Three Books by Jack TheWordMan

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Know You Will Be Disappointed, But ....

Hi all my faithful readers and raving fans! I have some sad news.

I know you will be deeply disappointed but I’m afraid I need to take a short break from blogging during December.

In October and November, I traveled on a six-week, twenty-five-city speaking tour on the US east coast. The day I returned, my wife, Jo, had hip revision surgery. Now, two weeks later, I am traveling to Manado, Indonesia to speak at a retreat for Kartidaya, the national Bible translation agency for Indonesia. It’s over-the-top go, go, go, and I won't be able to do my December blogs justice.

Besides that, I may not even have a good Internet connection while on this trip. I plan to return to Canada about a week before Christmas.

Have a Blessed and Joyous Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

I’ll see you back here early January 2012.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

INsights &OUTbursts #15 Ten Actions That Will Save Your Life

In the last INsights & OUTbursts I listed ten actions that will ruin your life. Here are ten actions that will do the opposite; they will save your life.
1.      Respect God, love Him and trust in what He has said about Himself.
2.      Love people, not just yourself. Act to meet the needs of others and think of ways you can help them attain their goals, not just how they can meet your needs and goals. Don’t treat people as things to be used.
3.      Speak the truth about yourself, about others and about situations. Don’t present yourself as better, or worse, than you are.
4.      Recognize you are human and that you will sometimes mess up. Forgive yourself. If your error hurt others or you messed things up for them, admit to them you behaved badly, doing or saying the wrong thing, and ask for forgiveness. You cannot apologize your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. If possible, clean up, pay back, or straighten out the mess you made.
5.      God designed us to live and work interdependently with others. Be thankful, therefore, for everything you receive from them and God.
6.      Enjoy your relationship with God, enjoy your family, interacting with the people around you, and find things to enjoy in your daily work.
7.      Set your life goal to accomplish something that involves God, something that is bigger than you and that will last beyond your lifetime. Work in the areas of your strengths and interests. Develop these through study, discipline and practice to become a skilled expert. Remember that the harder you work the luckier you get.
8.      When you fail in some aspect of life, don’t say, “If only . . . .” Instead say, “Next time . . . .” and formulate a plan to succeed.
9.      Have an accountability partner, someone who loves you and wants the best for you, whom you invite to critique your work, your behavior and your relationships. List some penetrating questions and ask your partner to ask you those questions regularly. Learn to listen to criticism from others, there just may be some truth in what they tell you.
10.  Develop a sense of humour. See the funny things in life. Take your service for God seriously, but never take yourself too seriously. Be fun to live with. Check with your spouse or friends occasionally to make sure you still are. 
God gave each of us the power to choose and we use that power hundreds of times a day. Most of the choices we make are trivial. The ten in this list are not. They will save your life from ruin.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

INsights and OUTbursts 14, Ten Actions That Will Ruin Your Life

When God made us in His own image, He gave us the ability to choose among options. Satan immediately perverted this ability resulting in Adam and Eve choosing to disobey God. And Satan continues his evil work, tempting us to make bad choices, and thereby limiting our options to live the full and productive lives God wants us to live.

To keep our options open and make wise choices, here are ten things to avoid doing.

