Our Triune God Loves His People to Work in Community Just as He Does.

The Story
On Sunday morning, the tinkling of teaspoons in teacups was the signal for me to slip out of bed and join the fun in my parents’ bedroom. Settled between them with a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits in my saucer, I joined them to sip, dip and nibble. After fifteen minutes of joy, my Mom would leave us to make breakfast, and the story would begin.

The stories usually were about a young man going out into the world to “seek his fortune.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but as he walked along the road, he would meet someone who had a special ability. One could swing his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with different special talents, and they would join the group.

Eventually, they would meet a problem, a princess held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

The Impression
Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme, and they made a profound impression on me. I make up similar stories to tell my children and grandchildren. When my wife and I went to Brazil as linguists, teachers, and Bible translators, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” Wycliffe was a good fit for us since the agency values people with a wide variety of skills, but all of whom see themselves as a vital part of every translation team.

Working Together: It's the Right Thing to Do

Working Together: It’s the Right Thing to Do

The Result
As Jo and I lived with the Canela people, God led us to connect with men and women who had a natural gifting in various areas. We helped them develop these talents. One young man became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Others loved teaching people to read. An artist illustrated the translated Scriptures with sketches of Canela life. Several learned to type, and one had the knack of making sentences flow smoothly. At times, a dozen people worked together on various aspects of the translation work.

This way of working together interdependently fitted right in with the Canela culture. Together we accomplished things so massive, difficult and complicated, no single one of us could have achieved them as an individual.

The Contrast
Unfortunately, our North American culture glorifies independence. Our hero is the lone pioneer, conquering the wild west, building a log house for his family with his own hands, and clearing the land with his own axe.

Businesses, and even churches, in North America, spend much time and money teaching people to work together as a team. It doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a cultural bias against the concept. Only in sports like hockey or football do we value the team.

The Trinity
In that respect, Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

This kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of individuals to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies in its people, not in its bosses. The more people grow in a deep appreciation for the variety of contributions from others in the community, the more productive the community becomes.

The Questions
So, is yours a godly (god-like) family? That is, does your family work together, as the Holy Trinity does?

What about your church? Are all the members engaged in ministry, each contributing to the whole with their own talents and abilities?

 

God’s Story about Cheryl: How I Blew it as a Dad

Our youngest daughter, Cheryl, was born with amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye—a condition in children when vision does not develop properly in one eye. When she was two years old, an epidemic of trachoma swept through the Canela village in Brazil where we worked. This is a serious eye disease that, at that time, had blinded six million people worldwide. Most of the Canela and all our family were infected and we worked day and night treating the sufferers with antibiotic ointment.

eye patch CherylWhen we took off Cheryl’s bandages, we saw that our toddler’s lazy eye had turned aside even more. The optometrist prescribed glasses and an eye patch to wear over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. Each year he wrote stronger prescriptions.

After three years of service in Brazil our director ordered us to go on furlough much earlier than planned. “Your financial support continues to be so low,” he said, “you are borrowing money from other missionaries to buy groceries. Go back home and raise adequate support before you return to Brazil.”

When we arrived in Canada the eye specialist said, “It’s a good thing you brought your daughter in to see me today, her prescription is wrong, her lazy eye needs a different treatment. In another month or two it would have been too late. Her lazy eye would have gone completely blind.”

He prescribed different glasses, as well as a patch, and gradually her eye improved so much that by the time she entered college her vision was near normal.

1-20-P1040389When I finished writing this story, I gave it to Cheryl to read and she exclaimed, “You mean if we hadn’t been so under-supported and poor, you would have stayed for nearly another year, and I would have gone blind in one eye? I never knew that. Dad! This happened 45 years ago, why didn’t you tell me earlier!

Yeah, why didn’t I?

Because I failed in one of the most important duties parents have—to tell their children what God has done for them. All through the Old Testament, God commands His people to remember what He did to benefit them and their families and to tell their children, even to write them down.

Just before singing God’s praise for a long list of things that Hes did on earth for His people, the poet urged his listeners to action, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” Psalm 102:18 (NIV).

