Jesus Has Overcome The World

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John 16:19 – 33

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.

21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

25 “I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. 26 Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, 27 for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God. 28 Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.”

    

29 Then his disciples said, “At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. 30 Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.”

31 Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? 32 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

                                

Three Powerful Statements

1.  Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.”  (v. 24)

In the verse right before this statement, Jesus tells the disciples that they can “ask the Father directly”.  This was and still is such a profound statement.  Up until the time of Jesus, the practice of the Jews was to approach the priest and bring an animal sacrifice and have the priest intercede on behalf of the worshipper or petitioner before God.  And once a year, at the Day of Atonement, only the High Priest was allowed to enter in the Holy of Holies in the Temple to intercede before God on behalf of the people.  (Read Hebrews 9:1-8)

But now Jesus is telling the disciples that they could go directly to the Father to lay their requests directly as the feet of God, no longer needing to go through a human priest to reach God.  What an awesome promise this is.  And we read in Matthew 27:51-52, when Jesus died on the cross:

At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.

Most curtains when they are torn, will tear from the bottom to the top.  But Jesus’ death opened the way between God and man through His death.  And God supernaturally reached down and tore the curtain in the Temple from the “top to the bottom” so all might know that they could now come in to the Most Holy Place and lay their petitions before the Father.  Hallelujah!!

    

2.  “From this we believe that you came from God.”  (v. 29)

Finally, after 3 1/2 years of teaching the disciples and showing His divine power through miracles, the disciples state their belief that Jesus came from God.  So what was it that caused them in this passage to make this statement?  Look carefully at the context of this chapter.  Jesus was trying to explain that he would die (“you won’t see me”) and then be raised to life again (“after that you will see me again”).  They did not understand this statement, but they were sure thinking a lot about what this must mean.

And it says, “Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it”.  From this, they realized that Jesus knew exactly what was on their hearts and minds.  It was as if he could read their very thoughts.  And from that, they knew for sure He was divine, for Scripture tells us that only God knows the thoughts and the hearts of men.  (Romans 8:27)  Does that frighten you?  Or does that comfort you, knowing that God is aware of your inner most thoughts, and thus is an intimate and caring God.

    

3.  “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (v. 33)

For three chapters now, Jesus has been telling His disciples what lay ahead for Him and for them.  Chapter 17 is His final prayer to the Father on behalf of His disciples.  Jesus predicted for them that people would hate Him and kill Him, and treat the disciples in like manner.  Jesus would go away for a while, and there would be great sadness and grief.  But then come His final words to His disciples, “Take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Even in the very face of death itself, Jesus is confident that He would be victorious.  And we know that three days after Jesus died, He did in fact rise again to prove that He was the Son of God, able to defeat Death itself, and give us the hope and promise that we who believe in Him will also one day be resurrected from the dead to join Him in Heaven as His people.  What a tremendous promise that is.  What hope and joy it gives to us who may be facing terribly dark days here on earth.  But have no fear, we too will overcome the forces of evil that are in this world.  We too will be overcomers.  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!!

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Looking For The Good When Bad Things Happen

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Can Good Come From Bad?

This is an age old question.  And in many ways, it is a question that tries to understand the nature of God.  As people often have said, “If God is a loving God, how can there be so much evil and pain in the world?”  Personally, I think this is the wrong question to be asking.  I recognize that not everyone who believes there is a God, which is the first question to deal with, will accept that the Bible of the Jews and Christians is the “Word of God”.

But that is my starting point.  And for a number of good reasons.  But this article cannot deal with that question either, as there would not be enough space here to expand on this belief.   This article then is written primarily for Christians who share my belief in God and in the Bible as God’s Word to mankind.  But just because we have these strong beliefs in the Divine and the Almighty does not mean that we will never experience bad things in life.  Nor does it mean that we will always understand why we experience suffering and pain.  Yet I believe that we still have much more to guide us and help us deal with the heartaches of life than many people.

    

I raise these questions today because of the recent experiences that I just went through.  I was in Papua New Guinea serving the Lord doing the ministry of Bible translation for people groups that do not have the Bible in their language.  Next thing I know, I’m being told that I have a retinal tear in my right eye and I am boarding planes to come back to Canada to get this fixed.  You can read about my experiences in the article “God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief“.

