Thursday, December 29, 2011

Could a Mormon Sing Your Hymns?

Jonathan Leeman's book Reverberation asks pastors, "Could a Muslim Imam or a Jewish Rabbi preach your sermon?"  His point is that it's frighteningly easy to simply give moral advice from the Bible and leave out the "stumbling block of the cross".  Often we don't even realize something's missing.

Recently I discovered how that same concept applies to music.  The Latter Day Saints (LDS) church uses many of the same hymns that we do.  You can check out the contents of their hymnal by clicking here.

While as we would expect they have added many songs that specifically allude to many of their unique doctrines (e.g., "If You Could Hie to Kolob"), a lot of the hymns are identical to ones we sing.

To be sure, there are often significant changes made to our favorite hymns.  (For example, why do you think they omitted this verse from Rock of Ages?)

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Sometimes the wording changes are very subtle, (and even without any note saying that the text has been altered from the original) .  Compare these two versions of the first verse of Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above and see if you can catch why they altered the text in the ways they did.
Sing praise to God who reigns above,
the God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled
and every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

Sing praise to him who reigns above,
The Lord of all creation,
The source of pow’r, the fount of love,
The rock of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul he fills
And ev’ry faithless murmur stills.
To him all praise and glory!

Not surprisingly, the last verse of that hymn was also omitted:
Let all who name Christ’s holy name
give God all praise and glory;
Let all who own His power
proclaim aloud the wondrous story!
Cast each false idol from its throne,
for Christ is Lord, and Christ alone:
To God all praise and glory.
However, the purpose of this article isn't to bash the LDS church.  Mormonism is just one of many religions that believe righteousness can be achieved through our obedience to the Law of God.  Sadly, there are many professing Christians who believe the same thing but just have a slightly different "checklist" than the Mormons.

And to get back to my main point: many of the hymns they sing are identical to ours.  No missing verses or changed words.  Away in a Manger.  Onward Christian Soldiers.  Even the Doxology.

So what's my point?  Should we stop singing those hymns?  Certainly not; these hymns express fitting worship to the true God.  But if they are all we sing, we are in grave danger.  We are in danger of losing the gospel that saves us.  If there is nothing in our worship of God that a Mormon (or a Muslim or a Jehovah's Witness or a Catholic or...) disagrees with, we have neglected a most important truth about God: how a loving God can let adulterers and murderers and blasphemers and liars and thieves and idolaters into heaven, without compromising His holiness.  All of us fit into one or more of those categories.  So we can't afford to have the wrong answer.  And we can't afford to neglect the answer by singing no songs that accurately explain it and joyfully praise God for it.  As church history shows, the gospel is easy to forget but harder to recover.

So this Sunday, ask yourself, "Could a Mormon sing this?"

Friday, December 23, 2011

O Tarnished Night?

No Christmas music is more beautiful or emblematic of Christmas than O Holy Night. Even people who aren't Christians love to sing it.

But a few of the words have always rubbed me the wrong way, especially, "'Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth".  Some have unofficially tweaked the words to "felt His worth".  Many other hymnals opt to omit this hymn altogether.

Today I learned from Wikipedia that the song was originally written in French.  John Sullivan Dwight, who produced the English "translation" that we sing today, was a Unitarian transcendentalist.  That explains several things about the lyrics.

Here is a more literal translation of the original French hymn (again, found on Wikipedia).  Sadly, these don't rhyme and they're not singable.  But see if you notice the slight but important differences in wording:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Notes like this one (received yesterday) make me sad.  Do you pray for those brave few who go to unreached areas of the world to spread the fame of Jesus? Satan reserves his choicest arrows for them. Daniel

Dear Friends,
Greetings in the name of Him, who promises that He “works for the good of those who know Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
We wish to inform you that this will be our last prayer letter.
Our situation is such that for now, {husband} will no longer be working on the _________ project. We will not be returning to {unreached region} in the near future.
We thank you all for your prayer support for us and the {unreached people group}. We also thank all who gave financially to support us over the years. We understand that you will discontinue your gifts to us and hope that you may be able to continue to support God’s work in other ways.
We are grateful for all your interest and the invitations you extended to share the work among the  {unreached people group} with your fellowships.
May God bless you all abundantly in every way.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When was the last time you read a short story?

I don't mean the little snippets of stories that you read all the time on Facebook or even in blogs like this.  I mean the classic literary genre of short story.  A real short story.  I fear our lives have gotten so fragmented by technology that we no longer have attention spans to sit for even a short story now.  When last did you actually take time to read one?

I read a short story when I was in my late teens that found a permanent place in my memory.  The title is "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets" by Jack Finney.  I tried several times since then to find it again.  Just a few days ago I succeeded.  It was just as good as I remembered. 

I hope you'll take time to read it too.  Share it with a teen you care about.  Then talk about its meaning.  Here are some questions to ponder:
  • Would this story make a good movie?  Why or why not?
  • What is the worldview of the author?
  • What worldview is he confronting?
  • How would the story have been different (and better) if the author had a Christian worldview?

Monday, October 17, 2011

the raw Word

Last month I was blessed to deliver a one hour teaching based on Jonathan Leeman's book, Reverberation.
This book challenged me to trust in the power of Scripture to change my heart and the hearts of those I speak with. So often, we feel the need to "dress up" the Bible in order to get people to swallow it. When we do this, we actually rob Scripture of the backing of the Holy Spirit.  You can watch the video below or by clicking here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Social Networking Will Reduce Your Hotel and Gas Bills

This is the (draft) script for a YouTube video I hope to create. It introduces a great new idea for a way social networking could streamline society, then packs a surprise punch for both Christians and non-Christians. I worked hard to keep it as short as possible because I know YouTube viewer attention spans are very short.

Your input would be welcome! 


Would you hitchhike occasionally if you knew the person picking you up would always be safe? And if you knew you’d have easy connections all the way to your destination? If there were a way for drivers to know you’re harmless (and for you to know they’re harmless), think of all the gas you’d save, and new people you’d meet!

