Putting Shoes on Prayers

I am currently on a five-week-long, prayer filled, missions speaking tour of twenty-five cities on the US east coast trying to motivate God’s people to get involved in worldwide Bible translation. It is a task that reminds me of the old black backwoods philosopher’s saying, “Dey ain’t nobody kin make nobody do nuddin.”

One reason that I am doing this traveling and speaking is that I believe God is able to move people.

I know this because every night a few people come up to me and say things like this: “Thank you for coming. Tonight I learned things about missions and Bible translation that I never heard in all my years of going to church.” Some go on to tell me they have committed themselves to pray, or to give, or to get personally involved in translating the Word of God into every last language spoken on earth. A few even buy my books.

The other reason I travel and speak to Christians is that in I am doing exactly what Jesus told his disciples to do when they saw the great need of the lost. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Mat 9:28 (NIV).

Notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples to start harvesting. Instead He told them to focus on the One who could mobilize the needed harvesters.

Jesus in effect told his disciples, “Don’t rush out and start evangelizing the world. Stop and ask God to mobilize His world-wide Church to evangelize the world. Stop and ask God to give His people a passion for the lost so that many will give up their current lifestyles and go.”

Missions starts with the prayer, “Please God, get Your people moving. Mobilize Your Church! You love the whole world. Widen the vision of every pastor from their congregation to the whole world. Expand the vision of every congregation from their own community to the whole world. Move huge numbers of Your people to volunteer for service and to give, not of their excess, but sacrificing to provide the needed financial support.”

That is my prayer, and the prayer of others who have a passion for the lost around the world. Some of us not only pray but we put shoes to our prayers. During these five weeks, for instance, six teams are traveling to 150 cities all across the USA to share our passion with potential harvesters. We go to inform God’s people about Bible translation so the Holy Spirit can lead them into the most foundational ministry any church or missionary can be involved in. Not even the Holy Spirit can lead people into a ministry they know nothing about!

I have spoken at hundreds of special events and in dozens of churches about the need for translating God’s Word into every one of the world’s seven thousand languages. When I mention that Christianity thrives only where the Bible is translated into the language of the local population, my hearers are surprised. When I tell them that the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the first translators and that only a few of Jesus’ words were preserved in the language in which He spoke them, they are astonished.

And yet, Jesus clearly told His Church to go and evangelize the whole world and disciple all the nations. At the end of time God will be worshiped by people from every tribe, every language, and every nation. How can that happen while there are still 1,800 languages spoken on earth in which not even one verse of Scripture has been translated?

“Great Boss in heaven, please move Your people to get to work in this desperately needy world.”

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From Economics to Theology: How the Canelas Understand the Good News

Over forty years ago, my wife and I with our three pre-school daughters accepted the invitation to live among Brazil’s Canela people in their main village. We planned to learn their culture and language. Our training had prepared us for many things, but even so the Canelas surprised us with their highly effective economic system.

We didn’t expect to see money since it was a four-day round-trip on foot to the nearest store, but thought there would be bartering, exchanging one kind of good for another such as a set of bone tipped arrows for a haunch of deer meat. Instead, we soon learned that the economic system was credit based. Meticulous records were kept, not on paper but in Canela brains. Yes, every Canela remembered a record of debts owed to them and debts they owed to others.
We should not have been so surprised. A barter system depends on people producing things that are different from those others produce. But every Canela family produced exactly the same things as every other Canela family. Every family had hunters, water carriers, basket weavers, woodchoppers, gardeners, and cooks.
What they did not have, however, was an easy way to preserve fresh food. When a hunter returned with a deer, he knew his family could never eat it all before it spoiled. Everyone else knew this too. So other hunters would come and ask for a piece of meat, saying, “When I next kill a deer, I’ll pay you back.” Okay, no problem.
Our culture uses the same credit system when a neighbour runs out of sugar while she is baking a cake and comes to borrow a cup of sugar. The Canela system, however, covered everything, even time and effort. Twenty men would work for days helping one family cut house building poles and constructing the house, knowing the next time any of them needed help in a building project, they could get it from the person they had helped.
So what happens if a hunter incurs a debt he cannot pay because of a crippling accident? No problem. The debt passes on to the hunter’s extended family: a brother or other male relative takes on the debt.
Do this year after year and you have a fully functioning credit based economic system that touches every aspect of life. Although money is now more commonplace, much of the current Canela economic system still is on credit.
We used this cultural practice in our Bible translation to make the Good News clear. In some sense we human beings are in debt to God because of our disobedience to Him (Romans 11:30.) We can’t pay the debt ourselves, nor can any of our extended family since we are all in the same fix. But God had mercy on us and sent Jesus, who called himself The Son of Man meaning “the one who became human like you”.
The Canelas call Jesus Mepahaka, “Our Older Brother”. The sin debt we could not pay passed on to our older brother, Jesus, who paid it with His own life. Our debt is paid, we are free.
Isn’t it great to see how God prepared the Canelas to understand the Good News by imbedding this illustration in their culture? It helps them understand that the God of the Bible is not a foreign God, but one they recognize as their own.

