The Power Of Life Changing Scriptures

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Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV)

[Editor’s Note: The Bible is powerful in touching and transforming lives. One example of this truth is found in the account given by William Butler, a longtime missionary with Pioneer Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea.]

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It had been a long week. Every day from early in the morning until late afternoon, and sometimes into the evenings, we’d been checking the translation of Mark’s Gospel into the Waran language. We wanted to see if the translation accurately and clearly transmitted God’s message.

One of the faithful members of the checking committee was Mindo. An older man and former village representative in the local government council, he was well-respected in the community. His knowledge of the language was immense and we welcomed him as a valuable part of the committee.

However, the week was difficult for Mindo. He wasn’t accustomed to sitting for such long periods of time. The constant mental strain of listening and evaluating every phrase was exhausting. Occasionally, Mindo nodded off in the heat of the afternoon. How much of the message of Christ’s words could be getting through to him?

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Then we came to Chapter 14 which details the arrest and subsequent mistreatment of Jesus. As the account of the arrest was read, Mindo perked up. As Jesus was led before the Council and liars came in to give testimony against Him, Mindo lowered his head and kept his eyes on the floor, a Waran posture which demonstrates embarrassment and shame.

When verse 65 was read, Mindo began to vocalize his feelings. Following each new humiliation heaped on Jesus, Mindo quietly responded with, “Oh, sorry, sorry.” With each report, his head sunk lower and his eyes bored more deeply into the floor.

The Council spit on Jesus and hit Him with their fists.
“Oh, sorry.”

The guards slapped Him.
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

Peter denied Him.
“Oh, sorry.”

The crowd shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

The soldiers slammed a crown of thorns on His head and mocked Him.
“Oh, sorry.”

They led Him away and crucified him.
“Oh, sorry, sorry.”

As the story was read in his heart language, Mindo had a deeply emotional and powerful experience vividly reliving the last hours of Christ’s life in his mind. He felt the shame and humiliation Jesus suffered. He felt his own personal shame because he realized that Jesus endured each of these things for him. He saw, as he had never seen before, Jesus, Son of God, Savior.

May everyone who reads or hears the Word as it goes forth in Waran be as personally and emotionally affected as Mindo. Then the Christ of history will become the Living Christ with power to challenge and change lives.

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Thank God for His powerful, life-changing Scripture.

Thank God for the impact Mark 14 had on Mindo as he heard it read in his language.

Pray that the Waran people will soon have the entire New Testament in their language and that it will penetrate and transform their lives as they worship Jesus and serve Him as their Savior and Lord.

Pray that God’s Word will have a life-changing impact on more and more people in the 58 language groups where Pioneer Bible Translators now serves.

Pray for a fresh hunger and thirst to daily feed your soul on God’s written message to you. Thank Him for those who have enabled you to have the Bible in your language.

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In just a few weeks, we will be celebrating Easter once again.  This is the time we rejoice that Jesus conquered death and was resurrected from the grave.  But let us never forget the terrible suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf.  To deal with the problem of sin which separated Mankind from God, Jesus had to die on the cross, carrying all of our sins with Him.  He was put to death to finally eliminate the cause of our spiritual death and separation from God.

When we slow down the details of Jesus’ trials and the suffering and pain He endured, even before He went on the cross, is really quite gruesome.  But that is a picture of what sin has done to all of us.  One by one, the sinful actions we had done would inflict another lash of Satan’s attack on our souls and reap the punishment of God’s holy wrath.

But Jesus took our place and took that punishment for sin that ought to have been ours.  When we realize the full impact of this, I believe that we too, just like Mindo, would hang our heads in shame at what our sinful actions had done to Jesus, the very Son of God.

But praise be to God, Jesus was able to bear our sins, nail them to the cross, and rise victorious over sin, Satan and death.  And for us who believe in Jesus, we too will exerience this same kind of resurrection to a new life with God forever.  Hallelujah!

