When We Believe Things About God That Are Not True

God had let me down. I could no longer trust Him. I was done with Him. But He wasn’t done with me. (First part of the story in last week’s blog post)

He brought into my life a godly pastor who became aware of my distress, and invited me to have breakfast with him at a nearby restaurant. He listened closely as I cried, ranted, and poured out my disappointments and frustrations with God. The following week we had breakfast again.

Homework, Replacing Lies About God With Truth

Homework, Replacing Lies About God With Truth

He listened. Prayed for me. Prayed with me. Shared relevant Scriptures. Asked questions to help me think and not just feel. Week by week he gave me homework questions to think about in the light of Scriptural truth.

Gradually it became clear to me that I believed things about God that simply were not true.

For instance, I was convinced that the task of reaching the world for Christ was urgent, that sooner is always better than later, and that God was in a hurry to reach every people group with the Good News.

I was also convinced that God wanted us to spend as little money as possible. God was poor and therefore personal luxuries were sin. God wanted us to “Make it do, fix it up, wear it out, or do without,” both in our personal and family life, and in our ministry to the Canela people.

I was, therefore, deeply frustrated, when we had lived frugally, going without even an ice cream cone for our kids, in order to pay for the next trip to the Canela village, only to be ordered to return within days at the whim of some official. Lots of money spent, but no ministry work done. Where was God in all this?

The worst frustration, however, had to do with the urgency of the missions task. I vividly remember a poster in Bible school, “100,000 souls a day go into a Christless eternity, what are you doing about it?” illustrated by a picture of hordes of people stumbling over a cliff into a smoking, fiery pit.

Yet God did not act with any degree of urgency concerning the people groups of Brazil. “Come on!” I felt like screaming, “We’ve done our part, now get with it, and do Your part! Don’t You want those Canelas in heaven with you?”

But He was not in a hurry. It was a concept my whole being rebelled against. The unfairness and injustice of it all appalled me. After nearly 2,000 years there were still thousands of people groups with no chance of hearing or reading the Good News since it had never yet been translated in their languages. How much longer did they have to wait, and die, and go into a Christless eternity? It wasn’t fair!

Week after week, my pastor helped me to think through my wrong ideas about God in low-key talks over breakfast. Finally, after six months, I gained a clearer insight about who God really is, and what He does. I realized that God was not poor, and He was not in a hurry. These were not biblical concepts at all, but ideas I had picked up from my upbringing and from my Christian sub-culture.

I walked back to our apartment, walked up to that same front window and looked up into that same sky.

“God,” I said, “I am so sorry. I blasphemed your power, wisdom, and love. You are the most powerful Being in the universe. You hold the heart of the president of Brazil in Your hand and can turn it this way or that way just like a farmer turns water to flow in an irrigation ditch.

“And when it comes to wisdom, You are so wise and Your ways are so convoluted, You can’t explain them to a dummy like me.

“And about love, You sent Your only Son to die for those Canelas and I would never send Valorie, Leanne or Cheryl to die for them.”

The Lord saw my repentant heart and forgave my earlier blasphemy. He restored His Spirit within me and gave me a message for the churches in Canada. I asked my director for invitations to speak. And for the next six months, I spoke at events several times a week. I had only one message. “People, this is a spiritual battle, you have got to pray!”

Furlough was over—time to return to Brazil. We phoned to find out what the current situation was.

“Nothing has changed. It’s been five years. We are still all in exile.”

Now what?

(Next week, more of the story.)




Hopeful to Heartsick

“The government is letting us all go back to our villages, but just for three weeks.”

Wow, that was good news! We couldn’t do much in three weeks, but after years of not being able to work with the people groups we loved, a short visit was better than nothing. We all praised God and spent the next few days happily preparing to travel. But, on the morning of our trip, a phone call from headquarters,

“The minister refused to sign the final authorization. It’s all off.”

Unpack everything. Our hopes dashed. Back to waiting.

This sort of thing happened again and again. Proverbs 13:12 describes perfectly what was happening to us. “Hope often deferred makes the heart sick.”

After so many times of getting our hopes up and then being let down, our hearts became sick. I did not know how sick my own heart was until we went on furlough.

We returned to Canada, settled into an apartment, and I went to the Wycliffe Canada office to discuss furlough plans. Our director was delighted to see me,

“Look what I’ve got for you, Jack”, he said, handing me a sheaf of letters. As I paged through them I saw dozens of invitations to speak, at churches, conferences, and colleges—the very thing I loved to do on furloughs.

But not this time. “I’m sorry, Jim,” I said, “I have nothing to say to the churches in Canada. As far as I’m concerned God has let me down. He’s let me down big time.” With that I handed the letters back to my boss, turned away to hide my tears, and walked quickly out of his office.

As I drove home, my mind went to the Canelas; who, for the past four years, had been without the medical and dental assistance we had been providing. No one was there to help people learn to read. And above all, no one was there to translate more of God’s Word, or to encourage them to read what they had.

