The Cost Of Discipleship

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John 15:18 – 16:4

18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don’t belong to it. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: A servant is not greater than his master. If people did wrong to me, they will do wrong to you, too. And if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours, too. 21 They will do all this to you on account of me, because they do not know the One who sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 I did works among them that no one else has ever done. If I had not done these works, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen what I have done, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this happened so that what is written in their law would be true: ‘They hated me for no reason.’ 

    

26 “I will send you the Helper  from the Father; he is the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father. When he comes, he will tell about me, 27 and you also must tell people about me, because you have been with me from the beginning.

16 “I have told you these things to keep you from giving up. People will put you out of their synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God. They will do this because they have not known the Father and they have not known me. I have told you these things now so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.

                                

We don’t hear a lot these days in sermons about the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Why is that?  Has the message changed since the words of Jesus were recorded in the Bible so long ago?  No, that cannot be.  For if Jesus’ words are meant to help His followers throughout the centuries, then His message must be able to stand above all cultures of men and speak into each culture authoritatively as absolute truth, not relative truth.

The world has not changed.  We know that there have always been people who will be opposed to God and who will choose to follow after their own self-determined will.  This has been the case from the beginning of time.  Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”

So what has changed?  I believe that we have allowed the culture of this world to influence the church, rather than the church influence the world.  Paul tells us that it should not be this way, for he writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  We are to have the mind of Christ, and that is meant to cause us to stand out as being different from the world, in a positive way.

    

We do need to be ready though for the consequences of being true disciples of Christ.  Jesus says here in our passage that the world (people opposed to God) will hate us.  But that is because they first hated Him.  And why is that?  Because as He says here, when Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He exposed the human heart and made it clear that without repentance and submission to God, all men stand as sinners before God.

As Jesus pointed out to His disciples, He had performed many miracles during His life ministry.  And these miracles gave testimony that Jesus possessed the power and authority of God Himself.  This was clearly seen in Mark 2:1-12 where Jesus not only made a paralyzed man be able to walk again, but He also forgave him of all of his sins.  The religious leaders responded with hatred towards Him though, instead of belief, because they saw Him as a threat to their established ritualistic religion.

It is so sad that those who have the most elaborate religious rituals and practices often times have the least understanding of what it means and takes to have a deep relationship with God.  For as is so often the case, the worshippers become bound by the rituals themselves, and they forget the Author behind the religion which has produced all these rules.

    

The end result for those of us who are honestly seeking to know and worship the true God will often be that we are rejected and ridiculed by those who are in the world, pursuing a life apart from God.  And we may find that we are also rejected by those who seem to be the most religious of people.  For if we do not follow all of their rituals, we are deemed not to be “religious” or “spiritual” in their eyes.

Jesus gave the disciples this speech the night before He died in that upper room where He had the last supper with them.  He wanted them to be warned about what they would face by being His disciples.  But He was not going to leave them on their own.  He promised that the Holy Spirit, who comes from God the Father, would come to be with them and help them.  That will be the focus of the next article.

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First Exciting Months On The Mission Field

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

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6 Months…

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

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

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

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A Volcano

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

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

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

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Independence Day

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

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

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Cultural Corner

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

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

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Neighborhood Noises . .

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

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

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

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

And The Angels Rejoiced

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A “Hevi” Moment Turns Hearts to God

I just recently came across an article that we had written sometime after the first year of our time living in a remote village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  The vast majority of Papuans consider themselves to be Christians, based on the fact they had been baptized in infancy, and they were able to confess their sins once a year when a priest came around.

For the rest of each year, the people mostly revert back to their animistic roots.  They are afraid of evil spirits, and would like to find out how they can harness the spiritual forces of all the spirits and spiritual forces that surround them so that they can use these powers to be beneficial for themselves.

So there is a surface veneer of Christianity, while there is a deeper core belief in the power of the animistic forces that surround them every day.  This is the backdrop against an event that happened in our village.  Here is the story….

