Listen Carefully To Jesus’ Words

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John 12: 44 – 50

44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

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As I read these verses above a few times, I could almost see Jesus crying out in a loud voice as he spoke.  It hit me that these were the last words that Jesus spoke publicly before He was arrested and put on trial.  It must have been so difficult for him as he realized that there were still many people back then who would reject his message, and so reject him as the One who could bring eternal life to them.

There was so much that Jesus had to offer for those who would accept him and his message.  There is the promise of eternal life with God which I just mentioned.  There is also the spiritual reality and truth that those who come to Jesus will not only see who Jesus really is, the Saviour for mankind, but also will come to know God the Father who sent Jesus to this world to save us.

And there is also the promise that those who accept and believe in Jesus will “not stay in darkness”.  Jesus is the true light for those who desire to be enlightened spiritually.  There are so many man-made attempts to become like God, or become “one with the Universe”.  But in Christianity, it works the other way.  Jesus is the true light who came down from Heaven to live among us and share this light with anyone who will put their trust in him.  So mankind does not need to reach out to try to find God, God has already reached out to us through his son, Jesus.

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There is something else that caught my attention as I read this passage.  It says in verse 47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”  I am reminded of a conversation I had with someone in high school as we rode on the bus toward home.  He knew that I had expressed an interest in becoming a missionary one day so I could talk about Jesus to those people who had never heard about him and what he had done for all mankind.

He asked me some very pointed questions.  As background though, he started by saying, “So you want to tell others about Jesus so that they can have a chance to accept him and by that means be able to go to Heaven.”  I replied, “Yes.” to him.  He went on, “But you are saying that if the people hear about Jesus and decide to not accept him, then they will go to Hell.”  And I replied, “Right.”

And then he asked me, “Wouldn’t it be better to leave these primitive native people alone and let God decide out of his mercy to let them into Heaven if they have been good enough?  Rather than go and preach about Jesus and have them reject Jesus and for sure get sent to Hell?  Wouldn’t it be better to just leave them all alone?”

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My friend asked some good questions, at least from a human perspective.  For those of us who really do understand what Hell is really like, none of us would wish for anyone to be sent there.  Even God says in his Word that he wants, “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”(1 Tim. 2:3-4)  And yet in Jesus’ own words, he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

I know how difficult this can be for many people, but the truth is that by our own acts of wrongdoing, in the words we speak, the thoughts we have and the actions we take in life, we find we are unable to stand before a holy God, who cannot allow sinful thoughts and behaviours to exist in his presence.  As Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  And Romans 6:23 tells us that the consequence for all mankind for their sinful nature is death, eternal spiritual death apart from God.

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Praise God though, that Jesus came to tell us that there is a way of escape for all of us.  For those who will accept the death of Jesus to be their substitute payment for their penalty of death, and who believe that Jesus rose from the grave to demonstrate his promise of life after death, then to us, Jesus brings us salvation and the promise of eternal life with God in Heaven.

My friend, listen carefully to the words of Jesus.  Not only from these last words of his in the passage above, but in all the books of the Bible where he speaks to us about putting our faith in him.  Remember, he did not come to judge us of our sins, but to free us from them.  So accept him, and be free indeed.

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Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 12

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 6: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOUR FINAL CHAPTER BECOMES A PREFACE

Question #2: What experiences have most influenced your view of your own mortality?  When have you grappled with your own death or the deaths of those you know and love?

In some of my articles, I have shared about how frequently there were deaths among the people in the village where we lived and worked in Papua New Guinea.  The average age span for a Papuan is about 46 years.  And there were quite a number of children who died at birth or within the first two years.  Even mothers were dying due to retained placentas.  So death was all around us.  All of these deaths made us quite aware of our mortality.

Interestingly, there was a death of a different kind that shook up our family and brought about a transformation in the life of one of our sons, Glen.  He was only 6 years old and we had just been in PNG for a couple of months.  He was playing with a kitten and didn’t think anything of it when he threw the kitten up in the air and then caught it.  But the one time he missed catching the kitten, it fell and broke its neck and died.

Needless to say, we had a long talk that day, my son and I.  Then we went out to the jungle and buried it.  Glen then asked questions about life in general and what happens when a person dies.  That led to a long discussion about life after death, and the need to believe in Jesus who grants eternal life.  He already knew a lot about the Bible.  But now he had to grapple with the question of eternal life after death.  Praise God, eight months later Glen accepted Jesus into his life and had his name written in God’s Book of Life.