When I got home, I sat down on the couch, picked up my Bible, and remembered an event that happened during the last month we were in the village before our expulsion.

I had been called to a house where a lovely young woman had just choked on something. I tried to resuscitate her but failed and was on my knees beside her dead body crying with her dad, mom and sisters.

Suddenly her husband came running into the house, all sweaty and dusty from working in his field garden. He flung himself on his wife’s corpse crying out, “I love you so! I love you so! Oh, why did you have to die?” We all dissolved in tears and cried for a long time.

Go Away! Don't Come Back to Haunt Me! I Hate You!

Go Away! Don’t Come Back to Haunt Me! I Hate You!

After some time the men came in to bury her. They prepared her body, rolled it in a mat and tied it tightly into a bundle, then tied the bundle to a pole. They picked up the ends of the pole and as they walked out the door to bury her, the husband got up from the floor, his face still streaked with tears, and walked after the bier shouting,

“I used to love you, but now I don’t. Now I hate you! Don’t come back as a ghost and haunt me. I hate you. I hate you!” Her parents and her sisters shouted the same thing.

As I sat on the couch and remembered that event something deep within me died. I stood up, stalked to the front window of our apartment, looked up into the sky and, holding up my Bible, I shouted,

“What’s the matter with You anyway! Where is that power I keep reading about, eh? It seems to me those politicians in Brasilia have more power than You have. And wisdom? I don’t know. It seems like You don’t know what You are doing anymore. And as far as love goes, I think I love those Canelas more than You do!”

I threw down my Bible and turned my back on God.

It was over. I was done.

I was done. But God wasn’t.

(Next week, the rest of the story.)


When God Slams the Door

A greater than usual number of readers wondered what Jo and I did during the five years we were “exiled” from the Canela village due to political and ideological opposition by elements in the Brazilian government.

Leaving the people we loved.

Leaving the people we loved.

I remember when word came that we had to leave the village. We cried, the Canelas cried. It didn’t help. We got angry, the Canelas got angry, that didn’t help either. As we packed up our stuff, said goodbye to the people we loved, we drove out of the village into an utterly unexpected, major change of lifestyle and work.

We waited and prayed as our directors and public relations personnel did what they could to combat the lies that were being told about the missions teams working in scores of villages in the areas of medicine, education and Bible translation.

As the weeks turned into months, everyone worked to catch up on educational and other projects that could best be done on mission centres. Jo and I compiled, edited and published a half a dozen easy reading booklets. We also revised and published some Scriptures, including Luke and Acts. I wrote the story about God’s miraculous intervention as we delivered the books to the village in a column, “What’s so Holy about the Bible?” published in A Bonk on the Head

We were not idle as the months of exile stretched into years. God opened the way for me to get a taste of leadership and administration. For five years, I served as chairman of the Brazil SIL executive committee (board). SIL is the Wycliffe field partner under which we worked in Brazil. I also led Brazil’s SIL delegation to International Conferences several times. When the executive director was out of the country for medical reasons, Jo and I moved to Brasilia and led the organization for six months.

During that same time, I spoke in Bible schools and seminaries in Belem and Rio de Janeiro about the need for Bible translation in Brazil and around the world. I showed slides of the Canelas and the ministry we had been doing until recently. Then we challenged students not only to pray for Brazil’s indigenous peoples, but also to consider entering this ministry themselves. Since there was a strong anti-foreign component to the opposition, we hoped that Brazilian nationals might find more open doors.

Jo and I, along with all our missionary colleagues, suffered severe mental and emotional stress, some went into depression, others were trapped in addictions. We all loved the people we had been working with. We wanted them to know Jesus as their God and Saviour as soon as possible. We were building God’s Kingdom, and I had often heard missionary sermons on the urgency of the King’s business, using David’s quote in 1 Samuel 21:8  “…the king’s business required haste…” Very much out of context, it turns out, but the message of time pressure and desperate urgency stuck with me.

We just could not understand why more than forty indigenous people groups in Brazil remained without God’s Word, when the teams assigned to them were ready to continue their work of translation, as well as meet the people’s medical and educational needs. Where was God in all this? Was He not in a hurry to reach these people? Apparently not.

God is not in a hurry. . . but He is always on time. It was a lesson we all had a hard time learning.

For years I remained a stable leader and encourager, but then we went on furlough and . . . all that changed.

A tale best kept for next week.

A Conversation in Prison

A Prison Conversation

Village Gate Locked Against Missionaries

Village Gate Locked Against Doctors, Teachers, and Translators

In the late 1970s, the Brazilian government reversed its policies towards mission work among indigenous people.

Jo and I had just started our third tour of service (of five) when our medical, educational, and translation work was hindered for months, and finally stopped dead for years. My colleagues and I often hashed over the possible reasons for all this opposition.

That’s when I wrote the following:

Transcript of a Prison Conversation

Silas – Paul, tell me again about that dream you had in Troas. Do you still think that was from the Lord?

