God’s Problem and His Solution

The Problem
God had a problem. Having created human beings to multiply throughout the habitable areas of the earth, He now wanted to communicate with them. But, although they were all created on the same basic pattern, every one of them was a unique person. Their bodies, personalities, emotional makeups and cultural environments made them all different from each other.

How could He tell them about Himself, His expectations of them and His love for them? Clear logical statements would speak to some types of people but would turn off other groups. Lists of do’s and don’ts would be understood by some, but would be rejected by others.

God’s Solution
In His divine wisdom He gave mankind the Bible, a Book that is packed with stories of real people. Stories are the universal language: they speak to everyone. Narratives telling the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of situations are informative. But when they are told in a story form that has a Beginning in which someone has a problem, a Middle describing their struggles, and an End telling of the solution, they will captivate any audience.

Some preachers and teachers try to make the Bible what it is not. It is not a handy-dandy Manual for Life. The books of Proverbs and James come the closest, but even these are mainly a collection of miscellaneous observations and pieces of advice. Although there are many clear commands and explicit instruction for certain situations, the Bible is not the Help tab on Life’s computer. We cannot click it and expect a drop menu of prompts to follow for specific directions in every possible situation. Instead, God gave us a Book of stories about people, their successes, their failures, their loves and their hates. As we see ourselves in these situations, we can learn from them.

The Psychology
The best speakers and writers do not use stories to illustrate a point already made. They use the stories to carry the point. They tell a story and let hearers come to their own conclusion. There are psychologically sound reasons for doing this. People tend to mentally argue against points made by speakers, pastors, or teachers. People tend to reject plainly stated advertisements, advice, and even moral lessons. But people never argue against conclusions they have come to by themselves—conclusions they have come to by listening to a story. Check out Jesus—the master story-teller—and His parables for examples.

Grandpa's Stories

Grandpa’s Stories

A Story
A dozen years ago, when our eight grandchildren were still in grade school, I published two 50,000-word story books and gave them each a set. They were filled with stories that I had written for them during several years of Sunday afternoon story-letters to the grandkids. By the way, the heroes and heroines of these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to my grandchildren. As they read the stories, our grandchildren soaked up solid biblical concepts such as the value of relationships, initiative, work, honesty, teamwork, having fun, and eating ice cream.

We not only learn from other people’s stories; we can tell our own. Everyone has a story. All of us, especially if we are followers of Jesus, can think back to things He did for us, problems He helped us solve, prayers He answered, and troubles He guided us through. I call these experiences God-stories, since we start with a problem and God provides the solution in the end.

I continue to teach and lead workshops for people who want to learn how to write their own God-stories to leave as a legacy for the children and grandchildren—a solidly biblical thing to do.

Another Story
I phoned our daughter one day, many years ago, and our four-year-old granddaughter answered.
“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”
There was a period of silence as she wondered which of her two grandpas she was talking to, then she asked,
“Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”

Yes! Oh yes!
“The Grandpa who tells us stories” has been my sub-title ever since.

Here’s hoping that you too will be remembered for the God-stories you tell.

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment Launch

Finally, after years of work, tons of controversy, and reams of arguments, but with ever increasing support, the New Testament in the Jamaican language is being launched this Sunday, December 9, 2012. Jo and I are delighted that our grandson, Tyler Vanderveen, worked in Jamaica for the past seven months under Wycliffe Caribbean to promote the use of the Scriptures in Jamaican.

For generations the Jamaican Creole language, usually referred to as patois or patwa, has been looked down on, scorned, and not considered a real language. No wonder the word “patois” is never written with a capital letter.

During the years the Bible translators were working, letters to the newspaper editors and callers to radio phone-in programs presented the usual objections to translating the Bible into patois—the language spoken by about two million Jamaicans:  “Jamaican patois is not good enough to express the concepts of the Bible.” They also urged the usual advice, “Speakers of patois just need to learn English better.”

Those days are finally over. From now on, what used to be disparagingly called broken English will be called the Jamaican language. While English is the official language ofJamaica, most children grow up speaking Jamaican and learn English in school.

