Our Life Theme Scripture

When Jo and I got married over 50 years ago, the popular thing among Christians was to choose a “Life Verse,” a few lines from some Bible passage to use as a theme for the rest of life together. I can’t remember, but we probably prayed about it and then, in our youthful idealism, picked one that appealed to us.

We chose a verse from a totally inappropriate chapter of 2nd Corinthians. Chapter 9 is the key chapter in all of Paul’s writings dealing with sharing material goods and urging generosity in giving. Since we were both continually dead broke, the chapter did not fit us at all. Except for one little couplet in verse 6 that Paul pulled in from the generally known law of agriculture.

“Remember: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

We picked that verse and applied it to ourselves. Our focus was not on giving money but on doing and working since we had our whole married life ahead of us. We committed ourselves to work for God and His Kingdom not by carefully metering out our service, but going full blast, grabbing every opportunity, and thus sowing our service generously and bountifully.

We started immediately. Within months of our wedding we had quit our jobs and were working in camp as counsellors, then we ran daily vacation Bible schools in several churches, and preached in others. We checked out various missions agencies but each one insisted on applicants having pastoral or other major experience in Christian service.

So that fall we took on the job of pastoring a small-town church. In those days the pastor and his wife did everything, from visiting parishioners, to organizing programs, to preaching two sermons a week. The church was in a building program and the pastor’s salary was minimal. To make ends meet I drove a school bus daily, and taxi and ambulance occasionally. For a while, I sold books door to door. I was the Youth for Christ director for a nearby city, and served on the board of our alma mater Bible school.

A year later we took an unpaid leave of absence for two months to study linguistics in the University of Washington in Seattle in preparation for becoming Bible translators with Wycliffe. Eventually, after more training, we traveled to Brazil with two toddlers and a baby, to start a lifestyle of bountiful sowing that made those early years of married life look pretty laid back.

Learning from the Canelas and Teaching Them

Today, five decades later, we are living proof of the truth of that verse. We sowed generously and we are reaping generously. A church among the Canela where there was none. A 750 page partial Bible translated into their language. A strong, ongoing educational program in the village. Nine years of top Wycliffe leadership positions. Speaking scores of times a year for the past two decades, writing blogs and authoring books continually for the past ten years. Three daughters and their families including eight grandchildren, all committed to loving Jesus and making their lives count for God and His Kingdom.

Yes, we are reaping generously. And it’s not over yet! God is good!

PS. Today (Thursday) we are leaving George Town, Cayman, after 6 days of ministry, 5 major speaking events, 4 one-on-one meetings, 3 working lunches/dinners, 2 workshops/seminars, and 1 hour-long radio talk show interview. Tomorrow I help run the two-day Inscribe Conference. By the way, next week I’ll post the “rest of the story” about the night Bible class.

Three Steps to Being a Hero to Your Kids This Fathers Day

Engine roaring, our one-ton truck jarred, shook and rocked as it laboured up the steep rocky river bank. The screaming and pounding on the cab roof started as we finally neared the top. “Daddy! Daddy! Stop! Blackie fell off!”

My wife, clinging to her seat beside me, glanced at me but wisely said nothing. It was the afternoon on the third day of difficult travel from our home on the mission centre in Belem, to the Canela village in Brazil. Jo knew I was nearing the end of my ability to cope.

Sand, water, jungle, rocks, whatever it takes. (Note little blond head above cab)

I kept going, accelerating through a stretch of deep sand on the trail at the top of the bank. If we slowed down there we would get bogged down and never start again. After 100 metres, we reached a piece of solid ground and I stopped. As I slid out of the cab and walked back along the heavily loaded cargo, 10-year-old Valorie leaned down from her perch on the cargo and explained, “Blackie fell off just after we crossed the river. Leanne let go of him when she had to use both hands to hang on.” Wide-eyed youngest daughter Cheryl nodded, saying, “It wasn’t her fault.” Leanne, at the very back was hunched over, crying.

I slogged back through the scorching sand, scrambled down the rocky slope, and saw Blackie near the bottom, lying limply on the sharp rocks. I picked up the much worn, black stuffed toy dog and clambered back up the slope. When I tossed the toy up to Leanne, she smiled through her tears and said, “I didn’t think you would stop.”