This incident encouraged me to keep going through my decades of daily journals and find incidents where God answered our prayers, where He protected us, where He arranged amazing co-incidences for our family. I continue to write them up, wanting to leave them as a legacy of God’s actions for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

So, what about you?

How do you remember the God-stories in your family’s life?

How do you pass them on to future generations?

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday

Please excuse last week’s double mail out. Computer problems. It won’t happen again. I hope.

I am publishing this week’s post a few days early to coincide with my birth date, March 19

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday 

It is nice to know that at 75 years old, I have learned pretty well everything. Now if only I could remember any of it . . .

I do remember pondering my age at another occasion. On March 19, 1966 I sat on my bunk at Wycliffe’s jungle survival training base in southern Mexico and wrote the following in my diary: “Jo reminded me after breakfast that today I became 28 years old. Good grief! I’m getting ancient! The life expectancy at birth for men in this area is 33. Only five years to go.”

By the grace of God I lived longer than that. Much longer. Many times, however, my life could have been cut short. I was a passenger in two head-on car collisions that totally wrecked all four cars but from which I emerged with only a few cuts and bruises. I survived three industrial accidents: one a cave-in, one where a car ran over the manhole from which I was emerging, and another involving an unexpected dynamite explosion. A freak accident with a water-loaded 16 foot awning nearly broke my neck. I could have avoided the last one, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking.

So why did God keep me alive? I often wonder about that. He continues to help me make good choices. When the Holy Spirit pointed out my sinfulness and that Jesus would save me if I wanted Him to, God helped me to say Yes! This led directly to giving my whole life over to Him to use in whatever way He thought best. I chose to attend Bible school, where I looked for a life partner who also had dedicated her life to God. God led me to choose Jo and to my great joy, she said, Yes.

After that came raising a family, a wide variety of Christian service experience, missionary training, and nearly 25 years in Brazil as Bible translators for the Canela people. This was followed by a decade of leadership in Wycliffe, and now by a continuing ministry of speaking at events in hundreds of cities around the world, and writing nearly a thousand articles, columns, and stories published on line, in magazines or books.

All this is obviously God’s doing and no credit to me.

I dropped out of high school after repeatedly failing algebra. I was expelled from Bible school for behaviour that was outside of school standards. I failed jungle survival training camp and Wycliffe accepted me into membership only after two years of probation. While Jo got all A’s, my grades were so poor I had to take remedial linguistic courses. For several years, I did not consistently show Jo that I loved her the way I should have. In my forties, after years of severe testing, I lost my faith in God’s power, wisdom and love and was restored only after six months of intensive weekly counseling. Even now, I need to be accountable to another person to keep me living in the way I know I ought to live.

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone's Favorite

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone’s Favorite

So what’s next? The average age at which my parents and grandparents died was just short of 90. So, if I follow in their genetic footsteps, and my guardian angel does not retire, I may still have another 15 years left on this earth. Currently my goals for these final years are to unreservedly love “the wife of my youth,” our wonderful daughters, our incredible grandchildren and all our extended family. This, of course, means being together with them often.

I have been working for years on a more long-term project—writing and organizing a legacy of diaries, memories, stories, photographs, slides and videos. These record not only our family history, but the God-stories—the times when God moved in our families, preserving, guiding, healing, answering prayer, and in many ways showing that He is alive and actively at work.

As long as I am physically and mentally capable, I want to keep on giving story-filled speeches and writing story-based articles. I cannot think of any retirement activity that would be more satisfying than this.

75 = 21+54I do have one question. What are the legal privileges of turning 75? You know, at 16 you can drive, at 17 join the army, at 18 drink alcohol, vote and get married, (hopefully not in that order). At 60, 65 and 70 pensions and RIFFs kick in, but the only thing that happened at 75 is that my travel medical insurance expired. Where’s the benefit in that?

Our Celestial Mechanic

I love to remember and write up family “Godstories” recounting how God helped to get us through difficult times, answered prayer, and in other ways showed He was there. This is such a story. Plus I have a bonus announcement at the end. Enjoy!

Our Celestial Mechanic

“BAM! PRRRRRR!” Now what? I thought.

