Translating Ephesians

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Insights From Checking Ephesians

Earlier this week I finished doing the consultant check on the translation of Ephesians into one of the languages of Papua New Guinea.  It would take too long here to explain the process of doing a translation consultant checking session, so I will leave that for a future article.  What I would like to do now, and on each of the Thursday articles over the next seven weeks, is to share some insights that we have made into some of the verses of Scripture that we are checking.  Needless to say, in this limited space, I will only touch on a couple of the more interesting discoveries we have made.

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“In Christ”

This phrase, “in Christ”, is one of Paul’s favorite expressions to describe our state as Christians.  He uses this exact phrase 12 times in the book of Ephesians, and the idea of it is at least more than double that if you include phrases like “in Him” or “in whom”.  In other words, it is a very common phrase found throughout the book.  But what does it mean to be “in Christ”.

Most commentaries will use wording like “united with Christ”, or “joined with Christ”, and this is helpful.   But I love how the T. language handles this phrase.  It literally says “we who are stuck to Christ”.  To me, it gives the picture of us being super-glued to Jesus.  When we accept Jesus as our Lord, we do not have a casual “take-it-or-leave-it” relationship with Him.

It is more like we are “joined at the hips” and so what He wants, we want, and what He has (i.e. all the spiritual blessings of heaven – v. 1:4) we also have.  This is such a comforting thought to me.  The God that I believe in is not some distant deistic God who doesn’t care or involve Himself in our lives.  No, when we are “stuck to Jesus”, we have become partners and co-heirs with Jesus, who is the Son of God.

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“The Mystery that was Hidden”

Another word that is one of Paul’s favorites in the book of Ephesians is the word “mystery”.  This word shows up 7 times in the book, and it in itself is a bit of mystery when you first start reading the book.  Paul introduces the word in 1:9-10, and says that “God had made known to us the mystery of His will…which He purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment…

Paul goes on in the rest of verse 10 to explain what the mystery is, namely, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”  Even though this world and its course appears to be chaotic and meaningless to some, there is in fact a master plan which will all be revealed and order restored when Christ one day will come back to rule the world.

In chapter five, Paul talks about another “mystery”, and it is based on the picture of a husband and wife relationship.  Quoting from the Old Testament, in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  But then Paul says the mystery is the fact that what happens between Christ and His people is just like a marriage relationship.  There is a spiritual union that happens between Christ and the Church that is just as mysterious as the spiritual union of a husband and wife.

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But chapter three is Paul’s best use of the word “mystery”.  He uses the word four times, and he is so excited about the wonder of the mystery that had once been hidden but now is made known, first to him and then to us through Paul.  He says in verse two and three that people should know God had given the task to Paul to make this mystery known, and after reading his words, they too would understand the insight Paul has into this great mystery.

He then goes on in verse five to state that the mystery “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”  And by this time, after waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, you want to scream out to Paul, “So what is this great mystery?”

I almost believe that Paul did this deliberately, to tease us along for quite a few verses, just so that we would catch the full impact of what this mystery is when he finally revealed it to us.  And the key verse to this chapter, and to much of the entire epistle is found in verse 6 of chapter 3.  It reads:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

When we reflect deeply on this, it is truly amazing that after many millenia of bitter hatred and wars fought between those who were Jews, and those who were not Jews, it is amazing that peace and unity can be found for them in Christ, and together they will share the eternal blessings of God.

It is for certain that in Jesus’ day that such a statement of God’s will, namely the “breaking down of the walls of hostility” between these two ethnic groups, would have been quite a revolutionary thought.  But what is really profound is that God had intended from the beginning of time to bring peace to those who are by nature bitter enemies.  And if God can do that for the Jews and non-Jews, then God can do that between any two hostile groups today.  So let us pray that this peace of God, by means of the Gospel, can truly be known by all peoples today, and that all would see His unfathomable love for all mankind.

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Discover Your Passion

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For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Ephesians 2:10

A question that many people may have asked you is, “So what did you do to celebrate the beginning of a new year?”  And I would love to hear what your answer is to that question.  Right now, I would like to share with you a wonderful experience that I was able to have over this past week.

On January 2nd, I flew in to Los Angeles, California where I was met by Steve & Linda Whitmer and driven about 40 miles to Fullerton, to the campus of Hope International University.  There I met up with my three other colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators.  For the next five days, we would introduce ten students from Hope into the principles and foundational materials that are essential for anyone who is interested in the ministry of bringing God’s Word to the Bibleless peoples of the world.

Many of these students have already had a short-term experience in overseas mission ministry.  But for a number of them, Bible translation and its support ministries was relatively new.  As the week went on, you could see the growing interest in the students, and the questions they asked and the interaction of them with all the teachers showed that they were tracking with us very well and were capturing the vision and the passion that we have for this ministry.  (There were still many moments of simply having fun together, whether it was sharing 3 foot pizzas, or posing for a camera shot.)