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Why Should Christians Need Encouragement?

“Working vacation” and “original copy” are oxymorons:  the words cancel each other out. “Discouraged Christian” should be an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Why?
Before Joshua started his invasion of Canaan, God told him, “Be strong and courageous.” These words were passed on seven times to Joshua, to Moses, to the leaders, and to the people. David repeated the theme in the Psalms, saying, “Be of good courage.” Jesus, after telling his followers they would have lots of trouble in this world encouraged them by saying, “But cheer up, I have overcome the world.” The apostle Paul constantly urges his readers to encourage each other.
Why do you think the encouragement theme is so pervasive throughout the thousands of years of human history as recorded in the Bible? Could it be because we human beings are very often dejected and discouraged, disappointed and depressed, dispirited, downcast, disheartened and in the dark?
But why should Christians need encouragement? It is easy to understand discouragement in selfish people who constantly want more and can’t get it. But discouragement and depression don’t just happen to them, people who live serving God also suffer every form of discouragement. We are not exempt. Why not?
Here we are, children of a loving Father-God. We know He is Love, He is Light, He is just and all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, and present everywhere. The more these truths about God soak into our minds, the more we set ourselves to live right, love others, speak kindly, and think pure, uplifting thoughts.
And what is the result? We, His children, the ones He says He loves suffer the same sudden disasters that fall on those who live selfishly without any thought of God. We also experience deep disappointments, car accidents, killer cancers, botched surgeries, and financial failures.
What should be our attitude when these bad things happen to us? Here are a few things to consider:
1) It may be too soon to judge if something that happened is good or bad. We may only be halfway into the story.
2) Even if the story ends badly in this life, God is no one’s debtor. He is just, and will reward suffering in this life with glory in the next.
3) We can turn stressful situations into an opportunity for personal growth.
4) God wants each of us to live bringing glory to Him. Some will do this by being highly successful in public ministry, others by suffering in private under multiple physical and emotional stresses.
5) We are all involved in a spiritual battle and some of us will be wounded.
6) God has given every person on earth the ability to make choices. Every choice, good or bad, has far-reaching consequences which affect other people, even Christians.
7) When we receive comfort and encouragement in hard times, we are better able to sympathize with others and to comfort and encourage them.
8) A well-known poem tells us God answers our prayers, although not always in the way we expect:
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.

We can’t help but get discouraged at times, but we don’t have to stay discouraged. We can be like David after raiders had kidnapped his family and those of his followers and his own friends wanted to kill him. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” and went on to win a great victory with God’s help. (1 Sam. 30:6)

Don’t Leave them Asking, So What? What Now?

“Welcome to our church, pastor,” the elder said as he shook the hand of the twenty-four year-old, newly graduated pastor. “Preaching is not that hard,” he said encouragingly. “You just sit down and study the Bible passage, then stand up and tell the people what it says.”
That was fifty years ago, and I was that pastor. The advice was excellent since back in those days everyone used the venerable, but difficult to understand, King James Version of the Bible. Explanatory preaching was popular because it was necessary.
The KJV was translated 350 years ago into common English by the very best scholars of the day using a highly respected and accurate Greek text. After centuries of heavy use, however, the English language had changed so much, the Bible sounded archaic and obsolete.
One Sunday I preached from 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” I explained it like this: “Someone is holding back Satan’s evil work on earth. One day God will take that someone away.”
Preachers had to explain that the word let, which now means allow, used to mean hinder, the direct opposite. Only lawyers still used the archaic term without let or hindrance in the fine print to say nothing is to hold back an action.
English grammar and usage like sentence length had also changed during those centuries. In the KJV Ephesians chapter one has a doctrine-packed 214 word sentence. Some linguists say it is grammatically part of the next sentence which would make it a 269 word sentence! Explanations needed!
The New Living Translation is more readable using a dozen sentences averaging twenty-two words which matches the average length in today’s books and magazines. Now that people can read the Bible in the language they are used to hearing and reading every day, my elder’s advice, so relevant fifty years ago, no longer is.
An old African pastor who used to preach from a Bible in the national language had just received a Bible newly translated into his own indigenous language. After reading several pages, he asked worriedly, “But what am I going to preach? When my congregation reads this Bible translation they will understand it clearly. What is there left for me to explain?”
The answer: Don’t explain but apply the Word of God to today’s culture, and the congregation’s current situation. That’s what preaching is supposed to be.
Today an elder advising a young pastor would say “Preaching is hard. You will need to study the passage, think about the people in the story, or the people for whom this passage was written, and ask yourself, ‘What did God want them to learn, or say, or think, or do? What is the basic, ‘good for all times and occasions’ principle? How does this apply to my congregation and me today, in our church, homes, schools, and workplaces? Is there an attitude, or thought pattern, or habit, or belief that we need to change in ourselves? What could I and our congregation do right now to start changing?’”
A congregation that hears the answers to these questions is not going to walk out of church thinking, as many did fifty years ago, “I now understand that passage clearly, but so what? How do I apply it? What now?”

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