For centuries, every new translation of the Bible was criticized. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin around 400 AD. It was criticized because he had not translated it into the classical Latin used by orators and poets, but into the common, everyday Latin spoken by people on the street and at home. That is why they called Jerome’s translation the Vulgate. It was vulgar, not in the sense of being indecent, but of being common.

Disapproval of new translations is routine. Even the partial Bible that my wife and I translated—with the help of gifted and trained Canela associates—was disparaged. Imagine that! Whenever I showed the Canela Bible to Portuguese speaking Brazilian pastors, they automatically assumed that the translation in Canela was not as clear, as accurate, or as good as the Bible they used in preaching to their Portuguese-speaking congregations.

I did not argue with them, but I knew from sitting in their church services that when they read the archaic three-hundred-year-old Portuguese Ferreira de Almeida version, they had to take most of the sermon time to explain to the congregation what the passage meant before making an application. Meanwhile no one needs to explain what the Bible in Canela says—it speaks clearly right off the page.

Wherever in the world the Bible is translated into minority languages, someone will level criticism at it. In having their work scorned, the translators of di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment, as well as the translation teams currently working in nearly two thousand other minority languages around the world, are in good company. John Wycliffe, who did the first major translation since Jerome’s Vulgate a thousand years earlier, was strongly criticized for translating the Bible into English. A contemporary historian and fellow clergyman, Henry Knighton spoke for the clergy of his day when he criticized the translation into English as follows:

“Christ gave the Scriptures to the clergy and doctors of the Church so that they could use it to meet the needs of lay people and other weaker (uneducated) persons. John Wycliffe has now translated it into common English which has laid the Bible more open to literate laymen and women than it has formerly been to the most learned of the clergy. The jewel of the Church, hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and the divines, has now been cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and is now made ever more common to lay people.”

Henry Knighton used the wrong metaphor. The Word of God is not a jewel to be preserved in a glass case, admired, and taught about by the well-educated chosen few. Jesus Himself called God’s Word not a jewel but seed which is meant to be scattered generously everywhere and to sprout in prepared soil.

The Creator made men and women in His own image, with the capacity to hear Him and communicate with Him irrespective of their educational level. God looks for people with receptive hearts—hearts that will respond when they hear His Word in the language they understand best.

Jamaicans everywhere on earth can finally read and hear God’s Word clearly. May they respond in faith and understanding as never before.

The Shocking Truth About Jack Popjes: How to Read 52 Books a Year

I admit it. I’m a book junkie. Without a reading fix each day, I exhibit withdrawal symptoms.

Read Books Not T-Shirts

Our two-bedroom apartment bears witness to my addiction with 25 metres (80 feet) of packed bookshelves. (The rest of the books are stacked on the floor.) Marcus Cicero said it for people like me, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

When people discover my book habit they have questions that I try to answer as succinctly and helpfully as I can.

Q: How much do you read?

A: An average of about one book and periodical a week. A little less when I travel on speaking tours.

Q: How do you find time to read?

A: I don’t just read when I find time. I make time. I deliberately sit down to do nothing but read. I read with my first cup of coffee in the morning. I read humorous material to Jo in bed every night. Sometimes I read to her while she is making supper. I always have three or more books on the go at any one time and I keep at least one within reach just in case I find some time. Jo and I like to watch some TV together but we are mindful of Groucho Marx’s opinion, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Q: What do you read?

A: A variety of books and periodicals. A balanced literary diet. That’s the succinct part. Here is the more detailed and helpful part:

Spiritual Development: I have read through the Bible annually for many years. I read it early in the morning, with my first cup of coffee. My wife and I also read through the Psalms together once a month. I also keep a small book of short, daily meditations handy to dip into during the day. And I usually have books on spiritual development, Christian issues, or theology going throughout the year.

Personal Development: Books that help me be a better father, husband, grandpa. Some that help me get organized, do financial planning, and in general those that help me focus on how to live.

Professional Development: Books on cross-cultural missions, writing, speaking, publishing, marketing, blogging, language, leadership, organization, technology.

