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Archive for April, 2014

Last evening I led the Bible study at my church in Michigan, Westside Baptist Church. I have been reading John S. Feinberg’s No One Like Him, and the Lord impressed on my heart to share what I learned from Feinberg about God’s omnipresence. I put some of my own thought into the study, of course, and came up with what I think is a memorable way to remember and distinguish between the various aspects of how God manifests Himself in creation. I’m not much for alliterating, but it seemed to work quite well for this study.

Infinite Presence

  • Psalm 139:7-12 is a well-known passage that speaks of God’s omnipresence, or “infinite presence” as I call it for this study.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 

  • Another key passage is Jeremiah 23:23,24, which theologians sometimes categorize under the concept of God’s immensity.

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? 24 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD. 

  • Job 26:6 should also be added, because it shows that since God is omnipresent, He is even in some way in hell.

“Naked is Sheol before Him, And Abaddon[1] has no covering.

  • [1] KJV and KNJV translate this as “Destruction”, but this has reference to the place of destruction, which is the “netherworld.” It is parallel to “Sheol” (“hell” in KJV).
  • Concerning God’s “infinite presence” (Feinberg speaks of His “ontological presence”), God is everywhere, so He’s both in heaven and in hell. He’s with the unbeliever as well as the believer. No prayer is needed for this aspect of His presence, because it’s already an established fact.

Indwelling Presence

  • For this aspect of God’s presence, I grouped 4 types of “indwelling presence”: God’s presence in heaven, in the OT Tabernacle/Temple, in Christ, and in the NT believer. Here are some passages that speak of the four, listing the four in their respective order:

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9 NAU)

Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. 2 The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’S house. (2 Chronicles 7:1-2 NAU)

that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:21 NAU)

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 NAU) 

  • Concerning this presence, it can be removed from the OT Tabernacle/Temple (see 1 Sam. 4:21,22), but it cannot be removed from the NT believer once he/she is born again. It’s a family privilege, never to be lost. God indwells Christ as well, but in a unique way. He also dwells in heaven, which is why we ought to direct our prayers toward heaven.

Intervening Presence

  • God’s intervening presence could be for judgment or for blessing (e.g., revival). God visits His creation for a specific purpose and then withdraws once the task is accomplished. It can come through prayer and waiting, but sometimes God breaks through of His own independent will. God can even intervene by coming upon an unbeliever to accomplish a task. Once He even worked through a donkey! Here are some passages that refer to His intervening presence:

Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence– 2 As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil– To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! 3 When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. 4 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him. (Isaiah 64:1-4 NAU)

Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11 NAU)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NAU)

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20 NAU)

Intimate Presence

  • The distinction between this aspect of God’s presence and His “indwelling presence” for the believer is that a believer can lose the former but not the latter. In order to experience His intimate presence, we must have removed all known sin and be looking to Him in faith and obedience. It is distinct from His “intervening presence” in that it comes immediately if we do meet the conditions of faith and full obedience. Here are some passages that refer to His intimate presence:

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:11 NAU)

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:2 NAU)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21 NAU)

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23 NAU)

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20 NAU)

As believers, we should pray for His intervening presence and His intimate presence. We can experience the former according to His will, and we should be continually experiencing the latter as we seek to live for Him. May God give us the blessed experience of always living in His presence!

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Pastor Isaac Bio lives in a small village called Boiffo, not far from the market town of Guéné, in the far north of Benin. The poor schooling in the area has made French pretty inaccessible to them. The younger generations do better in it, but even their knowledge is limited. The Dendi people desperately need the Scriptures in Dendi! The steady march of Islam down through sub-Saharan Africa has made this need even more pressing. The local religion of West African Vodun, out of which (among other sources) Haitian Vodou grew, is also quite prevalent among this people group. There is a field near the missionary compound where the Vodun adherents perform their worship. Drums beating to a distinct rhythm at night signal that Vodun worship is being conducted. Because of limited access to the outside world through French, low literacy rates, and the blinding influence of false religions, the Dendi people remain in deep spiritual darkness.

Thankfully, not all of the Dendi are ensnared in darkness. Bibles International completed the Dendi NT in 1995, just one year before the Benin government declared Vodun to be an official religion. (January 10 is celebrated all over the country as the Fête de Vodoun.) In spite of Satan’s evident dominance in Benin, God’s Word shown forth into people’s hearts and broke the chains of darkness. As of 2012 there were around 300 believers and 10 churches (Ethnologue lists Dendi as having around 10,000 speakers.). Even the government is unwittingly helping spread God’s Word, because they are paying Bible school students, among other literacy teachers, to teach the Dendi people in the villages how to read. Since the NT has been the main book in Dendi, that is the textbook for literacy in the villages! One estimate is that around 70% can read Dendi at some level. Literacy classes in the churches are also ongoing.