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When an unexpected or unhappy event happens in the village it is called a “hevi” (heavy).  During an afternoon meeting we heard “wanpela pikinini em i dai” which translated says, “one little child has died!”  (An important bit of language learning here, the pidgin word “dai” by itself meant to faint or be unconscious.)

John brought his son, Nika, to our PBT house and we had prayer for him. (Names changed for privacy sake.)  John was convinced that the illness was brought on by the workings of black magic.  Jill went to the clinic to ask the doctors their opinion and the word was that Nika had cerebral malaria.  With the amount of seizures he had, they were not very optimistic about the outcome.

The next day, word came that Nika had “dai finis” (died completely).  But John couldn’t find a way to deal with this sudden death of his son.  He was convinced that an old man of our village was a “sanguma man” (sorcerer) and had worked black magic which caused not only the illness but also the death.  When the old man heard the accusation, he fled into the jungle afraid that John would now seek to kill him in return.  But I sent word to the old man to come to see me, and let me talk to him.

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I also sent word out so that many PBT people and friends would pray for both of these families, and for wisdom for all the leadership of the village.  The old man did come back and they all marked Sunday afternoon to have a village meeting.  The local council leaders would come and hear the “evidence” as John would set out to prove that black magic was used to kill his son.

I was invited to attend the meeting.  After listening to all the arguments, I then added my thoughts about how the child had been under our care, was on the mission property (which they considered to be God’s territory) when he had actually died the week earlier, and had also been covered by the prayers of many people.  I presented the thought that the child was in God’s hands before he died and that no force of this world could “cause” the death.

The meeting broke out into a heated argument from both sides.  And even though I tried to help them see what Scripture has to say about the power of God and the power of prayer being more powerful than any spiritual force of this world, John refused to change his opinion about the old man.  This had gone on for a few hours, and no final conclusions were made.  I was quite upset with how things had turned out.

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So all the discussions stopped and since they couldn’t come to an agreement on the case, it would then have to go to the provincial court.  This would not be good for anyone, and our village would be marked as one that has a history of black magic trouble.  The meeting broke up, but then the women began to bring food out for everyone.  (This is the normal way to show hospitality after any kind of meeting.)

I felt emotionally sick about the whole meeting….so I just handed my food to one of the men and said, “I’m too upset to eat,” and I came home.  Now in this culture, it is a major insult to refuse food.  However, it also shows that someone is “bel hevi” (heavy-hearted) when they do not accept the gift of food being offered.

And so I left the meeting, and crossed the shallow stream to go to my house, and I was so upset that I stomped back and forth around my house feeling frustrated at the whole affair.  But about 15 minutes later, two council members came by and said they wanted to talk to me.  I came out and they said, “It’s a miracle!  They’ve shaken hands!”

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Since “shaking hands” is a cultural way of saying that someone has forgiven wrongs done to them by someone else, I was absolutely amazed.  So I asked them to repeat what they had said, thinking that I had missed something in the language.  But both these council members could speak English too, and they said in very plain English, “It’s all settled.  God has brought us a miracle.”

And in a state of disbelief, I asked how this miracle came about.  And one village elder said, “Well, didn’t you say you and many of your PBT friends were praying?”  I said “Yes.”  And he responded, “Well, God answered those prayers.”  And that was good enough for him, and it also was good enough for me.

And just as we were speaking, we heard the sound of singing.  It was a group from the church that had come back from a village hike and they were singing and praising God for their safe return to our village.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  It reminded me of Luke 15:10 about the angels rejoicing whenever a sinner repents.  I wish I could have peeked into heaven at that moment.  But I have a sense that yes indeed, the angels were rejoicing that day.

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Best Movie of 2009

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The Battle For Pandora

I love to watch movies.  Jill and our kids love to watch movies.  We have so many good memories of watching hilarious side-splitting movies, and nail-biting action/thriller movies, and well done just-for-fun animation movies.  And of course we all can appreciate a good romance story.  So when they came out with a movie that had all of these aspects, plus fantastic cinematography, there was little doubt in my mind that we had just seen the best movie of 2009.

