Singing Passionately Someday

I had some very religious thoughts on Monday afternoon while watching Brazil play soccer against Chile in the World Cup games.

Most of the population of North America have no idea what FIFA stands for, and would probably have trouble spelling it. They think of soccer merely as a sport, and a minor sport at that, not worthy to be compared to hockey, or football.

But not in Brazil. There, soccer is treated as a religion. Here’s why:

Those of my readers who, as I, and all right thinking people in the world, were watching the World Cup soccer game on Monday, no doubt noticed the Brazilians singing their national anthem before the start of the game. Several things must have struck you. One was that it took a long time.

That is because the Brazilian national anthem is long. Really long. “Oh Canada” has only 63 words, the “Star Spangled Banner” has 80 words, but the first stanza of Brazil’s anthem has 123 words. What’s more, the words are not simple, there are at least a dozen four or five-syllable words, and another dozen or more three-syllable words. And the music! It is extremely fast paced and almost unsingably complex.

Brazilians, however, love their country and their anthem, and sing it loud and long, as you saw and heard. The players all sang, at full volume, pronouncing their words clearly and distinctly while moving their lips the way Sunday school teachers do when prompting kindergartners to sing Away in a Manger during the Christmas program.

And did you notice that the rousing martial music accompanying the anthem stopped at the end of the first stanza?

Tens of Thousands Singing with Passion

Tens of Thousands Singing with Passion

The music stopped but the singing didn’t. All of the Brazilians packed into the 71,000 seat National Stadium in Brasilia kept right on singing the second stanza. So did the coaches and the players, some with tears rolling down their cheeks. Their cheeks were not the only ones wet with tears, mine were too.

No, not because of intensely patriotic feelings for Brazil, at least not totally. My tears flowed because I vividly saw and heard larger, much different crowd in heaven singing a new song as described in Revelation 7.

“I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

“And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

Someday, not even the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which has held nearly a quarter of a million people, will be large enough to hold the uncountable millions of worshipers singing praises, not about their country, but about their God.

That’s a day worth working hard to bring about. People from 7,000 language groups will be singing praises to God on that day. 5,200 groups already have God’s Word in their language. Only 1,800 languages to go.

(By the way, Brazil won 2:1.)

The One Necessary Thing

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Jo and I were in our sixth year of missionary service in Brazil when some Canadian friends came to help us build a house on the Bible translation centre in Belem. Although we loved and appreciated each other and worked well together, they were a bit critical of how we, and the other Bible translators, used our spare time.

“Instead of doing fun things like visiting with other missionaries or spending Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with your kids,” they said, “shouldn’t you be making friends with the poor people living in the slum down the road, and evangelizing them?”

Our friends loved meeting needs of the poor back home, so we understood their concern and wanted to give a good answer. Fortunately, Jesus Himself addressed a similar question over two-thousand years before. The story is told by Luke. (10:38-42)

“Jesus and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

For us, the Canela Bible translation program was the “one necessary thing.” We knew we still had at least fifteen years of work ahead of us before we could present the Canelas with a copy of the Word of God in their own language. Jo and I were the only people in the world assigned to build a literate society, and translate the Bible for the Canelas. For us, everything else, even evangelizing desperately needy slum dwellers was secondary. There were other Christians, tens of thousands of them in greater Belem, who could evangelize the slums, and many did.

But what about Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with the kids? Consider that these children routinely lived in a boarding school for three or more months at a time. When parents finally returned to the centre, they naturally wanted to spend as much time together as a family as possible. Quality family time was the “one necessary thing” for all of us. And visiting with other missionaries? Well, after three months of praying and sharing on a deep level only with your spouse, the joy of spending time with other believers is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.

To Do Today

To Do Today

We all need to heed the wise words of Jesus, “only one thing is necessary” when we are overwhelmed with long To Do lists. In Mary and Martha’s situation, Jesus was sitting in their home and teaching those around him. Mary dropped her To Do list and grabbed the unique opportunity to learn personally from Jesus.

Our natural tendency is to be like Martha and do things right, such as living up to cultural expectations by preparing plentiful food for guests. But what is necessary is doing the right thing not doing things right. The right thing is always to do the “one necessary thing.”

Each day, in every situation we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what is the “one necessary thing” that only I can do?” Then do it.

Just a Coincidence or The Hidden Hand of God?

It happened again this week. One of those strange, unexpected coincidences, completely out of my control, starting bad, but turning out well in the end.

I had been invited to tell missionary stories at a small group meeting and was ready with a five minute PowerPoint of photos to get the questions started. I had prayed, “God, I have no idea who these people are, or what they need to hear, so please guide this whole evening, and use me to give them what they need.”