  1. Kill yourself. This really limits your options for the future! Satan succeeds in leading people to kill themselves at a rate of one every 40 seconds worldwide. In North America suicide is the second leading cause of death for 25-34 year-olds, and the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds. Someone in Canada and the USA commits suicide every 16 minutes, or 91 per day.
  2. Damage yourself physically. Disfiguring burns, a broken spinal cord, a damaged brain or amputated limbs, slam shut the doors of a thousand opportunities currently open to you. Avoid thrill seeking activities that could result in serious physical damage.
  3. Fry your brain or ruin your body through drug or alcohol abuse. 
  4. Commit a criminal act. You not only lose money through fines and years of your life through jail, but having a criminal record will keep you from getting a passport to travel to other countries and keep you out of many job positions.
  5. Get yourself or someone else pregnant outside of marriage. A baby severely limits your options. Even if you or the other person decide to legally murder your baby before it is born, neither one of you will be unscathed emotionally and spiritually. 
  6. Borrow to live a lifestyle you cannot afford. Consumer debt will drastically constrict your future. It is like an amputated foot. It will cost you many of the best years of your life to get out of debt and do what you really want to do.
  7. Be careless of what kind of people you hang out with or what books you read. People and books are the two most influential forces in your life. Instead, make winners, not losers, your peers. Read books that build you, educate you, develop your interests and make you think.
  8. Live only for the here and now, doing it because it feels good with no thought for the future. Instead, use your God-given ability to imagine a better future, then work towards it using the abilities, talents and interests God has given you to make you unique. A life dream or goal will be a steady guide as you choose among options.
  9. Waste the opportunity to get a good education. Instead, choose an institution for higher education for what it can give you to help fulfill your goal, not just because a friend goes there. Save your money to get an education. You can even borrow money for education as it is more an investment than a debt, but only if you suck every bit of benefit out of your opportunity.
  10. Fall in love and marry someone who is not excited about your dream or life goal. One of you will lose out and your marriage will not be a happy one. Don’t even go out with someone who doesn’t share your dream. Have you noticed? People tend to marry those they hang out with. 
The daily newspapers are filled with stories of people who are ruining their lives by doing one or more of these things. Don’t do them. Please God by living a productive life. Frustrate Satan. And stay out of the newspaper.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

INsights & OUTbursts 13, I’d Rather Be . . . .

In January of 1966, I loaded my pregnant wife and our two toddlers into an old Volkswagen van and drove 6,600 kilometres (4,000 miles) from Edmonton, Alberta, to a jungle survival training camp near the Guatamalan border in the southern tip of Mexico.

As part of our training, we recorded everything we did each day for a week on time sheets, marked off in 15 minutes segments. The totals at the end of that week staggered us. The hours we spent in classes, private study, and working on academic projects were minimal. Time for recreation and entertainment was zero. The rest of the time was maxed out with chopping wood, hauling water, preparing food, washing clothes, and keeping the rain out of our makeshift shelter. Work, work, work, just to keep ourselves fed, clean, and minimally rested. I was deeply frustrated.

Today, forty-five years later, I still get aggravated at how much time I need to spend in work other than what I want to do. “I’d Rather be Writing” would be a good sign on my study door. No, I’m not chopping wood, but I do resent the time I must spend on learning to run the computer programs I need in my writing ministry. And organizing email lists, marketing my books, and keeping income and expense records.
I'd Rather be Reading
What is God’s plan for our ministry and work life? First, He has given each of us different embryonic talents and latent abilities which we develop through diligent practice. He also bestows spiritual gifts like faith, evangelism, insight or service. When we work within the area of our native abilities or spiritual giftings, we enjoy our work which motivates us to work at it more. Eventually we become very good at it.

The apostle Paul urged Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” 2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV). God gave us our abilities and spiritual gifts and wants us to develop and use them fully in ways that make Him look good.

In my case, I’d rather be writing, or speaking to a group, or teaching at a seminar, or reading in order to do a better job of these things. But what comes along with that for all of us? All those little jobs that make us feel like we are wrenches or screw drivers forced to do hammer work. We’re just not good at these jobs, they don’t fit us and we don’t enjoy doing them.  

God has made us unique, but He has not made us to live as independents. That is the second part of His plan. He designed us to live inter-dependently, as a community, each of us operating in the area of our strengths, not only meeting our own needs but those of others. God wants people within a community to reach out and help each other. This concept directly contradicts our North American culture which glorifies rugged independence and the pride that comes when we can personally meet all our own needs.

The third part of God’s plan deals with times when we are forced to work in an area of weakness. It may be something we personally must do. Or maybe we are in a situation where there simply is no one around who can help us. That’s when we need to pray, “Holy Spirit, please give me the power and self-discipline to do this job well.” It’s a prayer based on the rest of what Paul wrote Timothy, “. . . the Spirit God gave us . . . gives us power . . . and self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV).

