What Happened To Norm?

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I’m wondering if this is a question that has been in anyone’s mind recently.  Although I should qualify this question.  I know my family all know where I am.  And many of my friends know what I am doing.  But for those who are not in the category of “Norm’s family” or “Norm’s friends”, for those who have been visiting The Listening Post or are subscribers to the blog, this question may have come up.

Why would I raise  this question?  Well, for all those who are following me on this devotional blog site, it should have been noticed that the frequency of articles coming out has been declining over the past year.  Back in 2011 and 2012, I was writing three articles every week: to share about all the missionary experiences I have had over a lifetime, to walk through a Christian book chapter by chapter, and to do a Bible study on the Gospel of John.

But since the beginning of 2013, I was only able to write two articles a week for about half a year, and then it became only one article a week.  And then suddenly there were no articles for the past few weeks.  Oh no!!  Did that horrible monster called “Writer’s Block” come up and attack Norm!  Or did the “fount of knowledge” simply run dry for him.

    

Nah!!  Nothing so ordinary as that.  The simple truth is that God has been so good to allow me to be more active for Him in ministry over here in Papua New Guinea, that there really is so much to say, but so little time to sit down and write about it.  There is an interesting universal law at work here I think, which goes something like “The universe cannot stand having a void.”  The idea is that when there is extra space, something will fill it up.

We see this in normal day living.  When a family lives in a small house, the rooms, cupboards and storage spaces all get filled up.  Now what happens when this same family is able to move into a much larger house?  In almost every case, within less than a year, you will still find all the rooms, cupboards and storage space are still all filled up.  How is that possible?  Simply this: we like to fill up our space.

    

Now consider with me this universal law from a Christian perspective.  What happens when a Christian gives freely of their time, their talents and their treasures (money or material possessions).  It is said that a person “can never out give the Lord”.  And this is very true.  When we give some of our money or material possessions away in order to help others or to advance the work of God, it is so often true that God will turn some situation around and bring back an awesome material or financial blessing in return.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  We should never give with the sole purpose or intention of getting something from God.  God does not operate this way.  For Scripture tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.”  (2 Corinthians 9:7)  But the Bible also says that when we give, it will be given back to us by God in “good measure, pressed down and running over”.  (Luke 6:38)  When we give of what we have (in any form) then God will fill back up our emptiness with the abundance of His overflowing blessings.

    

So what has all this to do with my question at the beginning  of “What happened to Norm?”  Well, when the muscle disease first hit me back in 2008, I suddenly found my world shrank down to place very tight boundaries on what I could do in life.  In many ways, my space of existence during the day was not much more than the easy chair recliner in my living room.  But thankfully, I could still do some of my mission work on my computer, and the Internet became my doorway through which I could go to access the rest of the world.

Slowly over the past two years, Jill and I have together been challenging those boundaries by faith, and we made longer and longer trips over to Papua New Guinea so that I could sit in another reclining chair and do the consultant checking of translated Scriptures that is happening among many Papuan languages.  So as we challenged and expanded those boundaries, God filled up the space with more ministry activity.

This expansion of my space and physical abilities (in spite of what the doctors have been telling me) has been an exciting journey of faith.  And it culminated in January 2013 when I was chosen and elected by the Members of our mission group here in PNG to become their Director over all the Language Programs.  Wow, isn’t God amazing.

    

So for the past 8 months, I have been on quite a steep learning curve to know how to fulfill my role as the Language Director, overseeing 13 translation and literacy projects within our Madang Province.  Pretty much every little corner of free space I had before has become full of very exciting ministry work among the peoples of PNG.  And it is because of this that I have reduced down to writing only one blog story each week.  And I do hope that they are meeting some need in your life.  I pray that my articles can be used by God to fill you and to bring healing and joy to you as well.

