Monday, November 30, 2009

Another "VOMiracle"

It seems that I experience God's hand of blessing more in my work with VOM than in any other area of my life. This is not because there is anything special about VOM itself as an organization. I think it's more because God really cares for His persecuted children, who are joyfully revealing His glory in the middle of circumstances that would crush a non-Christian.

This month, another of these "VOMiracles" arrived unexpectedly.

David Witt of Spirit of Martyrdom forwarded me a speaking opportunity that he was too booked to take. It turned out to be at the Christian K-8 school in Phoenix where I went to preschool (a looooooong time ago). It was an opportunity to give chapel services for a total of about 420 kids. I have never given a VOM presentation to children before and didn’t want to risk an opportunity this large as my “experiment”. Lu, one of the other Arizona reps, volunteered to take it. The event was scheduled for November 12th.

On November 5th, out of the blue, I got this email:
Hi Daniel,

I don't know if you remember me and my sisters but we sang for the VOM conference in Flagstaff AZ in July and then the week after we helped at the Homeschooling convention at the VOM Kids of courage table.

I was just writing because I wanted to see if there was any events coming up that we could help at. I am singing at an Arab Baptist church this weekend and I am in charge of the youth revival meeting. I’m going to sing some of my songs there and I'm going to read Kids of Courage stories to them and pray with them about the persecuted church.

I'm writing, too because I joined “Be-A-Voice" network back in July but I feel like I am not doing enough to help. I need some ideas of how to be a better “Voice":)
The family of the girl who wrote this note (from whom I had not heard since July) happens to live in Phoenix. In fact, they happened to live about 2 minutes away from the school where Lu would be speaking the next week! Needless to say, God worked it out so she was able to come assist Lu at the event and Lu was able to give her some further advice on how she can be ministering. Don’t you love how God put all this together? It started with David’s spirit of generosity. He could have tried to get the school to postpone the event to a date he was able to take. Then, God had Lu in place with her experience speaking to children. And who better to give advice to a young woman seeking God’s direction than an older woman like Lu who has walked with God for many years?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine -- in 1961!

This is amazing. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history! See if this message doesn't sound hauntingly relevant for today.

Ronald Reagan recorded this in 1961 to help the American Medical Association in their (unsuccessful) opposition to creation of Medicare.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: A day to pray for Muslim Pilgrims

On the day when Americans remember the Pilgrims who fled to America to escape religious persecution in England and secularism in Holland, many Muslims will be making pilgrimage to Mecca. This year's Muslim Hajj happens to fall from November 25 to 29. Let's use our Thanksgiving holiday to pray for God to open the eyes of Muslim pilgrims. Here is a short video with details, and here is a PDF.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mom's Fragile Plateau

It's been a while since I've given you all an update on Mom. She seems to have reached a plateau of sorts, where she is neither getting worse nor getting better. Through the daily combination of oil of oregano, magnesium oxide, back massages, resting in the recliner, and incredible quantity of prunes, dates, and raisins, she's been able to force her reluctant colon to keep moving.

It appears she has developed a painful dental cavity because of eating so much fruit and not being able to brush her teeth often enough. She has a dentist appointment for next Monday. Getting into a dental chair (and staying in it long enough to get a filling) may be tough for her, so your prayers continue to be appreciated!

Some days are worse than others. Nevertheless, we're grateful for each new day with her. By God's grace she's been able to spend some of her strength ministering to others in the middle of her own suffering.

On Sunday at church, I discovered just how well suffering can prepare for ministry. A bubbly older woman with a cane greeted me. I had first met her on Sunday the 8th. I was embarrassed to discover that she remembered my name while I had forgotten hers. Even more impressively, she remembered that I had not been there on the 15th. I explained that Dad and I take turns staying home with Mom.