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Jesus Must Die To Save People

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John 11: 45 – 53

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

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49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

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They say that “seeing is believing”.  So it is not surprising that some people “believed in Jesus” after He caused Lazarus to come out alive from a tomb, who had been dead and buried for four days.  But notice what some other people did – they ran to Jerusalem (about 2 miles) to inform the religious leaders there of what had happened in Bethany.

This immediately caused the religious leaders to convene an emergency council of the highest ecclesiastical body of leaders called the Sanhedrin.  Consisting of 70 elders of Israel, they were like the religious Supreme Court of their day.  All final decisions for the Jewish people, both religiously and some times politically were determined by this group of men.

These leaders had not personally seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, but they certainly had enough eye witnesses come to them to know that Jesus was a man who performed “great signs”.  This is another way to say that Jesus was filled with supernatural power to accomplish the miraculous.  This should have led these men also to come to a point of believing in Jesus.

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It’s interesting to see that they did not deny the facts that Jesus was able to perform miracles, “Here is this man performing many signs.”   But rather than praise God for the miraculous deeds that Jesus was doing, they saw His actions as being a serious threat to them.  Religiously, they were concerned that many more people would “believe in Him”.  Politically, they were afraid that the Romans would come in force and threaten to destroy their Temple and their nation of Israel.

To understand these fears, it would be necessary to study the 200 years prior to Christ to see what was happening religiously and politically within Israel and within throughout the Roman Empire.  After Alexander the Great had conquered most of their then known world, from Greece to India, Israel was made subject to them. But some rebel Jews rose up, brothers whom we call “the Maccabees”, who won their freedom from Greece.

But rivalries over who would become the next leaders of Israel led to more fighting and a chaotic period resulted.  As a pretence, the Romans who were now subjugating countries under the new Roman Empire, came into Jerusalem to help establish “peace”.  This peace was a fragile thing and required an “occupying force” of Roman garrisons of soldiers.  The Jewish king, like King Herod, had to be appointed by Rome, and the religious leaders had to agree to keep the people in line to not form a rebellion against Rome, or suffer the “Fist of Rome” by having their people captured and made into slaves, and their cities and their Temple smashed into the ground.

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The threat to the Jews was very real.  But these leaders took this threat personally, “the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”  Notice the pronoun “our” in their statement.  So Jesus’ popularity was seen to be a threat to this fragile peace, so he was a threat to them.  If Jesus was being hailed as the “coming Messiah” it would lead to people wanting Jesus to be their political king who ruled over a religiously free Jewish state.

Therefore, in the minds of the religious leaders, there was only one way they could see to save themselves and to save, in their opinion, the people and their religious ways, was to have Jesus killed.  If He were removed out of the picture, then no uprising or open rebellion would be presented against Rome.  They would be safe, or so they thought.

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They believed that Jesus’ death would be the end of His ministry among the Jews.  But they were wrong, oh so wrong.  We have the privilege to look forward and know that Jesus would rise again from the grave.  Jesus would demonstrate that He had the power to conquer death, and by His example, give us hope that we too will one day be resurrected from death.

But much more than that, we know from Scripture that when Jesus died on the Cross, He accepted this penalty of death for the sins that every man and woman have committed against God.  He opened up the way for men to be reconciled back into a relationship with God.  So even though the  High Priest was acting out of selfish motives, He was still used by God to declare a deep spiritual truth, “one man [must] die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Let us always be thankful that Jesus was willing to die, so that we who believe in Him will be able to live with Him forever.

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Animistic Practices & The Cross of Christ

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[Editor’s Note:  This story happened to a couple who are members of Pioneer Bible Translators and have been working in Nothern Africe.]

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The witchdoctor got to my husband first.  He was surprisingly young, and his white tennis shoes contrasted starkly with the leather loin cloth around his waist and baboon hide satchel slung across his chest.  A spray of feathers was tied to his head and most appendages were adorned with leather thongs tied around small pieces of wood.

Cupping the back of my husband’s head firmly with one hand, the Kujur pulled his face towards him and with amazing precision, showered a thick spray of saliva and chewed ginger root across both cheeks and forehead. After he finished, it was my turn.