But to answer the last question as to why I have not written a story for almost a month now is mostly due to a much simpler reason.  Jill still works back in Canada as a nurse, and her income helps us to live on two continents.  Well, Jill was able to use her vacation time to come over for three weeks.  And what great three weeks they were.  After not seeing Jill for nearly two months, you can understand and forgive me that I did not write a new article for you.  Besides the “urgent” aspects of my job, all my eyes could see was my fair maiden Jill.  But starting yesterday, she flew back to Canada again.  So I hope I will not disappoint you  now to get at least one new article posted every week…..(at least until my darling Jill shows up again in February.)  😀

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God Looks On The Inside

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John 7:14 – 24

14 Then, midway through the festival, Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach. 15 The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked.

16 So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. 17 Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. 18 Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. 19 Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

20 The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. 22 But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) 23 For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? 24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

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In the section of John chapter 7 just before this passage, we saw that Jesus was trying to keep a low key profile.  As some would say today, it looked like he was trying to “fly under the radar”.  It must have been difficult for him seeing as the annual “Feast of Tabernacles” was meant to be a joyous time for all Jews, and especially in Jerusalem.

And then suddenly during the middle of the week of celebration, we see Jesus marching straight up to the Temple and beginning to teach.  I wonder what was going on in his mind.  Could it be that he saw the shallowness and superficiality of the faith of many of his countrymen and he wanted them to come to know his Father like he did?  Or more probably, he could no longer stand the hypocrisy and the abuse of religious power that the Jewish leaders exercised over the people and Jesus finally had to speak up against this.

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The encounter that followed was very dramatic.  Jesus taught with great boldness concerning God and His Kingdom and the people were amazed at this.  They saw that his message was full of spiritual power, but they had always been led to believe that a person had to go through the Rabbinical schools (their form of theological seminaries) to have such power and authority to teach and preach like Jesus did.

But Jesus points out that religious pedigrees and positions are things that are important to men, but not to God.  What is really important is to lead people back into a living relationship with God.  Even if it means pointing out the sin in one’s life that is keeping that person away from God.  Jesus knew that his teachings struck at the hearts of those selfish hypocrites of his day, and he calls them out to the table by stating that they even have it in their heart to kill Jesus, and thus kill his message that would convict them.

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The truth is laid bare when Jesus revealed their hypocrisy over actions done on the Sabbath.  They claimed that no one could do any work of any kind on the Jewish day of rest.  And yet they had the command of God for circumcision, which was older than the Law, that they said allowed them to break the Sabbath rest.  In other words they used one law to break another law.  And they felt quite justified in their rigid legalism.

On the other hand, Jesus did a tremendous act of compassion by healing a lame man on the Sabbath.  But rather then praise Jesus for his action, they accused him of breaking a religious law.  To God, this is so absurd!  To allow a religious rule to overshadow meeting the needs of hurting people goes against the very nature of God.

Jesus pointed out what the real issue was when he said, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”  Whenever we put the focus on conformity to external behavior (which is what legalism is all about), we lose sight of what is really important, the true condition of the person’s heart.  It is not difficult for a person to do “all the right things” and still be miles away from God in his heart.  But if a person’s heart is pure and open and receptive to God and His grace, then all his external actions will match the inner beauty of his heart.

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And that brings us to some important application here.  Let us be very slow to judge and condemn another person simply on the external behaviors that we might see.  We must instead take the time to get to know that person and what is going on in the inside of him or her.  We do not need to promote conformity to rules to be the basis of thinking that person is right with God.  We need to help nurture a person’s relationship with God.  That is a heart issue.

In closing, let me remind us all that Jesus gave a stern warning to us in his analogy that we might have a plank sticking out of our eye (metaphorically speaking) while we judge someone else’s sin (which he compared to as a speck of dust in their eyes).  Let us clean up our own heart before we think we can help clean up someone else’s heart.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

A Stricken Father

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Who Am I? – Part 20

In the last article of this series, “Living a Missionary Life,” I gave a brief summary of what living in Papua New Guinea was like for us as a family. Those were good years, and in many ways our family has looked at those years as the best years for our family. We were a solid family unit the four of us, living in our house in the tropical forest in the remote village ministering to the Papuan people by day and having many wonderful family times together in the evenings.