There is some literacy material also available in Dendi, thanks to the work of former and current missionaries. Bibles International also produced a trial edition of Genesis in 2001 and then a trial edition of Genesis through 2 Samuel in 2014. Translation work on the Old Testament is ongoing, and the projected completion date is 2018.

I have been able to work with this language team for the past three years. My first trip to Benin was in 2012, when I got to visit Pastor Isaac’s church in Boiffo. It was such a joy to see how the pastor made sure that the Dendi NT was an integral part of the entire service, both in his expository preaching and in the public reading of Scripture. Dendi is their heart language, so they know it the best. Due to the Scripture-saturated worship in the heart language of the people, the church is pulsating with spiritual life. I was able to capture on video various testimonies of people who put out an earnest plea for Bibles International to complete the rest of the Old Testament so that they could have the entire Bible in their language. My heart was so encouraged to hear their testimonies of how they were saved out of Islam through the Word of God. I was also burdened by the need, since few even carried French Bibles with them or could carry on much of a conversation in French with me. The only good access to their hearts is through Dendi!

Pastor Isaac and his family in 2012

Pastor Isaac and his family in 2012

During my 2012 visit to Pastor Isaac’s village of Boiffo, he related to me how antagonistic his village is toward him, his family, and his church. The spiritual warfare indicates that God is clearly at work. In spite of the opposition, the church continues to grow. Construction for a large church building is ongoing. The current building could seat around 80-90 adults, but the new building will hold 4 times that many adults.

On Thursday of my March 2014 workshop, when I met for breakfast with the missionaries, I found out that Pastor Isaac’s two oxen had been stolen in the middle of the night. Though the pastor pays a guard to watch his property and possessions during the night, the bandits were able to make off with his oxen, probably because the guard was doing what he does every night–sleeping. The pastor, the guard, and various other people searched the rest of the night in hopes of finding the oxen, but their efforts were to no avail. When the pastor arrived at the workshop, quite fatigued and burdened by the events of the night, he told us more about the situation but also declared his trust in the Lord. He was somewhat distracted by a few phone calls and texts and visits by a few village people, but otherwise it was amazing to see how focused he was on the translation work that day. Though sleep kept tugging at his body throughout the day, his mind and heart remained attentive to the translation work.

Maybe one of the most encouraging developments of the whole situation was to see how the villagers banded together to help Pastor Isaac find his oxen. People who had traditionally been antagonistic toward him were now working with and for him to help him get his valuable possessions back. This truly was no small loss, for two oxen are worth probably around one full year’s salary. Maybe the villages sympathized with what Pastor Isaac is going through, because they have also suffered at the hands of thieves (which is not uncommon in an area where the houses are not typically securely locked) or could imagine what it would be like if it happened to them. Pastor Isaac thinks that some joined in the search efforts just to remove any suspicion. If you don’t help find the oxen, could it be that you were part of the theft?

Pastor Isaac explained that the thieves would have to lead the oxen away from Boiffo only during the cover of the night. If two men were seen leading oxen in during daylight hours but were clearly not going to or from the fields with them, the locals would quickly become suspicious. So, during the first day after the theft, the thieves must have been hiding the oxen among some thick brush.

Search efforts continued throughout the day, while Pastor Isaac and the rest of the team worked on the translation. Since the oxen still hadn’t been found by the end of the day, they had to keep searching through the night. If another night passes, the thieves would be able to get quite a distance between them and Boiffo. If the oxen are not found by the next morning, all hope of their being found would be almost completely lost.

Pastor Isaac arrived the next morning for the workshop to inform us that the oxen had still not been found. We began that morning as we do all mornings of the workshop–praying to the Lord (I wish you could hear Pastor Isaac pray. He’s such a man of God!). We prayed even more earnestly that God would help the villagers find the oxen, while we continued the translation work. I asked the Bibles International staff back in the USA and others to pray fervently for God to help the searchers find the oxen. The loss would set Pastor Isaac and his family back very severely. Not only would it take him many months to save up money to buy more oxen, he would not have the benefit of their strong help during those months to cultivate his fields, a key part of their existence.

We were working through the book of Ecclesiastes that day. Throughout the day we waited for any news, but good news was still not coming. Then, as we were about to close the day in prayer, Pastor Isaac suddenly began reading Ecclesiastes 4:1 in French, which says in English, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Then he joyfully declared that this moment was a time to dance (as David did when the ark was returned to its rightful place), for his oxen had been found! Apparently, the thieves had abandoned the oxen in a field not too many miles from Boiffo. Maybe they had heard that the whole village was out looking for them, so they got scared and fled for their lives (local justice sometimes comes in strong force upon perpetrators).

