Tag Archives: Bible

Bulgarian Bible Study and Book Translation

Starting a Home Fellowship Group in Sofia

Buxton Building

After a couple months getting to know the spiritual situation in Sofia, we have decided to start a weekly home fellowship.Our first meeting will be next Sunday with several couples who became Christian after the fall of communism, but have since left the church. This is a very common story here – America’s not the only place with a growing “dechurched” population!

Please pray that we would be able to reach people who have stepped away from the church and are questioning what they were taught about the faith. In addition to those couples, there will also be an interested unbeliever attending.

Book Translation

Discipleship EssentialsWe recognize that a lack of Biblical resources in Bulgarian is a great hindrance for the church here. Nansi has selected the first book to begin translating, Disciple Essentials by Greg Ogden.

At first we will do a partial and informal translation for use in our discipleship group, but we are exploring a way to officially translate the book and make it available here in Bulgaria.

 

Ten Basic Facts About the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize

This is a great resource of 10 short statements about the New Testament that are useful when discussing the historicity and formulation of the Bible that we hold in our hands today.NT

Since this is a pretty common area of attack against Christianity today, each fact links to a more in-depth post backing up the claim. I would highly encourage you to check out the link!

Thank you for your continued love and encouragement.

Blessings,
Owen + Nansi Paun

Partner with us: Eastwest.org/PaunDonate
Our Mission: MyDailyTestimony.com/Sofia

Sofia, Bulgaria

EastWest Logo
To Donate:  www.eastwest.org/PaunDonate
Sign Up for: Email Updates

As of February 2017, our team still needs $600 in monthly support to be minimally funded and remain on the field. We are looking for 12 people willing to partner with us for $50 per month. As you read about our calling and mission, please consider partnering with us!

Until January of 2015 year my wife and I were missionaries in Pskov, Russia.  There we came alongside a local Baptist church and partnered in their ministry.

(Listen to the above audio for a more in-depth update)

In Pskov, our work centered around orphanages, drug & alcohol rehab centers, and youth ministry. Unfortunately, new legislation by the government has forced us to leave the country.

In conjunction with our supervisor we decided to relocate to Sofia, Bulgaria – a Slavic country in Southeastern Europe that borders Greece and Turkey.

Bulgaria Total Population: 7 million
Bulgaria Total Protestants: 65,000

Ethnicities:
Bulgarian: 5.25 million (30,000 = .5% Protestant)
Roma: 300,000 (30,000 = 10% Protestant)
Turkish: 560,000 (95% Muslim)

The Roma (Gypsy) and Bulgarian populations are highly segregated. Of the ethnic Bulgarian population, less than one-half of one percent self-identifies as Protestant of any kind.

(Evangelism in a Slavic, Orthodox Context)

Over the last several months, we have been evaluating the mission field, getting to know local churches in Sofia and missionaries around the country.

3 Key Areas of Opportunity:

  • Internship program: Christian groups aren’t allowed on campus, so we’ll embed Christians on campus. (Read more)
  • Sermon and Book Translations: Bring solid Biblical resources to the people of Bulgaria.
  • Church Planting: Initially in Sofia, with the goal of spreading around the country.

Below are two recent sermons that I preached:

Every Christian’s Ministry

Invited by the King: Would you turn down a free invitation to a royal wedding?

Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox

“I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

You don’t expect to actually hear those words. Everyone knows it’s true, but it’s never said. Certainly not as a means of identification.

Orthodox Bible

On the bus home from a seminar the other day, Nansi had a Russian study Bible on her lap. The man sitting across from her, a Jehovah’s Witness, engaged with us – easy enough when someone is carrying a Bible! You can read the story of that encounter here.

There had been four of us sitting in tight quarters, like a restaurant booth without the table. Sitting next to the Jehovah’s Witness was a woman, who I initially thought was with him. After he left the bus, since she had heard the entire conversation, I asked if she read the Bible. Immediately she answered, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

[“Я Библию не читаю, я Православная.”]

In response I asked, “Are Orthodox not allowed to read the Bible?”

After an awkward pause, ignoring the question, she said “that guy’s not normal,” referring to the Jehovah’s Witness.

Below is the rest of our conversation:

“I come from a different branch of Christianity, and I don’t really understand Orthodoxy. What is most important in Orthodoxy?”

