2013 In Review – Thank You Dear Readers

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Looking For The Good When Bad Things Happen

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Can Good Come From Bad?

This is an age old question.  And in many ways, it is a question that tries to understand the nature of God.  As people often have said, “If God is a loving God, how can there be so much evil and pain in the world?”  Personally, I think this is the wrong question to be asking.  I recognize that not everyone who believes there is a God, which is the first question to deal with, will accept that the Bible of the Jews and Christians is the “Word of God”.

But that is my starting point.  And for a number of good reasons.  But this article cannot deal with that question either, as there would not be enough space here to expand on this belief.   This article then is written primarily for Christians who share my belief in God and in the Bible as God’s Word to mankind.  But just because we have these strong beliefs in the Divine and the Almighty does not mean that we will never experience bad things in life.  Nor does it mean that we will always understand why we experience suffering and pain.  Yet I believe that we still have much more to guide us and help us deal with the heartaches of life than many people.

    

I raise these questions today because of the recent experiences that I just went through.  I was in Papua New Guinea serving the Lord doing the ministry of Bible translation for people groups that do not have the Bible in their language.  Next thing I know, I’m being told that I have a retinal tear in my right eye and I am boarding planes to come back to Canada to get this fixed.  You can read about my experiences in the article “God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief“.

It would be so easy to turn around and say to God, “Why me?  Can’t you see I’m giving my life to serve you over here in PNG?”.  But I’ve always thought of that question as being a self-centered and self-absorbed question.  As if the universe (or the Almighty) is supposed to bow down to our own personal likes and needs.  Sometimes I do catch myself though asking the question of “Why now, Lord?”  But this too I think reflects some level of lack of faith.  If God really is God, then He knows what is going to happen, and so events in life never catch him by surprise.  And if we really have faith in Him, then we too should not act surprised.

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I believe that the best question we should be asking when bad things happen to us is this one, “What now Lord?”  In other words, we ask God, given the current circumstance that we are in, what is it that we can and should do in the situation.  Sometimes God will reveal to us that there really is nothing we can do, except to hold on even stronger to our faith that He will work things out.  And to believe that good can and will come out of this bad situation.  Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.

I also believe that there are many times when we are to take action within these new circumstances, under God’s guidance of course.  In other words, to respond according to the spirit, not according to our natural earthly desires and behaviors.  Our natural inclination when something bad happens might be to get angry, or to take things out on another person.  Our supernatural response though is to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thess. 5:18)

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This is much more that just being an optimist, or trying to be a “half full glass” kind of person.  Even as we give thanks to God, acknowledging Him as our Lord through tough situations, we ask the question of “What now Lord?”  We want to be proactive and to ask God to help us make the most of the situation.  This is what is called “Redeeming the Time.”  To “redeem” means “to rescue; to buy back”, and so when we redeem the time, we are taking back the situation and by God’s strength and direction we are making and finding ways to allow good things to happen.

You see, I believe that a life of faith is a partnership between a person and God, and both sides have their part to play.  And that is how I approached the situation with my recent eye surgeries.  (Yes, plural, as I needed three surgeries.)  I actively trusted God to take care of me, and He did so in some amazing ways.  But I also have actively been seeking how to make the most of the time I now have been given to be back home.

And what have I done?  I have been actively seeking ways to be with my family and do things together that would not have been possible if I was still in PNG.  I have been in meetings in our international office in Dallas, and having conversations with young aspiring missionaries.  These have been precious moments that couldn’t have taken place while I was in PNG.  And I am reconnecting with my home churches as well as some potential new supporting churches.  And so this time off of the field for me has been one of seeking and finding great opportunities to see good things come about.

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You need to ask the question then: “How do you respond when bad things happen to you?”  Is your focus upon yourself, and your sense of pain that the situation may be causing you?  Or are you putting your focus upon God who will not only guide you through the tough times in life, but will provide great opportunities to see some good come out of the situation.  It is a choice.  What are you going to choose?

Praise God

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.

Thanking God Through The Pain

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Praising The Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Prayer To God

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I’m Heading to Dallas to Serve My Lord

Surreal!  That is the word that best describes how I feel right now.  I’m sitting in the plane at the end of the tarmac, waiting our turn to taxi forward and then take off on this flight to Dallas, Texas.  I have been on so many flights to places all over the world, but this one is very different.  This time I am going on an extended trip without my wife, Jill.  And I have said my good byes to my children (two sons and a daughter-in-law) not knowing when the five of us will be together again.

Let me back up for a minute and explain what is happening for all of us in our family, and then I want to write out a prayer to God.  Many of our friends receive either or both of our monthly ministry email updates and our weekly prayer & praise emails.  And there are a good number of people who read my blog and know what we are doing.  But for those who are reading this article and are not yet connected to us on a regular basis, I invite you to become a Subscriber to this blog (on the right-hand side), or write a comment to me to request to receive our weekly or monthly email updates.  (The Comment will be kept private.)

