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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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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Staying Busy For The Lord – Pt. 1

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“Wow!!  It is the middle of May already!”  It is easy for me to think these words as it is hard to believe that I have been in Papua New Guinea for four months now.  This is the longest I have stayed overseas doing mission work since our family left East Africa six years ago.  And I will be in PNG for two more months before I take a break and go home to Canada to be with family and friends.

There is no question that I have been “staying busy” since I landed in Madang in January.  Or as some might say, I have been “staying out of trouble”.  J  I am sure that the people who have been regularly reading my articles here on The Listening Post have noticed that I have slowed down on the number of articles I have written.  For over two years, I was posting three articles a week.  Then by the New Year it went to two articles.  Now I hope to post one new article each week, probably on each Thursday.

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“So what has kept me so busy?” you ask.  Let me tell you about the wonderful things that God has done and is doing in and through my life.  First though, let me remind you and any new readers as to why it is so amazing that I am very active right now in PNG.  The short story is that an illness flared up in my life back in 2008, a genetically inherited disease called Mitochondrial Myopathy, that impacted me to the point of forcing me to use walking poles or arm support crutches to walk around even very short distances, like 100 yards.

My life changed drastically at that point, having just come back from PNG and having to run through the airport to catch my next plane.  But just as dramatically, and in a positive way, I am now walking around our mission office over here in Madang without any difficulties, and have even been able to walk a couple of blocks down to a supply store, without needing to use any support device whatsoever.

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 “So what brought this about?” you ask.  Two important things: the power of God, and the power of prayer.  In July of last year (2012), Jill and I had travelled down to the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada to speak in three churches and to tell them about the mission work we do each year when we visit PNG for a couple of months.  It was exciting to share with them about the great work that God is doing through the ministry of Bible translation among the people groups of this tropical Pacific island.

When I was finished preaching and ready to leave the pulpit to go sit down in the audience, the pastor or elders of these three churches stopped me and said they wanted to pray for our work and for my health.  (Oh, and by the way, I normally could only stand up to speak for about 25 minutes, but these churches let me speak for almost 40 minutes straight.  And I found I didn’t even need to hold on to the pulpit for support.)

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So these church leaders asked me to stay at the front and had Jill come forward so that they could pray for us.  What was so cool was that in each of these churches, they felt very strongly prompted to call all the elders up and to lay hands on us and to specifically ask of God to bring healing into my life.  And guess what?  Within days, I found I was able to walk around a little more than before, and with less and less dependence upon my poles and crutches.  Hallelujah!!  Praise the Lord!!!  J

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Jill and I were certainly overjoyed to see this reversal of my symptoms, which doctors have been telling me would not happen.  But what doctors forget or do not recognize, is that we have the Great Physician on our side, and nothing is impossible for God.  The real question for us last summer was, “So what does God have in store for us, seeing as He is returning good health to Norm after not being able to walk much for four years.”

It was just after this time that I began to have correspondence with some of our mission leaders and those over in Papua New Guinea who were considering who they might recommend to be the various directors for our PNG Branch.  After a period of praying, I wrote and said that perhaps I could help out in the short-term until others were ready for leadership or were back from their time of furlough in the States.

To my surprise, the committee came back and asked me to consider letting my name stand to be nominated for the position of “Director of Language Affairs” (DLA).  Wow!!  What an honor that was, and at first we did not know if we should have me say “Yes”.  It would mean spending much more time in PNG than the three months per year I was doing.  And it would also mean that Jill and I would have some periods of being apart, seeing as Jill is still working as a nurse in a hospital back in Calgary.

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Convinced that this was from God though, we did say “Yes,” to the nomination.  And in less than a week after I came to PNG in January, our Branch held their annual meeting and I was voted in to be their DLA for the next two years.  Woo Hoo!!!  The official date for the transfer of office would not be until May 1st.  But that was not the only thing I would be doing, preparing to become the DLA, which would keep me busy for four months.  Next article I will tell you what one of my exciting tasks is that keeps bringing me back to PNG.

