My Life Testimony – Pt. 4

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 4

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this fourth article that includes a portion of the questionnaire, I talk about the emotional and spiritual crisis that occurred when we were in Papua New Guinea and found out that our son had developed leukemia.  My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q7: Your biggest challenge at the time was when your son was diagnosed with leukemia in Papua New Guinea. How did you manage not to quit altogether out of grief? Where did you find God’s will in all this after those long years of your faithful service?

Yes, one of the greatest challenges to me emotionally and spiritually was when we were told to evacuate with our son out of PNG and go to Australia to get a diagnosis of leukemia for him confirmed.  Many of those months during the first year of his chemotherapy are still a blur to me.  Our son had to have 33 months of treatment, but the first 12 were what they called “the aggressive drugs” while the next two years were the “maintenance drugs”. 

During that first year, the job of the strong drugs was to literally kill off the new blood cell production right down to his bone marrow.  Then after that, the doctors used the maintenance drugs to slowly rebuild his blood system.

There were a few times in that first year that his blood counts went right down to zero and he was in danger of catching any other illness, even as simple as a cold or the flu, that could threaten his life.  So we lived at home and also at the hospital at times in a “quarantine” environment.  We are so thankful to God that He spared our son’s life, and we still believe that it was the prayers of God’s people that made the difference. 

In the first five weeks that we spent getting treatment for him in Brisbane, Australia, we had more than 500 emails from people around the world that had heard about our situation and were praying for our family.  Almost half of these came from people I had never heard of before.  Praise God that we are part of a larger Body of Christ as believers.

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What is interesting as I look back, is that I don’t ever remember asking God, “Why us? Why our son?  Why this illness?”  I do remember asking God, “Why now?”  We had finished all the checking on the Gospel of Mark in our village language except the final consultant check.  We were three weeks away from doing that when we got the diagnosis. 

This was also the time that followed immediately after the people of our language group went through a spiritual battle called “Cargoism” or “Cargo Cult”.  (You can read about some of this in “Satan is the True Enemy – Pt. 2“) We left the project, our house and most of our belongings in the village.  But I kept asking God, “Why didn’t you let us finish Mark and help the people at this critical time in their spiritual lives?”

Now many years later, I believe I can see that the people were not ready to receive the book of Mark.  They had to deal with the cargoism within their group first.  Then over a year later, someone else was able to complete the consultant check on Mark and get it to a publisher and take it to the people. 

Ten years later now, there is a revival movement happening among the people.  I won’t say that God deliberately gave our son the cancer (that would be a cruel God to me), but He had all things in control and used the cancer years to bring about His work in His timing among the people.

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But for me, as I watched and waited with Jill over our son, I certainly had many moments of tears and fears.  Yet I hung on strong to the promise found in Romans 8:28 that promised me that “in all things” no matter what the circumstances were, God would bring good out of the situation and show us that His love for us had never changed. 

And we saw some amazing things happen during those cancer years.  Our son was chosen to be the cancer Spokes’ Kid for “Kids Cancer Care Foundation” in Alberta in 2003.  And God used him to speak about his own faith in God despite his cancer in meetings across the Province, on radio and on television.  He even gave a speech in Calgary at one of the biggest events of the richest people in Calgary, including the Mayor of the city, and in that speech he gave testimony about how God had sustained him and cared for him in spite of his cancer.

God allowed me to experience one more terrific blessing during those few years in Canada.  I was invited by one Bible College in Saskatchewan to teach Missions and Bible courses for one year, and then the next year I was invited by the Bible College in Calgary to teach Missions and Greek.  The staffs at these two colleges have mentioned that I had the opportunity to teach some of the best students they had had for years, and some of those students (and the staff) are still talking about these classes that I taught. 

So while I cried out concerning the lost people in the villages back in PNG, and I cried out over my son, God rewarded me by giving me wonderful opportunities to continue serving Him.  To me, that was a tremendous privilege and blessing from God.

A Little Piece of Paradise

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Bitter Sweet Memories

Here I am, looking out my window at the luscious velvety green rolling hills of the Aiyura Valley up in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  There are some puffy white clouds sitting lazily within the gorgeous blue skies above.  I am once more living here, if only briefly, in what I consider to be one of the truly peaceful little places of Paradise here on earth.

Those were the thoughts I had while I was at the mission base again up in the highlands of PNG.  I was doing the translation consultant check on the Gospel of John for one of the language groups there.  The missionary couple that work in that project are friends of ours and are also fellow Canadians.  They graciously opened their home for me to live with them for the three weeks that we worked together.

