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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Love, Obedience and Joy Go Together

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John 15:1 – 17

As I studied this passage, I was fascinated by how there seemed to be a repetition in what Jesus was saying to His disciples, that what He said in verses 1-8 were echoed or expanded in verses 9-17.  This really should not come as a great surprise though, for we must remember that chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel all took place on the last evening that Jesus spent with His disciples before He was crucified.

If you or I knew that we were just about to die, then I’m sure that we too would want to be very clear to our family and friends that they hear and understand our last wishes.  And to make sure that they really heard us, we too would probably repeat the most important parts again to them.  It seems to me that this is what Jesus did.  And to help see this, I have paired the verses together from the two halves.  Jesus said:

1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.

Both God the Father, and God the Son love you and I very much.  God tenderly cares for us as the Master of a beautiful garden.  It is a love relationship that ties us to God and God to us, and we must choose to remain in that relationship to experience His love.

    

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

Here we see that love and obedience go together.  Jesus modeled for us what obedience to God looked like, and showed that this is the path to experiencing God’s love.   When we truly love God, we desire to obey Him.  If we refuse to live in obedience to Him though, God will remove His watch care over us, and may allow painful events (pruning) to shape our lives to bring about positive growth in our lives.

    

You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

As Christians, we must allow Christ to rule completely in our lives.  And we establish and maintain this relationship through regularly spending time in the Bible, God’s Word.  As we drink in the riches of His Word, we will experience such tremendous joy in connecting and communing with God.

    

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

All that we think we accomplish in this world mean nothing though in the light of eternity.  We need to pursue actions that have eternal significance, such as loving God and others, even as the cost of our own lives.  God will reserve our reward for us in heaven which will never be destroyed.

    

Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.

15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.

All of us begin as broken, sin corrupted people whom God cannot tolerate in his holy presence.  We all deserve to be cast into the fires of hell.  But then God showed His love by sending Jesus to become one of us.  And Jesus showed His love by taking the punishment for our sin.  He then elevates us, who believe in Him, from being slaves to sin to becoming children of God and brothers and sisters to Christ.  Praise God for His great love.

    

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!

16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.

When we make that choice of accepting Jesus as the Lord of our lives, the things that He wants become the things that we want.  We begin to know God’s mind on important matters, and so when we ask for things from God, it is not out of our own selfishness that we ask, but rather a desire to see the Kingdom of God advance in the world.  Therefore, what we ask for will already be within the will of God and He will naturally want to give us those things that we are praying and asking for.

    

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

17 This is my command: Love each other.

The final result is that we will be true disciples, that is, as we follow Jesus, we will become like Jesus, and this will bring honor to God.  In practical terms, we will love others just like Jesus loves others, and was willing to die to demonstrate the love of God to the world.  Wow!!  What deep truths are contained within this passage.

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What Truly Loving Someone Looks Like

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John 13:31-38

31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” 37 “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.

                                

This short passage is packed with tremendously powerful truths.  I pray that I will do justice to them in this short article.  There are three key concepts that I will try to unearth here for you who are reading this.  I see Loyalty, Glory and Covenant-Love.  Each of these could take many pages to explore as a topic in and of themselves, but let us here try to understand at least the core of each of these concepts.

I find it interesting in these few verses that we start with Judas, the one who will betray Jesus, and end with Peter, the one who will deny Jesus.  Judas, as we know from a previous article, was willing to sell out his friendship and loyalty to Jesus for merely 30 pieces of silver.  Later, when Judas finds out that Jesus will be crucified to death, his remorse and guilt overpower him so that he threw back the silver and went out to hang himself.

Peter, who so often was the bold spokesman for the group of disciples, is once more also very brash when he so arrogantly declares that he would be willing to die for Jesus.  We find out later that Peter is not really even half the man he bragged he was, as he does in fact deny knowing Jesus three times.  From these two men, we see that Loyalty is a tough attribute to demonstrate when life presses in and our egos get in the way.  How can we avoid these pit falls?  Let’s look at the next important concept.

