Archives October 2017

The Gift of Reading

Though it occurred in 1999, my memory of it is very clear. I had just finished teaching a lesson in the village. We were about a month into the foundational evangelism teaching at Malaumanda. Yagitasa (a widowed mother probably in her late 30’s at that time and a regular attendee to the teaching) called me over to where she was sitting with her sister. She said, “Jeff, we were talking last night and we can remember what God created on the first, second and third days but we cannot remember what God created on the fourth day. Can you remind us?” I replied to her that on that day God distinguished day and night with their respective lights and created the stars. “Oh, that’s right! Now we remember” she replied. Then she said something I have never forgotten…
“When you missionaries teach us to read our own language and translate God’s Word for us in our language we will not have to ask you questions like this anymore because we’ll be able to find the answer ourselves by reading it.”

Just two years the New Testament was presented to that remote tribal group in Papua New Guinea. Believers in that church can now read God’s Word because their language had been established in written form and many literacy classes were taught over the years laying the ground work for that great day!

This was part of our church planting strategy and emphasizes why literacy in the local language is so important. Not only is reading a skill that produces life-long benefits, it is also a skill that opens to us the Truths written in God’s Word.

Note this fact in Ephesians 3:4. While making reference to the grace of God found in the Gospel, Paul notes the important connection between understanding and reading when he writes…

“by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ”

…We mustn’t miss the worth of this statement. Clearly, with reading comes understanding. In recent years some missionary methods have surfaced emphasizing the oral communication aspects of some cultures while minimizing the significance of the written word. Let’s not forget the crucial significance of reading the inspired, written Word of God. To have the written Scriptures in one’s language and to be able to read them are both gifts. Let’s rejoice in the treasure of these gifts today!

Please consider these five areas…

  • Take a moment and reflect on the significance of your education and thank the Lord for the fact you can read the language you speak. Many still cannot.
  • When was the last time you expressed your gratitude to the Lord for the Bible in your language? Many spoken languages around the world still do not have a Bible translated into that language.
  • Many people groups still exist without their language in written form. Would you pray for them?
  • All around the globe missionary efforts are presently involved in the tedious process of teaching literacy and translating the Scriptures. Often these two momentous tasks are being done simultaneously by missionaries. Pray for them to have the stamina and wisdom for both endeavors.

Resource Availability: Superfluity vs. Disparity

The Middle-aged, Divorced, Former Small Business Owner, Urban Living with a Beard, Men’s Study Bible
…because you deserve a Study Bible that is uniquely designed for you.
(Available in three versions!)

Yes, the above announcement is a fictitious study Bible … I think.

Recently I received a message promoting another new English Bible translation that claims “… the balance between accuracy and readability that was 20 years in the making!” Why is choosing the Bible such a task? … Which version is best? Type-face and print size desired? Single or double column format? Leather, canvas or hardback cover? Color? Men’s, Female or Study Bible? …Good marketing along with creativity in format and style are producing more options all the time. And, there is no need to wait- Amazon Prime can have it to you with free shipping in two days!

The barrage of available resource possibilities I received to consider each week as a pastor was staggering! Options for magazines, new books, sample materials, catalogs, free trials, upcoming conferences, webinars, and live chats were part of an ongoing flood of options available. Each touted great reviews and results with groundbreaking innovation to move one’s ministry or walk with the Lord to the “next level”.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful that resources are readily available. Bookstores are in virtually every town and tons of possibilities are online. We are blessed to have so much. But, is having so many options a good thing? If accessibility and options equated spirituality we’d be giants of faith. One would think with the plethora of choices accessible, the American church would be the most equipped, spiritually mature group in history!

Amid the glorious joy of having gobs of options, there is a somber side to this issue. Consider the stark contrast regarding the overabundance of resource options we have compared to the extreme lack of resources available in other languages. Imagine having a Bible in your language but that is your only resource option. No study Bibles. No commentaries. No Small Group guides. No devotional books. Just the Bible. This is a present reality in too many spoken languages in the world today.

I have been sharing in churches and small groups over the last several months and many are rejoicing with me regarding the Malaumanda New Testament that I use in the presentation. Long after Joy and I helped to establish the church among the people of Malaumanda in Papua New Guinea, faithful co-laborers worked with great devotion to produce the New Testament for that tribe. Of course, it was a great accomplishment (13 years in the making!) and is certainly something worthy of rejoicing. But few connect the significant disparity of the Malaumanda tribal culture to their own. Like hundreds of other indigenous people groups, the Malaumandan church has only a New Testament published in its language. Outside of some teaching lessons provided by the missionaries, that is most likely all they will ever have.