What? No book bag?

What? No book bag?

Like all authors, I wanted to be ready to sell some of my books, so when I arrived, I reached for the bag of my books that lives in the back of my car. It was not there! No idea where it went or who moved it or why. So, no chance to sell books after the meeting. I was not pleased.

A few hours later, however, I was very pleased indeed. At the end of the evening, one young man urgently wanted to talk with me at length about accountability and other personal issues. When we finished talking, another young man asked if we could go somewhere private. We sat in my car and talked and prayed together about some deeply personal and spiritual concerns. As I finally drove home, I realized that if I had been busy talking to potential book buyers, I would probably have missed those personal ministry opportunities.

Who arranged for those books to be taken out of my car? The same One who wanted me to help those two young men gain a better perspective of God and His work. It was yet another instance of God, who inhabits eternity, working in space and time on planet Earth.

Some Christians call this phenomena, “God’s Sovereignty”, “The Hidden Hand of God”, Providence, Divine Coincidence, or just refer to it as “A God Thing”. Whatever we call it, we can be sure that when we pray to the Eternal One in the heavens, He often reaches down into space and time on earth and arranges situations to answer the prayer.

He has been doing this for a long time. I love the story of the apostle Philip in Acts 8. An angel tells Philip to stop preaching in Samaria and travel down to the road that runs from Jerusalem to the port city of Gaza. So Philip starts to walk south, taking about two days to cover the 65 kilometers to reach that 80 kilometres long, east to west road that links Jerusalem to Gaza. At the very moment he reaches the intersection a chariot comes rattling along with an Ethiopian official who is reading Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus. He leads the man to faith in Jesus, baptizes him, then sends him on his way to evangelize his home country.

What are the chances of Philip arriving at the intersection just at that time? I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time connecting with my own wife in a Safeway store! Even when we are only two aisles apart!

I wonder what God thinks when He arranges situations on earth to advance His Kingdom, or bless His people following prayer or a word from Him, and all He hears is, “Wow, what an amazing coincidence!”

Let’s make sure we are discerning Christians who recognize God’s Hidden Hand and praise Him for organizing the Divine Coincidences in our lives.

Do you have any God-Incidence stories? Are you generating praise to God by passing them on?




My Service on a Dragons’ Den Panel

A few days ago I served on a panel in the style of Dragons’ Den—the popular television show on which entrepreneurs pitch their business proposals to a panel of investors hoping some of them will invest in their business.

1-photo 2This panel, however, was different from the one on television:

  • The entrepreneurs were twelve high school students at a local Christian school.
  • The stake was $500 of real money donated personally by the two teachers involved.
  • The panel was three adults with significant personal experience in community development in developing countries.
  • The students pitched proposals for a dozen development and humanitarian organizations with ministries such as disaster relief, micro financing, water sanitation, drug abuse rehabilitation, combating sexual exploitation, agriculture, animal husbandry, hygiene and health.

Each organization had to meet criteria such as:

  • Be fiscally responsible
  • Be a clear Christian mission, though not necessarily overtly evangelistic
  • Have a clear mission and vision
  • Have the expertise and organizational system to achieve their ends
  • Incorporate local, grassroots ideals
  • Become sustainable without continued fiscal support from outside

Each student had five minutes to convince the panel to award the $500 to the organization they had chosen to present and three minutes to answer any questions the panel might have.

Their teacher graded each student on basic presentations skills such as speaking skills, body languages, team skills, the use of audiovisuals as well as content, attractiveness, creativity, and word usage.

1-photo 3Each student did a ton of research knowing the panel would want statistics, numbers, financial information, and results seen thus far. They also might want to know if the needs the organization seeks to meet are real needs, felt by the community itself.

As a panelist, I was impressed with the amount of research presented to us in the hour and a half session. I was even more impressed with the passion some of the presenters showed and the communication skills many of them evidenced. We three panelists deliberated among ourselves and prayed for God’s guidance, then chose one organization to receive the grant.

Later we heard how excited the students had been, even to the point of being extremely nervous. They were very aware that this was not just a little class exercise in which they presented to their peers to build up their grade points. This was real. With real money at stake for real organizations and the presentations were to real experts. Yikes!!

Later that day, the principal, who had witnessed the whole process tweeted a brief report. He got a response from someone in the school community. “Great idea! I will match the $500.”

Woohoo! The organization will receive $1,000 and the students will learn something about contagious enthusiasm in fund raising.

The whole experience made me wonder if church missions committees would not benefit from involving high school students as presenters the next time they made decisions concerning the church missions budget.