious rituals ahead of having a living relationship with Jesus.  We must choose carefully those whom we would place in positions of authority in the church.  But it would also be very good for leaders today to remember that Jesus said to His followers, “The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

But let me suggest that this attitude of “spiritual elitism” can be found in any person of any church, whether they are in a position of authority or not.  It is very dangerous for any one of us to think that we are more “spiritual” than anther brother or sister in the faith.  We can easily fall into the trap of being like the person who has a wooden plank in their own eye (i.e. sin in their life), but who tries to remove the speck of sawdust from their friend’s eye.  (Matthew 7:1-5)

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Let me go one step further here and ask what attitudes we have about Christians in other denominational churches.  Ouch!!  This can reveal some bad attitudes and prejudices that might not be very godly.  Do we have the grace of God enough to be able to work with, even fellowship with others who genuinely are seeking God, but do not do it the same way that we do?

I know this can be difficult.  And I do not want in any way to water down the Gospel or compromise my core beliefs in God and Jesus.  Consider the choice that our family had when we worked in that small village in Papua New Guinea for five years.  At that time, the only church present there was a little Catholic church, overseen by a few national men who had been taught to lead people in some songs, read a few Scriptures and make a short comment on how it could help us in our walk with God.

We easily could have just stayed in our house and had our own family worship time and kept well away from that village church.  But what message would that give the people?  So in addition to our personal worship time, we would often attend the village church to support the idea of public worship of God.  I do know that a few of the people were sincere believers in Christ, and I believe our presence encouraged them in their faith.  Please, let us all accept our brothers and sisters as equals, wherever we may find them.

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

Jesus Has The Words of Eternal Life

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John 6:60 – 71

60  When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 

64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”   66  After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 

67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them,“Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, forhe, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

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This last section of John chapter 6 is one of the important climaxes of the events in Jesus’ life as we head toward the dénouement of His final week on earth.  We are still many months away from Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.  But we see the elements of lines being drawn, sides being taken, and foreshadowing of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of His twelve inner circle disciples.

What the followers of Jesus (another term for general disciples) heard, as mentioned in verse 60, comes from the passage immediately above this one, where Jesus stated that He was the “bread of life which had come down from heaven” and that “anyone who [figuratively] ate His flesh and drank His blood” would not die (spiritually), but live forever.  No wonder the followers/disciples of Jesus said “this is a hard saying.”

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As people grumbled about the claims Jesus made, he asked them if His statements caused them to be offended.  I don’t think this captures the essence of the Greek verb here.  The verb “skandalidzoo” is the root for our English word “scandalized”.  A better translation of this verb is to say “to cause someone to stumble”.  These people who had been following Jesus possessed some seeds of faith in Jesus.  But after this dialogue, many of them are “scandalized”, and their fragile faith crumbles and they stumble over Jesus’ words.

This is a crucial point in Jesus’ ministry.  He has basically laid out on the table the extreme sacrifice that He will have to make (be betrayed which leads to His death), but also He has laid out the extreme commitment that a person must make to be a true follower of Him.  And that people must put their faith in Him to gain true spiritual life.  This is so opposite to what people through the centuries have believed, that eternal life could be gained through good deeds done by the strength of our human flesh.

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Finally, after speaking in difficult figurative language, Jesus spells it out clearly, that the words He speaks are the true source of where we obtain life for our spirits.  This became a breaking point for some of those who followed, and so they left Jesus.  Then Jesus turns to His special twelve disciples and asked them if they too would stop following Him.  Peter’s words are truly profound, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Consider the sharp contrast being played out here.  Many people cannot make the faith decision that Jesus holds the keys of eternal life, and they shake their heads and walk away.  But Peter sees clearly that Jesus is the One appointed by God (i.e. “the Holy One”) to bring spiritual life and salvation.  And Peter bows his head in belief and submission.

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It is so sad to me to hear about how close some people have been to Jesus (whether during the time He lived on earth, or now and is proclaimed alive through the Living Word of God), and yet people fail to see Him for who He is.  Or more seriously, they ignore Him whom they know to be Lord and the Bridegroom to the Church, and yet they focus on such petty matters of the human flesh.  Let me explain.

When Christ Jesus died on the cross, He not only died to bring about the offer of salvation to everyone who believed in Him, but He also died, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven to release the power of the Holy Spirit to help build the Church, Christ’s bride.  Yet we have so many bad examples today to show how unworthily His Church is acting, that many people are hurt instead of being given hope and healing.