Which movie do you ask?  Well, Avatar of course.  At least in my opinion it was the best movie of the year.  But then I checked online for what others were saying about the movie, and three of the top movie rating sites put Avatar easily within the top 10 movies of the year.  Here are some of the comments from the movie critics:

  • Avatar is the BIGGEST movie of 2009. There is literally NO other movie that in any way, shape, or form that could conceivably be bigger. Why? First, it’s the first theatrical movie written and directed by James Cameron since Titanic, i.e. the highest grossing movie EVER. Second, by all reports, Cameron has spent the better part of a decade prepping for Avatar and has allegedly completely reinvented 3D technology to make a blow-you-through-the-back-of-your-seat experience that will remind you why watching DVDs will NEVER replace the glory of seeing a movie up on the big screen. Third, it’s a massive scope sci-fi epic, a genre that Cameron does extremely well (i.e., Terminator 2 and Aliens).   (www.movieretriever.com)
  • Avatar is the event movie of the decade, a film you absolutely must see in theaters – in digital 3-D – to believe. Cameron employed technology created just for Avatar, and the end result is a groundbreaking, spellbinding, brilliant piece of art.   (www.movies.about.com)
  • You’re probably already tired of hearing about how “James Cameron has completely revolutionized filmmaking” with his 12-years-in-the-making 3D extravaganza. Well, sorry to say it, but he kind of has. ‘Avatar‘ is the first movie in which 3D is seamlessly integrated into almost every scene to eye-popping and, frankly, gorgeous effect.   (www.blog.moviefone.com)

And another thing that I found out about while surfing the net to find out more about how well this movie succeeded, is that it has taken the lead for the highest-grossing film ever produced.  It was in 1997 that Cameron produced Titanic and it grossed worldwide over 1.8 billion dollars.  But Avatar blew right past this record by making almost 2.8 billion dollars so far, and it is still going.

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So why would I write an article about this movie?  What does a fictional story about the battle between humans and the native Na’vi have to do with my life and work as a missionary to Papua New Guinea?  Aren’t we suppose to go to the movie theaters to be entertained?  Or is there a connection between Hollywood and real life?  Well, to help answer these questions, let me copy here a summarization of the movie from IMDB (Internet Movie Database):

When his brother is killed in a robbery, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge’s intentions of driving off the native humanoid “Na’vi” in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland.

In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na’vi people with the use of an “avatar” identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand – and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. Written by The Massie Twins

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When I saw this movie, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between the peoples of Papua New Guinea and the powerful industrial companies who have come to the pristine country of PNG and destroyed the land and cheated the people out of their own natural resources.  It is deplorable what some outsiders have done to the land and the people of PNG.

And what about the missionaries?  Where do they fit in?  I’m sure there are always going to be some examples of bad missionaries, but I would like to contend that most missionaries are similar to Jake in that they identify with the people and love the people and want to help them protect their culture and land, not destroy it as some anthropologists claim.

Of course we must also recognize that there are some significant differences when we compare missionaries to Jake.  Missionaries are motivated by the love of God and the desire to help meet the spiritual needs of people, as well as their physical and emotional needs.  And whereas Jake, by the end of the movie, went totally “native”, we as missionaries recognize that while many parts of local culture are good and need to be preserved, there is still much in all human cultures that needs to be challenged and transformed in light of the truths found in Scripture.

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And so I found myself captivated by this movie.  All too soon the theater lights came up.  But for a few hours, I was transported back to the times our family lived in a remote village of PNG.  I loved the people there.  It was a beautiful world, and yet also a tragic world.  Parts of their local culture was evil (with their sorcery and animistic beliefs), but then some of our Western ways are evil too (our commercialism and individualistic capitalism).  I just pray that as the missionary caught in the middle, that I was able to make a difference for good among these people, and that they might have a better life here, but an even better life hereafter for those who turned their hearts towards God.

