My Morning Walk With God

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A little over three weeks ago I started getting up at 5:30 then at 6:00 walking to a nearby community called Kearton and back.  Initially this was done to lose my dreaded “American Weight” but by day three I noticed a significant but unexpected change.

God in His Infinite wisdom has created me as an activity-centered person, which means I view inactivity as laziness (though it definitely isn’t).  I prefer to hit the ground running out of bed and dive immediately into work.  However that leads to either confusion about what should be done next, or trying to do everything on my list (either failing, or not doing it the right way).

 

My commitment to a morning walk after 5:30 devotions did wonders because it gave me a concrete purpose.  Suddenly instead of running around trying to accomplish ten or twenty things I was focused on a few goals that came through meditation on Scripture.

There is more than ever a need in our lives to not only read the word of God, but meditate on it.  By that I mean stop, think, and pray through the passage in unplugged silence.  And though I’m still not very good at it myself, part of that mediation means simply giving the Holy Spirit room to speak (obviously not in an audible voice).

Being someone who loves activity the early morning walk is an idea way to meditate on Scripture, though I’m probably getting a reputation for talking to myself (praying) during them.  The important thing is creating a time of silence so that you can think about the Scripture passage God gave that morning, and then allow Him to speak to your heart.

A few weeks ago I was having a really rough morning.  I was struggling with discouragement, tons of challenges on my mind at once, and just didn’t feel like doing anything.  It wasn’t till later that I remembered why.  At 5:30 that morning I chose to hit the snooze alarm a few times instead of getting up, and didn’t get my morning walk in.

It was shocking how much not having that time affected me.

Don’t get me wrong God is glorified in our busyness…but He is more glorified when we choose to walk in silence with Him.

 

The Moment I Said Goodbye to Netflix

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Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important…  Charles Chu

Until three weeks ago my way of relaxing every night was sitting on the porch and enjoying the cool night air while watching Netflix.  What changed that was reading from John Owen one Wednesday afternoon.

In writing on Matthew 26:41 (“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”) Owen spoke of people who blindly walked into temptation instead of being careful about entering into it.

In that moment I knew Netflix could no longer be part of my evenings

Now by itself Netflix isn’t bad of course…but I turned my mind off and “zoned out” while watching it.  In a way letting down my defenses, and giving Satan the perfect opportunity to attack.

So while enjoying some well-earned relaxation my mind:

  1. Began to indulge itself (just one more episode)
  2. Became distracted from what God had taught me during the day
  3. Entertained thoughts of discouragement or depression when things were bad
  4. And “medicated” my frustrations instead of bringing them to God
  5. Most of all it left me wide open for Satan’s subtle lies

Since then I’ve watched Netflix very little (during lunch) with Scripture (the Psalms) and books in its place….it may not be as entertaining as Netflix (though it often is) but ensures my defenses stay up.

Along with the spiritual blessings, choosing a book instead of Netflix develops me more personally.

Last month Charles Chu wrote an article on this subject called How to read 200 books a year.  The most interesting part of it is “I want to say reading 200 books a year is an amazing thing. But the truth is, it’s not. Anybody can do it.”

Chu points out that reading 200 books seems big (417 reading hours a year) but then the average American  spends 608 hours a year on social media, and 1642 hours on TV.  In other words, there is time to make a solid commitment to reading, but it must replace what we normally use for relaxation.

To be honest I don’t see myself reading that much a year, but the Lord is teaching me the blessing of reaching for a good book instead of my laptop.

Why We Exchange Niceness for Kindness

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Here’s the problem, though. Niceness and kindness aren’t interchangeable. Nice is cheap. It costs you nothing. Nice avoids tension and always strokes your ego, even if Ray Charles could see you’re wrong.

Kindness, however, tells you what you need to hear. It won’t stroke your ego because you’re awesome. Kindness loves you too much for that.

Yesterday Frank Powell wrote the above quote in”8 Christian Values that Aren’t Really Christian”  And pointed out a very important lesson about ministry as well as life.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is confront someone

Now this doesn’t mean confrontation is always loving (note the word SOMETIMES).  In my experience 85% of ministry drama can be dealt with using loving and wise communication.  However there will always be that other 15% that requires confrontation.

Powell points out in those situations we have a choice between being Nice, or being Kind

  1. Niceness is interested in defusing the situation, and making the person feel better
  2. Kindness is interested in helping the person grow by pointing out a weakness, or mistake they have overlooked

Though in the short-term Niceness looks better, its actually incredibly unloving because it allows a problem the person doesn’t recognize (or refuses to recognize) to continue.