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It really is exciting what God is doing in our lives right now.  I will comment on my family first, and then tell you why I am on my way to Dallas.  Both of our sons are in their 20’s now, and are on the verge of stepping forward into their vocational choices of interest.  Eric has his Graphic Arts Design Diploma and we are all praying for and believing that he will find an entry job in this field.  At the same time, our second son, Glen, is just one phone call away from entering into the Canadian Armed Forces (Army).

I should stop here to mention more about this interesting direction that Glen is taking.  As far back as 2006, Glen has had an interest in joining the military.  There was an opportunity for him in 2009 to join but he was not feeling ready at that time.  But last year and this year, he really felt a strong conviction that this is where God was leading him.  Amazingly, there were no openings for Infantry Soldiers and many other trades during this time.

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Still, Glen continued to apply for a few different positions within the Army, and either the position would close again, or his paperwork seemed to get “lost”.  But Glen persisted, and prayed, and waited, and kept believing that this was God’s direction for him.  When asked by people why he wanted to join the Army, he would say, “I want to help defend the defenseless people of the world.”

About two months ago, we got excited that some positions were finally opening for real.  Then last month, Glen had an interview and passed the medical test.  Still we got no follow-up call that he was accepted.  I prayed that God would give Glen an answer before I flew to Dallas.  And can you believe it?  Five hours before the flight, Glen was told that he is on the “Merit List”, which means that he is basically accepted, and that within a matter of days or a few weeks, he will be called to go off to start his Army Boot Camp.  (Thank you God for answering our prayers.)

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This will mean that Jill will be the one who stays in our condo back home by herself.  I knew the day was coming when Glen would leave home, and I saw how God was lining things up for me to do my ministry work down in Dallas.  I have felt very concerned for Jill, and so I was very glad when God provided a neat solution to her situation.  In the midst of us praying about me going to Texas, Jill was offered a full-time position at her hospital and in the same unit where she is currently working.  And to fill the rest of her time, an opportunity has presented itself for her to do some studies in International Health at the Master’s level.

So what about me?  Due to my health (which you can read about here), it is clear to us that I am better able to live and function in hotter and more humid climates.  Summer time and the coming Fall in Dallas would certainly qualify for this kind of necessary climate for me.  And the blessing from God is that I will be able to do my Bible translation consultant work even better while living there.  And since the international office of our mission (Pioneer Bible Translators) is in Dallas, they have asked me to help teach some introductory linguistic classes to a number of our new missionary recruits over the next four months.

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In light of all of these things, I want to lift up my voice in praise and prayer to the Lord God, my King and my Father:

“Father God, I thank you for Your loving care and kindness that you show to me and to my family, whom I love dearly.  I thank You for choosing to use us to minister to the world through the careers that You are providing to all four of us in this family.  May we be Your hands, Your feet and Your mouth to all whom You cause to cross our paths.

“I do ask You Father to look after my family while I am away.  Be our Guide, our Comforter and our Protector.  As our family gets scattered to many places, let us hold each other up in prayer and keep us connected across the miles.  I know You will do this, and I praise You for hearing my prayer.  In all things, we give You the honor and the glory.

In Christ’s precious and holy name I pray.  Amen, and Amen!!!

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Joy In The Lord

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Reflections From Philippians

Last week I finished checking the book of Philippians in the T. language of Papua New Guinea.  It went so smoothly during the sessions that it only took two days to completely check and revise the translation.  I think one of the reasons for this is that I, like many others, find Philippians to be such an uplifting and encouraging book.  It has been nicknamed “The Epistle of Joy”.

There is no doubt that joy is a major theme of the book.  In just four short chapters, Paul uses the word “rejoice” nine times and the word “joy” five times.  And then for good measure, he adds in “thankfulness” and “to give thanks” once each.  So if you average this out, Paul talks about joy or thankfulness every six verses all the way through this epistle.

No wonder most people feel so good after reading the book of Philippians.  Paul is bursting with encouragement and positive feelings.  And as Christians, we too should take this attitude with us wherever we go.  But what is so amazing about Paul’s attitude is when you take into consideration the context within which Paul wrote this book.  Let me reflect on three aspects that come out of this book.