Work in the area of your native abilities as much as possible, live inter-dependently within a community and when all else fails, trust God to give you the power and self-discipline to see you through.

Less frustration. More production. I like it.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

#12 Why Should Christians Need Encouragement?

“Working vacation” and “original copy” are oxymorons:  the words cancel each other out. “Discouraged Christian” should be an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Why?

Before Joshua started his invasion of Canaan, God told him, “Be strong and courageous.” These words were passed on seven times to Joshua, to Moses, to the leaders, and to the people. David repeated the theme in the Psalms, saying, “Be of good courage.” Jesus, after telling his followers they would have lots of trouble in this world encouraged them by saying, “But cheer up, I have overcome the world.” The apostle Paul constantly urges his readers to encourage each other.

Why do you think the encouragement theme is so pervasive throughout the thousands of years of human history as recorded in the Bible? Could it be because we human beings are very often dejected and discouraged, disappointed and depressed, dispirited, downcast, disheartened and in the dark?

But why should Christians need encouragement? It is easy to understand discouragement in selfish people who constantly want more and can’t get it. But discouragement and depression don’t just happen to them, people who live serving God also suffer every form of discouragement. We are not exempt. Why not?

Here we are, children of a loving Father-God. We know He is Love, He is Light, He is just and all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, and present everywhere. The more these truths about God soak into our minds, the more we set ourselves to live right, love others, speak kindly, and think pure, uplifting thoughts.

And what is the result? We, His children, the ones He says He loves suffer the same sudden disasters that fall on those who live selfishly without any thought of God. We also experience deep disappointments, car accidents, killer cancers, botched surgeries, and financial failures.

What should be our attitude when these bad things happen to us? Here are a few things to consider:
1) It may be too soon to judge if something that happened is good or bad. We may only be halfway into the story.
2) Even if the story ends badly in this life, God is no one’s debtor. He is just, and will reward suffering in this life with glory in the next.
3) We can turn stressful situations into an opportunity for personal growth.
4) God wants each of us to live bringing glory to Him. Some will do this by being highly successful in public ministry, others by suffering in private under multiple physical and emotional stresses.
5) We are all involved in a spiritual battle and some of us will be wounded.
6) God has given every person on earth the ability to make choices. Every choice, good or bad, has far-reaching consequences which affect other people, even Christians.
7) When we receive comfort and encouragement in hard times, we are better able to sympathize with others and to comfort and encourage them.
8) A well-known poem tells us God answers our prayers, although not always in the way we expect:
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.

We can’t help but get discouraged at times, but we don’t have to stay discouraged. We can be like David after raiders had kidnapped his family and those of his followers and his own friends wanted to kill him. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” and went on to win a great victory with God’s help. (1 Sam. 30:6)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

INsights & OUTbursts 11, More Readers, Reading More.

I admit it. I have an ulterior motive for writing this column. I have a personal agenda. Yes, some would even call it a conflict of interest. In the next 500 words, I will try to do everything I can to create more readers. Since I write books, I want many readers. The more people I turn into avid readers, the more books I sell. You can see the conflict.

The two most powerful influences in our lives are the people we associate with and the books we read. Unlike passively watching movies or TV shows, reading books actively involves the whole mind, both emotion and intellect over an extended time. We can’t control who we meet, but we can certainly choose which books we expose our minds to.

Jo and I wanted our daughters to love reading, so we took them on our laps and read picture books to them before they could even talk. As they played on the floor, I would read funny stories to Jo and as we laughed together, our girls would look up and connect reading with fun.

We did the same thing with our grandchildren. One time we sat down with their parents and tape-recorded ourselves reading some fairy tales like, The Three Little Pigs, and Three Billy Goats Gruff, each of us taking different parts. The grandkids loved it! Would you believe that Tyler, now 20 years old and in seminary, told us he still has his tape and enjoyed it recently?

