Jesus Can Do Much With Little

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John 6:1 – 13

6 1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

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This event occurred just after the half way point of Jesus’ ministry.  Previously, we saw Jesus was getting into more and more trouble with the Jewish authorities.  But many of the people were still amazed at the miracles He performed and followed after Him to hear Him teach.  This was the height of Jesus’ popularity with the crowds.

Jesus and His disciples had been actively ministering to people and then went across the Sea of Galilee to get a short reprieve.  But the crowds find out where He is going and hurry around the lake to meet them on the other side.

Considering how tired Jesus and the disciples must have been, it is quite amazing that Jesus immediately began to heal the sick and to teach the crowds again about the Kingdom of God.  Once more, Jesus modelled for us true servanthood by giving of Himself, even when He sought out some peace and quiet.  The needs of people always came first for Jesus.

    

As we see the story unfold, the day is nearly over and the people are still there seeking to be blessed by Jesus.  After giving so much of Himself, He decided that He needed to help feed them an evening meal too and miraculously multiplied a small boy’s meal to feed the thousands.  It’s a wonderful story about Jesus’ compassion for the people, and His divine power to multiply the food, but I believe there is much more we can take away from this story.

One of the things that captures my attention is that this is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.  We know that Jesus performed many miracles in His 3 ½ years of ministry.  John only recounts a few of them in his book, and usually for an important theological reason.  So why would John pick this one, and what makes it so important that it is found in all four Gospels?

    

There are three things that I think are worth mentioning that we can learn important truths from.  First of all, as John tells us here, this event took place near the time that was the special celebration of the Passover.  Why would he point that out?  Well, at the very next Passover, Jesus would offer up His life on the cross, and by that means, offer spiritual life to all who would believe in Him.

Jesus then is to be seen as the Source of Life.  In just a few more verses (starting at verse 25) Jesus will teach one of His greatest lessons, that He is the “Bread of Life”.  By multiplying the bread for the people here, Jesus showed that He can grant sustenance for our physical bodies.  But very quickly, we will learn that He is the One who grants us sustenance for our spiritual lives.

    

The second lesson I see is that Jesus begins to show us that He wants to work through His disciples to minister to the world.  First Jesus challenges His disciples to see how they might find the solution to feed the crowds.  Then, as we read all the accounts of this miracle, we see that Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the disciples, and then they gave the pieces to the people.  Beginning then, and up until now, Jesus wants to work through His people, namely you and me, to bless the world.

And finally, what should be obvious, is that Jesus can do much with little.  The boy’s lunch was so small for such a large crowd.  But it was offered in faith, and Jesus turned it around to make it into a feast for all.  By extension, what do you have, even if you consider it to be to small, to offer to Jesus.  Scripture tells us to offer God our time (moments of each day), our talents (the natural gifts He gave to us), and our treasure (our financial resources) to Him.  He will bless and multiply what we give Him and use it to bless others.  Amen?  Amen!!!

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

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God Loves The People

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“God Loves Them More Than We Ever Could!”

There are at least 850 language groups in Papua New Guinea. It could be a lot higher than this, depending on how the term “language” is defined. The reason I keep coming back to PNG is to help the people of these various language groups get the Bible translated into their languages. I don’t know the story about most of these groups, but I do know the stories surrounding a few of them.

The general approach for running a translation project of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, has been to allocate a trained Western missionary to go and live among the people and to learn their language and culture. Once the missionary has achieved a high enough level of proficiency in knowing both the language and culture, then he or she is granted permission to go ahead and begin doing the actual translation of Scriptures.

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This is the place at which I found myself in 1998. I had learned enough of the local village language by then that I could move forward to be doing translation. It wasn’t long before I was digging into Mark and translating it, and by the end of January of 1999, we had a rough draft translation of Mark. But there were still a number of important checking sessions that we would need to do.

We would need to do the Village-level community check, Exegetical check, Advisor check, Spell check, etc. before we could do the final Consultant and Comprehension check of a translated book of Scripture. All of these are critical checks we have and need to use to help assure us that this translation is: 1) Natural to native speakers; 2) Accurate to the original Greek or Hebrew text; and then 3) the translation is clear and carries a high degree of understandability or comprehensibility.