    

There is no doubt that a key word in this passage is “Glory”.  Jesus used it four times in just two sentences.  So it must be an important concept.  But what exactly is “glory”?  I have to say as a Bible translator, that this word “glory” has given me more trouble than any other biblical term in trying to really understand first what it means in the Greek sentence, and then try to translate it into tribal languages.

“Glory” could refer to the brilliance that exudes out from a Heavenly Being, i.e. “His glory shone around Him.”  It could refer to our act of reverence, as in “We will give him glory”, and so could be translated as “honor”.  It could also refer to character, saying just how wonderful He is, such as, “Isn’t he glorious.”  And there could be even more nuances to this key word.

I could write many pages then about the deep spiritual meaning contained within verses 31-32.  Instead, I would like to try to simply expand the sentences, with some added explanation.  There could be other ways I’m sure to interpret these verses, but this will be my attempt:

“The time has come for the Son of Man [Jesus] to enter into his glory [to show His true nature as the Son of God], and God will be glorified [will be praised and honored] because of him. 32 And since God receives glory [praise and honor] because of the Son [how He was obedient to His Father’s will], he will soon give glory to [will magnify, will exalt] the Son [by raising Him up from the dead and placing Him at His own right hand up in Heaven]. 

    

Can you see now just how much spiritual and theological truth is packed into those two sentences?  And the application of these truths, that the Father and the Son exist to glorify each other, leads us to the most significant application of this truth.  The main reason why Jesus came to earth, to live among men, to die on a cross, and then to conquer death by being raised again to life was so that the Covenant-Love of God could still be experienced by us, who by nature are sinful and unholy people.

John 3:16 tells us quite plainly that God so loves every man, woman and child, that He sent Jesus to die on behalf of all men, and so the love which God has always wanted to share with people can once again be fully experienced, since Jesus removed our sin and thus the barrier that separated us from God.  That’s what truly loving someone else really looks like: being willing to die in order to save the other.

And that is now the last and the greatest commandment that Jesus brings down to mankind, firstly to his disciples.  We who would love God, and accept Jesus as the one who can save us from sin and death, must also demonstrate Covenant Loyalty-Love to our Christian brothers and sisters.  Only this kind of supernatural love, acceptance and forgiveness among Christians will have any attraction and impact on those who are still spiritually lost in this world.  So go ahead now and do as Jesus said, “Love one another!”

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The Pain Of Betrayal

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John 13:18-30

18 “I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ 19 I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I Am the Messiah. 20 I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.”

21 Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!” 22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” 25 So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.

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The word “betrayal” is a unique word.  It implies that a person has been severely hurt by another.  It could have a physical side to this, but more often then not, it refers to being wounded relationally so that we feel “great emotional pain”.  Note this, we do not think of being betrayed by our enemies.  In fact, we actually expect to be mistreated by our enemies.

No, we feel the greatest pain when the one who has offended us is one of our family members, or one of those whom we have considered to be a close friend.  This is what makes “betrayal” such a unique and difficult word to handle.  It is our friends, not our enemies, who most possess the ability to betray us.  And in fact, the closer a person is to another, the deeper the wound will go when we feel betrayed by them.

Why is that?  Simply put, when we draw closer to a person, we reveal more of our inner soul to that person, and thereby entrust more of our heart to that person.  So when someone betrays that trust, it feels like a knife has pierced our heart and we become deeply wounded in our soul.

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This is what happened to Jesus the night that he was betrayed, the night before his death on the cross.  For over three years, Jesus had entrusted himself to twelve men.  He taught them all deep spiritual truths, he demonstrated his love and his power to them many times, and he shared a number of intimate moments with them.  These men were Jesus’ true brothers in this world.

But from our passage above, we know that one man, Judas, was willing to sell out this friendship.  In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Judas was willing to betray Jesus for merely 30 pieces of silver money.  Surely that small amount of money could not come close to being the worth of a man, and especially the man Jesus, who came from God, and is God.

But Scripture tells us in John 13:2 that Satan has already persuaded Judas to hand over Jesus to his enemies.  One version says “Satan enticed him…” showing that the attraction to money was greater than his sense of loyalty to a friend.  The terrible deed began as a thought, and was realized through action as Judas left the meal to bring back Jesus’ enemies.