When it was once again appropriate for us to continue on our way, our cultural guide and host informed us that we had just received a blessing.  “He is welcoming you,” he happily assured us as we nodded and smiled while discreetly wiping ginger paste off of our eyelids.

The reason for our warm welcome last week was Garin, a traditional ceremony we had been invited to attend in a remote village. We spent four days in the area watching and learning as hundreds of people took part in very old rituals and celebrations of their culture. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world that felt very far away from the ones we grew up in.

From what we could tell, the occasion was a mix of celebration and grief as people danced and sang through the night and wailed and mourned for people who had died in the past year. It was beautiful and haunting, and above all very, very spiritual. 

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Late into the evening, drums resounded to the rhythms of people reciting Arabic prayers from their holy book. Most songs the witchdoctors sang involved hands or massive animal horns raised heavenward.  Several goats were brought to the gathering and slaughtered, most likely as sacrifices. Every greeting included the words “Praise be to God” many times over.

And there were blessings—many blessings (some of which involved ginger root and spit). Consciousness of God and the spiritual world were all around us. And even though the spirituality we witnessed was very animistic, with strong flavors of another major world religion blended in, we were deeply impacted by people’s awareness of God and their desire to draw close to him.

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It was a bitter-sweet occasion for us. While we were amazed at the genuine spirituality of these people, we were burdened by the great fear that the absence of Jesus left in their lives. However, in the midst of all of these frenzied traditions and rituals, one thing was particularly meaningful to us. Everywhere we looked we could not help but to notice crosses.

These crosses were engraved in brass bracelets. They were chalked onto the shaved heads of grieving women. They were carved into wooden dancing sticks.  And perhaps most notably, they were scarred deep into the cheeks and forearms of people everywhere. The cross is meaningful to this community in ways we don’t fully understand yet, denoting things like clan membership and status. It is a part of who they are and has been for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years.

Last week, watching the singing, dancing and crying from the shade of a baobab tree, we grew ever more excited about the future. A people hungry for God who already find identity in the cross stirs our hearts. But it’s Jesus and His cross that we long for these people to know. Our prayer is that the day will come soon when these symbols that they have born for so long will mean more to them than they ever have before.

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This is quite a haunting story, as mentioned above.  I would have to agree that this story burdens my heart too, to read about a people group that recognizes the spiritual realm that exists all around us and yet they do not have a personal relationship with the Creator God who is the Author of all that exists, both physically and spiritually.

The details shared here, about the engravings of the crosses, does give us hope that these people will want to discover the full story and meaning of the Cross of Christ.  The images are there, but the message has been obscured so that they don’t know its true meaning.  Yet I believe they are searching and yearning to know the truth.

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This reminds me of a story shared by Marilyn Lazlo, a well known missionary who worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  She traveled one time deeper and deeper into the interior jungle of Papua New Guinea, to a region where no Christian missionary had every traveled before.  She was fascinated by all the sights and sounds and meeting all the people for the very first time.

Then she looked up on to a hill ridge, and she noticed a Papuan style thatched roof and bamboo siding house.  And on top of the house, there was a cross that had been nailed together and placed there.  When Marilyn asked what missionary had come to build that house, they told her that she was the first missionary to ever come there.

She asked the next obvious question then.  “Then why is there a cross on top and whose house is that?”  The people replied, “It is God’s house.  We have built it for Him.  And someday, God will send us someone to explain what the cross is and what God wants to tell us.”  These people too once had a cross, but no meaning in that cross.  Praise God, now some 40 years later, they do know God.  Now we must pray that the people of North Africa will discover the Christ of all the crosses they bear.

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

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 10

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

                                          

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

                                          

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

OLD

NEW

I was alone because of sinful choices.

I am complete in Christ.

I was accused and ashamed.

I am free from condemnation.

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

I am established and anointed.

I was lazy and unmotivated.

I am God’s co-worker.

