Eliminate Distraction, No Matter What the Cost

The Story
I was happily driving along a straight, smooth freeway with only light traffic. My car was on cruise, and I was listening to some smooth jazz on an FM station when I felt myself getting irritated. What was wrong? My train of thought was positive and still on its tracks. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. No change in traffic, weather or road conditions. Suddenly it hit me. My jazz station was fading out, and a hissing static was distracting me from enjoying the music.

The Training
“Eliminate Distraction” is the first commandment of all communication. During my training to become a professional speaker, this was pounded into us every day.
— Don’t detract from your message.
— Wear appropriate clothing.
— Never let on that you are nervous, even if you are.
— Don’t go off on interesting side tracks.
— People will be distracted by these things, and they will miss your message.

Author C.S. Lewis taught the same lesson, using the metaphor of a shepherd leading sheep along a road. He told authors to close all the gates along the path, or the sheep will go through the open gate and wander in a field. No distracting ideas allowed. Stay focused on the message.

My wife, Jo, and I were taught the same thing in our cultural anthropology studies before we started living and working with the Canela people of Brazil.

The Message
Before we could even speak a word of their language, we wanted to get this message across. “We are followers of God whose Spirit lives in us and helps us to live daily showing: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness,’ (Gal. 5:22).”

We prayed, and really tried, to live in such a way that they would see that Jo and I loved each other and the Canelas. We hoped they would see that we tended to be more joyful and happy than they were, that we were calm and peaceful even under difficult circumstances, and that we were (usually) patient with them. If only they could sense that we were kind, good people on which they could depend.

The Potential Distraction
Insofar that our positive attitudes and contented lives were evident to them, we did not want them to attribute this to our living an easy lifestyle, with all sorts of luxuries that no one else in the village had. We didn’t want them to be distracted by our being white foreigners and hence very rich, crediting those as reasons for our happy lives.

The Action
We, therefore, lived in the same kind of dried mud walls and palm thatch-roofed house like everyone else in the village. We cooked over a wood fire, we dressed the same way as the Canelas, although Jo wore a blouse. We ate their food, spoke their language, sang their songs, and joined in their festivities and ceremonies.

Our girls spent the summer  school vacation with us in the village. Sewing at the dining room table with Mom.

Our girls spent the summer school vacation with us in the village. Sewing at the dining room table with Mom.

We could have used a propane refrigerator but did without this convenience. We laid a piece of foam on plank and pole bed. A couple of hammocks were our living room furniture. We didn’t get a propane burner hot plate until some Canelas families got one—fifteen years later. We suffered the same kinds of diarrhea, eye infections, and insect bites they had, but we were noticeably different in our attitudes and other aspects of our lifestyle.

The Result
In the subsequent years, as the Canelas got to know us, and heard us talking about “the Great Father in the Sky” who loved us, and them, they began to realize that He was the reason for our happy lives. There was no distraction. Then, when they read about Jesus and His Spirit filling His followers to totally change their lives, they were ready to follow Him too.

The Message was transmitted without irritating static interference. It was received, understood and the Canelas responded positively. Thank You, Lord!

And all that “doing without?” It was worth it all.

Recommendations to be Generous from Three Utterly Different Sources

Canela Culture Recommends Generosity
When we arrived among the Canela people of Brazil fifty years ago, we were struck by how generous they were. A hunter lucky enough to kill a deer, shared the meat among many relatives; and young men worked together for days building a palm thatch house for a recently married relative.

Practicing Generosity by Distributing Meat. Essential for Refrigerator-less Societies.

Practicing Generosity by Distributing Meat. Essential for Refrigerator-less Societies.

We learned eventually that the Canelas had a complicated, but effective system of credit and debit in their heads. Those who received meat had probably paid it forward weeks before in the form of manioc roots. Generosity was valued in the village because only by freely sharing could they thrive in a hunting and gathering culture.

When the Canelas adopted us into their families and society, they expected us to be generous as well. And we were. We couldn’t share our personal work equipment but did give away a nearly endless supply of matches, sewing needles, and thread, fish hooks and line, etc. We certainly didn’t want them to call us “stingy”—the greatest insult one Canela could heap on another, even worse than calling him “lazy” or “good-for-nothing.”