After the service as she was leaving she said, "I hope your Mom has a good week." I was immediately struck by how perfect these words were and wondered why I had never thought to say something like that to others who are going through times of extended pain. A person unfamiliar with long-term illness would normally say, "I hope your Mom gets well soon." But in these situations, one doesn't normally think ahead more than a week (or even a day, at times). There are good days and bad days and they can change either direction quickly. Her wish for a good week touched us right where we are living.

Then I found out why her words were so appropriate. And why her bubbliness was not fake. She is caring for a man in the final stages of cancer. And the man is her ex-husband.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Audiobook: Desiring God

This month I discovered, a site which sells recordings of various Christian books. Each month they offer one title for free, and this month's is John Piper's classic, Desiring God. Although I've read other Piper works, I had never read this one even though I knew it was his first (and most popular) work.

We have been listening to it as a family. The recording quality is surprisingly professional. The content of the book is very thought-provoking. It has already changed my way of thinking, and we're not even done with the book yet. Some things I have learned:
  • When we worship God out of duty rather than delight, it exalts us and dishonors God. It basically says, "God is boring, but I'm such a spiritual person that I can worship Him in spite of His shortcomings."
  • For the same reason, we should come to God to receive (more of Him) rather than to give. This one you have to kind of think about and define more clearly to understand. But if we try to pay God back, it is actually an act of pride. ("I'm not a total beggar, at least let me give you ten cents for salvation!")
  • Besides saving us from the penalty, power, and presence of sin, Jesus also saves us from the pleasure of sin.
  • Becoming a Christian means not only receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, but also as Treasure.
It really makes you rethink things. Using the word "hedonist" in a positive way is a really hard thing to get your mind around, but Piper does a thorough job explaining and backing up his points with Scripture.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving--for Kids

Some priceless pictures from my church's Thanksgiving dinner last night. As things turned out, I wound up sitting at the table with six young boys. Apparently the adults thought I was sacrificing by sitting with them. But honestly, it was a great joy.

The young man at left is examining the new look of his plastic fork after holding it over a candle. The young man with the pen is thinking of more items to add to our table's Thanksgiving list. (You can click on any of these pictures for a larger view.)

I realized I was growing old when I had to ask them what an iTouch is. And I felt even older when one of the boys told me that of the seven of us at the table, only myself and a six year old did not have iPods. (How did he even know I don't have an iPod?)

Craig shares what the people at his table are grateful for.

Women and children were first, but there was still lots of good food left for the men!

And some clowning.

Doesn't he look like the farmer in American Gothic?

Thank You, God--for kids!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Do Muslims believe Hasan was justified in the Fort Hood shootings?

This is a poll only for Muslims to answer.

Want to prove to the world that most Muslims are peaceful? Or, would you like to defend the use of lethal force against a military target? Now is your chance. Vote on the poll below. Ask your Muslim friends to vote too. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to explain your position in more detail.

(Lest anyone questions, I believe Mr. Hasan was not justified in his attack. But I'm interested in hearing from Muslims about this. If you are not a Muslim, please don't vote in this poll. You can, however, click "Show Results" to see the results of the poll thus far.)

Was Nidal Malik Hasan justified in his attack at Fort Hood?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My IDOP Message

I was blessed to have the opportunity to deliver a brief presentation for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church in my home church on Sunday. Here it is:

I would have shown a picture of Maryam and Marzieh if the church projector hadn't been dead. But that doesn't stop me from showing it to you.

For more information on their case, visit Elam Ministries.

To write them a letter of encouragement, visit Prisoner Alert.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hallowing Halloween

October 31 has a glorious history: it is the day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted 95 theses which would shake the world. It's time we reclaim this day for God's glory.

My family's approach to Halloween has changed dramatically over the years. As a child, I enjoyed going to our church's Halloween-replacement event. Later, once my parents realized the pagan implications of Halloween, we ceased observing it altogether. We disabled the doorbell, turned the lights out, and went into a back room and spent time together playing games or reading. Then we heard Ray Comfort encourage Christians to view Halloween as a time to evangelize rather than retreat. "On what other night of the year do non-Christians come knocking on your door?"