When you attend that 2 day seminar in Baton Rouge next year, would you still fork out sixty dollars a night for a hotel room if you knew that your friend Terry’s uncle Billy Bob would be tickled to let you stay in his spare bedroom?

Would you buy a brand new book on Amazon if you knew that a person two blocks away had the same book laying on his shelf and would happy to lend and maybe even give it to you? If she knew what you needed, another neighbor would probably be glad to pick up a few extra things for you when she goes to Walmart if you gave her a couple extra bucks for her trouble.

What’s the common element in these scenarios? There are people all around you who could provide things you use for a fraction of the cost. You just don’t know who and where they are. Yet.

Social networking has the power to change that.

For example, Google Books, Amazon, and Shelfari all already have easy systems for listing the books you own. One of them just needs to add a way for you to list your location, and mark which books you’re willing to share.

Facebook already knows you’re attending an event in Baton Rouge, and that your friend Terry’s uncle lives there. All they need to add is a way for Uncle Billy Bob to show he’s willing to share his home with a friend of a friend.

The same principle applies to these other ideas. By providing a way for us to list the books or rides or shopping trips or whatever that we’re willing to share with people our friends trust, social networking can help us all save money and meet new friends.

So why hasn’t this happened yet? The technology is already in place. We just need a few programmers to write the code. They just haven’t thought of the idea yet. Please share this video with your friends. Probably all we need is for a key person at Facebook or Google to get their mind around the idea.

Here’s an even more fundamental question: why is this technology even necessary? Why can’t we trust everyone? Because of sin. If the world were sinless, you could hitch a ride with anyone without fear. If everyone were righteous, you could walk up to any home in Baton Rouge and see if they had a spare room for you to stay in. And they would be happy for you to stay with them. (In fact, if there were no sin to worry about, they wouldn’t even have a lock on their front door!)

You’re a Christian? This kind of sharing is what we should have been doing all along. The church ought to be the best kind of social network. If Jesus really “saves His people from their sins” there is no reason why we should not be able to trust each other enough to share anything and everything we own. “You need a place to spend the night, and you’re a Christian? Come on in, brother.” Of course since anyone can call himself a Christian, the church needs some sort of verification system. That’s why God instituted church membership and church discipline, so that the church could maintain the honor of Jesus’ name by policing itself against imposters. (But why is it that so many churches are so lax in their membership and discipline policies?)

Not a Christian? You ought to be, if you want to see the world free of sin. Any religion can give you a set of rules. You can probably even find a set of rules that you can keep so you can feel better than the other people. Only in Jesus do you find a bar so high that you can’t possibly keep it. (Liars go to hell, lustful thoughts are adultery in the heart, and anger equals murder?) And only in Jesus do you find someone willing to take the punishment from God you deserve, and give you a new heart. Turn from your sins, trust in Jesus alone to save you from them!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Larry's in a Hurry

From a friend who attended last month's Simply the Story training with me.  He moved to the US from Sri Lanka earlier this year.  Please pardon the few typo's and enjoy a classic story of joyous evangelism.  Daniel

Hi Daniel,

It was such a joy coming to know you and your family. I appreciate all you did, going out of your ways to make our stay a memorable one. Please let your Mom know that I received an email from her friend in China and will respond today.

Last morning President Obama timed his departure from Phoenix in such a way to have us straddled to our seats for 20 minutes passed our scheduled departure time. Our flight finally took off Immediately after the President's and a stewardess began serving refreshments. Commenting on her good serving I kind a set her up for what would be an opportunity to 'tell the story'. My moment came when the seat belt sign was switched off. Immediately unbuckling I looked out for Larry who was seated several rows in front of me. But he'd gone missing in a twinkle of an eye, probably fallen flat on the empty row of seats like he did each day after returning to his room from the workshop.

But then, from the back of the plane, suddenly a loud voice called out, 'Martha, Martha', I swiftly turned around and to my utter dismay lo and behold was Larry 'telling the story' to the stewardess I had taken so much pain setting up. Not wanting to be left out I rushed to the scene. The air hostess was seated legs crossed hands folded on here lap. People were rushing back and forth to the only toilet behind this last row of seats. Across the isle, swinging and swaying to avoid hurried people blocking his view, varying his tone to blend with the sound of the flushing toilet, sat Larry simply telling the story. He paused to introduce me -as if that was necessary- and continued to tell the story. By now the woman was all ears -never mind her serving- and engaged in the ensuing discussion with a beaming smile and deeply thought out responses. This got Larry excited beyond his usual and he continued to dig even deeper, 'In the course of your work have you ever been made to feel like Martha?', he probed.

The young woman promptly responded, 'Most people take my service for granted.They think I'm here just to serve; little realizing that safety and security of passengers is what matters to me foremost'. After a little more repartee Larry told her that the story was from Luke 10 and she promised to look it up. With that we went to our seats allowing the hostess get about her work, serving.

Once home and the family gathered for prayers in the evening I told the story of the jars of oil. It was a wonderful experience for us all. But that's another story. This time however, I was not going to miss out on being the one telling the story and made sure the door was locked. Just in case.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Call to Generational Humility

Someone emailed this to me.  As you read it, consider how this call to humility before our elders applies to more things than environmentalism. Daniel

The Green Thing 

In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologised to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

Shee was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilised and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's nappies because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Western Australia .. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the tram, train or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Your Church is Better

I haven't been to a Psalm 119 Conference.  Nevertheless, having just been blessed by other conferences (one just a few days ago) I find the words below very true.  They are taken from the most recent Wretched Radio newsletter.  May they encourage you to stick it out at your own church, through the thick and thin of real relationships.  Daniel
The preaching at the Psalm 119 Conferences is out of the park and the fellowship is unbelievably sweet. Like-minded Christians spent two days chatting about Jesus, eating and talking some more about Jesus.
Many people didn’t want to leave. Why? Because it was so…not like church.
You see, church is like marriage, it is a school of character. Fellow believers rub you like sandpaper, smoothing off your rough edges: pride, perfectionism, selfishness, a short temper. Why? Because after you have been with those same people for longer than say, a two day conference, you start to see their true colors.
Click here to sign up for the Psalm 119 ConferenceConferences don’t allow for that. At conferences you don’t have to decide what color the curtains are going to be. At a conference you don’t have to see how attendees treat their children or spouses. At a conference you don’t have to listen to other people spout stupid ideas about how things should be done. Nor do you have to listen to their dumb answers during Bible study.
At church you do. And that is so good for you.
Do we want you to attend the Dallas or Sacramento Psalm 119 Conferences this year? Of course we do. We want you to hear staggeringly good preaching and enjoy fellowship that will make you long
for heaven. But we want you to leave the Psalm 119 Conference longing for your local church. That is the place that will get up your nose, make you annoyed and will turn you more into the image of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Watch Abortion Supporters Become Pro-life!

If you have not yet taken 33 minutes to watch Ray Comfort's remarkable documentary about the Holocaust, abortion, and the gospel please do it today. He exposes the core issues behind abortion, and God uses Ray's words to change the minds of some abortion advocates on camera.  You can view it for free with the embedded video below or simply by going to

Copies of the film are also available on DVD for only $1 each, making them ideal as gifts for friends, neighbors (or even strangers!).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Linking Children with Joyful Sufferers

Here's the report I sent my colleagues at the Voice of the Martyrs after this year's work at the July 22-23 homeschooling conference in Phoenix.  (Can you tell I'm behind on my blogging?)

This was our fifth year to do a VOM/Kids of Courage booth at the Arizona homeschooling convention. Every year has been different, which (in retrospect) has been wonderful because it’s forced me to depend on God Himself and not simply my past experience of God.

Once again, we got an “average” location in the exhibit hall. This year I finally figured out why. The exhibitors that rent multiple adjoining spaces rightly get preference in location picking. The single booth exhibitors get the leftovers. This makes it all the more amazing that we had such a good location for one of our years (2009).

I worried a lot that we would not have enough help at the booth. But that proved to be one advantage of a less-than-ideal booth location: traffic was never overwhelming. I’m now glad we didn’t have more help at the booth, because they would have wound up standing around and I would have felt badly.

Here is a picture of the team from Friday:
Left to right: Mark, yours truly, Bethany, Bonnie, Kathy. (Note Bethany’s homemade persecuted church apron!)

And yes, I did wear my handcuffs, and even “shackled up” with a few of the children who came by, but I had no troubles with my key this time! My orange jumpsuit did apparently get me close to being tackled by an off-duty deputy sheriff.

Bethany and Kathy (who are homeschoolers and supporters of VOM/KoC but not VVN members) helped for just a couple of hours on Friday but seemed to enjoy their time at the booth.

Here’s Saturday’s team:
Left to right: me, Bob, Bonnie, Kathy

Bob also helped on Friday but left before our group photo. He is an elder at Mark’s church and was recruited by Mark to fill in for Mark, who was only able to help for a few hours at the convention this year.

Kathy (sans Bethany) also helped again for a couple hours on Saturday.

I will say that whatever her other strengths or weaknesses as a rep might be, Bonnie was born for boothmanship. She has just the right combination of wit, moxie, and vocal volume to snatch and stop people who would walk by a less-talented booth rep.

This year (thanks to Dave asking “How are you ever going to fit all these items on your table?”) I did something that I should have thought of a long time ago. I brought 3 extra tables rather than just 1 (1 is provided with the booth). So, instead of the 28 square feet of table space we’ve used for the last 3 years, this year we had 51. We also changed the table arrangement to make the booth more “open” so that visitors could walk into it. This also gave us more under table space to stash our boxes, which meant that the booth stayed well organized. I also got rid of the chairs that come with the booth but take up valuable floor space.

This year’s convention featured Ken Ham as keynote speaker, and the attendance (4800) set a new record.

Tangible Results:

A. Signups:

There is no question that not having the Kids of Courage newsletter (for sign up) dramatically affected the number of sign ups this year. In past years we could run a very efficient signup machine by simply asking “Have you heard of VOM?” (Most had.) “Have you heard of our kids’ newsletter?” (Most hadn’t.) “It’s free, here are samples. Do you want to get it sent to you regularly?” (Most did.) In 2008, with a bad location we got 130 sign ups. In 2009 with our best location, we got 263. In 2010 (with an average location, and diminished but partial reliance on KoC as a sign up tool) we got 145. This year (in a location about equal to last year’s) we got 58. However, I hope these sign ups will prove to be a higher quality (from HQ’s perspective) because in past years, most of our sign ups were current VOM newsletter subscribers who simply wanted to get KoC added to their subscription. The subscribers this year are (I believe) almost exclusively first time NL subscribers. So although there are much fewer, I think that as a percentage, there will be better statistics emerging from this batch than previous years’.

B. Resource donations

Our best year! In 2008, we received $600, in 2009, $556; in 2010, $464, and this year we received $970.37! (Don’t ask me where the .37 came from!) We ran out of all of the Torchlighter DVDs and could probably have easily have moved 50% more if we had had more. That was despite the fact that the very large YWAM booth was nearby and was offering the Torchlighters at essentially the same price. The large hardback children’s story books were also very popular. People took 22 of the 27 we had on the table. Both copies of Foxe also were taken. The “Illegal” T-shirts remain very popular (I ordered 13 from HQ and all but 2 were taken) while the “Criminal” T-shirts barely were noticed. (I think the red in the Illegals makes them more attractive?) I am thankful to the Lord for the good interest in VOM products – which at least covered the cost of our booth – but know that the ultimate value of the booth remains the newsletter sign ups and the personal conversations we are able to have with visitors. Which leads me to my next topic.

Intangible results:

We did have some great visits.

Perhaps the most encouraging was a (now) 16 year old girl who had picked up Extreme Devotion from our booth 4 years ago. It had a major impact on her life, developing a passion for evangelism in her. She’s already been through Evangelism Explosion and enjoys witnessing to her neighbors.