We were not surprised, therefore, that the villagers fully agreed with the teachings about generosity in the Bible we were translating with them. When they read, Proverbs 11:25, “A generous person will prosper, whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” they nodded their heads and said, “That’s right. That’s the way it is.”

They changed their minds about what God is like when they read James 1:5. “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you, for He is generous and always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask Him; He will not resent it.”

“Wow,” they said looking at each other in surprise, “So, God is generous, even more generous than we are because sometimes we do resent people who ask us for something.”

God being generous corrected a false idea in their mythology about the One Who created them. “He abandoned us,” they told us, “He went up into the sky and doesn’t think about us anymore. No use asking Him for anything. He either doesn’t listen, or He is stingy.”

Science Recommends Generosity
I like to read about modern scientific studies presenting “new” concepts that have been practiced by indigenous people for generations and have been written in the Bible for thousands of years. A series of interesting studies were done on generosity which amazed the researchers, but which should be no surprise to Canelas or Christians. Here’s what they found:

  1. Being generous makes us healthy. It lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression, improves chronic pain management, and lowers the risk of dementia.
  2. Being generous makes us happy. Giving to others triggers endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals.
  3. Being generous lowers our stress. Being stingy can actually raise our stress levels. Being generous kept stress down.
  4. Being generous improves our relationships. This is especially true in a family and marriage. When partners were generous towards their spouses, they felt far more satisfied in their marriage.
  5. Being generous extends our healthy lives. People who were generous with their time and energy and volunteered had a 63% lower rate of mortality than those who didn’t volunteer.

Jesus Recommends Generosity
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35.
“Give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Deut. 15:10.
Remember Cornelius, the Roman centurion from the story in Acts 10? We probably remember him and his family described as being devout, God-fearing, and praying to God regularly. What we tend to miss is that “he gave generously to those in need.”

A Recommendation to Our Affluent Society
Statistics show that as people become more wealthy, they tend to give a smaller percentage to church and charity. Our affluent North American society may be missing out on some good things and could learn something about the personal benefits of generosity from the Canelas, from science, and from the Bible.


On Being Real

Many of us grew up singing “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” a popular testimony hymn, composed by Percy Crawford eighty years ago.

Now that I’m older, I think, Oh, really?

People’s lives are filled with emotional ups and downs, including the lives of Christians. Yes, there are sweet days, but there are also bitter days—those that are filled with deep heart-rending grief, or boiling over with frustration and anger, and days of freezing fears and doubts. Bible believing, Jesus following Christians are not exempt.

Yes, but
Now it is true, that when a Christian suffers loss, pain, grief, frustration, fears or doubts, he does have the choice of turning to Jesus who has promised to go through every experience of life with him. In that sense, every day with Jesus can be made sweet, even joyous, or at least less bitter. But let’s not say that we Christians can go through our whole lives with a smile on our faces and a consistent stream of happy words coming from our mouths. We cannot. Not if we are honest. Not if we are real.

Faking it
I talked with a missions minded brother some time ago who told me he has gone to numerous conferences and had heard scores of speeches by leaders of Christian organizations. “They make serving God sound so wonderful,” he said, “but, in my opinion, only a few were honest and real, the rest were faking it, and they turned me off.”

I have spoken at hundreds of Wycliffe promotional banquets during which I tell the story of how God used my wife and me to learn the Canela language and translate the Bible into it. I do not omit stories of the hardships and frustrations we suffered—once even to the point of severe depression and turning my back on God. It took six months of weekly counseling on furlough to get me back on track.

Depression cropNearly every time I tell that story someone will come to me afterward, shake my hand and say, “You told about your deep discouragement, and being so frustrated with God you turned your back on Him. Thank you for not leaving out that part of the story. I too have felt that way. You encouraged me.”

Everyone knows that not every day is sweet. This world is full of trouble, especially for Christians who are passionate about living out our faith by opposing injustices and unfairness around us. We sense bitter sadness and helpless frustration in other believers, and within ourselves. We see anger and resentment, yes, even among Christians. We should not be surprised. Jesus himself promised that in this world we would have trouble.