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I know personally of some churches which have allowed pride, stubbornness, personality clashes and even sinful actions to bring about such dissension that ultimately the church is split apart.  We must not let this continue.  Jesus said that “the Spirit brings life; the flesh is no help at all.”  Let us return to hearing the Words of Jesus which bring life, instead of listening to the voices of selfish individualism.  The Church is to be a living organism, not an organization.  Let Christ be the true head, and we remain the obedient body.  That will certainly lead us to the road of Eternal Life.

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

Transforming The World Through Bible Translation

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Reaching The Ends Of The Earth With God’s Word

In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says that the good news about the Kingdom of God would go out to all the nations, and then the end would come.  The word “nations” here comes from the Greek word “ethnos” and so means that God’s Word will go out to “every ethnic group” in the world.  But there are still over 2,000 languages which do not have Scripture in their mother tongue.  And there are some languages which have the Scriptures, but for some reason are not utilizing them in their church and daily life.

As one of the global partners in Bible translation ministry, Pioneer Bible Translators has taken many steps to identify those language groups that do not have the Scriptures and need a translation.  And we have also worked on identifying those groups where greater Scripture Impact work needs to be done.

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Below is part of a positional paper that was recently released from the President’s Office of PBT which will help us identify the areas that need to be targeted:

In the future, Pioneer Bible Translators will follow the Spirit’s lead to fill the gaps in the Bible Translation movement so that we and our partners will see churches with Scripture transforming every language group on earth by 2050. There are three major gaps in the Bible Translation movement standing between us and this major milestone of the Great Commission:

      1. Scripture-less language groups with little or no church which requires a specialized strategy.
      2. Areas of extreme linguistic diversity where the number of languages requires more translation resources than our partners have available,
      3. Languages worldwide with “finished” translation projects that were never used by the people.

We estimate that if our small team were to grow rapidly and become capable of starting and finishing around 10 percent of the remaining translation projects in the world, our larger partners would have enough momentum to handle the other 90 percent of the needs.

First Gap: Language Contexts Lacking Church, Scripture, and Transformation

First, to accomplish the task we need to fill the gap among the Church-less, Scripture-less language communities. Bible Translation agencies naturally prioritize language groups with churches so that their Scriptures will be used. Church planting agencies tend to prioritize the majority language contexts in the urban centers of the world. This leaves around 900 minority languages–200 million Scripture-less, Church-less people–in a strategic gap.

We believe Jesus is moved with great compassion for these suffering the most extreme spiritual poverty in the world–who also typically are among the most physically impoverished peoples of the world. What greater need could attract the compassion of God than marginalized people far from knowing him without a church to show his love and without Scripture to reveal the path to hope?

There are many church planting agencies that do some Bible Translation work on the side, but PBT is one of the only Bible Translation agencies that also has church planting as one of its original purposes. This makes PBT uniquely suited to translate the Bible for language groups that have neither church nor Scripture.

Second Gap: Language Contexts Lacking Scripture

Second, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the gap among the areas of the world with the greatest linguistic diversity. In most places around the world our partners are set to start all the projects needed over the next 20 years. They will be in position to translate most all of the New Testaments needed by 2050.

However, pockets of extreme linguistic diversity are scattered over the earth that defy the current resources of the Bible Translation movement. We need to rise to the challenge and focus 50 of our proposed 250 new projects on supplementing the efforts of our partners in places where the church is already present, but the Scriptures are needed to disciple the people as Jesus commanded.

Third Gap: Languages Lacking Vernacular Scripture-Based Transformation

Third, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the global gap of a lack of Scripture impact in scattered language communities that have received a translation in their language, but for some reason churches have never begun to use the Scripture. No one in the Bible Translation movement knows how many translations in the world have not begun to be used. We will find out.

We know from our experience that the problem is considerable. On a recent trip to South Asia I found church planting efforts everywhere using second or third language Scriptures to advance the gospel when first language translations were available. How much would the growth of the Church accelerate if more of these movements used Scripture in the local language? Often we find people who have simply never heard the suggestion or don’t know that the Scriptures already exist or where to find them.

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Sometimes they need an audio format or some kind of oral storying to stimulate interest in Scripture. In other cases, the translation was completed, but there are no churches to use the Scripture. We will recruit and train Scripture Impact personnel that will research the scope of this problem and trouble-shoot regionally by innovating ways to promote the use of the vernacular Scriptures among the churches and church planting agencies active in each region of the world.

In cases where there are no churches in the language community, it will be necessary to put together church planting teams without the normal translation element and/or to mobilize some of our church planting partners to meet the need. By 2050 these workers will ensure that there are networks of churches using Scripture to grow and multiply in every language community with enough language vitality to need their own Scripture.

