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Today is Pentecost Sunday… read all about it in Acts chapter 2

A few days ago Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes posted The story of Pentecost in Two Contrasting Versions. I’m pretty sure he won’t mind me re-posting on Pentecost Sunday…

Why Stories from Different Cultures Are So Similar
I grew up listening to Dutch folktales, read voraciously in English during my early years in Canada, enjoyed Brazilian stories in Portuguese, studied Canela legends, and know all the Middle Eastern Bible stories by heart. I wondered why stories from these five different cultures seem to have similar plots and structure.

An anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, taught me that these timeless stories hang together because they all follow certain rules. Elements in each major tale relate to each other, both in the way they are similar and in the way they contrast. What’s more, one element in each pair is often positive, while the other may be negative, just as health contrasts with disease, and clean contrasts with dirty.

The Moses and Joshua Example
Here, for instance are how the stories of Moses and Joshua are similar: Both were chosen by God. Both led Israel. Both performed miracles. Both accomplished their tasks.

Here are the contrasts: One was old: one was young. One was a shepherd: the other a trained warrior. One led them out of bondage: the other led them into freedom. One was highly educated in Egypt’s royal court: the other was an ignorant slave.

Around the world, all enduring stories are structured similarly because they all reflect the greatest story of them all; the timeless tale of God, His creation, human sin and God’s redemption.

Now The Two Stories of Pentecost
Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, in Old Testament times was simply a harvest festival. Eventually, this turned into more of a remembrance of the time Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. And of course, for the Christian Church, we remember that it was on the first Pentecost after Christ rose from the dead, that God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

So, doing a quick study of these two major stories, here, in list form, are some similarities and contrasts:
Jewish Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Law.

  1. God’s servant Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law
  2. This happened 50 days after their escape from Egypt (10 days of travel plus 40 days on Mount Sinai)
  3. Moses found the people feasting and playing before the golden calf
  4. Moses ordered the Levites to draw their swords and execute the idolaters
  5. As a result, 3,000 people lost their lives

Christian Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Holy Spirit

  1. God’s Holy Spirit came down from heaven with Power.
  2. This happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (40 days of seeing Jesus alive plus 10 days of waiting in Jerusalem)
  3. The Holy Spirit found the disciples fasting and praying before God
  4. God ordered Peter to use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and preach to the crowds
  5. As a result, 3,000 people received eternal life.

The apostle Paul may well have had this contrast in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Try This Yourself
Pick a pair of characters like king Saul and king David. Or the prophet Jonah and the apostle Paul. Check out the amazing similarities and contrasts in their stories.

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes is a prolific story teller. One of his stories inspired me to research which resulted The Irishman’s Prayer and The Irishman Who Prayed

Keep writing the stories, Jack!

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… or more accurately, praise to God who created the world that we live in and enjoy.

Just one of God’s landscape paintings…

Following on from my tongue in cheek Jacana story yesterday, this morning I read this from Vivien Whitfield commenting on Psalm 104 in SU WordLive.

As a keen birdwatcher I regularly feed the birds in my garden and record those which come. It’s fun to watch their different characteristics. Greenfinches sit guzzling on the seed feeder. Tits fly in and out again quickly. I have seen collared doves appearing to plead with me to put more food out. And yet all the birds fly off when I go out into the garden. They depend on me when the surrounding food supply is low, but they’re wary of me as well. Perhaps that’s a good illustration of how humans are with God. We depend on him for everything and yet there’s a right wariness too – which comes through clearly in this psalm.

Yesterday we had a plump woodpigeon perching on our decking fence patiently waiting for untidy feeders like the sparrows and coal tits to dislodge seeds on to the ground so it too could feed. I’ve also been excited about the beautifully coloured goldfinches that come regularly to feed from the niger seeds this year.

Then there are the bossy noisy starlings, the bullying jackdaws and the imperious magpies that disturb the quieter robins, collared doves, tits and dunnocks.