In that quiet moment, I thought back over the many years that I have come and gone and done mission work here in PNG.  And especially when I have been at this highlands base and get reflective, I see all the good times, and the not so good times.  But in all of these times, God has been there.  Allow me now to share some of these with you.

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The PBT mission house is located in one of the corners of the center where it is a sharp dip down from one of the more major roads to our side road area.  The roads are not paved, so they are dusty and bumpy when it is dry, but muddy clay and slick when it rains.  That does not phase the children here though as they play their various games on the center whether on the grass sides or on the rock-strewn dirt roads.

We will never forget that one day our son Glen decided to try to ride one of those stand up foot scooters down the steep curving road near the PBT house where we were.  I think he would have been fine, except for the anxious shout from Jill who said, “You be careful son!”  That is when he looked up and the front wheel hit a rock.  Glen went flying off the scooter and landed on his chest and slid down the road.  Oh, we wish he had been wearing a T-shirt that day.  Yowwee!!  Gravel and skin are not a good mix.

I also remember the times that I was done my work and Eric was nearby and it just felt like having a “father-son” moment.  We would go across the lower road to a little grassy knoll that overlooked the beautiful valley.  We would talk about nothing and everything, whatever seemed to be the most important thing to talk about that day.  And we connected in a powerful way in that place of quiet and peace.

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And then came the fateful day in 2002.  Eric had found a place for himself in the International School there on center.  He had presented a good case for leaving the village and starting his Grade 7 up there and to live in one of the Youth Hostels.  He had made some friends, and he felt like that was where he belonged.  The other three of us in the family had gone up there to spend some time with Eric before we went back down to the village where I would continue the Bible translation work.

But a nagging string of little illnesses caused us enough concern that we had Eric checked one more time.  The blood work looked suspicious and we suddenly found ourselves packing up overnight and heading to Brisbane, Australia instead of to the village.  It turned out that Eric did have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia which sent us all on a three year road of chemotherapy treatments.

But God had not abandoned us.  Just like we quickly picked up Glen after his wipe out and tenderly treated his bruises and scrapes, we saw over those cancer years some wonderful ways that God sent us encouraging letters and prayers from others and gave us special moments for Eric that were only made possible because of his illness.  No, God does not abandon us, but He may change the path we are on.

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And I thought that was what was happening for me when God opened the door in 2007 for me to return to the mission base to get the training to become a Bible translation consultant.  I was so thrilled to be involved again with language projects, and this time I would help with the last check to be done before a book of Scripture goes to be published.

But immediately following my first trip to do consultant work in Feb. ’08, my own disease hit me and I have not been able to walk since then without experiencing pain and fatigue.  I thought my time of Bible translation work was finished when this hit me.  But I could never have been so wrong.  This is now the sixth time in four years that I have come back to PNG to do the consultant checking of a Bible translation project.

I don’t know why I feel that this mission base seems to be just a little closer to God than in other places.  I just know that it does.  And even though my family has experienced many bumps and bruises, and even life-threatening diseases which have been partly connected to this center, I still know that God is with us and loves us.  Maybe that is the point.  Through thick or thin, good or bad, God is still God and His loving kindness is always there.  We just need to open our eyes sometimes to see it.

Max Lucado’s Newest Book

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“God’s Story, Your Story”

This is the title to one of Max Lucado’s newest books. I’m really excited about this book. As many of you know, all through 2011, I wrote articles on a book called “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel” by Mark Atteberry (click here to access this series). That book has had such a positive impact in my life seeing as I have been living with my muscle disease for four years now. Reading Atteberry’s book gave me the hope and encouragement I needed to be able to walk along this difficult path.

As we came to November last year, I could see that we were nearing the end of writing articles on that book. I wondered what new book I could start to write articles about that met me where I was at in life, plus would be an encouraging book for all of my readers. My wife was the first one to mention Max Lucado’s new book to me. I went online to check it out and immediately I felt a connection to it. Even by just reading the Introduction of the book, I felt certain that this would be an excellent book to read and to write about.

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Let me give you a little more background on my life journey. Then I will tell you why I am excited about exploring Lucado’s book with all of you here on my blog site. Very briefly, I have had the privilege to serve God in quite a variety of missionary and pastoral ministries for over thirty years now. By the time I was 47 years old, I had visited 27 countries and set foot on every continent except Antarctica. (And no, I don’t have a desire to go there.)

Then suddenly in 2008, my muscle disease hit me like a freight train that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had just returned from a very active translation consultant project in Papua New Guinea. Days after getting back to Canada, a few troubling aches and pains flared up over the following six weeks to the point that I was barely able to walk across my living room floor.

