Pioneering New Mission Fields – Pt. 3

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

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Of Shepherds And Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Population in this region: 14.4 million people

Languages in this region: 33

Languages without Bibles: 30

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

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The Truth Will Set You Free

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John 8:31 – 38

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

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As we begin to look at our passage above, we must remember that this portion is one small part of a larger section.  To find the extent of the larger context, we would have to go back to chapter 7 beginning with verse 14 when Jesus first stands up in the middle of the Temple courtyards and starts to teach the people during the Festival of Tabernacles.

This festival was also known as “The Feast of Lights” as people lit torches and lived in tents to remember God’s protection and providence during the time of living as nomads for the forty years as they wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus used this background and in the early part of chapter 8, He declared, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus’ message is not received by the religious leaders, as we saw in chapter 7.  When Jesus turns and teaches further in chapter 8, it is now to the common Jews whom He was speaking to.  He challenged His audience in verse 24 to believe in Him, or they would die in their sins.  And we see in verse 30, that “many who heard Him say these things believed in Him.”

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Now in verse 31, Jesus turned to those who believed in Him and He extended a challenge to all of them.  Notice how He says, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.”  This statement implies that there was a difference at that time between “those who believed in Him” and a “disciple”.  That causes me to ask the question, “What is it within this context that the people believed? And why did that not automatically make them a disciple of Jesus?”

I believe if we are very careful to understand the whole flow of these two chapters in John, what Jesus first presents to people is His claim to be God, the “I AM” of Exodus 6:2-3, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to save His people.  That is an important truth statement which must first be accepted for someone to start on the path to discipleship.

But accepting this truth statement only without a change in one’s being and behaviour is not enough.  Look at what James 2:19 says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  We all must go one step further to becoming a disciple of Jesus: we must “be faithful to His teachings”.  This means that we will not only seek to understand what Jesus tells us, but we will put into practice what He is telling us to do.

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All this will help us to understand properly the famous saying of Jesus in verse 32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The biblical word here for “know” does not mean just to have knowledge about a certain fact, but to be fully engaged in doing that which we know to be true.  It is the difference between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge.  And it is the daily experience of having Jesus active within our lives that keeps us safe from the grip of sin that we once were experiencing.

Unfortunately the Jewish people do not understand that Jesus is talking about this experiential knowledge of truth that would keep them free from the power that sin has on people.  Ironically, they say they had never been slaves to anyone, when in fact, they were being dominated by all the forces of Rome in that day.

Instead, the Jews looked backwards to their bloodline inheritance of being descendants of Abraham to save them from their sin.  This is still a fallacy for people today.  They say they were “born into a Christian family”, and that automatically makes them a Christian.  But as some people jokingly say, “Well, if someone was born in a barn, would that make them a horse?”  Of course not.

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You see, what it really comes down to is this: if we want to truly be a disciple of Jesus, then we must not put our trust in some external factor, such as lineage, inheritance, rituals or behaviours.  We must look to the inner person of our soul and find out if we have submitted ourselves in obedience to make Jesus Lord of our lives.

The “truth that sets us free” is not mental assent that Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh.  Rather, it is the experiential knowledge that Jesus is Lord, and this can only be obtained by submitting in obedience to Him in our lives.  Then, and only then, will we be truly set free from bondage to sin.

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We Have Found The Messiah

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John 1:35 – 42

Introducing Others to Jesus

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). [1]

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Our last two articles have focused our study in on John the Baptist.  In this study, we will see the focus shift now from John to Jesus.  In this Gospel, we do not have very many words of John recorded for us, but here we see him repeat once more one of the most important messages that he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  (Read the last article to understand this expression.)

We do not know how long John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing out in the wilderness, but we do know that he had gathered some followers who were called “his disciples”.  Now it was time for John to introduce his disciples to Jesus.  And when he identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, two of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus.

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That takes a lot courage and humility to pass the spotlight off of yourself to shine on someone else.  It could have been very easy for John to want to hold on to his followers.  But he didn’t.  Actually, it was his own followers who had trouble with this shift.  If we jump ahead to John 3:22 – 36, we see that John’s disciples were jealous of the new attention and success that Jesus was having.  But John’s response in verse 30 is, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

So two of John’s disciples decided that they wanted to become apprentice-pupils of Jesus.  This was the common practice of that day.  If you wanted to advance your knowledge about God and the Jewish Law and Old Testament teachings, you would look for a Rabbi (a learned teacher) and attach yourself to him as a disciple, more literally an apprentice.