“To be a good person.”

“That’s only possible with God’s strength.”

“Sometimes I feel that way.”

“I know you might think that I’m also from a cult, we work with the Baptists. We can’t be good people on our own. You can’t be a good person. I can’t be a good person. My natural self does not seek the things of God. It’s only when God resurrects me, though Jesus Christ, that I can live.”

“Why are you here, in Pskov?”

“My wife and I moved here because we want to help people. We have some friends from the area who recommended it.”

“My priest told me not to help people unless they want to be helped. I’m old, I’m in my 60s, I’m tired of people, I don’t want to spend any time with them. People don’t have the same values today, they’re only interested in money.”

“Were you a Christian in the Soviet times?”

“I never thought of it that way. I sang in the choir at church. I was a schoolteacher and they threatened to fire me because of my church going.”

Orthodox WomanAt first we thought she was angry when she asked us why we were here. I think she was just generally confused, didn’t understand why we would come. Admittedly, it doesn’t make much worldly sense.

A standard, nominal Orthodox Christian, who never goes to church, would also say it’s important to be a good person. It’s enlightening, however, to hear that from someone who is a regular part of the church’s life.

She thinks the Jehovah’s Witness is in a cult, and he thinks she’s an unbeliever, but both of them are trying to earn their salvation. I hope she gives up. I hope she stops trying to rely on her own strength.

She knows who we are, and she knows where we meet, but the cultural baggage against Protestants is so strong that very few self-identified Orthodox are willing to engage.

Less than 10% of Russians have any connection to any church. Most Russians are Orthodox only by ethnic identification. To them all Protestants are “Baptists,” and they’ve been taught that Baptists are Western traitors who practice child sacrifice. Seriously. Most believe the first accusation, and some the second.

This is one of our greatest strengths as foreign missionaries in Russia. We’re not Russian. It’s ok for us to be Protestant – I’m not a traitor for being one. Russians can engage with us as a cross-cultural dialogue, not a negotiation with an enemy. The problem is, we don’t even have the Bible as a common foundation.

Do you have any experience in theological communication with Orthodox? Let me know in the comments!

Read part 1: Evangelism on a City Bus – Jehovah’s Witness

Evangelism on a City Bus – Jehovah’s Witness

As missionaries in Russia, we’re always looking for ways to steer conversations towards spiritual themes. Sometimes, you get asked directly!

My wife and I were on the bus, going home from a Romans’ seminar that was held at our church downtown. On Russian buses, there are sections of four seats that face each other, in pairs of two. Like a booth at a restaurant, but there’s no table and your legs are often intertwined.

Our Russian language MacArthur Study Bible was sitting on Nansi’s lap, the description written on the spine. The man across from her leaned over and asked what a “study bible” is. Talking to strangers is highly unusual behavior for Russians in public, so I was a little confused at first. I took the Bible, opened it up and showed that the text is at the top and commentary at the bottom of each page.

Study Bible Russian

The man asks, “how do you know to trust what the commentary says?” That’s a brilliant question, one that I did not expect from someone in a nominal Christian culture where nobody reads the Bible. “He’s a known, respected and trusted author,” I respond. Nansi adds that we compare what we read against the text – which was actually a much better answer!

“You shouldn’t read any commentary, just read the actual text,” the man replies. As if to prove something, I show him my English Bible, which doesn’t have any commentary.

“People pray here about the Kingdom of Heaven, but they have no idea what the kingdom actually is.” Presumably he’s referring to the Lord’s Prayer, or as even Russian Protestants call it, the “Our Father.” I took the bait, “what is the Kingdom of Heaven?”

“A government in heaven, ruled by Christ, established 100 years ago in 1914. If I give you some literature, will you take it?” Let’s find out who this guy is, I think – not knowing this piece of JW theology. As he’s getting ready to exit the bus, he pulls out a magazine – the Jehovah’s Witness style is unmistakeable.

My wife made an insightful comment, that would have been pertinent had the man not left. We’re not supposed to read commentary, just the Biblical text … but we should read the Watchtower? How is that not commentary?
Watchtower Russian May 2014
This is the second time that we’ve been engaged by Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, while in Bulgaria waiting for our visas – now, on a bus in Pskov, Russia. They definitely deserve an “A” for effort.