But then we moved to a location in Rimrock where no one ever comes to our door on Halloween.

In 2005 Mom had a three hour doctor's appointment in the nearby town of Sedona on the afternoon of October 31. I got the idea to try to spend those three hours evangelizing in some way while Mom and Dad were at the doctor's office.

The morning of that October 31 I got dreadful news: my evangelism mentor Gordon Riffle had died as a result of complications from back surgery. At first I thought of it as a victory for Satan. How awful, I thought, to die on a day that celebrates evil and death. After I dropped Mom and Dad off at the doctor's office I almost chickened out. I had no idea where or how to find people to talk with. But something gripped my gut and I decided I would do my best in evangelizing in Sedona that evening, in honor of Gordon's investment in my life. (And, I didn't want to have to tell everyone who was praying for me that I'd backed down!) The story of how God guided me to Sedona's Halloween celebration that year is too long to tell here, but suffice it to say that it was one of the best evenings of my life.

We've gone back to Sedona for Halloween almost every year since then.

This year was a bit different: Mom was physically unable to come, and Dad stayed home to care for her. However, two leaders from church, Jim and Travis, joined me there for the first time.

I parked next to a car with a bumper sticker that read "Prayerfully Pro-choice". That epitomizes Sedona: spiritual, but lost.

Jim, Travis and I prayed together. There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of bowed heads on a street corner just before sharing Jesus.

We walked down the sidewalk, looking for people to talk with. I found a man just standing and watching the passersby. "Do you believe in ghosts?" I asked.

"I haven't seen any, so, no."

"Then where do you believe people's souls go when they die?"

"Do we even have souls?"

"So, you believe we're just chemicals?" I responded.

"No, I think we're just illusions."

"I'm talking to an illusion?" I asked.

"Well, you're an illusion too."

About then his wife came out from the shop behind him to see what I was doing to her husband. I said, "I asked your husband if he believed in ghosts and he told me that we're all illusions. I guess that means we're all ghosts, right?" We all laughed. She told me he was probably pulling my leg and then told him she had something to show him in the shop.

I caught up with Jim and Travis, who were watching from a distance. As we waited for the street light to change so we could cross, I started a conversation with a man and woman near us. They turned out to be from the Toronto area, and this was their first visit to Sedona. Jim jumped in boldly. "Do you believe in God?"

"She does," the man answered.

As we crossed the street, Jim asked her, "If you died tonight and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?"

"I've been a good person!"

I moved away from the conversation (unfortunately, out of earshot) so as to avoid making the Canadians feel like we were ganging up on them.

Down the street, people were lining up to watch ghosts dance. I approached an older couple who had moved to Sedona recently from San Diego and repeated my starter questions. The man said he didn't know where people would go when they died. Unfortunately here I have a memory lapse: I don't recall exactly what happened to the conversation except that I gave up and moved on. I wish I had tried a little harder.

Next I met a man and woman who did believe in ghosts! The woman looked at me, dead serious, and said, "Definitely. I felt a cool breeze when my father died." And the man chimed in, "Yes, after my father died, I felt his hand on my shoulder as I drove across the country." I was surprised to meet someone who actually believed in ghosts. And I didn't want to seem insensitive to the loss of their fathers. They walked off before I thought of a good response. (Like, "How do you know that the ghost was your father?")

My next conversation was with a friendly store owner outside for a smoke break. He lightheartedly answered my first question with "I think ghosts might exist" but when I asked where he believes souls go when they die, his eyes narrowed and he said, "I think that's a personal question." I tried asking it slightly differently and got the same response. Alas, again my mind was dull. I could have kept the conversation going by saying, "It sounds like you've had people try to shove religion down your throat." Instead, I moved on.

I found a man sitting alone on a bench. He looked bored, and I told him so. We chuckled and we started talking. Amazingly, he was also from Toronto. "Where do you believe souls go when they die?"


"Even Hitler?" I asked.

"Did Hitler have a soul?"

