El Cuaderno

(This is the Spanish translation of the post: The Notebook)

 Un hombre mixteco traduce la Palabra de Dios a su propia lengua

Una historia verídica de impacto

Escrito en inglés por Johnny L. Williams

Traducido al español por Allan Lee. El español fue revisado en 2011.

Introducción

Lo que usted va a leer en este libro es una historia verídica. Es una historia de inspiración y de impacto que narra cómo Dios obró en la vida de un hombre para que la gente de su pueblo pudiera escuchar la Palabra de Dios en su propia lengua.  No fue nada fácil. Dejó de ir a la escuela para cuidar los chivos de su papá cuando estaba en el segundo año de primaria. Antes de conocer a Dios este hombre tomaba mucho y no sabía nada de la Palabra de Dios. Entregó su vida a Jesucristo teniendo casi sesenta años.

Él vio que su esposa y muchos otros no entendían bien los estudios bíblicos en español. Así que compró un cuaderno, inventó su propio alfabeto ya que la variante de su lengua no tenía forma escrita y empezó a traducir.

Esta historia nos enseña que Dios quiere que la gente tenga su palabra en su propia lengua, y por eso usó a este hombre de esta manera. Hoy en día la gente de su región ya tiene todo el Nuevo Testamento publicado y grabado en lengua mixteca. Este nos hace recordar el pasaje de Hechos 2:6-8 y 11b que dice: “Al oír este estruendo, se juntó la multitud; y estaban confusos, porque cada uno los oía hablar en su propia lengua. Estaban atónitos y admirados, diciendo: Mirad, ¿no son galileos todos estos que hablan? ¿Cómo, pues, los oímos nosotros hablar cada uno en nuestra lengua en la que hemos nacido? (.) Los oímos hablar en nuestras lenguas las maravillas de Dios.”

Dios hizo este milagro para que esta multitud de tal vez un millón de personas pudiera escuchar el mensaje de Jesús en su propia lengua. Así también pasó en este pueblo, Dios usó a este hombre para que la gente pudiera escuchar Su palabra en su propia lengua.

Todavía hay muchos otros pueblos en México y en todo el mundo donde la gente aún no tiene la Palabra de Dios en la lengua de su corazón. ¿Está usted dispuesto si Dios quiere usarle para ayudar a cumplir esta misión tan importante?

 El Cuaderno

La maestra de educación pública no sabía en qué se metía. Había sido asignada a este pequeño pueblo por las autoridades educativas. No fue su primera elección; tardaba tres horas viajando en la parte trasera de un camión de carga para llegar desde la “civilización”. Estaba a diez horas de la ciudad donde ella radicaba. Era un pueblo de tan solo ocho cientos habitantes, pocos de ellos dominaban bien el español. Hablaban una variante del mixteco, uno de los casi setenta lenguas originarias de México. Eran demasiado pobres, campesinos que apenas subsistían con lo que sembraban en sus tierras rocosas, escasamente suficiente para alimentar a sus familias.

DSCN3666Trabajando en sus tierras rocosas

Sus casas tenían piso de tierra y un solo foco para iluminarse. Cocinaban sobre un fogón y elaboraban sus propias tortillas. Ellos le prestaron un pequeño cuarto a la maestra, a un lado de la escuela, también con piso de tierra.

A pesar de su pobreza la gente era generosa. Compartían con ella de lo poco que tenían, felices porque ella había venido para enseñar a sus hijos, muchos de los cuales llegaban a la escuela sin saber hablar español o tal vez sólo un poquito. La maestra dedicaba tanto tiempo a enseñarles español como a todas las otras materias juntas.

schoolLa primera escuela

Todo lo relacionado con la vida en ese pueblo fue duro. Ella nunca había visto pulgas tan grandes. Pero no era de aquellas personas que fácilmente se dan por vencidas. Cuando apenas había recibido la noticia que había sido asignada a enseñar en ese lugar lejano se resistió. Pero después de orar al respecto sintió que Dios la estaba llamando a ir. Así que a pesar de las dificultades, sabía bien que estaba precisamente donde Dios quería que estuviera. Esta convicción fue confirmada al darse cuenta que las personas de ese pueblo, aunque eran católicas devotas, casi no entendían nada de la Biblia. El sacerdote llegaba una vez al mes para oficiar la misa y otras ceremonias pero no les explicaba la Biblia.

Previa a la llegada de la maestra, llegó un cristiano de afuera que predicaba el evangelio mientras vendía zapatos. Ella empezó a enseñarles coritos cristianos a los alumnos y realizaba estudios bíblicos para los adultos. Mucha gente empezó a asistir. Estaban hambrientos de escuchar la Palabra de Dios, conscientes de que era algo bueno. Sin embargo, pocas personas entendían bien de lo que ella enseñaba ya que solo podía explicar la Biblia en español. Había un hombre que había viajado más y había aprendido más español que los demás. Él llegó a ser el primer creyente en el pueblo. La maestra lo puso a traducir al mixteco lo que ella decía.

Esto fue difícil para él, pues ignoraba cómo decir en mixteco tantos conceptos bíblicos que ella enseñaba. A veces él tenía que usar una mezcla de palabras de español y mixteco, y por eso este mensaje tan importante todavía no llegaba a lo profundo de sus corazones.

Poco después el padre de aquel hombre, ya anciano, empezó a asistir a los estudios y aceptó el mensaje de salvación. Durante su vida se había emborrachado al punto de perder la razón tantas veces que perdió la cuenta. Él y sus compañeros eran músicos que tocaban en las fiestas. A pesar de su nueva confesión de fe, no pudo resistir la tentación de tocar su violín y emborracharse con los demás en esas fiestas. Un día, estando crudo, su hijo lo confrontó diciendo que si de verdad iba a seguir a Jesús tendría que romper con el pasado y vender sus instrumentos. Fue doloroso vender sus amados instrumentos, pero sabía que eran la fuente de sus problemas, y jamás volvió a tomar alcohol.

Al transcurrir el tiempo y al crecer su fe, sintió lástima por su esposa y por otros que no entendían el español. Vez tras vez leyó su Biblia para poder dominar la lectura en español. Pero ardía su corazón con el deseo de ayudar a otros. Sintió que ellos necesitaban la Biblia en mixteco, no sólo una traducción espontánea como la que hacía su hijo.

¿Pero qué podía hacer? ¡Ni siquieren existía un alfabeto para el mixteco que él hablaba!

La vida de aquel anciano era muy dura. Madrugaba y se desvelaba. Tejía sombreros y canastas de palma para ganar dinero extra para sus gastos. Trabajaba arduamente arando sus campos pedregosos con una yunta y un arado que él mismo había fabricado. Participaba en la faena comunitaria, como para construir la primera escuela del pueblo o reparando las calles. En varias ocasiones sirvió en cargos de liderazgo en el pueblo. Había estado trabajando desde que era pequeño, ya que tuvo que abandonar la escuela para hacerse cargo de los chivos de la familia desde que tenía siete años. Tenía cinco hijos vivos. Otros cinco habían muerto en su infancia. Su alimentación consistía de tortillas, frijoles y hierbas. Raramente tenía la oportunidad de saborear carne.

palmsebEl señor tejiendo sombreros

Ahora llenaba sus noches asistiendo a los estudios o leyendo su Biblia vez tras vez. Descubría cosas maravillosas en ella, de las cuales no podían disfrutar su esposa y otros. Oraba a Dios sobre lo qué pudiera hacer para ayudarles.

Un día fue a la tienda y compró un pequeño cuaderno. Utilizando las letras del español, empezó a traducir al mixteco Lucas 24, la historia de la resurrección de Jesús. ¡Qué noticia tan buena! Pero era muy difícil hacerlo. El mixteco cuenta con tantos sonidos que no existen en español y había tantos conceptos bíblicos que no sabía expresar en mixteco. ¿Cómo podría hacerlo un hombre que sólo estudió dos años de primaria?

El anciano ahora sostenía en sus manos un cuaderno con varios capítulos de la Biblia traducidos al mixteco. Sintió que había sido el trabajo más duro que jamás había hecho en su vida. Más duro que cultivar sus campos que eran de casi pura piedra. Más duro que cargar leña por veredas desde la montaña hasta el pueblo. Más duro que tejer sombreros y canastas de palma por diez o doce horas. Pero Dios le había ayudado. Había ideado una manera de escribirlo, por lo menos una manera que él podía leer.

Aún así no se sentía el indicado. ¿Quién era él para estar traduciendo la Santa Palabra de Dios? ¿Qué tal si hubiera malentendido algunos versículos y los estaba explicando de manera equivocada? Leyó en el libro de Apocalipsis que los que añaden o quitan de la Palabra de Dios son maldecidos. Así aunque siempre llevaba su cuaderno al estudio, no lo leía en voz alta.

Pero una noche fue diferente, sintió un mover en su corazón y un fuego en su alma. Ya no podía quedarse sentado. La gente se estaba durmiendo, sus pensamientos vagaban, varias personas conversaban en voz baja y algunos ya ni llegaban a los estudios. ¿Para qué ir si entendían tan poquito? Así que se atrevió a ponerse de pie y dijo que tenía algo que quería compartir. Con las manos temblorosas abrió su cuaderno y se puso bajo el único foco en el cuarto.

Respiró profundamente y comenzó a leer, al principio lentamente y sin fluidez. Escuchó a la gente suspirar cuando se dio cuenta de que él estaba hablando, o más bien, leyendo en mixteco, la lengua de su corazón.

Continuó leyendo, cobrando fuerza y confianza conforme avanzaba. Al alzar la vista pudo ver que algunas de las señoras estaban llorando. Ya nadie estaba dormido ni cabeceando, ya nadie conversaba y ya nadie se levantaba para cambiarse de lugar. Todos estaban enfocados en él y en lo que decía. Él continuó. La luz de la comprensión brilló en los ojos de la gente. Continuó leyendo durante un largo rato. Estas personas jamás serían iguales, ni él tampoco.

La maestra no estaba allá para disfrutar este gran fruto de su servicio para Dios, porque después de un poco más de dos años las autoridades educativas habían tomado la decisión de transferirla a otro lugar. Había partido con una carga en el corazón pero contenta por el hecho de que había plantado semillas, pero no pudo imaginar las cosas tan maravillosas que Dios haría por medio de estas semillas.

preachEl traductor enseñando a la gente

Pasó el tiempo y el cuaderno del señor se llenaba. A pesar del gran sacrifico personal que representaba, él continuó traduciendo más capítulos. Su producción de sombreros y canastas bajó bastante. Tenía menos dinero que nunca. Pero no se detenía, la Palabra de Dios era más importante. Dios siempre proveyó lo suficiente para sus necesidades.

El estaba leyendo en casi todos de los cinco cultos que tenían semanalmente. Algunas mujeres, además, llegaban a su casa cada semana para oírlo leer. La gran barrera del español se estaba derrumbando, y Dios ya no era un extranjero o un forastero, ahora Él hablaba mixteco. Su Palabra llegaba directamente a los corazones, en vez de entrar por un oído y salir por el otro.

Conforme más traducía el anciano, más difícil resultaba. ¡Había tantos conceptos difíciles, eran tantas cosas que sinceramente no entendía muy bien! Le costaba mucho escribir ciertas palabras que no parecían tener ninguna letra en común con el alfabeto del español. Pero ninguna de estas barreras lo frenaba porque Dios lo estaba ayudando. Era un hombre con una misión que cumplir.

La maestra había ayudado a la gente a construir un templo con el apoyo de la iglesia de donde ella venía. Luego esta iglesia decidió tomar la iglesia como una misión a su cargo. Se enviaron ministros a la iglesia para predicar, sin saber que sus mensajes en español serían poco entendibles. No todos los que llegaban aceptaban al anciano con su cuaderno, así que pasaban semanas en que él no tenía la oportunidad de leer durante un culto. Pero esto no afectaba a las cuatro o cinco señoras mayores que regularmente llegaban a su casa para escucharlo leer. La mayoría de los ministros no duraba mucho tiempo en el pueblo. La barrera lingüística y las difíciles condiciones de vida en el pueblo provocaban que muchos regresaran a casa desilusionados.

Un día un lingüista cristiano de los Estados Unidos empezó a visitar el pueblo con la meta de ayudar a la gente a producir libros y traducir la Biblia a su variante del mixteco. En su primera noche en el pueblo se encontró con el anciano y rebosó de emoción al enterarse del contenido de su cuaderno. Inmediatamente el anciano comenzó a ayudar al joven lingüista a aprender su idioma. También empezó a dictarle sus             traducciones. Empezaron a dialogar sobre los conceptos con los que luchaba el anciano para traducir y otros que estaba malentendiendo.

seb-johnTrabajando con el lingüista

Al paso de los años el anciano y el lingüista colaboraron en la traducción de las Escrituras. El Evangelio de San Marcos llegó a ser el primer libro de las Escrituras publicado en aquel lugar. Trece años después de la llegada del lingüista el anciano sostuvo en sus manos un borrador del Nuevo Testamento completo. El anciano pasaba horas leyendo el naciente Nuevo Testamento y corregía los errores en mixteco que el lingüista había introducido al texto.

Pero la vida había sido muy dura con él, y el licor de su pasado cobró un alto precio. Un día empezó a escupir sangre y el lingüista lo llevó al hospital a más de una hora de camino. Los doctores intentaron extirparle la vesícula sin éxito. Sus hijos, quienes ya vivían en la ciudad donde se encontraba el hospital intentaron que se quedara allí. Pero esa idea no le interesó para nada. Amaba a su pueblo y le encantaba leer de su cuaderno a la gente. Así que regresó a su pueblo, pero un día colapsó repentinamente en un campo cerca de su casa. Aparentemente había sufrido un infarto cerebral. Perdió el conocimiento, su hígado dejó de funcionar y pasó a la gloria. El lingüista, quien tuvo la oportunidad de compartir unas palabras en su funeral, explicó que, aunque tal vez la gente no se había dado cuenta, había vivido entre ellos un héroe.

Su sueño había sido que su gente tuviera la Biblia en su idioma. El sueño ha continuado. El Nuevo Testamento completo ha sido revisado, grabado y publicado, y ahora está disponible para la gente.

La maestra, quien todavía realiza visitas al pueblo, está contenta al reflexionar sobre la semilla sembrada en el corazón del anciano durante sus estudios bíblicos. Esta semilla creció a pasos agigantados, de que él comenzara a escribir y leer de su cuaderno maltratado al punto de tener el Nuevo Testamento en mixteco. Ella sufrió mucho durante esos primeros años, al igual que el viejito. Pero ya con este fruto se ve que todo valió la pena. Ella da gracias a Dios, el único que pudiera lograr algo como esto.

Para leer y escuchar el Nuevo Testamento, Busca el app en Google Play: Mixteco de Tezoatlán

Para escuchar cantos en mxteco en youtube, vaya al: Youtube

Para ver el video de la celebaración del Nuevo Testamento, vayan aquí.

NT

Portada del Nuevo Testamento publicado en el mixteco que hablaba el señor de esta historia, entregado por primera vez a la gente durante una celebración el día 15 de marzo de 2008.  La portada dice en mixteco: “Este libro es la Palabra de Dios, y da testimonio de Jesús”.

Samaritan Lives Matter

Some people object to the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” and prefer saying, “All Lives Matter.” I am perfectly okay with saying, “Black Lives Matter”, especially now as a way to put a spotlight on prejudices, and recognizing that this issue, and seeking how we can all be better, means a lot to our Black brothers and sisters who have faced discrimination. (I cannot support the actual BLM organization since I cannot support any candidate, leader or group when they are pro-abortion.) We also need to realize that when we do say, “All Lives Matter”, we are including terrorists, pedophiles, rapists, serial killers, etc., though The Creator, who made us all in His image, desires that they, like each one of us, repent and follow Jesus.