1.  Joy in His Location.

You do not need to read very far to realize that when Paul wrote this book he was in prison.  We do not know exactly when Paul wrote this letter, so we do not know if this imprisonment was his final time in Rome, or if it was an earlier imprisonment.  But we do know that it is because he faithfully preached the Good News that he was put there, and that Paul saw that this was the new ministry that God was calling him to, namely to preach Christ to other prisoners and to his captors. (v. 1:16)

Now I don’t know about you, but I think I would be hard pressed to “be joyful” if I were thrown into prison without just cause.  And prisons back then were nothing like the clean and modern prisons we now have today in North America.  And further, Paul lived under the constant threat of death from day to day.  He tells the Philippians that he is glad he could minister to them spiritually, even if it meant he would be “poured out like a drink offering”, i.e. be executed. (v. 2:17)

2.  Joy in His Situation.

Now to understand how Paul can be joyful in his location, I think we need to understand the joy he had in his situation.  In chapter three, Paul takes time to briefly describe what his situation was before he met Christ.  He had all the right credentials (a circumcised Jew of the tribe of Benjamin who spoke pure Hebrew), had all the right training (a legalistic Pharisaical zealot) to make him believe he was “righteous” in God’s eyes.

But after meeting Christ, his situation changed completely.  He came to know that righteousness does not come from arrogant obedience to the law, but from a relationship with God based on the example of the humility of Christ to whom we bow the knee and declare to be our Lord.  (vv. 2:5-11)  As Paul says, everything in this life has little value “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  (v. 3:8)

It is this perspective, that there is an eternal spiritual life to be had, that makes life in this world look both pale and also bearable.  So if we are enjoying the “good life”, it does not compare to the eternal riches of the next life.  And if we find life treats us terribly, we also know that it is for just a little while that we will endure such difficulties.  And so Paul can view all situations in the following way:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  (v. 4:12)

3.  Joy in His Vocation.

This is not to say in any way that Paul did not struggle with life and what was happening to him and around him.  He tells his readers quite plainly that there are others who are imitating his ministry of “preaching Christ” out of envy, rivalry and a desire to cause Paul even more grief while he is in prison.  True, there are some whom he says preach Christ well out of a love for Paul.  But Paul says, what does it matter, as long as Christ is preached.  (v. 1:18)

And further to this, we also see Paul wrestled with the idea of “maybe it would be better if God just took my life.”  No doubt, Paul had to have some moments of despair and depression.  Others seemed to be trying to destroy all the good that he had done.  His life in chains was a terrible daily ordeal.  I don’t think we could blame Paul to think of the joy of leaving this life of misery to be with the Lord in eternity.

But instead of giving in to his despair, Paul looks outside of himself and looks at what opportunities still lie ahead of him to serve his Lord by serving others.  He says these poignant and emotional words:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.

Philippians 1:23-25

Dear Readers, may you be encouraged by the words and the attitudes that Paul has put before us to be an example of how we ought to live our lives as Christians.  May we all be content to live our lives for Christ wherever He has placed us.  And may we be willing to lay down our lives for others for the benefit or their souls.  May we all live for Christ, until the day He will take us to our heavenly home.

Amen!

I Turned 50

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Today I mark my 50th Birthday.

A lot has happened in recent days, and I would like to share this with you, both in words and in pictures.  Two years ago (plus 5 days) I received the official report that I have a degenerative muscle disease.  Another personal crisis hit me within days of this announcement, and I truly felt my life was over.  Then over the last year, I have had a bit of an identity crisis and I wondered after all my globe-trotting, whether I really had any personal friends of not.  But these past few weeks have reminded me of all that I do have, and who are my friends.

In recent months, I have learned to appreciate my family and have been more in touch by phone, by email and Facebook, and personal visits.  Considering how many families are truly messed up, where members will not speak to each other for months, or even years, I am glad I have a mother and two brothers who stay in touch.

And speaking of Facebook, I recently made the leap into the great world of “Social Networking”.  I currently have 325 Friends (not bad for a new User), and I am finding more and more friends from years gone by through this program.  And I have been thrilled by all the people who have wished me a Happy Birthday today.  If a “score” is equal to 20, then I literally have had “scores and scores” of people sending me their well wishing.  Let me say in return to all these friends of mine, “Thank You!”

Of all those whom I consider special, I have to mention just how much I love my immediate family.  God has blessed me with my loving wife, Jill, and two absolutely fantastic sons, who have grown up into wonderful young men of God.  We think of Glen as our “gentle giant” who is so good with people and loves his Lord Jesus.  And we are all so pleased that Eric has found a beautiful Christian wife in Esther.  So whether it is for my birthday, or for just any old reason, we love to get together and have a party.  (Usually pizza, pop and a movie.  Yum yum!)

But of all my friends, my closest and best friend is Jesus.  For 38 years now I have had a daily relationship with Jesus.  There have been many deep and dark valleys that I have walked through in my 50 years, but I know without a doubt that Jesus has always been with me by my side, guiding me, comforting me, encouraging me, strengthening me.  My prayer for all my readers, is that each of you too may know how deep, how long and how wide is my Saviour’s love.  Be blessed my friends.

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