The Balance of Study and Play

A few years ago a veteran missionary in SVG encouraged me to create a “day off” during the week that didn’t involve any planned ministry.  To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of the idea (he knew I wouldn’t be).  However, Tuesdays (my official day off) have become one of my favorite ones since they beautifully illustrate a balanced ministry.

Often Tuesday involves running errands or going to Kingstown.  But when at home my day off revolves around the words “preparation” and “play”, both of which are EXTREMELY important to ministry

Days off are for Study: 

The Lord used the book “Preaching and Preachers” by Martin Lloyd-Jones in October to convict me about my lack of sermon preparation.  Bible Study software is an incredible blessing as it puts not only commentaries, but also the original language, illustrations, and different versions right at our fingertips.  It’s possible to do in a half-hour what would have taken at least twice that time before!

The danger is preachers can simply focus on the transfer of that information instead of heart change in the lives of people.  Jason Allen explains it this way in his recent article “What is a faithful preacher?

Preaching is more than a data dump. The central liability of many expositional sermons is just that. It is a rambling commentary that drops data on people, and preachers cannot figure out why people are getting bored. We are to present the text with force— probing, pushing, and prodding our listeners. It is more than transmitting what you read in the commentaries to your people that week. It is to take it and apply it with a “Thus sayeth the Lord” charge. Mark your life and set yourself to preach with courage.

Sadly the lives of missionaries of pastors are incredibly busy, leaving little time for application of the text, or sharpening the message itself.  There’s also the fact that study often feels less important than ministry activity which leads to something tangible.

This temptation and the busyness of life led me to set aside Tuesday mornings almost exclusively for study involving things like:

  1. Creation of a “skeleton outline” for sermons
  2. Reading Bible passages that will be used for future sermons
  3. Hand-writing sermon notes for that week
  4. Thinking through the flow of my messages verbally
  5. Theology reading
  6. And practicing the messages verbally

Normally that means my mind is exhausted by noon, but oepns

Days off are for Play:

The other side of that contrast is the idea of play which refers to “unplanned ministry that centers on fun.”  This can be things like:

  1. working on a hobby
  2. reading a book
  3. going for a long walk
  4. or watching a movie

For me, the play side of ministry is literally that as I interact with the children of Barrouaillie.  Last Tuesday afternoon I was able to:

  1. Help with math-homework
  2. Treat a burn wound
  3. Play ball with kids for over an hour

 

Father Son Chats with a Child Who Isn’t Your Son

There are many things Bible College and personal study prepared me for…but nothing can prepare you for having “father-son talks” with a child who is not your son.

After reading  a Bible story about Sampson this morning a boy motioned to a girl walking by my house and said: “see her she’s pregnant!”  I asked why that was important and he (a 12-year-old) proudly told me he had slept with her.

Now the truth is he hadn’t done this, but at the age of twelve like most children on the island, he was sexually active.  

Sadly I’m used to talking with children who lost their virginity before teenage years and find my being a virgin at forty-one hilarious (definitely wrong by Biblical standards).

As we continued talking about the Biblical principle of sex within marriage I asked him a question.

  • Me:  so what happens if your girlfriend gets pregnant
  • Him:  That won’t happen
  • Me:  But let’s just say it does
  • Him:  I will leave the Country
Don’t rush by that…here is a 12-year-old boy who has already committed himself to sexual activity, and is also prepared to leave whenever his girlfriend gets pregnant (according to him he’s already set money aside to get himself to another Country)

You have to ask yourself “where did he get an idea like that?”

it’s simple really….

From his father

Now this young mans father happens to be in Barrouaille but I can tell you there are a large number of young mothers left by themselves with small children because the father either left the Country, or ran to another part of the island.

To put it bluntly, one generation of gutless cowards (refusing to take responsibility for actions) has raised up another generation of gutless cowards.

As I explained to him that manhood isn’t about strength (or how many women you’ve been with) but character and commitment it didn’t seem to make a difference but that’s okay.  I’m perfectly willing to have awkward father-son chats if that’s what it takes for the Gospel to shine through.