“What’s that?” my wife asked, looking as worried as I felt. I stopped our severely overloaded 15-year-old Dodge at the side of the road, opened the hood, and asked Jo to step on the gas.

$300, 15-year-old Dodge Polara, before packing it full

PRRRRRR!! Aha! The fan. As the car limped along the shoulder of the road, I explained the problem to Jo, and our daughters Valorie and Leanne whom we were taking back to Biola University.

“The specially fitted bolts that hold the motor tight on the motor mounts on the left side have broken off. Each time I accelerate, the engine revs up and tilts, pushing the fan into the radiator housing.”

We needed help, so we quoted two lines from Psalm 121:1-2 “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” We also reminded God that although He had provided that car for only $300 at the start of our year’s furlough and we had already put 30,000 kilometres on it, we still had over 1,600 kilometres to go, much of it over mountains which would need the engine to run at high revolutions, “So, God, please help us get this fixed.”

At the next town, I stopped in front of a small car repair shop. The mechanic shook his head when he saw the broken bolts. “I’d have to go to a junk yard to find them. I don’t have time to do that. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t have time to do that either. I reviewed the two basic techniques of home and auto repair.

1) If it’s stuck, use WD 40 to loosen it.

2) If it’s loose, use duct tape to hold it.

Hmm, not duct tape, but what about a piece of chain? Aha! Plan B.

Right across the street was a small hardware store. After spending ten minutes and three dollars, I slipped the end link of a three-foot long chain onto a large bolt holding a bracket at the top of the engine, tightening it with a borrowed wrench. I looped the rest of the chain around the frame below the motor mount, then tightening a bolt through the links to increase the tension on the chain.

Jo started the engine and revved it up. No movement. No rattle. No problem.

When I returned the wrench, the mechanic came out to have a look. He saw the piece of shiny chain securely holding the engine in place, shook his head again and mumbled, “Hmm, I learned something.”

So did we. My family and I learned, again, that we can turn to God to help us solve problems, even automotive ones. We thanked Him for giving me the chain idea and for having us stop exactly there – a hardware store right across the street from a mechanic who loaned me his wrench.

We drove on to Los Angeles and delivered our girls to Biola. We then drove 4,000 kilometres across the continent visiting friends in Dallas, arriving in Miami to catch our flight back to Brazil. A week later a missionary friend from Brazil going on a mini-furlough drove that same Dodge from Miami to Dallas and back to Los Angeles, returning it to Valorie and Leanne who drove it all during the school year.

No rattling fan.

When God works with us to solve a problem, it stays solved.

Now for the bonus:

A Tickle in the Funny Bone – Ebook

I just published my first ebook! It is called A Tickle in the Funny Bone and is a collection of many of the funny blog posts of the past few years. It has all the April Fool’s ones including the often comical responses from readers who had been caught. Check it out on this site https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/258000  and follow the directions to set up an account with Smashwords and then buy and download it in any format you need so you can read it on your computer, or your phone, or ereader, or Kindle, or whatever you have.

There is even an option to buy it for a friend for Christmas—a lot of laughs for only $3.99.

Homo Narrans, Story-Telling Man

As I sorted through some papers, I came upon a thank you card from a group that had invited me to speak five times at a retreat last year. I remembered that I had done much research reading to present 15 major themes.

“Thank you,” the card said, “for all your stories that will help us grow.”

Hmm, not a word about any of the 15 themes I had worked so hard to develop and present. I remembered telling a couple of personal experience anecdotes to illustrate each theme.

Jack the Story Teller with his Indonesian interpreters

We love stories. Our lives are full of them. We enjoy telling them, and listening to other people spin yarns, often responding with a similar tale from our own experience. It is through listening to their personal stories that we get to know other people. It is through remembering and telling our stories we gain a deeper understanding into ourselves.

We human beings are called homo sapiens, “Thinking Man,” to set us apart from other species. It is not our opposable thumb that makes us different from animals, all the great apes have them, nor the ability to remember, elephants do that, or the ability to communicate information through sound waves, dolphins and whales do that too.