Glimpses Of God In Papua New Guinea

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Pioneer Bible Translators’ missionaries have lived and served among the Aruamu since the mid-1980s. The people now have the New Testament in their language and the missionary translator who helped to see that happen is now working on the Old Testament with several national men whom she has trained to help insure the translation clearly communicates the meaning of the original Hebrew in a way the people would say it.

Last August, Pioneer Bible Translators’ Church Relations Director, Wendy Beerbower, went to help the missionary for a month doing whatever she and the national co-translators needed her to do so they could spend more time focused on the holy task of Bible translation. Below are some excerpts from the report Wendy wrote after returning home: She entitled it, “Glimpses of God.

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Through Prayer
He works at the Christian Bookstore next to the Pioneer Bible Translators’ office in Madang.  He’s young, short, slim, quiet, has a big smile and expressive eyes.  When he opened the meeting with prayer, I was blown away.  This man knew how to worship God!  “Alpha, Omega, one who sits on the throne,” he began in a soft voice.  “Exalted Father, Holy One, Creator of heaven and earth,” he continued, more strongly.  “The one who provides for us…”  He went on and on for several minutes, worshiping God, speaking more enthusiastically and loudly as he continued.  He moved on to confession, more quietly now:  “We humble ourselves before you Exalted Father, we are unworthy…forgive us…”  He eventually ended his time with the Lord.

I NEVER would have expected that prayer from this young Papua New Guinean man.  I had never before been taken before God’s throne in such an amazing way.  It’s wonderful to worship with brothers and sisters from different cultures.  How much I have to learn from them.

Through Worship
As one of the national translators led the translation team in worship this morning, I thought, “There will be many people from this language group worshipping around the throne in heaven!  They will be there!”  Revelation 7:9 is being fulfilled already for them as they worship God now.  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

Through Work
Who could have known that after one week I would feel this way?  I had just sat in on a translation “checking session.”  Eighteen translators and checkers are going over the Psalms they have just translated into their language.  This check is to verify that the national translators’ rough draft accurately portrays what the Scriptures say.  The man who had translated this particular Psalm read his draft out loud. 

Then the translation consultant who had come to check it, and who had Bibles in three languages on his lap, asked the checkers (those new to the text) some questions to ensure that the passage was understood correctly.  The checkers answered his questions and were all intently discussing, answering, writing down notes or changes on their copies.  It was a beautiful thing to see–they were so intent on getting it right, just right. 

I barely know these guys and yet I love them!  I love them because they love God’s Word and they want to see the Old Testament completed in their language.  I love them because they are serious about the work.  I love them because they are my brothers in Christ.  It brought tears to my eyes to see such a committed team.  They want the translation to say what God wants it to say–nothing more, nothing less.

Through Commitment
It hadn’t rained in two months.  The gardens were extremely dry, but today, it poured for a number of hours.  It was a good soaking rain, the kind that would allow the men to turn their gardens tomorrow.

Understand that these aren’t just any gardens.  These are subsistence farmers – they live off the land.  If they don’t plant gardens, they don’t eat.  Once a garden is planted, they must care for it until harvest.  In the meantime, they slash and burn off another plot of land to prepare another garden, so that they can continue to grow and harvest food all year for their families.  This is their livelihood.

But the next day, instead of going to work in their gardens, eighteen men showed up to continue with the Psalms checking sessions in which they’d been participating all week.  Their commitment level was amazing.  Instead of going to their gardens to plant future food for their own families, they were here translating and checking God’s Word, preparing eternal food for their whole language group of 10,000.  Truly, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

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[Editor’s Note: It will be my privilege to work with these same men next month (March 4-15) to check their book of Exodus, chapters 1-24.  And then I will work with them again from April 22-May 17 to help check their work on Psalms 119-150.  It is exciting to work with a group that now has the New Testament in their heart language and now is working on trying to complete the entire Bible in that language.  Pray that God’s Word will continue to work at transforming this people group here in PNG.]