It would be so easy to turn around and say to God, “Why me?  Can’t you see I’m giving my life to serve you over here in PNG?”.  But I’ve always thought of that question as being a self-centered and self-absorbed question.  As if the universe (or the Almighty) is supposed to bow down to our own personal likes and needs.  Sometimes I do catch myself though asking the question of “Why now, Lord?”  But this too I think reflects some level of lack of faith.  If God really is God, then He knows what is going to happen, and so events in life never catch him by surprise.  And if we really have faith in Him, then we too should not act surprised.

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I believe that the best question we should be asking when bad things happen to us is this one, “What now Lord?”  In other words, we ask God, given the current circumstance that we are in, what is it that we can and should do in the situation.  Sometimes God will reveal to us that there really is nothing we can do, except to hold on even stronger to our faith that He will work things out.  And to believe that good can and will come out of this bad situation.  Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.

I also believe that there are many times when we are to take action within these new circumstances, under God’s guidance of course.  In other words, to respond according to the spirit, not according to our natural earthly desires and behaviors.  Our natural inclination when something bad happens might be to get angry, or to take things out on another person.  Our supernatural response though is to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thess. 5:18)

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This is much more that just being an optimist, or trying to be a “half full glass” kind of person.  Even as we give thanks to God, acknowledging Him as our Lord through tough situations, we ask the question of “What now Lord?”  We want to be proactive and to ask God to help us make the most of the situation.  This is what is called “Redeeming the Time.”  To “redeem” means “to rescue; to buy back”, and so when we redeem the time, we are taking back the situation and by God’s strength and direction we are making and finding ways to allow good things to happen.

You see, I believe that a life of faith is a partnership between a person and God, and both sides have their part to play.  And that is how I approached the situation with my recent eye surgeries.  (Yes, plural, as I needed three surgeries.)  I actively trusted God to take care of me, and He did so in some amazing ways.  But I also have actively been seeking how to make the most of the time I now have been given to be back home.

And what have I done?  I have been actively seeking ways to be with my family and do things together that would not have been possible if I was still in PNG.  I have been in meetings in our international office in Dallas, and having conversations with young aspiring missionaries.  These have been precious moments that couldn’t have taken place while I was in PNG.  And I am reconnecting with my home churches as well as some potential new supporting churches.  And so this time off of the field for me has been one of seeking and finding great opportunities to see good things come about.

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You need to ask the question then: “How do you respond when bad things happen to you?”  Is your focus upon yourself, and your sense of pain that the situation may be causing you?  Or are you putting your focus upon God who will not only guide you through the tough times in life, but will provide great opportunities to see some good come out of the situation.  It is a choice.  What are you going to choose?

Praise God

God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief

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Mark 9:22b-24

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he answered.  “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Everyone struggles with doubt and some level of unbelief.  No matter how strong our faith may seem, there will always be moments when we have our faith challenged and we seem a little shaky in believing for the best.  Sometimes it feels like we are believing for the impossible.  Don’t despair though, this is exactly where God excels.

The context of this story here in Mark 9 is that there was a father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that caused the boy to throw himself into fire or into water to injure himself.  The disciples of Jesus had not been able to heal the boy, and so the father turned to Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus could heal the boy.

The man had faith and believed that healing was possible for his son.  But his faith had been shaken when the disciples could not heal the boy.  Jesus’ challenge was that we who believe must hold strong on to this belief.  Even when we do not see the immediate results of our prayer and faith, we are still challenged to stand strong and believe.

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I can identify with this story considering what has happened to me this past month.  Exactly four weeks ago, I was boarding the first of four flights that would take me from Madang, Papua New Guinea all the way back to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  One day I was still serving the Lord doing my Bible translation work, and the next moment I was flying to Canada to get laser surgery to fix a retinal tear in my right eye.

Now my faith has always been there believing that God is with me no matter what the circumstances are, that He will take care of me, and that He will bring good out of every situation for those who love Him.  (see Romans 8:28)  And so I trusted God that He would work things out as I left PNG on this medical emergency.

And God did take care of me.  In an amazing 52 hour journey from PNG to Canada, I was given such good treatment all the way, made all the connections, and had an incredible amount of energy that sustained me through the trip.  That alone was like a miracle to me, since for the past five years that I have battled with a muscle disease I have not had the stamina to travel far without needing to get rest.

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The next incredible part of this journey was this: after I landed in Calgary, my family picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to the hospital with the eye clinic and within four hours I was seen and scheduled for laser surgery by the city’s top retinal doctor for the following morning.

Then came the hard moments, both physically and spiritually for me.  The first laser surgery was blinding, painful (when the laser burnt some nerve endings), and not conclusive.  This led to a second surgery.  This time the doctor opted to go in the other direction and used the freezing method, not the laser surgery to seal the tear.