Jesus did not shy away from focusing on some of the significant prejudices of the time when He walked on this earth. One of issues He confronted was the awful way the minority Samaritan people were treated. There was a long history of bitterness between the Jews and the Samaritans. For the Jews, the Samaritans were the lowest of the low. I will not go into the history of why this was so, other than to say that the Samaritans accepted pagan customs (idolaters), intermarried with pagans (half-breeds), built their own temple instead of recognizing the one in Jerusalem (unclean), sided with those fighting the Jews in the intertestamental period (blood enemies), tried to get the Jews in trouble with the Romans (spies/traitors), and rejected many of the teachings and writings of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem (heretics).

By the time Jesus appeared on earth, this animosity was at a peak. As a result, Jesus, and eventually those filled with His Spirit, revealed the sinfulness of this hatred. This ungodly attitude is very clear in John 8:47-48: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”  There was not a worse insult of someone than to call them a Samaritan, which for the Jews was as bad as being demon possessed. (It should be noted that God warned the Israelites not to associate closely with Gentiles so as to not fall into their pagan ways, but the Old Testament also has many verses which talk of His love for non-Jews and how the Jews were to be a light to them. The Jews at Jesus’ time went way overboard with the avoidance, and did many things the opposite of being a light to them.)

The most well-known example of Jesus putting a spotlight on this issue, making sure they knew that Samaritan lives matter to God, is the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. Two of the most significant classes of people in the culture, a priest and a Levite (temple assistant), refused to help the injured man on the side of the road. The hero of this parable was the “hated” Samaritan, who was the only one to show love and compassion, the only good neighbor. It is hard for us to realize how radical this parable was at that time, making the Samaritan the wonderful example and shaming the priest and the Levite.

Screenshot_2020-06-22 NT118 Good Samaritan

Another example is the woman at the well. Here Jesus breaks two significant cultural taboos. He speaks not only to a Samaritan, but to a woman. John 4:27 says: Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” In 4:9 the woman herself expresses this: The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) This passage also reveals the issue about the two temples, in John 4:20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Later on the woman returns to her Samaritan village and tells them all about Jesus. Vs. 40-41 report: “When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.” Jesus staying with them for two days is another cultural bomb since “good” Jews would not have any associations with a Samaritan, let alone stay in their village (and eat with them) for two days!

Luke 17 recounts yet another scene where a Samaritan person is praised. Ten lepers come to Jesus, stand far off, and ask Him to heal them. He tells them to go and show themselves to a priest, and as they are going, they are all healed. But only one comes back to thank him. Both Jesus and Luke makes sure everyone knows that the only one to show gratitude is a Samaritan! 17:16-19: He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Before they received the Holy Spirit, the disciples, even after seeing these things, still held deep seated animosity toward the Samaritans, and were ready to burn them all up when they refused to welcome them when they sought a place to stay one night. Luke 9:52-55: He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. This scene also reveals that the Samaritans themselves were upset that Jesus was going to the temple in Jerusalem, and not to their temple.

Finally, after His death and resurrection, Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim to all the world about Him and what He has done and the salvation He offers. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He specifically mentions Samaria. So preach to the people you know (Jerusalem), to the people “like you” within your local area (Judea), across racial and prejudicial boundaries (Samaria, as I have taught and shown you), and then you will be ready to serve and love any type of people in all the world.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples and other followers begin preaching Jesus, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, and after they dillydallied too much, persecution sent them out toward Samaria and the rest of the known world. Acts 8 highlights Philip’s journey to preach in Samaria, how many came to believe, and then how Peter and John came, helped the new believers receive the Holy Spirit and rejoiced with them.

Though not a Samaritan, Acts 10 and the first part of 11 highlight that even after receiving the Holy Spirit, breaking through their prejudices was a process. God wanted a Gentile Roman general to hear His word, and God had to show Peter an earth-shattering vision to get him to go to the house of an “unclean” Gentile. Finally after this out-of-body experience, Peter went and preached to this man and his family, and Peter’s worldview was blown apart again when these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. But afterwards, he got roundly criticized, in 11:2-3: But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.  Peter recounted all that God had showed him, and in 11:17-18 he says: “And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”  When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Prejudices are hard to break, and God had to do some significant work in the hearts of the believers to show them His love for all types of people.

Later on, at a big meeting to talk about this issue, Peter speaks with great power and eloquence about this new worldview all the Jewish believers needed to have. Acts 15:7-11: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

It is also worth stating that slavery can never be justified by anything in the Bible. I will focus a moment on the New Testament teaching since most of us are Gentiles and so it speaks directly to us as Gentiles. In the case of the Romans, specifically the upper class, it was very common for them to have slaves. Some of the lower class people sold themselves into slavery as a way to support themselves and their families. People with full Roman citizenship were usually not forced into slavery. However non-citizens and those brought back as captives from other nations had little to no rights, and so could freely be made slaves, no matter what their station in life was before the Romans defeated their people. So some super rich, high ranking people of other nations became lowly slaves for the Romans. While some were treated fairly well, many others were treated very badly, including being raped by their masters, with man on boy being one of the most common immoral acts. Please note that race did not have anything to do with who was a Roman slave, If you did not have official Roman citizenship, you could be forced to be a slave.

Theoretically, Paul could have proclaimed, “Release all your slaves!”, but who would have listened? Most of the places he went, he was thrown in jail for preaching about this “other” king, Jesus, which was insurrection to those who recognized Cesar as the only ruler. What Paul was able to do was give to godly advice to those who were slaves. Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and he was able to find the positive in that, stating from prison in Philippians 1:12-13 “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” He also proclaimed in 1 Cor. 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” So this is what he teaches to those who are slaves. Remember that Jesus is your true Master, but as long as you live as slaves, do the best as you can to work hard for this earthly master so as to be a witness to them and your fellow slaves.  He also states that if you can become free, do it. 1 Cor 7:21-23:  “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

He also commands those who are masters to treat those who serve them with respect and kindness. When that was the case, most slaves would have preferred to stay since it was a good way to provide for them and their families. Paul’s advise to Philemon is very applicable to this. A slave ran away from Philemon, who seems to be a friend of Paul. This slave, through the ministry of Paul, became a Jesus follower, and decided to go back to Philemon. In the book of Philemon Paul tells how Onesimus has become a believer and desires to go back to Philemon’s house. Paul urges Philemon to receive him back, and to treat him like family, like a fellow believer in Jesus. In this case Onesimus wants to keep living with Philemon, and Paul wants to make sure he will be treated equally.

In conclusion, let me say that not only the Bible speaks of these things, but also the Declaration of Independence declares that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our country has too many times fallen far short of these wonderful words. The Bible states clearly that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all equal in the sight of God, created in His image, and may He help us as we rid ourselves of biases, prejudices and whatever wrong things we have thought and/or been taught, and have our worldview rocked, if it needs to be rocked, so that we see all people through His eyes.

Note: Part of the inspiration to study the “Samaritan” issue more in depth came from Pastor Eric Young, who included Jesus’ teachings regarding discrimination against the Samaritans in a sermon at Discovery Church Tucson.

Job and his relationship with God

Synopsis: We usually focus on suffering when thinking of Job, but it is the apparent break in relationship with God that hurts him the most. Where is God’s love, His care? Though I am in unspeakable emotional and physical pain, I can live without my children (oh, so much pain and sorrow!), my health, my money. But I cannot live without God. He is my Everything.

John Job video picMany of the thoughts I share here I first heard in a devotional at the 2012 Mexico Branch of SIL conference held in Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico. I would like to thank Pastor Ismael Cruz Solórzano for his beautiful insights into the book of Job. During the height of the COVID-19 quarantine Eric Young, the pastor of Discovery Church Tucson, the church I attend in Arizona, suggested I make a series of videos based on articles I had written on this blog giving a Biblical perspective on suffering. The one on Job was the ninth in this video series, and in it I combined the things I learned from Pastor Ismael’s devotional together with the theme I was focusing on during that difficult time.

Usually when we think about Job, the number one thing that comes to our mind is suffering. And it is true that Job suffered immensely. But the main theme of the book is actually not pain and suffering.

To begin, let us look at the setting, how all the events of the book got set into action. Job 1:6-12: One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”  Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 1“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

As we think about this passage, we know that God knows what satan is going to ask Him. In fact, it is God who brings Job into the conversation, telling satan that Job is blameless, upright, a man of integrity who shuns evil. In response, satan accuses God, saying that is only the case because God “coddles” him, has blessed him, put a hedge of protection around him. Then satan assures God that if He were to take this away, Job would curse Him to his face. So the dynamic here is that satan is casting doubt on God’s honor. God implies that Job loves him because of Who He is, but satan claims that Job will curse God if he loses his things. We might compare it with a man who married the light of his life, a woman he was deeply in love with, only to later find out that she only married him for his money. The man had thought that she married him for who he is, for his character, because they had that “connection”, had such good times together, maybe he thought he was quite the romantic, or felt that God was leading in all this. But to think that from her perspective she was seeing him more like an ATM machine, that would really hurt. That is basically the dynamic going on here, what satan is saying to God: “Job just loves you for your “money”, because you bless him and provide for him, but take that all away and he will curse You.” This is attacking God’s honor. So God wants it to be clear that Job loves Him because of Who He is and not just because God gives him things.

In a previous article I wrote about the issue of blaming God. So in this case, what or who actually caused Job’s suffering? God? satan? Chance? Is God the one who sent these calamities onto Job? As we read the book, the Bible makes it clear that satan is the one who actually did the deeds.  But someone might posit, “Well, God let the devil do all these things.” So are we now blaming God for all the tragedies the devil causes, thinking that it is God’s fault because He allowed it? If you have read my previous articles on “Blaming God”, “The Kingdom of God” and “Suffering and God attributes”, you will know that the devil has a lot of authority in this word because of sin, he has a foothold in the lives of many people, and the just right to cause all kinds of problems.

The Bible clearly states that God never leaves nor forsakes His people. Here also, God never left nor abandoned Job. And Job, though complaining, lamenting, and wondering what in the world is going on, stayed faithful to God and did not curse Him. He could not understand why God, whom he loved, would let all these things happen to him. In 13:15 he says: “Though He slay me, yet will I put my hope in Him.” Job could not think of anything, any sin he committed, to cause this drastic change and cause all this, despite his friends continual insistence that he must have done something really bad. But in the end, God reveals Himself to Job, shows that He loves him and never stopped loving him, and in the end, restores all that he had.

We know that before satan acted, life was going very good for Job. Then this drastic change. Let us look for a moment at some of the things Job lost in a very short period of time, and as much as Job can figure, for no good reason.  1) He lost all his oxen and donkeys and all but one servant who was taking care of them. 2) Then another servant comes and says “The fire of God came down and burnt up all your sheep and your servants. Only I escaped.” (Interesting here that the servant seems to blame God when we know that satan is the one who caused this.) 3) Then another servant says the Chaldeans came, killed all his servants and took all his camels. 4) Then the worst of these tragedies, another servant comes in and says all his children were together, a windstorm came down onto the house they were partying in, and killed them all.

So how did Job react to this awful mess, this complete disaster?  Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. This was a sign of deep mourning at that time, and showing what was in his heart. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,  and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:20-22)  Wow, his main response to this tragedy is to worship and magnify the name of the Lord. He also did not curse the name of the Lord as satan had predicted.

In chapter two, satan comes back, and still does not believe that Job has a strong faith, and so proposes that God do something else in 2:5-7: “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

Again satan predicts that if he loses his health, he will curse God, will turn his back on God, and show his true colors by losing faith in God. So God lets him do as “he” pleases, and satan strikes him with boils. It is not God who is afflicting him. Satan’s main goal is, again, that Job curse God. So from here the book takes on the theme, no so much of suffering, but what will be the result of all this suffering. The focus in on the relationship between God and Job. Will Job actually curse God and turn his back on Him? This chapter also says that, besides satan, Job’s wife was encouraging him to curse God, to which he responds in 2:10: “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. Job is despairing he is hurting, he does not know all that is going on in the background, of this interaction between God and satan. But He does know that God is God and did not sin by cursing Him.

When thinking about all that happened to Job throughout these 42 chapters, we do not know how long all this lasted. Weeks? Months? Years? We do know that three friends came to visit him and sat with him in silence for a week. And thinking about what they said once they started talking, it would have been more helpful to Job if they had just been there with him and supported him in silence rather than spouting out a lot of clichés and warped armchair theology!

The interactions with his friends begin in chapter three when Job breaks the silence and instead of cursing God, as satan and his wife were trying to get him to do, he cursed the day of his birth! 3:1-4: At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said: “Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let no light shine on it.”

Job goes on, but suffice to say that he is despairing, he is suffering, he is having a really hard time. He doesn’t understand why this is happening to him. He lost his children and everything he owned, his wife gave him bad counsel, he has lost his health. Even those who have a strong faith may respond to pain and hard times by despairing, lamenting, crying, by even doubting, saying “What is going on? I do not understand. Why is this happening to me? Where is God in all this?” This does not necessarily show a lack of faith. Jeremiah also cursed the day of his birth. Some will say these types of reactions show weak faith. “You have to put on a good face! Just keep on going. God is in control! Don’t let your emotions affect you at all!” While inside our emotions are just going crazy. We are in desperation.

Some might even say to Job that he is being a bad example! “Potential new believers might think the Christian life is hard!” Well, it is! Trying to just hide our feelings and put on a “spiritual” face doesn’t really help things very much. So we could actually say, “Thank you Job. I can identify with you. You are expressing things I feel when I am suffering or going through hard times. I am encouraged that a man of strong faith can have these feelings. Too many times we try to put on a “Christian” face and hide and bury our emotions, not being sure how others, especially Christians, will react to our lamenting, despair and doubt.

In Job we see that we can be, and need to be honest with our feelings. God is the rock, not us. Our faith and trust in Him needs to be a rock, our firm foundation, but it is okay to pour out our emotions. David, Job, Jeremiah, even Paul poured out their emotions to God. He is big enough to take it! He knows our heart! He is the rock and we need to cling to Him and His truth. There is no faithful person in the Bible who did not suffer and experience hard times. There is a misguided teaching that makes false promises and says: “Come to God and you will no longer have any problems! You will always be blessed! You will always be healthy. Your children will always obey you! Your mother-in-law will love you!” But the reality is the Bible does not teach this. We live in a world of sin and suffering, this is not heaven. Revelation says that one day God will wipe away all tears and remove all suffering in heaven. But while we are here on earth, we will experience difficult things. What we will NOT experience is God abandoning us, forsaking us or not loving us.

A lot of the book of Job comes down to identifying the root of our despair. Over a lifetime there will be many things that can cause us to despair and complain to God, be it something that happens to us personally, or to a loved one, or someone close to us passes away. In 3:25 Job talks about his greatest fear: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Now what is this thing that has happened that he dreaded so much? Earlier we looked at the list of all that Job lost in the first two chapters, he lost almost all his servants, all his livestock, his crops, his children, his health, his wife turned on him, but in the following 39 chapters, none of these things are mentioned again. Job’s greatest fear is: “What has happened with my relationship with God? I thought that he loved me. He is my only source of hope and protection. Why is this happening to me?” His focus is on his relationship with God. To him It seems that, and he feels that God is no longer with him, that He has abandoned him. All the logic that he knows, that God’s love and presence expresses itself by His blessing and protection, seems to indicate that His love is gone, and he has no idea why. God feels very far away. This is so hard for him because it is such a drastic change from the way things were just a little while ago. What has changed? He is not focusing on the “things” he lost, but on apparently losing his relationship with God, even though losing his children was unbearable. “Where is God? If He is not with me, I do not even want to live.  I do not want to continue if He is not with me.”

Basic to the book of Job is worship, his dependency on God. As we saw in chapter one, after all those awful things happened to him, he bowed down and worshiped God. Even though it is incredibly hard and painful, Job can live without his children (oh, so much pain and sorrow!), his riches, his health, “but I cannot live without God. He is my everything.”

So where is our heart when it comes to this basic question? Some people can live without God, but they cannot live without their children, their parents, their health, their financial security. These are super hard things to try and live without, to lose, to see those close to us suffering or even dying. Too many have even committed suicide when they lost their children, their parents, their health, their money. Or if they go on, they turn their backs on God and blame (curse) Him, because they were living for these things, and God was not the most important thing in their life. The most important thing for us not to lose is our trust in God. Other things pale in comparison. The worst thing we can say is that we can live without God.