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Let me tell you what happened next for us, our family and our project. We thought we would be working in our project for the next 15 – 20 years. So on our first furlough back to Canada, I built an 8’ by 8’ by 4’ wooden crate to send back to PNG with all of our most important possessions in it. We were able to retrieve the crate through customs here, and set up our things within our village house. But 18 months later, we found ourselves heading to Australia, and then back to Canada, seeing as our son, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Undoubtedly, what happened with Eric was one of the most difficult events that we had ever had to experience. We ended up walking away from our house (abandoning almost all of our possessions), we lived with the anxiety of not knowing what would happen to our son, and we felt the pain of having to desert the people.

It has been on my heart many times to ask God for us to return to serve among the people group with whom we lived and served. But God seems to have had different plans for them. What was most difficult for me to handle, was the fact that we were 3 weeks away from doing the final Consultant Check on Mark. After revisions, the book would be ready to be published.

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What confused me in my faith at that time is why God helped us make such good progress on the book of Mark, only to stall the publication of the book about two years. We were so close to finishing and publishing Mark. But from this perspective now, 10 years later, it seems to me that the people were not ready to receive the book, and the message of the Gospel. But I think they are ready now.

Just like Jesus told the disciples that the “field was white unto harvest”, so too, I see how there has been more preparation time, and maturing of these peoples in being open to God and being ready to hear and obey God. We wish that translation work would proceed forward without any problems or delays. But we have to believe that God in control of all things (including language Projects).

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It was someone else then who went in to do the final consultant check on the book of Mark. It’s only natural that I would have liked to have been that person who carried the published book across the finish line. But that is my human flesh speaking. What we have to remember is that God loves these people more than we ever could. And so He will make sure that they get His Holy Word, whether that is through us, or through someone else.

Even now, I know of two projects where the primary missionary is not able to be the one-on-one advisor to the language group that God has so laid upon their heart. One man agreed last year to be the “Acting Director” for the Branch to take care of important administrative decisions. And the other man has put his full-time attention towards being the Finance Administrator for the Branch. These are huge sacrifices, and I believe God will bless them for the decisions they have made.

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But let me share in closing what one of these colleagues said when we thought it was a shame that he was not able to work on the language project: “I know that God loves the people in this one project, but He also loves all the people of these various projects. And when I do my work in the main office, as much as I would love to go back to doing translation with this one team, the work I do now has significant impact on 12 teams.” How true, that God’s loves is always greater than we can ever picture or imagine.

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 2

Every second Saturday of each month this year, I will be writing an article about this book by Max Lucado called, “GOD’S STORY, your story.” The first article per month will be an overview and my reflections on what is in the chapter for that month. The second article will pull out some of the questions from the back of the book. Listen to what Lucado’s intentions are for this section:

This guide is designed to help you reflect on God’s Story, Your Story and take action on the ideas contained in the book, to see how your own story fits into the grand plot of God’s story. Each chapter guide has questions to consider on your own or with a group devoted to discussing the book. Have your Bible handy in order to dig into the Scripture verses noted.       (p. 173)

There are certainly enough thought provoking questions and action points included within each chapter study guide to keep a person or a small group engaged in learning and growing more spiritually. It is not my intention to copy out these entire study guide sections. Rather, I will pick out a few questions from each section and reflect on them in my articles. I pray that you may find my reflections helpful and stimulating to your own spiritual growth.

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Chapter 1: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….

ORDINARY MATTERS

Question #4: Discuss how it might be reassuring that Jesus was “normal” and like you in many ways? How might it be reassuring to know he is unlike you in other ways?

I think what bothers me most about my own Christian walk is the great number of times that I blow it and I do not act in a godly way. This can be simple things like not wanting to talk with the person next to me on the plane, or turning my head away when I see the beggar on the street corner. It’s much more serious when I allow myself to become angry with someone else, when I allow lustful thoughts to dwell in my mind, or I become proud or arrogant.

It’s at these times that I remember that Jesus was just as much a human as I am. I’m sure there must have been times when he was exhausted from all his ministry work that he really didn’t want to see another person. I know that he got upset with the disciples often. And he must have had some struggles as a man in a world that had many attractive women around him.

But we are told in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” And in Hebrews 2:18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” How wonderful it is to know that Jesus understands exactly what we are going through, and that he can help us get through it.

Question #5: Think about an ordinary person you know who has been a giver of extraordinary grace. What motivated that person?

When I think about someone who was quite ordinary by human standards, but was also a person of great humility and who demonstrated a wonderful spirit of compassion and service to others, I think of my Grandma. At a very young age, Grandma Knight determined that God was calling her to be a missionary to China. She went there in the 1920’s as a single woman, which speaks of her deep commitment to follow God wherever He would lead her.