This second procedure is called cryopexy.  The doctor had a hand device that was connected by a tube to a tank of nitric oxide.  On the other end of the hand tool was a long metal probe.  The procedure was to insert the metal probe around the side of the eyeball and get to the retina from the backside and use the freezing gas to seal up the retinal tear from behind.

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Needless to say, this second procedure was extremely painful.  (Imagine getting a fat needle poked around behind your eyeball, then afterwards the gas gives you a “slurpie brain-freeze”.)  I was sure that this would take care of everything.  The doctor told us to visit in a week for a follow-up, and we began thinking, “Maybe I can go back right away to PNG and continue my ministry work there.”  But to our surprise, the doctor said it still wasn’t complete and I immediately got a third surgery, this one being again a laser surgery.

When the doctor said he hoped this would take care of it all, but he was worried about an artery that was crossing the tear which might mean an invasive surgery to remove the artery, we didn’t know what to think.  And for two weeks, we wrestled with this question, “Do I believe that the surgeries are finished, or will the situation continue to get worse.”

We were just like this father who had said so long ago, “I believe.  But God, help my unbelief!”  We prayed and prayed and asked many others to pray too.  And then we left it in God’s hands.  We went in yesterday to see the doctor.  He carefully examined the retina.  And then with a broad smile he said, “I got that pinned down really good, didn’t I!”  Oh what a relief to hear those words.

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As I reflect on the mental and spiritual battle I went through, I knew that my mind was playing all kinds of mental tricks on me which fought against my faith.  But my heart believed, ultimately, that God would see me through this positively.  And even if it had meant a fourth surgery, my God had never changed from being my God who loves me.

I know He would have brought me through and restored my eye no matter how many surgeries it would take.  And I believed that God would allow me to return again to PNG (in His timing of course).  And so this is now our prayer and belief that by the end of September I will be in PNG continuing to do my ministry for God there.  I invite you to stand in faith with us and also believe.

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Pray For Our Persecuted Brothers and Sisters

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[Editor’s Note: the following story is true.  While this event did turn out alright, there are countless more reports of persecution of Christians that do not end so peacefully.  As you read, try to imagine yourself being there and taking the place of our Christian brother and being on trial for your faith in Jesus.]

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“You will have to stand trial.” Alim (not his real name) sat in a chair, his hands sweating, as his brother continued, “They will come get you in the morning.”

What followed was a public trial in which Alim and another man were forced to answer to the local religious authorities for their belief in Christ. “Tell me, what have we done?” Alim asked. “Have we stolen from someone? Have we murdered somebody? If we have done wrong, we are willing to be judged, but tell us what we have done.” Much like Christ’s trial 2000 years ago, they were then faced with contradictory charges from false witnesses. Eventually, the man presiding over the trial held up his hand.

“I see no reason to condemn these men. They are moral men. They have faith in God. And they are willing to stand up for their convictions. If anyone stands condemned, it is you who dragged them here and are trying to condemn them with lies.” With that, he dismissed the charges and Alim and his friend went free.

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When I met Alim, he was sitting at a cafeteria table at a college campus in North Eurasia eating dolma and sipping tea. He and a few dozen other men and women from various countries in the former Soviet Union had come to hear a few men and women from Pioneer Bible Translators share about Bible Translation and Mother Tongue Ministry. Many of them were the only people in their families who knew Christ. Many had faced persecution from relatives and governments. Yet all of them radiated a peace and joy that I find uncommon.

During the week-long conference, they listened intently and asked many questions. They shared out of their hearts and their lives. They discussed the challenges they faced as they sought to reach their communities with the Gospel. They also responded to the challenge that my colleagues and I issued to realize that God has placed them in a position to reach people that we as Americans will never be able to.

In response to this challenge, they issued a challenge of their own. In different words and different ways, they said, “Come. Serve with us. Help us. Yes, we are here. This is our home. We have no choice but to be here. But we cannot do this alone. Teach us how to be translators. Teach us how to take the Gospel to different cultures. Pray with us in our streets. Live with us in our houses and see what God is doing and join in the work with us. Please do not be like so many others who have not seen us as equal brothers and sisters but have treated us like incapable children….”

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I feel like I learned far more than I taught at this conference. But the learning did not stop there for me. I spent the next couple of weeks in another country, the one my wife and I will be serving in. I was able to meet with brothers and sisters from other agencies to see what God is doing in the area. I heard others sharing things that fell in line with what I had heard at the conference.