The big advantage we have over Job is that we have the whole counsel of God, we have so much more revelation than he ever had. We have the Bible and know about how God has shown His love to us through Jesus dying for us and rising again, the greatest example of love ever! We know about the cross and how Jesus left His place of glory and power in heaven, and gave Himself to suffer and die for us and make us right with God. We know John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He have His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Job did not know about this unbelievable love of God through Jesus. And of course Job did not know about the interactions between God and satan. But despite all that, he still held onto God in the middle of it all and eventually God restored all that he had lost.

It is wonderful when God delivers, and it would have been great if God had healed Job in an instant as soon as satan inflicted him with boils from his head to his feet. Or if God had miraculously protected his children, his servants, his livestock, his land. And if He had done so, we could have thanked Him with a grateful heart, and given Him the glory, which He always deserves no matter what happens. Yet it is even more impactful when you have someone who, for example, has suffered for many years with really bad health, say that they love their Lord as much as when they first believed. That faithful faith, that trusting in God and clinging to Him no matter the circumstances, as Paul says: “I am content whatever the circumstances.”

Only God can give us inner peace, inner joy, hope, encouragement, comfort. When we are praying for something or someone else and it does not happen or does not happen as we wanted, let us do as Job prayed after he lost everything, and say wholeheartedly, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Or if we are praying and we see the answer we sought, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”  No matter how our prayers are answered, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!” The Lord is always worthy of thanks, praise and glory.  Job also told his wife: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” 

So when we face hard times and suffering, let us think of Job, and know that it is okay to despair, to complain, to doubt, to wonder why, to lament, to cry. But at our core, we need to hold onto a trust and faith in God that is unshakeable, that no matter the circumstances. In the end say, “Though He slay me, yet I will love Him.” Let that be our prayer. However we express our emotions, at the core let us have an unmovable faith that He is there, that He is with us, and hold on to that sure hope that we will one day be with Him forever and ever, in that place of worship where there will be no more sorrow, suffering nor tears.  Click here to see the video version of this devotional on Facebook

Did Jesus and His disciples not wash their hands?

Currently in mid-March, 2020, hand washing is very much in the news because of the COVID-19 virus. As a result,  I would like to make a few comments about a particular passage of Scripture that talks about washing hands, but which is easily misunderstood. It is found in Mark 7:1-3, from the New Revised Standard Version.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

A cursory reading of this portion makes it sound as if Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating. One may even think that Jesus Himself did not wash His hands. The last part of this verse gives us a clue that is not the case, for it says the tradition is to “thoroughly wash their hands.” The word “thoroughly” is a literal translation of what some more modern versions translate as “a ceremonial washing” or “Jewish ritual of hand washing”.

Looking at Jewish culture and customs of the time, one finds out that it is most probable that Jesus and all his disciples did wash their hands before eating, but that they did not rigidly follow the normal Jewish custom on how to do it. That would involve pouring water over each hand in a very specific way while chanting the blessing. As a result, for the religious Pharisees and scribes, not washing the traditional ritual way is like not washing at all. As a result, these religious leaders believed that Jesus and His disciples’  hands were still “defiled”, unclean in the sight of God. For them it was a sin, disobedience to God.  Here is a video clip that shows how some modern Orthodox Jews perform ritual hand washing, which is probably in many ways the same as Jesus’ time.

As a translation consultant, I help translation teams from different languages in Mexico as they strive to translate the Scriptures into their heart languages in the most accurate and natural way possible. After a portion of Scripture is translated, for example into their Mixec language, it is then revised and checked in the community. The translation team then finds someone who speaks some Spanish and hopefully did not work on the original translation, and that person reads the translation and writes down what it says in Spanish (without looking at a Spanish Bible). This is called a backtranslation.

As I read over this backtranslation, I make consultant comments. For this particular passage, I help make sure the team understands that Jesus and his disciples did wash their hands, but that they did not do it “ritually” or “ceremonially” as the tradition of that time dictated.  I then try and help them find a way to add either a word or a short phrase (as many modern translation do) to give the reader, who may have little or no exposure to any Bible teaching, a clue that they did wash their hands, they just did not do it exactly according to the ritual. For to imply that they did not wash their hands at all is wrong information.

There are many other parts of this particular passage that makes it difficult to translate, but hopefully this one aspect regarding hand washing gives an idea of some of the challenges of not only translating it, but also how we understand our English translations. We have easy access to many different translations, commentaries, internet searches, etc., to find out what a particular passage means, but in many parts of the world, the only thing many people will have will be this one translation the team is working on. By Gods grace, may it be as clear, natural and accurate as possible.

The Top Ten things to consider when translating John 3:16 (updated version)

This updated version of “The Top Ten things to consider when translating John 3:16 was prepared for the 2019 Bible Translation conference in Dallas Texas (Oct 11-15, 2019). The main intended audience are Bible translators, consultants and others involved in this vitally important task. (But these 10 points can also be used in small groups, Bible studies etc., to both better understand the verse and/or better understand the challenges of translation.) There are so many things that could be said about this amazing verse, which Lange says: “contains the whole gospel in a nutshell, or ‘the Bible in miniature,’ and is worth more than all the wisdom of the world.” (Lange, John Peter – Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Vol 6.) Conference presentations are 25 minutes long and so I have tried to focus the discussion on areas which will hopefully help translators as they work through the translation challenges.

johnworkshop

Introduction

John 3:16 is the most well known verse in the Bible. “No verse in Scripture has been more widely quoted. In briefest compass it tells us of the character of God, his redemptive act in behalf of the human race, and the role of faith that leads to the gift of eternal life. Beasley-Murray, 51, calls this passage “a confessional summary of the Gospel.”” (Mounce, R. H., 2007)

Translation preparation

For some teams, this is one of the first verses they translate or are asked to translate to quickly provide the people with an introduction to the Gospel. Or if it is translated later on, it will probably be one of the verses which will be scrutinized and quoted the most. If this verse is translated too early in the program, and partners begin using it in their materials, and the people begin memorizing it, and later on it is discovered that the verse should be significantly revised, then there could be some push-back on changing it, as well as other potential problems.

As a result, and just like all other verses to be translated, it is vitally important to:

  1. translate the verse in context
  2. be aware of the exegetical issues involved
  3. make a detailed study of the keyterms that are part of this verse and its context. The more work that has gone into revising that list will contribute to this verse communicating accurately and naturally and having the maximum impact.
  4. do extensive research into all the things SIL has historically emphasized, such as linguistic, discourse, translation and cultural studies.

Keyterms

Keyterms: heaven, Son of Man, believes, God, (only) Son, love, eternal life, world, perish, condemn, save, through Him, in the name of:

13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God (so loved the world that He) did not send (give) his (one and only) Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him (whosoever believes in Him). 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

There are also the issues in vs. 14: Who is this Moses, in what form did he lift up a (live?) snake in some desert and for what reason? A lot of implied and background information. Jesus being lifted up is most likely also an illusion to Abraham lifting up Isaac onto the altar. Genesis 22:2: “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

An interlinear of John 3:16

Οὕτως  γὰρ ἠγάπησεν θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν
  2 thus   1 for   loved   –   God   the   world,   that   the   Son,
τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν
  the   unique [one],   he gave,   that   every   one   believing   in   him
μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
  2 not   1 may 3 perish   but   have   life   eternal.

(Several Mexico Branch members not directly involved in translation have used the ten following points as they share with Sunday school classes, Bible studies, etc. It should also be noted that the author is a translation consultant and has been a part of two Mixtec (Mexico) translation projects and examples from those translations of John 3:16 will be referred to.)

      1. Does Jesus stop talking at verse 15 or verse 21?

Commentators do not agree where Jesus stopped talking and the writer John began his commentary. (Many commentators included in Logos Bible Software think John said it.) Different versions of the Bible punctuate this section differently, depending whether they think Jesus said what is written in vs. 16-21, or whether they think John wrote it about Him.

Major English versions which stop the quote at verse 15 include the RSV, NIV and NET. But the NRSV and other versions of the NIV (i.e. 84) go to vs. 21.

Use of γὰρ (for)

Some commentators propose that γὰρ (the second Greek word of vs. 16) is a way John uses to introduce the fact that Jesus has stopped speaking, and John is now explaining Jesus’ meaning.  However, Hendrickson (NCC) says γὰρ establishes a relationship with vs. 15. “Jesus tells Nicodemus (in vs. 14-15) that the Son of Man must be lifted up for the purpose indicated. This δεῖ is elucidated in vs. 16, hence γὰρ, which so often offers no proof but only further explanation.” (Lenski)

Another clue as to who is talking is “gave” in the aorist. “Gave” could encompass John looking at Jesus’ whole life (birth, crucifixion and resurrection), or Jesus talking about His coming (He gave Me and here I am), though He could also be referring to His upcoming death and resurrection since that is His reason for His coming (gave Me so I could die and rise again).

Some commentators also refer to various words used in 16-21 that are used by the Gospel writer in other parts of the book but are never attributed to Jesus. (“only” Son, etc.) as an indication that John is writing this, and not Jesus saying it to Nicodemus. Or did John learn some of these words from Jesus?

Depending on how the team/language marks quotations, how they deal with this issue can significantly affect how the text looks, especially if the language requires an ending quote word/phase (said he/Jesus). Mixtec must start and end every quotation: Then Jesus said to Nicodemus…said he. So if the team felt that Jesus stopped talking at the end of vs. 15, then they would have had to put the proper quotation marks, and add, “said he.” By not doing that, the reader/listener assumes that Jesus keeps talking until “said he” appears, which is at the end of vs. 21. When recording this section, especially when using separate speakers for the Narrator and Jesus, the translation team must decide where Jesus stops talking and the Narrator starts up again.

     2. For Thusly (Οὕτωςγὰρ)

The actual first word of verse 16 is “Thusly” (Οὕτως). Thusly can refer (1) to the degree to which God loved the world, that is, to such an extent or so much that he gave his own Son (or (2) simply to the manner in which God loved the world, i.e., by sending his own son (as in vs. 14).

“It is likely that John is emphasizing both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which He chose to express that love.” (2006, The NET Bible First Edition Notes)

So the two options are: “For God so loved the world.” So much incredible love, or in the following way He expressed His love by giving….  Οὕτως  could also tie vs. 16 to vs. 14-15, making a beautiful couplet in the Hebrew style of restatement. This could also be true of the section from vs. 13 through vs. 18, which communicates the same thing in slightly different ways.

How vs. 14 helps us understand vs. 16

Look closely at the context of vs. 14-16: 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so (=Οὕτως) the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so(=Οὕτως) loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This pair of Οὕτως (combined with γὰρ) closely ties the lifting up of the serpent by Moses, the lifting up of the Son of Man and the giving of the Only Son. And if “lifting up” is also a reference to Abraham lifting Isaac up His son onto the altar as a sacrifice….

The Son of Man “must” be lifted up (purpose). God loved the world, therefore (in a similar way) gave His only Son (to be lifted up) so that…..

3. God (θεὸς)

Many languages do not have a good understanding of God, or a belief that there is only “one” God. Investigation is needed to see if there is an acceptable word for God in the language, and what that word implies to the speakers of the language. Sometimes it may be possible to say, “The Creator of all things.” How this and other keyterms have been translated in related languages, if there are any, can also be considered.

Some people in the two Mixtec areas also call the saints gods, and in Mixtec words are not marked for singular and plural. Which God and how many of them love the world? In another Mixtec variety, a calendar had “Xuva” for God, which is “John” in some Mixtec variants, and the town saint for that village is Saint John.

4. Loved (ἠγάπησεν)

Translating love in the past tense/completive aspect could imply in some languages that God does not love us any more (He “used” to love the world).  In the Mixtec, the team decided to express this in continuative aspect: “God loves people of the world very much.” These particular Mixtec variants have at least three different words/phrases that can be used to express love, compassion, empathy, desire, etc.

Greek has three words for love, “agape”, here, plus “philos” and “eros”, so each translation team needs to consider what are different words for love in the language.  John has at least 89 instances of love in His Gospel, God loving the Son, the Son loving the Father, Jesus loving the disciples, the need to love one another. But nowhere else in the NT does it say that God loves the world.

No human mind could have thought it, could have conceived it – God had to reveal it, the Son had to attest it. We may call this the aorist constative; it reaches back into eternity and culminates in Bethlehem.  (Lenski)

5. the World (κόσμον)

Translating the word “world” (kosmos) literally may imply that God’s love for the land, trees, etc. and somehow that led Him to send His only Son. In Mixtec it was adjusted to say that “God loves the people of the world.”

Some commentators find this statement (of God loving the world) strange. “World” is used to refer to either creation, or commonly in John, in a negative light, that we should not love the world, should not be of the world (the evil system). The implication is that the Son left His glory in heaven and was given to come to this evil, sinful world (Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 5:8, 8:32, etc.), which is under the power of Satan (Luke 4:6, etc.), to undermine Satan and give new, eternal life to all those who put their trust in Him. (Rom 8:19-21)

In these verses the idea is God’s love for all the people of the world, whosoever. This, of course, would be news to Nicodemus, since Jews saw God as loving the Jewish people and not loving everyone else. No Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world, only Israel.

6. He Gave (ἔδωκεν) (in Greek appears after the Son, the only one)

This is also a more profound idea than it seems at first glance since it can sound strange to say that God gave His son, i.e. He gave Him away. With a transitive verb like give, many languages require an indirect object, to clarify to whom He gave Him. It is an incomplete idea in many languages to simply say “gave”.  In one of the Mixtec variants, after experimenting with using the idea that God “sent” Him (as in vs. 17), the team decided to keep the word give, plus add an arrival verb, so it comes out as: “God gave him and he has arrived to this world.”

ἔδωκεν (gave) means “to assign a person to a task as a particular benefit to others.” (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A., 1996)

Vs. 17 uses the word “send” instead of “gave” to express a similar idea: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world….” Isaiah seems to use “being given” and “being born” as a couplet: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  (Is. 9:6)

 Mixtec language requirements

As mentioned, one of the Mixtec teams, to conserve the verb “give” translated this part as: “God gave him and he has arrived to this world.” But using “arrived” with “gave” also required the translation team to make a decision as to who is speaking in this verse because of the implications of the motion and arrival verbs.

If Jesus is still speaking to Nicodemus, He would say, “God gave Him and He has arrived to this world (and is still here)” Or, “God gave Me and I have arrived to this world (and I am still here)”.  Arrival verbs in this context imply the speaker is still present. (The other Mixtec variant says “He sent Me, His only son, to this world)

If it is John narrating, he would say, “He sent/gave Him and He came (and left).”  “Come” in the completive aspect implies the person being spoken about came and went. This would imply that John wrote the verse sometime after Jesus ascended to heaven.

It is very possible that the implied information is that He gave His only Son “to die for the sins of people”, or “so that God might forgive the sins of people” or something along those lines. Deibler, E. W., Jr., (1999) says the implied information could be: “sent him to earth to die as an offering for sin.”

“The gift was actually made, the aorist marks the past fact. God’s own son sat before Nicodemus at that very moment.” (Lenski)

7. His Only Son (τὸνυἱὸντὸν μονογενῆ)

Translating “Son” in some cultures creates certain problems because of all the implications when stating that God has children. Translators, especially in Muslim areas, have faced this issue, since it sounds very much like God has a wife, had sex, etc., and people may reject the translation. This is not an issue in most Latin American areas. In Mixtec this is translated as, “His only son.”

The use of the third person

Another issue is, if Jesus is talking, can a person talk about himself in third person in the language? Will people think that, if Jesus is talking, then He is talking about some other son, His brother, or even implying that He Himself is not the son of God? Yet another issue is, should it say, “He sent ME, His only son”? If Jesus is still talking, this is an option. Jesus talking about Himself in the third person occurs throughout the Gospels, especially in the book of John

Almost all commentators believe Jesus is speaking in third person in verses 13, 14 and 15: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  In vs. 13-15 He refers to Himself as: Son of Man. In vs. 16-18 He is referred to (or refers to Himself) as: Son, Only Son. And in vs. 19-21 He is referred to (or refers to Himself) as: Light has come into the world

Verses when Jesus is talking in the third person and people know He is referring to Himself

Matt. 16:13: Jesus asks the disciples who do men think that the Son of Man is, and they answer Him.