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What amazes me as I read this passage is that Jesus is fully aware of what is happening.  He even seems to be encouraging Judas to go and do his terrible deed.  And yet, Jesus is not unaffected by this emotionally.  Verse 21 says that Jesus was “deeply troubled.”  Jesus’ spirit within him was in great distress over what Judas would do to him.  But I don’t think that is the only reason that Jesus was “deeply troubled”.

Verse 1 of this chapter says, “Now he showed his disciples the full extent of this love.”  Even while knowing that Judas would betray him, Jesus had love for him.  Wow!!  Could we ever be able to follow after Jesus’ example?  I know what my first reaction would be toward someone who had betrayed me.  I would not only feel angry, but I would want that other person to suffer for what he or she had done to me.

But that is not the way that Jesus handled his own betrayal by Judas.  No one but Jesus really knew what was going on that night.  But rather than respond out of anger or revenge, Jesus deeply felt and demonstrated his servant-love to all his disciples, including the one who would betray him.

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So what can we take away from this passage?  We all need to distinguish the difference between the acts that someone does against us or against God, and look toward the one who has committed the sin and still love that person.  As long as there are people around us, we will be vulnerable to being hurt, even betrayed at times.  But Jesus tells us to love one another, and even be willing to die for another, in order to forgive the sin, and save the sinner.  Can you do that?

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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.

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Scripture Impact On National Translators

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Bible Translation Ministers to the Lives of Those Who Do The Translation

One of the things that I have noticed over the years as I have been involved in doing Bible translation, and now as I check the translations that others do, is that sometimes we get so focused in on the task of doing translation that we forget to watch for and expect the translation to have a real impact on the lives of those who are doing and checking the translation.

It is very easy as they say, “to lose sight of the forest for the trees”.  In other words, we can be so caught up in making sure each sentence of the translation clearly and accurately expresses the same meaning as the original Greek or Hebrew sentences of the Bible that we can fail to stop or even slow down to let that meaning speak to our hearts and deepen our relationship with God.

    

It’s like the Martha/Mary story we learn from Luke 10:38-42.  When Jesus came to the house of these two sisters, Martha was intently focused on getting all the preparations ready and just right to host Jesus at their supper table and actually got upset that Mary was quite content to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teachings.  When Martha complained, Jesus said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it.”  (The Message)

I was reminded of the importance of keeping our spiritual eyes open to see what God is doing in us and in the lives of those with whom we work on these Bible translation projects when I read the excerpt below written by a good friend of ours who has been doing translation work for over 15 years in the Solomon Islands.  I pray you will also be encouraged and challenged by the powerful workings of God’s Word in the lives of people as you read his story.

                                

In our last letter, I mentioned some ‘bumps in the road’ that we were experiencing. It has been good to see how God has worked in these situations over the last few months.

I wrote that Jiro, the man doing the computer work for the translation, had recently lost his 19 year old son due to an illness. So when I arrived in the Solomon Islands in early March it was great to see that he was already there and he made it clear that he is still committed to working on the translation.

I was surprised to see how well he was doing and I found it quite humbling to hear him say how he accepted the loss of his son as something that God allowed to happen. I was also grateful that Jofi, who had injured his leg in the middle of last year, was well enough to come so that we had our full team as we worked together for two weeks reviewing the gospel of Mark.

    

We spent a good deal of our time discussing the meanings of different words. There are two main dialects in the language and it is important to choose words for the translation that will be understood by everyone. After listening to some sections being read out loud it was great to hear the men comment about how satisfying it was to hear the Scriptures in their own language.

They said it will make it easy for preachers because after people hear the Scriptures in their mother-tongue language they will understand and won’t need to have it all explained like they do when English versions are used in churches. When we finished reviewing Mark, we printed out fifty trial editions.

The men have taken those back to their communities and will read them to people and hopefully get feedback that we can use in further revisions. Jiro is currently working on Luke and Matthew and we hope to check these when I make my next trip in late August.

