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.

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.

Attacking The Thought of Self-Pity

As a Christian I’m slowly learning that my greatest temptation isn’t giving into sexual sin, but indulging in self-pity.

This is mostly true because the first impure thought is attacked with Scripture, but feeling sorry for myself is permitted.

John Piper in his book “Brothers we are not professionals” refers to the fact that many of us “fight against” sexual impurity, but not self-pity

What I realized was that I was not applying any of this same gospel vigilance—what Peter O’Brien calls “continuous, sustained, strenuous effort”—against my most besetting sins. I was strangely passive, victim-like. I had the unarticulated sense (mistakenly) that these sins (unlike sexual lust) should be defeated more spontaneously

Of course feeling sorry for yourself cannot disqualify someone from ministry (in most cases) or destroy marriages.  However it can develop a habit of bitterness when we don’t get our way.

a habit that definitely affects our relationship with others.

Piper encourages his readers to attack feelings of self-pity the same way they would lust, and gives a helpful example of when a granddaughter chose to watch a cartoon instead of spending time with him.

Now at that moment the temptation for anger, self-pity, blaming, and sullenness was as dangerous to my soul as a sexual temptation. So I immediately said, “No!” to the rising temptations and quietly went upstairs without any flair of woundedness or body language of sullenness. In my study I waged war. I turned my mind and heart toward the promises of God, and the surety of the cross, and love of the Father, and the wealth of my inheritance, and the blessings of that day, and the patience of Christ. And I held them there. I beat down the anger and self-pity and blaming and sullenness with the blood-bought promises of God. (emphasis added)

Reading that chapter reminded me how an incredibly foolish mistake led to 24 hours of self-pity.

A few weeks ago I was cleaning the kitchen and noticed that some ice had formed on the bottom of the freezer (technically this wasn’t supposed to happen but it did).  In the heat of the moment instead of unplugging the freezer and allowing it to defrost normally I decided to break it with a small screwdriver….and ended up punching a hole in the bottom 🙁
By the next morning I’d officially “stabbed my fridge to death” and was in the depths of self-pity.  I began to fight the feelings of depression that afternoon but after hours of feeling sorry for myself it was just to late. Thankfully the sunrise of Easter Sunday morning brought renewed hope in a God who forgives when we fail Him.


The Lord has challenged me since then to attack the first thought of self-pity just as if it was a thought of sexual impurity…and with His help have begun to achieve victory.

Last week after no children came to Bible Club (again!) I started walking around Barrouaillie feeling sorry for myself.  After all it wasn’t fair for me to create these lessons and have kids just not come!  Standing beside the post-office I was tempted to ask God why He was being so cruel to me, but by God’s grace saw my self-pity as sin, and confessed the selfishness to God.

I’m not perfect (nobody is) but I’m grateful for the reminder of John Piper.  And now the idea of feeling sorry for myself as well as impurity is met with a loud definite “no!”

The God Who Takes Pity on Us (Ephesians 2:4)

Ephesians 2:4   But God, who is rich in mercy (pity), for his great love wherewith he loved us (emphasis added)

It was exciting to preach from Ephesians 2:4-10 last night and focus on God’s Mercy, especially after looking at our life apart from Christ as children of Satan the week before (Ephesians 2:1-3).  The passage itself emphasizes the Grace of God with a love we could never earn (2:4), a price we could never pay (2:5), a position we could never achieve (2:6), and a Salvation we could never earn (2:7-9).

What spoke to me the most in my study however is the word mercy (ἔλεος in the Greek) that can be translated “pity” or “deep compassion.”  It gives the idea of helping someone or something that could never help themselves (think the good Samaritan).  In my opinion this fits well with the context of our wickedness before God, and being dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1)

As I thought about this aspect of God’s mercy an interesting thing happened…my mind was suddenly flooded with memories of my dog in Australia.

In 2010 after moving into a new rental property (had been living in an apartment) I decided it was time to get a dog. Growing up in a family that rescued strays my first thought was to find one at the local animal shelter.  There were a few different dogs there but one in particular caught my eye.

