“Don’t Delude Yourself,” he told me

December 20th, 2014

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While at Menards last week, I saw an older gentlemen walk by leisurely with his cart. I gave him a Christmas tract. He seemed appreciative and I noticed he started reading it right away.

Twenty or thirty minutes later, I saw him again near the front of the store. I smiled and made eye contact, hoping he might comment on the tract.

“Hey, where did you get that little booklet?” he asked me.
Yay! Just what I was hoping for!
I explained that I ordered it online, and that I think it’s important for people to remember the basics of what Christmas is about, and what the Bible has to say about it.
“Well, good for you,” he said.

“So do you have a spiritual background?” I asked him.
He said that he went to the Eastern Orthodox church in town.
“What about you? Do you have a spiritual background?” he asked me.
Yay!
I shared a brief version of my testimony… that when I was six I realized for the first time that “even though I was in a Christian family, that didn’t make me a Christian, and I had to trust Jesus to save me… I wanted to go to Heaven and not to Hell…”

“Well, you have to do a lot of bad stuff to go down there!” he exclaimed.

I referenced a few of the Ten Commandments, commenting on the very high standard it is, and told him that just one sin disqualifies us from God’s presence.

But when I explained the gospel, he replied, “Now don’t delude yourself…”

Hmmm. I wonder what he disagreed with? I thought. I had said that I was trusting in Jesus’ death alone and His gift of righteousness to get to Heaven and not my own good works.

Apparently, his view was that everyone was going to Heaven unless you do something “bad enough” to send you to Hell. So we talked for about thirty minutes in the aisle there about God’s justice, Romans 2, the gospel, and why Jesus came. It was a very nice conversation and he told me his name, telling me to call him if I wanted to talk more.

Since my conversation with him, I’ve been thinking about Matthew 7:13-14. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Most people on the broad road think they are headed for Heaven, but if they would listen to God’s Word, they would realize that they are not. Most are also open to talking about it. “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:38

Birthday Gift from Stephen

December 18th, 2014

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We celebrated my birthday a few nights ago. A friend commented, “Only a month late? You guys are doing great!” We’re not always real punctual with birthday celebrations around here. =)

Stephen gave me a gift that is already proving to be a big help for the study guide I’m trying to write: noise cancelling headphones! I think my grandpa thought it was very amusing that he had to actually tap on my head yesterday morning to get my attention, lol. Basically all of the technical items in my life have come from Stephen—he has a way of giving me things that I then use ALL the time, and I’m pretty sure these will be no exception!

Birthdays remind me of God’s grace. I began thinking you know, I really don’t get any credit for being born… yet ‘just because it’s my birthday’ I get all this extra love from family and friends. We have done nothing to earn God’s grace and favor — in fact, we’ve done the opposite and earned His punishment. Yet, God is a giver GRACE and we will forever be awed by that.

A few years back I read this journal entry by David Brainerd on his 24th birthday. It certainly wasn’t an “all about him” birthday! The best times are when it’s all about Christ. “This day I am twenty-four years of age … This has been a sweet, happy day to me: blessed be God. I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others. Had a wrestle with the Lord tonight for my enemies, and I hardly ever so longed to live for God; I wanted to wear out my life in His service, and for His glory.” -David Brainerd’s Journal, April 20, 1743

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” Ephesians 2:4

Get GOOD Christmas Tracts!

December 10th, 2014

Some gospel tracts are boring and dry. I don’t even feel like reading them, so why would an unbeliever? The gospel is the most exciting news in the world, and I think it should be shared with enthusiasm and creativity! So when I ran across these fun and tastefully written Christmas tracts, I quickly ordered a bunch for our store. I appreciate their engaging style and their approach of teaching the foundational concepts of the gospel (something our Biblically-illiterate generation really needs!). You can read/purchase them online here if you’d like.

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Christmas provides a very natural opportunity to witness to your dentist, doctor, neighbors, music teachers, local fire station, etc….. We can simply make an “appreciation plate” of cookies, add a Christmasy message (tract) to the top, and drop it off with a warm greeting. I don’t know about you, but this is a great solution for me in reaching people that I want to witness to more than I have.