Paul – I was just thinking about that myself. We tried and tried going up into Bithynia, but had no peace about that. Eventually we got to Troas on the coast. Where else could we go? That dream just seemed to clinch it. (Acts 16:9-10)

Silas – It did to me to. Besides, Greece influences the whole world. Surely God intends the Good News to go there. It is logical.

Paul – I suppose we may have run ahead of God.

Silas – I wonder, could the Lord be trying to teach us something through this experience? Look how many times He afflicted our forefathers when they disobeyed Him.

Paul – Yeah, I argued with Barnabas about JohnMark at the start of this trip. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. Probably I should have showed some forgiveness, a little more love, maybe another chance? (Acts 15:37-40)

Silas – Probably. But what about us going down to the river to meet with all those women. I mean, four single men traipsing down there regularly, then going off to live with Lydia in her house. It really doesn’t look good when you think of it. I wonder if that is what God is displeased with us about. (Acts 16:13-15)

Paul – Well maybe. I’m wondering now whether I did right in circumcising Timothy when he joined us. I didn’t want to offend the Jews in the area, but eventually they’ll need to learn that the trimming some body part doesn’t count with God. It’s the state of their hearts He is interested in. (Acts 16:3)

Silas – Hmm, yes, the elders wrote freeing the non-Jews from all the laws of Moses, and only urged them to keep certain food restrictions and abstain from sexual immorality.

Paul – Yeah, they wrote nothing about circumcision. And then I give into the public pressure and circumcise Timothy. Who knows how much confusion that has caused in the Galatia area? No wonder the Lord no longer protects us. We deserved that whipping. We need to repent and ask his forgiveness. (Acts 15:24-29)

Silas – Well I suppose so. It’s always safe to examine our lives. However, I am wondering if our trouble isn’t caused more by the general discrimination against Jews. You heard what they said to the magistrate before flogging us half to death. (Acts 16:20-21)

Paul – You’re probably right there, we need to get more Greeks and Romans converted and have them travel around. Our work should be to train nationals to work in their own countries. Really, in a sense, we’re cheating nationals from the blessings of reaching out to different cities by doing it all ourselves.

Silas – No doubt. We Jews have kept to ourselves so much for so long. It’s been twenty years since our Lord commanded us to go into all the world. We should have gone out immediately instead of huddling in Palestine.

Paul – Well, all this talk isn’t doing much good, let’s try to sleep a bit. It’s going to be a long night.

This conversation did NOT take place.

Instead Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God, who sent an earthquake to free them and bring the jailer and his household to faith. (Acts 16:25-34)

Yet I remember us missionaries beating ourselves up over things we may possibly have done wrong. Eventually we relaxed and trusted God to work it all out in His own time. We learned that God is not in a hurry, and He is not poor.

He has a plan to turn “have-nots” into “haves”, and in this context He said, “I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” Isaiah 60:20 (NIV)

And He did. Dozens of people groups in Brazil now have the Word of God in their own language and are meeting in growing churches.

In what situations have you seen yourself, or your church, unnecessarily beating yourself up instead of praying, singing hymns, and trusting God to work it out in His time?

Slow Down and Live

On Wednesday morning I sent a brief email to my brother Henry congratulating him on the 49th anniversary of his falling off a roof and breaking his nose.

It was a windy Friday, October 1st, 1965 and Henry and I were helping our dad put the roof on a farm building. Suddenly a gust of wind caught the sheet of plywood Henry was handling and both he and it went flying off the roof.

How can I remember that? Easy. I have a dog-eared notebook with “1965 Daily Diary” on the cover.

Jack the Diarist

Jack the Diarist

Six years earlier, while in college, I prayed Psalm 90:12, “Teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.” Or as it says in the ISV, “Teach us to keep account of our days, so we may develop inner wisdom.”

That’s when I started keeping a diary which has now grown to more than thirty years of handwritten diaries, and another twenty years or more of journals and written prayers in digital form on my laptop.

Centuries after this Psalm was written, a pagan philosopher named Socrates was quoted by his student, Plato as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And more recently, another pagan philosopher, Santayana, said, “He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it.”

Moses commanded God’s people, “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, or let them slip from your heart. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deut 4:9-10.

But how can we remember what we have seen and experienced unless we slow down, take notice and write an account of them? We need to slow down so we can ponder and reflect on our thoughts, words, actions and habits.

When we stop and examine our life by remembering the events of the day, and writing them down, patterns of behaviour become clearer. As we think and pray about these patterns—these unconscious repetitions—we can judge and decide if we need to continue them, or work on changing them.

Slowing down long enough to examine the patterns of our lives is not easy. It goes directly against the flow of our culture. Our society keeps us busy working, traveling, or being entertained.

Keeping track of the events of our lives has results far more important than being able to send an email about a long ago broken nose. I have a densely packed yearly calendar of celebrateable events—major decisions, changes made, and significant happenings in our family’s lives that, when we talk about them, bring praise to God.

So, what about you? How do you examine your life? How do you remember your significant “God stories”? How do you practice one of my favourite missionary psalms?

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)