Needless to say, the following months, which turned into years, were filled with pain, fatigue, frustration, discouragement and even depression. The turning point came when I participated in a six-week small-group study on learning how to deal with chronic pain. It was at that group that I was introduced to Atteberry’s book. And those two things helped me so much to pull out of my deep despair.

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Lately, I really believe that I have learned how to manage myself well physically by adapting my environment and staying within good boundaries. And I’m also doing quite well emotionally and spiritually. I believe I have for the most part, come out of my wilderness experience and am much more ready to start figuring out how my life will look in the future. I am at the place where I want to see how my life and my illness fit into God’s grand scheme of things.

And that is where Max Lucado’s book comes in. I believe it is time to try once more to see what the bigger picture is, and to do my part that God has designed me for. Actually, I know there are many people who would like to explore this important question. Lucado points this out himself on page 22 in his introductory chapter. He says:

We need to know where we came from. Knowing connects us, links us, bonds us to something greater than we are. Knowing reminds us that we aren’t floating on isolated ponds but on a grand River.

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It is well-known that Lucado is one of today’s most popular Christian authors. In 25 years of writing, he has authored more than sixty books and other various print items. I think what makes him such a good author is how he can creatively weave the story in a simple and humorous manner. But within each story lies a deeper story. And so what makes us laugh and cry from what he writes often softens us and prepares us to hear the deeper spiritual truths he wants us to really hear.

And that is exactly the point of this new book. Lucado knows that as much as we often think our life story is the main story for each one of us, the truth is that our stories are all just a small part of a much bigger Story. And it is when we can get a good grasp on the bigger picture, God’s Story, that we can finally start to make sense of our own lives within the bigger picture. Thus the title, “God’s Story, Your Story.”

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Let me close this article with a quote from page 25 where Lucado briefly touches on the purpose of him writing this new book:

Can you find the plot of a book in one paragraph or hear the flow of a symphony in one measure? Can you uncover the plot of your life by examining your life? By no means. You are so much more than a few days between the womb and the tomb. Your story indwells God’s. This is the great promise of the Bible and the hope of this book.

My hope is that I will do a good job this year as I write an article every second Saturday. And I hope you will enjoy what I write, but also that my articles will help deepen your faith in God. I look forward to the year that lies ahead of us.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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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Thanking God Through The Pain

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Praising The Lord

Life can be difficult. Life can be painful. How should we respond? How do you respond when life just wears you down? There are lots of ways that we can respond, but let me suggest that the best way is to praise and thank the Lord. And for those of us who are musically inclined, carrying around a song in our mind, in our hearts and even on our lips can be a very good thing. Here is a chorus that came to my mind:

I want to praise you Lord, much more than I do.
I want to praise you Lord, much more than I do.
Learn to seek your face, and the glory of your grace,
I want to praise you.

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For the second and third verse of this chorus, you substitute the word “love” and then “serve” so that we sing “I want to praise you Lord… I want to love you Lord… I want to serve you Lord”. This is a very simple chorus, but it certainly can affect your attitude and your outlook on life. Now let me give you the background of what happened in these past few days so that you can see why this song would be such a powerful song for me.

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Two Sundays ago, I had what I call a “fatigue episode”. Many of you may already know that I deal with a muscle disease on a daily basis. If not, you could go back and read my article from last July entitled “God and My Muscle Disease,” but make sure that you read the next article entitled, “Holy Spirit Enabled Missionary.” From these articles, you will be able to appreciate the challenges that I face, but also how God has become more real and more special to me.

Anyways, let me tell you about Sunday. In the previous week, the muscles in my legs had become more and more tightly knotted up. This would make it difficult to sleep and so it was getting harder to recharge my internal battery. I was able to take a long afternoon rest on Sunday, but when I woke up, I found that I had great difficulty in getting my arms and legs to move. I had literally “fatigued out”.

So there I was lying in bed and mentally saying, “Okay body, wake up!” First came my left hand, and it was kind of fascinating to watch it wave around. Then I would look at my right hand, and it just lay there. Next came my legs, then both hands, and finally my full arms. It took me over 45 minutes to fully get out of bed. I took it really easy that night and the next day, as it was clear that I had done too much in the previous week and needed to recharge my battery.

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Two days after this, I was able to get my regular massage therapy done on my legs and this has helped tremendously to allow me to rest and sleep better so that my internal battery would not be so run down on the following day. But I must say that the massage sessions are extremely painful as the therapist has to slowly work deep down and muscle by muscle to work out those tight knotted areas.