Breaking Down Barriers

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Breaking Down The Barriers

Read Ephesians 2:11-22

Throughout the New Testament, whether in the narrative stories of the four gospels and the book of Acts, or in the teaching letters that make up the rest of the New Testament, we read about the great love that God has for all of mankind.  He demonstrated this by sending His Son, Jesus, to live among people to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven and then to die on a cross to make the payment for all of our sins.  This is called Grace!  And for many people, this is considered a great mystery.  And in the Bible it says that “many prophets and righteous men longed to see…and hear…” the things that the disciples of Jesus saw and heard. (Matthew 13:17)  Even the angels look on at God’s wonderful acts of grace and are amazed. (1 Peter 1:12)

But there is more to this mystery than just man being reconciled with God, although this is in and of itself an amazing truth.  What may be even more amazing for some people is that Jesus’ sacrifice has paved the way for people to be reconciled to other people.  Considering how many wars there have been over time, and continue to be between people, it is almost beyond belief that warring parties could ever put down their weapons, put away their hostility, and forgive each other, even to the point of calling each other “brother”.

This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:19.  From the time of Abraham up until our present day, there has been hostility between the twelve tribes of Israel, which eventually became known as the Jewish people, and all other people groups of the world, whom they called “Gentiles”.  But Paul teaches us that those who are joined with Christ become “one people”.  Jesus tore down the “dividing wall of hostility” and made one people out of two.

This expression used here, “the dividing wall of hostility”, is thought of by many commentators to be an allusion to the wall found within the Temple at Jerusalem that separated the Jews from non-Jews, prohibiting the latter from entering in further into the Temple.  It was a constant reminder to the Gentiles that they did not have direct access to the God of the Jews, who is in fact really the God of all mankind.  But Jesus broke down that barrier and has allowed both Jew and Gentile to be able to come directly into God’s presence.  And in the process, he eliminated the hostility that had existed between them.

I can’t help but think of a fascinating experience that we had while we lived in a village in Papua New Guinea.  Having lived in PNG for a few years, I was well aware of the fact that hostilities run deep in the culture there, and fights can break out at any time.  One of the reasons why most villages are small in PNG, often less than a hundred people, is because of these constant rivalries, feuds, disputes, and hostilities that break out.

This led to a distinct problem in that country over the centuries, namely how to get wives for the men of the village.  Until recently, one of the ways the people solved this was to go out on raiding parties and storm another village, taking some of the young women for their men.  If the village about to be raided had enough warning, they would construct a solid bamboo wall to block the raiders from gaining entry into the village.  For millennia, there have literally been walls of hostility built up between the people groups of PNG.

So it was of great interest to me and my family when we heard that a man from our village was going to “claim” his wife-to-be from a neighbouring village.  We watched the men of our village as they put on their war paint and get ready to raid the other village.  We followed them down the trail to the other village.  And as expected, there was a massive bamboo and foliage barrier blocking our path.

That’s when things really got interesting.  Men on both sides of the barrier yelled and hooted and hollered as loud as they could.  Some men with bow and arrows jumped around looking for a target.  Others who had long spears or machetes banged them together and made threatening advances against the barricade.  All around me was noise and confusion, until suddenly, the barricade fell inwards and in one big rush we swarmed into the village.

All the men of this village were corralled into one side of the open square, and all the women were gathered together on the other side.  Meanwhile, our men searched the entire village until finally the wife-to-be was found and brought to the open square and presented to the hunting husband.  And do you know what happened next? ….. Suddenly, all the people from both villages clapped, and cheered, and laughed at the great entertainment they had that day.  It turned out that everyone was play-acting, while still remembering their tribal culture of days gone by.

So what changed these tribal people so that they could embrace their neighbouring villages, instead of going to war with them?  I’m sure there are many factors that are involved with this change in PNG.  But I am convinced that the entry of Christianity over the past 100 years into these primitive areas of the world has had a profound effect on the people.  Where there had been dividing walls of hostility before, now I am seeing more and more that the people of PNG are embracing each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is what Christ came to do, to reconcile mankind with God, and also to reconcile men and women with each other.

Thank you Jesus, that You are the Lord of all!