Matt. 17:22-23: Jesus says the Son of Man will be killed, and the disciples were filled with grief.

Matt. 26:64-65: Jesus says the Son of Man will be seated at God’s right hand, and the chief priest ripped his robe.

Mark 8:31-32: Jesus says the Son of Man will suffer and die, and Peter rebukes Him.

Luke 22:22-23: Jesus says the Son of Man will be betrayed by one at the table, and the disciples ask who could it be.

Acts 7:56: Stephen calls Jesus the Son of Man.

 Verses when people say they do not know who He is talking about:

John 9:35-37: “Who is this Son of Man? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” “He is speaking to you.” (from the time Jesus healed a man’s son)

John 12:34: “Who is this Son of Man?” (when the crowd does not understand when Jesus teaches that the Son of Man will be lifted up)

8. Whoever Believes in Him (ἵναπᾶς πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν)

Translation teams need to carefully consider what word to use for believe. In many languages, you can believe in facts, but you cannot “believe” in people. You can trust them or have confidence in them, which works well here. In Mixtec it says “so that whoever trusts in him.”

“The Greek expression pisteuō eis (“to believe into”) carries the sense of placing one’s trust into or completely on someone. Paul’s teaching of believers as being “in Christ” is a theological reflection on the same expression.”  (Mounce, R. H., 2007)

Lenski points the correlation and parallelism between verses 14-15 and 16: “14,15Lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. 16gave so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.

9. Shall Not Perish (μὴἀπόληται)

Perish in what sense? Will it communicate, like some groups teach, that those who don’t go to heaven simply cease to exist? What are the people’s beliefs about the afterlife? What happens when a person dies? The Mixtec says: ”they will never die.”

“being lost (perishing) is more than just physical death. It is, as the next verse will show, eternal condemnation and separation from God.” (Michaels, J. R., 2010) “Divine condemnation, complete and everlasting, banished from the presence of God.” (NCC, Hendrickson)

The concept of “shall not perish” and vs. 17, 18, “condemned” is the same idea/theme. The rich man was condemned/perished, Lazarus was saved/had eternal life. Vs. 3:15 and 16 focus on life, 3:17 and 18 on not condemned but saved.  17For God did not send his (one and only) Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (whosoever believes in Him)

10. But Have Eternal Life (ἀλλ’ ἔχῃζωὴναἰώνιον)

Does this term mean they will never experience death on this earth? Does the language have a word for eternal? If so, what does it imply? Will what is translated imply life without end only in heaven, or a new type of life that starts in this world? In Mixtec it says: “they will be able to live forever.” John talks a lot about life, that Jesus is the source of life, the giver of life, and life is “in” Him.

What a revelation for this old Pharisee Nicodemus, who all his life-long had relied on his own works. (Lenski)

 Wrap-up

 How it came out in Mixtec

A word for word translation with these adjustments in the Mixtec of Tezoatlán:  “For since God loves very much the people of this world, therefore he gave his only son to arrive in this world, and whoever trusts in him, they will never die. Instead they will be able to live forever.”

In the Mixtec of Ayutla: “Because since God loves so much the people of this world, therefore he sent me, his only son to this world. So whoever trusts in me, they will never die before God, instead they will receive life that never ends.”

Note about who is speaking

If the Mixec translation team thought that Jesus had finished speaking at the end of verse 15, then the language would have required them to end vs. 15 with “–kaá na̱”, “he said”, since all discourse must end with this phrase, it is like quotation marks in Mixtec. Since the team did not put “he said” at the end of 15, the assumption is that the discourse continues on, and stops at the end of vs. 21, where “he said” appears.

Another thing the Mixtec team had to consider in relation to this issue was the audio recording, since over 90% of those who will be exposed to this verse will hear it via the Mixtec audio recording on the Scripture app or a Megavoice audio player.  When the team recorded this section, using the multi-voice approach, with a separate voice for the narrator and Jesus, Jesus continued talking until the end of vs. 21.  So each translation team who does a multi-voice audio recording will have to decide whether to change the voice at vs. 15 or verse 21.

Back translations from other languages:

 Like this God loves all people in the world, with the result that he gave his Only Child, so that whoever believes in that his Child, they will not receive punishment /condemnation, but they will receive good life forever. (Uma, Indonesia)

Since God’s love for people in this world is great, he sent his only Child so that whoever believes in him, he would not be separated from God to be punished, but rather there would be in him life that has no end. (Kankanaey, Philippines)

God very much loves the people who live here on earth. Therefore he sent his only son to be killed in order that every one who believes in him will not be lost, rather he will have the new life forever. (Otomi, México)

Dios amó tanto a la gente de este mundo, que me entregó a mí, que soy su único Hijo, para que todo el que crea en mí no muera, sino que tenga vida eterna.  (TLA)

[God very much loved the people of this world, that he sent me, who is his only son, so that all who believe in me will not die, but have eternal life.] (Actual language Translation)

For God really values very much all people here under the heavens. Therefore he gave his one-and-only Son, so that as for whoever will believe-in/obey and trust-in/rely-on him, he won’t get to go there to suffering/hardship, but on the contrary he will be given life without ending. (Tagbanwa, Philippines)

All mankind is very big in the breath of God and because of this, even his only son he did not hold back, but rather he sent him here so that all who believe in him, their souls will not be punished, but rather they will be given life without end. (Western Bukidnon Manobo, Philippines)

Because God greatly loves people of the world, because of it, God sent his only son to earth so that all men who believe in God’s son, those men will not be lost to the evil thing. On the contrary, they will have life forever. (Zapotec of Miahuatlan, Mexico)

Bibliography

 Deibler, E. W., Jr. (1999). An Index of Implicit Information in the New Testament.

 Hendrickson, William, (1962). New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Lenski. R.C.H. (1942). The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 482). New York: United Bible Societies.

Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 399). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

(2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Jn 3:15). Biblical Studies Press.

Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

 

No matter what has happened to us, is happening to us or will happen to us, God loves us. Trust Him!

 

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With my daughter Amy

This is a revised version of the post: “We need more faith to suffer faithfully than to experience miracles“, focusing more on God loving us.

When we are in the middle of difficult times we may be able to relate to Jesus’ statement that it is like “a cup of suffering.” He was about to suffer greatly over the next twenty-four hours with the mocking, beating, abuse and inhumane crucifixion. His greatest suffering was revealed when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All the sins of the world were placed on Him; He died in our place; and, for a short time He was made to be sin.  He became an anathema. While in Gethsemane, Jesus knew what lay ahead, and Mark 14:36 shares how He faced the situation, praying: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus prayed that those awful coming hours would be taken away. Luke says He was sweating blood, a sign of extreme stress. He returned three times to pray the same thing, and still endured unspeakable suffering. How should we respond when faced with difficult situations, or when loved ones face hardships? We can follow Jesus’ example and ask God for deliverance. We may yearn for it, cry for it, plead for it, pray over and over about it, rebuke the devil. We can also search our own heart for unforgiveness or other sins. Jesus was sinless and yet still suffered. On the cross He asked, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  But in the end, no matter what, we, like Jesus, keep loving God, keep seeking His will and never doubt that He loves us.  Jesus told his disciples to prepare for hard times, warning them in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Paul declares in Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” He then goes on to list fifteen things that cannot separate us from His love, ending with: “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This passage makes it clear that no matter what is happening to us (trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword, etc.), no matter what the devil or the world throws at us, God still loves us unconditionally, and He does so because of what Jesus did for us, by enduring that cup of suffering and giving His life to die in our place.

It takes more faith to be faithful and to rest in His love when we are not healed, when we do not receive the miracle, the deliverance. God has promised us His unfailing love, joy, peace, hope, eternal life, His presence (you are not alone!). He does heal! He does do miracles! But how do we respond when it doesn’t happen or “takes too long”?  Will we keep loving and trusting Him no matter what? We may go through a season of doubt, our emotions may scream at us that we do not “feel” peace, nor joy nor hope. Even depression may try to set in. But in the end, when the hard times come, may we cling to the truth of the Bible, we may not “feel” happy, but we can have a joy that passes all understanding.

In his book “A Miraculous Life”, Bruce Van Natta tells of speaking on the phone to a lady who had cancer and he was sharing how much God loves her. He then felt God urging him to tell her that God is her Daddy. Bruce does not really like using that term for God, but obeyed. He then felt led to say it several times in a row: “God is your Daddy.” She broke down sobbing. While she was raised to believe in God, she never had a father. As a little girl, she had prayed every day for a daddy, but never got one, so it was really hard for her to believe God really loved her. She now finally realized that God is her Daddy.

We too may have a hard time believing that God is truly loving because of traumatic experiences in the past. Countless prayers may have gone unanswered. We may have had negative experiences with religious people, grown up in a dysfunctional family situation, been physically or sexually abused, had a chronic illness for years, experienced the death of a loved one, or have felt alone and unloved, an outcast for so many years. We see the mess the world is in. These or other difficult experiences may have “soured” us to the idea of God’s love. It may be hard to believe, but He was there! He never leaves nor forsakes us. Let us consider how Paul dealt with such disappointments in his life.  To watch a video I made for my local church of this section of the article, you can find it on facebook at: Facing hardships

Paul is an amazing example of loving God no matter what, and he shows us that there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly asking God to remove the suffering, to pray about it over and over. What happened to Paul is another instance of where a great pillar of the faith asked for something, pleaded for something, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.

I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

Jesus compared His coming trials to “a cup of suffering.” Here Paul calls his “a thorn in the flesh.” We have all had what have felt like thorns in the flesh. Paul asked three times for his thorn to be removed, like Jesus asked three times for the cup to be taken away. In both cases it didn’t happen. Did Paul lack faith? Did God stop loving him? Did he have some hidden sin! No. How did God respond to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness.” Not the normal response we are usually seeking when we are praying for deliverance. Then Paul says a remarkable thing: “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we have a personal, intimate, alive, loving relationship with God, after the praying, crying and pleading, like Paul, this is where we need to end up. Having a faith that He is there, that He loves me, His grace is sufficient for me. I am not alone.

The New Testament constantly speaks of Paul having this attitude as he serves God. Philippians 4:11-13 proclaims: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Content in whatever circumstance!  What a Biblical standard to follow!  Notice that these “whatever circumstance” verses are the context of the well known vs. 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Another way of stating this verse is, “By Jesus power/help, I can put up with/endure through anything.” Cold, hot, full, hungry, in jail (as he was when he wrote this letter), free, sick, well, living, dying, rich, poor, homeless, married, single. Whatever is going on in my life, I will keep loving God and know without a doubt that He loves me and will help me through it.

For Paul, even death is not the worse thing that could happen to him. “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” (Phil. 1:23-24)  Even if your suffering seems to be leading to your death, keep loving and trusting God. A number of times I visited friends who ended up dying within a month. I went to try and be an encouragement to them and they could not stop trying to encourage me, to be a blessing to me. In each case, I left much more blessed and inspired by them than I was able to bless or encourage them. Their loving relationship with God before the trial was strong and so their faith in God was strong no matter what was happening to them.

In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul declares: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” No matter what we have done, there is forgiveness. Paul had a lot to repent of, his past actions directly leading to the persecution and death of many of Jesus’ followers.  He goes on in wonder: “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” If we have repented, we no longer need to live in guilt. God has wiped the record clean, and He loves us, no matter what we have done. To watch a video I made for my local church of this section of the article, you can find it on facebook at: Paul content in whatever circumstance

Eleven of the twelve disciples, tradition says, died as martyrs. The Book of Acts details how much a number of them suffered, just as Jesus said they would. John is the only one who apparently died a natural death. Tradition says he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil, but escaped to the island of Patmos.

Acts 12:1-5 gives us pause to consider what happened to two of the disciples. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”

James, the brother of John, whom we read about so much in the Gospels, a man Jesus invested so much of His life to teach and disciple, was suddenly killed by Herod. No miraculous deliverance, no instant resurrection. Dead. Then Herod arrested Peter, planning to kill him the next day. But in Peter’s case, God sent an angel and saved him. We see prayer as a pivotal part of that, as well as what we now know about God’s plan for his life. So why is it that God “let” Herod kill James but He intervened to save Peter? Did James lack faith? Did God love him less? Did he have some secret sin? We know Herod was evil, so in essence what happened to James was a consequence of Herod’s sin.

There is a continual contrast in the Bible between heaven and the world. This world is governed and controlled in so many ways by the devil, who is called the god of this world. Through Jesus we can have victory over the devil. Yet this world is not heaven. Suffering is a part of life. Jesus, Paul and the disciples were not exempt from it, and neither are we. Rev. 21:4 says of heaven: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” That infers that tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain are a part of this world. God gives us peace, inner joy, hope, His presence, His love, etc., but being His child does not mean that we will not suffer in this world.

So much of living, dying, suffering, etc., is a mystery. But even that should draw us closer to God, to move us to love Him more, clinging to the fact that He loves us unconditionally.

Of the many Biblical examples of godly people suffering in this world, consider Hebrews 11:35a-40, the chapter which tells us about the heroes of the faith. “But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” This list alone should dispel any notion that suffering is necessarily caused by a lack of faith or the idea that God does not love us. To watch a video I made for my local church of this section of the article, you can find it on facebook at: Your grace is enough

Consider also Mark 4:37-40. Did Jesus send the storm so that He could then calm it? No. Storms are a part of this natural world. How we respond to the storm is the more important question. Will we let the storms blow our trust in God and His love away, or will we cling more closely to Him, loving Him and trusting Him with our lives, whether we live or die. Jesus, who calmed the storm, can calm our fears.

Let us prepare for the storms by keeping a close loving relationship with God at all times, refusing to allow others or our own hearts to question His love for us, and not accusing ourselves or others of lacking faith. To do so would be to question the faith of Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Stephen, who was stoned, the Old Testament heroes of the faith, etc. As we suffer, we can remind ourselves that we are in good company! Let us stand firm as they did, trusting God and being in love with Him no matter what happens.

 

We need more faith to suffer faithfully than to experience miracles (Updated version of “Suffering is normal” post)

Joni Erickson was seventeen years old when she dove off a pier in a lake, hit a rock underneath the water, and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. She was a Christian and this shook her faith. As time went on, many Christians prayed for her to be able to walk again. She believed God could do that, but it never happened. Many people communicated to her that her lack of healing was caused by a lack of faith, or hidden sin. She just didn’t believe enough that God would heal her, they said.

Is that what the Bible says about suffering, that if we just believe enough, we can basically “make” God heal us or deliver us from hard times? Did Joni just lack having enough faith?

I would like to help answer that by sharing some examples from the Bible that deal with this subject. The world experiences many disasters, storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., and most of us have probably experienced times of suffering which we felt we could not bear, so it is an important question, and generates lots of questions.

earthquake85ab

Mexico City, September, 1985, 8.1 earthquake. I took this not far from the city center.

Did Jesus lack faith?

When we are in the middle of difficult times, we may be able to relate to Jesus’ statement that it is like “a cup of suffering.” He was about to suffer greatly over the next twenty-four hours, the mocking, beating, abuse and inhumane crucifixion. One of my professors once commented that His greatest suffering was revealed when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All the sins of the world were placed on Him, He died in our place, and since He became sin for a short time, He became an anathema in the sight of His Father God. Jesus knew what lie ahead while there in Gethsemane, and Mark 14:36 shares with us how He faced the situation by prayer: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus prayed that those awful coming hours would be taken away. But they were not. Did He lack faith? Did He not believe God enough so that God would change the course of history and take that cup of suffering away? He prayed and still ended up suffering! If we applied a common misconception about suffering and applied it to Jesus, we may be tempted to say that He doubted too much. His doubt expressed in the phrase, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Some people say that praying “your will to be done, not mine“, expresses a lack of faith. “No! Don’t say that. Believe and claim your deliverance!” In that moment they seem to be telling God what to do. So you have to ask, Who is the Master and who is the servant? (We can and should rebuke the devil, as Jesus did, yet we mustn’t presume to tell God what to do.)