I read to our daughters on Family Nights even after they could read themselves. When they became teenagers we listed the great books we wanted them to read and paid them when they finished a book. I had many good talks with them about the books they read. I told the full story in A Kick in the Pants.  

A father of four teenage sons recently wrote me an email saying, “I read your ‘pay them to read’ story and thought I’d try this with our boys encouraging them to read through the entire Bible.” All of his boys started reading, one sometimes listening to a narrator reading it through his smartphone. His youngest son is on a two-year plan, but one completed the project in three months!

During the months Jo was in recovery from several hip surgeries, she sometimes woke up at night with pain and spasms. She found listening to Scripture on her mp3 player had a calming effect. I have listened to many books on CD while driving, and now listen to books on my mp3 player.

“I used to read about one book a month,” a friend told me as we chatted after church. “But in the past two or three weeks I’ve read seven books”. Whoa! I thought. That is double what I’ve read. And I consider myself an avid reader.

“What happened?” I asked.
“Simple, I bought an ebook reader.”

He then explained that he used to read only business related books, but now loads up his reader with a wide variety of books. He carries his ebook reader in his pocket and pulls it out to read whenever he has a few minutes, switching between genres according to his mood.

More readers, reading more. I love it! Reading more is good for you. . . . and for me. 

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

INsights & OUTbursts 10, 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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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#9 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. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

INsights & OUTbursts #8, On Being Real

Seventy-five years ago, Percy B. Crawford composed a song that became a popular hymn of testimony. Many of us grew up singing “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

Now that I’m older, I say, “Oh really?”  

The lyric requires a good deal of interpretation. Human lives are filled with emotional ups and downs, including the lives of Christians. Yes, there are sweet days, but there are also bitter days. And days filled with deep heart-rending grief. Days boiling over with frustration and anger. Days of freezing fears and doubts. Bible believing, Jesus following Christians are not exempt.

It is true that when a Christian suffers loss, pain, grief, frustration, fears and doubts, he can turn to Jesus and He will go through the experience with him. And in that sense every day with Jesus can be made sweet, or at least less bitter, but let’s not pretend that a Christian can go through his whole life with a smile on his face and a consistent stream of happy words coming from his mouth. He cannot. We cannot. Not if we are honest. Not if we are real.

I spoke with a Christian yesterday who told me he had heard hundreds of speeches by leaders of Christian organizations. “They make serving God sound so wonderful,” he said, “but I can think of only ten that were honest and real. The rest were faking it. They turned me off.”

In Ottawa last weekend, I had the privilege of giving the keynote speech at the closing banquet of the Gideons International in Canada centennial convention. Six hundred leaders and delegates from all across Canada heard me tell how God had used my wife and me to learn the Canela language and translate the Bible into it.

Afterwards people came up to me at my book sales table to thank me for being so completely honest in telling my story.

“You told about your deep discouragement, of your being so frustrated with God you turned your back on Him. Thank you for not leaving out that part of the story. I too have felt that way.”

I blogged that story few years ago. Read it here. 

Everyone knows that not every day is sweet. We see bitter sadness all around us. Even among Christians. We should not be surprised. Jesus himself promised that in this world we would have trouble. Trouble in itself is not sweet, but overcoming the trouble is. And Jesus also assured us that He has overcome this world with all its trouble. He can help us to endure. We can go through the trouble with Him by our side.

I know. I’ve been there. It took six months of weekly counselling, but Jesus restored the sweetness. Even now, years later, I still don’t like singing “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” but I know He can make bitter days sweeter, eventually.

In the meantime, I’m for telling it like it really is.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

# 7, Lessons from a Coffee Drinker

Brazilians know how to drink coffee: North Americans don’t. Having drunk coffee regularly with Brazilians for nearly 25 years, I always suspected they did it the right way. Now there is scientific proof.

Dr. James Wyatt at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago determined that if you drink just a few ounces of coffee every hour throughout the day, instead of a large amount first thing in the morning, it will keep you alert all day long.