What I think is really worth sharing though, is the discussion that I had with a colleague of mine on the day after my “fatigue episode” and also with the massage therapist. Both of them wanted to know what I had thought and what I had felt during that time period. I will admit that part of me got worried, but I also had a very interesting conversation with God.

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When I realized that most of my body would not move after I woke up, part of me wondered about the idea of how I would respond if in fact I was paralyzed. And the answer that came immediately to my mind was this: “Well, at least I’m alive.” Then my hand moved, and I thought, “Thank you Lord. At least I have one hand now that works.” And it continued like this until I was finally able to get out of bed.

And so I shared this experience and my thoughts with my colleague and with my therapist. Even now, with all the restrictions and the barriers that this muscle disease has imposed upon my life, I am finding more and more each day that I am thanking and praising the Lord for what I can do, and not focusing in on what I cannot do.

There I was then, three days after having this fatigue episode, and as I was thinking about the Lord the chorus that I included above came to my mind. As Scripture says, our days are numbered and there is nothing that we can do to add to the number of our days. But we can choose what we do with our days. What I think is important is that we realize that we are just passing through this life. In fact, this life is the training ground for how we will spend our lives in eternity.

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I think that it all comes back to the attitude, and it reminds me of the simple poem that says:

Two men stuck behind prison bars;
One saw mud, the other saw stars.

As for me, I choose to be like the second man. How about you?

The Facts About Faith

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What Is Faith – Part 2

This is the second article in this miniseries that I want to write on the topic of faith.  In the first article, “Faith Comes by Hearing“, we learned that faith is something that we can actually get.  And this comes, or begins, at the moment when we first hear the Good News about Christ, and accept that message as being true and we put our faith, or trust, in Christ.

What we are declaring is that everything that is said about this man Jesus is true, and that all the things that He has said are also true.  But there is one fallacy that I would like to correct that is in the minds of some people, namely that faith (or belief) is something that was important in the past, and will one day be rewarded in the future (namely our acceptance by God into Heaven), and have very little connection to our daily lives today.

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You see, true faith is not just a decision made in the past, nor is it just a spiritual reality that only relates to our future in Heaven.  Rather, faith is a journey to be traveled, and it is based upon a relationship with God, and is to be lived out in our daily lives..  Romans 1:17 says it well as Paul wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

As we go through life and encounter all kinds of difficult situations, we must believe that God will work things out positively for us, or He will provide the resources (or the means) to be able to walk through those difficult periods in our lives.  Otherwise, all of the numerous promises found within Scripture (such as God being our Provider, our Healer, our Comforter, etc) get reduced to just figurative speech and are of little value to us right now.

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In listening to one of the sermons from Leon Fontaine on this topic of faith, he tells us that as Christians, we all have faith within us.  We do not need to psyche ourselves up to get or find faith, but rather, we are to actually exercise our faith.  When we accepted Christ into our lives, we were given the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

So the question is not whether we have faith or not, but whether our faith is active or if we let it lay dormant.  Jesus showed the disciples what things can happen when we exercise this kind of faith in Mark chapter 11. This is where Jesus spoke against the fig tree that had not produced any fruit and within a day it had completely withered from the roots up.

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When the disciples responded with amazement at this miracle, Jesus told them that they too could do mighty things simply by faith. He told them that the mountains can be moved by faith. (Personally, I take this to be one place where Jesus was using hyperbole or figurative language to teach an important truth.) The message that Jesus was trying to get across was that no matter what kind of obstacle lies in our path, by faith we can overcome.

There was one more point in pastor Leon’s message that I thought was interesting. He mentioned how Jesus told his disciples that they should “speak to the mountain”.  I think there is truth to the idea that when we actually speak something aloud that there is power in those words. Not that the words themselves carry power, because that would be very similar to the idea of using magic incantations, but rather by speaking them aloud it simply reveals the faith that is there in the person’s heart.

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I can still remember an event that happened in my life that I think can illustrate the things that I have just written. In my teenage years, I struggled with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and had to constantly be eating throughout the day to keep my sugar levels in balance. It got to the point by the time I was almost 20 that I felt like I was in bondage to food.

Due to the dangers of going into a hypoglycemic attack, which could look like I was having a seizure, I wore a medical alert bracelet on my wrist. But a very interesting thing happened while I was part of a traveling mission group. I had been studying the Bible on the topic of healing  and on one night that I was to lead the devotional time, I literally felt a surge of faith within me and I knew I was to speak these words of faith with regards to my illness.