That night, I kissed our girls goodnight as they snuggled into their beds in our mud-walled, palm thatch house. Leanne, holding Blackie with one arm, hugged me tightly around the neck with the other. “I thought I had lost Blackie forever. But then you stopped and walked all the way back to get him. You are the best daddy in the world!”

So what had I done to become “the best daddy in the world”? Spent money? Not a dime. Spent time? A ten-minute walk which is nothing in a three-day trip. Spent time in profound thought and planning? Naw, not a bit. Exercised my sensitivity? Well, maybe a little.

It was, after all, hard to ignore three daughters pounding their fists on the roof of a truck cab, just inches above my head, and screaming, Daddy! Daddy! And then, when I got down and saw a tearstained face and shoulders racking with sobs, even a relatively insensitive lout like me would tend to perceive there might be something going on that needed attention. I listened as Valorie explained the problem. Aha! A problem! I’m a problem solver, so this was right down my alley. And so I became, in the opinion of one 8-year-old girl, “The Best Daddy in the World.”

In summary: 1) I noticed something needed attention. 2) I listened as the problem was explained. 3) I used my gifts and abilities to solve the problem and meet the need.

If you are thinking, Hmm, I’m going to follow this simple three-step program, so that on this Father’s day I will be my kid’s hero, here is some advice. In this Blackie incident, I didn’t need my wife’s help to sense something needed my attention but usually I need to ask her to help focus my attention on what is needed. I sometimes need her to explain the problem. And when I am really dense she needs to suggest what I could do about it. You may want to do the same. Then you act, using your best abilities and gifting, and Tadaa! You become a hero.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a deep and lasting impression on a young daughter or son. May our heavenly Father help us earthly fathers to make positive impressions, maybe even heroic impressions, on our children.

Lessons from a Coffee Drinker

Brazilians know how to drink coffee: North Americans don’t. Having drunk coffee regularly with Brazilians for nearly 25 years, I always suspected they did it the right way. Now there is scientific proof.

Dr. James Wyatt at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago determined that if you drink just a few ounces of coffee every hour throughout the day, instead of a large amount first thing in the morning, it will keep you alert all day long.

That is, of course, exactly how Brazilians drink their cafezinho: a small two-ounce cup, filled with strong espresso coffee and plenty of sugar. In cities you are never more than a minute’s walk from a stand or shop where you can get your hourly dose. Every visitor to a business or government office is handed a cafezinho the moment the visit starts. Steady little shots of caffeine all day long. In contrast, we 110 million North American coffee drinkers start our day with an extra large Tim Horton’s or Starbucks to get our morning jolt. Now Dr Wyatt tells us we’re doing it all wrong.

We do like to go for the Big Event, don’t we? And not just in coffee drinking either. We tend to go for the strong focus, the major push, and the all out effort, but avoid the slow, steady, daily, drip, drip, drip of continued action. We are event oriented, not process focused.

Many would-be authors get hugely inspired at a writers’ conference and start writing a book, but then after a while — seven chapters in my case — the sheer dailyness of it all dries up the inspiration and the book goes into the bottom drawer for good.

Think of how much time, effort, planning and expense people put into their wedding. But what about their marriage? I have met couples who desperately needing to learn about marriage who refuse to buy and read a good marriage book because, “It’s too expensive, and besides we don’t have time to read.”

Exercise clubs and spas flourish because they know people will buy a membership, start a program full of good intentions, but after a few weeks drop out.

I know Christians who spend hours in church on Sunday, getting their full 16 ounces of worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship, but never open their Bibles the rest of the week.

There is nothing wrong with a major kick-off event. I remember giving my life to God to be a missionary. It was a major emotional and spiritual event in my life. But that was followed by nearly fifty years of thousands of little, daily decisions — small acts of obedience in the same direction.

This required daily re-commitment, scheduling, planning and discipline. You know, the sort of things few of us can do without help from other people. We need encouragement, practical help, and someone to whom we are accountable.

Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship is where I got the help to restart my first book and keep writing every day. My third book has just been published. I could not have done it without the encouragement of other Inscribe writers.

And, of course, my hourly dose of coffee. Time for one right now.

This post is my contribution to the ‘Inscribe Summer Blog Tour’. For more about the tour, a blogging schedule, or to find out how to join Inscribe, go to the above blog tour link. If you leave a comment, you will also be eligible for some great prizes!

Readers who receive my posts by email: Please comment by emailing me. jack_popjes@wycliffe.ca