Another woman told how she had gotten a copy of Hearts of Fire several years ago at our booth, and had put it on the shelf. She finally read it this year and was greatly touched by it.

A young Laotian couple, Edwin and Anna Lo, came by. Edwin was raised a Mormon and got saved about 5 years ago. They are passionate about evangelism (and actually met each other while they were evangelizing). They heard about VOM through Way of the Master.

We also got 9 greeting cards filled with encouraging short notes for prisoners. (Sample below.) The cover of the cards have a Kincade painting, which hopefully will brighten their cells a little. We made a special effort to tell people about Several visitors knew of Asia Bibi because of VOM’s recently-launched

One last interesting story. On the Sunday before the convention (July 17) my pastor was out of town and we had a guest pastor fill in. The visiting pastor brought a man from his congregation along with him. This man’s name was Dan. When I talked with Dan, I learned that although he lives in a small, rural town, he is actually a pilot for United who does only international flights. In fact, on Tuesday he was leaving for London.

Now, fast forward to Friday. When Kathy arrived at our booth, she happened to mention that her husband is a pilot for US Air. I told her, “That’s interesting, I just met another Christian pilot on Sunday.” Later her husband (who had flown in from Denver that morning) came by the booth and I got to meet him. His name is Danny and he does only domestic flights. Even though he “lives” in Phoenix he actually keeps himself on Eastern time to try to prevent jetlag.

Then I was walking around the exhibit hall and who should I see but Dan! It turns out that Dan homeschools also (and was back from London!). Well, to make a long story short, I was eventually able to get Dan and Danny together to meet each other, and their wives (Kathy and Cathy) got to meet each other also! I think that the last time that I met a Christian pilot was in 2004, and here were 2 in one week!

Thank You, Father, for the privilege of working at this convention the past five years. Water the seeds that have been planted; bless Your Word to the hearts of Your people, both here and in the dark places of the world. For the honor of Your crucified and risen Son. Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2011

When is it Wrong to Share?

As you know from a previous post, later this month a national ministry will be using my church's facility to host a training in Bible storying. As the newest of the elders, this provided me with the opportunity to learn firsthand something about wrestling through the issue of what organizations we can allow to use our facility.  Here's the note we sent.

Dear David,
Thank you for extending to us the opportunity of hosting the Simply the Story training in our facility. We are grateful for the ways the Lord is using you to strengthen and encourage our brothers and sisters around the world, and to challenge the American church.
There is only one possible schedule conflict for use of our facility; that would be on the Friday of your training. We are still verifying whether it will indeed be a conflict. But since you will have a smaller number of people for the Thursday and Friday training, if nothing else, you could probably conduct your training at your office on those days, and then move to our facility for Saturday through Monday’s training. 
However, we do have some theological questions about the nature of the training. Knowing that our church facility ultimately belongs to the Lord, we certainly don’t want to be selfish about letting other groups use it. Yet we as 'shepherds' of God's people desire to ensure that any Biblical teaching that happens within the facility should meet a minimum theological baseline, especially since we will communicate and share with the congregation about this (possible) great opportunity.
“Storying” is a somewhat new concept for us, but we have invested some time in trying to learn about it, both from the Simply the Story web site, and from other organizations. The essential framework of “storying” seems a sound way (no pun intended) of reaching oral learners: telling a story, making the listener repeat it to ensure they really “heard” it, and then a guided discussion time afterwards.
Having said that, we do have the following questions about the specific storying approach that STS would be teaching:
  1. Will it be made clear to listeners that the stories they are hearing are authoritative facts, not simply nice, wise stories (like something from Aesop’s Fables)?
  2. Will it be made clear to listeners that these stories are ultimately not a substitute for the written word of God, translated into their own language?
  3. Will the “oral inductive Bible study” (discussion time after the story transmission) in fact include all three elements of inductive Bible study (observation, interpretation, and application)? The tendency in our day is to simply ask “What does this Bible passage mean to you?” which is founded in the postmodern idea that all truth is subjective. A better set of questions would be “What does this Bible passage say?” (observation), “What does it mean?” (interpretation), and “How should I apply it to my life?” (application).
  4. Will it be made clear to listeners that the stories must be interpreted on the foundation of the propositional truths of the Bible? (When taken alone, or given a higher priority over propositional statements, Bible stories are easily misinterpreted.)
  5. Will it be made clear to the listeners that if they remain only oral and do not someday raise up a generation who can read this book and study it in the original languages, they will remain dependent on outsiders for the divine truth God has given only through the Book?*
  6. Will the listeners be shown how each of the Bible stories is a part of God’s great redemptive plan and points forward to Jesus’ work on the cross? (See Luke 24:27 and Acts 8:35.) When separated from the big picture “Story” of Scripture (the gospel), Bible stories quickly become no more than lessons teaching moral behavior.
  7. Will the listeners be called to salvation by responding in repentance and faith in Jesus as both Savior and Lord?
Thank you again for the opportunity, and if you have any (for lack of a better word!) questions about our questions, don’t hesitate to contact myself or Jim Masters, our pastor.

The Lord’s blessings to you and your family!

Daniel Bartsch
For the elders of First Southern Baptist Church of Cottonwood
The founder and executive director of Simply the Story, Dorothy Miller, called me promptly to answer the questions.  After further discussion we decided the answers were acceptable and gave STS full approval to use the facility.

* This question we borrowed from a very helpful post by John Piper.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Sour a Miracle

It was June 6 and the five hundred fifty miles between Tucumcari and home started off with a miracle.

And as is normally God's method, the miracle started off with a crisis: we ran out of gas.

Bonnie, who was driving at the time, was unfamiliar with the way Lu's vehicle warned of low fuel.  She noticed the indicator just as the exit for Edgewood, New Mexico came into view, and casually said, "It looks like we should stop for gas."  No sooner had she gotten on the exit ramp than she announced, "Oh!  It seems we have just run out!"