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Expect The Unexpected In Missionary Life

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[Editor’s Note: This incredible story that just came to me this week is true and fascinating to read.  Note her prayer request at the end, and please uphold her and others who work in Papua New Guinea.]

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I watched in dismay as two pairs of legs came sliding over the edge of the truck’s canvas roof, over the handrail and into the truck that was moving along at a very fast speed.  Soon, two men were sitting where I and another missionary friend of mine had been holding the handrails and watching the moonlit scenery.

As I sputtered and tried to say something understandable in Tok Pisin, one of the dark shadows said in English, “Papua New Guinea – the land of the unexpected!”   I had already been feeling that my personal “space” had been violated by 28 people in the packed bed of the big truck, but now facing two unknown men, I was a bit flustered.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that it was actually illegal for the men to be riding on the top of the truck’s canvas.

As we had approached the next town, which has policemen, the illegal passengers had become legal by sitting on the handrails and sort of half-way being “inside” the truck.  As soon as we passed the town though, the illegal passengers hoisted themselves back up onto the top of the moving truck.  To me the whole thing was surreal, but Papua New Guinea is the land of the unexpected.

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We expected to leave Bunapas in the morning, but we didn’t load up until after 2:30 PM.  We expected to head immediately to Madang after a short detour.  Instead by 6 PM we were finally back on the main road heading towards Madang rather than traveling further away from Madang on the “short detour”.

We expected that since the truck was full, we would head to Madang without further stops, but even in a “full” truck, there is always room for more and more passengers. We expected to get to town on Sunday, but instead we were told that it wasn’t safe to enter Madang at night so we would spend the night at a small village on the coast and then go into town on Monday morning.

We expected to actually overnight at this small village, but instead the truck pulled off the road before it got there and went further and further down stranger and stranger tracks through a sago patch until we came out at a little shelter right on the ocean.

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If I hadn’t been so tired when we arrived after midnight, I probably would have enjoyed the moonlit ocean and the sound of the waves. We expected to sleep, but there wasn’t space for me to lie down until about 2 AM or so when enough people had left the truck that I could claim the entire truck tire (I had been sitting on the edge of the tire for most of the trip) and curl up on it with my head on one of my bags.

We expected to leave as soon as the sun rose, but it took a while and then we stopped to buy 5 liters of diesel because they were almost totally out of fuel.  We finally made it to the office at about 7:30 AM. I expected that God would take care of us and keep us safe.  In that and that alone, I was not disappointed.

God had taken care of us on a very good, relatively short trip by van out to Bunapas, protected us as we traveled by boat to and from Tsumba and then watched over us as we traveled by a combination of riding on the back of a tractor and sometimes walking (over bridges and through the heavily rutted sections) on a long “road” to the village where we would hold a Bible training course.

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The first bridge broke as the tractor finished crossing it, but none of the other bridges broke and so when we came back we only had 30 minutes of hiking in which we and the students had to carry the packs and boxes.  Praise God for his protection and care!

We spent parts of 5 days traveling to get to and return from that village where we taught a 5 day scripture use course to 30 students from 9 different language groups.  Despite the difficulties of traveling, the trip was worth it. I had been there when we taught these same students at their first module in 2010.  Several of them at that time had said, “We can’t read these books. They aren’t in our dialect. It is too hard!”

But now at the end of their 5th module, these same students laughed when I reminded them of their remarks in 2010.  These students said that reading the book of Mark was not a problem now and they had with them 4 other epistles that had been published in their language.  They asked, “Are there any more books of the Bible available that we can read and use for preaching?” I told them that I would ask about getting reviewer’s copies of more books for them.

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The New Testament for this language group is one of several New Testaments that are almost completed among the groups that we serve here in PNG.  Please pray that God will strengthen the translation team and give them good health so that preachers in this language group can have the whole New Testament soon.