After a two-week stay in the States I returned with what’s affectionately called “American weight.”  Some Vincentians told me I actually lost weight after getting back (being nice) but the thing is their niceness didn’t change the fact that my belly was big.

Thankfully I had the brutal honesty of pictures from Disney World

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This picture in particular (and others from Disney World) revealed to me no matter how many Vincy’s are nice and tell me I’m in shape, the massive belly is still there.  And its a friendly reminder that my eating habits need to change.

  • it gets me up at 5:30 in the morning for my 6:00 AM run
  • forces me to start a strength-training program
  • helps trade junk food for vegetables
  • And keeps me from eating all the sweeties I’m supposed to be giving children

In a sense confrontation done in love is like that picture that reveals a side of the person they don’t want to see so that they can change it.

And in the long run that’s a lot more loving than acting like the American weight isn’t there.

Putting Out the Fires

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For Missionaries and others serving the Lord lots of ministry involves dealing with drama.  Because of this we often find ourselves as “firefighters” putting out fires caused by relationship issues, miscommunication, and stress.

My initial attempts to put out these fires were disastrous…but then the Lord helped me learn two very important lessons

  1. Your job isn’t to fix the problem, its to put out the fire
  2. Your goal isn’t to be understood, but make sure it never happens again

Your Job Isn’t to Fix the Problem

During my first years as a missionary when drama would result in blowups I saw it as my responsibility to explain why the person was wrong, and how they could do better in the future.  It’s true that loving confrontation is a part of these situations however in the heat of the moment people are thinking with their emotions instead of their head.  The most loving and gentle explanation will be seen by them as a direct attack.

It is to put out the fire

Because of this my question while approaching explosive drama changed.

Instead of “why has this happened?” it became “how do I defuse it?”

Experience has taught me it’s far wiser to put out the fire with wise words and then approach why the fire erupted in the first place.

Your goal isn’t to be understood

Let me say this as clearly as I can…you need to apologize

While this isn’t true for every case, in most of them you did something to create that raging inferno.  And there is almost always a logical explanation why you did what you did.

We must remember rationalizing our actions is like throwing gas on the flame.  It’s tempting in the heat of the moment to defend yourself (especially when being attacked) yet the heartfelt “I’m sorry” can still defuse the most volatile situation.

But make sure it never happens again

Apologizing means my mind instead of focusing on explaining why I’m right (or their wrong) is consumed with making sure it never happens again.  Usually this means after dousing the fire with an apology I suggest a plan to make sure things don’t get this bad in the future.

Sadly ministry will still involve putting out one fire after another.  But by God’s Grace we can use those heated moments to live out a Gospel that restores relationships.

 

Why Every Missionary Needs a Smartphone

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Last month during a brief furlough I took some time to evaluate ministry in the 2016 year and came up with two big ministry goals for 2017.

  1. To disciple three young men in Barrouallie

  2. and develop a real relationship with prayer supporters as well as supporting Churches

now the truth is communication is always a goal of mine, but I would probably give myself a low “C” (and in some cases a high “D”) during 2016.  The problem isn’t that I wasn’t sending email updates.  However those updates weren’t resulting in effective communication.

For me effective communication is a back and forth conversation between two people. My emails did find their way to inboxes, however they rarely resulted in further communication.

At the same time my communication on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram exploded however it wasn’t directly connected to supporting Churches or prayer partners in a specific way (meant for lots of people not just them).

For years missionary have had to choose between an email based relationship with supporters (good for sharing info but difficult to communicate back and forth) and a social-media relationship (great for constant communication but lacks privacy or direct communication).  Thankfully with today’s smartphones you have the best of both worlds.

It’s my personal belief that every Missionary should own a smartphone…not so they can use it as a status symbol, but because it allows them to communicate directly with Churches and supporters from anywhere in the world.

For instance using my smartphone this morning I was able to:

  1. Contact a supporting Church in Virginia to make sure I had their updated contact info
  2. Leave a message on a supporting Churches answering machine
  3. Communicate with my father to make sure the 336 area code number I’m using for communication in SVG works properly
  4. And send text messages to my field-administrator who is currently in Brazil!

I am aware that smartphones are incredibly expensive (especially if you buy them without a contract) but the relationship it develops is worth every penny.

With the Lords help in January 2018  will be able to look at a phone full of text messages from close friends, supporting pastors and Churches.  Messages that share praises, prayer requests, encouragement, helpful advice, and maybe even a confrontation or two.  And in that moment I will be able to thank God for my smartphone.

Letting Them Walk Away

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“When people stop listening, they have essentially told us to stop pursuing them.” Nicholas Batzig

Tim Challies in his blog on Wednesday shared a very insightful article entitled “When They Walk Away.”  The author (Nicholas Batzig) does an excellent job of discussing the pain of watching someone we have invested in reject Christ, and why we shouldn’t pursue them.