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Some other recommended Christmas resources:

-The Christmas Story from the Bible Scroll is something my mom especially enjoys giving people at the store. She was just telling me the other day how people receive it very well – it seems special to them. (You can print them off yourself – follow the link to see English and Spanish version.)

-“Uncovering the Real Nativity,” is a booklet from Answers in Genesis that I really enjoy giving. I usually share a quick summary of what it’s about to spark their curiosity. (Read it here if you’d like.)

-“What are Christmas and Easter All About?” teaches the gospel with very clear and simple language and is illustrated beautifully.

-“The Greatest News Ever Told…” is just Scripture–all the way through. When I pass it out, I like to explain, “It’s a big string of Bible verses!” and I have found people to receive it gratefully and with interest.

Who knows? This could be the last Christmas season before Jesus comes back. Let’s give Him ALL our love and energy and pour our efforts into what is on HIS heart–lost souls for whom He died.

” … and you will testify also, because you have been with Me … ” (John 15:27)

Christmas Dinnertime Challenge!

December 2nd, 2014

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For those who don’t get our family’s e-newsletter, here’s this month’s article! (And if you’d like to sign up for the newsletter you can do so on the left-hand column of our website)

Dinnertime is an important time for families! Here is a list of 25 items to talk about during family dinnertime discussions this month. There is one for each day, starting today (December 1st) and concluding on Christmas Day. These questions are designed to be done when the whole family is together.

If your family completes this challenge, email us after Christmas, and we will send you a free copy of your choice of either Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends, Before You Meet Prince Charming, or Will Our Generation Speak? :-) (If you start a day or two late, that’s fine, as long as you complete all 25. Also, the time of day is flexible. The “deeper” questions are optional.)

1) What is your favorite Christmas carol and why?
Deeper: Which Christmas carols best explain the gospel?

2) Christmas is much more than a birthday—it is a coming! What is the difference between a “birthday” and a “coming”? Why is it important to make this clear?
Deeper: What could be some of the negative effects of referring to Christmas as a birthday?

3) When we wish people a “Merry Christmas,” what are we actually wishing them? Make a list of 10 things to help families have a true merry Christmas. (After making a list, see some ideas at the end of this email.)
Deeper: What is the difference between what the world thinks is a “ Merry Christmas” and a true “Merry Christmas”?

4) What is your first Christmas memory? What is your best Christmas memory?
Deeper: What is something that God taught you at Christmastime in the past?

5) What is your favorite Christmas tradition in our family? Can you think of any new traditions we could start this year that would help us to focus even more on Christ?

6) What does the word “Incarnation” mean and why is it so important? (John 1:14) How would we explain the Incarnation to someone who had never heard?
Deeper: Here is a suggested project. Print out the Christmas account from Matthew and Luke (download here). Ask people if they have read the Christmas account in the Bible yet this year, and ask them if they would like a copy. See how many you can give away as a family this month.

7) In what way is a Christmas card similar to an angel? Is there someone in particular who would be blessed by a surprise Christmas card from us this year?
Deeper: Why do you think God used a star in Matthew (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-10) and an angel in Luke (Luke 2:8-15) to announce the birth of Christ?

8) Why did Jesus have to be born as a baby? Why couldn’t He have come as a grown man?

9) Who is a person or family in need that we could reach out to this Christmas season? What could we do for them?
Deeper: How did the shepherd’s respond to the angel’s message? How can we imitate them today?

10) How do people in the world today demonstrate the same attitude as King Herod? How do people respond like the wise men?
Deeper: What wicked Old Testament King played an important role in the Christmas story (Isaiah 7-9)? Why did God offer what He did?

11) Read Luke 2:19. What do you think were some of the things Mary was pondering in her heart?
Deeper: In Jesus’ own words, why did He say He came? What verses can you find?

12) Read the story of Anna (Luke 2:36-38). What can we learn from her example?
Deeper: Why did Jesus come when He did? Why didn’t He come earlier or later in history?

13) What is your favorite Christmas gift you ever gave? What are some good aspects of giving Christmas presents? What can be some negative aspects of it?
Deeper: Can you think of any times in Scripture when the Israelites sent presents to each other? (See answers at the bottom of this email.)

14) What are the ways that Jesus’ birth was specifically humble?
Deeper: How are Jesus’ first and second coming different?

