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.

The Unwelcome Request

One evening as Jo and I sipped our soup under a star laden, dry season Brazilian sky, we heard the sound of approaching footsteps and excited voices.

Uh oh, I thought, now what? A medical emergency? A group of Canelas hurrying to our house at night usually was not good news.

The footsteps stopped behind our chairs and the voices fell silent. Then a young man said,

“Prejaka, we’re here.”

“Yes, you are here. Why did you come?”

“We want to ask you something.”

“Okay, come and stand in front of us, so we can see each other.”

I was surprised to see a group of about 15 young men, all carrying papers.

“We want you to teach us the book of Our Great Father in the Sky.”

Others chimed in, “Please teach us in the evening, after we come in from working in the fields.”

Oh no! This we did not need!

Canela Translation Checkers

We were already over the top busy, in the middle of a seven-year—no furlough—sprint to the finish line. We hoped to complete the Bible translation program in the Canela language in another four years. We were working flat out during a three-month work session in the village.

Each day Jo checked my translation for exegetical errors until late afternoon when she taught women to read and in the evening taught two more literacy classes. I worked with Jaco and other helpers to expand the dictionary and do first and second draft translation. I dealt with medical emergencies, and after supper prepared for the next day’s translation project.

We were always up by sunrise at 6 AM, and started working almost immediately until 10 PM. At noon we had an hour or so to eat and rest, and at 7 PM we sat outside in the dark, in the cool of the evening to relax and eat some soup and crackers before starting the evening’s work.

And now this. We needed time to think. Sensing our hesitation the young leader said,

“We all know how to read, and we have some book-of-God papers.”

I got up and in the light of my flashlight identified the papers as discarded first drafts they had salvaged from the garbage. Some had bits of Luke, others a few Psalms, and some had a few chapters of Acts.

“Okay, come back tomorrow night, at this same time and I’ll tell you what we’ll do.”

Jo and I talked together about this extra load of work. Obviously in order to have a Bible class all the students would need to have the same book. That meant copying a couple of dozen copies of one book, probably Luke, when we returned to the mission centre in Belem. We could do the night class the following work session. But it would mean a lot of extra work, possibly fewer hours of sleep. We both sighed.

Then into our minds popped our “Life Verse”—the theme we had committed ourselves to in the first months of our marriage. 2 Corinthians 9:6. “Remember: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Okay, God, with you helping us, we’ll do it, we’ll “sow generously.”

When the young men returned the next night, the group had grown to 20. When I told them we would start Bible classes in the evening when we returned for the next session, their faces broke into broad grins.

“To get ready to study you will need to read really well, both quietly to yourself and out loud. So practice reading to each other. Also practice writing so you can write quickly and readably. Before you are allowed into the class you will need to pass these tests.”

Grinning broadly they surrounded my wife and me, shaking our hands and thanking us. “I’ll practice, I’ll pass the test,” each one promised as they left.

Jo and I looked at each other, I took a deep breath, let it out and said,

“Well, we’re in for it now. Sowing generously into the lives of these people. May God grant generous reaping some day.”

To Be Continued

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.


What? Rest Before the Work is Done? No Way!

Jack the WordMan at Rest

Vacation time always gets me thinking about the theology of rest. All my life I have found it hard to rest when there is still work to be done. My upbringing focused on the value of work, not on the need for rest.

Working Versus Reading

My love of reading started as a child, but my mom reproved me any time she caught me reading a book during daylight hours. Our house rules were: First the house and yard chores, eat supper, wash dishes and finish school homework, then, if there is any time left, sit down, rest and read a book.

Even now, at age 74, it feels somehow wrong to be reading a book during daylight, even when it is on missions or writing, let alone a novel! Reading, even work related reading, relaxes me but it somehow feels wrong unless all my other tasks are completed.

Since my IN basket is never empty, and my TO DO list continues to grow, I never feel right about resting and reading. Besides that, I like my work—a great combination for keeping my fingers on the keyboard.

Startling Insight from Exodus

But this week, while preparing to teach a series on Spiritual Disciplines at a conference in Grand Cayman the Spirit drew my attention to something about the discipline of Sabbath that I had never seen before.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 have the line we all know, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, on the seventh day you shall rest.” This sounds right to me, “Do all your work, then rest.” It’s what my mom used to say.

But then I read a description of this law in Exodus 31. There the last line reads, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” He abstained. Wait a minute!

To abstain means to withdraw from, to refrain from, or to go without. It’s like the discipline of fasting, when we abstain from food, stop eating, even when there is still food left, or the discipline of solitude, when we abstain from people. On the seventh day God simply stopped working and rested even though there was still work to be done—work left unfinished! Wow! Eye opener!

Change Mom’s Rule

So, my Mom’s rule needs some adjustment. We need to stop and rest, even read, in spite of all the work not being completed. Certainly once every seven days. And we need to take mini-breaks throughout the work week. A few hours of waking relaxation each day, a few minutes of rest during each hour of work.

This is an area of growth for me. Maybe for some of you too. Our North American culture glorifies work and accomplishment and doesn’t reward sitting quietly alone, resting, reading, thinking, and pondering.

Yet that may be our problem. It reminds me of the famous quote from Blaise Pascal: “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”

Or the famous quote from the Almighty, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)