I probed to find what standard he felt people must meet to enter heaven. "Do they need to be as good as Mother Teresa?"

"No. God is compassionate, He wouldn't send the majority of His children to hell. He knows that we all mess up. We must simply treat people fairly."

I kept probing, looking for his standard for morals. "You say that we should treat people fairly. Some say that an unborn baby is a person. Some say it's not. So, when you say we should treat people fairly, would you include unborn babies?"

"I'm a Catholic, so, yes, I would."

"I agree with you," I said, "But where are you getting your standard from?"

"Well, the Ten Commandments are a pretty good place to start."

"Have you kept them?"

"Pretty well."

When I went through a few of the commandments with him, he continued to justify himself as being a basically good person. I switched to a different approach. "Why do you believe that Jesus had to die?"

"Because the Jews didn't like Him," he answered.

"That's a reason why He died, true. But at the same time, God could have prevented them from killing Jesus. Instead, He allowed it. Why?"

He didn't seem to understand my question and said something about the Jews again. I decided to tell him the answer. "Because of the ways we have rebelled against God, we deserve judgment. He must punish sin, He can't just ignore it or grade on the curve. God gave Jesus the punishment we deserve. Jesus had to die because that was the only way God could forgive us and still be righteous."

About then his wife came up. He looked glad for an excuse to get away from me.

I moved on to a shop that sold dreamcatchers. I knew they were called dreamcatchers but I didn't know why. Here's a picture of one, in case you don't know what they look like.

"Why are they called dreamcatchers?" I asked.

"Because they catch bad dreams," the shop owner answered. Interestingly, he was white, not native American.

"Really, do they work for you?"

"Actually, I don't use one! I don't have many bad dreams," he chuckled. Pointing to the hole in the center of a dreamcatcher, he said, "The good dreams go through here."

"So good dreams are smaller?"

"Well, you might say good dreams are smarter. They find their way past the strings, but the bad dreams get stuck in them."

We had built up a great rapport through this goofy conversation, and I was preparing to ask my "ghost" question when a flock of children came to get candy from the store owner. The conversation interrupted, I decided to go find another person. (Now I wish I had stayed longer and just put up with the occasional trick-or-treaters.)

Suddenly my heart jumped for joy: Jim and Travis were talking with Woody! I have talked with Woody on two previous Halloweens. He is one of the most colorful characters I've met, and I had told Jim that I hoped he would get to meet Woody. I went up and greeted Woody. "Did you read the book I gave you last year?"

"No, but I got my logo done!"

I scrambled to remember what logo he was talking about. "Great!"

He pulled it out and showed it to us. "This came to me in a dream." Here it is (you can click it for a larger version):

Classic Woody. I left Jim and Travis with him, knowing that it could be a long conversation.

I next talked with a young man with a sore throat. He was surprisingly open and uncertain in his beliefs, and recognized his sinfulness fairly readily. But my words seemed to come out too slowly and foggily. Before I got to explaining the gospel, his friends came up and said, "Hey, are you coming with us, or do you want us to wait for you?" He opted to go with them.

All along, in between conversations, I had been handing out "Are You a Good Person" tracts to the adults and 10 Commandments Coins to the kids. I was doing this again after the young man left. A middle age woman with some kind of official badge saw me giving coins to kids and came up and asked what they were. I told her they were the 10 Commandments. She told me I couldn't give them out, because I wasn't a store owner. (The store owners along the road were giving out candy to the kids.) But she kind of gave herself away when she said something about, "If they weren't religious..."

"Isn't this public property?" I asked. She agreed that it was but then reiterated that I shouldn't be giving the tracts or coins away because I wasn't a store owner. By then I realized that she was basically expressing her own personal desire, not a legitimate law. Many police officers had already seen me distributing tracts that evening and had made no attempt to stop me. I thanked her for the information, got out of her sight, and kept on distributing tracts.