Though the church is small and persecuted, it is none-the-less alive. They are a small but growing flame in a land of darkness. It even seems that the latest trials they have faced have been serving to unite them and strengthen their resolve to make disciples of every nation. They have already started to raise up and send their own people out across cultural lines, but they are asking for help. 

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In Matthew 10:21-22 we read these sobering words, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  It is hard to imagine that one of our own blood family members would turn against us and sentence us to death, just because we professed having a love for Jesus in our heart.

But such is the stronghold of some of the other religions of the world.  In those religions, they demand complete obedience to the laws and customs of that religion, or face the possibility of certain death.  It would be very hard I think to find a large percentage of our North American Christians who would be willing to stay true to Jesus under the threat of death.

And yet, in many other countries of the world, this is exactly what our Christian brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.  And not only are they challenging our faith today, to stand up strong for our belief in Jesus, but they are reaching out to us asking us for our help.  What can you do you say?  First and foremost, we must pray for our persecuted family members.

And we must also find and financially support reputable mission agencies that are committed to sending out their people to live among these spiritually impoverished people groups and bring them the Word of God.  Pioneer Bible Translators is such a mission.  Will you partner with us as we go out ministering to the last unreached people groups for Christ around the world?  Drop me a “Reply” message and let me hear from you.

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The Eternal Value Of Bible Translation Work

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Consultant checking of translated Scriptures can be tedious work and very exhausting as we look at every word, every phrase and every sentence of every verse, to make sure that it accurately communicates what was written down by the first biblical authors.  For the past three months, I have been checking various books of the Bible for different language groups.  It is exhausting, but also very rewarding.

There are also times when we laugh and when we cry as the message does not communicate, but something else that we did not intend to happen does happen.  A colleague of mine has also just finished a long period of checking a number of New Testament books for her language group.  I hope you enjoy reading the following story.

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“Is he crying?”  I thought to myself as I looked up from writing corrections on our draft of the Gospel of Mark. I confirmed that the man was indeed crying and then the man beside him began crying and wiping his eyes and several of the other guys began wiping their eyes.  By that time, the first man was in the loud crying stage. He came to me, shook hands for a long time and kept saying over and over, “It’s true! It’s true!”

I was so stunned by his response that it took me a few seconds to realize that the verse that had hit him so hard was Mark 13:31, which in Apal translation says, “‘The ground and sky will disappear,’ he said. ‘Given that [but],’ he said. ‘My talk will not disappear,’ he said.”  I assured him that we were working on something of eternal value.  Everything else won’t last, but God’s Word will never disappear. 

Looking at his response, my guess is that he “got it” much better than I did.  This world will end, but God’s Word will never end.  Seeing his positive response to God’s Word in his own language gave me hope and the motivation needed to keep pressing on through the checking of the Gospel of John.  Sometimes I despaired of the translation ever being accurate enough and communicating clearly enough to make it worth printing.

Even after correcting it with a consultant, we were reading through John and I realized that John 11:25 just wouldn’t work because it sounded like the believers who died would stay happily dead forever.  To live eternally is translated as “being good only like that and only like that” and when that was combined with being dead – they were just “good and dead,” i.e., really dead.  Thankfully, that error was relatively easy to correct by adding in that they would rise again and then live eternally.   

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In addition to numerous other bloopers, two of my blooper “albatrosses” resurfaced again after the consultant had already checked and approved the verses.  We had been checking the placement of the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross and I had been a bit dubious when they  had the piece of paper sitting on top of “Jesus” head for a few seconds.  But they had quickly corrected it when I reread the passage. They knew it wasn’t right to put it on top of Jesus’ head. 

I sighed with relief, but something still kept bugging me about it so after the consultant left, I read them the translation of the parallel verse in Mark and one man said, “That is the way it should be in John.  We are missing the piece of wood sticking up behind Jesus’ head in the John translation.  Make it like that!”  So, we revised it and then I asked them one last time about where the angels had sat in the empty tomb.  I knew that we had corrected it so that the angels were no longer sitting on Jesus’ dead body, but there was still something about it that didn’t seem quite right, but I didn’t know what it was.

Finally, one of the guys said, “Well, this says that they sat on the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own head and the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own feet.  Did Jesus lie down there on his own after he was dead?”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The miracle of the resurrection is one thing, but did we really want the miracle of a dead man putting himself in place in his own tomb?  So, that was quickly revised by simply changing a few endings and then putting third person plural endings on the verbs.    