Praise God with me for a good return to PNG.  I have now bought and packed up over 500 kilograms of supplies for the rest of the year.  Together with another missionary woman and my faithful dog, we will fly by helicopter to the village on September 3rd. Please pray that we will have a safe trip, settle in quickly and be ready to start a translation session with two separate language translation teams on September 10th.

How Should We Pray To God

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There is a colleague of mine who reminds us weekly to send in current prayer requests and praise reports to her.  She then sends out the compiled list of our prayer/praise items to a large number of people who pray for all of us and the ministry work we do in Papua New Guinea.  Recently, she included in her reminder the following thoughts that someone else had shared with her.  I thought these were excellent thoughts worth passing on.  I will pick up on some of my thoughts after you read the six points below.

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“How Should We Pray To God”

1. I was reminded of James 5:17-18 which talks of Elijah praying and God causing a drought for 3 1/2 years and then he prayed for rain and it rained.  And we are reminded that he was a man like we are.  (Therefore pray! God is powerful.)

2.I was also reminded of James 4:1-3 where people don’t ask, so they don’t get, and then they ask but don’t get because they have the wrong motives.  They want it for their own pleasures and desires. (Ask with right motives.)

3. If we beg God, He might just give us what we ask for, but we might regret it later. Or at least others might. 2Kings 20:1-21:1 and 2Chron. 32:24-33:2 Hezekiah was told that he was going to die, but he prayed and wept and God healed him. God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life. Unfortunately, Hezekiah responded in pride. God was angry with him and he repented. But he messed up when the Babylonians came and he showed them all the treasures he had and the temple. When he died, Manasseh became king at the age of 12.  He was Judah’s most wicked king reigning 55 years.  He would never have been born had God not healed Hezekiah. (Make sure what you are asking for is what God wants, because you might otherwise get something you really don’t want.)

4. I thought of Paul in 2 Cor.12:7-10. He said God had given him great revelation, but then to keep him humble he was given a thorn in the flesh.  He asked God three times to remove it, but God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (God sometimes doesn’t give us what we ask for because He wants us to rely on Him and find our sufficiency in Him.)

5. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray and He said in Matt 6:9-13 the Lord’s Prayer which reminds us to ask for our “daily bread”. (Ask God for what we really need for the moment.)

6. Finally, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Jesus felt needs and asked if there was any way to avoid what he was about to experience. But He surrendered to God’s will and asked for the Father’s will to be done.)

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I was very impressed with what this person had to share.  So often I have read articles about prayer and there is much said about when and how often to pray, the body positions that can help us to pray and the kinds of prayers we can say.  But so much of this, while still helpful, seems to be focused in on the structure and physical elements involved in prayer.

But in these points listed above, I see so much clearer the reminder that we must have the right attitude when we come to God in prayer.  It is so important for us to remember just who we are and who God is as we approach Him.  Without denying the great importance that God places on each of us as individuals, I think it is still good for us to remember how very small and finite we are in this universe, and just how big and awesomely powerful our God is compared to us.

    

As I look into my current life situation, I am actually very grateful for being able to live with the muscular disease that I have. Of course it doesn’t feel very great many days as I battle fatigue and pain.  But my condition has brought me into a closer relationship with God than I ever had before.  It was in my days of sufficiency that I roared ahead in life and often forgot to include God in my daily affairs.  Now in my insufficiency, I seek out my God throughout each day, and I find He is not only there, but He meets me at my points of need so much more than I had even dreamed of.

And that is the point, I think, often when God “allows” difficulties and obstacles to come into our lives.  I believe that God wants us to slow down in our lives and humbly come to Him as our Maker, our Provider and our Sustainer.  That’s hard to do when we think so highly of ourselves and we seem to have no need for God in our lives.  And so God reminds us, sometimes gently, and sometimes not so gently, that we still need Him, and He needs us to come to Him.

