But if Not . . .

The Big Question
Christians are called “believers” for a very good reason. We believe that an infinitely great and powerful God exists, and that He loves to respond positively to finite human beings who diligently seek to connect with Him.

We also believe that He loves people and wants us to talk to Him in prayer and ask for things that we need, while confidently looking forward to a positive answer.

So what happens when God does not live up to our expectations? We have all experienced this let down. Here’s what I focus on so that discouragement won’t stop my prayers.

Truths to Remember
We know that God can do anything. He has, however, voluntarily limited Himself in some areas. For instance: He cannot save someone who refuses to believe. He gave us a free will to choose or reject and He cannot take that away. This frustrates us when we pray for loved ones to repent and turn to God. He can, of course, bring about circumstances in people’s lives that are so hard they will want to turn to God. Or in some cases, His goodness brings people to repentance.

God is infinitely wise, and sometimes His ways of doing things are so convoluted He can’t explain them to ordinary humans like us. So we’re left to simply trust that He knows what He is doing. The old patriarch Job, suffering horribly through no fault of his own, showed he had that kind of faith when he said, “I’ll keep trusting God even if He kills me.” (Job 13:15)

The Story
About 2,500 years ago, in what is now Iraq, a powerful emperor set up a gigantic golden statue of himself. At the statue’s unveiling several thousand government officials had gathered in front of the statue. The emperor commanded them all to fall down and worship his golden statue the moment the band began to play. The penalty for non-compliance was to be immediately burned alive in a huge fire pit. So naturally, everyone bowed down to worship—all except three God-worshiping Jews who remained standing.

Since they had earlier proved their value to the emperor, he wanted to give them another chance. “When the band begins to play,” he said, “and you fall down to worship my statue, you will live.  But if you don’t, I will order you to be thrown immediately into my fire pit.”

They replied, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us into the fire pit, the God we serve can certainly rescue us from your roaring fire. We expect He will, but if not, we still wouldn’t worship the gold statue you set up.”

FieryThe emperor was furious and ordered the fire to be fueled hotter than ever, to tie up the three Jews and throw them into the roaring inferno. The fire was so hot it instantly killed the soldiers who threw them into the raging flames.

The watching emperor was astounded and shouted to his officials, “What’s this? I saw three men bound hand and foot thrown into the fire, but now I see four men walking around in the fire completely unharmed. And the fourth one looks like a son of the gods!”

He then called to the three Jews to come out of the fire. When they climbed out, they were instantly surrounded by officials who saw that the inferno had not even singed their hair or scorched their clothes. The story gets even better, but read it for yourself in Daniel 3.

A Personal Question
I love the line, “We expect He will rescue us, but if not . . .” Like Job, these three Jews had fixed their mind on the ultimate power, wisdom and love of God, and committed themselves to trust God, come what may.

“I expect God to give me what I pray for, but if not, I will continue to trust Him.” During what times in your life have you found it hard to say this?

“Birds of a Feather Stick Together” is for the Birds.

Jo and I have at least three reasons that we like the nearby church we attend. For one thing, it is a small church and for another, the pastor lets me preach while he is away on mission trips. But the best reason was illustrated this past Pentecost Sunday. Here’s what happened:

The Re-enactment
Very predictably our pastor read the Acts chapter 2 story—the Holy Spirit-filled disciples declaring the wonders of God, and being understood by speakers of multiple languages. We then re-enacted this scene. One by one people stood up and read, in their own mother language, a verse telling of a miracle Jesus had performed. This was followed immediately by someone reading that verse in English.

A man read in Ukrainian that Jesus turned water into wine. A woman read in Cree that Jesus walked on water. I heard Arabic from the Middle East, Tagalog, Cebuano and Pampango from the Philippines, Yoruba from Nigeria, Portuguese from West Africa, and I read from my Dutch Bible. That was nine languages. To make it up to an even dozen, Jo read a passage in Canela, a teenager read in Spanish, and the pastor in Greek.

Only these last three languages were learned as second language. This congregation of only fifty people is enriched by nine different languages and cultures. Such a variety! Jo and I need this diversity of ideas, cultures and customs. How else can we grow?  We are constantly being challenged to rethink the way we live. We need this, and enjoy it.