Our Vanishing Religious Liberty

Last week Stephen Mcalpine had a very interesting (and sad) article that explains recent changes in the Queensland (Australia) school that “moved to ban Jesus from the playground in its State Government Schools.”

A recent article on the new law states:

Examples of evangelising cited in the review, as well as two earlier reviews into religious ­instruction providers, include sharing Christmas cards that refer to Jesus’s birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away and making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus”.

This redefining of evangelism (it’s no longer sharing the Gospel but giving out things that could possibly lead to a religious conversation) is another illustration of our culture’s attack on religious freedom.  And these attacks will continue because as Macalpines article points out “they hate Jesus.”

The rapidly closing door of religious liberty is a call for Christians to take advantage of those mission fields (through short-term trips or financial support) where the door is still open (editors note:  I’m not saying fields like Australia are closed to the Gospel, but there are fields that have fewer restrictions).

One of the greatest blessings of Saint Vincent is their openness to the Gospel:

  1. We can still openly hand out tracts and EVERYONE not only takes them but READS THEM
  2. Children especially are interested in getting as many tracts as possible to read.  One Sunday a girl inside a car noticed I was handing out tracts and started yelling “I want one!”
  3. Secondary schools open the day with PRAYER and a DEVOTIONAL FROM SCRIPTURE!
  4. Amazingly even the prison system in Saint Vincent is open to the Gospel.  It was amazing to see shirtless men with tattoos and large muscles asking for tracts.  We were even able to stick them through the bars of prison cells (I’d probably get tased for trying that in America)

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The hunger of Vincentian people for the Gospel calls for Missionaries, but more importantly, I realize it won’t always be that way.

I don’t believe that handing out Christmas cards will be outlawed in schools, but eventually the animosity the world has towards Christianity will reach here too.

people will stop reading tracts

they will argue instead of listening to the Gospel

Their hearts will become hardened to Scripture

So we must do all that we can before the door closes.

 

The Curse of Bachelor Missions

Yesterday serious preparations began for my parents visit in three-weeks on August 10th.  This involves things you would expect like giving the house a thorough cleaning and stocking my fridge, but it also involves things you wouldn’t expect like fixing the AC in my car.

Since I bought my car last summer the air-conditioning would only work in the morning and evening when the weather was cooler.  So most of the day I just drive with the windows down.

The truth is I needed to get the AC fixed, but it’s a lot easier to “put up with things” as a bachelor missionary.

 

Being a bachelor missionary (single adult male in missions work) is I believe a specific call from God which has special blessings.

  1. It gives more freedom (lots easier for a single man to pack a bag and go alone than organizing travel plans for a family)
  2. All energy is focused on ministry
  3. And more time can be used to reach others for Christ

Bachelor missions can become a curse however because it’s easier to put up with daily frustrations (like having no air-conditioning) when it’s just you.  If I had a wife or children the AC would be fixed for their comfort, but being a single man made it a lot easier to “put up with” the lack of comfort.

Actually the curse of bachelor missions has nothing to do with AC (having my window down makes things cool enough) but about making the denial of comfort a badge of honor.

Being on the mission field makes very clear most things we look upon as necessities are actually luxuries. Of course, this means most things on the “luxury list” you live without, but it’s not a bad thing experiencing a luxury from time to time.

In other words….just because I CAN “put up with” no AC in my car doesn’t mean God WANTS me to.

Monday morning I will leave my car with the local auto mechanic and Lord willing by Wednesday have the air-conditioning fixed.  I’m grateful that mom and dad will enjoy the cool air as we drive through Saint Vincent, but also thankful for God’s reminder that enjoying a luxury isn’t a sin.

Embracing the American Moments

After being in Saint Vincent for almost two years in most ways I pass for Vincentian in fact, they refer to me as a “Vincy.”  But there are still moments when I’m clearly American, like when I’m forced to back down a road.

Some roads in SVG are too small for two vehicles so a vehicle going up meets one coming down it’s obligated to back down the road till there is space to pull over, or the other vehicle can get by.

For Vincentians, this is a normal part of life…but for me, it’s a worst-case scenario

American moments aren’t that big of a deal with the Vincy’s because they know backing down a road isn’t normal for me.  What keeps me up at night is the embarrassment of those moments.