Question #3: What would you say to someone who claims to be spiritual but doesn’t believe in the resurrection?  How would you describe the role the resurrection plays in your own life?  What difference does it make?

It would seem to me that if a person said that they were “spiritually-minded” but did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then in reality that person would be either performing humanitarian acts of charity and calling that “spiritual”, or they are trapped in the concept of “doing good deeds” in the hope that their “goodness” would be sufficient to save them from Hell and God’s punishment against the sinfulness of man.

As a Christian, I recognize that there would never be enough good deeds that I could do that would make up for or “pay” for my sins.  My goodness could never wipe out my bad deeds I have done in life.  My only hope would be if there was someone else who was perfect and without sin who could agree to take my punishment from God for my sins that I would be free from the penalty of sin.

That is what Jesus did on the cross.  That takes care of my sin.  But if that is all, then we can only see death as the final act of life.  But by Jesus rising from the grave, He proved that He had power over the most powerful thing we know in this life, and that is Death.  Jesus’ resurrection proved His power and His authority to give life to those who die.  And since our sins are forgiven, then we can rise in this resurrection life as perfect, sinless people who will live with God forever.

Question #4: Do Christians today act more like the disciples behaved before or after the resurrection?  What could we do to be “resurrection people” in the way we worship, serve, and relate to one another?

I am very concerned for Christians today, especially those who live in the affluent democratic countries of the world.  Life for most people, including Christians, so easily becomes one of materialism.  Jesus warns us to not build our treasures here on earth.  Those who do, so often they work so hard to get them, and then they worry about losing them, and life is all about material possessions instead of seeing life and others around through the eyes of God.

What we must remember is that all these things will pass away and be destroyed.  We cannot take these earthly treasures to heaven.  And those who do not follow after God in this life, will not live with Him in the next life.  We must put a high priority on helping our family members, friends and neighbors to come to know Jesus.  Bigger homes, nicer cars, and even beautiful church buildings will mean nothing if we are not telling others about Jesus.

I’m not saying we have to become preachers, evangelists or missionaries.  But we must put God and others first in our lives.  And people must see that our words and our actions are consistent and spiritually attractive so that they might turn to us when they find that they are in a time of real need in their lives.  As the saying goes, “We may be the only Bible that people ever read.”  So let’s let our lives shine the truth and love of God to others for the sake of their eternal destiny.

                                          

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

Overcoming Extreme Spiritual Poverty

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Training New Missionaries To Reach “The Lost”

For many years, Christians have talked about “Reaching the Lost”.  For some people, that expression has made sense, but I think that many people today would not really know what this means.  What exactly does the word “Lost” refer to?  In religious terms, it means to be “spiritually lost”, to not know Jesus as the One who rescues us from sin and the punishment of eternal death in Hell.  In simple black and white terms, we could talk about those who have accepted Jesus and are “Saved”, and those who have not accepted Jesus and are “Lost”.

The reality of “spiritual lostness” in this world is more complex than this though.  There is in fact a direct relationship between those who have accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives and the accessibility to the knowledge of Jesus as presented to us in the Bible.  It makes sense that where the Bible has been made available to people in a language that they understand, and where there is a network of churches which use and promote the message of the Bible that there will be people who have had their lives transformed by that message and have a strong faith in Christ.

This leads us to the next obvious conclusion.  Where there are few or no churches within a distinct language and cultural group, and where there are no portions of the Bible in that language, there will also be very few or no Christians at all in that group.  It is this reality that has led our leaders of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, to coin the term “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  In a sense, there is a degree of “lostness” among the people groups of the world, and it has become the mandate of our mission to try to bring relief and the message of the Gospel to these “least reached” people of the world.

    

To get a better understanding of what is involved in impacting the most spiritually needy areas of the world, it is helpful to break it down into three categories of people groups as identified by their languages.  According to most of the official counts, there are almost 7,000 language groups in the world.  This does not include dialects.  These are all considered distinct languages.  Of this number, we know that there are just over 2,250 languages that definitely have the need to begin a Bible translation project in that language.  This represents over 350 million people who do not have even one verse of the Bible published for them in their language.