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I turned to one of my friends in the group and I asked him to come over and take the bracelet off my wrist. When he asked me why, I told him and the group that I had a strong sense that God was going to heal me, but to actualize that faith I had to say out loud, “I’m healed! So now as an act of faith I want you to remove this bracelet.”

And guess what? Ever since that day in 1979, I’ve been free from the bondage to food and from serious hypoglycemic attacks. I still to this day believe that it was because I was walking in a daily relationship with God that I sensed him telling me that I was healed, and that when I spoke to my “mountain” that my faith was fully realized and actualized in my life. My faith relationship with God at that moment expanded beyond just the spiritual realm to impact me at the physical level.

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STAY  TUNED…

In a few days, I will listen to the next sermon on faith and then I will share what I’ve learned in another article. I pray that this article has been an encouragement to other Christians to speak out their faith and to see mighty things happen as well in their lives.

Blessed Be His Name

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My Attitude Towards Illness

In this article, I will try to express and explain what I think and believe about illness.  This is quite relevant to our family situation, considering that our older boy, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 and had to go through 30 months of chemotherapy, and now I am diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease that produces pain and fatigue every day, and limits my walking to about 1,000 steps per day (about 700 meters).

Actually, I will limit myself to just share my heart on this matter.  If I tried to attempt to explain pain and suffering, I would simply end up added another book to the already endless mountain of theological and philosophical volumes on this topic.  So I will simply reflect on our situation and intersperse the words to a song that has become more and more meaningful to me.  It is the song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman.

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If we go all the way back to the book of Genesis, we see that from the very beginning, God intended that Mankind was meant to interact with and have a full and vibrant relationship with God.  That is the story of Adam and Eve and God in the Garden of Eden.  But when the choice was made to disobey God, then the perfect relationships between God and man, between men, and between mankind and the world was broken.

The consequence of that sin (spiritually), resulted in suffering and death (first physically, and then spiritually).  I believe that from Adam and Eve, right up until you and me today, goodness and perfection was intended for all of us, but inherited sin from the beginning plus our own sins today results in us having only glimpses of this perfection, but more often offers us pain and suffering in this life.

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One of the question I would ask all of us is this: “What should our attitude be, whether we have those moments of pure joy in this world, or if we are experiencing the pain that comes from being a part of this broken world?  Read the first part of Matt Redman’s song:

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

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I believe that after the fundamental questions have been answered positively (there is a God, and I should submit to His lordship over my life), the second response I think ought to be one of praise and honor to God.  Our suffering is not caused by God (as some think that He does this so that we will become “stronger”), but from a fallen world and sin.

But God loved us so much He did not let us stay in that state of sin.  He sent His own Son, Jesus, to take the full brunt of the penalty and suffering of sin away from us.  Although the spiritual penalty of sin has been removed (eternity in Hell) for those who have faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross, that does not mean that all the physical consequences of sickness and death are finished.

We certainly can rejoice on one hand for the spiritual victory that is ours as true believers in Christ, but the hope for complete physical renewal and the promise of a new heaven and earth will have to remain until the end of time itself.  Reflect on the second part of the song now:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

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And that brings me now to this personal question: “How do I respond when my son gets a disease and could have died, and even now suffers from some post-cancer issues?”  And “How do I respond to God with regards to the muscle disease He has “allowed” me to get in these recent years?”  Should I attach my attitudes to my circumstances? (i.e. when all is good, I am happy in life and I like my God, but when things are bad, I am very unhappy and I am mad at God.)

Of course this is not the answer.  That is so ethnocentric: “Why did you do this to me God?”  No, rather than blaming God for the situation, and asking “Why?”, I look to God in the midst of the situation, and ask “How?”  How God do you want me to act or react?  How God are you going to bring out good from this, as you promise in Romans 8:28?  How God can I bring glory and honor back to You in this situation?

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And I recognize that “God sends rain on the just and the unjust”, and so when He give us good things, I say “Thank you.”  And when He allows bad things, I still say “Thank you.”  Its the big picture which counts.  God is still God of the Universe, and He died to save me from my sin.  I will praise Him always:

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

http://www.lyricsbox.com/matt-redman-lyrics-blessed-be-your-name-pfs45jc.html

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And one final word to consider comes from the book of Job.  I don’t think it can be said any more wisely or simpler than this:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
(Job 1:21-22)

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God Provides Oases – Part 1

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Have you been in that place where you say to God, “Enough Lord!  I don’t think I can take any more of this?”  You feel like the hard-road journey you are on is never going to end.  It can take many forms: financial pressures, bad relationships, chronic health issues, or any number of other stressors that seem to be an endless painful journey.