My prayer for you my friend is that you too know this powerful God who loves to show His love and His mercy to us who are His created handiwork.  Let us come to God with a humble heart, and yet also come with expectant hearts that He will do great and mighty things in our lives.  Let us not presume too much, but also let us not assume that going to meet with God in prayer is optional for our lives.  Above all, let us let Him have His way in our lives.  You might be amazed at the wonderful blessings that lie in store for you as you remain obedient to Him.  May God bless you richly in Christ Jesus.

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Wrong Thoughts About Jesus

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John 6:14 – 24

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20  But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24  So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

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As I mentioned in the last article, when Jesus multiplied the bread for the 5,000, we are now about to enter into the period of the last year of Jesus’ ministry before His death in Jerusalem.  There were still a lot of thoughts and opinions around as to who Jesus really was, and this passage above continues to show that most people, including His own disciples, had the wrong ideas concerning His identity.

I have broken the passage into three paragraphs, and in each of these, we see that what the participants in these events thought about Jesus were wrong.  Some thought that Jesus had come to give them social and political freedom from others who oppressed them.  Some were terrified at His supernatural powers.  Some were simply looking to have their personal needs and wishes satisfied.  All of these missed the point of who Jesus was and why He had come to earth.

    

Notice in verse 14 that immediately after Jesus had miraculously multiplied the bread and fish to feed the crowds, that some people thought “This is the Prophet come into the world.”  Looking back into their own Jewish heritage and their Scriptures, the people were reminded of Moses who had helped feed the people “manna”, bread flakes from heaven (see Exodus 16).  They would also have remembered that Moses promised that God would send another great Prophet just like him to help the people of God (Deuteronomy 18:18).

So some people put this together and deduced that Jesus was this great Prophet who possessed divine authority to help the people of God as their King.  On this point, they were right.  But they went too far when they thought that Jesus had come to help free them from the political oppression and tyranny of the Roman rule over their lives.

Unfortunately, there have been many people even up to today who think that Jesus’ Kingdom is one that will bring immediate liberation from social and political oppression.  While it is true that the Gospel will change lives of individuals, which will change society around them, this kind of social change comes about by the gentle leading of God’s Holy Spirit within, not by the use of swords and violence from without.

    

The second group of people who were still unclear as to Jesus’ true identity and nature was His own disciples.  I find it quite interesting how John wrote, “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  Where were the disciples when John makes this comment?  They were still in the middle of the Sea of Galilee rowing as hard as they could against the wind.

By John’s own wording, the disciples were expecting Jesus to catch up to them.  And yet when He does, they are not only surprised, but they are terrified by His supernatural power.  Are we like that sometimes?  We ask for God’s help, we expect Him to come to help us, but when He does, we act surprised and even fearful at what He can actually do in our lives.  Shame on us.

    

And then there is the final approach to Jesus that is wrong, but is so often how people approach Jesus.  The crowds recognize by morning time that Jesus is no longer with them.  And so they go racing around the lake to find Him.  Why?  To listen to Him teach them?  To express their gratitude for feeding them?  No, they come to Jesus with their hands out seeking more from Him.

I think so many of us are like that.  Especially in the way we pray.  Yes, we may actually say “Thank you” to God for things He has done for us.  But then we quickly go on to give our “spiritual shopping list” of items to God that we ask for Him to do for us.  But God is not a kind of Santa Claus to whom we go begging for more good things; He is our Creator God to whom we offer up our praise and thanksgivings.

    

“Lord God, help us to come to You to simply worship You, not with open hands asking for more, but with open hearts to give you all the praise and honor that is due to you as our God.  Amen!”

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

Taking God’s Word to Africa

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The Trek Up North….

(A true story from one of my PBT colleagues.)

This year began with an amazing trip to our friends in North-East Africa.  After spending a nice Christmas with our son and family in Europe, as full as ever with memories, my wife and I flew to N.E. Africa.  There we met up with our first full-time team who are living and working in that region of Africa.  We flew up to their new home and enjoyed encouraging them and getting a feel for that “neck of the woods.” 