Immediately my mind started planning contingencies.  Would we need to get out and push?  Lu and Barb were definitely not strong enough.  Maybe Bonnie, Andy, and I.  Although I'd have to be careful that Andy didn't overexert.

But God had already handled that contingency.  The exit ramp sloped downward.  At this intersection, the highway went over and not under.  We coasted down to the bottom.

Bonnie braked at the stop sign.  I winced inwardly; there was no traffic and perhaps we could have used the momentum to coast over to the gas station (conveniently) located to the right.  Oh well, at least it wouldn't be too far to push.

But God had that covered too.  Bonnie attempted to restart the engine without success.  Then she shifted into neutral, and amazingly, on what seemed to me to be level ground, the vehicle slowly began moving forward.  We gradually rolled all the way over to the gas station and up to a pump.

I was amazed, and filled with gratitude to God. I fully grasped what suffering it could have caused the weaker of my traveling companions to have been stranded on a hot day in the barrenness of eastern New Mexico.  We could just as easily have run out many miles from a gas station.

One would think that such a miracle would have sustained me with joy at least for the rest of that day.  But, a bit like the Israelites in their own desert journey, it was not long before the inward joy was overshadowed by murmuring.

I set my heart on being home in time for my church's Monday night small group.  No one was expecting me to be there (they knew I was traveling), but I thought it would be fun to roll in at the end of a long day and regale everyone with all my fresh stories from the trip.  To make it, I'd need to be home by 5:30.  And we could have made it, but...

My car-mates were unaware of my private 5:30 goal.  They were enjoying being able to kick back a bit after five very intense, busy days.  So our stops for food, restroom, and gas became leisurely.  I was inwardly exasperated with them for "dilly-dallying" as I saw the margin between our arrival time and 5:30 shrink at each stop.  And while I didn't tell them of my 5:30 goal (perhaps realizing subconsciously that it was unfair to make all of them hurry simply so I could tell a few stories to my church family), I was angry that they didn't somehow sense my expectation.

Talk about self-centered!

Thankfully although I am not good, God is.  He is gracious to self-centered gripes like me who complain when we don't get home by 5:30 and forget His provision of gasoline and a reliable vehicle and wonderful Christian companions and well-maintained highways and a country in which we were free to travel thousands of miles without even a single checkpoint.  And even if I had had none of those things (as, indeed, most of the world does not), I still could have been thankful for His greatest provision: the gift of His Son Jesus to die for my sins, so that I can be fully accepted into God's presence forever.

Thank You, God, for giving even to those who forget Your gifts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's Just a Story! NOT!

Interested in preparing for cross-cultural missions? Want to learn another tool for sharing the gospel with your neighbors? Looking for a way to take your personal Bible reading to a deeper level?

Simply the Story has found that most people don't know how to tell Bible stories.  They embellish them with details that aren't in the Bible, leave out details they think are not important (but actually are), and throw in a good deal of sermonizing.

But why should anyone want to tell Bible stories?  If we want them accurately, we can always read them in the Bible, right?  Unless you're illiterate.  (You'd be surprised how much of the world still can't read.)  And even if you can read, chances are you breeze through the Bible stories too fast, missing the rich insights about God, yourself, and Jesus embedded in them.

So, Simply the Story provides training in what missiologists call "Bible Storying".  Essentially this involves three parts:
  1. Telling the essential details of a Bible story accurately.
  2. Having your listener repeat the details back to you until he can do it accurately also.
  3. Asking your listener questions to help him discover the truths embedded in the story.  (They call this part "Oral Inductive Bible Study".)
This enables illiterate Christians to accurately present truths from the Bible to other illiterates in their culture.

It provides another tool for evangelism that works with people from a wide variety of ages, cultures, and education levels.

And it helps literates and illiterates alike to discover more deeply the treasures of the Bible.

An STS training course is coming to my community (and actually to my church's facility!) later this month.

I plan to attend all 5 days of the training.  A shorter 3 day version will also be available.  The schedule is designed to require minimum time off for those in the workplace.

For more information, you can download a brochure and a registration form.  I am not running this event, but I do plan to attend, and I did a great deal of research beforehand to see if it would be worth my time and money. I think it will be. I'd love to see you there.

Friday, September 2, 2011

To Care for Tucumcari

Each time I've visited Bartlesville, I'm always entranced by the vibrant beauty of the foliage.  I can't imagine Eden looking any prettier.  Even your average fixer-upper seems to have what would be a golf course quality lawn where I come from.  They even have beautiful bodies of water called "ponds" just sitting all along the roads (not to mention the Caney River).  And yet, it's also surprising how the locals don't seem to appreciate it.  Some even complain about lack of rain!  (Come to Arizona and I'll show you lack of rain!)  Just driving down the road in Bartlesville is a worship experience for me.  How can these Okies be so oblivious?

This set me to musing about the dangers of living in the midst of greenery and the benefits of living in the desert.

Perhaps it's not just coincidence that Abraham and Moses and the Children of Israel and John the Baptist and Jesus all spent some serious time in the desert.  (Not to mention the unnamed heroes at the end of Hebrews 11.)

In deserts...
  • The ground is browner but the sky is bluer.
  • Distant objects appear more clearly.
  • It is easier to remember those who are suffering.  (People suffer just as much in North Korea whether I am in Arizona or Oklahoma.  But I can remember them more easily in Arizona.)  
  • Little time is wasted on preserving beauty.
  • Water is treasured.

Deserts are dangerous, but they're not a distraction.

And on the way back to Arizona, we encountered a living demonstration of the value of the desert:  Immanuel Baptist Church.

Sunday morning, June 6, after a simple, warm breakfast with Dale and Joanne, we left Bartlesville for home.

ready to leave -- Bonnie tries to break my camera!
We stopped for fuel at a rather dingy station outside OKC.  In the equally dingy men's room, for the first time in my (sheltered?) life I saw a coin-operated condom dispenser.  I was appalled.  The Lord opened the door (and my mouth) to give a tract to the cashier and speak to him briefly (about eternity, not about condoms).  It turned out his name was Ram and he was from Nepal!  He speaks several languages, and he must be rather intelligent or from a well-off family to have made it all the way to the US.  I pray that Jesus saves him.