Pastor Isaac and the rest of us rejoiced with him in this miraculous answer to prayer. When all hope had pretty much been lost that they would be found, God answered prayer and let the searchers locate them. Some villagers declared that this God who answered the prayers is very powerful and that people must believe in Him. Only time will tell if they will truly believe in the only true and living God who answers the prayers of His followers.

Just before Pastor Isaac left to head back home, I rejoiced once again with him and praised the Lord, and then wished him well by saying, “Dance well!”

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I’m having to go back through the Songhai NT text that I checked last month to find something, so it reminded me of some interesting translation issues I had to work through with the team. One had to do with what word to use for “sea.” Revelation 4:6 speaks of a “sea of glass.” The Greek word clearly means “sea” or “lake.” But the Songhai live in the Sahara desert (or just below it), so they are not familiar with large bodies of water. They have only rivers and small streams. So, they used the words isa honno that means “salty river” (literally, “bitter river”) in places where “sea” occurs in the NT. The missionary coordinator thought they couldn’t do any better, since they don’t have seas in their area. But I kept exploring the issue and found out that Mali does have one large lake, and they use the words isa berdi which means “large river.” This is a better solution than “salty river,” since the Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake. I realize a sea/lake is not a river, since the latter is distinguished by the fact that the water flows from a source to a destination. But when you think about seas and lakes, the water does actually flow in them as well. In fact, they can also have a source from which water flows into them, and they can have an outlet. So, maybe “large river” isn’t as bad as we might have originally thought!

Another issue we had was in relation to their words for “crown.” We came across stephanos in various places in the NT, and they were translating them with their word for “hat”, since only kings wear crowns. Clearly, in the places where we saw stephanos, the idea in the context was not one of a king reigning over a kingdom. So, they used the word for “hat” and then just added the other expressions that the Greek has, like “glory” or “golden” or “life.” But as we explored the issue further, they noted that a new village chief to mark his entrance into the new position. So, we decided we could use their word for “crown” after all. (BTW, their word for “reign” has the idea of “eating a village.” This is because the chief often gets gifts of food from the villagers, who are either thanking him for services rendered or bribing him to get services rendered. I saw this in languages in Chad as well. Very interesting!)

Because the Songhai live in the desert, we had yet another problem to wrestle with–how to translate “mountains.” Their normal procedure is to translate it with the word for “rock” and then to add “big” to it. But they ran into a problem in Revelation 6:16, which has both “mountains” and “rocks.” The translators didn’t want to sound redundant, so they just left out one of the words. But we don’t want to leave out anything in the Greek, so we changed it to a translation that means “the big rocks and the rocks.” It may not seem to be the best solution to us, but there really are no other options (creating new words for such contexts really isn’t good to do, since the meaning is basically already there in the Songhai).

An amusing sidelight is that their word for “day” (jirbi) means something like “the light after sleeping,” indicating that the day begins for them after they wake up from a night’s sleep!

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Dear Family and Friends,

As I tried to endure the heat during rest breaks on my Africa trip, I listened to an audio book about William Tyndale. His life has been a great source of encouragement for me, and it has reminded me that English speakers were once destitute of the light of Scriptures. In his Prologue, Tyndale writes that “light should be shewed to them that walk in darkness, where they cannot but stumble, and where to stumble is the danger of eternal damnation.” We can praise God for using Tyndale to “give God an English voice”!

FAITH COMES BY HEARING

After a very restful and relaxing two weeks in South Carolina with family, I dodged the winter storms and headed back to Michigan with intern Jim Wright (with GFA), who stayed with me for two weeks in January. When Jim flew to Texas, I flew to New Mexico to learn about the ministry of Faith Comes By Hearing, an audio Scriptures ministry. They have a wealth of resources to enhance our distribution of Scriptures, including the means to help us create our own smartphone app, so we look forward to taking advantage of their services in the near future to help the non-literate and newly literate recipients of our translations.

AFRICA

In March I was able to travel to my fifth African country, Mali, where I worked with my twelfth translation project, the Songhai NT. It was a joy to guide these first-generation believers, who have been saved out of Islam, through 1 & 2 Peter and half of Revelation. Only one and a half books remain to be consulted. PRAY for the effective distribution of the trial edition of three NT books that should arrive in country very soon.