Now normally I do not like to pass on silly sayings, but it is kind of cute when someone says, “Do you know what are the most encouraging words in Scripture?  They are, ‘And it came to pass.’  That means that bad times will not stay with us; they come, and then they will pass on by.'”  I wish it were that easy to say that if we just wait a short while, everything will get better.  In fact, things may stay bad, or even get worse, for a much longer period of time.

But don’t let this get you super discouraged or depressed, for even during the worst periods of our lives there will be moments of great joy and periods of relief from the things that press down on us.  Our author that we are following, Mark Atteberry, who wrote “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“, has some wise words to say, and then gives us some very good points to talk about in Chapter 8.

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Consider this quote on page 99:

Maybe you’re just getting started on your hard road and you’re deeply discouraged.  Perhaps your first steps have been agonizingly difficult and you feel you’re not going to be able to endure.  Well, cheer up!  Every desert has some oases, and sooner or later you’re going to come to one.  It’s true!  Even on the hardest roads, there are wonderful pleasures to be found.

Atteberry goes on in the rest of this chapter to explain that there are at least four excellent sources from which we can draw upon and be refreshed.  I will reflect on two of these sources in this article, and then two weeks from now I will reflect on the other two sources of encouragement and spiritual refreshment.

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1.  “Refreshing Seasons”.  It is very normal for most people to talk about the weather.  Even if the person is a complete stranger, it is not unusual to make casual comments like “Looks like it’s going to rain again,” or to say, “Man, it sure is cold today!  I just about froze my fingers off walking out there today!”  And if after a long period of such bad weather we finally get a good change, like the sun shining  in the midst of a clear blue sky, or a warm wind coming to break the cold spell, then we feel such a sense of relief.  Even if it is only for one day, that good weather is enough to help us go forward and to continue enduring the bad weather.

I think it was kind of like that when our older boy, Eric, went through his cancer journey.  That first year of the aggressive drugs he took to battle against the leukemia seemed to stretch on forever for us.  Week after week he endured his chemotherapy, and there were a few times when we were very worried for him, and with good reason.  We did make it to the end of the aggressive year, and continued on with other regular but milder drugs for another 18 months.

It certainly was a difficult road for every one in the family.  But God was good, and He provided some wonderful refreshing moments throughout the 30 months of treatment.  Eric was chosen as a cancer “spokes’ kid” for one year and had a blast meeting famous athletes, radio announcers and got a special private dress rehearsal concert with his favorite Christian rock band.  These islands of pleasurable and memorable experiences made the hard-road journey more bearable for all of us.  Thank you God.

2.  “Refreshing Servants”.  There is a little spot in northern Ontario (Canada) that may not be on every road map, but one spot that Jill and I will never forget.  It’s called Agawa Bay.  I mentioned in another article about how sick I was in Ontario in 1989, and this prompted us to leave Toronto in January to pull a U-haul 3,300 kilometers across Canada while Jill was 6 months pregnant and I was lying on a mattress in the back of our station wagon.  (Read that story here.)

When we got to Agawa Bay, after fighting our way through a Canadian blizzard and snow squall conditions, we stopped to get a bite to eat and to gas up as there would be no more restaurant or gas station for at least 150 more miles.  We went to start the car, and the battery was dead.  But even if we could go, the Mounted Police just put up a barricade to stop traffic from entering deeper into the forest wilderness of northern Ontario.

So what were we to do in this little place that had only a restaurant, a gas station and garage, and a couple of houses for staff to sleep in.  And a dead car.  We needed a miracle, and He sent us a refreshing “servant-hearted man”.  The car mechanic on duty heard about our dead car, and that the road was closed.  So he helped us push the car into the garage and hoisted it up and started working on it.

He figured that with the roads closed and nowhere to go, he might at well make himself useful.  So through half the night he fixed our battery engine problem and also found that our timing belt at the back of the engine was actually half chewed through and worn down.  If we had continued past Agawa Gay, there would have been a good chance we would have broken down literally in the middle of nowhere.

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So what is the point of these two stories?  Namely this:  life is full of difficulties that can seem endless and may go from bad to worse.  But if we have the eyes to see it and discern it, we will often notice how God actually was there with us through the difficulties and in one way or another, He provided a short season or a person with a servant heart to bless us and to give us refreshment so that we can carry on down our hard-road journey.

Holy Spirit Enabled Missionary

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God And My Muscle Disease – Part 2

In the last article, I wrote out some of the history of this family inherited genetic disease called MELAS 3243, which falls under the general heading of being a Mitochondrial Myopathy.  In simple terms, this means that the mitochondria (the energy production part within all of our cells) do not function properly for me.  My muscles produce limited amounts of energy each day, so I constantly battle with fatigue which can happen quite fast, depending on the level of activity I am engaged in.  Along with this, I battle constant pain which increases with activity and when I fatigue.