15) What Christmas ministry has our family been involved in over the years? How have we seen God work?
Deeper: Why is it better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)? What is an example of a time we saw this concept to be true in our family?

16) How can each one of us be like the star? What was the star’s purpose? How can we fulfill that same purpose?
Deeper: What did the star in the Christmas account ultimately represent? (Numbers 24:17, Revelation 2:28, 22:16)

17) What does the name “Emmanuel” mean and why is it important?
Deeper: When was the last time in Israel’s history that there was a command to kill baby boys? Can you think of any other similarities between these two times in history?

18) Read and discuss Micah 5:2. What does the word Bethlehem mean?
Deeper: Why do you think God arranged for Jesus to be born in that particular town and a town with that name?

19) What is the first Christmas verse in the Bible? (See answer at the bottom of this email.)
Deeper: Which of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob) prophesied the coming of Christ? (See answer at the bottom of this email.)

20) What are some ideas of things we could do for our neighbors this Christmas?

21) Why is Jesus the Prince of Peace?
Deeper: How many names can you think of for Jesus and what do they mean? What do the names of Christ listed in Isaiah 9:6 tell us about some of the roles He fills?

22) What is a fun family memory from Christmas?
Deeper: How do we know that the angels and the wise men did not come at the same time? (There are at least 2 reasons.) Was the star in the east or the west?

23) How many different people are mentioned in the accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2? Name them all. Pick one person and share something that we can learn from them.
Deeper: What prophecies can you think of that were fulfilled at Jesus’ birth? (Genesis 3:15, Genesis 49:10, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, Micah 5:2)

24) Why did God name the baby Jesus rather than allowing Joseph to choose a name for Him?
Deeper: What are two reasons Joseph was told to name the child “Jesus”? (See answer at the bottom of this email.)

25) Without looking, what were the “good tidings of great joy”?
Deeper: Why was Jesus’ birth “glory to God in the highest”?

Also, we will be tweeting the daily question(s) from @BrightLightsMin and @TFInc.

I love how Malachi 3:16-17 reminds us that the Lord is listening to our conversations!

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.
‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’” Malachi 3:16-17

Answers:
Question 3: Honor Christ, Read Scripture, Make Christmas “merry” for someone else, Sing carols, Witness, Give generously, Be excited about the coming of Christ!
Question 13: Esther 9:22, Nehemiah 8
Question 19: Genesis 3:15, Genesis 49:10
Question 24: 1) It means salvation and Jesus would save His people from their sins. 2) It is the same name as Joshua who delivered the people and brought them into the Promised Land.

Sharing the Gospel at the Mayflower Steps

November 26th, 2014

20140812_070730_29275 We had the privilege in August to go to the location where the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth, England.

20140812_070724_29274 It was an interesting feeling to be there and think about what must have been going through the Pilgrims minds when they took off.

20140812_101705_29313 This was the last phrase of a plaque put up as a memorial to the Pilgrims overlooking the steps.

While we were there, we decided to see if we could get into a few conversations with people about the gospel. We knew we a great starting place – we could ask them about their perspective on the Pilgrims!

Both of the encounters on the video below ended up being great conversations (most of which happened after we turned off the camera!) I thought I’d put a few bits and pieces from the conversations here for Thanksgiving! I’m sorry it’s a little choppy and windy!

I received an e-mail from this man later, saying he enjoyed the conversation. Please join me in praying that the Lord raises up laborers unto the [very needy] harvest in England. I believe many are interested in conversing about the true message of the Bible, and very few are sharing it.

The Answer to Why is Who

November 14th, 2014

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We showed this 24-minute testimony at our last Bright Lights meeting. I believe it was the third or fourth time I have seen it in the past month, and I love it each time–especially the end.

Look up Naghmeh Abedini on Facebook or Twitter for more information on how to pray and support her!

University of Iowa / Halloween Evangelism

October 31st, 2014

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Here is the team who joined us to share the gospel at the University of Iowa a few days ago. Or rather, we joined Brad, who is there consistently on Wednesday afternoons, even when he’s by himself.

I was encouraged to hear of many good conversations. Chuck (who was with us for the first time) had a lengthy conversation with a girl who welled up in tears a few times, seeking true answers.