After spending two weeks in Mali, I passed through Niger to arrive in Benin for my third workshop with the two Dendi OT translators. I checked Esther, Jonah, Obadiah, and Ecclesiastes 1-8. During the workshop, the head translator’s two oxen (worth probably a year’s salary) were stolen in the middle of the night. After searching for thirty hours and not finding them, it seemed that they would never be found.  Surely the thieves had taken them far away during the two nights or had gotten them butchered. The whole village, which has typically been quite antagonistic to this dear pastor/translator, was helping him look for his oxen. In God’s providence, on the second day the oxen were found by themselves in the bush. This huge answer to prayer caused many to become more aware of God’s power. PRAY the Lord will continue to shed light into this small village of Guéné, which for years has been ensnared in the darkness of Islam and spiritism.

FINISHING AND STARTING

This year we are bringing to completion seven different projects (one complete Bible and six New Testaments) for six different countries. PRAISE the Lord that we are reaching this milestone for these projects. PRAISE Him for the funds that have come in, and PRAY for the remaining $40,000 to come in soon.

While we complete these projects, we also adopted three new projects: two in India and one in Eurasia, a new region for us. We are excited about launching into this new region and look forward to how it might open doors for other projects. PRAY for wisdom!

PRAY for my two weeks of teaching linguistics at Maranatha Baptist University in May. PRAY also as I’ll be conducting the Haitian Creole OT workshop on June 2-13 at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, SC, for the first time. Please join us to observe in the afternoons!

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I had difficulties connecting to the internet during the last three weeks of my time in Africa, so I wasn’t able to update my blog… We were able to finish 1 & 2 Peter and 12 chapters in Revelation in the Songhai NT (Mali). That leaves the rest of revelation and Hebrews to be checked before we begin doing quality checks to prepare this NT for publication. What might set the project back, however, is that the missionary coordinator (Ken Beckley) is going on furlough from June 2014 to June 2015. I just sent out an email today to a Malian man who is quite capable and who might be able to help us set up a workshop in the absence of the missionary coordinator. Pray that we are successful with this plan, so that this project doesn’t sit for an entire year.

After two weeks in Mali, I flew to Niamey, Niger (by way of Togo and Nigeria–thanks ASKY!). I got to the missionary campus, where I would stay the night, around 8 pm–just enough time to gobble down some pizza and get to bed, since we were to have an early start the next morning. I had to be up at 2 am the following Sunday so we could get to the bus station by 3 am. The bus almost literally flew down to the southern border of Niger, and then a missionary picked up Ken and me to take us across the border into Benin.

The Dendi OT workshop started Monday morning. It was a joy to go through Esther and Jonah during that first week. Both books are excellently crafted, but Esther has to be one of the finest pieces of OT literature. Thankfully, though, it’s more than just good literature. It was a privilege to learn from God as we worked on these two books. The team didn’t expect us to cover that much material, so they had to scramble to get more (we still needed to cover Obadiah, but that didn’t take long during one morning of the second week). That required calling in the Read-and-Review Committee to polish up Ecclesiastes in preparation for my consultation. While they were working on that book, I was studying the extremely complex concept behind the word “vanity” in Eccl. The Hebrew word is “vapor” or “breath” and basically means “negation of value,” as a Russian friend put it in his dissertation (I praise the Lord that this friend immediately fired back his dissertation only minutes after I requested it from Africa that Monday morning). Solomon (who goes by the title “Qoheleth” or “Preacher”) wrote down his exploration and evaluation of things “under the sun.” Basically, he determined that there is no lasting value to anything under the sun when seen from a completely earthly perspective, because all is transient, futile, mysterious, or frustrating. Since this is so, we have to adjust our lives accordingly. Solomon recommends that we find joy in various things (eating, drinking, working, marriage, etc.), pursue wisdom, and maintain a fear of the Lord. We got through only the 1st 8 chapters with the Dendi team, but it was a joy to work through most of this book with them. I praise the Lord for providing the resources necessary to prepare to consult on this book on a last-minute notice, and I’m thankful that He helped us to come up with a good Dendi expression for the “vapor” word that occurs 38 times in that short book.

I’m also thankful that the Lord helped me to correct a significant theological error that was in the first draft of the Dendi translation (completed a number of years ago by other translators). In Eccl. 3:11 (a key verse for this book) they had a Dendi rendering that basically meant “la vie eternelle” for the translation of “eternity.” I didn’t notice it during my preparations, but then I caught it during the oral back-translation. But then since I was distracted with other matters in the verse, I forgot about it. Thankfully, the Lord helped me to remember a few verses later, but then we went back to it. I asked if this “vie eternelle” is the same eternal life spoken of in Jn. 3:16. They said Yes! So, we changed it to their word for “eternity.” I’m so glad I caught it, because their translation was saying that God has put eternal life into the heart of all people—universalism!

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