    

 Just before I was heading to bed one evening, I saw Somaka, a member of the translation team for the other language group which is closely related to the one we are working in, sitting at a table in the lounge area writing in a notebook. I remembered that I had a message I needed to give him so I went over to talk to him.

As I was leaving, he called me back and said, “I have been sitting here writing down all the things I’m thankful to God for. Can I tell you about them?” So I sat down and Somaka explained to me that in the few years that he has been involved in translation work, he has been learning what it really means to be a Christian.

    

He told me how he had come to realize that all people sin, but because of Jesus’ love for us, no sin was too bad for Him to forgive. He also explained that he had come to understand that he didn’t have to try and do things so that God would accept him. As he talked, it struck me that even though Somaka has attended church for most of his life, it is only now that he is interacting with God’s Word in his own language that he is understanding the basics of the Christian life.

I am always thankful for these reminders that God uses translations in people’s heart language to bring them closer to Him.

A Disciple For Jesus

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Who Am I? Part 7

In the last article in this series, I talked about the year I spent traveling with the 1980 Staff Travel Team of Teen Missions.  That year was a very formative year for me as a young Christian, and I am so thankful to God that He allowed me to have those incredible experiences.  My faith was challenged and rewarded in so many ways, there has never been any doubt in my mind ever since then of the existence and the goodness of God.

There were also many opportunities for me to share the good news about Jesus: speaking with people in all the churches we visited, teaching the teens during our weekly classes which were a part of the summer mission, visiting local churches in the hills of Honduras, and having regular devotional periods with the others who were a part of the Travel Team.

In all of these experiences, I came to know and be certain of the basic truths of the Gospel, such as God created and loved all of mankind, but mankind rebelled against God and rejected Him.  This resulted in mankind being eternally separated from God by our sins because He is a holy God and cannot allow anyone tainted by sin to be in His presence.  But thanks be to God, His only Son Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect sinless life, yet died on a cross and so gave His life in exchange for ours.  This opened the way for us to be purified and once more come into a fellowship relationship with God.

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As wonderful as all of this was during that year, I found that there was something missing in my life.  I knew my Lord and Savior, Jesus, but at the same time I realized that there was so much about Him, and the Word of God, that I didn’t know.  I had some incredible experiential knowledge about Christ and the Holy Spirit of power, but I did not have a deep knowledge about all the truths about God and what the Bible says and means.

It was because of this great lack of knowledge that I found I had a strong desire to attend Bible college.  Part of me said that I was quite capable of reading my Bible and doing my own study of Scripture.  But another part of me realized that I would be foolish to think I could do it all on my own, and that I ought to take advantage of the knowledge of skilled Bible teachers.

And so it was within days after coming home from Scotland, the last place that our Travel Team had its ministry, that I enrolled in Alberta Bible College.  This is a college that is a part of the same Christian heritage that I was a part of, and the wonderful thing was that it was also in Calgary, my home town.  Actually, it was on the same street as my parents house, one mile away.  What a wonderful blessing that was for me.

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And so in January 1981, I became a Bible college student.  At first, my thought was that I would just take one year of college, just so I could get a little more knowledgeable in the Scriptures.  And I must say that I did not have the best attitude toward the other students, and even some of the professors back then.  You see, I had “been to the mission field”, and so I “knew” what missions and ministry was all about.  That was my first year.

The second year came and went and I don’t know if my ego had learned much more in the area of humility.  In fact I must admit that I was rather proud that I was at the head of the class.  I had mastered the art of being a student.  But in spiritual terms, I don’t know if I had really learned a lot about being a “disciple” for Jesus.

The way that I viewed life at that time was this: I am a student, and if I work hard and study well for exams, I will “ace” the material and come out on top.  Even though I was studying the Bible, I was not getting the message that “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:11-12)

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It wasn’t until my third and fourth year of Bible college that I started to understand that followers of Jesus are meant to “serve each other out of love”, and that ministers of the Gospel are to offer their lives of service as a sacrifice out of a willing and humble heart.  We are not meant to think of ourselves as better than any one else, or that others “owe” us anything as we serve them.  As Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

So I think it would have been so much better for me, and others, if back then I had thought of myself as a “disciple for Jesus” rather than a “Bible college student”.  The latter seems to inherently carry the idea of knowledge, prestige, self-sufficiency.  But being a disciple of Jesus speaks more about simply being a humble, obedient learner who remains under Christ.