That is a lot of people who can’t read about Jesus in their own language.  Thankfully there are some of these language groups that do have churches established within them, but they are relying on Scripture that is not in the mother tongue of the people.  But of these 2,250 language groups, there are at least 900 groups that do not have a church of any portion of the Bible in their language.  This represents over 200 million people.  It is these church-less and Bible-less language groups of people that PBT is very concerned about reaching with the Gospel message of Christ and whom we consider to be the most extreme spiritually poor people in the world.

Now that we know what the need is, what is PBT doing about it?  For a number of years now we have been recruiting and sending new missionaries over to these parts of the world which so desperately need churches that use translated Scriptures to transform the people of their language group.  God has truly been blessing our mission as we have grown from 185 members to 353 members in just 5 1/2 years.  By the end of this year, we expect that we will have doubled in size for the number of career missionaries.  Our prayerful goal is to double the number of our personnel again in the next six years.  There is so much work left to be done in the world in the area of Bible translation that recruiting new people to be missionaries is crucial to getting the work done.

    

And that was exactly what we were doing this last week.  We just held our annual recruitment and training week here in Dallas, which is known as “Pioneer Mission Institute“.   For 36 years now we have been training and introducing the work of PBT to people who have an interest in mission work and specifically Bible translation work.  This year, we had over 70 students, with just about half that number in each of the two levels, the first level being the “Discovery Track” and the second level doing specialized seminars on practices and procedures for cross-cultural missionaries.

I had the privilege to once again teach the introductory linguistics class to the Discovery Track students.  I introduced them to such topics as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Language Learning and a few other topics.  It is always exciting to me when I see other people catch the vision for getting God’s Word translated and available to the minority languages of the world.  But more importantly, they caught the vision that there are still a great number of people who are living without the transforming message of the Bible.  For it is not just translation work and linguistics that matter, but the lives of people who live on this edge of extreme spiritual poverty that we need to reach.

I ask you to be in prayer alond with us that we would find the right people to be added to our mission group that could work together to help bring the Gospel to these last pockets of people in the world who don’t know Jesus, and without a church presence and the translated Word of God, will probably never have the chance to know Jesus.  By faith though, we are believing that by 2050 or so, we will have provided a translated New Testament to all these groups and overcome extreme spiritual poverty in the world.

“For God So Loved The World” – Pt. 2

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John 3:16 – 21

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

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In last week’s study, we examined in detail verse 16 above, which is probably the most well known and most loved verse in Scripture.  Now I want to take a look at the larger context of this passage to show how John sees spiritual reality in terms that are very black and white.  As such, we will see that there are two sides that are complete opposites of each other.

In these six verses, I see at least four pairs of spiritual opposites: life vs. death; salvation vs. condemnation; light vs. darkness; and obedient deeds vs. evil deeds.  In John’s theology, there are these two clear and completely opposite realities.  There is no middle ground.  The question as we go through this is to ask ourselves “Which side are we on?”

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The first truth is that in Jesus there is spiritual life.  Apart from faith in Jesus there is spiritual death.  I encourage those who have not read Part 1 of this two-part article to click here and see what I wrote about verse 16.  It is very important for a person to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only is there a God, but that He loves each and every one of us so much that He let Jesus come to die in our place so that He could offer spiritual life to us.

Verse 17 goes on to tell us that the very purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to bring us the gift of salvation.  Before Christ Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin there was only the sure consequence of condemnation awaiting all of us.  But Christ came to free us from that condemnation.  By putting our faith in Jesus, His righteousness becomes ours, and in God’s final day of Judgement, God will be able to say to us who believe, “Not guilty!”  What an amazing gift of grace.

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The third comparison is made between “light” and “darkness”.  John is not talking about the physical properties of light and darkness, but the spiritual realities of good and evil, truth and deception.  In chapter one, we saw how John the Baptist spoke out about “the light that was coming into the world.” Later in this Gospel (8:12), Jesus will say this about himself:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

One of the properties of light that can apply both in the physical and the spiritual realm is that light has the ability to reveal or expose that which is dark.  And light always overcomes darkness.  The question for us is whether we are attracted to that Light, or are repelled by that Light.  Those who are hungry to know God will draw close to the light, but those who want nothing to do with God will shrink away from spiritual truth.