“Oh you don’t want that one” the woman at the front desk told me

When I asked why not she explained this dog had been “returned to the shelter” because everyday he got over a fence in the yard, and ran around while his owners were at work.   Without a moment’s hesitation I agreed to take him even after she warned me two more times of his “flight risk” 🙂

As I walked Yoda (not my name for him, but only other choice was Soda) away from the shelter he was a bit confused.  But as we started to drive away it seemed to dawn on him that  a cage would no longer be his home, and he started to get excited.

That night he discovered my home was filled with dog toys, tennis balls, his own food bowl, and most importantly to him…a red leash.  We ended up taking the first of many dog walks, and playing with his toys for about an hour

That night as I laid down on the couch to watch TV Yoda curled up behind my legs and quickly fell asleep…in that moment I knew he wasn’t going to be a problem.

Oh there were days when he got loose (every gate or door had to be securely fastened) but he always came back. Eventually all I had to do was walk to the street corner with his red leash in my hand and Yoda would come running up!  But as he got used to being an inside dog even those moments of escape didn’t bring trouble.

One Sunday afternoon I was coming home for a run and noticed a dog sitting in my front yard.  My first thought was to think “oh no Yoda’s going to be really upset” but then I realized it WAS YODA!  A group of teenagers watched as he jumped up and ran to me and asked if it was my dog.  Evidently a gate hadn’t been shut properly and they found him patiently sitting in the front yard waiting for my return.

Yoda may have been tempted to wander but in his mind it wasn’t necessary when he had toys, food, water, dog walks, and even a bed (mine)!

The more I ponder the word “pity” in Ephesians 2:4 the more I see myself as Yoda

  1. Apart from Christ I am constantly rebelling
  2. I am dirty, smelly, and disgusting
  3. Nobody would want anything to do with me
  4. but IN CHRIST I have everything!!!!

This doesn’t mean I always understand what God does….sometimes He seems unfair.  But in those moments His merciful love is what makes me sit in the front yard and wait for my Father to make things right.

Getting Them to Hell

I walked with a little girl to school this morning who regularly attends bible club, always sits on the second row during Church, and enjoys taking notes during the sermon, but does not know the Lord.

As we walked along I asked her “if you got hit by a car right now where would you go?” without a moment’s hesitation she responded “hell.”

That answer didn’t surprise me since she told me that at least once before while sitting on my porch, but still isn’t quite ready to be saved.

Walking away from the school I began to pray that she would someday be ready to accept Christ.  But also thanked God that 8-year-old knew she was going to hell.

Lately I’ve been asking many children in Barrouaillie this mornings question (if you died right now where would you go) and it seems EVERYBODY is going to Heaven!  However when I follow-up by asking “when God asks why He should let you in what will you say?” the children are no longer confident.

The truth is many children (and adults) know they will go to hell, but are too embarrassed to say that publicly, so they just say Heaven instead.   While I would definitely prefer for this girl to accept Jesus on the way to school that open confession meant she grasped her need of Christ, and opened the door for conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Bill Faye in his book “Share Jesus Without Fear” explains that our goal when witnessing is to share the Gospel clearly.  Even when this doesn’t lead to a Salvation decision, it focuses the mind of that unsaved person on the Gospel.  He illustrates this with the following conversation.

  1. Christian:  Are you willing to accept Christ right now?
  2. Unsaved person:  Not really
  3. Christian:  Why Not?
  4. unsaved person explains reason and its clarified by Christian (so your allowing _______ to keep you out of Heaven?)
  5. Christian: Let me ask you this if you died right now where would you go?
  6. Unsaved person:  (mumbling) Hell
  7. Christian:  Where would you go?
  8. Unsaved person:  (stronger voice) Hell
  9. Christian:  Okay drive safe!

You can clearly see how this conversation forces them to meditate (think about) their eternal destiny.   

Part of me wanted to put pressure on the girl to accept Christ on the way school this morning but knew Salvation had to be HER OWN CHOICE.  So as we got closer I encouraged her to find the pastor’s wife, a fellow missionary, or myself when she was ready to accept Jesus.