Please take time to read Psalm 104 today. God has given us an amazing world to live in.

The Earth reflects the amazing creativity of our God. We destroy and exploit it at our peril.

Another quote from SU WordLive this morning

 

 

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… among God’s people in God’s world; in the hearts of those who, like me, claim to follow Jesus and too often get it wrong.

The news could make one rather depressed if one identified with…

  • the holder of a valid visa refused entry because of a Presidential Executive Order which may have been unconstitutional and unlawful.
  • someone living in N. Ireland hoping the Executive might have led the country prudently and selflessly rather than selfishly slithering into yet another potentially tribal election.
  • a disoriented refugee family facing rejection and suspicion because they are different from “us”.

In the early hours of Sunday 24 July 2016, someone started several fires inside Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast. On Sunday 5 February 2017 – 30 Sundays later – we worshipped God again in our own buildings. Not in the church itself, but in the church hall.

It was a time for rejoicing at having got this far; for thanking local churches and the local primary school for the use of their premises; for continuing a preaching series on prayer; for praying for wisdom in planning the church restoration – but most of all for thanking God and acknowledging that he is in control.

So how is this story about my church’s problems connected with where I started above?

 

Well, because a friend led the prayer of intercession which included these words which touched me:

We are sorry that we are so obviously sinful. We recognise that we are selfish if our well-being is threatened. We see intolerance within us when we hear and see what is unfamiliar and we lack a generosity of spirit and an attitude of hospitality and acceptance.

But Father God, we see that you are good and pure and with you there is full acceptance and generosity and safety.

when-a-foreigner-resides

And my friend’s prayer is so relevant to a story I plan to post in the next few days.

It is based on some news from a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland colleague living and working in a West African country where she is so obviously “different”.

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Great idea! But there seems to be some disagreement about how...

Great idea! But there seems to be some disagreement about how to…

In Christian mission, you have three choices: you’re primarily a goer, you’re primarily a sender, or you’re primarily disobedient.

A few days ago, me old mate Eddie Arthur discussed the missionary saying which appears above in bold. Like many other “popular” missionary sayings, says Eddie:

…this is pithy, memorable and has a grain of truth in it. However, as with all of the others, I’m not entirely convinced that it is helpful.  [my italics]

He has a couple of comments to make:

Firstly, I’m not entirely convinced that guilt is a great motivation to anything in the Christian life. Saying that if you don’t do X you are being disobedient may well be true and it is certainly a classic strategy of many evangelical teachers. However, in my experience, saying this sort of thing just makes people feel bad and doesn’t do much to change behaviour. It is far better to demonstrate the joy, and privilege of being involved in mission work than it is to make them feel guilty for not being involved.

Next he takes a look at arguably one of the most abused verses in the Bible:

Secondly, the saying is all about going – something that isn’t actually central to the New Testament teaching on mission. I know that many people will want to point me to Matthew 28:19, where the text says “Go and make disciples” or something like that, depending on what translation you use.  The problem is, that in the original Greek, there is only one command in this verse and it isn’t “GO!” A better, but not very idiomatic translation would be “going, make disciples…” Essentially, the command is to make disciples wherever you are. Some people go to the far corners of the earth, others go to the office; but we are all called to make disciples.

And adds:

If you don’t believe me, read this.

I just did – and it’s a very clear discussion of why thundering the imperative “GO!” from the pulpit is not really what Jesus actually said to his disciples.

The rest of the post (and it’s well worth reading it all) discusses what Eddie thinks it really means to be a disciple of Jesus discipling others – and suggests a re-writing of the misleading bold statement above

“Serving Jesus by making disciples wherever you are is the greatest privilege you can have; you’d be daft not to do it.”

I like it!

If you are interested in helping every language group in the world get an accurate translation of Matthew 28:19 – and the rest of the Bible – check out Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland or search for the Wycliffe office where you live.

 

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Jesus had a habit of answering questions with his own rather challenging questions.