Normally my backing down a road

  • Attracts a large crowd of Vincentians (who all tell me how to drive)
  • People telling me I can’t drive
  • And heightened level of stress

The good news is most roads in Barrouaille are big enough for two vehicles, the bad news is Church is one of the smaller ones.  So as I prayed “Lord help your word impact hearts” I was also praying “Lord PLEASE don’t let anyone be on this road!”

For a long time, I never met anyone on the Church Road.  However out of the last five times driving people home from Church THREE OF THEM required my backing up, and I had to do it TWICE IN THE LAST WEEK!

Now if someone had told me a few months ago I would experience three American moments in one month my response would be walking to Church!  However, as I experienced my worst nightmare that many times an interesting happened.  It wasn’t so scary anymore.

  1. The first time I was a nervous wreck
  2. The second time I was annoyed but able to keep my frustration under control
  3. And the third time I backed down calm as a cucumber while smiling at Vincentians (and NOBODY told me how to drive!)

It’s easy to view American Moments as a curse because they loudly proclaim to everyone my weakness. But it’s a blessing to know I’ll become more Vincentian in my driving (someday) and till then my inability to back down the road without breaking into a cold sweat draws me closer to my Saviour.

Why I Must Eat Before I get Hungry

It’s been a week since I made a dramatic change in my daily diet with the simple principle “don’t wait till you are hungry.”  It may seem strange, but I believe that principle will have a greater impact upon my future ministry than anything else other than Scripture reading, and my daily walk with the Lord.

Up till last week my eating habits would be excellent till about 1:00.  Because I work a lot with children most of my ministry is done from early afternoon (2:00-2:30) when they get out of school, to around 8:30.  During that six or six and a half hour period I’m usually ministering to kids.  Which creates a serious problem when it comes to eating dinner.

There’s usually is a 15 to 20 minute window from 6:40 or 6:45 to 7:00 that I’m able to make dinner and eat it (on Church nights I have a half-hour). That gives enough time for a quick sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit and ten minutes rest before the children show up.  Editors note:  please understand I’m not complaining, I love working with Barrouaillies children, and there is time in the morning to study as well as relaxation.

The problem is I would arrive home at 6:45 already in the “danger zone” with low energy, and a huge appetite.  That sandwich (on white bread of course) wouldn’t hold up long so it isn’t surprising I end up eating way too much food after 8:30.

The “eat before your hungry” principle basically means eating something small every hour to hour and a half.

  1. This morning for instance I ate three mangoes after getting back from town at 10:30
  2. and scrambled eggs at 12:00
  3. then a protein shake at 1:00

The truth is I don’t really NEED the protein shake, or even the eggs or that matter.  But at 6:00 tonight those extra calories will keep me from reaching the danger zone.

As a Missionary its easy to get so caught up in the spiritual side of things that we overlook the physical side.  It is possible to live on 15 minute dinners consisting of grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches.  But the work of God takes not only energy but a focused mind, and that means eating when your not hungry.

Leaving the Easy Mission Field

The favorite part of my walk every morning is going past the two elementary schools in Barrouaille.  Usually before making the turn off the main road children already notice me coming and start calling out “Mr. John!” to get my attention.

Since coming two years ago the Lord has opened a great door of ministry with children.

  1. Through bible stories
  2. Computer tutoring in the afternoon
  3. Daily Bible Club (we are working through the book of Mark)
  4. Weekends playing frisbee or football
  5. And sharing the Gospel

While no mission field could be called easy, my personality and spritual gifts, along with a love for working with children makes it easier for me to reach the children of Barrouaillie.

I personally believe the Lord in His Sovereignty puts us in places where we can be used effectively for him….the important thing is to make sure we don’t spend all of our time in that easier mission field.

For a few months, the Lord has been challenging me to move on from children’s ministry and begin reaching adults as well as teenagers (secondary school students).  Children’s ministry is obviously important, but it’s incredibly easy to only become involved in ministries where we are gifted. Over time this can create a works-based view of ministry (“look what I did”) instead of humble reliance upon God.