We, on the other hand, live through complex experiences, we think about them and then  we share these experiences with others. We tell them our stories. People are story generators, we live stories and we listen to stories and we tell stories. Some authors and poets argue that home sapiens could more properly be called homo narrans, Story-Telling Man.

We can even make up stories that haven’t happened and tell them to entertain, to inspire, and to teach. We day dream, imagine, and envision things and situations that don’t exist and work to turn them into reality. Others are inspired when they hear our story.

A Yiddish question: “Why did God create people?” Answer: “Because He loves stories.” God made us in His image. Just as He loves stories, so we love them. Jesus told parables throughout His teaching ministry. Prophets told stories to warn people away from sin, or like Jonah, lived their stories. The whole Bible is a vast collection of interrelated narratives, making a complete story of God and his relationship to mankind.

We often tell the story of our conversion. We testify how God drew us to Himself, led us to repent, and filled us with new life. We call these stories testimonies. Testimonies have the power to defeat Satan. Revelation 12:11 tells the future story of the final fall of Satan and judgement on him. The passage describes the martyrs who defeated him,

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

The power to overcome Satan lay in two things, the fact that Jesus died to pay the penalty of sin, and the fact that the martyrs told the story of how Jesus had saved them from sin. Isn’t it significant that the sacrificial death of God’s Son is mentioned in the same sentence as people telling the story of what this sacrifice meant to them? When we tell others the stories of what God has done for us, we defeat Satan.

Wow! Talk about powerful!

So, how about it? Beyond your conversion story, do any of you have a list of God stories you tell? Stories of what God has done for you, your family, and your situation?

Tell me about them.

 

From Tiny Seed to Huge Tree

Remember Jesus illustrating the growth of God’s Kingdom as a tiny mustard seed growing into a tree?
If Jesus had been walking about northern California instead of northern Palestine, He would surely have held a seed the size and shape of an oatmeal flake in the palm of one hand, and with the other indicate a thirty storey-tall sequoia redwood tree.
What is less impressive than a flake of oatmeal and more impressive than a giant sequoia? Yet it accurately describes the growth of God’s Kingdom. I know. I have seen it up close and personal.

 

 

This summer’s family vacation visiting the Big Trees

What is less impressive than the words, “John, would you like to go to a free concert?” and more impressive than the result of that simple invitation? Here’s my story.
Although I grew up in a religious home in the Netherlands, I had no assurance that my sins were forgiven and I had no peace with God. Three years after our family emigrated to Canada, my dad was working as a construction labourer, and a co-worker asked him if he would like to attend a free concert. My dad accepted the invitation and our whole family attended what turned out to be an evangelistic crusade led by the Janz Quartet. The singing was excellent and we came every night that week.
On the last day of the crusade, I admitted to God that I was a sinner and accepted His forgiveness because Jesus died in my place. I became a child of God in a new way and enjoyed a deep peace and joy within. I was just completing grade nine. A few months later I led my younger sister to faith in Jesus Christ.
Later that summer I spoke about prayer and God with my cousins whose family had also emigrated to Canada. Their family was not religious at all.
After our family moved to a different city, I began attending a church where the Good News about Jesus was taught clearly. Eventually the rest of my family attended too and soon my younger brother and my youngest sisters as well as my dad and mom came to a living, vibrant faith in Christ. My parents in turn led my aunt and uncle to faith in Jesus. My cousins too turned took Christ as their Saviour.
Later on during a visit to the Netherlands, my parents led a brother and a sister to Christ. I was active in church, went to Bible school and eventually two of my sisters, my brother and my cousin studied in Bible school as well.
Scores of people have been led to faith in Christ by members of our extended family. A number of us are in full-time Christian ministry, many others are heavily involved part time. My wife and I pastored a church for three years before we became missionaries and translated the Bible for a whole people group in Brazil. Dozens of Canela people turned to God and were adopted by Him into His family. I continue to write books promoting cross-cultural missions and speak frequently at Bible translation recruiting and fundraising meetings. Our extended family has influenced thousands of people towards the Kingdom of God.

All this began because one pick and shovel man invited another to a concert.


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