This is an extraordinary outreach into new territories that merits our most fervent prayers.  Together we explored 5 different language groups on motorcycles and found an amazing openness to our work of literacy and translation.

From that area I caught a ride in the back of an old truck (used as a bus) to another people group that I had heard about.  They had the New Testament, but wanted to begin translation of the rest of the Bible.  I studied their language and trained 10 men in translation principles for a week. 

The stories they shared of surviving a long civil war and then eventually taking refuge in Ethiopia were sobering.  Pray for them as they re-establish themselves in their homeland and prepare for a future that does not promise to be easy.

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The next part of our adventure consisted of an hour-long plane ride to an unreached people group that we had already visited once.  This time we went bearing gifts of new Bible story books in their own language, fruit of our labors from the last visit. 

The people were elated to finally see something written in their own language; it was a first for them.  It is hard to believe the impact that a simple Bible story book can have on a group of people.  We dream of the day when we will deliver the whole of God’s Word to them.

After a logistic nightmare, we finally arrived on the western side of the country.  We spent some time looking for accommodations for our next colleague to move on site.  She will develop the literacy projects that God has enabled us to begin in an area covering at least 5 different language groups.  We’ve already prepared primers and taught literacy teachers in these areas, but the fire needs to be fanned.  Our sister will have quite a job on her hands; please pray for her.

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During our many visits to this area, we have also facilitated the translation of a book on “Trauma Healing” based on Biblical principles.  For a war-torn country, that is quite a necessity.  We had several manuscripts that we took back so that they could be proofed before we publish them in the various languages. 

[Editor’s Note: whether we are translating Scriptures into the local language, or other educational/medical information booklets, many different kinds of checks are done to make sure the message is clear, natural and accurate for the people of that receptor language.]

Our final destination brought a special joy to our hearts.  This was our fourth visit to this isolated people group, and this time we finally had a significant gift for them: the Gospel of Matthew.  Once a year the leaders of this people group gather together for a time of reflection about their people’s needs.  They spent an entire day reading the test copies of Matthew that I took to them and they were amazed to hear God’s Word in their own language. 

It was exciting to see the wise men of the group discuss the various terms that we had used to translate key concepts. We also delivered 150 copies of a songbook in their language that was finished years ago, but which had never been printed.  I was touched as the main author of the song book held a copy in hands and said, “I didn’t think it would ever be published.”  Praise God for your help in reaching out to these people.

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We then spent two weeks with our colleagues in a different country of East Africa.  They are involved in 10 different translation projects in the southeast corner of that country.  Once a book of the Bible is translated by the team and checked in the village, a “translation consultant” goes over the book using a back translation into English. 

As the consultant, my task was to review the book of Romans in 10 different languages, and to try to make sure that the translators had understood and communicated the correct concepts.  The team there continues to make progress; please keep them in your prayers.

Editor’s Corner

It is not unusual for those of us who work with Pioneer Bible Translators to be literally “globe-trotting” as my friend and his wife did in this story.  We have taken Jesus’ words to heart when He said that we need to take the Gospel to “the ends of the earth”.

It is also not unusual for us to experience this same kind of joy as we give God’s Word to different people groups and see how receptive they are to hearing the Word of Life in their heart-language.

But did you notice what else is needed in this story related above?  Many people groups are open to receive the translated Bible.  Missionaries are doing all they can to meet this need.  What we need from people like you who are reading this article is your prayers.

Please keep praying that these doors of opportunity will present themselves to us, that we will make good progress in bringing God’s Word to the nations, and that God would receive all the glory in what we do.

Thank you in advance for your prayers for the Bibleless peoples of the earth.

We Are God’s Ambassadors

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Prayer Burdens

In an amazing statement, Jesus said to His Father: “And the glory which You gave Me, I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as you have loved Me” (John. 17:22, 23).