That is, of course, exactly how Brazilians drink their cafezinho: a small two-ounce cup, filled with strong espresso coffee and plenty of sugar. In cities you are never more than a minute’s walk from a stand or shop where you can get your hourly dose. Every visitor to a business or government office is handed a cafezinho the moment the visit starts. Steady little shots of caffeine all day long. In contrast, we 110 million North American coffee drinkers start our day with an extra large Tim Horton's or Starbucks to get our morning jolt. Now Dr Wyatt tells us we're doing it all wrong.

We do like to go for the Big Event, don't we? And not just in coffee drinking either. We tend to go for the strong focus, the major push, and the all out effort, but avoid the slow, steady, daily, drip, drip, drip of continued action. We are event oriented, not process focused.

Many would-be authors get hugely inspired at a writers’ conference and start writing a book, but then after a while — seven chapters in my case — the sheer dailyness of it all dries up the inspiration and the book goes into the bottom drawer for good.

Think of how much time, effort, planning and expense people put into their wedding. But what about their marriage? I have met couples who desperately needing to learn about marriage who refuse to buy and read a good marriage book because, "It's too expensive, and besides we don't have time to read."

Exercise clubs and spas flourish because they know people will buy a membership, start a program full of good intentions, but after a few weeks drop out.

I know Christians who spend hours in church on Sunday, getting their full 16 ounces of worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship, but never open their Bibles the rest of the week.

There is nothing wrong with a major kick-off event. I remember giving my life to God to be a missionary. It was a major emotional and spiritual event in my life. But that was followed by nearly fifty years of thousands of little, daily decisions — small acts of obedience in the same direction.

This required daily recommitment, scheduling, planning and discipline. You know, the sort of things few of us can do without help from other people. We need encouragement, practical help, and someone to whom we are accountable.

Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship is where I got the help to restart my first book and keep writing every day. My third book has just been published. I could not have done it without the encouragement of other Inscribe writers.

And, of course, my hourly dose of coffee. Time for one right now.

This post is my contribution to the 'Inscribe Summer Blog Tour'. For more about the tour, a blogging schedule, or to find out how to join Inscribe, go to the above blog tour link. If you leave a comment, you will also be eligible for some great prizes!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

#6, Regrets of My Life, Part Two

“How do we deal with our life’s regrets?” was the question I left you with in my previous post. Here are some stories that answer that question.

In our early years on the field, I delighted in joking with our missionary friends and neighbours and complimenting them. Their responses often made me feel great. Unfortunately, these friends tended to be women. What was worse, I sometimes neglected to spend sufficient time with my own lovely young wife and daughters. When, after far too long a time, I finally realized how much my thoughtless and selfish behaviour hurt my wife, I deeply regretted my actions.

I also regret being undiplomatic with powerful Brazilian government officials. I should have been wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. I was not. I was as wise as a dove and my conversations with them may have harmed more than helped my ministry. Instead of enthusiastically casting my personal vision for what we wanted to do to help the Canelas physically, socially, economically, educationally and spiritually, I should have asked the  Brazilian official, “What is your dream for the Canela?” then shown him how we could help turn his dream into reality.

Jo shocked me one day when she said, “It’s no fun being married to you.” What?! We were the only family in the missionary community that had a regular family fun night each week. I regularly took our daughters out on individual dates in their teens. 

But there was something missing: I was driven to work, “married to the ministry” and to relax I turned to what Jo called “your crusades” which involved lobbying fellow missionaries and leaders to change policies on anything I felt strongly about, from printing Scripture portions to the location of new sidewalks. How I wished that I had sat down with Jo and said, “Let’s think up some fun and relaxing things we can do together, and make sure we do some every week.”

We all have said, “I wish I had done . . .” or “If only I . . .” and from there it is a small step to, “I’m such an idiot!” “Why didn’t I . . . ?” and other expressions of regret and self-loathing. Saying that is not bad in that we need to face up to things we have done wrong and the good things we didn’t do. Where we have sinned against God, we need to confess our sin and accept His forgiveness. Sometimes we simply goof up, forget something, or make small mistakes. They aren’t sins, just dumb things we do that confirm our humanity. We need to forgive ourselves for those actions too. 