These two men spent the whole day with Jesus.  Right up until the late afternoon (4 pm).  It must have been quite exciting to hear Jesus teach, for the very first thing that one of them did, namely Andrew, was to go out to find his brother and tell him that he believed that he had found the Messiah, the man whom God had chosen to save the people.

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The reaction of Andrew is quite a common response for many people when they first encounter Jesus and take Him as the Lord and Saviour of their lives.  There is an excitement and a burning need to tell others about Jesus and what He has done for them in their life.  For those of us who have known Jesus as Lord for a very long time, we may have forgotten what those early moments were like for us.

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

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

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As I reflect back on that night of sharing my faith with about 10 other kids crammed into that tent, I can also see in my mind the same kind of excitement that Andrew must have felt.  We actually do not know much about Andrew in Scripture.  He is kind of one of those silent disciples of Jesus.  But he will forever be known as the one who brought Peter to Jesus.  And we know from Scripture just how much impact Peter had on the beginnings of the early church once Jesus got a hold of his life.

So let me encourage both you and me.  Knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is a wonderful thing.  But introducing others to Jesus is what it is all about.  And who knows what God might do in the life of that person that we lead to Jesus.  Maybe that person will become a modern day Peter.  I pray that would be so.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:35–42). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Being A Follower Of Jesus

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There Is a Cost To Following Jesus

When we look in the New Testament at the topic of people becoming disciples of Jesus, He almost always talks about the cost of being a true follower.  Take a look at some of the first men whom He called to be His disciples.  Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, were all professional fishermen who lived hard, simple lives by the shores of Lake Galilee.  Then Jesus came and asked them to follow Him.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Put down your nets for a short time while I ask you to come and be my disciples.  Then you can go back and continue your lives as fishermen.”  No!  He was expecting them to turn their backs completely on their old ways of living and adopt a whole new vocation.  Jesus said, “Come follow Me and I will cause you to become fishers of men.”

James and John were shown how costly it would be to follow Jesus, for in that moment of decision, they left not only their nets and their boats, but they even left their father sitting in the boat.  So much for passing on the family business.

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What is very unusual is that when someone wanted to be attached  to a famous Jewish teacher (called a Rabbi), then they would humbly approach the Rabbi and ask to become a follower.  In the case of Jesus’ disciples, it was Jesus Himself who invited them to become His students and learn everything they could from Him about God the Father and about the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

In Luke 9:57 – 62 we see Jesus interacting with three potential disciples.  One man approached Jesus and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Looking in Matthew’s account, we find out that the man was a “teacher of the Law”, commonly known as a Scribe.  He would have been a young member of the religious group called the Pharisees.  He probably thought that if he got himself attached to Jesus, then his own fame and importance would also rise in the eyes of the people.

That would explain Jesus’ response, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no place to rest my head.”  To follow Jesus meant a person had to be willing to give up the comforts of life, and to do Kingdom work even in the most difficult social and physical environments.

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The next two inquirers did not fare any better.  One said, “Please let me go back and bury my father.  Then I will come and follow you.”  The third man simply said, “Let me go home and say goodbye.”  Look first at Jesus’ response to the third man, “No one who puts his hand to a plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”

The picture here is that if relationships with others in this world are more important than following Jesus, then it will be hard for that person to truly make Jesus the Lord of their lives.  It is not that we should not love our families, but our love and devotion for Him must be greater than that towards our own family.

Now Jesus’ response to the second man can be difficult to understand, and some people accuse Jesus of not being very sympathetic in not letting him go and bury his father.  Jesus said, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own physical dead, but you go proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

You see, the culture then was that if a father was sick (and we have grounds to think the father was not dead), then the sons were to take care of the property and business work of their father.  So the second man was not willing to release his role on the materialism and the finances of the family inheritance.

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So what has all this to do with me and my family?  I believe that Jill, my sons and I have realized the importance of obeying Jesus, no matter what the immediate cost might be to ourselves.  These last four months have not been easy for Jill and me as we have been apart from each other, except for a few days in the middle.  But we knew God was asking me to serve Him here in Dallas, and that God was also asking Jill to “hold down the fort” and manage things at home.

For our boys, Eric was led to meet a lovely young Christian girl.  When they knew they shared the same spiritual beliefs and principles, then rather than “test it out” as so many common-law people do today, they followed the biblical injunction to leave their parents and get married and to reserve their sexuality for the marriage bed.

And finally, Glen followed the leading of God to enter into the Canadian Armed Forces (Army).  This has taken him out of our family, and placed him with some rough men, doing a tough job.  But in his words, “God wants me to be a light for Christ to the other men, and God wants to use me to help defend the defenseless people of the world.”