Biography: Reading memoirs and life stories sometimes inspires me, sometimes it fills me with longing, but I always learn something—either great examples to follow or horrible ones to avoid.

Information: Material on history, current issues, science philosophy, and psychology.

Entertainment: Novels of all sorts, science fiction, mystery, classics, and for bedtime reading some humor. Reading poetry tends to give me unique insight into common situations. By the way, a book is often informative and entertaining at the same time.

Q: What do you plan to read?

A: More! I plan to read more, way more! To help me do this, I’m buying an ebook reader and plan to read a dozen books at once, all there in the same pocket. I occasionally pick a book to read that  I know I won’t agree with, just to keep my mind sharp and thinking on all sides of the issue.

One question no one has ever asked me but which I’ll answer anyway is:

Q: What books do you not read?

A: Anything that would arouse my desires in humanity’s basic problem areas: Money, Sex, and Power. I don’t read material that inflames my desire to get rich. I don’t read pornographic stories, and I don’t read about gaining power over other people, and I especially avoid reading about practicing the occult that promises demonic powers.

This column is biographic, hopefully you will find it an example to follow, not a horrible one to avoid. I’m not only a book addict, I’m a book pusher. My goal is to get you addicted too.

The shirt I’m wearing in the photo has a picture of Charles Dickens and the words, “Read as if your mind depended on it.”

How to Get What You Want in 10 Minutes a Day

This is not about New Year’s resolutions, but it can apply.

Long ago, in the dim, dark, misty past, when I was in my twenties, I read a very old, long-out-of-print book with the intriguing title, How To Get What You Want.

The simple ten-minutes-a-day strategy that ancient author presented is scary not only because it works, but because you also discover some amazing things about yourself. My favourite college professor used to say, “Look carefully where you are going, because you will go where you are looking.” Exactly!

Since this strategy is so effective, don’t practice it in a spiritual, moral or ethical vacuum. Read the Bible and pray for guidance before you start.

  1. Take a spiral bound notebook with lined paper and on the first page write down, by hand, ten things you really want. Limit the list to ten only items.
  2. Study your list and write a (1) in front of the one you want the most, a (2) for the next, and so on in order of priority. Read the list as a prayer, out loud if possible. Close the notebook and go on your way.
  3. The next day, after Bible reading and prayer, open your notebook, study your list, and clarify or refine where necessary. Then copy your list of ten items, in order of priority, on page two. Pray through your list, close the notebook and go on your way.
  4. You may be tempted to do this on your word processor. Resist that urge! Keep doing this by hand. The simple act of your hand writing out your desires every day drives you to think more deeply about them.
  5. By the third day you will probably have thought of an eleventh thing you really want. Simply add it to the list and delete one to keep your list down to ten. Then rewrite your list, in order of priority, on page three.
  6. Simply keep doing this every day, page after page, notebook after notebook and be prepared to be amazed and thankful.

If you’re like me, it won’t take more than a month for at least half the things on the first day’s list to be replaced by other, more important things you really want. That’s one scary part–to realise you didn’t really know what you wanted on the first day!

By the second or third month you will have deleted and replaced several items, not because they were not important, but because you got them. That’s the other scary part–this strategy really works!

Be careful what you put on that daily list. That list will influence your mind, your daily decisions, and shape your life, your family and your ministry.

I remember putting things like a new car, a high income and other such material things high up on my earlier lists. They soon slid lower and lower as God showed me things that were far more important, like a godly wife, healthy children, an exciting ministry and, eventually, the Scriptures translated into Canela. I did get a new car, by the way, a 1962 Volkswagen bug that served my beautiful young wife and me well for years.

I have practiced this exercise in one form or another for the past fifty years. What are the things on my list now that I am in my mid-seventies? The top ones are about my relationships with God, my wife, and my family. I want some specific successes in our current ministry, and I have some health goals.

What about that new piece of high-technology I saw last month? Yeah, it would be nice to have, but it’s not on my top ten list of things I really want.

Not anymore.