And it is in this attraction or repelling that the true nature of our character comes out.  Those people who are attracted to God will want to do the things that please God.  Perhaps a better way to translate verse 21 would be something like, “But whoever follows after the truth of God will come to the light and in so doing will clearly show that he was obeying God.”

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There is one more important linguistic aspect to these verses that I want to make sure that none of us miss.  The majority of the verbs in this passage, specifically those that refer to the actions of people, are written in Greek in the present tense.  Not the past tense, i.e. “those who did…” and not in the future tense, i.e. “those who will do…” 

But it is not enough to just translate the verbs in the simple present, i.e. “those who do…” as if obeying God or rebelling against God is a one-time event in our lives.  No, this passage should be translated in the present continuous, and in that way this passage has much more punch to it.

In other words, it is the people “who are continually and habitually doing the things that are evil, and are constantly living their lives in spiritual darkness and in rebellion against God who experience spiritual death, both in this life and certainly in the life to come.”

But for those “who are continually and habitually coming to Jesus, the Light of the world, and who constantly are seeking to please God through their acts of obedience to Him, they are the ones who have entered into spiritual life and salvation from the condemnation that sin brings.”

So my friend, which side are you on?  If you haven’t already, I urge you to accept God’s love and receive Jesus into your life so that you can truly live.

“You Must Be Born Again” – Pt. 2

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John 3:9 – 15

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

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In last week’s study (click here), we already saw how both Nicodemus and Jesus were surprised at what the other had to say.  Jesus said to him that a person had to be “born again” to be able to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and Nicodemus asked how it was possible for a man to go back into his mother’s womb. 

Jesus was referring of course to the spiritual birth of a person, and He used an analogy of life to try to get Nicodemus to understand.  Except that he didn’t understand.  In our passage today then, we see that Nicodemus is again surprised at all of Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus in return is surprised that such an important Jewish religious leader could not understand these spiritual truths through these down to earth analogies.

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Now Jesus is ready to speak directly about some important spiritual truths of Heaven without the use of earthly analogies.  To make it clear to Nicodemus that Jesus has the ability and the authority to teach spiritual truths, He offers His credentials to Nicodemus.  No human has ever been able to go up into heaven to know firsthand God’s divine truth, but Jesus makes the claim that He was already with God in heaven and descended, or came down, to earth to disclose these truths to mankind.

(Take note of how the pronouns go from singular to plural in verse 11, including the “you” which is a plural in Greek.  This is probably a comment of John himself many years after Jesus had now ascended back up into heaven.  John and the other disciples not only listened to these teachings of Jesus, but they witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So this is a third party testimony to the truth of Jesus’ divine origin and authority.)

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Verses 14 and 15 now reveal the deep spiritual truth that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand, and by writing this, John wants all of us to understand.  To be able to receive eternal life, a person must have faith in Jesus (who has given himself the title “the Son of Man”.)  To get the full impact of the teaching though, we must understand the historical event to which Jesus refers regarding Moses and the serpent in the wilderness.

This event is recorded for us in Numbers 21:4 – 9.  Let’s take a look at it together:

4 The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road that leads to the Gulf of Aqaba, in order to go around the territory of Edom. But on the way the people lost their patience 5 and spoke against God and Moses. They complained, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We can’t stand any more of this miserable food!”

 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many Israelites were bitten and died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Now pray to the LORD to take these snakes away.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 Then the LORD told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed. 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed.

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It is quite clear that the Israelites were sinning in their rebellion against God.  As a holy and just God, sin must be dealt with and the Bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death.  (Read Romans 6:23)  When the people repented of their sin and ask for deliverance from God, He does provide it.  But there are a couple of very important things to notice.

God does not remove the serpents (the consequence of their sin), but He does provide the solution for salvation.  When they were bitten (stung by their sin) they should have died.  But if they had faith in God and turned to look at the bronze serpent, then they would live.

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This is the great truth that Jesus is making for all of us in this passage in John.  All of us are sinners and we deserve death.  Just as the raised bronze snake would save the Israelites, so too when Jesus would be lifted up (a metaphor for His crucifixion) anyone who has sinned but turns by faith to Jesus will also be saved from death.

But the death we will be saved from is not physical death (seeing as all people do die).  We will be saved from the penalty of spiritual death and will cross over to experience spiritual life with God forever.  Now that is a deep truth.  My hope is that you have accepted Jesus into your life and are already a part of God’s eternal family.