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Then there is Mark 10:27 in Apal which says, “They did it and Jesus was seeing them and said. ‘Men see and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. ‘Given that [but], God sees and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are not habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. That verse has been the one keeping us going.  The checking that needed to be done seemed like a mountain, but now the mountain is gone. 

Thank you for praying with us through the longs months of checking.  As a result, we were able to check 35% of the NT and now 80% of the Apal NT has been consultant checked. Praise God with me.    

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 4

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Previously, I mentioned that from an early age I felt a strong sense that I would be involved in mission work.  (Read it here.)  At the beginning of this series, someone asked me how I dealt with discouragement, realizing that it took me 20 years until I became a Bible translator in PNG.  Putting it that way, it does sound rather discouraging.

And yet I believe that God was working within me to prepare me for all that I would do for Him in the future.  Even bad choice I believe can come around to be important building blocks in our life-long goal of becoming godly.  But you must believe that God is with you, and will not abandon you as you search for the path of life that is best suited for you.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, as Moses was approaching his death, he gave instructions to Joshua who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Despite the obstacles, the fortified cities and fierce armies to fight, Moses said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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Let me now reflect on a few decisions that I made when I was 18 and 19.  I had finished one year of studies at University, and even though I pursued some courses which could lead me towards Bible translation work, I was quite discouraged by the extreme humanism that was being taught.  Even though I had won four different scholarships that would have paid for my four years of University, I didn’t have the heart or passion to continue those courses.

Instead, I went after an idea I’d heard in the previous summer.  There is a mission group called “Teen Missions, Int’l” and they accepted youth from 13 to 21 years old, to go to their Florida “Boot Camp” training to learn how to be a teen missionary.  Now that sounded exactly like what I was interested in.

So I applied to go on the team that would help build block houses for a mission down in Brazil, just off of the Amazon River.  WOW!!  What a fabulous experience that was for me.  And when I got back to Florida at the end of the summer, I decided to stay with the mission for four more months to join a young adult “Travel Team” that would visit churches and Bible schools all over the country to promote the mission.

Teen Missions

That summer and fall of 1979, I felt like I was in Heaven on earth.  I got to follow my dream of doing overseas mission work.  I realized that I had just thrown away three years of free tuition at University.  But I decided that following after God and the passion of my heart over-ruled a possibly wise choice to finish a university degree.

At the end of my six-month mission experience the mission leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to join on staff with them as part of a year-long “Staff Travel Team”.  I immediately jumped at that chance.  There were six others who also accepted this invitation, and after a brief orientation, we toured through much of the United States.  We became Assistant Leaders to teams the next year, and I went to help lead a team of teens to build a mission hospital wing in the interior of Honduras.

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Now all this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  But let me share the difficult side of this experience.  It surprised me that I found I was missing home and my family.  I had been going on “adventures” and doing travel around North America on my own for some time already.  But being away from home for another year, and going all the way to Honduras in July/August, and then to Scotland in November, made me feel the distance from home.

What compounded this was the fact that our Travel Team of seven young adults (from age 18 to 24) had a tremendously hard time getting along with each other.  We seemed to argue about things all the time.  I had never dealt well with tense relationships, so I felt even lonelier and cut off from my family and people back home.  I remember crying on the phone and saying I wanted to come home.

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It was at my lowest moments that God reminded me of the things that were most important.  First, He showed me in a variety of ways that He truly loved me and would be with me through this experience, just like He had been with Joshua.  Secondly, He reminded me that what I was doing was very important work for Him, which included what was going on inside of me.  I turned to God more in prayer, and I was building character through a tough time.

God also would remind me of how incredible it was that I was on this Staff Travel Team.  As a Canadian, I had to enter back into America and be allowed by U.S. Customs to stay for six months to be with this team.  But at the airport in Calgary, I was detained for almost an hour and a half answering all kinds of questions to try to prove that I was not coming into the country illegally, or that I would work at a job while there.

One Supervisor, “I wouldn’t let this guy through, but that is up to you.”  The man I talked to flipped through two six-inch Immigration Rules and Policies books to find all the reasons why I shouldn’t go through.  But suddenly an odd expression came over the man’s face, he closed those big books, and then said, “Oh go on, get out of here.”  I literally ran all the way to the airplane and got on just as they were closing the door.  So why was I on that Travel Team?  Because God wanted me there.

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 3

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I ended the last article by saying, “It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.”  This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Christian way of life for many believers today.  Our western culture has taught us how to be “independent”, “self-sufficient” and “successful”, which has at its core the fundamental belief that we can accomplish anything we want to in our own strength if we will put our minds to it.