God’s pattern for saving the world is His own! In the Old Testament, when God purposed in His heart to save Nineveh, He called Jonah to go and preach to them. When Jonah finally obeyed, after God severely disciplined him, all Nineveh repented (Jon. 3:5-10). Down through history when God wanted nations to hear of His love, He chose, called, and sent prophets.

It is no different in our day. God’s people still hold the key to reaching a lost world. So, the biblical pattern in praying for a lost world is to pray for God’s people, as Jesus did. How do we practically implement this? When God places a burden on our heart for a nation, we need to pray for:
• The missionaries in that nation, using Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17 as our guide
• The national believers and the churches in that nation
• Mission ministry groups
• Denominations
• For God’s people

The salvation of the nations rests with God’s people. Missionaries have shared the testimony that when they preached the gospel in some villages who had never heard before, these same villagers upon believing asked the missionaries: “How long have you known this good news? Why have you taken so long to come to us? Why did you not come before now? Our parents and others are in an eternity without God and without hope! If only you had come earlier!”

It has been mathematically calculated that if one person discipled another, and they in turn witnessed and discipled one each, and if this continued to multiply and each one hearing remained faithful to sharing with one other each week, it would take a short number of years for all 6.25 billion people in the world to hear the gospel and to be saved. We must pray for the world, by praying as Jesus did, for God’s own people.

–Adapted from Chapter 61 of Giving Ourselves to Prayer (The Bible and Global Prayer by Henry Blackaby).

Lord Jesus, each day, thousands of people you love die without hope…many without ever hearing Your lovely name! Give me, and the rest of Your people, a sense of urgency for finishing the task You gave us so long ago! I repent of my complacency and discomfort! Please fill me with renewed earnestness and determination to witness and to teach others how to live godly, holy lives.

Posted: 10 Oct 2011

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This same kind of prayer burden is becoming the model within our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators.  Not only do we pray for the people to whom we have been called by God to serve, but we are gathering to pray for each other.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not offering up naval-gazing prayers, you know, the ones that are only me-focused and look at life from a perspective of “What do I want, and when I pray in Jesus’ name, I will get that, right?”

No, I am talking about deep soul-searching and soul-wrenching prayer for all of us to be renewed spiritually within, so that the heart will be a fertile ground of exhibiting the genuine love of Christ for those who are perishing without the knowledge of God.  And especially, we pray for those people groups where they still as of today do not have any Scriptures yet published in their own mother-tongue language.

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It is not hard to see that PBT is a praying organization.  Most field Branches have a regular weekly prayer bulletin put together which is sent out to thousands of people who uphold our work in prayer.  There has been a drive to fill a 24/7 prayer schedule of the names of people who are solidly committed to offering up the “sacrifices of praise” and the prayers for the saints and the work of ministry of PBT.

This plan to have someone praying every hour throughout every week is not that many months old, and already there is about 47% of the prayer time slots that are filled.  Just imagine when the entire chart is filled.  We have seen some amazing things happen in PBT these past few years.  But once we have round-the-clock prayers, watch out, because God will do even more great and wonderful things.

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Even here in Dallas in the small circle of people I am with we are “breaking out in prayer”.  For the first time in a long time, we have a large number of people in the Dallas area who are interested in serving PBT over in Papua New Guinea.  And one of the first things we did (after going out for ice cream of course), was to form a prayer group that met each Tuesday at lunch hour so we could pray for each other and the work being done in PNG.

And then finally, let me mention an evening I spent with a family a few nights ago.  They invited me over for supper and to visit.  We had a great time eating and sharing with one another.  But it wasn’t long after we had finished the meal, and as we kept talking around the table, that we all felt that the appropriate way to close our evening together was to spend time praying together.

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Dear Readers:  I hope you too are catching the Spirit blowing and are hearing the call to prayer.  Do that, and you too will see God do great and marvelous things.