Jesus Alongside
Although trouble in itself is not sweet; when Jesus helps us overcome the trouble we do sense a sweet satisfaction. Jesus also assured us that He overcame this world with all its trouble. He can help us to endure. We can choose to go through the trouble with Him by our side as we endure pain or illness, or opposition when we stand up for what is right.

Because of what the lyrics imply I still don’t like singing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” but I have experienced Jesus making bitter days sweeter, eventually.

In the meantime, I’m for telling it like it is.

Didn’t See That Coming!

The Crash
I was peacefully driving along a major city street in Edmonton a few years ago when a large Mercedes SUV suddenly accelerated from a cross street and smashed into the passenger side of my car.

Whoa! I didn’t see that coming! I thought as I got out of my wrecked car. “Good thing your wife wasn’t sitting there,” the police inspector said later. “She would have been seriously injured.”

It was a classic case of getting T-boned. It was also completely unexpected. Not my fault, and yet destroying my car and throwing me headlong into the onerous, time-consuming task of dealing with police, insurance, and multiple used car salesmen.

We all can tell similar stories—sick babies, broken washer, power outage, losing a job—totally unexpected, not our fault, yet deeply affecting us and throwing our lives into turmoil.

God’s Purposes
I can think of only one Person who has never said, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming.” Nor will He ever say it, because He is in complete control. He has the whole, wide world in His hands. He knows “The end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” He says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 46:10 (NIV).

We, who love and follow Him, know Who holds tomorrow and we know Who holds our hand. The One who loves us enough to die for us, is still in control. We can trust Him. He orchestrates events and permits problems in our lives for purposes that go beyond this earthly life.

God, our Father, wants us all to become more like His Son. (Rom 8:29) As cross-cultural missionaries my wife and I were taught that as Jesus suffered to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, so must we be prepared to suffer to extend His Kingdom throughout the whole earth. (Col. 1:24). Christians of many nationalities and races have suffered through discrimination and persecution for centuries. Christians continue to be the most persecuted group on earth, even today.

Going Downhill
The way Christianity and biblical principles are being attacked even in places with a solid Christian history and tradition like North America, I wonder how long it will be before God permits full-blown persecution right here where we live?

It is already starting with the attacks against private schools, most of which are faith based. Here are some things we can expect the current trend of anti-Christian legislation to achieve:

  • Private schools shut down.
  • Children who did not graduate from the public-school system forbidden to enter universities.
  • Graduates from Christian universities not allowed to practice their professions.
  • Churches pay property taxes.
  • No more “tax deductible receipts” for donors to churches, missions or other Christian organizations.
  • Income tax levied on funds received in the Sunday offering.
  • What is now merely “not politically correct”, eventually will be against the law.
  • Government monitors in church services to check that the preachers do not break the law.
  • Churches going bankrupt, their buildings sold or confiscated.
  • Church leaders that refuse to have their sermon content controlled by government inspectors jailed.
  • Businesses owned by Christians forced to close, and Christian medical personnel, police, lawyers, teachers, etc., lose their jobs because they cannot in good conscience do what the anti-Christian laws require them to do.

HandcuffsThis is not fantasy horror. It happened to thousands of churches and millions of believers in China, Russia, Cuba and in other countries. Some of these things are happening elsewhere; they can happen here.

Our Attitude
What can also happen is that God will again give “beauty for ashes” (Isa 61:3) by refining His Church as He did in these countries. As true believers come together in homes, to biblically encourage and edify each other, God’s Kingdom will grow stronger here and will increase, not despite persecution, but because of it. It’s happened before. That’s not a bad outcome. But that’s not saying we should welcome injustice, lies and anti-Christian legislation with open arms!

It may be that God will allow massive persecution to come on His people in North America. But, right now, He still holds us accountable to pray for all those in authority and for justice and truth to prevail.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” 1 Tim. 2:1-3 (NIV).

In these threatening days, God has given us, His people, power, influence, voice, and a vote, and He expects us to use them. Some Christians are like Esther who hesitated to use her position of influence to avert a threat to God’s people, but God’s message to her was, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NIV). This is not a time to passively wait to see what will happen but to actively stand for truth and justice.

Fear Not
We don’t need to be afraid of the future. Whatever happens in the end, God will never have to say, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” God is still in control. Jesus’ promise is still in effect, “In me you will have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but cheer up, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV).