Saturday, October 30, 2010


The Bible says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy..." (Titus 3:5, NASB)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Join Me at the Courageous Living Conference, November 6

Dear friends,

It’s not often you get to meet men who have literally risked their lives for Jesus.  Particularly when you live in a smaller population area like the Verde Valley.  

That’s why I thank the Lord for my friend David Witt hosting the Courageous Living Conference in Cottonwood on Saturday, November 6th.   Even as Christians in the supposedly “free” West, we are often bound by spiritual chains of fear that hold us back from boldly sharing the gospel with the non-Christians who surround us.  At this conference, we’ll have the chance to be encouraged to walk in freedom, by men who have tasted more danger than many of us ever will.

You must have a ticket to attend; but if you pre-register online, you get a discount.  

Hope to see you there!  (And if you can’t attend, would you pray for those of us who are there, that God will challenge, convict, and change us?)


(P.S. I apologize if you receive duplicates of this announcement.) 

  • International speakers and authors Russell Stendal, Marius Chelmagan and David Witt
  • Saturday, November 6 from 8:30am to 4:00pm.
  • Special American/Romanian praise band and youth choir concert from 4:30pm to 5:30pm.
  • Courageous Kids Conference for children 5 to 12 years old
  • Courageous Youth Track for ages 13 to 18 years old
  • Drawing for prizes - including an airplane ride in the Verde Valley with Pilot Russell Stendal on Sunday afternoon, November 7th
  • Sack lunch will be provided.
  • Verde Baptist Church - 102 S Willard St - Cottonwood, AZ 86326 - 928-634-3645

Additional information from David:

During the conference the speakers will address their messages from Acts chapters 3 and 4. The four main messages will be in this order: Courageous Faith, Courageous Repentance, Courageous Truth, and Courageous Witness. We invite you to begin to read over these chapters, pray for God to prepare your heart and bless every aspect of this discipleship conference. Many more faith building activities will fill the rest of the day.
Elementary age children will be learning some of the same principles in the Courageous Kids conference being held simultaneously in another building. Likewise the adolescences have the Courageous Youth track. They will join the main sessions in the morning and then at lunch they have some special activities planned for their growth.
The conference is scheduled from 8:30am to 5:30pm. We have a few special events planned throughout the day. Starting at 7:30am we open the doors for coffee, fellowship and prayer. At 8:00am we are having a pastors’ lead prayer session in the sanctuary. (If you are a pastor and would like to participate, please let us know.) To add some fun we are having some door prizes. One will be an airplane ride for two with Russell Stendal on Sunday afternoon, November 7. (You must be present at the concert to win.) We are also having a silent auction to raise funds for the courageous believers in Colombia. All the ministries (Spirit of Martyrdom, Youth 4 The Kingdom, Radio Shine, Colombia For Christ, The Voice of the Martyrs) have donated unique and valuable items for auction. We will take a love offering for any conference expenses that have not been covered and the remaining proceeds will be donated to the courageous believers in Colombia through Russell Stendal’s ministry called, Colombia For Christ. Last of all, we hope to end the conference on a very high note with celebration through music. A special concert is being held by a Romanian/American band and youth choir from 4:30-5:30pm. We hope you do not miss this unique experience. Please feel free to contact us with any other questions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tabernacles, Trellises, and Thunderstorms

A church in California recently built a full-size replica of the tabernacle of Moses.  They used it to teach their own congregation about the symbology of the tabernacle, and how it foreshadowed the work of Jesus.  When they were done, they made it available for free to any church that would come and get it, as long as that church would give it away for free to the next church.  And so on.

The tabernacle in California.  Photo courtesy Eric Lawrence.

A group of churches in Sedona, Arizona, found out about this offer.  They sent over a team of people, rented a 26 foot moving van, and loaded all the tabernacle into it.

It was erected on a vacant parcel of ground on Main Street in Sedona, next to Walgreens.

The call went out for volunteers to serve as greeters and as tour guides.  I was excited by the evangelistic potential of the tabernacle.  After all, it is one big "picture" of Jesus.  And Sedona is well-known to be a place with a lot of spirituality and religion, but very little of the true gospel of Jesus.  What better place to bring the tabernacle?

So, I volunteered to take a few shifts as a tour guide.  I must say, this role really caused me to start digging into Exodus and Leviticus.  Here is a tour given by Joy to a group of homeschool kids and their parents. I am one who recorded it on a cheap digital camera. The video quality is not great but it picked up the audio fairly nicely.

For my first two shifts we had unseasonably warm temperatures, in the 90s. I discovered how stifling the real tabernacle must have gotten at certain times of the year in the Sinai peninsula. We gave as much of the tour as possible standing outside under a shade tree before we brought the guests inside. Even so, I got mildly sunburned.