The next conversation I had was with a group of Goth teens. I asked them if they believed in ghosts, and one guy said, "Yes, I believe in everything." Trying to show him the absurdity of such a statement, I asked if he believed he was a pumpkin (I just pulled 'pumpkin' out of the blue, he was not dressed as a pumpkin). He said yes. Once again I gave up on the conversation and moved on.

A young couple from Yuma were waiting for the ghosts to start their next dance. When I asked where they believed souls go after death, the woman said, "Heaven".

"Everyone?" I asked.

"Well, if they believe."

"Believe what?"

"You know, in God, and that Jesus died on the cross for their sins."

"Did you just read that in the tract I gave you?"

"Yeah--and we're Catholics."

It was pretty obvious that they were not true followers of Jesus, but once again I was not quick enough to think of a response to deepen the conversation. Again I moved on, but that was essentially the last conversation I had before heading home.

Jim, Travis and I debriefed about our experiences. This was Travis' first time in street evangelism (hurrah!) so he accompanied Jim to learn the ropes. Jim had had a number of good conversations; the best was with a young man from Norway. Jim was also thoughtful enough to learn the names of everyone he shared with, so that he could pray for them by name afterward.

I felt badly that I had not been more "sharp" spiritually to get further in my conversations. At the same time, I praised God that I had any conversations. A few years ago, I was scared to talk to people about Jesus at all. As I drove home that night and thought about the hundreds of people that we had not had time to share with, I couldn't help but pray that God will send more Christians out to share the good news. May fear of man waste no more of our days!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Unexpected Encounter with Amaranth

My mother and I are both on wheat-free diets, due to possible sensitivities to that grain. If you've ever been on a wheat-free diet, you know that there are a number of other less famous grains that are well-tolerated by most wheat-sensitive people. Among these is the tiny grain amaranth, which now makes regular appearances on our table.

We even attempted growing amaranth about 10 years ago. Terrible idea. The seeds are so tiny that it's nearly impossible to separate them from the chaff by hand. Trust me, buy it in the store!

Well, last Friday amaranth made an unexpected appearance in the middle of our men's Bible study. We were looking at 1 Peter 5:4, where Peter says that faithful church leaders will be rewarded when Jesus returns. They will be given an "unfading crown of life". The Greek word for "unfading" is "amarantinos". Describing this word, Thayer's lexicon has this to say:

Another form of the word, "amarantos" is used by Peter back in 1 Peter 1:4 to describe the "unfading inheritance" which awaits all followers of Jesus. What a great promise!

But there's a negative side too. Some things do "fade away". If you know much about word origins, you know that the prefix "a" often means "not". Such is the case with "a-maranth". The "maranth" (or, in Greek, 'maraino') has a broad range of meanings related to 'wasting away'. This word, maraino, is used only once in the New Testament, in James 1:11.
For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
These three verses form a challenge to us to invest our lives in things that will not fade away.

But, my lesson in amaranth wasn't over yet. After the Bible study, I went to the health food store to pick up some groceries. They hadn't opened for the day yet, so I stood outside waiting. While I was waiting, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an amaranth plant, which seemed to have grown up "volunteer" next to a tree near the entrance. This was amazing timing because I haven't seen an amaranth plant since we grew them 10 years ago! Here are few pics:

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Danger of Talent without Wisdom

Dad stumbled upon this video demonstrating what can only be called an amazing domino chain reaction set up by Tim Fort.

In addition to amazing, it is also tragic. It's tragic because the Minnesota state government has actually awarded the creator an "Artist's Initiative Grant" to further fund his work. But it's more tragic because God created Mr. Fort for far greater works than these. When he stands before God to account for his life, Tim's skill at creating amusing chain reactions will be a weight, rather than an ease, to his conscience.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? (Psalm 90:10-11, NASB)
Before we pass judgment too severely on him, we need to take a look in the mirror. Compared to Mr. Fort, perhaps we use our skills wisely. But compared with God's goals, I'm afraid many of are pursuits are still quite trivial.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12 NASB)