Join me as I am asking some serious questions regarding the availability of Christian-driven resources…

  • Is the lack of resources OK because they are just tribal people or is it OK because it is not me who is needy in this area?
  • Does simply being an American entitled me to having more options?
  • Regarding resource material, when is enough, enough?
  • Is there such a thing as too much?
  • In our western society, what drives the desire to provide resources and make them available – tools for discipleship goals or financial gain?
  • If there was a likelihood of financial gain would there be greater interest in going to produce more materials in linguistically needy areas?
  • How much of the appeal for “more options” just feeds a carnal desire and is detracting manpower, brain energy and finances away from carrying out the Great Commission?

OK, admittedly, my temperature is starting to rise… Let me take a step back.

Maybe, in this area of resource availability, “right” and “wrong” are terms that are too emotionally charged. Perhaps the better terms to use would be “fair” and “unfair”. Or, maybe even more bluntly…“care or not care” ?

What can we do? I am not calling for a boycott of resources from Christian publishing agencies. I am, however, asking you to consider a renewed appreciation for the reality that exists outside of the American bubble. Striving to strike some kind of balance, I have these suggestions…

  1. Value the Bible. Realize that some cultures only have the Bible. Yet, Christians and churches still grow. Many thrive. Let’s not forget the potential and power of the Word of God…alone!
  2. Appreciate the resources. It is a gift. Don’t take it for granted. Choose well. Supplement the Bible, don’t supplant or overcrowd it. In 2 Timothy 4:13, recognizing his resources were as necessary as his garments Paul made this prioritized request, “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come- and the books, especially the parchments.”
  3. Acknowledge our propensity to be drawn toward “new, better, must have & more”.  If the words “updated and improved” stir emotions of must-have, you may be falling prey to the Marketing-Monster. The lure of innovation and marketing pizzazz could be a trap. A Wise Sage’s words ring of relevance for today… “And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
  4. Invest in resource production where the disparity exists. See the value in missionary endeavors that establish/provide resources in languages where they are needed. It evidences good missionary principles when local languages and cultures are valued enough to produce materials in the heart language of individuals (Ethnos360 is one such agency). Resource production/availability should be a component of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission. Most often, missionaries not only write/translate resource materials but bear the production costs as well.
  5. Volunteer to change. It takes people to make a difference. Of the resources to which we have access, some had to be translated. Some had to be created. Have you considered being that person for languages that do not have the resources available? (see Isaiah 6:8)

Just thinking.

Thanks for considering.

– Jeff

Decisions and God’s Will

While on a road trip sharing about the work, I was able to visit the very spot where it all began. Though the university that I attended no longer exists and a once vibrant campus sat silently that Sunday afternoon, the spot where I acknowledged to the Lord that I would go and be a missionary looks the same today as it did 37 years ago. Though just a parking lot between the bookstore and gymnasium, it is still a special place to me. There is no commemorative plague. No historical marker. Just a memory-milestone for me of great significance – a decision.

37 years ago I made the decision to become a missionary at this exact spot.

In thinking about that decision, I thought it worth the reminder of the process of determining God’s will in a decision. Here are five steps I’ve used in my life.

  1. Is it in the arena of God’s will? If this concern is not verified in the Scriptures as being in the will of God it is not viable. Stop here. It is not even a justifiable decision to even be praying about. (ie. The consideration of buying a house that will put you in significant debt, move you to an area far away from a church and cause you to work overtime resulting in you neglecting your family…is not God’s will)
  2. Do you sense God’s prompting? Sometimes we need to be open to new areas we have not even considered. Sometimes we need to decide between two good things. God often creates in us a desire once we are open to His will. A curious interest was on my heart the entire week before I made the decision in that parking lot. I did not want to react emotionally so I prayed for confirmation.
  3. Ask God, for clarity. I believe James 1:5 applies here. Ask God for the wisdom necessary to decide His will. He wants you to know it.
  4. Wait. Personally, I hate this part. If you are the type of person who wants it NOW this will be difficult.  But, it is necessary in the process. And, hindsight always proves it to be valuable because God is doing other things behind the scene.  Probably setting up your transition after the decision.  Trust Him in this.
  5. Act. God will make His will known. When He does, don’t hesitate. Make the decision and humbly walk in the confidence of the Lord. Where He guides, He provides and sustains.

What a thrill to consult the One who sustains all life and all circumstance!

Enjoy the journey.