Needed: Spinners of Goat Hair

One of my favourite Bible verses is Exodus 35:26, “All the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair.”

Any pastor, church leader or director of a Christian organization will immediately agree that this verse crystallizes a basic Christian theme.

Hundreds of passages in Exodus give detailed instructions on constructing the tabernacle—that great God-tent the Israelites erected in the wilderness well over 3,000 years ago—most of which refer to God-given skill and personal willingness to serve. Those goat hair spinning women were both “willing and had the skill”. That is a key combination. There is nothing quite so useless as a person who is willing but has no skills, unless it is a skilled person who is not willing to work.

It is God who gives people talents, abilities and skills and those who receive them become proficient in them with constant practice. God wants the equipped people to volunteer their expertise to serve in His work.

I have been looking for and working with skilled volunteers for forty-nine years while active in these ministries: Innisfail Baptist Church, Bible translation in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada, Wycliffe Caribbean, Wycliffe Associates, and Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.

All Christian churches and organizations run on volunteers. Sure, some have a few paid staff to function as leaders and organizers, but the on-the-ground work is done by skilled volunteers who are willing to get to work.

So, how do you get skilled people involved in a project? The same way that Moses did. He described the great God-tent in heaven he had seen in his mountain top vision. He drummed up excitement among the people to be involved in building a model on earth.

The job of leaders is to cast a great vision, to demonstrate the excitement and satisfaction of those who are already involved and to challenge them to work at something so great it is worth the cost of time, effort, danger, and hard work.

Leaders also need to look for people who have the skills and abilities the project or the organization needs. They need to specify, in detail, what kind of skills are needed, what kind of work needs to be done. Exodus is incredibly detailed!

Then from among those who are skilled leaders need to find people who are willing to volunteer. How do you do that? Simple. Ask them.

Surveyors asked volunteers in a Christian organization. “What moved you to volunteer?” Most of them responded, “Because somebody asked me to get involved.” Then they asked some potential volunteers, “Why did you not get involved?” The response, “Because I wasn’t asked.”

It may not be spinning goat hair, but we all have some skills, talents or abilities with which we can serve God. We need to be willing to use them, not to erect a God-tent in the wilderness, but to build the Kingdom of God in the world.

And leaders, you need to seek out skilled people, knock on their door, and ask. You will find, you will have doors opened and you will receive. Jesus said so.

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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Lend Me Your Ears

“Brother-in-law, can I borrow your axe?”

“Of course you can. Here it is.”

My wife and I came prepared to be generous to our friends and relatives-by-adoption in the Canela village of Brazil. One day I loaned my only axe to my brother-in-law next door. He happily left to cut down trees to clear his field. He had not yet brought the axe back when, a few week later, we needed to return to the city for a workshop, but we trusted him to look after the it.

Six weeks later when we returned to the village I saw my brother-in-law and reminded him about the axe. “I will need it tomorrow,” I said, “Can you bring it back tonight?”

“What?!” he was astonished. “You still remember that axe? After all these months, you still want it back?” That’s when I learned that among the Canelas time erases all negative things: hurt feelings, disagreements, or family quarrels. All the bad feelings are deleted simply by letting time go by. And apparently, that included the borrowing of axes too.

Our culture is so different: When we loan something to a friend, we expect to get it back without having to ask for it. And the item should be in the same, or better, condition as it was when we loaned it.

That’s how our culture operates. Well, with one major exception. We sometimes ask someone to lend us their ears, referring to Mark Anthony’s oration at Julius Caesar’s funeral, which began, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, William Shakespeare.)

Mark Anthony wanted his audience to give him their ears, their attention, for a little while. But he had no intention of returning them unchanged. His goal was to transform their thinking, impact their minds, and influence their behaviour.

Every communicator, from musician and artist to speaker and writer, has that same goal. Yes, I too, want to reach through your eyes and ears into your mind and heart. My goal is to modify your thought and actions, hopefully for the better. I try to reach your mind by presenting information, facts and logic. But I also try to reach your heart, your emotions. We tend to change our minds because of our feelings, our emotions, but then confirm the change with reasoning and logic.

Effective speakers and writers don’t just present ideas from their minds to the minds of their audience and readers, they let all their thoughts and words go through their hearts, their own emotions first and then into the hearts of the hearers and readers.

So where’s the emotion part of this column?

The Canela culture has a “time erases everything bad” philosophy. But with God, who lives in eternity, time erases nothing. The passage of time does not delete our sins against God. Instead, Jesus died and shed His blood in order to erase sin against God. Not the flow of time, but the flow of blood, the lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.

The Canelas now know the truth. They have had the Word of God in their language for twenty years. They now know that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”

But what about the thousands of people groups who are still locked in their cultural errors? Who still don’t know about Jesus and His voluntary sacrifice to pay for their sins?

That grabs my emotions. It makes me want to do something. What about you?

Jesus and the Flight Attendant

“Josh! Share your toys!”

“Ashley! Don’t grab all the cookies for yourself!”

Why do parents have to hassle their children like that? Because babies are born selfish, and it takes years of parental examples of selflessness, and lots of reminding, to get them to stop thinking only of themselves, and learn to empathize with the needs of others. It doesn’t come naturally.

I sometimes wonder what little kids think when they hear a flight attendant tell their mommy to be selfish. You’ve heard them. After the seat belt demonstration come the instructions for the oxygen mask. “If you are traveling with a small child, put on your own mask first, only then put the mask on your child.”

How rude and selfish! How unloving! What a terrible example to the little kid!

No, not really! When mommy makes sure she stays conscious herself she is acting in practical love to her poor, gasping little daughter beside her. It’s a basic principle of life. We must look after our own basic needs first, only then can we meet the needs of others.
Jesus, like the flight attendant, taught the same thing.

“Love God . . . and love your neighbour as you love yourself” was the preface to Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the naked, bleeding victim of a vicious mugging. He not only had compassion, he had wine and oil and cloth for bandages to treat the sufferer’s wounds. He had extra clothing for the victim to wear, and a donkey for him to sit on. And when they got to the inn, he had money to pay the innkeeper for food and rent. (Luke 10:25-37)

Before he started his journey, the Good Samaritan had made sure he had everything he needed for his journey. He was also ready to share what he had to meet the needs of others. He got ready to act in love to others by loving himself first.

The Bible teaches clearly that our human instinct to love ourselves and take care of our own needs is normal and natural. Yes, this natural instinct can be perverted just as other instincts can be, but unless we love ourselves enough to care for our own basic needs, we won’t be able to love others in any practical way.

Our world abounds in opportunities to show love to others. Newscasts are litanies of evil that decent people need to fight against: corruption in politics, destruction of marriages, unethical practices in business, and the heartless murder of the not-yet-born, etc. We hear of enormous physical and spiritual needs on mission fields around the world.

But what if we neglect our own physical, mental, and spiritual health? What if we don’t take care of our family and business responsibilities? What if we have only a cursory relationship with God? How can we possibly make an impact for good on these world needs?

We would be like a mommy who disobeys the flight attendant’s orders and tries to help her little girl first, but both end up slumped unconscious in their seats.