What do we do when faced with difficult situations, or when loved ones face hardships? Yes, we ask God for deliverance, we yearn for it, cry for it, plead for it, we pray over and over about it. We search our own heart for unforgiveness or others sins. We rebuke the devil. But in the end, no matter what, let’s keep loving God and never doubt that He loves us. We keep following Him and trusting Him. Jesus told his disciples to prepare for such things, saying in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

It takes more faith to not receive the miracle, the healing, than to receive it!

 It takes more faith to be faithful when we are not healed, when we do not receive the miracle, the deliverance? Yes! Is our relationship with God strong enough to withstand hardship? Apparent unanswered prayer? This is the time when the rubber meets the road in regards to our faith. Are we really insanely in love with God or not? Will we trust Him no matter what?

God has promised us His unfailing love, joy, peace, hope, eternal life, His presence (you are not alone!). He does heal! He does do miracles! But how do we respond when it doesn’t happen or “takes too long”? This is when we need the most faith. This is when keeping our relationship alive with Him before the fact bears much fruit. Praying without ceasing, regular study of His Word and fellowship with like-minded believers, having a lifestyle of sharing Him with others, pondering, “What would Jesus do, think, say?” A mature loving relationship with God will not be upended when awful things happen to us. We may go through a season of doubt, but in the end, when the hard times come, may we stand true like the house built on the rock, and not fall like the house built on the sand.

Did Paul lack faith?

Paul is an amazing example of keeping faith in God no matter what, and he shows us that there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly asking God to remove the suffering, to pray about it over and over. What happened to Paul is another instance of where a great pillar of the faith asked for something, pleaded for something, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.

I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:7b-10)

Jesus compared His coming trials to “a cup of suffering.” Here Paul calls his a “thorn in the flesh.” We have all had what have felt like thorns in the flesh. Paul asked three times for his thorn to be removed. It wasn’t. Was it because he doubted God? Did he lack faith? Did he have some hidden sin! No. How did God respond to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness.” Not the normal response we are usually seeking when we are praying for deliverance. Then Paul says a remarkable thing: “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we have a personal, intimate, alive, loving relationship with God, after the praying, crying and pleading, this is where we need to end up. Having a faith that He is there, that He loves me, His grace is sufficient for me. I am not alone. No matter the circumstances.

The New Testament is full of Paul having this attitude as he serves God. Take Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Content in whatever circumstance!  What a Biblical standard to follow! A by-product of what is said a few verses earlier “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Notice that these “whatever circumstance” verses are the context of the famous vs. 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A verse often taken out of context. Another way of stating this verse is, “By Jesus power/help, I can put up with/endure through anything.” Cold, hot, full, hungry, in jail (as he was when he wrote this letter), free, sick, well, living, dying, rich, poor, homeless, married, single. Whatever is going on in my life, God will help me through it.

For Paul, even death is not the worse thing that could happen to him. “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” (Phil. 1:24)  Even if your suffering seems to be leading to your death, keep trusting God. A number of times I visited friends who ended up dying within a month. I went to try and be an encouragement to them and they could not stop trying to encourage me, to be a blessing to me. In each case, I left so much more blessed and inspired by them than I was able to bless or encourage them. That shows me that their relationship with God before the trial was strong and so their faith in God was strong no matter what was happening to them.

Did the disciples lack faith?

Eleven of the twelve disciples, tradition says, died as martyrs. The Book of Acts details how much a number of them suffered, just as Jesus said they would. Tradition says John, the one who apparently died a natural death on the island of Patmos, was thrown into a pot of boiling oil, but escaped.

Acts 12:1-5 gives us pause to consider what happened to two of the disciples. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”

James the brother of John, whom we read about so much in the Gospels, a man Jesus invested so much of His life to teach and disciple, was suddenly killed by Herod. No miraculous deliverance, no instant resurrection. Dead. Then Herod arrested Peter, planning to kill him the next day. But in Peter’s case, God sends an angel and saves him. So how is it that God “let” Herod kill James but He intervened to save Peter? Did James lack faith? Did he have some secret sin? Herod was evil. What happened to James is a natural consequence of sin. Peter was miraculously released in Acts 12. We see prayer as a pivotal part of that, as well as what we now know about God’s plan for his life.

There is a continual contrast in the Bible between heaven and the world, which is governed and controlled in so many ways by the devil, who is called the god of this world. Through Jesus we can have victory over the devil. Yet this world is not heaven. Suffering is a part of life in this world. Neither Jesus, Paul, nor the disciples were exempt from it, and neither are we. Rev. 21:4 says of heaven: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” That assumes that tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain are a part of life here. God gives us peace, inner joy, hope, His presence, His love, etc., but being His child does not exempt us from the suffering happening here.

So much of living, dying, suffering, etc., is a mystery. We can learn so much by really digging into the Scriptures, letting them teach us and not the doctrines of men. Much of what goes on is difficult to understand. But even that should draw us closer to God, not farther away.

Faithful in suffering

Of the many other examples of godly people in the Bible suffering and not always finding deliverance in this world, consider Hebrews 11:35a-40, the chapter which tells us about the heroes of the faith.“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” This list by itself should dispel any notion that suffering is necessarily caused by a lack of faith.

Storms

Consider Mark 4:37-40. Did Jesus send the storm so that He could then calm it? No. Storms are a part of this natural world. How we respond to the storm is the more important question. Will we let the storms blow our trust in God away, or will we cling even closer to Him, trusting him with our lives, be it that we live or die. Jesus, who calmed the storm, can calm our fears.

Storms will come into our lives. May we be prepared for them by keeping a close loving relationship with God at all times. Let us not allow others or our own hearts to question Him, to accuse others or ourselves of lacking faith. For to do so would be to question the faith of Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Stephen, who was stoned, the Old Testament heroes of the faith, etc. Let us instead stand with them, trusting God and being in love with Him no matter what happens.

Joni Erickson eventually turned her suffering and confusion into a life-changing ministry to thousands upon thousands of people, both to those who have a disability and those who do not. As she says, “I would rather be in this chair knowing Him, than on my feet without Him.”

Verses shared by Pastor Eric Young as we go thru storms:

Psalms. 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!”

Daniel 10:19: “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”

Date Palms and the Triumphal Entry

Date PalmsPalm Sunday. What kind of palm do we think of? Coconut? Desert? In Israel, the vast majority of palm trees are date palm trees. The photos I took when I was in Israel show them in a variety of different places. It is also highly probable that when the Bible talks about Israel being a land of milk and honey, the honey refers to date honey, not bee honey. The milk probably refers to goat/sheep milk since they have been in Israel since practically the beginning. It is also of note that, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the people took date palm branches and their cloaks to welcome and praise Him like a returning war hero. But then, less than a week later, these same people were shouting, “Crucify him!” They thought He was coming as a warrior to overthrow the Roman government, but His first act was to overthrow the tables of the crooked money changers and sellers profaning the temple. The first of a string of unfulfilled expectations for the crowd. The leaders of the time were upset with Him, not only that the crowds were following Him and not them, but also that He exposed their hypocrisy. So they undermined Him among the people, made false and misleading accusations, and finally got the Roman government to crucify Him. Yet, as we know, three days later He arose. That limited earthly warrior the people had hoped for is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all. And none of what happened to Him was a surprise. It was prophesied about over and over in the Old Testament, He was born to die, and He told His disciples over and over that He would be given over to the authorities, crucified, then rise again. A beautiful, and at the same time sad proclamation He makes to His followers is this: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18) I hope we can think of these things and really search out how to apply them to our own lives today.

Mary Magdalene

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Early morning view of the Sea of Galilee from Magdala

During my time in Israel, I also spent a few nights in Magdala, on a slope just above the Sea of Galilee, the probable home town of Mary Magdalene. A number of times since being there I have come across the false narrative that she was a prostitute, for which there is no Biblical evidence.

Jesus had followers of every type of background, and that included a number of former prostitutes He had forgiven, individuals He said were closer to submitting to God’s reign than the Pharisees. The point of what I am saying here is that Mary Magdalene is not mentioned as being one of them. The Bible says she was a Jesus follower and that He cast out seven evil spirits from her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2). The main other place she is mentioned is as an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

The unproven idea she was a prostitute is a later tradition. In the middle ages (591), Pope Gregory the Great equated Mary Magdalene with the woman Jesus forgave in Luke 7:36-50, partly because Mary is first mentioned as a Jesus follower in the next passage, Luke 8:1-3. And even here, it just mentions she was healed of having seven evil spirits.

In The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown propagated the conspiracy theory that she was called a prostitute by the Catholic church to try to dismiss her because of the idea held by a few that Jesus had a “special” relationship with her. But at least Brown did get one thing right. There is no evidence she was a prostitute.

Despite the fact that the Bible talks about her as a Jesus follower and witness to the most important events in His life, it is sad that so many “Christian” films and sermons still portray her as a prostitute. Jesus did a great thing in her life, freeing her from seven evil spirits, and she followed Him the rest of her life and was a witness to the resurrection, telling others about Him. So the fact is that she is a wonderful example for us to follow.

 

The Kingdom of God (4th part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)

Bethlehem-01aThis is a continuation of my series on the problem of evil in the world, how to understand it and remain faithful to God no matter what happens to us. This section deals with what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God.  Links to the previous blogs: The problem of evil in the world, part 1. God’s attributes   Having hard times and suffering is normal. Or, You need more faith to suffer than to experience miracles (2nd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)  The error of blaming God (3rd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)

The Lord’s Prayer. Almost all of us know how it starts out. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by the Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As a model prayer, it starts out with praise, first stating the amazing fact that God is our heavenly father, and praying that He will be treated with the utmost respect, that no one treat Him, nor His name, in an unpraiseworthy manner. It reminds us of the fourth commandment: “Do not blaspheme/misuse/disrespect God’s name,” but in the positive vein. We live to bring honor to Him by what we say and what we do, or don’t say or do. The last thing we want is for Rom 2:24 to be true of us: No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”

What follows in the Lord’s prayer is a combination of praise and supplication: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This sounds beautiful, but may be a little deeper than we have previously thought. These two supplications are closely tied together, a couplet, two phrases which cover the same basic meaning.  Psalms is filled with these type of restatements, common in Hebrew poetry, a poetry style something akin to using rhyming in English. So the meaning is that the realization or equivalent of God’s Kingdom coming to earth would be for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This encapsulates the idea of the two major aspects of the Kingdom of God, God’s will being done here on earth, as it is in heaven. In fact, each time we find Kingdom of God, we could replace it, in some form or another, with “God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven” and come up with the same meaning. Kingdom of God also involves the idea of people submitting to God’s authority, His reign over them. So, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” can be understood as: “Seek more than anything to submit to God and do His will (and promote that His will be done) here on earth as it is in heaven, which includes living and promoting His righteous ways, and He will provide for you in all the aforementioned ways.”

Kingdom of God, as used in the New Testament, contrary to what many people think, is almost always referring, not to heaven itself, but to people under God’s authority, under His reign, submitting to Him and doing His will in this world. It can be understood as God’s people, God’s servants, God’s army, or even His “special forces” under His authority, under His direction, under His guidance and protection.  “Thy Kingdom come” is God’s kingdom actualized in the hearts of people, slowly changing the world through these servants doing His will, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, expanding His kingdom here on earth, through His power.

But we also know that His Kingdom finds its perfect fulfillment in heaven. It is heaven, as we have seen, where His will is always being done. There are a number of verses in the New Testament that refer to the Kingdom of God in heaven. For example, when all of Jesus’ followers will be eating together in the Kingdom of God, or as Jesus says in Matthew 26:29: “Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

While God’s will is always done in His Kingdom in heaven, His Kingdom here on earth is, through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, in the process of expanding. God has one kingdom. It has eternally existed in heaven and He is moving so it will be more of a reality here on earth.  Jesusꞌ miracles herald and confirm this new Kingdom arriving here on earth, as does His teaching.  The point of several of His parables is that the Kingdom of God began small here on earth and is growing, as in the parable of the mustard seed, from Mark 4:30-32: Jesus said: “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Using the language I have proposed so far, we can restate the verse this way:  “How can I describe God’s reigning over people and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. What story can I use to describe it. It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all the seeds we plant (first only Jesus, and then later Jesus “planting” the disciples, who begin doing God’s will), but it becomes the largest of all the garden plants (by the Holy Spirit more and more people began doing His will); it grows long and birds can made their nests it its shade.” The book of Acts relates how His kingdom here on earth grew even more. More and more “kingdom people”, led by the Holy Spirit, were doing His will here on earth.

Praying, “Thy will be done” implies that God’s will is, for the most part, not being done here on earth as it is in heaven. An honest look at our own lives will reveal that we do not always follow God’s will, and even a cursory look at the world reveals that many people do not follow God’s will. A lot of  bad things are happening. So much so that many question God, His power and His love, even His very existence.

So what does “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” fully entail and why should we pray for that? Isn’t God already the king of this world?

Throughout His ministry Jesus contrasted the kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world and it is within this context that we can get a fuller understanding of His Kingdom. In fact the book of Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of heaven” instead of Kingdom of God with this contrast in mind. (It is also possible that Matthew also used heaven out of respect, not wanting to over-use the word God.)

If God has full reign over this world, why did Jesus say He came to “establish” and “set up” the Kingdom of God?  In each of these blogs I have emphasized that in order to understand why this world has so many problems and bad things happening, we need to understand what is going on in the background, what the apostle John refers as a contrast between things above and things below, a contrast between God’s way, His Kingdom and will as opposed to the ways, will and kingdom of this world. Kingdom of God, Part 1 video from facebook

The apostle Paul also makes a clear distinction between the power/kingdom of God and the power of Satan/darkness/this world/ when he states the mission God has given him in Acts 26:18: “to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.”  In Colossians 1:13  he states: “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son.”

Paul then describes in more detail the battle we face in Ephesians. First he says this in 2:1-4: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” Then in 6:12: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

Understanding that the Bible describes the world in this way is basic to knowing why, since Genesis 3, it does not call the world the Kingdom of God. God is King and He is all powerful, but there is another force, a darkness, Satan, who has been given certain rights and authority because of sin, and who is exerting an evil influence over this world. We see the will of the world, of Satan, being done too many times as opposed to the will of God.

The passage of Scripture which makes this most clear is found in Luke 4:5-8: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Notice the deal the devil tries to make with Jesus. First he shows Him all the kingdoms of the world,” then he says  “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” According to this, the devil has been given the authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and he can give them to anyone he chooses. But isn’t God the one with the authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Not according to this. The devil does not seem to be lying to Jesus since if he were lying, Jesus would know it and it would not be much of a temptation.

Scripture clearly reveals to us that the devil has vast authority and power in this world. 2 Cor. 4:4 says this about him: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Three times in Jesus’ final teaching to the disciples in the Gospel of John He calls the devil “the prince of this world”: Judgment will come because the prince of this world has already been judged.” (John 16:11).  I John 5:19 is another powerful verse about the devil: “We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.” There are many more verses along this line, but I will share more about them in a later blog.

Since this world is given over to sin, the devil has a just right to do what he wants with this world. He has justly taken hold over many things in this world.  The world is under the kingdom of the devil. Many people are doing his will, whether they realize it or not.

The Bible equates being “of” the world as being under the devil’s authority, in his kingdom, which is opposed to being part of this new kingdom of God Jesus started. Yet while Bible paints a picture of the world as being in opposition to God, let us be clear that this is not a cosmic struggle between too equal powers. God is all powerful, but He limits Himself because of His justice, so when the devil has a just claim over someone or something…. 

God is still God and He is working mightily in the world, yet Scripture makes it clear that the vast majority of the world remains under the kingdom of the devil, and as such, remains under his authority and power, and under his powerful delusion, for he is the father of lies.

The Good News is that Jesus came to undermine the authority of the devil. John 12:31 says: “The time of judgment for the world has come, when the prince of this world will be cast out.”  Col. 2:20a: “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.”