She married my grandfather while in China, a British man who loved God but who she would say was a bit of a “stuffed shirt with a stiff collar.” But Grandma loved him, and served him well as a missionary wife. And she also served well the many demanding needs of a mission compound up to and through the beginning years of WW 2 over there, before they were recalled to Canada.

Then when my Grandfather became a minister in western Canada, Grandma would faithfully type out his sermons and patiently listen to him practice. They did this for many years. When Granddad died, Grandma continued to serve others by volunteering thousands of hours of service in our Calgary hospitals. And why did she commit her life to such service to God for all these years? Because she loved Jesus and she loved others, and she knew that by putting the love of God into action, others would come to see and know God too.

Question #7: In what ways do you need God to “dwell” with you this week? (See John 1:14)

This may sound bad, but I need an extra measure of God’s grace in this coming week and throughout the next month to really love these national men from Papua New Guinea that I am working with. We are working on the translation of the Gospel of John into their language.

The work of translating the Bible verse-by-verse into another language is very tedious and demanding. Most days, I find it to be a great joy to work with the Papuan people on these translation projects. But there are also many frustrating days where the heat in the room is not just the hot sun beating down; it can be easy after long days to let tempers flare and frustrations stop our progress.

So I ask for all who read this article to say an extra prayer for us as we work on this translation. We are hoping to smooth out a good translation of John in a six week period. Then it will be ready for the last consultant check before being published. Pray that I remember the goal: getting the Word of God into the hands of the people here in PNG.

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

God Loves Ordinary People – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt 1

It has not been too long since we all enjoyed celebrating Christmas.  For many people, Christmas is a time of presents, good food and visiting with family members and relatives.  For Christians, we too enjoy all of these wonderful things, but we also celebrate Christmas as the time we remember when God came down and entered the world of men as a little baby boy in Bethlehem.

When we go to church during the Christmas season, we often wonder what new perspective the preacher may present in his “Christmas Message”.  We look forward to new musical arrangements and choir presentations at this time of year.  But one thing that we hardly ever get tired of is seeing the children of the church present once again the Christmas Story.

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In Max Lucado’s new book, “GOD’S STORY, your story”, he opens Chapter One with a wonderful description of the joy we all experience as we watch the children in their bathrobes and angel outfits tell us the story about the birth of Jesus.  But it is not just because the kids are so cute that we remain captivated by the same story we have seen year after year.

Lucado puts it this way:

They love the song, the kids, and they cherish the story.  But most of all, they cling to the hope.  The Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.    (page 31)

When we watch the Christmas play, part of us will always be astounded by the fact that when God entered the world as a human, He did not do it with a grand fanfare.  In fact, that goes against our very nature of wanting to be recognized and to think that we are important.  And so we think, “If God was going to make an entrance, wouldn’t He do it in such a way that people would have to recognize who He was, and then be treated accordingly, like royalty?”

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But that is the very point I believe that God wanted to make by allowing Jesus to enter into humanity in such a humble way.  Jesus was born of a simple town girl in a smelly old barn and first greeted by lowly sheep herders to emphasize that Jesus is one of us.  He put aside His claims to royalty and lived a pretty ordinary life until He began His public ministry at the age of thirty.

What this means for the majority of us who live such common, ordinary lives, is that Jesus can understand us well and what we deal with in life, because that is the same kind of world that He grew up in – ordinary.  Lucado puts our hearts’ cry into these words:

Had Jesus come with such whoop-de-do, we world have read the story and thought, “My, look how Jesus entered their world.”  But since he didn’t, we can read the story and dream: “My, might Jesus be born in my world?  My everyday world?”     (page 33)

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Consider for a minute what greatness Jesus had before He became a human.  In Colossians 1:15 – 17 it says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In the opening words of the Gospel of John, it tells us that not only was Jesus with God, but He is God.  WOW!!  And yet He left all that to live as the son of a carpenter.  Then when He was 30 years old, He walked the dusty roads all over Palestine, hung out with outcasts and known sinners, and taught twelve of the most unlikely candidates to be His successors and the foundation of the early church.

It shames me to think that Jesus was willing to go to these lengths to share the Good News about the love of God and then to lay down his life by dying on a cross in order to make the way open for people to come back to God.  First He gave up Heaven to live among us, and then He gave up His life to save us from our sin.