I can’t say I have yet completely learned this lesson.  But that’s the beauty of it.  God has never asks us to be perfect in this life.  Quite the opposite.  We are called to live a life of simple, humble obedience that is a life-long process.  In that sense, I am still a student in the spiritual classroom of Jesus.

How about you?  Do you feel you have “graduated” and learned all there is to learn about God?  Or are you allowing yourself to still remain under the supervision of Christ and are looking forward to His next lesson in His School of Life?  May we all remain good disciples for Jesus.

Disobedience Wipes Me Out

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Hard Road Journey – Part 4


The last article in this series which looked at Mark Atteberry’s book “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel” was entitled “Trouble Around the Bend“.  That article dealt with the idea in chapter two that it is imperative that we try to “commit to strict obedience”.  Now what exactly is he talking about  when he says this.

Basically, I see this as a call God’s gives to all His people.  And in this call, God is asking us to look to Him and by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, His Son, then we mark out a path that is straight and will not deviate from doing God’s will, doing what we know to be true and right.  It is when we take our eyes off of Jesus and start deviating from the path, and for sure when we start taking side roads which branch off from the one true straight path, that our lack of strict obedience turns into deliberate disobedience, and this ultimately causes us pain, grief and remorse.

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What I want to reflect upon now is the last section of Atteberry’s book in chapter two.  For all of us who are believers in Christ, the question isn’t whether or not we are committed to following Jesus, but rather, how well are we following Him.  We know the Scriptural injunctions of “love God…love your neighbour”, “in everything give thanks”, “don’t worry about what you will eat, or what you will wear”, “rejoice, and again I say rejoice.”

To do all of these well, we would need to follow Atteberry’s advice that we be disciplined to walk in strict obedience, and the hope that he puts before us is that if we can do this, then we will carry a lighter load on our journey.  What he means by this is that we will not need to unnecessarily carry extra weight from regrets, worries, negative self-talk, guilt, etc.  I think his comparison of an undisciplined person to an over-accumulation of junk is a good one.  He says:

Junk accumulates.  And it doesn’t just accumulate in our garages and attics and closets and underneath our car seats.  It also accumulates in our lives.  In our minds and our hearts.  I’m talking about worries and burdens and fears and frustrations.                                 (p. 22)

Let me give you a simple story that can illustrate this point that when we do not commit to strict obedience to follow what we know to be right, then we unnecessarily cause ourselves pain and add a heavy load to the road we are walking.

I still remember the day my mom told me that I needed to be home by 6 p.m. for supper, and “Don’t be late!”  I went for an afternoon bike ride.  And like most kids, I lost track of time and before I knew it, I was much too far away to get home on time.  So now I felt guilt knowing I had disobeyed, and fear for the discipline/punishment that was bound to come.

So I pedaled for all I was worth thinking maybe, just maybe, I would get home on time.  I was one block away from home and I attempted to jump a curb to cut across a little grass area.  But my forward speed was greater than my lift, my front tire hit the curb hard and I and the bike made a tremendous somersault into the air and landed in one bruised and broken pile.

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I managed to carry my bike and limp home but I was 20 minutes late.  I did get my well-deserved lecture for being late.  My supper was cold.  My TV privilege was taken from me.  My bike rim was smashed.  And my body sported nice bruises for days to come.  I was mad.  But I had no one to blame except myself.  If I had been obedient to the simple request to be home on time in the first place, then I would not have added all the extra pain and emotional baggage of guilt, fear, shame and frustration.

The point my dear friends, is that more often than not, the path of obedience that is set before us, whether it is from God, our parents, our employers or anyone in authority over us, is usually not that difficult.  And when we accept the boundaries placed upon us and act responsibly to obey them, then even when the path seems hard, it is usually not unbearable.  But when disobedience is added to the already difficult road we are on, then we find the path unbearable.