Just before we returned to PNG in 2000 after a short furlough to visit family and our supporting churches, we built a crate (4′ x 4′ x 8′) to send overseas thinking that we would spend the next 10 to 15 years over there working on the Bible translation project. This is what I had always dreamed about doing, what I have trained for, and what I was prepared to give my life for in service to God. Little did we know what lay around the corner for us.

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Now I do need to admit that living in our remote village was not easy. I think of all of us, Glen was the one who enjoyed village life the most. Partly because of his young age but also because of his personality he fit in well. Our older son Eric on the other hand, has always been more suited to larger cities and more Western-style living. And that’s okay, because God makes all of us uniquely different.

So shortly after our return to the field, Eric began asking us for our permission to let him go up to the highlands of PNG to live on a large mission base where he would live in a dormitory and attend an international junior high/senior high school. It was very difficult for us as parents to consider the idea of him living apart from us, but over time we came to realize this would be a better arrangement for Eric.

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In August of 2001, our family went up to the mission base and begin a new phase for our family. At first, our family all stayed together in one flat (apartment) in the house that PBT owned up there. Then Eric moved over into one of the hostels where other schoolchildren and the dorm parents lived while Jill, Glen, and I remained at the PBT house. The idea was to have us close but to still allow Eric a trial period of separation to see how he would do living at the hostel.

And you know what? Eric really enjoyed living there and going to the mission school for his 7th Grade. Actually, I think it was much harder on us to let him go than for him to leave us. This looked like it would work out well, and so the three of us headed back to our village in the lowlands. Thankfully, we did have a radio connection between our village house and the hostel so that we were able to talk to Eric almost every day.

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The first hint of a problem was when Eric got sick on a school outing and couldn’t shake it off after more than two weeks of feeling poor. At the same time, some troubling cultural issues developed among the villages of our language group and so the Directors of our Branch advised us to go back up to the mission center. So our family was reunited, but Eric continued to have throat and bronchial problems as well as feeling very weak.

We worried for our son, but the clinic doctors kept thinking that it was simply a bacterial problem. We were now getting ready to go back to the village but Jill asked the doctors to run one more test on Eric. Now whether that was Jill being a very concerned mother or was prompted by God I don’t know, but the fact remains that this one more examination proved vital for Eric’s health.

When the two doctors finally got together and reviewed the results, something suspicious in the blood work caused them to call us in so that they could talk to us. Being medically trained, Jill caught on much faster than I did as to the potential seriousness of the situation. The next thing I knew we were calling our health provider back in Canada and were advised to take Eric to Australia for more testing.

That afternoon and that evening is still a blur. Phone calls were made, neighbors watched over the kids, and friends came to help pack up all of our belongings from the house where we were staying. The next day we loaded up on the small mission Cessna airplane and headed towards Port Moresby, the capital of PNG. By the next day, we were in Brisbane and Eric was immediately admitted into the hospital. We got the unofficial word that night, and were officially told the news the next day. Eric had leukemia.

Even as I dictate this story into my computer microphone my voice gets choked up, and my eyes get misty with tears. As much as I love living in Papua New Guinea, putting my hand to the task of translation and being in service for the Lord, my love for my family was greater and my heart and my spirit were broken that day when we received news of his diagnosis.

That day in January of 2002 began a long cancer journey for Eric and our family. The chemotherapy treatments went on for 30 months, and Jill and I lived with the fear of the disease and the worry about the treatment during those months. But we entrusted the life of our son into the hands of our Father above. And in His mercy, God watched over Eric and brought us all through those cancer years.

There is so much more to the story that I cannot tell right now, but I will, Lord willing, in future articles. In all those years, I never remember saying, “Why Lord?” But I do remember often asking God, “Please Lord, spare the life of my child and give us strength to walk this path.” Looking back now, I’m happy to say that God answered both of those prayers.

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