The difficulty however is they often WANT us to pursue them, just not for the right reason

For months children have been coming by and interrupting Bible club.  They would shout my name, walk in and back out, or bother the kids that were there.  I didn’t do anything at first (our rule is “ignore the silly people”) but eventually started leading them outside of Church and down the road

This made Bible club run a lot smoother

But it was also a colossal mistake

Those children were basically playing a game of “catcha” (tag) with me that involved getting Mr. John to chase them out of Bible club.  And every time teaching was set aside to escort them out I was playing their game.

While not all unsaved people are playing a game many are interested in receiving the blessings of the relationship (love, kindness) without any commitment.  Nicholas Batzig responds to this by saying “There has to be a willingness on the part of the person we pursue to listen to the word of the God for whom we are pursuing them.”  

This doesn’t mean we write people off after the first failure, but if it becomes a pattern of life we have a problem.

When someone you are pursuing stops coming to worship unless you call them incessantly, you can be fairly sure that they have refused to listen. When someone you have been seeking to disciple begins to make excuses about rescheduling meetings with you, they are essentially walking away

The hardest part is the moment you realize they aren’t listening, and have to let them go.

Last summer one of my best friends in Barrouallie (the first boy who came for a Bible story) began rebelling.  Nothing serious just a bad attitude at first.  But now love for attention means he’s too cool for Bible club, Church, or stories.  Part of me wants to give him a “good talking to” and he wants me to pursue…but I can’t.

So instead of chasing him down the hill I stay behind and wait for the day God’s Spirit changes his heart.  Till the day I can run down that hill and welcome him home.

The End of Tablet Time

”We shouldn’t let fun become a tool to keep kids interested so we can feed them some good news on the side. Jesus isn’t a side dish." Jack Klumpenhower

Yesterday was the first Bible Club since December 15 when kids let out for Christmas break. They greatly enjoyed red-light/green-light, songtime, reviewing class rules, and listening to a story about the resurrection of Christ.

But they definitely didn’t enjoy my telling them there would no longer be tablet-time.

Tablet time has been a big part of Bible Club since I started it on the front porch and four of the best-behaved children played a game on my tablet for two-minutes. One life was also offered to children who came by my house for a Bible story.

There’s nothing wrong with tablet-time by itself, but I chose to end that part of ministry because it had become a gimmick (exciting way to bring children in).

Jack Klumpenhower in his excellent book “Show Them Jesus” explains the deeper problem with these gimmicks.

“If I can’t get little ones excited about Sunday school without pretending we’re jungle explorers or astronauts, or if I need carnival games to keep the youth group together, I’ve already lost. The subtle message of those gimmicks is that jungles and space stations and carnivals are more exciting than Jesus.”

Klumpenhower isn’t saying we shouldn’t have games [1] but argues against their becoming the “primary draw” this should be “pounding home the Gospel.”

Yesterday pounding home the Gospel meant emphasizing the resurrection of Christ
1. By singing “Jesus died for sinful men, but He arose and lives again”
2. Learning 1 John 4:14 The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the World
3. Reading Matthew 28:1–7
4. Reading a story about the people coming to Jesus’ tomb and saying “it wasn’t supposed to end like this.” [2]
5. Describing the joy of Mary Magdalene when she realized Jesus was alive
6. Asking why the women were sad when they came [3] and what changed that sadness
7. Talk about times that we may think God isn’t there (when we are frightened)
8. Be thankful that Jesus is always with us even when it doesn’t feel like it!

The children were a bit skeptical about Jesus always being with them in the sad times being as exciting as tablet-time…but as the Gospel is pounded home children will realize Jesus is much greater than all the tablet time in the world.

[1]: “If you lead games, you’ll have many informal opportunities to show the love of Christ and tell about him. That’s great!”

[2]: Jesus Storybook Bible, pg.310

[3]: Jesus was supposed to save them right away

How Generosity Becomes a Curse

 

In September 2015 I began generously offering cold water, a Bible story, and tablet time to children but recently stopped.

Not because too many came…

but because my generosity became a sense of entitlement

Monday afternoon a girl who had already been given water, tablet time, a story, and a small snack asked me to give her a sticker.  When I refused she said “Mr. John the Bible tells you to share!”

It’s easy to blame the girl but the truth is my generosity created the problem.