Eating lunch in the shade of a deceased restaurant in Shamrock, TX
Bonnie, Lu, and I had been invited to speak about the persecuted church at the Sunday evening service of  Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari, New Mexico. 

We knew that Tucumcari had seen better days and that the church was probably small and poor.  Pastor Gordan Runyan's driving directions were all the proof we needed for that!
"If you get on Tucumcari Boulevard (the main street running East/West here, the one with actual stoplights) the church is one block behind the Fina gas station, which is easy to see."
Our tag-team presentation seemed to go well.  Bonnie grabbed attention with statistics and overview of the global persecuted church; I (in my orange jail suit and handcuffs, which caused me no problems this time) shared about God's purposes for persecution from Romans 8, and Lu passionately poured out a couple true stories and explained how to get personally involved.

Then the tables turned and we became the learners.  Everyone went in the fellowship hall for some snacks and we met our listeners.

A soft-spoken middle aged single guy named James started peppering me with questions.  Really good, serious questions.  It seems that Jesus has grabbed his heart in the last few years and now he has a hunger for God that is not often found, even among people half his age.  He had just joined the church that morning.  He is something of a compulsive reader these days, among them books by John Owen and A. W. Tozer.  When he told me he'd read a book by Jerry Bridges, I asked if he'd read The Gospel for Real Life.  He hadn't, but when I told him it was good, he got a sort of helpless look on his face and pulled out a piece of paper to write down the title.  He said something like, "Oh no, I'm going to buy another book!"  Apparently a good chunk of his Social Security check goes to support his "habit"!

Then I met Bill, whose first career was working for the Navy on a nuclear submarine, but wound up in his post-military days in Tucumcari, which is about as far from a submarine as you can get!  (It turns out that Pastor Runyan was also on a Navy sub!)  He explained how the town of Tucumcari had been killed by I-40, or more accurately, by their failure to adapt to I-40.  Unlike other Route 66 towns bypassed by the interstate which have adjusted to the "new reality", Tucumcari's leadership has made a series of bad decisions, failing to respond with vision and unity.  As a result the town has been dying for the last 40 years.  The population has declined from 14,000 to about 5300.  The buildings are run-down.  A lot of the community is on welfare, and drugs and crime are up.

Barb and Andy were hosted for the night by Bill and his wife.  And Don and Connie took Lu, Bonnie, and I to their home.  But first, Connie guided us through the old, once beautiful downtown district and brought it to life with her childhood memories of Tucumcari's glory days.  She had grown up there, and now in their "retirement" years, God called Don and Connie back.  She took us by a beautiful old Spanish mission that they have purchased, repaired, and turned into a Christian daycare for a few of the (many) children from unstable homes.  Other Christians have come alongside to repair other buildings.  A Christian artist has decorated a number of downtown walls with beautiful murals of important scenes from Tucumcari's past. 

At first it seems that this expenditure of so much effort and money on a dying town is a prodigious waste. 

We arrived at their simple adobe farmhouse, which had belonged to her grandparents, fallen into terrible disrepair, and now has been painstakingly recovered by Don and Connie.

As they shared more about their lives and heart for their community, I began to see that these external, expensive renovations of old buildings were symbolic expressions of a much deeper (and more costly) spiritual renovation that is apparently beginning in Tucumcari.  God seems to be doing something there, although it is much too early to see what the end will be.  You have Christians who could be (and have been) living in "greener pastures" deliberately returning to live in a ramshackle desert town, simply to please Jesus and serve sin-soaked people.  Nazareth probably felt a lot like Tucumcari.

Pastor Gordan is seeking to lead his flock away from the "fast food" of gimmicks and traditions and fluffy sermons to the solid nourishment of Biblical doctrine.  In a town the size of Tucumcari, this requires real faith.  The temptation is strong to bail out and move to a church in a larger city, or mix entertainment or some human attraction with the Word to get people in the door (and dollars in the plate).  Because the church is too small to support a full time pastor, Gordan works full time for the post office.

Gordan and I
The next morning a bunch of our new friends (probably half the church!) came over to Don and Connie's and ate breakfast with us all.  Don got up at 5 AM to start cooking it. 

Don and Connie

I asked Pastor Runyan what books had most influenced him.  I am a book worm myself, (although perhaps not as compulsively as James!), so I love to get to know people by finding out about their favorite books. He rattled off a string of solid books... Luther's Bondage of the Will, Tozer's Pursuit of God, Sproul's Holiness of God, Horton's Christless Christianity...

Then when we got in the car to go they gathered around and Gordan prayed for us.  The scene reminded me a bit of the sendoff the church in Tyre gave Paul in Acts 21:5.

I think I left a piece of my heart in Tucumcari.  And found a piece of God's.  In the desert.

And there was still one more miracle waiting for us.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

ObamaCare Explained

I received this via email, attributed to Donald Trump.  While I am certainly no fan of Mr. Trump, these words do come close to expressing my own apprehensions about our nation's new medical system.

We're going to be "gifted" with a health care plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don't. Which purportedly covers at least ten million more people, without adding a single new doctor, but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn't understand it, passed by a Congress that didn't read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a President who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, for which we'll be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese, and financed by a country that's broke!!!!!

What could possibly go wrong ?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Delivered from So Great a Death"

I count myself privileged to know the Nevins family.  A couple years ago Mr. Nevins left a comfortable position with a large corporation to take his family to the third world, using his construction skills to serve Christian ministries.  You can learn more about their work at  I just received this update today.  My reply to them is at the bottom.

Family and friends,

On Thursday evening, July 21, our family suffered a traumatic and life-threatening armed robbery by seven men over a three-hour period in our home located on the Pastor’s Training Center project site near Lasso, Ecuador. We were held hostage at gunpoint while the men took everything of financial value, things of personal value, all appliances, thousands of dollars worth of tools and even the tires and battery from the car. Chris was bound the entire time, but beyond that we were miraculously spared the further physical harm that so often accompanies crimes such as this.