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But on December 15th of 2011, our schedules have worked out for all five of us to be back in Calgary for at least two weeks to celebrate the Christmas season together.  Being follower of Jesus has recently meant splitting up the family to do what we are called to do.  But the fulfillment we have in doing this work, and knowing God is always with us, makes being apart possible.  It also makes it so much sweeter when we do get to return home and share our stories of what God is doing in our lives.  I can hardly wait for December 15th to arrive.

Satan’s Attack On New Believers

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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  Blinded Unbelievers

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Maybe your story is like mine. I became a believer as a teenager, but nobody taught me to be a disciple of Christ. My church told me what I needed to do (like read the Bible, pray, and witness), but it did not show me how. Nobody told me how to walk in truth, righteousness, and faith (see Eph. 6:11-17). As a result, I lived a defeated Christian life for far too many years.

The enemy aims his arrows at young believers who have not been discipled. He strikes them with doubt and discouragement. Sometimes he hits them with loneliness, as they move away from their non-Christian friends and try to fit into a church that is unfamiliar to them. At other times, he lures them with the same temptations they faced as non-believers. Whatever his strategy may be, he wants to strike at new believers before they are solidly planted in the Church.

This issue is related to prayer in at least two ways. First, many new believers are never taught how to pray. What they are told to do, they are not taught to do—and the result is a frustrated believer who longs to pray but does not know how. The enemy thus wins when the new believer gives up trying. This failure to disciple is, in my estimation, a primary cause of prayerlessness in the Church today.

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Second, undiscipled believers often live defeated, sinful lives that hinder praying in the first place. Both Isaiah and the psalmist (Isa. 59:1-2, Ps. 66:18) knew that God chooses not to respond to the prayers of those who live in sin. It is the fervent prayer of a righteous man that makes a difference (Jas. 5:16), not the prayers of one living in unrighteousness.

How, though, does a new believer know how to stand for righteousness and fight against temptation unless the Church teaches him? An undiscipled believer may realize that his praying is ineffective, yet not know enough to understand why—and he gives up on the power of prayer. The enemy again wins.

A brief summary is in order here. The enemy seeks to keep unbelievers blinded to the gospel, thus holding them in bondage. He further schemes against believers, striving to discourage and defeat them so their faith is weakened and their prayers are ineffective. Powerless, prayerless believers make little difference in the war inherent in evangelism.

–Adapted from Chapter 69 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (Strategic Prayer for God’s Mission and Missionaries by Mike Barnett).

Posted 30 Oct 2011

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This devotional thought strikes home and pierces me more than I would like for it to do.  It is true what was said above that many of us have been told what it is we are to do as Christians, but I dare say that few of us have had vibrant Christianity lived out in front of us so that we learn by modeling our lives after those who have and exude this kind of living faith.

As I was being drawn to God as a teenager, I was attending a church where there were excellent sermons preached every Sunday.  I still remember vividly how I would go to the preacher each Sunday after the sermon and ask plenty of questions as I sought out to know if the Bible was true or not.  It took over six months of dialoguing with different preachers before I came to fully believe and accept the Gospel message as truth, and was baptized into Christ.

But in spite of the fact that we had excellent sermons, I can’t remember seeing many of the believers live out their faith in such ways that I could model my faith after theirs.  I went down the path that many new Christians went, which was to major in intellectual Bible knowledge and minor in practical daily Christian disciplines and habits.

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That was when I was a child.  When I became a father, I had greater hopes of being able to be a good role model for my children.  I did have the tremendous honor of baptizing both of my sons, and I think that says a lot about how Jill and I were able to pass on our faith to the next generation.  And yet I know that there were also many lost opportunities to teach and to live out our faith in front of their eyes.

The key for me to actually believe that I had done a decent job in raising our sons in the Faith, came when I realized the meaning of the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Translating Romans 1:17 this way hindered me as I would think “I’m not a righteous man, and in fact no one can claim to be righteous people seeing as we are all sinners.

But you can translate this as “The one who does the things that God says are right to do, that person will experience real life (eternal life) as a result of their faith.”  And I can live with this a whole lot better.  When I publicly declared that Christ was my Lord and Savior, salvation became mine, as well as the ability to discern from God and His Word what behaviors would be pleasing and have the inner strength to do all that God would want me to do.

And so as I look at the faith that both of my sons have at this time, I know in my heart that we taught them well.  But more than that, with our mission work, we lived out our faith and were constantly praying for and showing the boys how important it is to ask God what the right thing to do is.  And with our attention focusing like this on God, there was not any room for Satan to launch a successful attack against the faith of us all within our family.  And for all that, I say “Praise the Lord!”