The problem with this is that we usually leave God out of the situation, until something goes terribly wrong and then we look to God to “fix it”.  No wonder people today are over-worked, stressed out and living with high levels of anxiety, and/or guilt.  Mankind has never been able to control the world around him.  That was certainly true in past centuries, but even in our modern day we can never be fully prepared for the sudden loss of a loved one through death, an abrupt change in our economy, a fractured relationship with someone else we care about, or a myriad of other crises that can hit us at any time.

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It’s at this very point that we ought to be turning to God.  But this doesn’t mean that we are to look to God like He is a giant ‘band-aid” who treats our “owwies” when we feel hurt, or a genie in a bottle that will do anything we ask of him when we rub His magic lamp.  No, we are to come to God and trust that He really is the Author of all we can see, and that just as He takes good care to hold the Universe together, we trust that we can put our lives in His hands, and He will watch over our lives as well.

So when I feel discouraged in life and wonder what it is that I am doing now and what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, I remember the words of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Many Christians know this verse and understand that it is as we read the Bible and come to be more familiar with God’s Word that God will help to direct us in our daily lives.  That is exactly right, but there is so much more in this verse.

I’ve had the privilege to work for five years in a remote jungle area of Papua New Guinea.  It was during these years that I really truly understood the words of Psalm 119:05.  There were a number of times that I had to walk down a jungle trail after sunset and only had a small kerosene  oil lamp or a weak flashlight to light the path in front of me.  I literally could only see a few feet ahead of me, and even less could I see behind me.

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Try to imagine what that is like for a minute.  You are absolutely and totally surrounded by pitch black darkness.  If we put our lights or lamps out, I could not see my own hand even if I put it in front of my face.  So that small amount of light from my oil lamp or my mostly dead battery flashlight was my only hope for finding the path forward to take me back to my home village.

Now I could have let my fear of the dark, that fear of the unknown beyond my little cone of light, immobilize me there and stop me dead in my tracks.  All I really knew was that it was safe for about three feet in front of me.  I believed though, that there was a safe passage out there in that darkness ahead, even though I could not see it.  So what did I do?  I took one step forward.

And guess what I saw?  As I took a step forward, I was able to see a couple more feet in front of me.  It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to keep me safe from making a step in the wrong direction.  And every time I kept taking one step forward, I saw more of the path in front of me and the closer I knew I would be to my destination.

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That I believe is how we are to manage the decisions in our lives.  We are not God, and will never be able to see the “whole picture”.  But we almost always know and can see just enough ahead, that we can dare to take a step forward in one direction.  Psalm 119:105 tells us that it is God’s Word that will help reveal to us what steps and what direction to take.

Therefore, it is an act of faith for us to put our lives into God’s hands, trusting that He will guide us step-by-step that will help us to overcome the obstacles of life and to find the direction we need as we make our choices in life.  But remember too, that it is as we read and study God’s Word that we can best get our bearings in life and be steered clearly in making good and wise choices.

In further articles, I would like to share with you some of the decisions and cross-roads that I encountered as I grew up.  I can’t say that I always made the best decision.  But no decision can sometimes be worse than a bad decision.  At least we can try to learn something after making a bad decision.  Keep reading these articles then and see how my faith in God and my life decisions all turned out.  See you in the next article of this series.

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 2

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“Would you be willing to share with us some of your story of the difficulties you had on the journey to PNG, the doubts or discouragements that came up in those years? How did you keep “the big picture” in view while being a pastor, a youth leader, a “regular employee”, a student for years in different cities? How did you deal with having that dream interrupted when you came back to Canada?”

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This paragraph was posted on the top of Part 1 of this short series on “Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith.”  It would be wonderful if I could just say to others who are facing disappointments and discouragements in life to “just believe”, and have everything turn out alright.  But I have lived long enough and been through enough experiences of life to know that everything does not always work out alright, or should I say, the way we had first wanted things to turn out.

And even as I say that, I think I am partly able to answer the questions being asked above.  There is nothing wrong with a person having a dream of how their life will turn out.  I believe that we were built this way, and part of us dies when we allow our dreams to die.  There is a verse in the Bible that I think is helpful, but can be misunderstood.  Proverbs 29:18a says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (King James Version)

Some speakers have made a lot out of this verse.  They will say, “You need to have a BIG idea.  You need to have a “dream” for your life.  You need to have a goal, a sense of purpose, something that will be your driving force.  And if you don’t have that, then your life will be doomed for failure.  So figure out what you want to do with your life and get out there and do it.