My third shift was just the opposite: freezing!  A major storm system blew in, bringing very chilly temperatures (I actually started shivering), wind, and rain.  A number of the curtains surrounding the courtyard were in danger of destruction by the wind and had to be taken down.  The wind began to threaten the curtains over the tabernacle itself.  The rain threatened damage to the furniture of the tabernacle (which was made mostly of wood, without the metal that the real furniture had), so we covered them with big plastic bags.

I was scheduled for a fourth shift, but before that day came, the storm worsened.  The rain softened the soil, allowing the wind to pop out the stakes that were holding the tabernacle frame in place.  With the structure damaged and unsafe for the public to visit, and only 4 days of scheduled tabernacle tours remaining, the decision was made to close and disassemble the tabernacle.  It has now been repaired and is available for another church to come and get.

In the approximately 10 days that the tabernacle was open for tours, from what I heard, about 1000 people toured it.  For the tours that I gave, at least, most of the visitors were Christians, or at least from a Christian background.  I did have one Jewish couple and in retrospect I wish I had been more bold in sharing the gospel with them.

The entire tabernacle episode prompted some deep reflection in my heart.  It seems symbolic to me of the reasons for much of my ineffectiveness as a Christian, and of the ineffectiveness of the American church as a whole.  It was the living expression of what I learned in "The Trellis and the Vine" which I reviewed on this blog a few months ago.  Simply put: we cling to "structures" as tools for evangelism.  A structure can be something like a church building, an evangelistic method, a training program, a pre-packaged Bible study curriculum, a homeless feeding ministry, or even a blog.  Structures make evangelism easier.  In the case of the tabernacle, it was very easy to share the gospel with visitors because the whole tabernacle simply shouts "Jesus!"  It's also easier to attract volunteers to build structures than to do raw evangelism, because it's much more pleasant to drive a nail into a board than to drive the law of God into a sinner's conscience.

But structures all come with a cost.  The bigger the structure, the easier the evangelism, but the bigger the cost.  They seem to require more money, meetings, minds, maintenance and materials than anyone initially expects.  Like the tabernacle, they are vulnerable to the unexpected thunderstorm of problems.  When we are honest, we must admit that structures often become black holes of labor, rather than logistical aids.

Structures are addictive because they feel "safer" than raw ministry, they keep us very busy, and they have just enough positive results to make us think that we are accomplishing something worthwhile.  It is like setting up walls to protect us, only to discover that we have made ourselves prisoners. 

I am still processing how all this should impact my life, and what structures in my own life need to go.  I'm not advocating for a minute that all structures should be eliminated from anyone's life.  But I think if we look at the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, it seems that they operated most efficiently on a bare minimum of structure.  Structure is necessary; but only a little bit, far less than we probably imagine.

One thing I see the need to prune is my blogging.  I love blogging, and it appears to allow me to minister to many people very efficiently.  It's far less messy and far more professional-looking than talking to a real person.  But while many people may read my blog, I have little reason to believe that it is accomplishing much effective ministry. 

So much of my life consists of sending and receiving mass communications.  It's rare that I actually talk or write one on one with another person any more.  I'm so busy with producing or consuming blogs, mass emails, sermons, books, Tweets, and Facebook messages that I don't have time for personal ministry.

So, for now you'll probably see a decline in the quality and number of my blog postings.  Those that I do put up will be emails I've sent to or received from individuals (I will trim the personally identifiable details before posting).

Life is too fast and short to unnecessarily squander more time on infrastructure.  I've spent an hour just writing this message.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where The Battle?

A man I'm training to become a Voice of the Martyrs Area Representative asked me what kind of spiritual warfare I've faced since becoming a rep.  That was an astute question, which I have not been asked before.  After some reflection, here is what I wrote him.  I think in many ways this applies to all forms of ministry, not just to VOM work.

The spiritual warfare question is an interesting one. I’m not actually sure that I’ve experienced any as a result of my ministry with VOM, but it does seem that some reps experience it, and it may be that I have as well.

I would say from my experience the biggest challenge that reps face is busyness. A surprising number of our most talented reps have dropped out after the first year because they discover that they are overcommitted already. I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to spiritual warfare or just to our human tendency to try to be over-achievers. I struggle with this tendency myself but so far the Lord has given me the grace to step back and re-prioritize and my VOM work has thus far always survived the pruning.

Probably the second most common problem is the development of cynicism towards local churches. Once the mindset creeps in that “they don’t want to hear what I want to share with them” it begins to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (If people sense that we have a judgmental attitude towards them, they instinctively become defensive.) I have wrestled with this one too. And truth be told, a lot of churches do seem unresponsive to or uninterested in persecution. We just have to fight through in prayer to have a compassionate heart even for these. Most of the time when I get an opportunity to share, I’m surprised. The seeds I thought surely would sprout, often don’t; and the seeds I place very little hope in sometimes do! Again, I’m not sure, but I guess you could classify this as spiritual warfare.

The third most common thing that brings reps down has been health problems, either for themselves or for their family members. It seems that God allows us to suffer so that we will be more able to passionately and compassionately represent our brothers and sisters who suffer. One rep had prostate cancer, another rep had major surgery (and her husband spent 8 weeks in the hospital after a bypass operation), another rep’s wife got bone cancer, another rep had a stroke, my own mother was very sick last year and we thought she was going to die, another rep lost his job and had surgery on his wrist, another rep had a heart attack and cancer, another rep had a prematurely born baby, and another rep’s wife suffers from terrible migraine headaches.

Looking back over these three areas, I guess they could all be called spiritual warfare. It seems that the battle in all of them is to believe. Like Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” When health problems strike, we must fight to believe that God is ultimately in control of them, and that He allowed them because of His love for us. When local churches seem as interested as a stone in the suffering of our precious brethren, we must fight to believe that God can change their heart of stone into a heart of flesh. (And remember that He is the one who softens our own hearts.) When we are crowded with urgent demands from various parts of our lives, we must fight to believe that putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first really will result in all the other things being added to us as well.

I do hope that helps a little in anticipating what challenges you’ll face as a rep. One nice thing about this particular form of ministry, though, is that the persecuted church, rather than sucking you dry, winds up encouraging you to keep fighting. It’s sort of a self-fuelling ministry, if that makes sense!

Because of the One who is able to keep us from stumbling,


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kudos to Canon (and Christ!)

Canon PIXMA MP640 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer (3748B002) Not long ago our faithful Canon iP3000 gave up the ghost.We loved it (as we have loved all our previous Canon printers) because it was cheap to feed. (OK, it helps being in the printer supplies business!)

In searching for a replacement, we eventually settled on an iP4700 and found a brand new one on eBay for just $70 including delivery.  We picked it partly because it uses cartridges almost as inexpensive as our old printer.

When we got the printer, we had some difficulty getting it to accept the print head, and a little plastic piece broke off the machine.  (They don't make printers like they used to!)

So Dad called Canon for support.  Eventually he got the print head working and figured out that the plastic piece was for a feature we never use anyways.

But about a week later, we got a call from polite woman with Canon support who spoke perfect English and called from Virginia, not Mumbai!  I told her everything was working fine now, and that the broken piece wasn't anything important.  She said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to send you an upgraded printer as a replacement!"  Shocked, I checked to see what cartridges the "upgrade" printer (an MP640) used.  They were the same as the iP4700.  I'm not the brightest light in the world, but this sounded like a good deal to me.  The MP640 had two features that the iP4700 doesn't: network connectivity and a scanner/copier.

Canon was as good as their word; the new printer arrived in a week, including a prepaid label to return our iP4700.

Now that's customer service.

Now, let me contrast the customer service of Canon with the customer service in China.  Of course, China is a big country and it's wrong to make a blanket statement about their business ethics.  I will say though that in China, abysmal customer service is far more common than it is here.  I've found some fascinating articles giving specific, overwhelming examples of this.  Take a look and I think you will be shocked:

Now I don't mean to denigrate the Chinese people.  I have many wonderful Chinese friends.  And if Americans found themselves suddenly living in Chinese society, my guess is that most of them would quickly stoop to equally scandalous ethics to protect themselves.

My question though, is this: knowing that human hearts are equally depraved everywhere in the world, why is China such a "dog eat dog" culture, while our American culture is still relatively trusting?  Why is it that in America, Canon will send me a better printer up front and trust me to return the first one without even a contract to compel me?  Such an exchange would never take place within today's China, because neither party would be willing to put themselves at risk of being robbed by the other party.

What created this cultural difference between China and America?


Huh?  What does religion have to do with it?

Simply this: our country still has the ethics of Christianity as the basic fabric of social interaction.  Christian ethics start with the fundamental concept that God gives gifts even to us, who have rebelled and flaunted Him.  The sun rises and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Talk about taking a risk.  This was not a risk, this was a certainty.  We would misuse God's gifts, and God knew it.  We worship the gifts and reject the Giver.  We deserved no trust and God gave to us anyways.  God took human flesh in the person of Jesus, making Himself even more vulnerable to harm.  True to our wicked character, we nailed Him to a tree.  And yet God planned even this act of barbarity as the very means by which He would offer us redemption from our wickedness.  And even this offer of kindness is abused by us.

So Christianity starts with the idea that God gives to the untrustworthy, and ends with the idea that we should do the same thing.

This philosophy made possible the culture of trust that we have in America.  But it is, dangerously, no longer at the foundation of our culture.  Nowadays most people are trusting because most people do not abuse their trust.  But when the immediate benefit of abusing trust begins to outweigh the long term price of losing trust, whenever it becomes more attractive to steal, the fabric of our society will quickly become Chinese.

And it will then be only the true followers of Christ who continue to give to the wicked.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Lord, why was I a guest?"

Last Saturday's regional conference in Scottsdale was a great encouragement to me.  I actually went down on Friday afternoon to help with set up.  When I walked in, Getaneh Getaneh recognized me immediately and gave me a hug.  What a great start!  Then after a few hours' work, a bunch of us went for dinner at Boston Market. 
Conference coordinator (and emcee) Matt Rose drove this VOM truck all the way from Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  It was fully loaded with conference materials.  He spent the night in Holbrook, Arizona.

The man who had initiated the process of bringing the conference to his church (Scottsdale First Assembly) also opened his home for me to stay in Friday night.  He met me at the church before dinner and asked if I wanted to borrow his "garmen".  His what?  It turned out that this middle aged guy is quite tech savvy.  I thought I was being really nerdy to have printed out Google Maps showing how to get to Boston Market and to his home.  But eventually I figured out he was offering me the use of his Garmin GPS to navigate around town!

If you frequently drive in unfamiliar areas, I can certainly recommend this Garmin.  It apparently costs about $150 but there is no monthly fee thereafter.

The Garmin proved very helpful in navigating unfamiliar streets.  But when I got to Boston Market, none of the others were there.  This worried me, because they had all left the church before I did.  Had I gone to the wrong Boston Market?  But then I looked over and saw Russell Stendal and Jim Dau sitting in another vehicle.  And then Mujahid drove up and got out and gave me a hug.  These three had come from their hotel which was nearby.  It turned out that the Garmin had really worked well and somehow got me to the restaurant about 5 minutes before the others who had been at the church.  (And no, I didn't speed.) 

We had a wonderful meal together.  I wound up sitting next to VOM President Jim Dau, who says he isn't a good communicator but kept us all regaled with amazing stories from his life!  I kept marveling at God's goodness to me in allowing me to share a table with men who have truly risked their lives for the name of Jesus.

I asked Russell (who was just a couple seats away) if he still wrestles with fear.  When he was 27, he was held hostage by FARC guerrillas in Colombia for 142 days, tied with a nylon rope to a tree.  The rope went around both shoulders and around his neck, so that if he tried to free himself it would strangle him.  He replied, "What really helped me with getting over the trauma was forgiving the men who had held me hostage.  And then looking for ways to give to them."  He said that he had a struggle with God after his release the first time his brother asked him to accompany him on a ministry trip to the guerrillas.  God won, Russell went, and he discovered a new level of freedom from fear.  In a way, that was God's preparation for his current ministry, because Russell and his family are being used in incredible (although often dangerous) ways to bring the gospel to Colombian guerrillas, paramilitaries, and soldiers. 

I also asked him why the guerrillas released him (because I haven't yet read his book, Rescue the Captors, which tells the story!).  He said the short version is that God supernaturally caused the guerrillas to become more frightened of him (their captive!) than he was of them.  Now I've got to read the book!

The conference on Saturday was touching.  I won't even attempt to recount for you the messages of the speakers.  If you're that interested, you'll just have to go to a VOM conference for yourself.  (There are still five more coming up this year.)  There were approximately 465 attendees, some from as far away as Albuquerque and Huntington Beach.  It was neat to see the faces of people who were in the middle of getting their priorities rearranged. The other VOM reps and I met many of them as we worked at the resource table during the breaks.

Afterwards there was a dinner held for about 35 invited guests, including the speakers.  The volunteer VOM reps were also among the invited ones.  So again I found myself dining with people in the room who have suffered much for Jesus.  And then my reps decided this was the perfect time to turn the tables for the surprise birthday party I had pulled on a couple of them earlier this year.  They knew that my birthday was the next day, so they surprised me with a card and led everyone in singing Happy Birthday to me.

I got to thinking about the promise of Jesus to those who lose their families because they follow Him.
Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.  (Mark 10:29-30, NASB)
It seems that this promise somehow overflows not only to those who are directly persecuted themselves, but also to those who aid the persecuted.  As a result of my volunteer work with VOM, I feel like I have received many new brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.

It also seemed to me like a faint foretaste of the great marriage supper of the Lamb that followers of Jesus will share in heaven.  There, too, I will be the unworthy guest not only with even more martyrs of our faith such as Abel, and Graham Staines, and Stephen, and Jean (John) Hus, and Peter, and Jim Elliot, but with the Author and Finisher of our Faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  I will meet the unnamed martyrs of Hebrews 11 "of whom the world was not worthy", and together we will worship Jesus and marvel that He would die for us.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
 (From the hymn, How Sweet and Awful is the Place, by Isaac Watts)