So through what Jesus did on the cross, we have victory. Since we are still in the world, we will still be greatly affected by the sin all around us, suffer and even die, but let us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. We have power from above, as Paul states in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death….”

For those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and are new creations, we are in the world but not “of” the world. We have that resurrection power. As people of God’s kingdom we are under His authority, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are set on the things of God, of heaven, and not on the desires of this world. We seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, doing His will, and truly lack nothing. We have hope, we have peace, we have joy, we know without a doubt that God loves us unconditionally, He is with us and will never leave us, He is good all the time and we can deal with any circumstance through Jesus who gives us strength. We have spiritual gifts and the privilege to be used by Him to influence and change the place in the world where He has placed us. To do our part to propagate His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. So we pray and do our part for His Kingdom to come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It is obviously clear to us that “this world is not heaven.” We live in a fallen world. While we are to live a life promoting Godꞌs will on earth as it is in heaven, that true realization of His Will will not ultimately come until we get to heaven. I John 3:2 tells us: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” We set ourselves up for disillusionment if we think that our life here on this earth should be only wildflowers and butterflies. Jesus tells us clearly what to expect in this world, in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” 

We cry (but not as those who have no hope), we may get discouraged, be “out of it” for a while in the middle of a very difficult situation, we can even question why (we are human!), but no matter what happens, let us not let it shake our faith and hope in God.  As Paul says in Phil. 4:13: “I can do (put up with, endure through) all things through Christ who gives me strength.

We must never forget the fact that we are in spiritual warfare. We will face a lot of spiritual and “worldly” opposition as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God and serve Him wholeheartedly in our life. Satan will oppose us as he tries to maintain his hold on his kingdom in this world. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

But since he is a vanquished foe, let us not grow weary nor be discouraged. Let us put on the full armor of God to defend us against his fiery darts, so that after the battle we may be able to stand firm. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, it is against these powerful spiritual forces in the heavenly realms that can only be defeated through the power of God living in us. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. “Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Eph. 6:13-18)

“For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” (1 Cor. 4:20)

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to first become God’s kingdom people, then gives us the power to live out our lives as Kingdom people, doing God’s will.

John 3:3, 5-6: Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”  In other words: You cannot become part of God’s kingdom (submitting to Him and doing His will) unless the Holy Spirit transforms you into a new person. I assure you that no one will submit to God’s authority and do His will on earth as it is in heaven unless they are not just born of water (naturally) but also born anew by the Holy Spirit. For humans can only produce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual (God breathed, God-inspired, God-led, God-changed) life.

Jesus later goes on to say a lot of things the Holy Spirit does to guide and empower us to be His people in this world:

John 14:16-17a: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”   John 15:26: “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”  John 16:13-14: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me….”  Matthew 10:19: “When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Then in Acts (also known as the Acts of the Holy Spirit), we see the Spirit moving in the lives of the Apostles confirming the truth of the Gospel and the growing of the Kingdom of God.  In Acts 2, during the Passover feast, when up to a million Jewish people from all over were present, the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in over 15 different languages, as Acts 2:11 says, “we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”  As a result of them hearing the message in their own language, and the incredible impact that had, thousands of people came to know Jesus and many went back to their homes with a message in their own languages direct from the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Kingdom of God began growing and expanding exponentially. See my post about Acts 2 here.

Quite a few times in Acts it says the disciples were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit as they guided in the founding of a Spirit-led, growing group of believers there in Jerusalem. They spoke His words to the authorities, Stephen was filled with the Spirit as he spoke of God’s plan from the beginning, the Spirit spoke to Peter that Gentiles need to receive the Gospel, and there are many other instances in Acts of the Spirit leading as the apostles preach, preform miracles by the Spirit’s power and set up guidelines for the emerging church. A beautiful example is how the Spirit guided Paul, in Acts 20:22-24: “Now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

In Paul’s letters he teaches how essential the Spirit is in the lives of God’s people: Rom 5:5: “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”  Romans 8:2: “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”  Romans 8:5: “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.”  Romans.14:17: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  1 Cor. 4:20: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by Gods power.”

I could list many more verses talking about the Holy Spirit, but it is clear that He is the one who changes us and empowers us to live as God wants us to live, to be His Kingdom people in this world. Kingdom of God, Part 2 video from Facebook.

To give yet a fuller understanding concerning what the Bible teaches about the Kingdom of God, let me finish up by looking at a series of Scriptures. There are over 100 verses (with quite a few parallel passages) talking about different aspects of the Kingdom of God. I will attempt here to highlight the different aspects which are crucial to understanding its meaning. For one or two in each category, I will also share how the verse(s) are worded in Mixtec (BT=backtranslation). It was the challenge of working with the Mixtec people to translate Scripture into their Mixtec language which led to much of my thinking about this subject, seeing Scripture anew through the eyes of another language. I will also restate a few using the Kingdom of God equivalent, submission to God and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. These will be indicated by using an *.

Jesus as personification of the arrival of the Kingdom, it is “near”

Luke 17:20-21: One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Mixtec BT: Jesus said: “No one can see with their eyes how God is reigning over His people. No one can say that it is here nor say that it is there, for God is already reigning in the hearts of His people.”

Mat. 10:7: Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

*Go and announce that the time when God’s will is more and more being done on earth as it is in heaven (and more and more people are submitting to Him) is near.

Mat. 12:28, Mat. 3:2-3, Mark 1:15, Mark 12:34, Luke 10:9-11, John 18:36

Ways to enter the Kingdom, those who are “of” the Kingdom

Mark 10:14-15: When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mixtec BT: Allow those children to come to me. Do not hinder them, for the people who trust in Father God like these children trust in their fathers, these type of people are those who are under the authority of God. Truly I say to you that whoever does not allow God to reign over them like these children allow their fathers to reign over them, they are not submitting to God’s reign.

Mat. 13:52: Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

*Every teacher of religious law who submits to God’s rule in their life, doing His will on earth as it is in heaven, is like a homeowner….

Jn. 3:5-6: Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”

*I assure you that now one will submit to God’s authority and do His will on earth as it is in heaven unless they are not just born of water (naturally) but also born anew by the Spirit. For humans can only produce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual(God breathed, God-inspired, God-led, God-changed) life.

Mat. 5:3, Mat. 5:10, Mat. 6:13, Mt. 7:21, Mat. 13:37-38, Luke 13:24, John. 3:3

People who will find it hard to become part of the Kingdom (to submit to God’s rule in their lives)

Mat. 19:23-24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Mixtec BT: Truly I say to you that it is very hard for a rich person to enter/submit to the authority of God. I repeat that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter/submit to God’s authority.

Mat. 21:31: Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.”

*I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will submit to God’s authority and do His will before anyone of you will.

Mat. 5:20, Mat. 22:2-3, Mat. 23:13

 The Kingdom is of extreme value and deserves our all

Luke 18:29-30: “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Mixtec BT: Truly I say to you that whoever leaves their house, brothers, sisters, wife, father or mother o children because they want more people to submit to God’s reign over them….

Mat. 13:44-46: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”

*Becoming someone whom God reigns over and is thus able to do His will is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field.

Again, becoming someone whom God reigns over and is thus able to do His will is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.

Mat. 6:33, Mat. 19:12, Mark 9:60-62, Rev. 1:9

Being great in the Kingdom of God

Mat. 11:11: “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!”

Mixtec BT:  Truly I say unto you that John, the one who baptizes people, is greater than all other men born of a woman. But the least of those who submit to God’s reign over them is greater than John.

Mat. 5:19: “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

*So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least among the people whom God reigns over to do His will. But anyone who obeys God’s law and teaches them will be called great among those whom God reigns over, who are doing His will.

Mat. 18:4

 Parables on different aspects of the Kingdom of God.

The following 8 examples illustrate aspects of the way God reigns over the people who submit to Him, how He deals with those who submit to Him, how more and more people are submitting to Him, of how He is accomplishing His will on earth as it is in heaven)

1. The Kingdom is growing and affecting its surroundings

Mat. 13:31-32: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.

Mat. 13:33: Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

2. Devil’s opposition to the Kingdom

Mat. 13:19: “The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.”

Mat. 13:24-26: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.”

Mat. 13:38-39: “The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil.”

3. Forgiving one another:

Mat. 18:23ff: “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.”

4. Shows grace to all who come:

Mat. 20:1ff: “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.”

5. We need to be prepared to receive it:

Mat 25:1ff: “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

6. It deserves our best:

Mat. 24:14ff: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.”

Mat. 25:34ff: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry…..”

7. It is growing in ways we do not understand or sometimes even perceive:

Mark 4:26ff: Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”

8. Different responses to the teaching about the Kingdom/Good News

Mat. 13:3ff: He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:  “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.”

Peter as a leader among people who have submitted to God’s reigning over them

Mat. 16:19: “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

 Kingdom given to those who believe, not just because you are a descendant of Abraham (God’s wants to reign over the people of Israel, but now is opening the door so that Gentiles can also submit to His eternal reign. This is the point of Romans 9)

Mat. 21:43: “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.”

Mat. 22:2ff: “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son.”

Some Jewish people were waiting for it

Mk. 15:43: “Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)”

 Once Jesus is risen, the Kingdom of God and the Good News about Jesus is practically synonymous

Acts 8:12 “But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

Acts 19:8: Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 28:23: “So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.”

Rom. 14:17: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

1 Cor. 4:20: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by Gods power.”

 Kingdom of God in heaven (the place where God’s perfect will is being done)

Mat. 8:11-12: “And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Mat. 26:29: “Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

Lk. 22:28-30 “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Lk.23:42-43: Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

2 Tim. 4:1: “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:”

2 Tim. 4:18: “Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.”

2 Pt. 1:11: “Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“Inheriting” the Kingdom of God (Indicates becoming part of the ones who submit to God’s reign over their lives, which of courses extends into heaven)

1 Cor. 6:9-10: “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.”

1 Cor. 15:50: “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.”

Gal. 5:21: “envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Eph. 5:5: “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”

The error of blaming God (3rd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)

A lot of people are angry at God. This ABC report details why pretty well. People blame God for all sorts of things. Whenever something bad happens, somehow God is the culprit. Earthquake? God shook the earth. Fire? God lit it. Flood? God made it rain. People die? God killed them. Kids have cancer? God infected them. A terrorist kills a lot of people? Folks blame God seemingly more than the killer. A terrible car wreck caused by a drunk or texting?  God somehow made the cars run into each other. No money? God took it away.

I cringe every time I hear people, even Christians, blaming God for this bad thing and that bad thing, so I felt moved to write about the subject. Many of the statements I have heard blaming God are unbiblical and represent a profound misunderstanding of the Bible. I have written a previous blog about why there is evil in this world.  A second one here says that suffering for believers is normal. I suggest you look these over if you want even more context related to what I am writing here.

Those who do not believe in God also do not believe in the devil

People who are atheists especially like to blame this God they don’t believe in. They blame this imaginary God and demean those who do believe in Him. If God does not, as they insist, exist, then He cannot be the one causing all these tragedies. But there is another implication of not believing in God. Most of these folks don’t believe in anything that could be called “supernatural.” Things just happen. All that exists somehow created itself out of absolute nothing (very logical!), and just goes haywire and leads to chaos with alarming frequency without any rhyme nor reason. Since they dismiss all possibility of the supernatural,  that also implies they do not believe in the devil. So a devil which does not exist cannot be causing all these problems.

I sometimes wonder why people who do believe in God would rather blame God than the devil. Why don’t we say that the devil sent the earthquake, the flood, the fire, the death, the terrorism, the cancer, the wreck, the financial ruin, etc?  It seems to come from a misunderstanding that people have regarding God’s sovereignty. It also ties into the false logic that says that either God is all-powerful but doesn’t care what happens to us or that He loves us but is too weak to stop the evil in this world. So, they say, if God loved me He would not have let this or that bad thing happen.

What the Bible says about the devil’s authority in this world

If we ask about the devil’s role in all this, many people will respond by saying that since God is much more powerful than the devil, He should be able to stop any evil that the devil may try to do, that is if it is truly the case that the devil is behind some of the bad stuff.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is not about a power struggle between two opposing, equal powers. It is about justice and the devil having a just claim over this world.

The Bible obviously does not portray the devil as the red animal-like person with horns and a pitchfork.  Knowing what the Bible does say about the devil can help us understand why it is not correct, even heresy, to blame God for the evil in this world. There are many, many verses about the power the devil has over this world, but the key verse I like to focus on is Luke 4:5-8:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Notice the offer the devil makes to Jesus. First he shows Him all the kingdoms of the world,” then he says  “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” According to this, the devil has been given the authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and he can give them to anyone he chooses. But isn’t God the one with the authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Not according to this. It is wrong to say that the devil is lying to Jesus since if he were lying, Jesus would know it and it would not count as a temptation.

We also know the devil is not lying because there are lots of verses which confirm his claim. Verses which say the devil is the “god of this world”, “the prince of this world”, “the god of this age”. There is the well known verse from Ephesians 6:12:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

How many of us have 1 John 5:19 as our worldview verse?: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

In John 14:13 Jesus Himself says: “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me.”

In Acts 26:18, Paul says God gave him his mission: “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.

Hebrews 2:4 states: “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,”

The world’s way vs. God’s way

Another theme of the Scriptures is the contrast between God’s way and “this world.”  Study the Gospel of John for the majority of these contrasts. Paul also contrasts God’s way from this world and the flesh. This verse from 1 John 2:15-17 says it well:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Colossians 2:20a says, ““You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world. I could go on and on as there are many verses showing the authority of the devil in this world. He has this authority because of the sinfulness of the people of this world. Every time someone turns their back on God or just ignores Him and lives as if He is not there, the devil gets more and more of a foothold in their life. He has a just claim over them. This started with Adam and Eve and has been snowballing ever since.

But in the midst of this, God has been working in the lives of people who open their hearts to Him. The Old Testament tells how He calls out an entire people group, who became the Israelites, to communicate His message to the world. Here we see lots of “Old Testament tough love” as God tries to teach them His eternal truths, and actually sends earthquakes and fire and death to help them understand and realize His holiness and their sinfulness. But then through their linage came Jesus, the one who offers salvation to the whole world, who takes away our sin and makes us holy before God.

The Kingdom of God

There are now some new children of Abraham. Jesus said he came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The “Kingdom of God” does not just refer to heaven, but establishing God’s Kingly rule over the lives of people in this world. Calling out a special people to follow Him and be His light among the darkness of this world. People you might call His Special Forces to undermine what the devil has a right to do in this world because of sin. It all started out small. like a mustard seed, but the influence of His people has been growing and growing since those first disciples began following Him.

There is a great delusion in this world, what the Bible calls being “of” the world, which translates to being under the devil’s authority, in his kingdom, which is opposed to being part of this new kingdom of God Jesus started. For those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord and are new creations, they are in the world but they are not “of” the world. They are under the authority of a new kingdom, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their hearts are set on the things of God, of heaven, and not on the desires of this world. Since these people are in this world, they will suffer all the evil side-effects of this world caused by the power of the devil. They may suffer or even die in earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, wrecks, cancer, murder, the same types of things that happened to most person who followed the will of God in the Bible.

But these people know, as Hebrews 11 states, that this world is not our home. This is not heaven. The heroes of the faith mentioned were looking for a heavenly city. While we are in this world, we will have suffering, but we can be of good cheer, for Jesus has overcome the world. Times now can be rough, even horrible, but Jesus says He gives us a peace that passes all understanding. He says we have a hope that is sure. He says that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will comfort us. There are lots of worse things that can happen to us besides dying or being sick.

So let us not blame God when bad things happen to us, or happen to those around us, or happen in this world. All these same types of things happened to the most faithful people in the Bible, and they stood firm. The devil has a just claim over this sinful world and so bad things happen and will continue to happen.

When God does or doesn’t intervene

I do not disagree that it is a mystery sometimes as to why God does or doesn’t intervene. I do know that when He does intervene, it requires major spiritual warfare with the devil. A good example of this is Daniel 10:12-14:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Then in verse 20: So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come.”  There is an “invisible to us” spiritual warfare few of us can imagine or understand.