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This makes me think back over all the years that I have been active in ministry myself, either as a pastor in North America, or a missionary overseas.  I do believe that I was serving the Lord out of an honest desire to help others know God and come to Him.  But I also know that my motives have not always been pure.  There have been many times when I was seeking to be noticed and to get the approval of men.

I remember what one pastor with whom I worked as an intern said to me, “What is it you are trying to prove?”   He was right.  I was not satisfied with just doing what God was asking me to do.  I wanted others to notice me.  What I forget many times is that God is not so concerns with our abilities as He is with our availability to serve Him.

In these past few years I have become much more content to simply be used by God and let Him be the one to get the glory.  Consider what Mary said when the angel announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  May we all be like her, and certainly like Jesus.  It is God’s domain to do the extraordinary.  That allows us to be ordinary, and still see great things be done in and through our lives by the power and the grace of the Almighty God.

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

Who Is John the Baptist

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John 1:19 – 28

John’s Testimony Concerning Himself

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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In our study today of the Gospel of John, we see that “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”  This may appear to be an innocent request from some of the religious leaders of John’s day, but that could not be further from the truth.  These leaders are mystified by John’s ministry, and his success as mentioned in Matthew 3:5 – 6, immediately leads them into a conflict with each other.

You would think that the question “Who are you?” was rather straight forward and simple.  What’s interesting is John’s response, “I am not the Christ.”  Obviously there is more going on here than our text is able to tell us.  Clearly these priests were expecting John to be some great person since they went on to ask him whether he had the spirit of one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, or even the special “Prophet” that Moses hinted about in Deuteronomy 18:18.

In order to understand what is happening, we must look at some of the key words in this text, and then build a picture that makes sense of all of the parts.  Then we will understand what’s going on.  So allow me to give you some important Old and New Testament background, and then let me ask each of us an important question, especially to those of us who are in Christian leadership positions.

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In John’s Gospel, even more than in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the term “the Jews” which occasionally does refer to all members of the Jewish nation, is much more narrowly used by John.  Throughout John’s book, “the Jews” are for the most part the religious leaders (comprised of Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes who were experts in the Law of Moses, the priests, the Levites and the elders of the nation).

And we constantly see “the Jews” debating and arguing with Jesus and ultimately demanding that Jesus be crucified. What first starts as arrogance and skeptical resistance, turns in time to become defiant challenge and then open hostility.  So you can pretty much know then from the start that these are the bad guys, the antagonists to all the men of God, and by extension are found to be the enemies of God.

But they should have known better.  They were the inheritors of the Word of God, and the protectors of the Temple and the religious rituals that were to lead the people into the true worship of God.  And we too see time and time again, that it is the church leadership which has become cemented in its ways of religious traditions that have actually managed to keep people away from finding God for themselves.

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And so they challenged John, what he was doing, where he was from, and from whom he got the authority to lead this spiritual revival.  (It certainly did not come from the Jewish leaders.)  But they figured if John was not sponsored within their religious structures, then perhaps he must be one of the three great people who were prophesied in the Old Testament who would come back to help the nation of Israel.

But even before they speak, John denies that he is not the Promised Messiah, the Christ (or Anointed One) whom God would one day send to rescue the nation Israel and becomes its King.  Unfortunately, the leaders and the people had it wrong and thought God would send a human political Saviour who would rescue the nation from the oppression of the Roman occupying forces in Palestine.

But John also said he is not “The Prophet” who would be just like the greatest Old Testament leader, Moses, who rescued Israel out of Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses prophesied that a Great Prophet like him would one day come to help Israel.  But that was not to be John.  And in Malachi 4:5, the second last verse of the Old Testament, a prophecy was made that Elijah would return before the coming of the Lord.

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I can say that these Jewish leaders had some good questions in one sense.  They knew that John was special.  They just did not know how or why.  The truth of the matter is that John came as a simple servant of the Lord, and even in the midst of great success, he exercised even greater humility.  And why was that?  Because it is never meant to be about us, no matter how important we think we are at times.  No it is all about Jesus, the Man who would come after John.

So let me ask each of us who are Christians?  Are we more like The Jews, or are we more like John.  Think about it.

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.

Powerful Opening (Phil. 1:1-2)

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Greetings & Blessings

It is easy to read the first two verses of Philippians and just pass over them quickly.  We see that the book (actually a letter) is being sent from Paul and Timothy to the church that was in Philippi.  And the blessing of “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus to the believers sounds just like any other of Paul’s opening words to the other churches that he wrote letters to as well.