This can be quite challenging at times and can greatly affect me at the most inconvenient times.  I recall the time when we went as a family to the church’s Christmas Eve service.  I had been moderately active during the day (getting presents wrapped), and there was certainly more excitement in the air as our family of five engaged in our annual fun time of cooking sugar cookies and decorated them with different food-colored icing .  I had my nap, then we drove slowly through neighborhoods to see the Christmas light decorations and ended up at our church for the 11 p.m. service.

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The service was beautiful with some Christmas carol singing, a short message, and then a time of silent reflection on the birth of Christ.  Now a strange-funny kind of thing about my disease.  It doesn’t just affect my muscles, but an emotional moment (whether bad or good) can also drain my energy.  So when it was time to leave, a family member had to push me uphill to get out of the auditorium.  I started to go slowly across the foyer on my arm crutches thinking I could make it to the car outside.

But then a friend stopped me to say hello and wish me a Merry Christmas.  Well, what little energy I had left was used up in that short 5-minute visit.  Suddenly my friend asked me, “Do you need to sit down?”  She saw me going white and starting to wobble.  I nodded yes and she ran and got a chair behind me just as I collapsed into the chair.  Thankfully I have never yet actually fallen, but there have been some close calls as I can deplete my energy so quickly, sometimes within as short as 15 minutes.

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Now consider what I have just written, and then consider what God has been able to do through me in these past three years.  During these three years that I have now lived with this disease, God allowed me the privilege to travel five times over to Papua New Guinea to be able to continue doing Bible translation checking.  And each trip we’ve taken, we extend it a little longer, to see how my body will do.  I went from four or five-week trips to a seven week trip, and this past Feb/March it was a nine week trip.

Admittedly, it is very hard on me to travel half way around the world.  But God has set up a great routine for me.  I fly to Los Angeles and take a day room at a Sheraton hotel to sleep 4-5 hours before going back to the airport to catch the midnight flight to Brisbane, Australia.  In Brisbane, I taxi to a family run motel and the couple know me so well, they take me straight to the handicapped room.  They have a small kitchen behind the office and when I wake up later, they cook a home-made meal for me.  Then in Port Moresby, PNG, I stay in a mission guesthouse who also have great staff who take care of my every need.  And throughout every airport, I get fantastic wheelchair assistance.  Thank you God!!!

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Now three exciting things have happened recently.  This last January I helped lead a week-long orientation class for our mission on a college campus in California.  Going from -40 C (also 40 below zero in F.) to a balmy +10 C (+50 F.) prompted me to ask my US mission colleague if he thought there might be any work for me to do if I was to say, come down to the Dallas office area during the cooler Fall and early Winter time.  One week later, I got a call telling me that at least two departments were fighting over me and asking how soon I could come to Dallas.  (I have my ticket and will be leaving Aug. 9 until Christmas to help with training and mentoring new missionary recruits for our mission.)

Secondly, at the end of this last trip to PNG, I told the Directors that the trip was very successful as I was able to finish checking 5 New Testament books for 3 different language groups.  So now we are lining up at least three, maybe four projects for me to check during the Jan-April period.  This will allow me to get completely out of Canada’s winter months, which is wonderful, considering that the colder it is, the more pain I am in, but the more hot and humid it is, the less pain and muscle cramping I experience.

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But then a third ministry option was offered to me as well.  We have a team of nationals in a Southeast Asia country, plus a veteran missionary who lives in the States for most of the year, all of whom are very computer savvy, and are able to send all their files and notes electronically to me so that I can check them while living remotely anywhere in North America.  I was told that when we finish checking and then publish the NT in this common speech (Plain Text) trade language, we will have the potential to impact the lives of over 200 million people with a text that they can read and understand in their hearts.

So what am I saying at the end of these two articles that started with my disease and end with looking at all the ministry work God is placing in front of me to do.  Well, let me summarize it all in two sentences.  In the last two years, I was operating as a part-time disabled Missionary.  But now, by the grace of God, I am going forward by faith to operate as a full-time Holy Spirit enabled Missionary.

Thank you Jesus!  It is only through Your grace that all of this has been made possible.       To You belongs all the glory.