 We’ll see with time if all of our brain-storming ideas will come to fruition and we will see the gaps getting smaller and smaller as we find effective means to target and work in these Bible-less groups.

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

Faith In Spite Of Suffering

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Turning Suffering Into a Testimony

Sad as it is true, life is filled with pain.  Unfortunately, many crises in our lives are not of our own doing, but have come about simply out of the unfortunate circumstances of life.  At other times, our suffering does come at the hands of others and so we have no control when it strikes us.

One of my readers of “The Listening Post” has shared confidentially with me about how hard her life has been, but she has a great testimony of faith and trust in God.  It is her desire to have her testimony shared so that it can be of encouragement to others who may have gone through similar experiences.  I will call her Shelly for the sake of her privacy.  Let me summarize for you Shelly’s story:

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“When I was a little girl, my Mom gave me away.  I have been in Foster Homes and badly beaten. I had no one to care for me.  But through everything, God was there.  At age 3, my Dad got me back.  He worked in the coal mines.  He pulled me from a burning house.  I was almost killed in two house fires and a car wreck, but God was there.

“I grew to 6 years old and had to take care of my 2 year old sister.  I cooked and cleaned and had to learn on my own.  I had stayed with my cousins who were ages 13 and age 3.  This was the second house that caught fire.  My Dad came running up the street and pulled me out, but my two cousins did not make it out.  But God was there for me.

“In 1982, two days before my graduation from school, I was sexually assaulted.  I went to the Counsellor’s office who listened and she went to the principal and they helped.  I suffered a lot in that last week of June.  But God helped me through.  There was one woman who treated me like her daughter who helped me, and when I visited her one day, I saw the picture of her oldest son.  I fell in love and so the woman called him up and told him a Christian girl wanted to meet him. 

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“He came to see me, and we fell in love at first sight.  We went together for five months and in November we got married.  But then he got sick in January and went into a hospital.  It was snowing a lot and I had to thumb a ride to the hospital in the middle of that winder storm.  The snow was up to my knees.  But I kept my faith, and God took care of us.  I knew that He was with us. 

“My husband got well and came home from the hospital in March.  He got well, and I got pregnant and gave birth to a son on December 18.  We walked everywhere, going to the stores, and to the doctors, or wherever.  We lived in a small trailer.  In ’87 I became pregnant again, and then two weeks before time to give birth I was in a car wreck.  On May 6, I gave birth to a baby boy, but he died.  It took three doctors to bring him back to life.  God had his hand in it.  He was my miracle baby. 

“Jobs were hard to get so we moved a couple time.  My brother committed suicide, but before he did, he tried to kill me and my two sons.  God was our shield and protected us.  I had some more pregnancies after that time, another son in ’92, but then lost twin girls.  We had to move a lot across Texas for my husband to find different work.  God was there and helped him find work. 

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“We did go to one church while in one town in Texas.  My son got in trouble and went to jail for 6 years.  The church turned us away, but I still knew God was with us.  Then we found a good church in Waskom, Texas and we stayed with them and the town there for eight years.  I helped out in the church, I cleaned it and handed out cards and sent birthday and get well cards.  But then we got a letter from the city that put us out of our home and on to the streets.

“The trailers in this park were not moveable and the owners were selling the land where we rented.  They wanted to build on the land.  Our pastor tried everything he could to help us.  But none of the plans succeeded.  So our church gave us a going away party.  Well, a week before this my husband called his dad who found us a trailer to live in Charleston, West Virginia.  We did not have money to move.   But our church took up a collection and we got enough to make the move. 

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“We got there in November, but the trailer had no water or heat for one month.  But God was still there.  I still have my Lord and Savior.  We were there for one week and we were looking for a good church.  And God brought us to a wonderful church.  We went in and the next thing we knew the church welcomed us with open arms, as if they were waiting for us to arrive.  WOW!!  Our God is awesome. 

“Within a week I was going to the quilting ministry group.  The church loved us and they helped us with almost $500 so we could get our water and electricity turned on.  God is so Great.  We are still Christians who are living for our Jesus.  We have helped many young people and took them off the streets and into our home.  We gave them food and shelter.  And many days now, God keeps blessing us.  Our church in Texas loves us and still misses us.  And the church here loves us too.  My life is great with my God, and His blessings keep on coming.”

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Thank you Shelly for sharing about your faith, telling us of how much you love God and God loves you, and how you show the compassion of Jesus to others who are in need.  May we all learn from you how to be stronger Christians ourselves.  Amen.

What Is Wrong With This Picture

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Jesus Clears Out The Temple

John 2:13 –  17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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