Let us then commit to a life of obedience to God and not add to our troubles.  And we will find in the end that the path was in fact easier to bear than we thought.  And God himself, who rewards those who obey Him, will supply the help and strength we need to walk through this difficult journey that we have found ourselves walking along.

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To Boldly Go…

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“To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before….”

Most people today would recognize these words as those spoken during the opening credits of Star Trek, the original series.  As you may know, one of my heroes in life (even if he is a fictional character) is Captain James T. Kirk.  You can read about that in my earlier article here.

In this posting I want to tie two events together and relate it to what most people call “The Great Commission”.  Matthew 28:19-20 says:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Now let me relate the first of the two events that were very significant moments for me.  It happened quite by accident really.  I was on the bus going home after finishing the day at my high school.  I was talking with a casual friend of mine and at some point he asked me, “So what do you want to do after you graduate from high school?”  I very quickly replied, “I want to be a missionary.”

This seemed to really surprise my friend and he asked me a lot of questions as to why I would want to do that.  So I explained to him my understanding at that time, that God wanted the message about Jesus to be proclaimed even to people at “the ends of the earth”.

He listened politely for quite a while, but then he said this, “So you want to go to these primitive tribal groups and tell them that if they believe in Jesus, they will go to Heaven.  But if they don’t believe in Jesus, they will go to Hell.  Don’t you think it would be better to leave them alone, so that God will judge them based on their good works and their limited knowledge of God, then to go and condemn them to Hell?”

Needless to say, as a 16-year-old still young in the faith, it was quite a challenge to me to consider his question.  And in fact, this is a very good question: Will God punish those who have never heard about Jesus?  I wrestled with this, and I will spend an entire article later to deal with this question.  But my conclusion then, and still is today, is that we do need to go to people everywhere and give them the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

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And this leads me to the second event that had quite an impact on me, an event that occurred to me in Papua New Guinea in 1999.  I had heard rumors and reports from some of our national friends where we lived in the jungle that there was a small collection of hamlets to the southeast of our village where they spoke a dialect of our village language.  This was definitely something to check into.

We checked with our mission office in town, and there was no clear data for this area of PNG and so we had no idea of who lived up in the hills there or what to expect when we got there.  So we prepared all our supplies and together with our national guides, we began our 10 hour hike through very rough terrain to find these “hidden” people.

So what did we find?  About a dozen little hamlets with anywhere from 20 to 40 people living in each hamlet.  After doing some simple linguistic testing, we did in fact find that they spoke a closely related dialect to our language.  And that was an exciting thing to find out, but there is something else that I found even more amazing which I want to share with you.

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For about two months before we went on this hike, we sent word of mouth down the jungle trail to let them know we were coming to investigate their area.  So we knew the people would be expecting us, but we didn’t know what kind of reception we would get.  And when we approached the first village, we were told to stop, and wait till we were invited to come into the village.  What did that mean?

Then they said it was okay to come into the village.  And do you know what happened?  The people had decorated the pathway, had put on all of their traditional tribal face paint and wore all their colorful native decorations.  But more fascinating than this was the fact that they sang a song to welcome us into the village.  They sang a song in their language which reflected their joy that we would come to learn their language and bring the Bible to them in their language.

It was at that moment that I wished my friend was there with me.  Rather than living in ignorance of the Living God, and hoping that He will be merciful, I still believe that most people in the world would like to hear the message about God’s love.  Even if some will not receive the message, those who do make it all worth while.  And so it is still my heart’s desire to take the Gospel to “the ends of the earth.”

PS.  The next most fascinating thing I heard in those hamlets was, “You are the first white person to have ever visited our villages.”  Mission work certainly has its interesting and exciting moments.

“Help Me See Jesus!”