Babies in pewA Story from Brazil
The challenge in Brazil was similar. We not only worked with Portuguese speaking Brazilians and Canela speaking indigenous people, but our co-workers on the centre were British, Swiss, German, and American, and our next door neighbour was Canadian born Japanese. When on the mission centre, we attended a Japanese-Brazilian mission church. Our three daughters were baptized there in a tri-lingual service, English, Portuguese and Japanese. Oh, the diversity! What a joy to learn to work together with people from all these different cultures!

My Shocking Question
But the diversity didn’t stop there. The first week we arrived on the mission centre, I was asked to lead the Sunday night prayer service, and to introduce my family to the rest of the missionaries there. I did so and then asked the attendees to tell us their name, where they were from, and what their ministry work was. If I had stopped there all would have been well. But no, as an ex-pastor I had to satisfy my curiosity, and so I added, “Oh, and tell us what denomination you are.”

Every eyebrow lifted. Looks of surprise, amusement and even mild shock registered on every face. They reacted as if I had asked them to pick their nose in public. How was I supposed to know that nobody ever asked that question? But being polite, they told me. The answers were an alphabet soup, from Amish and Anglican right through to Presbyterian and Reformed.

Over the decades, as we lived and worked together with these brothers and sisters in Jesus from such a wide variety of church cultures, I realized the variety enriched our worship times together. No one ever spoke of their denominational distinctive, let alone push it on others. Instead, we gladly accepted, even celebrated, the variety of each others’ church backgrounds.

What Will It Take?
North American Christians do church by the “birds of a feather stick together” philosophy. It is so comfortable to be surrounded by people who are exactly like ourselves. This practice, however, not only splits Christ’s Church into many denominations and splinter groups, it also minimizes the stimulus to grow and change.

In Brazil Jo and I benefited from living and working with a wide diversity of God’s people, we now enjoy a similar variety in the little church we attend. But what about the multi-millions of Christians who are clustered together with others just like them in their own denomination and nationality.

Christians are considered outlaws in some countries. Believers who secretly come together for fellowship and encouragement do not concern themselves about national and denominational differences. They are united in their focus on Jesus.

Do you ever wonder if Jesus prayer for His Church,  “. . . that they may be one as we are one. . .” will be answered for North American churches . . . under persecution?

Our Honda and My Wife’s Cancer

About Cars
I received a recall notice for our nine-year-old Honda CRV to replace a defective component on the airbag. Thousands of other Hondas were also recalled. That’s the way vehicles are designed.  If a problem is found in one vehicle, the solution can be applied to it and all the others of the same make, year and model

About People
That’s not the way it works with people. Human beings are not machines, stamped-out cookie-cutter identical. Like snow flakes, we all have the same basic design, and just like snowflakes we are all different, individual and unique. The same goes for our fingerprints and the pattern of the irises in our eyes. The nucleic acid commonly known as DNA is the same design, but each person carries a different version, which makes all multi-billions of us unique individuals.

The Difference
When something goes wrong with some part of our body—whether through age, injury, or disease—it can be replaced, repaired or medicated. But, since we are all unique, how our body accepts that treatment differs between each individual.

A penicillin based anti-biotic will help one individual overcome an infection so quickly it seems like a miracle while that same medication might kill a patient like Jo who is allergic to penicillin.

Some Examples
Jo and I had a Christian friend who lived a wholesome and clean lifestyle. She and her husband ran an organic vegetable and flower greenhouse business. We shared meals with them and can vouch for their healthy food habits. To our astonishment she died of colon cancer when only in her thirties.

We heard of another person who smoked heavily, drank to excess, loved smoked meats and other highly processed foods, yet died in his nineties with not a trace of cancer, never “having been sick a day in his life.”

My dad still fit into the pants of his wedding suit thirty-five years later, while I grew out of my wedding suit within a year. He could eat anything—and lots of it—without gaining weight, as can my younger brother, but I just need to nibble a bite to gain weight. I probably gained a pound just writing this food oriented paragraph!