Granted, he had a very helpful hint that we would be a good target, we were carrying a study Bible in plain view. Still, I can’t imagine that many Protestants are looking to start spiritual conversations in the city bus.

I know, from speaking to other Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they need to earn their place in heaven, to be one of the 144,000. It is a religion of works, and he’s trying to do his part to evangelize not just because he’s concerned about us, but also because he’s concerned about himself.

He is trying to earn salvation by his evangelism. That may give him greater impetus to do it – but are we, who are secure in our hope, silent?

The conversation continued with the man’s neighbor in part 2: Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox

Why Are Young Christians Becoming Atheists?

Listening to Young Atheists:
Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Surveys in recent years have shown that between 60-75% of American Christian youth will cease attending church after graduating from high school. This low retention rate has led to many concerns about the demographic decline of confessing Christians.

Many speculate as to why, and a Christian foundation asked confessing atheists at colleges across the country why they became atheists. The conclusions were surprisingly uniform – and present a damning condemnation of contemporary approaches to youth ministry.

One student, Phil, shares his journey to unbelief:

“Church became all about ceremony, handholding, and kumbaya,” Phil said with a look of disgust. “I missed my old youth pastor. He actually knew the Bible.” …

[Phil] loved his church (“they weren’t just going through the motions”), his pastor (“a rock star trapped in a pastor’s body”), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim (“a passionate man”). Jim’s Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: “He didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.” …

During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.

Too often we think that youth ministry should be about fun and games. With the reduction of “Big Church” sermons in the Evangelical world to simplistic, rhyming aphorisms for a better life, the standard has been set so low that the youth ministers are forced into farce. From the adults our youth have learned that doctrine isn’t fun, and catechism is a terrible game. Of course, catechisms were originally meant to train children in the faith.

In tandem with, and likely because of, the dumbing down of our teaching in youth ministry, there has been a devaluation of the depth of the Christian response to this world:

 “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. [Stephanie] seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. …

Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

Jesus’ call is not to a better life, at least, not in the way that the world understands as better. Jesus calls us to lose our lives, to renounce all that we have. Personal significance, purpose, ethics – our whole lives – are to be understood through God’s plan of redemption and self-revelation in Christ.

Our answers are deeper, sharper, more meaningful … and costlier than the world’s. We just shy away from them. Through our methods we teach that fun is the core value of life. Are we surprised that when freed from church they continue to seek out self-centered pleasure?

We should not be ashamed of Christ’s full-throated proclamation of payment for and dominion over our lives. If people don’t sense that we take the Christian message very seriously, why would they?

But sincerity is indispensable to any truth we wish others to believe. There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:

“I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,” someone asked.

“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”

You can read the full article here: “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity” [The Atlantic]

Are You Alone in Facing Sin?

A child of the 1980’s, I was taught growing up that I was special … just like everyone else.  We are each unique individuals.  Which, on it’s face, is true.  This idea, however, can be taken to the extreme, when we start to think that we are supremely different from everyone else.  “Nobody can understand me, what I’m going through.  Nobody can possibly relate.”  This isn’t just teen angst, it carries on into our adult lives as well.

For Christians, we begin to think that no one struggles with sin the way we do.  Whatever our problem is, we imagine that we fight with it more than anyone else.  Everyone has an easier time with lust/gluttony/language/greed/drugs/depression/anger/etc.  This thinking can lead to us giving in, thinking that since we’re tempted worse than others, we have a different standard.  Paul warns us against this very idea (1 Cor 10:13):

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.

Those thoughts that you’re having, that sin that you’re dealing with … it’s not just you.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

It may seem impossible, but there’s always a way out.  Often, the way out is never getting in to the situation in the first place.  Once we have identified problem areas in our lives, the first thing to do is stop putting ourselves in situations where the temptation can occur.  That might mean changing fundamental aspects of our lives, but God helps, and it’s all part of the restorative work that God begins when we accept him into our lives.

When we sin, we usually know full well what we’re doing, and that we shouldn’t be doing it.  We justify it to ourselves, making it acceptable, or a just-this-once execption.  We need God’s help, and when we’re tempted, we should ask him for it.  If we truly realize our problems, if we sincerely repent, and if we honestly attempt to overcome our sin, God is faithful, and will stand with us.