We have returned to Arizona for a sabbatical of healing, rest and counsel. We have experienced already the overwhelming beauty of the body of Christ around us. Our hearts overflow with gratitude for the Lord’s provisions through His people who love us.

Most importantly, we have seen God’s protection and favor throughout the whole experience. Even before the invasion, we were being prepared through Bible passages, missionary biographies and through our home school studies. During the ordeal, we remembered specific Scriptures and stories which comforted our hearts and gave us courage. Afterwards, we have marveled again and again how God surrounded us with His favor.

The work of Fuel the Mission is still going on: Chris will be providing virtual assistance to our Ecuadorian architect on the Pastor’s Training Center, and we are praying about the timing of future projects in India and Southern Sudan. For now, though, our primary “work” is focusing on our family’s well-being and recovery. We are receiving counsel from several pastors, our Board of Directors and others that we trust about all aspects of our family’s needs. We are not in a hurry, but rather are waiting on the Lord.

Thank you for walking with us through this unexpected and difficult valley. And thank you for your devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is alive! We have hidden in the shelter of His wings, and we proclaim His goodness in the land of the living.

We are praying for protection over the workers still on the project site. We are praying that our attackers will remember hearing Chris share his testimony and his prayer over them. And we are praying that God will become even more famous as a result of this experience which He allowed in His providence. We are honored to serve Him. We are honored to have your participation in this work.

To God be the glory,

Chris, Janet and Elijah Nevins

Dear Nevins family,

Thank you so much for this update. I rejoice and give thanks to Jesus for the way you have honored Him through to this tragedy. It seems like you are handling it exactly as I would hope I would handle a similar situation. I also thank the Lord for surrounding you with good friends to walk with you through this time. From what I have heard, others have not always been so fortunate; dealing with the advice of well-meaning friends after a major crisis can sometimes be very traumatic. So I am not even going to attempt to give you advice, other than to feel free to ignore the advice of friends when it does not line up with Scripture or how the Lord is guiding you!

I remember reading that Elisabeth Elliot experienced a lot of pressure from stateside friends to return to the states after Jim’s death; they thought she was not adequately grieving her loss. But (as you know) she instead stayed in Ecuador and ministered to the Aucas, and I think she did the right thing. On the other hand, even though at first he didn’t think he needed it, YWAM’er Dan Baumann (Imprisoned in Iran) took the advice of friends to get professional Christian help recovering from the trauma of his torture in Iran—and he was glad afterwards that he did. I am confident that Jesus will guide you in what is best for your family.

If for some reason you need a place to “get away” for a few days, my parents have a very nice, fully furnished 3 bedroom, 2 bath guest house here in Rimrock that is usually vacant. You would be welcome to stay there at no charge.

If there is anything else I can do, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

In Jesus’ love,


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sometimes Jesus is Bad for Business

Honor Jesus in everything you do, including your business.  But don't expect that it will necessarily make you more popular, as this note from one of my customers shows!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  -- 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Most Hilarious Request for Homework Help I've Ever Received

Text message received from one of my international Skype friends.  Because English is not his first language, I'm not sure he realized that he was being funny.

will you help me out with this grammar problem ?
You (A)shouldn't help] him; (B)ever since you offered] him help, he has started (C)to depend on] others (D)for his] homework.
which is wrong grammatically ?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Navigate the Flood of Words by Building an Arc

Last week I learned a way of studying the Bible called “arcing”. It is especially useful for studying the letters and other “teaching” sections of the Bible. You can learn it for free at The online course is broken into 44 segments and takes about 3 or 4 hours altogether.   Arcing helps you to slow down and discover how the different sentences and paragraphs relate to each other logically. This helps you understand what the writer (and God, ultimately!) was trying to say.  Here's a video of John Piper sharing how arcing helped him.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pre-Arranged Spontaneities

Saturday, June 4 was the day of the Voice of the Martyrs conference proper.  About 430 of us -- speakers, VOM staff and volunteers, and mostly VOM supporters from far and wide -- showed up, eager to see what God would do.

newcomers seeing the Martyr's Wall for the first time
First up was "Brother Joseph" who works extensively in North Africa and the Middle East.  A few nuggets from his message:
  • Common mistake when helping persecuted churches: helping the biggest churches rather than the smaller, rural ones.  "The most unknown are often the most effective."
  • Sending Americans costs 20 times as much as using native evangelists.
  • With reference to Islamic/Christian interfaith dialogue: "If you don't worship Jesus, we don't worship the same God"
  • "If you visited a church in Egypt, the biggest surprise to you would be the scarcity of praise and worship songs. Most of their songs are lamentations. The spirit of Islam is a spirit of depression. If you minister to Muslims, you must praise and worship, or you will fall into to depression yourself."
Next Russell Stendal spoke about his work evangelizing in the armed conflict zones of Colombia (government versus guerrilla versus paramilitary).  I happened to be sitting next to his two sons while he talked.  I think I enjoyed watching them listen to him more than I enjoyed listening to him myself.  (Not because his talk lacked any drama, but because I had heard him share many of these stories before.)  One would think by now that his sons (ages 19 and 12) would be sick of hearing their dad tell his dramatic stories and impress audiences.  But they listened carefully and even laughed at his jokes as if it were their first time to hear them.  Which signaled to me that whatever other flaws Russell has, he must be the same man at home that he is in public.  Otherwise he would have lost the respect of his sons a long time ago.  His older son is following him into aviation.

During the breaks we had ample time to examine the start of VOM's persecution museum, currently located in the lobby of their new facility.  They definitely have some interesting artifacts.  Here are a few.