There were so many important topics that we touched upon, (such as linguistics, anthropology, spiritual disciplines, regional area overviews, literacy, community development, and more), that it is just about impossible for me to sum up the whole experience into a few paragraphs.

Some of the things that I specifically taught to the students were as follows:

Phonetics & Phonology:  was that a velar fricative or a bilabial click sound?  : )

Translation Process:  starting with a rough draft of a translated text, you then check it exegetically to ensure the true meaning is preserved, and follow that with many levels of checking before you can finally publish the material.

Language Learning:  I eat part of a banana and ask in my Nend language, “What am I doing?” and Richard answers in his African language.  I repeat what he said and write down what I hear.  Ta Dah!!  That’s how to learn a language.  What fun we have!

Anthropology:  the best way to understand and change behavior in any culture is to first find out what their worldview is and address beliefs at that level.

Now when I was first asked to come and help teach this week-long missions course, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach about Bible translation work.  As many of you know, I have had a passion for mission work and especially the ministry of Bible translation for most of my life.  I had discovered what my passion was at a very early age, and even though there have been some detours and side trails in my life, this passion has always stayed with me.

One of the questions though for me and Jill, was whether or not I would have the physical energy to handle the demands of teaching this course.  Thankfully, we had an excellent team of teachers who would take turns covering material that was presented, according to the strengths and experiences that each person brought with them.  (And by the way, if you are reading this: Nathan, Marsha and Richard, you all did a great job.)

I was also blessed in many other ways which made it possible for me to make it through the week without becoming overwhelmed by fatigue or pain.  Regarding pain, the latest tactic of battling it seems to be working, namely the narcotic patch that I wear that gives me a small release of an opiate drug 24/7 over a seven-day period and then I put on a new patch.  Praise God, my pain has been minimal this week.

The other blessings came from the school and their staff.  I was allowed to stay in a Guest Suite on campus that was quite large and allowed me the ability to get at least one extra nap in each day.  And thanks to Steve & Linda, I was able to literally put my feet up and relax in comfort between sessions when I was not teaching.  They moved a recliner love seat into the room just for me.  : )

So how do I sum up such a great week as this past one.  Well, I believe that the four of us who taught the class came in with a real passion to share our “stories” about what God is doing in the world through the work of Bible translation and its supporting ministries.  And as we taught, and shared our field experiences, we were constantly challenging the students to “Discover Your Passion”.  In other words, we encouraged them to find out what it was that God was calling them to do for the Lord, to find out how God had created them to do His good works in the world.  And maybe, just maybe, working with Pioneer Bible Translators will be what He wants them to do.

As for me, I am on my way back to Canada.  It seems I am always on the go somewhere.  In fact, I will be heading to Papua New Guinea in 19 days from now (with Jill to follow) on a 9 week trip to do the consultant check on multiple books of the New Testament (Hebrews in one language, Eph./Phil./Col./Philemon & Jude in a second language, and finishing up Matthew in a third language.)  I may not move very fast any more, but it seems I am constantly on the move.  It’s because God placed that passion in my heart and I know I must follow where He leads me.  I would appreciate your prayers for the work of the next two months.

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!

My Hero….Captain Kirk

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The Plinky Question for this week is:   “Who is your hero and why?”

There could be lots of good answers to this question for me.  Like fiction characters such as Superman, Thor, or Jack Ryan of the Tom Clancy series.  There are some real missionary heroes that I look up to like Hudson Taylor, William Carey, or Mother Theresa.  And there have been some wonderful people who I have known and have influenced my life profoundly.  You can read about them in “God Spoke Through People.

But in keeping with the fun nature of Plinky.com, I thought I would tell you about one of my all-time favorite heroes, namely James T. Kirk, Captain of the legendary starship the Enterprise.  You might wonder if it is because he symbolizes all that I could wish to be.  He’s handsome, popular, sexy; he’s a ‘rough and tumble’ kind of guy (who always gets his shirt ripped to show off his bod to the ladies).

No, my ego is intact enough to not be threatened by such daunting physical qualities.  : )  Rather, it is his qualities of a great leader that make me want to walk in his shoes.  In every situation, no matter how bleak, he always had an answer, he always faced and conquered every challenge.  Just like his spoof counterpart, Tim Allen, who plays Commander Peter Quincy Taggart in the movie “Galaxy Quest“, the motto must go forth: “Never give up, never surrender.