I was harming my body with my actions.

I am God’s workmanship.

I was living without care or responsibility.

I am a royal priest in God’s eyes.

I was unethical.

I am honest and hard-working.

I was a bad parent.

I am a good, intentional parent.

I was feeling forsaken.

I am forgiven.

I was prone to wander.

I am a faithful spouse.

I was addicted.

I am dependent only on God.

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

                                           

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

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 9

In John 10:10, Jesus tells his disciples (and by extension He tells all of us too) that He came into this world in order that people might truly live and have an abundant life.  Most Christians understand that this refers to the renewed spiritual life we can have with God once we accept Jesus as our Lord and have our sins forgiven.  But that is not all that Jesus is talking about.

Sadly, there are still many believers in Christ who have accepted Jesus into their lives, but also believe that there still must be something that they must “do” to really experience complete forgiveness of their sins.  This wrong thinking not only robs the cross of Christ of its full meaning and impact, but it also robs the person of experiencing the fuller life which they can live in the freedom that has been purchased for them on the cross.

    

 Max Lucado points out very well in chapter five of his book “GOD’S STORY, your story” that we tend to hang on to our faults and mistakes and that this is like putting on old clothes that declare “We are sinners!”  And since we are the ones who keep putting these old clothes back on, we think that it is also up to us to “do good” to be able to remove these old sins and faults.

Listen to how Lucado sums this up on page 83:

Welcome to the vest system.  Hard to hide it.  Harder still to discard it.  But we work at doing so.  Emphasis on the word “work”.  Overcome bad deeds with good ones.  Offset bad choices with godly ones, stupid moves with righteous ones.  But the vest removal process is flawed.  No one knows what work to do or how long to do it.

When we really understand the message of the Bible as it speaks about how we are all flawed and sinful people (see Romans 3:23), we also come to realize that there is nothing that we can do to fix this and become righteous people in God’s sight.  That is the bad news.  But the good news is that we don’t have to “do” anything, besides accept Christ and His death to be our substitution for the penalty for sin (see Romans 6:23).

    

Hooray!  Wonderful!!  We can’t take off our dirty rags of sin, but Jesus can!!!  That’s great news.  And it gets even better.  Lucado says on page 87:

You can remove your vest.  Toss the thing in a trash barrel, and set it on fire.  You need never wear it again.  Does better news exist?  Actually, yes.  There is more.  We not only remove our vest; we put on His!  He is “our righteousness”  (1 Corinthians 1:30).

How incredible and amazing is God’s love!  When we were sinners, God still loved us (see Romans 5:8), but as a holy God, He could not bear to look at us in our state of sinfulness.  If that were the end of the story, then God would have to leave us abandoned and forsaken, something that happens all too often in families today.

But as Jesus was dying on the cross, not for any crime or sin that He had committed, He took our sins upon himself (read Isaiah 53:12) and exchanged his robes of righteousness with us so that we could be considered holy by God.  In that brief but climactic moment before Jesus died, as He carried all of our sins to the grave, He exclaimed “God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Jesus allowed himself to be forsaken at that moment in order that we might no longer be forsaken by God.

    

At that moment, we passed out from under the curse of sin and death and entered into the light and life of God.  As I said near the beginning of this article, this life definitely refers to the gift of eternal spiritual life with God as people freed from captivity to sin.  But Scripture also promises us so much more richness of life while we are still living on this earth.

Perhaps the word that can sum it up best is the word “freedom”.  By placing our lives under the authority of Christ, He releases us so that we are free from sin, free from the power of Satan, and even free from self as we are so apt to keep ourselves bound to our old habits and behaviours that trip us up and end up creating more misery in our lives.

    

Once we embrace all of this, then we can truly live.  We will live to love our neighbour, to love our God, and even properly learn how to love and forgive ourselves.  It is at this point that we will then begin to really experience great family lives, great marriages, and great friendships with others.  At this point, we will be content and even prosper in our businesses and careers in life, because God’s blessings will be upon us.