Many of us regret something we did or did not do in the context of our families. Whenever possible we must make things right with those affected by our actions or inactions affected. We need to admit we messed up, ask for forgiveness, and change our behaviour. But once we have done that, we need to forgive ourselves, and stop beating ourselves up over these regrets.

Satan will try to remind us of the mistakes and wrong choices we have made, and of the hurts and embarrassment we have caused, and he will do this when we are the most vulnerable, just when we are trying to make a new start. That’s when we need to declare,

“Since God forgives my sin against Him, I also forgive my sin against myself. Satan, get out of here, I am forgiven and God gives me daily strength to live the way He wants me to live!”

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#5, Regrets of my life, Part One

“If, knowing what you now know, you were able to do your whole translation program over again, what would you do differently?” I asked the veteran Bible translator. As a relative newbie, still in the first years of our program I expected this expert to give me esoteric advice on language learning or translation techniques. I was blown away by his answer.
“I would take more vacations.”
“Huh?” I couldn’t believe my ears. More vacations? Until that time we had not taken any vacations. It was work, work, work, day in, day out, month after month, ever since we arrived in Brazil.
He further told me that although he and his wife took time to retreat and rest quite often, they also traveled abroad once a year to the Caribbean to take a two-week-long vacation. And he wished he had taken more!
After that conversation our family made some good decisions about vacations. No, not annual Caribbean vacations, but we did work with other missionaries to build a small house a hundred metres from a beach on the Amazon. We spent as much time there as often as we could. We also took Brazilian vacation trips by car, staying with friends or in cheap hotels. We built some good memories. No regrets about vacations!
But I do have other regrets.
Before we left for Brazil, I had never sat down with close friends, family members and pastors of churches to tell them up front exactly how much money we still needed to raise before we left to work in Brazil. Nor had we ever asked anyone for his or her help in raising it. How I wished I had done this! Back in the mid-sixties the policies of many missions agencies, ours included, were very shy about stating specific financial needs, and absolutely forbad asking anyone to consider making a gift. “Just pray, God will supply,” our mission director counselled. “He will move people to give when they see you are on the field.”
We prayed a lot, but God did not supply, and we soon regretted leaving for Brazil with only 40% of our financial support promised. Jo and I had never, ever borrowed money for our daily living but the moment we left Canada we had to start borrowing money for groceries, and we lived in debt our entire first term. Our poverty and indebtedness made a deep and negative impact on our service with the Canelas during those years. We could have bought more medicine and saved more lives, we could have hired more language helpers, we could have . . . .
God did not move people to give until four years later when we returned to Canada and implemented a much more open and still biblical approach to inviting people to become our partners in ministry. Yes, one of my life’s regrets is being so reticent about recruiting financial partners.

How do we deal with the regrets of our lives? Obviously following sound biblical advice to prevent mistakes is the best method! Hanging in there until it is possible to make a change is another. But what about mistakes, sins, errors, stupid things we regret doing? How do we handle those regrets? More on that in the next column.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

#4 The Dark Side of Dreams

Readers responded to the post Does God Speak to us in Dreams Today? with seven separate dream stories, both through the comment option and by direct email.

One dreamt of the death of her mother and was moved to write a letter telling her mother how much she loved her. The letter arrived and was read by her mother just before she suddenly went into a coma and died. One dream prepared the dreamer for her father's remarriage. One reader told of crying out to God in the pain of losing an infant to death. God answered her prayer by giving her a dream in which she held her baby for a time, turning her grief into lasting joy. Another dreamt of her father's funeral reception where he walked about smiling hugely, not in the body of the weak sick man but in the vigour of his early manhood. 

Each dreamer considered her dream a gift from a loving heavenly Father in order to prepare her for a difficult time or to comfort her.

I wonder why all my correspondents were women. In every biblical incident it was the men to whom God spoke in dreams. So didn't God speak to women in dreams in Bible days? Does He not speak to modern, western men in dreams today?