Spiritual Warfare and the final victory

Frank Peretti has written several books on this subject, especially “This Present Darkness”, which, while a bit overdone in imagery, is actually very close to what the Bible seems to imply is going on all around us, a spiritual warfare battle between God and the devil. Let me emphasize again that this is not a struggle between two equal powers. God could crush the devil in a millisecond.  But it is a struggle in regards to justice. The devil has a just claim over this world. But the good news, as we read in the book of Revelation, is that the time will come when God will justly remove the devil and cast him into the lake of fire and will set up His perfect Kingdom for ever and ever. Remember and think about the book of Revelation when thinking of spiritual warfare, since it is the most detailed vision of the type of warfare that is currently happening all around us. To watch a video I made for my local church of this section of the article, you can find it on facebook at: Blaming God

Job. Faithfulness during times of great trouble

A final thought. Who caused the suffering of Job?  Did God send all those calamities into his life? The Bible says the devil caused it all. But someone might say, “Well God let the devil do it.” So are we now blaming God for the tragedies the devil causes because we think it is God’s fault since He allowed it?  Hopefully this study has helped us see that the devil has authority and the right to cause all kinds of problems in this world. But God never left Job, and Job, though complaining, stayed faithful to God. He could not understand why God, whom he loved, would let these things happen to him. 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him, I will surely defend my ways to his face.” Job could never figure out what he could have possibly done to cause his suffering, but in the end God showed him that no matter what happens, the most important thing is to keep trusting in Him, for He continues to have the ultimate power and will never leave nor forsake Job.

Complaining without blaming

So Job complained to God, but he did not come to the point of blaming Him. In Psalms David commonly is complaining to God about his enemies, and asking why he is going through such difficult times. But I do not see a blaming spirit coming from David. The Bible makes it clear that it is okay to bear our heart and soul to God, to question Him, to plead with him, to let Him know we just don’t understand why things are happening. But despite all their complaining, Job and David stood strong in their faith and their love for God.

Let us follow the example of these people. We can open our hearts to God, tell Him our fears, our doubts, our issues. But let us not fall into the error of blaming Him and introduce cracks in our faith in Him which can lead to crippling doubt. When we express such blame we are also perpetuating a great misunderstanding of His Word and the role of the devil in all this. This is not heaven. We will go through some terrible things, just like all the faithful ones in the Bible did. But let us remain faithful, remain in love with God. He gives us His peace, He gives us Hope, He gives us comfort and He will never leave us nor forsake us. He loves us unconditionally. And one day we will see Him face to face and live with Him forever.

The Notebook (The miracle of Sebastian)

February 6, 2018 marked 32 years since I went to a small village in southern Mexico to learn their Mixtec language and help them translate God’s Word into their mother tongue. A number of years ago I wrote the following so others might know the incredible way God was working in that place. My 12 page book starts out with an intro, then shares this story.  There is also a Spanish version of it. There is an abridged version of Sebastian’s life in one of my first blog entries on this site. (See the August, 2015 archive.)

This is a true story. It is an amazing and inspirational account which tells how God worked in the life of Sebastian so that the Mixtec people might hear His Word in their own language. Sebastian left school during the second grade to take care of the family goats. He was an alcoholic from an early age. He had never seen his language written down, but after he became a Christian, Sebastian read his Spanish Bible over and over to learn more about God and to re-teach himself how to read. Soon thereafter, at the age of sixty, seeing that his wife and others weren’t understanding the Spanish Bible studies, he bought a notebook, invented his own alphabet of this previously unwritten language and began to write.

This account shows just how much God wants people to have His Word in their own language, and so He used this man in such an incredible way. Today the people of this region have the New Testament in their own language in print and audio form. This makes us think of the passage from Acts 2:6-8 y 11b: When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? …We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

God preformed such a miracle in Acts so that this multitude of people from many different places could hear the Good News about Jesus in their own language, and in this way began a movement of God that continues to this day. This is also what happened among the people of this village. God used this man so that these Mixtec people could hear His Word in their mother tongue.

There are still many towns in Mexico and throughout the world where people still do not have the Word of God in their own language. Please consider how God might want to use you to meet this immense and critical need.

The Notebook
Notebook cover
Betty, a public school teacher in Mexico, didn’t know what she was getting herself into. She had been assigned to this small village by the education authorities. It was not her first choice; a three hour dusty bumpy trip from “civilization” in the back of a truck. Ten hours from the city she lived in. Seven hundred people in the village, few who spoke much Spanish. They spoke Mixtec, one of over sixty major indigenous language groups in Mexico. They were dreadfully poor; subsistence farmers somehow growing crops out of the rocky ground, barely enough to feed their families. Their houses had dirt floors and one light bulb. They cooked over an open fire and made their own tortillas. They had given her a small room, also with a dirt floor, next to the school.

DSCN3666Despite their poverty the people were generous. They shared what little they had with her, happy that she had come to teach their children, many who came to school knowing little or no Spanish. She spent as much time teaching them Spanish as she did all the other courses combined.

Everything about living in that village was hard. She had never seen such big fleas. But Betty was not one to give up easily. When first told she had been assigned to this far away place she resisted. But after praying about it, she felt God calling her to go. So despite the hardships she knew she was where God wanted her. This was especially brought home to her as she realized that the people, though devout Catholics, understood almost nothing of the Bible. The priest, who came just once a month, served mass and did other ceremonies related to the church but did not expound on the Bible.

school

The school

Betty had been preceded by a Christian man who had planted seeds by preaching the Gospel as he went around selling shoes. She started teaching the school children Christian choruses and held a Bible study for the adults. Many people began to attend. They were starved to hear about God’s Word, knowing it was a good thing. However, few understood much of what was being taught since Betty could only explain it in Spanish. There was one man, Emilio, who had traveled around and knew more Spanish than the others. He had become the first believer in the village. She had him translate what she was saying into Mixtec. This was hard for him, not knowing how to say in Mixtec so many of the Biblical concepts she was teaching. He sometimes had to use a mixture of Spanish and Mixtec words, and so this life-changing message was still not getting into the depths of their hearts.

Soon Emilio’s elderly father, Sebastian, began attending the studies and accepted the message of salvation. Here was a man who had drunk himself into oblivion countless times over the years. His drinking buddies were fellow musicians who played at parties. Despite his new confession of faith, Sebastian just could not resist the temptation of playing his fiddle and getting drunk with the others at these parties. But one day Emilio confronted him during a hangover and said if he was really going to follow Jesus, he would have to make a break with the past and sell his instruments. Painfully realizing this was the source of his problems, Sebastian parted with his beloved instruments, and never drank again.

As time went along and his faith grew stronger, Sebastian felt sorry for his wife and others who didn’t understand Spanish. He read his own copy of the Bible over and over to help himself relearn to read Spanish. But his heart burned to be able to help the others. He felt they needed the Bible in Mixtec, not just an off-the-cuff translation like his son was giving them. But what could he do? His Mixtec language did not even have a written alphabet.

palmsebSebastian lived a hard life. He woke early and went to bed late. He made hats and baskets out of palm to earn extra spending money. He worked hard plowing his rocky fields with a team of two steers and a plow he had made himself. He participated in town work, such as helping to build the first village school or fixing up the streets. He had served as a town official several times. He had been working since he was small, having had to drop out of school to take care of the family’s goats beginning at the age of seven.
He had five living children. Five had died in infancy. His diet consisted of tortillas, beans and herbs. Rarely did he ever taste meat unless he went hunting. His evenings were now filled with attending the studies or reading his Bible over and over. Such wonderful things in it that his wife and others were missing. Sebastian prayed to God about what he could do to help them.

One day he went to the store and bought himself a little notebook. Using Spanish letters he began to translate Luke 24, the resurrection story. Such good news! But it was so hard. So many sounds in Mixtec that Spanish didn’t have. So many Biblical concepts that he didn’t know how to say in Mixtec. How could a guy with a second grade education do this?

Sebastian now held a notebook which had several Bible chapters translated into Mixtec. He felt as if it had been the hardest work he had ever done in his life. Harder than plowing through the fields which were practically bedrock. Harder than carrying firewood down the mountain trails back to the village. Harder than spending ten to twelve hours a day making palm hats and baskets. But God had helped him. He had figured a way to write it, at least a way which he could read.
Still he felt inadequate. Who was he to translate God’s Holy Word? What if he had really misunderstood some verses and told the people something wrong. He read in Revelation that those who add to or subtract from the Word are cursed. So even though he took his beloved notebook to the study each time, he never read from it.
But one night was different. Sebastian felt a stirring in his heart. A fire in his soul. He could not sit still any longer. People were falling asleep. Their minds were wandering. Several spoke quietly among themselves. A few just didn’t come anymore. What was the point when they understood so little? So he threw caution to the wind, stood up, and said he had something to share. With trembling hands he opened up his notebook and positioned himself beneath the lone light bulb in the room. Taking a deep breath he began reading. Slowly, haltingly at first. He heard several gasps as they realized he was speaking, that is, reading Mixtec, their heart language.

He continued, gaining strength and confidence as he read on. Looking up he could see several ladies crying. No one was sleeping or nodding off anymore. No more talking quietly to one another. No more getting up and moving around. They were all focused on him and what he was saying. He continued. The light of understanding shone in their eyes. He read on for a long time. These people would never be the same. And neither would he.

preachBetty was not there to rejoice in this amazing fruit of her work for the Lord. After a little over two years, the education officials had decided to transfer her to another place. She had left with a heavy heart, yet content with the fact that she had planted seeds. But she could not have imagined the marvelous things God would do with the seeds she planted.
Time passed and Sebastian’s notebook was filling up. Despite great personal sacrifice he continued to translate more chapters. His basket and hat production went way down. Money was at an all time low. But he would not be stopped. God’s Word was more important. God always provided enough to meet his needs.

He was now reading in almost all of the five services they had each week. Some ladies also came to his house every week to listen to him read. The great barrier of Spanish was being destroyed. God was no longer a “foreigner”, an outsider. He now spoke Mixtec. His Word was going straight to their hearts, instead of in one ear and out the other.
The more Sebastian translated, the harder it was. So many hard concepts! So many things he didn’t understand very well. So hard to write down certain words which didn’t seem to have any of the same letters as the Spanish alphabet. But none of this stopped him for God was helping him. He was a man on a mission.

Betty helped the people build a church with the support from other churches of her denomination in that region. Her home church then decided to take the little church on as their mission. Ministers were sent out to the church to preach, not realizing that their Spanish would be little understood. Not all of them were receptive to Sebastian and his notebook, and so weeks would go by when he didn’t have a chance to read from it during a service. But this did not stop the four or five older ladies who regularly came to his house to listen to him read it. Most of these ministers didn’t last long in the village. The language barrier and the living conditions sent many of them home disillusioned.

seb-john00One day a Christian linguist from the United States visited the village with the goal of helping the people make books and translate the Bible into their Mixtec language. On his first night in the village God led him to Sebastian and he was overcome with emotion when he found out what was inside that notebook. Sebastian immediately began helping the young linguist learn his language. He also began dictating to him his translations. They began to talk about concepts Sebastian was having a hard time translating and others that he was misunderstanding. As the years went by he and the linguist worked together on the Scriptures. The Gospel of Mark became the first published Scripture ever in that place. Thirteen years after the linguist’s arrival Sebastian held in his hands a draft of the whole New Testament.

But life had been hard on Sebastian, and the liquor of the past had taken its toll. Not long after finishing that draft, he began spitting up blood and the linguist took him to the hospital over an hour’s drive away. The doctors unsuccessfully tried to remove his gall bladder. His children, who had moved to the more modern city where the hospital was, tried to get him to stay there. But Sebastian wouldn’t even think of it. He loved his village and he loved reading from his notebook to the people. So he returned, but one day he suddenly collapsed in a field near his house. He’d apparently had a stroke. He lost consciousness, his liver shut down and he passed on into glory. The linguist, who got to say a few words at his funeral, explained that while the people may have not realized it, a hero had been living among them.

It was Sebastian’s dream for his people to have the Scriptures in their own language. The dream has continued. The whole New Testament was recorded and is available to the people. On March 15, 2008, the published Mixtec New Testament was first made available to them during a joyful celebration event.

Betty, who still makes visits to the village, is pleased. Her Bible study had grown into this. From a seed planted in the elderly man’s heart to a quantum leap as he read from his ragged notebook to the people and now this. She had suffered a lot during those early years. So had Sebastian. But this makes it all worth it. She thanks God. Only He could pull off something like this.

NT

Go to Google Play and search for Mixteco de Tezoatlan for the app which contains the text and audio of the New Testament.

A search of Mixteco de Tezoatlan Cantos on Youtube finds a page of videos of Mixtec songs and Scripture portions.

A search of Tezoatlan Mixtec NT on Youtube finds a video of the New Testament Dedication Celebration.

A wonderful site is called Scripture earth, which has Scripture audio and video for over 1000 languages all over the world. The part of it referencing Tezoatlan is: http://www.scriptureearth.org/00i-Scripture_Index.php?sortby=lang&name=mxb&ROD_Code=00000&Variant_Code=

Tezoatlán SIL site: http://www.mexico.sil.org/language_culture/mixtec/mixtec-mxb

This account is based on talks with Sebastian, Emilio, Betty, her father, people of the village, and living over 20 years in village.

 

 

Towards understanding the Trinity in a more Biblical way

Temple Museum01

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Several of the Vacation Bible Schools I went to growing up dealt with that question, and at least one implied it was the egg. People seem to think this is an impossible question to answer, though to me it was always pretty straightforward. When God created the animals, He created a hen and a rooster, and once they got together and did what a hen and a rooster would be expected to do, the hen ended up laying an egg. Despite that, people still use this question when referring to other hard questions about which of two thing existed first and which causes the other.

Another question that is very hard to answer is how can God be three-in-one, the Trinity. In fact, this is such a complicated concept that it caused a major split among believers way back, at least as far as the year 325, when there was a schism between people who believed that Jesus is God and those who did not, and this division still exists today.

One very unfortunate thing about the way the Trinity was thought about and taught was the lack of focus on the Holy Spirit. Early theologians tried very hard to emphasize that God the Father and Jesus are One, to the point that they didn’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. This was made worse by the fact that in earlier times, icons and paintings were used to illustrate to the masses the events and people of the Bible, and it was not easy to draw or make an image of the Holy Spirit. plus the whole concept of the Spirit (Holy Ghost) tended to be kind of spooky. A very sad note in history is Muhammad, a man from a pagan area who amazingly believed that there was only one God. When he visited some Christian areas, he thought Christians believed in three Gods, and because of the emphasis on Mary in the 600’s, Muhammad thought these three gods were the Father, the Son and Mary!  So he returned to his homeland and became the founder of a new religion which focused on there only being one God.

Over the years, people have tried to explain this complicated idea of the Trinity usually using one of two different comparisons. One has to do with an egg, since it has a shell, a white part and a yellow yolk part. Three parts, one egg. The most common one, though, has to do with water. Water can be liquid, solid (frozen) or steam. So water, being one thing, can take three different forms. There are some things about these two comparisons, especially the water one, which are helpful, but the deeper we think about it, and compare it with what the Bible says, both comparisons leave a lot to be desired.

The Bible itself uses a much more accurate and easy to understand comparison of how to understand the Trinity, and I think it would be better to use this Biblical model when thinking about and talking to others about the nature of God.

Jesus is called the Word of God, the living Word, the Truth. The actual word for the Holy Spirit in Greek is wind or breath. Imagine God the Father as the person speaking, Jesus as the True Word coming forth from Him, and the Holy Spirit as His breath, the life-giving breath coming from God. This imagery is the way the Bible talks about the relation between God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

How can we separate the person from the words they speak and the breath they breathe? Especially when talking about God who, the Bible says over and over, never lies. God is the definition of truth, and so the Word that comes from Him is Truth. There are many verses which teach us about Jesus, The Word, being One with God and the essence of truth. Here are there main ones:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

These are verses related to Jesus as the Word and being truth. There are, of course, many other verses which point to Him being One with God, which I will put at the end.