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Read Mark 8:22-26

Right in the very center of the Gospel of Mark, we encounter perhaps the most unique episode recorded of the life and ministry of Jesus.  At first, this miracle story may appear to look similar to many other miracles that Jesus performed.  We see Jesus entering into the town of Bethsaida.  The people bring to Jesus someone who needs healing, specifically a man who is blind.  Jesus heals him and tells him not to go into town (probably like other miracle stories, Jesus does not want to draw attention to himself yet).

But this miracle event is uniquely different in two ways.  First of all, this story is only recorded for us in Mark’s gospel, and not in the other three.  That in itself should cause us to wonder what was Mark’s motivation for choosing to include this event of Jesus’ life.  And secondly, this is the only miracle that Jesus performed in two steps.  He touched the man’s eyes once and he could see things dimly.  So Jesus touches his eyes a second time and then he is healed completely.  Hmmm….what is going on here.

It should never be supposed that Jesus was unable to heal the man, or perhaps He was just having a bad day.  No, we know that part of Jesus’ mandate while on earth was to help the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the lepers to be cleansed and the Good News to be preached (Matthew 11:4-6).  There is no question that in this story it was Jesus’ intention from the beginning to heal the blind man.

So then perhaps we should turn our attention on to the blind man himself.  Perhaps he did not have enough faith to be healed.  In many instances, Jesus asked the person beforehand if they believed that Jesus was able to heal them.  And yet, in this miracle story, the question of whether the man had faith or not is never brought up.  There has to be another reason for this two-step miracle.

Looking around within this story, there do not seem to be any other clues to help us figure this out.  So then we should follow an important principle in the study of Scripture.  After you have first looked within the text to discover the meaning, then the next important principle is to look within the surrounding context to see if that helps you out.  And lo and behold, we do discover something very important.

After the section detailing the death of John the Baptist, there are five major miracle stories, either of someone being healed, or of the multitudes being fed.  Then we get the dialog between Jesus and his disciples in the boat discussing “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.”  We now know today Jesus was talking figuratively and saying they should watch out with regards to the teachings of the Pharisees and Herod.  The disciples though were a little dense and didn’t get this, and so we hear Jesus finish this section by saying, “Do you still not understand!”

Then if we look immediately after the story of the blind man being healed, we see the crucial question of Jesus being asked, “Who do people say that I am?”  And it was apparent that many did not know who He was, since some said John the Baptist come back, some said Elijah, and some said a prophet.  But when he made it personal and asked Peter, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ!” which meant that Peter recognized that Jesus was the man whom God had appointed to save His people Israel and for whom they had waited for thousands of years.

It would appear that the persons, other than Jesus, who are in focus in these chapters of Mark are really the disciples.  They lived with Jesus, listened to Jesus, and watched all the miracles that Jesus performed, but in the end, they still did not really understand who Jesus was.  Because even after Peter’s great declaration of Jesus being the Christ, when Jesus said that He came to suffer and die, Peter was the one who rebuked Jesus.  And Jesus in turn had to rebuke Peter.

To think that the disciples could be so close to Jesus but not really see him at all is the very point of the two-step miracle.  I can just imagine that when Jesus first touched the man’s eyes and asked him if he saw anything, that Jesus looked over at the disciples while he said this.  And when the man said he saw things dimly, I can see Jesus still looking at the disciples and shaking his head.

Then Jesus touches the man’s eyes a second time and he is able to see everything clearly.  This man needed a second touch from Jesus, but the real lesson was for the disciples.  They needed to see more clearly who Jesus was.  And Peter was pretty close when he said Jesus was the Christ.  But he thought that meant He was coming as the conquering hero who would free them from the domination of the Romans.  Peter had boxed up Jesus with his preconceived ideas.

So here’s my question for all of us today whoever might be reading this story.  Do you have faith in Jesus and understand well who He is, that He is Lord and we are called to serve Him, but you need a healing touch like this man did?  Then you can say like him, “Help me SEE, Jesus.”

Or are you like the disciples who thought they knew who Jesus was, but were trying to box Him up to be someone who would do what they wanted, thus asking Him to serve them?  I would suggest that you may need to say this in a prayerful way, “Help me see JESUS.”

Remember, it’s all about Him, it’s not about us!  May God bless you in the same measure that you bless and worship Him.