A few minutes later as I walked around the other side of the school she ran up and called my name (went through two passageways to get there).  I calmly asked what she wanted (praying to hear the words “I am ready”) but she just giggled and looked at the ground.

That’s okay because the Spirit of God is working her life, and someday soon I pray the angels of Heaven will rejoice because she is ready.

Pinnocio and Pre-Understanding:

One of the more interesting things I’ve learned about Biblical interpretation while preparing Hermeneutics notes is how we bring pre-conceived notions to a passage.

Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays in their book Grasping God’s Word describe this as preunderstanding

Preunderstanding refers to all of our preconceived notions and understandings that we bring to the text, which have been formulated, both consciously and subconsciously, before we actually study the text in detail.

Our preunderstandings can come from many different places

  1. Family background
  2. Experiences growing up
  3. Culture
  4. and even media!

One fascinating illustration Duvall and Hays use for preunderstanding points out how we subconsciously bring our own views to the story of Jonah

A good illustration of culture’s subconscious influence on our understanding occurs when we read the book of Jonah and then try to visualize Jonah inside the great fish. Try to imagine this scene yourself. What do you see? Do you see Jonah squashed-up inside of the tight stomach of a whale, with no space between him and the stomach walls? Most people do not see that image. Many people, including ourselves, see Jonah inside a circular-shaped stomach, about six to eight feet in diameter, with a little bit of water at the bottom. Obviously this is not really what the inside of a whale (or fish) looks like.

To be honest I’ve always imagined a whales belly to be quite large, and never really thought of Jonah being cramped….however when you think about it a whales belly wouldn’t be able to accommodate a grown man that way!

In a way this is strengthened from the pictures we see like the one below from the Jesus Calling Bible Storybook


However the authors have a much more interesting idea about where that image originally came from

So why do we see this? Where might this image come from? We suggest it comes from the movie (or book) Pinocchio. In this Walt Disney movie a whale swallows the main character, Pinocchio. The movie then presents us with a scene that portrays Pinocchio sitting inside the whale (a barrel-shaped room on its side, six to eight feet in diameter, etc.). This movie thus leaves us with a subconscious image of a person sitting inside a whale.


In a way when reading Scripture our mind often “searches its data banks to find a picture that visualizes the event.” There’s nothing wrong with contextualizing Scripture of course, but preunderstanding limits who a passage can be interpreted BEFORE observing the text.  

This is VERY dangerous.

More than anything the idea of preunderstanding has challenged me to make sure I’m allowing Scripture to speak for itself instead of bringing my own interpretations to it.

The Books I Read My Children

Because of ministry with children in Barrouallie I’ve become an avid collector and reader of children’s bible-story books.  There are a number on the market but the Lord has helped me find a few that really minister to the hearts of kids….I share them with the prayer that they would speak to yours as well.

1.  The Jesus Storybook Bible:  If you have a young child and don’t own a copy of this book stop reading this right now and go buy one (no seriously I’ll wait).  Did you get it?  Okay then lets continue.  I absolutely love this book because it describes in detail how familiar bible stories find their fulfillment in Christ.  The pictures, and easy to read stories make it incredibly easy to keep the attention of children from any culture

2.  The Bigggest Story (Kevin DeYoung): This is a shorter book but excellent because it emphasizes two main points of the Gospel

  • We have failed God
  • And God is our Rescuer (ultimately through Christ)

The Lord used this book to emphasize the Gospel in the hearts of many Vincentian children with one of them praying to receive Him.  The pictures in DeYoungs book are of a more artistic style, but help with drawing attention to the story

3.  Everything a Child should now about God (Kenneth Taylor):  The idea behind this book is that it would be Theology for children.  Since every story is only two pages (one has text and the other a picture about that text) and it uses very large print its easy for the children to follow along…I usually hear them reading along out loud.  The pictures are also excellent because they have lots of small items the kids like to point out.