  1. By saying “okay but this is the last time” instead of explaining a disobedient child didn’t deserve a reward
  2. By giving tablet time or snacks to EVERYBODY instead of just those who behaved
  3. By not following up on my discipline (they are banned for three days, but I let them come back tomorrow if they promise to be good)
  4. By changing my “no” to a “yes” on way too many occasions

So instead of rewarding obedience my generosity rewarded children who demanded things

There will of course be moments of extravagant generosity towards everyone like Christmas, but these should focus on the Gospel and Christ’s sacrifice instead of strengthening a belief that God will meet all of their needs.  

The answer isn’t to became an “Ebeneezer Scrooge”  who refuses to give anything but becoming extravagantly generous to those who obey.

  1.  By having a clear way of deciding who has behaved or misbehaved (behavior chart)
  2. Clearly defined rules about who gets special prizes (when you get 10 good ticks this will happen)
  3. Clear rules that all the children know
  4. Verbal cues during the lesson (“somebody has forgotten rules number 2!”)
  5. And rewarding in an extravagant way one or two who obeyed
  6. Being careful to remind everyone that Christ gives us something much better than tablet time.

I would love to freely give tablet time and candy to every child in Barrouallie…but I also know many times the most loving thing you can do is say “no.”

The Case for Christian Satire


Thanksgiving night I sat on my porch and had a good laugh; the kind that starts with a slight chuckle, and ends with you gasping for air.

Usually this kind of laughter is reserved for Everybody Loves Raymond re-runs, but that night I was reading “Then Tweets My Soul” by Church Curmudgeon, a fictional character who pokes fun at what’s wrong with the Church on twitter.   

Soon I was texting some of the best ones to my brother in America

The interesting thing is these critical and sarcastic tweets have led to popularity and explosive growth on social media…something that’s also proven true for the Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site.

I sat at my computer last Saturday and laughed for over five-minutes at the Babylon Bee’s Top Ten Books of 2016 with my favorite being We Can’t Dance if We Want to by John MacArthur which would leave people with a “renewed sense of reverence, and a fear of taking their hands out of the pockets for any reason.”

It’s true that sometimes this kind of humor crosses the line from being funny to mean-spirited (Church Curmudgeon is known for directing his jokes worship leaders, or youth pastors).  But there is a still a huge need for Christian satire….if nothing else because it gives us something clean to laugh at.

Watch most comedies today and you will see the worlds values prominently displayed, warped marriages, or an unrealistic view of life (every problem fixed in 30 minutes).  That doesn’t even take into account profanity, clothing characters wear (or lack thereof), and uncomfortable “look away moments”

In a sense Christian satire gives us laughter but it also convicts the heart.  More than once I have found my heart attitude illustrated in Curmudgeon tweet, or Babylon Bee article.  And repented because my own life strengthened the view that many unsaved people have of Christians.

So go ahead; laugh, share, and retweet.  But make sure to examine your own heart as well.

Why Missionaries Should Never Post their “Wow Pictures” Online


“The temptation is to take a photo inside the most poverty stricken compound. Photos showing children with flies and mucus on their faces and with dirty torn clothes, standing next to a heap of stinking garbage…those are the “perfect” pictures to produce a “Wow!” back home. That is certainly not an everyday sight in the Western World.”

Conrad Embewe

This quote came from a very interesting article entitled “why do Missionaries take such embarrassing photos?” written by an African pastor who found himself tempted to take pictures of Africa’s poorest regions, and share them on Facebook.

As a missionary I understand his struggle of looking for pictures that portray the spiritual need of the mission field, and my specific calling.  These greatly used in ministry presentations where you can give a Biblical background to them, but they do great damage on Facebook

Pastor Embewe explains it this way:

Facebook is another context altogether. There is need for greater sensitivity when posting on the Internet and especially in social media because the presentation is not to a localised group. Although we often choose the “friends” who see our posts, those posts are often shared beyond our initial circle of “friends” and can end up upsetting the feelings of the local people who are all being painted with the same brush. 

That was why I stopped in my tracks last week in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I realised that my hosts would see my postings and get hurt. It is vital that we are more sensitive and balanced when posting photos on the Internet and commenting on them. Some comments add insult to injury. The photos are bad enough. The comments—which sometimes can be very sarcastic—suggest that the people being served by the missionary are stupid and need to be helped to think. This must be avoided at all costs.

In other words Missionaries should not share their “wow pictures” online

For me this article spoke to a different challenge since I work with children who LOVE to have their picture taken.  It isn’t sinful to  share a few of those pictures along with a Bible verse or explanation of my calling to the young people of Barrouallie and ask for prayer.  But its way too easy to begin sharing photos of Barrouallie children for likes or comments online, and when that happens I’m exploiting (using) them for my own purposes.

God does provide “wow pictures” for missionaries; but these are meant for personal prayer time or public ministry presentation.  Anything other than that is exploitation.