So I began moving away from the “Mr. John” ministry opportunities and prayed God would open the door to new fields.  That prayer was answered yesterday as I met with a principal about volunteering at his secondary school in the Fall.

After the meeting I stood outside and watched the high-school students interact with each other during their lunch break.  To be honest part of me didnt want to give up my “rock star” status of Mr. John for a mission field of teens who would definitely be harder to reach.  It would be easier to just stay in the ministry area where I’ve spent two years developing relationships and people know me instead of basically starting all over  (the school is fifteen minutes away)

Standing there in the school parking lot I said “Lord why have you called me to this place?  I don’t have a clue how to reach these teenagers, and am not skilled to do it!”  The response was “that’s exactly why I’ve called you here John.”

The thing about missions is it’s meant to glorify God instead of ourselves.  Which is why the Lord takes great pleasure in opening the new door of ministry.  It’s in those moments of weakness, anxiety, and social awkwardness that all praise goes to Him.

I may be wrong but I’m pretty certain I won’t be greeted by shouts of “Mr. John!” at the secondary school.  But that’s okay because my weakness gives a great opportunity for God’s glory.

Why Ministry Should Be Boring

About three weeks ago a slight change was made in  Bible Club that’s made a significant difference.
I made it boring…
Now the truth is I didn’t make Bible Club “boring” at all, instead I made it a lot more effective! However, in the eyes of some children, it is definitely less interesting.

The change was moving away from childrens storybooks such as the Jesus Storybook Bible, and Jesus Calling for a study of the book of Mark using my Bible.

While these children’s books are used by God (my copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible is literally falling apart) I felt the Lord leading me to make the change.

  1. Because they only share basic truths of Scripture
  2. Often the kids pay more attention to the picture than the actual story
  3. And most importantly they were drawn by the book instead of Scripture

 

There definitely isn’t anything wrong with using ministry tools, but they must always be used the STRENGTHEN the teaching of Scripture.  The moment kids started caring more about seeing the pictures than the lesson I knew it was time for a change.

The Lord has blessed since Bible Club started revolving around a study of Mark because I’m usually teaching a few at a time (two or three) instead of a large group which made things difficult.  So instead of one very large group I’m able to reach three or four small ones in a direct way…but often they will find things “boring.”

The kids usually pay very close attention at first, but at the five-minute-mark, some start getting distracted, which is usually followed by loud sighs, asking how much longer it will last, starting a conversation with friends, or leaving altogether.  In those moments part of me wants to grab their attention with a book or ministry tool, but the Lord reminds me a “boring ministry” that relies on Scripture instead of entertainment impacts hearts.

Yesterday three boys came for a story.  one on the end was more interested in putting on the temporary tattoos in his package of cookies than listening to me and decided to go home early.  The one on the other end didn’t listen very well either.  But the one in the middle locked eyes with me and never looked away as I talked about the leper who came to Jesus for healing (Mark 1:40-43) and the sinfulness of our own hearts.

We as Christians need to offer more boring ministries today….ones that just share Scripture without the bells and whistles.  Because for every person who zones out or plays with their sticker, the Holy Spirit will one to repentance.

Me and My θυμός Anger

Ephesians 4:31  Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice

While researching for my sermon tomorrow night on putting off anger (from Ephesians 4:25-5:2) the Lord reminded me quiet anger is just as deadly as violent anger.

One of the more interesting contrasts in this list is between the words “wrath” (θυμός in the Greek) and “anger” (ὀργή in the Greek).  Wrath gives the idea of an emotional anger (can be translated as passionate anger or heavy breathing)  while anger refers to an explosion of emotion (sometimes involving violence).

Thankfully the Lord has blessed me with patience so I don’t have many ὀργή moments, however, I experience θυμός way too often. 

Monday started really well at my computer tutoring ministry as we warmed up with some new typing games.  But then everything fell apart:

  1. The site we usually use for typing practice was down so all ten students demanded my I fix their computer at the same time
  2. They weren’t interested in doing any of their normal exercises because they were “boring”
  3. Complained that it was too cold
  4. And began a long conversation about their boyfriends and girlfriends

Now, of course, I started throwing people out one they started calling things “boring” so we went from eight students to four after an hour 🙂  Yet it occurred to me much of what I did that afternoon was in anger (θυμός).  It’s true the students deserved consequences like being sent home, but the emotional anger that filled me during that time kept it from becoming a teaching moment.

