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 www.180movie.com.

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 PrisonerAlert.com. Several visitors knew of Asia Bibi because of VOM’s recently-launched CallForMercy.com.

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.