Pope begins Bible-reading marathon

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to make an effort to read the Bible daily.  It appears that the Pope is of a similar mind, and earlier this month, he started a week-long Bible-reading marathon:

RAI state TV began its program called “The Bible Day and Night,” with Benedict reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis — the holy text’s opening verses about the creation of the world.

The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights.

Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians will participate.

Every few chapters the reading was being interrupted for Christian or Jewish religious music, and opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude Sunday by singing Bach’s “Praise the Lord.”

Hopefully this will inspire more than just a temporary hightened appreciation for scripture, but will cause people to start reading the Bible for themselves.

Reading the Bible Daily

One of the main things I don’t think Christians do enough is read the bible.  I know I don’t.  I went years where I never opened the bible, only hearing it occasionally when I would go to church.  We think to ourselves, “I get it, I know the story.  God created everything, the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert.  Jesus came and died for our sins.  What else do I need to know?”  We treat the bible as if it’s some stale source of theology that is best left to our preacher, instead of what it is – God’s primary way of communicating to us.

I recently made a decision to start reading the bible again, setting the goal of reading at least a little bit every day.  It’s hard to do.  We have so many other things filling up our time, it seems like we can’t spare any.  But that’s not true.  Sure, we have a set amount of time every day, and we can only do so much.  How we fill up that time shows us our priorities in life, and trying to make time for bible reading has made me realize that my priorities aren’t entirely in order.

Before I know it, after I get home from work and relax, it’s really late and I still haven’t made time for the bible.  Somehow, I found time to watch a couple of youtube videos, read a ton of news stories, email my friends, IM people on gchat, comment on facebook photos, listen to music, play a bit on my guitar (that I’m still learning), and countless other fillers.  All that, but somehow I have “no time” to read the Bible.

Even after a short time of concentrated effort at reading the Bible regularly, I feel the positive effects.  Being in the word reminds us of who God is, what he has done, and what he promises to do in our lives.  It also connects us directly to our faith.  Protestant broke off, in part, because we felt that everyone had the right to read scripture for themselves.  We don’t need it spoon-fed to us.  We’ve taken something that our ancestors struggled for, and thrown it aside.

Beyond grounding us in the Lord, reading the Bible regularly also corrects us.  It reminds us of God’s standards.  The longer we are out of the word, and out of Christian fellowship, the more we think that we can just live “good,” lives.  Good, of course, being defined by ourselves, and generally loosely.  The Bible lets us know God’s standards very clearly.  We can’t hide from what’s written on the page, and it serves as a useful tool to check ourselves and our behavior.

If you’re not already, I encourage you to take up the same challenge I have placed before myself.  Read the Bible every day. Set a time, perhaps right before bed, and pick a book.  Just start reading.  Don’t treat it as some obscure, dense text.  View it as the living word of God.  You’ll be amazed how just this act can deepen your faith, understanding, and peace.

Pope Decries Godless Nature of Modern Societies

Pope John Paul II did a lot to bring Catholics and Protestants together, and deservedly holds a special place in the heart of American protestants.  He was culturally and socially conservative, which provided the bridge across which our intellectuals crossed, creating a conversational dialogue on issues fundamental to the faith.

Pope Benedict XVI has largely followed in his footsteps, at least doctrinally.  Culturally, there has been a bit of hostility because of certain statements, but on the issues, he is following the path John Paul’s laid.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.”  This organization used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition, so you can imagine that they take Catholic teaching pretty seriously.

This past weekend, Benedict opened “worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics:”

“Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” said Benedict, who has been pushing for religion to be given more room in society.

A document prepared for the meeting rejects a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science.

Benedict is spot on.  It seems that the more material wealth a society has, the less spiritual they are.  Mother Teresa noted the same thing:

There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger.

But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.

Last week, I read 1 and 2 Kings, and the same principal was noted there.  David lived most of life in extremely difficult circumstances – a hard life on the run from Saul.  David’s son, Solomon, reigned over a period of peace and unparalled prosperity.  David was far closer to God than Solomon, who fell away and built places of worship for all of his non-Jewish wives.  David, whose constant companion was suffering, felt the need and closeness of God.  Solomon, who lived in comfort, filled all of his material needs and found no need for God.

Christians all around the world, but especially in the developed, wealthy West ought to pay special attention that we don’t allow material wealth to crowd out God – because the material only provides temporary satisfaction at best, and often not even that.