Christmas Traditions

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas…

Life seems to constantly be changing.  That is why having and keeping some traditions is important.  It helps keep a continuity and meaning to life, and certainly this is important at Christmas.  Compared to some people, we don’t have a lot of traditions.  But there are a few that we have kept that are meaningful.  And of course there is always room to start a new tradition.

It is harder now that we are all adults to coordinate our schedules to be able to complete some of our traditional activities.  We didn’t all pile into the car and drive around the neighborhood to ooh and aah at Christmas lights on houses.  It doesn’t look like we will get time to bake and decorate our sugar cookies this year.  And we haven’t watched Christmas movies each night for the week leading up to Christmas.

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There is one more tradition that we did not do this year that I want to tell you about.  It has been a very important tradition for most of the growing up years of the boys.  It’s a wonderful tradition, and I hope some of you who read this article might adopt this idea.  After I explain it, I will also tell you why we did not do it this year.

So here is what we did for many years to help make Christmas special and meaningful for our boys.  Like many others, we often found that Christmas morning would arrive and there would be a very large number of presents under the tree.  But everyone in our family knew that though there were many presents, most of which did not cost much, there would always be three specific special presents for each person.

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Following the example of the Christmas story in the Bible, we would mark three gifts to be the “gold” gift, the “frankincense” gift, and the “myrrh” gift.  Like many other children, our boys would make a “wish list” of things they hoped they might get for Christmas.  Of course there was no way we could ever buy them all the things they wanted.  But they always knew each year that they would receive one present from their list, and being as it was so special to them, it became their gold gift.

Frankincense in the Bible was a special incense that was burnt as part of the regular worship of the True God in Heaven above.  Therefore, we would give our boys some form of a spiritual present, like a Christian music CD, a devotional book, or a calendar with Scripture verses on it.  The myrrh, which was a special ointment for the body, was used as a symbol for us that it is okay to “treat” yourself at times.  So we would buy some funny toy or the latest movie DVD that they liked.

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The point for us as we traditionally sat around the Christmas tree opening presents, was to remember the first Christmas, when three wise men from the east visited baby Jesus and gave these three special gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant who is the King of Kings.  In this way, we were able to keep our Christmas from being overcome with all the pizzazz and commercialism that we face in today’s world.

But this year, we did not hold to this tradition.  Not because we no longer like it, and certainly not that we have outgrown making Christmas meaningful.  Actually, it was just the opposite for us this year.  In fact, we all had said to one another this year, “Let’s try to not have presents, and just enjoy being together for Christmas.”  (You know we almost did it, but we still snuck a few presents under the tree.)

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What we did do though I think was even more special.  And it was the first time to do this as completely as we did this year.  After we had all enjoyed our yummy Christmas dinner, we all gathered in the living room to have a sharing and praying worship time together.  Each of us would take a turn and tell what were the highlights of 2011 and what God had done for that person.  And then the person would share ideas and hopes and prayer needs regarding the upcoming year.

After the person had shared, then whoever was on the right would pray for all the things mentioned.  Following that, the person who shared would pick out a Christmas carol or two and we joined our voices in praise to God who is the Author behind the Christmas Story.  It was truly a wonderful, spirit filled evening that the six of us shared together.

This is not to say that we haven’t had similar Christmases where we ate, and sang and worshiped God together.  But this year, we were all fully adult people.  And yet like little children we opened our hearts to each other and before God as we shared, and cared and prayed and worshiped.

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I don’t think we will ever get to the point that we don’t have some presents at Christmas time.  That is so much a part of the tradition of Christmas.  But with the decrease of presents, we had to let one tradition slip away, the giving of the three special gifts.

In its place, we may have just started a brand new tradition, to focus even more on worshiping our Great God, and caring for each other in our family.  May you too also find your own way to make each and every Christmas special and have Jesus be in the center of whatever you do.

Merry Christmas!  And God bless you in the coming New Year!

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