Hebrews 13:3 from an original King James Bible.
The charred remains of the Bible that belonged to a Vietnamese tribal Christian.  (VOM provided her a new one.)
Glass communion cups fused together by a Muslim-lit fire that destroyed a church in Indonesia.
The desk and chair of VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand
Page from a Tyndale 1536 New Testament.  Tyndale was burned at the stake that same year for translating the Bible into English.
As much as I enjoyed the morning's speakers, I would have to say that I enjoyed the lunch in the warehouse even more.  Rather than going out for lunch at a restaurant, most of us opted to buy a box lunch and eat in VOM's warehouse.

I wanted to meet someone new at lunch, and the Lord blessed my random seating choice with a couple of fascinating meal mates across the table from me.  I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I discovered that one of them had a British accent!  But, knowing the weakness of Christianity in the UK, I was wondering whether he had truly embraced the gospel or if he were just a cultural Christian.  So I gingerly asked him about the state of Christianity in his country.  "The church is kind of weak there, isn't it?" I asked.

With classic British wit, he immediately replied, "You mean apostasized, don't you?"  I knew immediately I had found a brother.  The next few minutes were pure intellectual thrill as he and his American chum and I galloped conversationally over the hills of history, from the Birkenhead to Biddy Chambers

We might have spent the entire afternoon talking if we had not been forced to stop by the speaker Q & A, which was also held in the warehouse.  The speakers spontaneously answered questions which had been submitted by the audience.  I found this time even more interesting than their prepared talks.

Bob Fu of China Aid, although not one of the official speakers of the day (he had accompanied "Esther", who was one of the speakers) shared some fascinating insights during this Q and A time.

  • It just "so happened" that June 4 (the day of the conference) was the 22nd anniversary of Tienanmen Square.  Bob was one of the university students at Tienanmen.  He told us, "If you believe China is free today, go to Tienanmen and try passing out Bibles or Four Spiritual Laws booklets."
  • "Chinese do not trust each other.  They will share more of their heart with an American than with a fellow Chinese."
  • The best way for Americans to reach Chinese people with the gospel... is through teaching English.
  • Due to lack of Bibles and trained, mature church leaders, more cults (aberrations) of Christianity are started in China than in all other nations combined.
  • The people with the most power to improve human rights conditions in China... are western businessmen.
Harvey Little, VOM-USA chairman, told us that some of VOM's books cannot be sold today in France, England, and Germany because of those nations' increasing intolerance towards the "intolerance" of Christians.

Refreshed spiritually and physically, we returned to main building for the afternoon's messages.  I always enjoy Gracia Burnham's talks, which display a depth and humility rarely found in someone of her notoriety.  You can hear excerpts from one of her talks at a previous VOM conference this year by visiting this page.  One of the most memorable parts of her message this year was the story of the church in New York that was burglarized.  The church had a large crucifix, and for some reason the thieves went to the trouble to unbolt Jesus from the cross and stole just Jesus, leaving the cross behind.  Gracia observed how like us they were -- wanting Jesus, without the cross. 

VOM-USA director Tom White came to speak to us that afternoon, despite having just spoken at his mother's funeral.  It was actually my first time in person to hear him give a formal talk, if any of Tom's talks can be called formal.  He has an amazingly spontaneous style that seems helter-skelter but actually interweaves beautifully.  Despite the suffering he's experienced (not to mention the fresh passing of his mother), Tom salted his talk liberally with what might be called "persecution humor".   Like the people who told him, "They persecuted us, now we KNOW that Jesus is Lord!"  Or how Pravda printed letters from a Christian woman prisoner, with their rebuttals, only to have readers in 6 time zones become Christians as a result.  Or the guy who told Tom, "They only beat me up half the time!"  Or how Tom and his fellow Christian cellies in Castro's gulag used to baptize new converts in the dishwater behind the backs of the guards. 

During one of the breaks that afternoon, I met Thomas Lowery, a young guy with a big beard and an even bigger smile.  It turned out that he grew the beard, then God sent him and his family to East Africa to share the gospel with Muslims.  The beard turned out to be very helpful in earning their trust.  Now back in the states for a few months, he and his family do odd jobs, speak in churches, and witness to unsaved people along the way.  He hopes to go to Lebanon this fall.  And what blew me away was that he was younger than me, both as a human and as a Christian.  I'm not quite sure how their financial walk of faith works, but he sure made it look appealing.

After the conference concluded, a few of us got to go to a special dinner with the speakers and VOM board members.  I'm still not quite sure how they decided whom to invite, and it was one of those times when I looked around and wondered how I made the list.  Thankfully, my roadmates were all invited also.  Lu had Gracia and Bob at her table.  Knowing the danger of Bob's work at China Aid, Lu asked if it was OK to get a picture with him.  He said, "I'm already a wanted man, so why not?"  (What a great attitude!)

Bob and Lu
Gracia and Lu
At my table were Gary Wixtrom and his wife Amy, who led the conference music.  We were amazed to discover that one of Gary's cousins is one of my customers.  (Small world.)

Well, after dinner I went back to the hotel, initially thinking I would get to bed on time (traveling had wreaked havoc on my normal schedule).  But trying to keep (?) in shape despite the sedentary activities of the last few days, I decided first to go have a 9 PM run on the hotel's treadmill.  And who should walk in after a few minutes but Thomas Lowery?  Delighted to discover that we were at the same hotel, he and I went out to the hotel lobby and sat down on the couches for a chat.  We talked so warmly about Jesus that other people passing by could hear.  I noticed one guy walk by several times.  Then he plopped down on a couch across from us and punched buttons on his cell phone.  Finally he could no longer restrain his curiosity and asked to join our conversation!  I'm still not quite sure if he was a Christian, but he was very open to learning from Thomas and me, and asked some good questions, like what is wrong with Mormonism.  I was humbled to see that my "younger brother" Thomas could answer his questions more skillfully than I.

Finally made it to bed at 11 PM, filled with gratitude for a day of unexpected joys.  It is strange and yet thrilling how the 'chance' decisions we make -- where to sit, where to stay -- can be orchestrated by God's sovereignty to produce results more wonderful than we could have planned.  Thank You, Father, for pre-arranged spontaneities.