And then when the end of our lives do come, we will graduate from a great life here to a fabulous life there.  As Lucado says, our names will be “written in the Book of the Lamb.  Not in pencil marks that can be erased, but with blood that will not be removed.  No need to keep God happy; He is satisfied.  No need to pay the price; Jesus paid it ALL!

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

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

Jesus Cleans Us From Our Sin

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Celebrating the “Rescuer”

A few days ago I received the monthly newsletter from one of the churches that we stay in touch with.  Each month, the pastor writes an interesting article that touches upon some life experiences, and then he brings home an important spiritual truth from Scripture.  I hope you enjoy this article, and that you get the point that he brings out at the end.

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“This may appeal more to dog lovers than anyone else, but I think you will see the significance in the end. Occasionally we catch a story in the paper or on the news about a fire-fighter saving a pet’s life. The image is moving for most as the animal receives oxygen and in some cases mouth to snout resuscitation. No victim is too small or unimportant in eyes of some rescuers.

During my days on the ambulance, I was dispatched to standby at a house fire. When we arrived, we found the fire-fighters “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.” Thankfully no one was home so there were no victims (or so we thought), but we noticed the fire-fighters carry several small items from the burning house.

The homeowner arrived and was in tears as she watched the rescuers carry out her three pure-bred, show dogs. They were small dogs, but held a big place in the owner’s heart. She immediately called her veterinarian who arrived minutes later. What happened next was amazing to watch.

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The animals were wet, black with soot, and barely moving or breathing. The vet took one in his hands and began to rub it vigorously. Next, he cradled its head in one hand, held the body in the other, and began jerking its head downward forcefully. Its world was tossed upside down, but soot stained fluid began to run from the dog’s mouth.

The vet deep suctioned the animal and moved to the others. After the flipping and deep suctioning, he gave each one a fluid bolus and a shot to stimulate the heart. Within minutes these nearly dead, lethargic dogs began to whimper, shake, and walk. They were brought back from near death.

Maybe you identify with this story because you have lost a dog, experienced a house fire, love dogs, or are interested in medicine. I hope you identify with this story because in many ways it describes each of us. Sin smothers us and chokes the life out of us. Each sin fills our body with death and decay, and pushes righteousness out.

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Sometimes we become so filled with sin that we become lethargic lumps of spiritual mess. Sometimes God turns our world upside down, whirls around, and knocks the wind out of us to get our attention. Even the most difficult times we endure are opportunities to draw closer to the Resurrection and the Life, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, our Rescuer, Jesus.

This Resurrection season, commonly referred to as Easter, is a reminder that Jesus gave his life to pay our penalty. His world was turned upside down when his disciples scattered, he was tormented and brutalized, and then finally killed on a cross. But what we celebrate is that the story does not end there.

He was dead. He was buried. He was mourned over. He was raised. He is at the right hand of God full of life, and freely giving life to those who respond to his rescue attempts. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26). Do you?” *

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I thought it was appropriate to post this article now for two reasons.  This coming weekend is Easter Weekend, and it is always good to think reflectively upon what Jesus did for all of us so long ago when He died on the cross for us.  And secondly, I have just finished doing a verse-by-verse checking session on the Gospel of John with some national translators here in Papua New Guinea.

It has taken us six weeks to do this Advisor Check, where I go over the text with the national men and look for ways to improve the translation.  There may be errors or misunderstandings in their text, or there might be something important missing that needs to be put back into the translation.

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During the course of these six weeks, it is easy at times to forget the bigger picture of why we are going to such lengths to improve this translation.  We need to always remember that the single most important message of Scripture and the reason for what we do, is the message of God’s love for people expressed through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

So during the checking sessions, I try to make sure we summarize what we are translating.  I want to make sure The Message does not get lost in the process of translation.  So I will now end this posting in the same way that I started it.  I hope you enjoyed the story about the fire-fighters rescuing the dogs.  But more importantly, I hope that you understand that all of us are in need of a “Rescuer”, namely Jesus.

* Used by permission.