A missionary lady told of working with an indigenous people group that often suffered from terrifying nightmares. A major theme involved dreaming about losing or breaking teeth which meant that the dreamer's relatives would die. Each tooth stood for a different relationship. 

One night the missionary dreamt all her teeth were breaking off. She woke up spitting into her hand thinking her mouth was full of broken teeth. With a shock of fear, she remembered that her three married children would all be traveling long distances by car that weekend. And she and her husband were flying into the village the next morning in a single engine plane over a wide river and trackless jungle. 

"I was now very awake and my heart was racing" she wrote. "And then I recognized I was under attack and I needed some armour. I prayed to my loving Heavenly Father and rebuked Satan.” Soon she was sound asleep.

When they arrived in the village she told her broken teeth dream and everyone was transfixed, staring at her with fear filled eyes knowing they were about to hear horrible news.

"I reminded them," she wrote, "how powerful God's Spirit is, far more powerful than even the chief evil spirit. I read them Ephesians 6, of God’s armour for our protection.” When she said that after prayer she fell peacefully asleep, the people were astonished and relieved. (Her whole family, by the way, returned safely from their travels that weekend.)

Sometimes God increases our faith in Him by giving us dreams that prepare us for difficult situations. Sometimes He allows Satan to give us a dream that leaves us filled with fear instead of faith. But we can turn this fear into faith by following God’s instructions in Ephesians 6:16: “ . . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#3 Does God Speak in Dreams Today?

I occasionally remember dreams I’ve had but Jo never does—except for one notable time in the Canela village.

One afternoon our whole family was having a swim in the creek just outside the village. I left first and our 10-year-old daughter Leanne decided to leave a minute later sprinting up the trail to catch up with me. As she rounded a bend, she nearly ran into a long grey stick propped between bushes about waist high, barring the trail. Oh, daddy is having fun with me, she thought, as she grabbed the stick to clear the path. Instantly the long grey snake wrapped itself around her arm and bit her.

She screamed, shook the snake off her arm, and raced back to the creek crying, “A snake bit me! A snake bit me!

When Jo heard Leanne scream, she instantly remembered dreaming this scene the night before—a dream she had forgotten. “It was like God was telling me, ‘Don’t worry. Be calm. I know all about this snake,’” Jo said later. She soothed Leanne and led the girls home. It did turn out alright; the snake either was not poisonous or God intervened and saved her.

What is it with dreams?

The Bible mentions dreams or visions over 220 times. Matthew begins his story of Jesus by telling of Joseph’s four dreams: 1) It’s okay to marry Mary. 2) Take your family to Egypt. 3) Go back to Israel. 4) Go live in Galilee, and one dream of the Wise Men: Go home without telling Herod about Jesus. Five dreams in the first thirty verses!

People took dreams seriously back in those days.

Even today, many non-western people take dreams seriously. Large numbers of Muslims in Iran are turning to Jesus. One third of these testify that a dream about Jesus telling them, “I am the way to God” had prepared them. This astounds people like me who explain vivid dreams by blaming the spicy food we ate the night before.

Dreams don’t astound Canela people. A popular early morning greeting is, “What did you dream?” One of our Canela friends and helpers started getting drunk on sugar cane rum every time he went into town. The Canelas elders’ council lectured him and shamed him but nothing helped. We prayed for him for years. One day we returned to the village from a two-month-workshop in the city and he told us he had stopped drinking after having a dream.

“’Do you want to stop drinking?’ a man up in the sky asked me. I told him I did. ‘Every morning take a large cup of cold water, go outside, look into the sky, think about me, and drink it down in one long swallow.’ I have been doing that for two months. One day in town someone offered me a drink of cane rum and when I smelled it I ran outside because I nearly vomited.”

Why don’t we westerners, and Christians especially, dream God dreams? Is it because we don’t believe in dreams and therefore don’t have them? Or do we, but we aren’t comfortable telling anyone about them? Are we missing out? Have any of you readers had God oriented dreams? Want to tell me some?