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Now I suppose I am over dramatizing this viewpoint a bit, but maybe not for some people.  I do think there are some young people out there today who think that if they don’t have the direction and the vocation of their life figured out by the time they are 24, then there is something wrong with them and they will probably end up wandering aimlessly about in life.

First of all, let me correct the idea above of what Proverbs 29:18 actually says.  To do this, it would be best for me to show how other English translations of this verse have handled the Hebrew.  Compare the following:

NIV:  “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

TEV:  “A nation without God’s guidance is a nation without order. Happy are those who keep God’s law!

NLT:  “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy.

It is not hard now to see the common thread here.  Whenever people are unwilling to look to God and listen to His divine guidance for their lives, that is when they will run into all kinds of problems in life and end up running around aimlessly, and without purpose and meaning.  To counter this, one needs to get into God’s Law (the Bible) and see what He has to say about how to live one’s life.

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Therefore, when I say “have faith” and mean by this that things will turn our alright, we need to define what (or whom) we have faith in.  Proverbs 3:5-6 helps us to properly define the content or object of our faith.  It says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

So it really is not left up to us to have to “figure it all out” when we are young.  If we have made the decision to trust God with our lives, then the Bible tells us that He will help us by directing us in making these important decisions of life.  We have to get this one thing straight first, who is really in control of our lives, us… or God?

If the answer is God, then we can properly understand and be encouraged by a couple of other key Bible verses.  Take Psalms 37:4 for one, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”   When God is truly first in our lives, then we will be so in tune with God that His desires will become our desires, and God will inevitably fulfill the desires of our hearts, for they are the same as His.  This protects us from the danger of reading into this verse that God is obligated to give us whatever selfish desires we may have in our hearts.

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This leads us to one final verse that I want to look at in this article.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  This is such a powerful verse, and I think one of the verses of the Bible that helps me the most to be able to deal with disappointments and discouragements in life.

There is no question that bad things do happen in life, and that not everything works out exactly the way we had hoped.  Sometimes, not even close to what we hoped for.  But God is promising us in this verse that He can take any situation in life, no matter how bad, and bring good out of that situation.  It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.  More on this in the next article.

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Jesus Strips Away The Power Of Death

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John 11: 38 – 44

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

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41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

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This passage starts out with the words that Jesus was “once more deeply moved.”  There is no doubt that this would have been a time that Jesus would have been moved to feel the great loss at the death of His friend Lazurus.  But perhaps there is something else here tucked away within our passage that caused Jesus to be “deeply moved” with emotion.

The verse just before our current passage states, “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”  Is it possible that this statement was heard by Jesus, and caused Him to be deeply moved within His spirit?  Consider the situation from a divine perspective.

When God created Man, He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)  God created mankind to share in the qualities of personality, conscience, morality, and to have an eternal soul or spirit.  God saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and He enjoyed being in the company of mankind as is implied in Genesis 3:8.

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When Adam and Eve sinned against God by choosing to disobey the will of God, the consequences of that action resulted in death coming upon them, and every succeeding generation.  The death that is in focus there was primarily spiritual death, the idea of being separated from God eternally because of the corrupting power of sin which a pure and holy God cannot allow in His presence.

There was another death though that came about as a result of sin.  This is “the first death”, the time when a person dies physically at the end of one’s life here on earth.  And if that person is not in a right relationship with God, the first death (of the body), will lead to “the second death”, which would come at the Day of Judgment when the unrighteous are excluded from entrance into Heaven and depart into the fires of Hell.

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Perhaps Jesus had all of this in mind when He was “deeply moved”, when he heard the people wondering if He might have been able to save Lazurus from death.  The grave has has such a powerful hold on people since the beginning of time, and Satan has had such a powerful hold over the souls of people.  Jesus had come to break the power of both the grave and of Satan.  But it wasn’t quite time yet.  Jesus had not yet died upon the Cross to break these powers over mankind.

And so Jesus went to the tomb to raise Lazurus from the dead.  It was an act of compassion for sure as He saw the grief of Mary and Martha.  But it was also an opportunity for Jesus to display the awesome power of God who holds the power over life and death.  Martha was limited in her belief when she reminded Jesus that her brother’s body would be rotting in the grave by this time.

Jesus though, reminded Martha that just as He would have the power to spiritually raise people to life with God on that final day when He was revealed to be the One appointed by God to save people (see verses 25-27 above), He was also able to call upon the glory of God to strip away the power of physical death in the present.