Concerning the Holy Spirit, He is God’s breath and He gives Life.  Here are a few verses, among many, about the Holy Spirit giving life. At the end I will put more verses of His Oneness with God. As already mentioned, the Greek word for Spirit is breath/wind and even though wind/breath is a “neuter” word and grammatically should translated as “it”, the authors in Scripture regularly break this rule and use a personal pronoun.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63)

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

(Note: I believe here that “water” refers to natural birth, then “spiritual” birth through the Holy Spirit. We are born naturally, but later we need to be born spiritually, believe in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. There is no context for baptism here, and John’s style is to use contrasts, fleshly birth, spiritual birth, life, death, light, darkness, etc.)

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22-3)

See also Romans 8 sharing about the life-giving work of the Spirit.

When you think or talk about the relation between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, consider how the Bible itself uses these terms to help us understand the intimate, oneness relationship between the Speaker, His Word and His Breath.

A sample of verses proclaiming Jesus is One with God:

Matt. 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.

John 5:17-18: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

John 8:58: Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

John 10:30-33: Jesus answered them, “I and My Father are one.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

John 14:9-11: Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

John 20:28: And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Philp. 2:5-7: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”

Col. 2:9: For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

Heb. 1:8-9: But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated

lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”

Rev. 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

A sample of the many, many verses showing that the Holy Spirit is God. These also show the “person-hood” of the Spirit:

Luke 1:35: The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 15:26: “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

1 Cor. 2:11: “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Heb. 2:4: “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

 

 

Christmas was necessary because of something that God could not otherwise do

bob and baby

With my big brother on a long ago Christmas

Christmas (the birth of Jesus) was necessary because of something that God could not otherwise do. Now that sounds like a strange statement. Isn’t it true that nothing is impossible for God? Not really. Is it heretical to say that? If we look at what the Bible as a whole says, it tells us about a number of things that God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot sin. He does not tempt anyone nor can He be tempted. Once you really think about it along those lines, there are quite a number of things that God cannot do.

So what is it that He cannot do which ties in with Christmas?

To understand God, we must understand His attributes. Most of our own ideas and society’s understanding of what is good, just and true comes from the fact that each of us have been made in the image of God (though that image is darkened because of sin and is thus warped in many cases). The two most important attributes of God I want to focus on in relation to Christmas are His justice and His love. See this previous blog for a more in-depth discussion of Godꞌs attributes.

God is just/fair

God is 100% just. God could never just let someone who has committed sin to escape punishment. Why? Because He is “obligated” by His attribute of justice to always do the just thing. Obligated is not a really the best way to describe it because it is His very nature to do what is just all the time. The fact that we have sinned at all makes it impossible for us to enter into the presence of a holy, perfect God. God’s own justice prevents us from “coming to the father” as sinners. And the only alternative to being God’s people is to be the devil’s property.

One of the themes of the Old Testament is the holiness of God. There are 613 laws in the books of the law. God knew that we could not keep them all, so he set up a complicated sacrificial system to help “cover” people’s sin and abate His punishment. Theses laws set up a standard that we could never attain to. Its main purpose is to show us how holy God is and how much we fall short of being perfect like Him. God is very strict with people in the Old Testament, partly because His holiness and justness demands it, but also so that they might be “examples” for us, as Paul says in 1 Cor 10:1-12.  Paul also explains that the law was not given so that we could attain holiness through it, but so that we could better understand the absolute holiness of God. He says in Galatians 3: 19, 21b-22: “Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised.” “If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. ” (NLT)

God is love

Realizing that we could never obtain the holiness that God requires, it is here that the great message of salvation in the Bible comes into play. “God gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)   As sinners, God’s attribute of justice will not allow us sinners into His holy presence. But His attribute of love has made a way, through the coming of Jesus, Who gave His life for us, the Substitute Sacrifice, Who lived the perfect life, Who was worthy to die in our place, for “God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all.” (Rom. 8:32).  God, out of His great love for us, satisfied His justice through Jesus dying in our place so that we could be justified and forgiven and be able to enter into His presence sinless, without any blemish, and thus snatched us from the devil’s claim over us as sinners.

“Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past.” (Romans 3:25-26)

It was a high price to pay, and it was not easy. Christmas shows us that one of things God cannot do is that He cannot just let anyone into His Holy presence. He cannot just declare us sinless and set aside His justice. He “had” to provide a 100% perfect sacrifice, and His attribute of love moved Him to do that by sending and sacrificing His beloved Son. The devil can no longer claim that we, God’s people saved by grace, are sinners and therefore justly belong to him and deserving of hell.

God fulfilled the requirements of justness through Jesus. The devil could have justly “objected” that God was not acting justly had He not paid a just price for us. Satan means accuser, and he not only accuses us, he accuses God if He does not act according to His attributes, mainly God being just since Satan “profits” from people getting what they deserve and being under his power. But the Good News is that God did the just thing and out of love paid the perfect price. “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” 1 Peter 1:19-19. And He absolutely had to pay that price, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

He made a way where there was no way

So that is the miracle of Christmas. God loves us, but could not justly allow us into His holy presence, stained as we are with sin, filthy rags. “A wretch like me” says the song, “Amazing Grace.” Jesus says “no one comes to the Father but through me.” It is impossible for God to just let us sinners into heaven.  So He made a way where there was no way. His Son became a person in this world, leaving perfect heaven, suffered as a man, and gave His life as a substitute sacrifice, dying in our place, taking our punishment. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  (John 10:17-18)

So now, if we put our faith, our trust in Him, and He becomes our all, God no longer looks at our grave imperfectness, He instead sees the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, and accepts it on our behalf. For “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) Once we do this, we are no longer on the path that leads to destruction, to hell. Because of His coming, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His mercy, we have been snatched from the devil’s power and are new creatures with a sure hope that we will live eternally with Him.

The following are more “Christmas verses” which give more Biblical context and teaching about what was talked about above.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16-19)

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (John 12:27)

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:3-4

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-10)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Tim. 1:9a-10)

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb. 1:1-3)

But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb. 9:26b)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1-3)

 

Having hard times and suffering is normal. Or, You need more faith to suffer than to experience miracles (2nd part of “The problem of evil in the world” series)

Note: There is an updated version of this article which overlaps a lot with this one but with a different focus, called: No matter what has happened to us, is happening to us or will happen to us, God loves us. Trust Him.

Joni Erickson was 17 years old when she dove off a pier in a lake, hit a rock underneath the water, and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. She was a Christian and this shook her faith. As time went on, many Christians prayed for her to be able to walk again. She believed God could do that, but it never happened. She was filled with doubt as many people communicated to her that her lack of healing was caused by a lack of faith, or hidden sin. She just didn’t believe hard enough that God would heal her, they said.

Were they right? Is that what the Bible says about suffering, that if we just believe enough, we can basically “make” God heal us or deliver us from hard times? Did Joni just lack having enough faith?

I would like to help answer that by sharing some examples of people in the Bible and a few of the many verses that touch on this subject. The world has experienced so many disasters, storms, earthquakes, etc., especially in the second half of 2017, so it is a question on many people’s minds, and generates lots of questions.

Does the Bible really teach that our lives here on earth should be one big rose garden? Are all people, especially Christians, to be exempt from suffering? Why is there suffering in the world in the first place? See my November 16 blog, The problem of evil in the world, part 1. God’s attributes, for a basic treatment of this question. But for now, let’s look at a few examples in the Bible.Johnny02

Did Jesus lack faith?

When we are in the middle of difficult times, we may be able to relate to Jesus’ statement that it is like  “a cup of suffering.”  What was Jesus’ cup of suffering? He was about to suffer greatly over the next 24 hours, the mocking, beating, abuse and inhumane crucifixion. One of my professors once commented that His greatest suffering was revealed when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All the sins of the world were placed on Him, He died in our place, and since He “became sin”, for a short time He became an anathema in the sight of His Father God. So much more I could say about that. But Jesus knew what lie ahead while there in Gethsemane, and Mark 14:35-36 shares with us how He faced the situation: “He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus prayed that those awful coming hours would be taken away. But they were not! Did He lack faith? Didn’t He believe God enough so that God would change the course of history and take that cup of suffering away? He prayed that it be taken away and still ended up suffering! If we applied the common misconception about suffering and applied it to Jesus, we would be tempted to say He just doubted too much. His doubt expressed in the phrase, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” I have heard people say that praying something like what Jesus prayed, “your will to be done, not mine”, expresses a lack of faith. “No!”, they say, “Don’t say that. Believe and claim your deliverance!” In that moment they seem to be telling God what to do. So you have to ask, Who is the Master and who is the servant? I would rather follow Jesus’ way of praying! James 4:15-16 also shows us what our attitude should be: “What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

So what do we do when faced with difficult situations, or when the ones we love face hardships? Yes, we ask God for deliverance, we yearn for it, cry for it, plead for it, we pray over and over about it. But in the end, whether it comes or not, we keep loving God.  We keep following Him and trusting Him. Jesus told his disciples to prepare for such things, saying in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

It takes more faith to not receive the miracle, the healing, than to receive it!

 Did you read that right? More faith to not be healed? More faith to not receive the miracle, the deliverance? Yes! Is our relationship with God strong enough to withstand hardship? Apparent unanswered prayer? This is the time when “the rubber meets the road” in regards to our faith. Are we really insanely in love with God or not? Will we trust Him no matter what?

God has promised us His love, joy, peace, hope, eternal life, His presence (you are not alone!). He does heal, He does do miracles, but how do we respond when it doesn’t happen? This is when we need the most faith. This is when keeping our relationship “alive” with Him before the fact bears much fruit. Praying without ceasing, regular study of His Word and fellowship with like-minded believers, having a lifestyle of sharing Him with others, constantly looking at situations and pondering, “What would Jesus do, think, say?” A mature relationship with God will not be upended when awful things happen to us. For when the hard times come, it will stand true like the house built on the rock, and not fall like the house built on the sand. It will stand firm now and then after the problem is over.

Did Paul lack faith?

Paul is an amazing example of keeping faith in God no matter what, and he shows us that there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly asking God to remove the suffering, to pray about it over and over. What happened to Paul is another instance of where a great pillar of the faith asked for something, pleaded for something, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.

“I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Cor. 12:7b-10)

Jesus compared His coming trials to “a cup of suffering.” Here Paul calls his a “thorn in the flesh.” We have all had what have felt like “thorns in the flesh.” Paul asked three times for his thorn to be removed. It wasn’t. Was it because he doubted God? Did he lack faith? Did he have some hidden sin! No, those so often used pat answers are just not Biblical. How did God respond to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness.” Not the normal response most are seeking when they are praying for deliverance. Then Paul says a remarkable thing.  “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Amazing. As mentioned above, when you have a personal, intimate, alive relationship with God, after the praying and crying, this is where we need to end up. Having a faith that He is there, that He loves me, that I am not alone. No matter the circumstances.

The New Testament is full of Paul having this attitude as he serves God. Take Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Content in whatever circumstance!  What a Biblical standard to follow! A by-product of what is said a few verses earlier “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Notice that these “whatever circumstance” verses are the context of the famous vs. 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A verse usually taken out of context. Another way of stating this verse is, “By Jesus power/help, I can put up with/endure anything.” Cold, hot, full, hungry, in jail (as he was when he wrote this letter), free, sick, well, living, dying, rich, poor, married, single. Whatever is going on in my life, God will help me through it.

For Paul, even death is not the worse thing that could happen to him. (The worse thing that can happen to us is knowing the truth about Jesus and turning our back on it.) Look at what he says in this same letter: “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (1:20-24)

So even if your suffering seems to be leading to your death, keep trusting God. A number of times I visited friends who ended up dying within a month. I went to try and be an encouragement to them and they could not stop trying to encourage me, to be a blessing to me. In each case, I left so much more blessed and inspired by them than I was able to bless or encourage them. That shows me that their relationship with God before the trial was strong and so their faith in God was strong no matter what was happening to them.

Did the disciples lack faith?

Eleven of the twelve disciples, tradition says, died as martyrs. The Book of Acts shares with us how much each one suffered, just as Jesus said they would. John, the one who apparently died a natural death on the island of Patmos, tradition says he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil, but somehow escaped.

Acts 12:1-5 gives us pause to consider what happened to two of the disciples. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration. Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”

James the brother of John, whom we read about so much in the Gospels, a man Jesus invested so much of His life to teach and disciple, was suddenly killed by Herod. No miraculous deliverance, no instant resurrection. Dead. Then Herod grabs Peter with the idea of killing him in front of the crowd on Sunday. but in Peter’s case, God sends an angel and saves him. So how is it that God “let” them kill James but He intervened to save Peter? Did James lack faith? Did he have some secret sin? Obviously it has a lot to do with Herod being evil and having him killed. It is a  natural consequence of sin. In a future blog I plan to talk about the contrast we see in the Bible, especially John, between “the world”, governed and controlled in so many ways by “the god of this world”, and heaven. This is not heaven. My first suffering blog gives some basic insight into what is happening in the world. Rev. 21:4 says of heaven: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” That assumes that tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain are a part of “this world.” God gives us peace, inner joy, hope, His presence, etc., but being His child does not exempt us from the suffering in this world.

Peter did not die in Acts 12. We see prayer as a pivotal part of that, as well as what we now know about what God had planned for his life. So much of living, dying, suffering, etc., is a mystery.  We can learn so much by really digging into the Scriptures, letting them teach us and not the doctrines of men. I am sharing some insights here, but much of what goes on is difficult to understand. But even that should draw us closer to God, not farther away.

Faithful in suffering

Of the many other examples of godly people in the Bible suffering and not always finding deliverance in this world, let me finish this section with Hebrews 11:35a-40, the chapter which tells us about the heroes of the faith. This list by itself should dispel any notion that suffering is caused by a lack of faith. Note what it says near the end, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith.”

“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

Does God send the calamity, does He “kill” people?

One more very important point I want to make in relation to the theme of suffering and especially calamities and death is the “heresy” of saying that God sent the calamity, storm, earthquake, etc. People blame Him for these disasters or blame Him for the suffering in our lives. I again suggest you read my earlier blog on the why of suffering, but to say God sends all these bad things is not Biblical. The short answer is that the world is under the curse of the devil and he is the culprit behind much of the suffering we see. Other suffering comes as a natural result of sinful actions. We ourselves may suffer the natural consequences of our sin. But it is unbiblical to say that God might hit me with a lightening bolt if I do such and such a bad thing.

It also pains me to hear people say, trying to comfort others, that God needed another angel, or some such thought, and that is why He “took” such and such a person. The author of death is the devil. God does not “kill” people, so that He can take them to heaven. Because of sin and the devil, bad things happen to us and we will all die, some dying what seems way too young. As we saw with James and Peter, there is some mystery about this, but it is wrong to say that God took the life of such and such a person. It is fine to say that after the person who loved Jesus died, they will be (were?) received by God into heaven. But to imply He caused the death is not Biblical.

Storms

A quickie illustration of natural calamities is found in Mark 4:37-40: “But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

So did Jesus send the storm so that He could then calm it? No. Storms are a part of this natural world. How we respond to the storm is the more important question. Will we let the storms blow our trust in God away, or will we cling even closer to Him, trusting him with our lives, be it that we live or die. Jesus, who calmed the storm, can calm our fears.

Storms will come into our lives. May we be prepared for them by keeping a close loving  relationship with God at all times. Let us not allow others or our own hearts to question Him, doubt His unconditional love for us, or accuse others or ourselves for lack of faith. For to do so would be to question the faith of Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Stephen, who was stoned, the Old Testament heroes of the faith, etc. Let us instead stand with them, trusting God and being in love with Him no matter what our circumstances are.

Joni Erickson eventually turned her suffering and confusion into a life-changing ministry to thousands upon thousands of people, both disabled folks and those who are not. As she says, “I would rather be in this chair knowing Him, than on my feet without Him.” http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/id-rather-be-wheelchair-knowing-him/

I will end with a few Scriptures Pastor Eric Young recently shared that are good to meditate on as you go through storms and tough times:

Isaiah 41:10: Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Psalms. 46:1-3: God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

Daniel 10:19: “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”