But I believe we do ourselves a disservice if we rush by these two verses too quickly.  There is much more here that is worth looking into than meets the eye on the first glance.  Now recall from the article I wrote last week (click here) that I outlined four stages to doing a good inductive Bible study.  They are:

  1. Do a text comparison.
  2. Review the Greek text.
  3. Check out Commentaries and Lexicons.
  4. Do a concordance check on significant words.

In this short opening section of two verses, it was not very hard to write up a summary sentence for the section, or to give the section a short title that covers the main idea of the passage.  We did that on the last article.  Now we want to look into some specific words and phrases to discover some of the richer and deeper meaning that is contained within these words and the context where they are found.  Now we get into the meat of doing Inductive Bible Study.

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At our small group study last week, we did the text comparison step and looked for any vocabulary or wording that was significant, yet different, in four different translations.  We looked at this short passage in the New Living Translation, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version.  We saw the following slight differences in the versions:

  • “slaves” / “servants” / “bond-servants”  (v.1)
  • “holy people” / “saints” / “those who belong to Christ”  (v.1)
  • “elders” / “overseers”  (v.1)

And we noticed that this letter was a) meant for “all” the believers in Philippi, including the church leaders, and b) that “grace and peace” come from “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.  One further thing that caught our attention was the phrase “in Christ”.  Looking ahead, an alternate wording for this phrase is “in the Lord”.

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Taking a quick look at an Interlinear Greek Text, we saw that the key words we had found above were also used in the Interlinear text.  Now we needed to do a little research to see if any of these differences would bring out any new or significant meaning to the text.  The first one that caught just about everyone’s attention was the contrast of “slave” / “servant” / “bond-servant”.

It was not surprising to find that the term “slaves of Christ Jesus” made us uncomfortable.  Doesn’t it sound better to be a servant than a slave?  And yet, when we consider as we see in verse 2, that Jesus Christ is our Lord, then we ought to be fine to be called slaves, for He paid our debt of sin by dying for us, and in return, we give our lives over totally to Him as His people.  And that led us to consider the term “bond-servant”.

This is a special term that relates to first century culture.  There were many actual “slaves” in Paul’s day.  Some of them could earn or buy their freedom from their owners.  But if a slave loved his master enough, then he could choose to voluntarily be a servant for life to his owner.  He then became a “bond-servant”.  He literally “bound” himself forever to his owner and willingly served him.

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Isn’t that a tremendous picture as we hear Paul call himself a “bond-servant”? And we too can choose to be willing and obedient servants to Jesus Christ.  And this is where we picked up on the phrase “in Christ” or “in the Lord”.  These two phrases (plus two more variants) are used 22 times in this letter to the Philippians.  It must be important.  And indeed, we found this phrase to be very rich in meaning.

After looking into some commentaries and translation helps, we found that the phrase could be translated as “union with Christ”, “united with Christ”, or “bound together with Christ”.  In fact, in one language group that I worked with, the literal back-English translation for this Greek phrase was translated as “stuck to Christ”.

I thought that was such a powerful picture, that when we are “in Christ”, it is like we are so closely bound to Him that we are in a sense “super-glued” to Christ.  So even as we open up the book of Philippians, we see that Paul, and by his example, Christians are to be willing, obedient servant-slaves of Jesus, and super-glued to Him so that when people see us, they see Jesus in and through us.  Pretty cool, eh?

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One more thing that our study group discussed was that we should not dismiss this greeting of Paul’s so quickly and just say, “Oh, that is how Paul greeted everyone.  He was just saying ‘Hello’ in his letter.”  No, we felt that there was power in the words he chose to use in his greeting.  He wanted God to bless his readers with “grace and peace”.

These words carry the essence of the Gospel.  We are saved by grace.  And when we experience the true grace of God, then the fractured relationship that was once there between us and God is gone, and we can truly experience deep spiritual peace with God.  And we can extend that peace to our relationships with others around us.

And so we considered the idea that we as Christians may want to model Paul’s greeting to fellow believers when we meet them.  Wouldn’t that be interesting if on Sunday morning, instead of just saying, “Hi, how are you?”, we would greet our brother or sister in the Lord and say, “Hello Dave.  God bless you with the His grace and peace this week.  And how are you doing today?”

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