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Now the term “glory” can be translated along the lines of “brightness” or “wonderful” or “awesome power”.  This last meaning is the one that fits here.  And what is most interesting is how Jesus prays and is thankful that God had already heard His prayer to have the Father reveal His power through Jesus to raise Lazurus.

But Jesus spoke this out loud so that no one could miss the important truth that Jesus had been sent to earth to represent the Father and to display His “awesome power” among people.  And what greater power could He display, than to strip away the power of death.  Once this great miracle occurred, and Lazurus came out of the grave, then the people were told to strip away the linen burial clothes that were no longer needed.

As I close here, let me ask this: have you placed your trust in Jesus to forgive you of your sin?  If you have, then you will not need to fear the “first death”, for you will be raised to eternal life with God at the end of all Time.  But if you have not placed your trust in Jesus, then death (both physical and spiritual) is awaiting you.  Why not let Jesus strip away the power of death that still clings to you, just like the funeral clothes that clung to Lazurus.

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Jesus Is The Resurrection & The Life

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John 11: 17 – 27

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

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24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,who is to come into the world.”

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As we look into this passage, we will need to keep in mind the cultural and religious background of the Jewish people of the 1st century.  The very first thing we need to consider is the process and issues involved when a person died back then.  There were some cultural groups, such as the Egyptians, who regularly practiced the embalming of dead bodies.  But even for the Egyptians, it would have been done only for the royal families and very rich people.

For a Jewish family then, when someone died, it would be necessary to immediately take care of the body and place it in a grave.  But this would not be a six-foot hole in the ground that we are used to in the West.  So much of the ground of Palestine was rocky ground that it was much more common for the people to dig out caves into the rock face of a hill.  Corpses would be wrapped up in linen clothes along with perfumed spices, and then within the cave/tomb, the bodies would be placed upon carverd out ledges.

We see from verse 17 above, that Lazurus’ body had been in his grave/tomb for four days.  Obviously, the body would have decayed quite a bit by this point and had quite a bad smell.  What is not obvious to us unless we know ancient Jewish culture, was the belief that a person’s spirit might remain nearby for up to three days before finally departing.  And so when John wrote that Lazurus was in the tomb for four days, it would be understood by readers that there would not be any chance for Lazurus’ spirit to rejoin his body and produce a “resurrection”.

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There is no question then that Lazurus was very, very dead.  And yet we see in Martha, who ran immediately to Jesus when she heard that He had arrived close to her town of Bethany, a very strong faith that He had the power to overcome death itself.  Her statement is what is called a “contrafactual” statement and might sound like she is critical of Jesus.  It would read more completely like this: “If you had been here [but you weren’t], then my brother would not have died [but he did].”

Jesus tried to reassure Martha that her “brother will rise again.”  To her credit, Martha agreed that Lazurus would rise again from the dead “at the last day”, which refers to when God would resurrect all people and have them stand before Him on the Day of Judgment.  But Jesus had been given power by God to have control over life and death even now, not just at the end of time.

Jesus went on to speak one of the most powerful statements in all of Scripture, “I am the Resurrection and the Life!”  Wow, what a statement.  But do we really understand all that Jesus is saying in this one statement.  I think not.  Mainly because this statement contains nouns “resurrection” and “life”, and for most of us, we understand verbs (or action words) more than nouns.

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Let me try to unpack this statement by using verbal language then and see if it will bring home better for us the meaning of Jesus’ words.  One way we might translate this could be, “I am the One who causes people to rise again after they have died, and I am the One who causes people to really live.”  The source of real life, both here in this world and in the world to come is found in Jesus.  And access to this life is made possible when one puts his/her faith in Jesus.

Jesus then challenged Martha directly to see if she did possess this kind of faith.  And she did.  As a good Jewish person, she had awaited the coming of the Messiah, the “Promised One of God”, the One who would rescue the nation of Israel, and ultimately all people of the world.  Martha went one step further to recognize that not only was Jesus the coming Savior, He was the Son of God.  Other than Peter, no one else within the Gospels, prior to the resurrection, had made this statement of faith.

What an incredible moment that must have been.  In the midst of great grief, faith rose up within Martha as she stood in front of the One who is the Giver of Life.  She recognized that death was not final, and that Jesus was the One who could overcome death and grant the promise of a resurrected life.  What she didn’t realize was that she would see this come to pass right in front of her that day.  But that part of the story will be next week’s article.

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