But then God has given us a lot of clues about how to live our lives in relationship with him – and in community.

In the Bible, starting with Genesis, where we find the Ten Commandments we find a good starting point…

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

  2. You shall make no idols.

  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

  4. Keep the Sabbath day holy.

  5. Honor your father and your mother.

  6. You shall not murder.

  7. You shall not commit adultery.

  8. You shall not steal.

  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  10. You shall not covet.

And then throughout the rest of the Bible!

Which is why Wycliffe Bible Translators exists: to enable all peoples to engage with the Bible in a language which speaks to their heart. It’s how God shows us humans how to live in his creation.

So when the young man got up from his bench, saying goodbye to Jesus… I wonder what he did next?

 

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harry-potterIn keeping with my post yesterday about significant steps in Bible translation, my friend and colleague Eddie Arthur had an article in Christian Today (23 November 2016) on the very same theme… which is not surprising since all of us in Wycliffe Bible Translators worldwide are excited by the new stats.

Eddie starts with Shakespeare, continues with Harry Potter, includes the UN Declaration of Human Rights in a sort of league table of many languages they have been published in and then comments…

However, Shakespeare and JK Rowling are miles behind the UN Declaration of Human Rights which is available in 370 different languages from Abkhaz to Zulu.

These are all worthy efforts, but the real champion of international availability is the Bible. This month, Wycliffe Bible Translators released the latest Scripture access statistics which tell a truly amazing story.

The bottom line figure is that there are passages of the Bible available in 3,223 different languages. This includes 636 languages which have a complete Bible and 1,442 more with a whole New Testament.

There’s also a video to look at but I prefer the photo… choose for yourself by reading the whole article

A young boy stands by a display featuring Bible stories translated into Chinese at the Xinhua bookstore in Beijing | Reuters

A young boy stands by a display featuring Bible stories translated into Chinese at the Xinhua bookstore in Beijing | Reuters

I like the concluding challenge that Eddie gives to English speaking Christians in his article…

In the English-speaking world, we have more different translations of the Bible than we know what to do with. You don’t have to look very far on the internet to find supporters of the various versions arguing the merits of their particular favourite. Meanwhile, around the world, translators are quietly translating the Scriptures into ever more languages. This is a truly international, cooperative venture that we should be proud of.

Today, Wycliffe, the various Bible Societies and local Christians around the globe are working to translate the Bible into more than 2,400 languages. Harry Potter and Shakespeare would be jealous, but this is a story that many Christians in the UK don’t even know about.

Find out more at www.wycliffe.org.uk and www.wycliffe.net/en/statistics

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Yesterday I posted that members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have been praying for South Sudan. Please keep praying for Sudan but also give thanks for what God is doing through Bible translation!

Every fourth week the Wycliffe office in Belfast gets the chance to post prayer news and requests on the weekly PCI Prayerline – today this week’s edition heralded dramatic progress in Bible translation

636 languages have a full Bible2016-stats-english

1,442 languages have the New Testament

1,145 languages have Scripture portions

Here’s what I wrote this week…

Wycliffe Global Alliance website has just published the latest Scripture and Language statistics.

This means that perhaps 111 language communities may be hearing the Christmas story this year in their heart language for the first time.

  • Please celebrate with us as we thank God for what he is accomplishing through His power and through many partners involved in Bible translation.
  • Pray that all those people, who now have some or all of God’s Word in their heart languages, will respond and follow Jesus.

There are an estimated 7,097 languages spoken in the world today.  The research indicates that over 160 million people, speaking up to 1,800 languages may need a Bible translation programme to begin.

  • Pray that Wycliffe Bible Translators and our partners in Ireland and around the world will be guided by God to complete the task.
  • Please continue to pray with us for people with no access to God’s Word.  Our prayer is that more PCI congregations will join with us to #endbiblepoverty.

Find out more at www.wycliffe.org.uk and www.wycliffe.net/en/statistics

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