The Options
Because all human beings have the same basic body design, many medications, procedures, and therapies work well for a significant percentage of the human race. But there are always exceptions. Sometime tens of thousands of them. That is why it is so hard to decide on what kind of cancer treatment Jo should follow.

Tens of thousands of people have had some form of chemotherapy and have gone on to live healthy, cancer free lives—although thousands of others did not. A similar ratio exists for cancer patients who opt for some form of homeopathic medicine, many live, but some do not survive.

Jo and I claim this promise three times a day.

Jo and I claim this promise three times a day.

The Decision
Jo is not a simple, one-size-fits-all, easy-to-fix Honda. She and her bowel cancer are unique, as will be the method of her healing. One thing we can count on, the Creator who made her unique, is also her Saviour and her Healer.

The surgeon who did Jo’s extended right hemicolectomy is convinced she “got it all.” But there is always the chance some cancer cells escaped and, undetectable, are waiting for a chance to multiply again.

On May 17, we have an appointment scheduled at the Cross Cancer Institute. It may be there are no cancer cells left, but in case there are, some sort of cancer killing therapy is indicated. Jo and I are depending on God to guide us into the type of treatment that He would like to use to fully heal her.

The Mother Who Confessed Her Secret After 22 Years

When Kathrine’s baby girl was only a few days old, she did something she told no one about—not her mother, nor her sisters, not even her baby’s father. She kept her action a secret for decades.

Kathrine & Josephine 2They were not easy decades. The family endured poverty—especially in the early years—faced serious illness, and suffered other pressures. When little Theodora was six they moved from southern Saskatchewan to British Columbia’s Okanagan valley to start a new life. When Theodora was twelve years old, both parents were working outside the home and she was responsible to prepare the evening meal for the family.

Although her parents didn’t go to church, her mother encouraged Theodora to attend church. She did and grew up fitting in with the Christian young people who thought she was a Christian too. Then, in her early teens, after hearing a sermon on hypocrisy, she realized she needed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. She gave herself wholeheartedly to God, and grew in faith and the knowledge of the Bible.

After graduating from high school, her plans to enter nurses’ training fell through, and her pastor persuaded her to consider going to Bible school instead. She enrolled, enjoyed her studies and made many life-long friends, graduating with honors after three years.

She was interested in serving God overseas as a missionary and decided to take a short course in Missionary Medicine and Dentistry at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola university). Theodora was just a few weeks short of her 22nd birthday when Kathrine took her to the bus station for the long ride to Los Angeles. It was then that Kathrine finally confessed her secret.

“I have never told you, or anyone else,” she said, “but when you were a baby, only a few days old, I dedicated you to God to be a missionary.”

Kathrine went on to tell her daughter that she had prayed for her every day even before she was born, but didn’t want to risk bringing any pressure on her until God Himself had led her to decide to become a missionary.

“Now that you have graduated from Bible school and are on your way to special missionary training, I thought it was right to tell you.”

The following year Kathrine became my mother-in-law when Josephine Theodora became my wife.

And what a mother-in-law! Kathrine was eighteen years old and pregnant when she began praying for her baby. She prayed for her daughter right through her childhood years, her college training, her marriage, raising her three granddaughters and her ministry as a pastor’s wife, and as a Bible translator.

Jo, her Mom, Jack's Mom

Josephine Theodora, Jo’s Mom Kathrine, Jack’s Mom

Just a few years before the Lord took Kathrine Home to be with Him, she had the privilege of sitting next to her daughter as she distributed the newly published translation of God’s Word in Canela to eager new believers.

Asked about how she felt at that time, Kathrine replied, “It was hard to have my only daughter and her family live so far away for four years at a time. I missed seeing my granddaughters grow up. I longed for them. But when I saw the joy on the faces of those Canela people as they received a Bible, it was worth it. Oh yes, it was worth it!”

Yes, Kathrine was a prayerful, loving mom, mother-in-law, and grandma.

She reminds me of a list I once saw. “Ten Success Rules for Men” I don’t remember the other nine rules, but the first one was, “Marry the right woman.” I would put this one next, “Have a godly mother-in-law.”

Happy Mothers and Mothers-in-Law Day!