This book is very helpful when discussing deeper truths about God.  In the last week we talked about angels, God being a spirit, God’s eternalilty, and His Holiness

Finally here’s a couple of things I’ve learned about reading books to children:

  1. Rule number one ALWAYS use a REAL BOOK not one on a tablet…trust me it wont go well
  2. Learn to read upside down-both the page and its picture must be facing the child
  3. Sit down in a chair if possible-it centers the children’s attention, and causes many to sit at the front
  4. If you can follow along with a pencil as you read the words-helps kids read along
  5. Make notes in the book that can help with discussion
  6. Ask questions about the pictures (what is the boy doing?)
  7. And always review using earlier pictures before starting that days page

What’s been exciting for me is to find children’s books that are more theological such as DeYoungs and Taylors, as well as “I Am” 40 reasons to trust God by Diane Stortz.  May we thank God for the basic books such as the Jesus Storybook Bible, but make sure that we teach the deeper truths as well.

The Conversations of a Spiritual Parent

Last Wednesday two days after carefully explaining new disciplinary rules to the students who attended my computer lab ministry I was forced to enforce those rules by leaving early, and shutting things down for a week.

On the way back I was reminded how much of ministry can  be referred to as “parenting” since it involves taking a parenting role of children.

Surprisingly spiritual parenting doesn’t usually involve discipline, but having conversations with children that are ideally done by parents.

  1. Teaching them right from wrong
  2. Laying down ground-rules that can be followed up on
  3. and patiently explaining why they aren’t going to get what they want

In the last three days I’ve

  1. Had a fifteen minute conversation with a group of boys who stole fruit out of a bowl I had on the porch (I willingly give this out but they have to ask for it) then five minutes later came asking for water.
  2. talked with a young man who came to Church yesterday and  (1) played video games downstairs after Sunday School (2) went to a nearby shop for cookies coming into the service 15 minutes late, (3) and laughed and talked during the sermon.  Yet he confidently demanded a reward for coming
  3. And explained to a boy who was “too sick for school” that if he was well enough to come by my house for water and a story, he was well enough to be in class

The sad thing is the parents of these children in Saint Vincent want to be there explaining why what they’re doing is wrong.  But most of them work all day, so the kids are left to either extended family members, or in extreme cases their friends.  And while there may be a greater need for spiritual parenting in SVG, make no mistake, its in the States as well.

Conversations like this are frustrating and exhausting because you don’t see a change in the child’s life…and on days like last Wednesday when they celebrated as I drove away from computer lab (in their mind they won something) you want to be quit.

We keep going however because its in those conversations they understand how the world truly works.

We keep going because they need authority figures who will actually say no

We keep going because it shows we care

and we keep going because the good shepherd never tires of going to search for us


One-Year Visa Praise


February 23, 2017

Dearest Friends,

You know one of my biggest prayer requests since coming to SVG full time has been gaining a more permanent visa.  Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion about how to start this process, so I continued renewing a visitors visa every three months.

Each time there was an extension I asked if it was possible to apply for something longer, but always told that couldn’t happen till later.  In December an immigration officer told me that it would be possible to apply for a one-year visa in May.

Last Thursday (February 16th) I came to extend the visa and was told it was possible to apply for a one-year immediately!  This was a huge answer to prayer so I went directly to the Prime-Ministers office and picked up an application form.

By Monday morning I had everything they requested but was told that a criminal check from the US would be necessary before the application could begin.  This is an understandable request but frustrating since I expected to start the process that morning, and mail moves VERY SLOWLY from the States to SVG.


The Lord worked this out for His Glory however since my mother went Monday afternoon to the local courthouse, obtained a copy of my criminal history (nothing there), and sent it to SVG by fedex.

Wednesday morning after receiving a final extension to my visitors visa I went to grab some groceries, and while checking out got a call from Fedex that the criminal record had arrived, all I had to do is walk over and pick it up!


Because of the Lord (and some huge help from my mother) one week from the time I was informed it was possible to apply for a one-year visa, my application is being processed!

Please pray with me that this process moves smoothly and the visa will be accepted.  And rejoice along with me in how God worked everything out.

In Christ,

John Wilburn