Later that night a group of six boys gathered in front of my house to demand water and sweetie (candy).  Almost immediately my anger (θυμός) began to flare up.  The truth is I don’t have a problem giving out water to everyone, but sweeties are reserved for children who come for Church or a Bible Study.  Thankfully the Lord helped me calm my anger and we ended up having a calm conversation why I can’t give everybody sweeties.

The problem with the emotional anger of θυμός is if we aren’t careful it can grow into the volcanic eruption of ὀργή.  But even if it doesn’t those emotions can create bitterness, clamor (verbal outburst of anger), and evil speech (gossip).  Not to mention the affect it has on our relationship with God.  The greatest drawback of θυμός though is we eventually come to be known by it.

There will always be people who know what buttons to push to make me angry (like demanding sweeties instead of asking politely) and take a certain joy in pushing my buttons.  And the more I respond with emotional anger the more it becomes like a game (“let’s see how fast we can make Mr. John mad”).  Having children who love pushing my buttons is indeed frustrating, but it also gives me the opportunity to offer correction in grace instead of emotional anger.

Why I Hate the Boom-Boom Truck

John 6:25 And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? 26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Saturday afternoon I came home from the grocery store (a Saturday tradition) and after carrying bags inside started getting ready for my second tradition on Saturdays.  Since Bible club and computer-tutoring ministries keep me away till dark a few hours each weekend are reserved for playing with the kids.  A few weeks ago this included frisbee, football, and wheelbarrow races (which I didn’t participate in).

I always get excited about Saturday night because those games give awesome opporutnities to build Gospel-bridges into their lives, and allowed me to share Christ more than once.

I quickly put the groceries away and got out my tennis shoes but then the boom-boom truck came up the road, and I knew there would be no games that night.

The boom-boom truck (not sure what it’s technically called) is a large truck that blasts rap music loud enough to be heard three streets over.  Last Saturday it came over for an impromptu “concert” at the local square which is less than half a mile from my house.  On days like that its impossible to get sleep, much less share Christ 🙁

My first response to the boom-boom truck was frustration since it meant I wouldn’t be able to minister to the children (I did take the picture above and then ran back home). The fact that booming rap music made it hard to read or concentrate didn’t help my mood.  But slowly I went from anger to sadness…sadness for a culture of people who gathered from all around for something that couldn’t satisfy.

Christ in John chapter six has compassion on the multitude who listened to him teach and fed 5,000 with a little boys lunch.  Sadly instead of believing in Jesus as God’s Son the crowd wanted to make Him king (thinking they would never have to work for food again 6:15).  The next day they searched for Jesus till they found Him on the other side and asked why He left (6:25) but only because they wanted more bread (6:26-27).  They basically rejected the Bread of Life that offers eternity in Heaven (6:35-36) for something temporary.

As Christians, we realize the Unsaved around us reject Christ for temporary satisfaction through things like the boom-boom truck.   And this should make us angry, but it should also burden our hearts because one or two days later the happiness will be gone, and they will need another visit from the boom-boom truck.

And that’s why I hate to hear the boom-boom truck

  1. it’s bad enough that they blast music filled with profanity
  2. And play it loud enough for people three streets away to hear
  3. And usually, keep it going until  midnight
  4. The worst part is it tells children and adults who I share the Gospel with all they need is the world’s bread

As the music started up a boy came by and asked for a Bible story, while we read Scripture I noticed his lips were moving, but not to the words on the page.  It took a moment to realize as we read the Gospel of Mark this child was singing along with the rap music down the street.

As he was offered the bread of life…he chose bread instead

It’s easy to blame the boy but honestly, I feel sorry for him because he has grown up in a culture that says the world’s bread can make you truly happy.  As a Christian, I am called to not only denounce the boom-boom truck, however, but explain Christ offers something so much better.

As a Christian, I am called to not only denounce the boom-boom truck, however, but explain Christ offers something so much better.