God And My Muscle Disease – Part 1

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After hinting at or mentioning my muscle disease in quite a few of my articles, I think I should finally sit down and explain in more detail what exactly this disease is, how it affects me, and where I think God is in the midst of all this.  As you read this story, please do not think that I know all that can be known medically about this disease.  Also, please do not think that I “have it all figured out” or that I am some kind of super-Christian who has overcome this and “walks in victory” every day.

The story starts back in the 70’s when my sister Lorna showed signs of weakness and fatigue as she went through puberty.  I still remember how as a teenager that she could not throw very far, nor run very fast, nor lift heavy items.  She got worse in her 20’s and found that she could not accomplish daily tasks like grocery shopping and doing the laundry.  After a string of illnesses, Lorna went down to Jamaica to join her husband who was trying to find work there.  She did well in the warmer climate, but reacted to aloe juices that she prepared herself.  She ended up in hospital with lung congestion which led to pneumonia, and her weakened heart finally gave out and she died at age 33.

Back to the 70’s, a neurologist tried very hard to find out what was wrong with Lorna.  My recollection was that they thought she had some kind of muscular dystrophy.  They decided to do a muscle biopsy on some of the family members which ended up including my sister and me, my mother and my grandmother.  With their limited genetic knowledge back then, they saw something a bit odd in my grandmother’s cells, something more in my mother’s cells, and a lot more in my sister’s cells.  My biopsy showed I had a little bit of something else odd, but they decided then that this was just a female to female inherited disease.

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Now jump ahead 30 years to March of 2008.  I had just returned back from Papua New Guinea after doing some Bible translation consultant checking work.  I had literally been running through airports in February and worked many 14 hour days with the men.  But in March, I began to ache in various places all over my lower body, and somewhat in upper limbs.  After just being home for six weeks, these aches and pains increased to where I was unable to walk across my living room floor.  Definitely time to see the doctor.

Well, one test led to many more tests, and they ran through all kinds of possible diagnoses from osteoarthritis to fibromyalgia to arthritic rheumatism.  Finally a neurologist (who happened to be the same neurologist my sister had seen 30 years previously) suggested that I might have the same disease that my sister had and wanted me to see a genetic specialist.  I did that, and he had similar thoughts on this and ordered for me to have a muscle biopsy.

The results of the biopsy came back in November of 2008.  My geneticist said that the results showed with 100% certainty that I had a mutation on one of the genes within the DNA of my mitochondria.  The umbrella name which my disease comes under is called Mitochondrial Myopathy.  Put in simple terms, mitochondria is the energy production part of your cell and is in all the cells of your body, but mine now do not work properly and so I cannot produce a normal amount of energy for my body like others.

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The technical name for the disease is MELAS 3243.  The letters are an abbreviation from “Mitochondrial Myopathy (muscle weakness), Encephalopathy (brain and central nervous system disease), Lactic Acidosis (buildup of a cell waste product), and Stroke-like Episodes (partial paralysis, partial vision loss, or other neurological abnormalities)”.  (Taken from Mitochondrial Disease Foundation website.)

Now not to panic anyone, although I may be susceptible to all of the above disease manifestation symptoms, it does not mean that I will actually experience them all.  In fact, I am probably mostly dealing with the fatigue and pain that comes from the lactic acid build up in my muscles.  (Imagine a marathon runner whose muscles are all cramped up and it looks like he is going to collapse due to exhaustion just before the finish line.  That is very similar to what I experience every day.)

So this disease has placed some severe limitations on my life.  On a very good day, I may be able to walk as far as 12 to 15 city blocks.  But due to pain, or fatigue, or both, on most days I can only walk about 2-3 blocks and I can only do this much if I am using my 4-wheel walker and go at a very slow pace.  And at home, I have to sit most of the day in a recliner chair to keep my legs up in a comfortable position.

There are in still many activities that I can do such as drive a car, help with the dishes, go to a restaurant or a movie theater.  But in most of these activities that are outside of the house, I have to use some kind of equipment to help me (walker, arm-clasp crutches or a telescoping walking pole).  I have in fact been labeled as “disabled” by my doctor and by the government which has provided a small disability pension.

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And where has God been in all of this you ask?  He has in fact been much more gracious to me than you might first imagine.  Three things come quickly to mind for me.  First, this disease which normally shows up in your teen years, did not show up in me until I was 47.  God gave me an extra 30 years of good health.  And we were not living overseas when this first started (I could have been crippled in Africa).  And in spite of the huge physical challenges I face each day, God has still allowed me to serve overseas on short mission trips to continue doing translation consultant work.

I want to say a lot more about how God is still working in and through my life, but I am going to leave that for the next article.  This is part one of the story.  Join me in a couple of days to read the rest of the story.

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