Another girl told me that she had stopped going to church. She said it was never real to her. But it was clear in her eyes that she was wanting it to be real to her.

Praise the Lord for the way He brings people to us who are hungry to know His answers and His grace.

Here is the questionnaire I was using to start conversations. If any of you will be at public places or events tonight where you can share the gospel, you may want to try using this questionnaire!

1) What is the most destructive force in the universe?

a) nuclear bomb
b) sin
c) disease
d) famine
(Note: if they say “nuclear bomb” you can remind them that sin precedes war.)

2) Is there a cure? What is it?

3) Do you believe in ghosts?

4) Do you believe in God?

5) What do you think happens when someone dies?

6) How does someone get to Heaven?

Sarah did the same thing, but just used questions 3-5 to get conversations started.

I’d also recommend checking out this Halloween tract that our family put together last year. It’s a series of verses.

If you don’t have plans to do anything tonight, I would recommend you take advantage of this night to share the gospel! One idea I have seen work well is to go door to door giving nice quality chocolate and tracts (instead of taking candy) and do the questionnaire above with them if they’re willing. It’s a great time to do door to door evangelism, because people are already expecting visitors. When we give instead of take, it surprises them. See blog post about that here.

Stephen’s Car in Flames

October 30th, 2014

20141030_100939_30528 We received a text from Stephen around midnight last night saying that he was okay, but he hit a deer and his car was in flames. It actually wasn’t his car – he was driving the company car for the Gazette. (He’s a photojournalist for our local newspaper, as many of you know.)

They hit the buck at 70mph. After being disoriented from the airbag deployment and loss of visibility due to the windshield being covered with a fluid, they were able to get to the side of the road.

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Ironically, it was the reporter who took these pictures while Stephen was on the phone with 911.

He and the reporter were able to safely move all of the photo gear out of the car (while the car was in flames).

When Stephen arrived home around 3am we all gathered in the living room to hear the details. I was there physically on the couch, but I barely remember anything that was said.

We are so thankful to the Lord for protecting Stephen and the reporter last night!!!

“The Lord is gracious and merciful” Psalm 111:4

Love is Always Tried

October 28th, 2014

Sarah texted me this quote, and it really enocouraged me!

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“Hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give … the morning star.” Revelation 2:25-28

“We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

“You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Deuteronomy 8:2

Sheep and Grapes

October 23rd, 2014

20141013_110709_30280 Isn’t this a beautiful place to live?! We visited our friends, the Kirks, after the Missions Fest in Seattle. They raise sheep, grow grapes (among other things), and have a beautiful horizon of mountains. Talk about a rich place for spiritual analogies!

They told us that it’s a misconception that sheep are dumb. They said sheep are just stubborn and slow to trust that you are actually trying to help them and that you know what’s best for them. (Hmmm … that sounds familiar!)

They also emphasized that sheep cannot bear being alone.

Anna and Melody Kirk also lead a Bright Lights group in Washington and have been to Cedar Rapids a few times to help with the Bright Lights ministry. One time, while with us in Iowa, they showed us pictures of their little lambs and told us their names. My mom asked them, “How do you tell them all apart?!” Melodie laughed and said, “By their faces!” It reminds me of how the Lord knows each of us so individually…

20141013_111714_30300 …with all our unique quirks and personalities, =) and He is so patient with us!

20141014_125005_30376 Early one morning, I walked over to their grapevine, and noticed something I had never thought about before regarding grapes: the fruit is somewhat hidden.

20141013_112802_30324 It’s not displayed loudly for all to see, such as apples.

20141014_131652_30383 Although the fruit is incredibly beautiful, it’s quiet and hidden, so to speak.

20141014_125012_30378 It was a reminder to me that our focus should be on bearing fruit on the inside, in the heart, where our Heavenly Father is looking.

The Lord does intend for our fruit to be seen that HE may be glorified (Matthew 5:16, John 15:8) but it’s His job to make it visible. It’s our job to abide.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before me to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

20141015_104647_30472 On a different note, have you ever had grape sized kiwis? They are amazing–sooo sweet and delicious. The Kirks also grow these.

20141013_151110_30343 Lunch at the beach. Thank you, Kirks, for the wonderful time we had with you.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” John 15:8


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