This great phrase makes me think of Ephesians 6:10-18.  We are in the middle of a great spiritual battle for Planet Earth and all its people, whether we realize it or not.  I think one of the key verses in this passage is verse 13.  We are told who are enemies are, the spiritual forces of darkness at work here in the world and in the heavenly realms.  And after this verse we are told what our armament is for this cosmic battle.  But read what verse 13 says,

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We are to dress (in spiritual terms) for battle, we are to face the battle, we are to engage in battle, and then having done all that, we are told to still keep standing.  We do find out in Ephesians 6 that our strength comes not from us, but from the Lord.  But we must have an attitude like Captain Kirk or Commander Taggart, “Never give up, never surrender.”

And I must say that with this kind of attitude, that Captain Kirk was the eternal optimist.  He always believed that he could do the impossible, and find a way out of any situation.  Like when he and his crew mates were stranded on the planet “Genesis” by the ruthless Khan.  (Star Trek 2: “The Wrath of Khan“…boy, what a movie.)  There was always a back up plan for Kirk.

How does this relate to us spiritually?  Have you or I ever felt like the situation was impossible, that there was no way to accomplish what needed to be done?  Sure.  But that is why we must treasure such a rich promise as Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.

Or consider how difficult it is to face and conquer the temptations to do the things that are wrong that hit us from every side and bombard us day after day.  God knew this in advance and gave us the means to escape such powerful temptations that we face all the time in 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

So there you go.  Now you know who my favorite (non-fiction) hero is, and why.  If he were here right now, he would say to you and I, “Live long and prosper.”  But even better than this saying, is the fabulous promise of Jesus, our Lord and Savior,

I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Oops…Did I Say That?

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Ephesians 4:29

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

In the last two weeks, I have been studying the book of Ephesians as I prepare to go to Papua New Guinea to do the consultant check on the translation of this book into one the minority languages there.  When we came chapter 4, verse 29 jumped out to me as I recalled a discussion I had just had with one of my sons during the previous week.

I have always been proud of my son for his deep faith in Christ, his gentle nature, and his desire to be helpful to others, especially those who cannot help themselves.  Which is interesting since his desire is to join the Canadian Armed Forces.  When asked why he would choose this path, his response many times is, “So I can help defend the defenseless.”

So given his interest in the military, it is not surprising that most of the video games he plays are related to war (or special forces, etc.).  This means that many of his games are what we would call “shooter” games.  As he plays online and interacts with others though, he hears language that is quite strong.

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Now I must say that my son does not swear or use profanity, at least as far as the world standard for language use is concerned.  No, he uses the other words, what you might say are the cousins to profane words.  He will say, “Shoot”, or “Darn” which are close relatives to other words that I consider to be profanity.  But his most common word, and the one that has me most on edge, is the word “Frack!” or “Fricking!”  And these words are definitely so close to the other “F” word that is definitely a swear word, that I have had to talk many times with my son over the use of language in our house.

So I was very pleased when last week he sat down beside me and said, “How do I stop saying these words?  What can I do to change this?”  So I told him a story about my youth which he had never heard.

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I said, “When I was in Grade Six, I wanted to sound tough, just like all the other guys around me.  I figured that if I sounded tough like them, they would stop picking on me.  And it wasn’t long before I could swear a blue streak up and down like you wouldn’t believe.”

“You’re right,” he said. “I don’t believe it.  But what did you do about it, because I never hear you swear today?”

So I responded, “Well, I got what I wished for. My language became so foul that people backed away from me and left me alone.  But then I was really alone.  So I learned quickly that sounding tough repelled both my friends and those who didn’t like me.  The answer to my dilemma didn’t come until the next year, when I was in Grade Seven.”

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“It was in Grade Seven that God reached out and touched me and broke through my tough exterior and began His work in my heart. [See the post “For My Tears, Jesus Died”] And shortly after I accepted Christ as my Lord, one of my first prayers was for God to help me stop using foul language.  And you know what?  Within a matter of days, I found that I had no desire to swear anymore.  My prayer was answered.  God cleaned up my heart and then cleaned up my language.”

I know that this story was an encouragement to my son.  But then he asked a very practical question, “So when I get frustrated, like when I play these games and one of the guys on my team does something stupid and gets me killed, what should I say?”

We dialogged about this for a while and we came up with two solutions as to how to deal with situations that cause anger or frustration.  First of all, we decided that laughing at the situation is probably a much better response than speaking out of anger.  And then secondly, the way to stop using profane language is to lay down new neuropaths in our brains by using completely different words.  And hopefully the new words will be neutral, rather than negative, or even be funny.

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Again, I’d have to say I am so thankful that my son came to speak with me about this.  Even though in one month he will no longer be a teenager, still he is willing to come to his Dad and talk to him about deep issues and difficult topics.  And it showed me that he has been listening to me about my concerns of the kind of words he uses.  But most importantly, this experience has confirmed for me that my son wants the Lord to control his life, and he wants to do the things that please Him.  That’s what really counts in the long run.

It is interesting to read what Solomon wrote regarding parents and their son in Proverbs 10:1

A wise son brings joy to his father,but a foolish son grief to his mother.