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Hypocrite! Who Me?

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A Translation Challenge in Matthew

Last week I was working with the W. language team and checking their translation of the final eight chapters of the book of Matthew.  The translation was in very good shape, so we were able to proceed at a pretty good pace.  The goal we had set to be able to check these chapters in eight days was to check an average of 55 verses each day.  On the morning that we were finishing chapter 22 and starting chapter 23, we had checked and revised 44 verses.

So when we gathered after lunch to continue doing the checking, I was feeling optimistic that we would be able to easily reach our goal, and surpass it.  But then we hit the “Woe” sections of chapter 23 of Matthew.  Seven times Jesus gave a strong warning to the Pharisees and the Scribes, two of the religious groups that existed during the times of Jesus and the New Testament.  And both groups knew all the rituals and regulations of the Jewish religion, but they only gave lip service to God rather than serve Him out of their hearts.

There is no question that these “Woe” sections of Matthew 23 are difficult to translate across different languages.  There are many concepts that are rather foreign to people who are subsistent jungle farmers.  How do we translate “Kingdom”, “temple”, “altar”, “tithing”, “proselytizing”, etc.  We did find ways to handle these difficult concepts, but there is one more term in this section that has caused us to discuss it at length.

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The term I am referring to is the word for “hypocrite”.  I have had the privilege to work with a number of Papuan languages and have checked the books of Matthew and Mark a couple of times.  And I am fascinated by the variety of ways in which different languages can handle the same term or phrase.  And this is definitely one of them.

When translating the term “hypocrite”, I have seen that it usually has to be expressed as an idiom or as a longer descriptive phrase.  For example, I have seen “hypocrite” translated like “the lying person”, “the two-mouthed person”, “the two-tongued person”, “the pretending to worship God person”, and what the W. language decided to use, “the person who lies and says, ‘I am a good person.'”

The common thread here is that a hypocrite is one who basically lies, pretending to be one thing when in fact they are the opposite.  They are people who deceive others by saying one thing, but their behavior shows that their values do not match their behavior.  As the idiom in English says, they in effect speak out of two sides of their mouth, which is very close to the Papuan idiom of being two-tongued or two-mouthed.

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In effect, these are nasty, lying, deceiving people who not only are trying to fool men into believing they are good people, but some are even thinking they are pulling the wool over God’s eyes.  And of all possible kinds of hypocrites, perhaps the worst ones of all are the religious hypocrites.  By their words and actions, they try to elevate themselves as someone better than other religious people, and in the end, they tarnish the name and reputation of God, and the true believers who worship God as He requires, out of a heart of humility and selflessness.

No wonder Jesus used such harsh language against the Pharisees and the Scribes in His day.  Not only should they have known how to properly approach God and worship Him, but these men were the religious teachers of the people.  But Jesus calls them to the carpet to challenge their hypocrisy for what it was, and as He said, they were like “white-washed tombs with nice decorations on the outside, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of ritual impurities.”

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And yet, when I really study this word and all that it implies, I need to be careful before I brand someone else with this word–hypocrite.  True, it is very obvious in Scripture that the Pharisees and the Scribes were very bad men, but am I that much different.  In degree, yes.  They were fierce and terrible opponents to Christ, and they ultimately had Jesus crucified out of pure jealousy against Him.

But in nature, I am a sinner just as much as they were.  And am I not guilty in many instances of some level of being a hypocrite.  I tell people I will pray for them, and do I follow-up on my promise to do so?  Not always.  Do I dress in my nicest clothes and put a smile on my face when I go to church, sending the message that I am well-to-do and that my life before God is all in order, when in fact I may be falling apart inside, and having doubts about God’s goodness?

We are encouraged in Scripture to make the most of every opportunity (referring to share Christ), but often I have no desire to talk to the person next to me on the airplane.  Do I turn away and pretend not to notice the poor man coming my way who is asking people for a quarter?  Can I truly call myself a “follower of Jesus”, when I act in so many ways that would be contrary to how Jesus would act?

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These are tough questions that do not have quick easy answers.  Each situation is unique.  But sadly, I think I must say that our modern and comfortable Christianity is something we wear on Sundays, and don’t do much with during the middle of the week to demonstrate we are Christ’s disciples who are carrying out His mandate to “seek and to save the lost”, and “to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Dear Readers, I know that I, and perhaps you too, still have a lot to learn in the School of Discipleship.  Jesus has set a good example, and He is our Headmaster.  Let the school of humility, selflessness, love for others, and self-sacrifice begin.

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