The Sacrifice of a Missionaries Mother

Thursday morning I finished reading “A Tribute to Mothers Who Send their Children Into Missions” by Lori McDaniel, and sent the link to my parents with tears in my eyes.  The entire article is excellent, but one paragraph spoke to me in a special way.

A mother of a missionary celebrates with her extended family during holidays, but she can’t wait to snuggle up with technology when that video call comes from her child overseas—even if it means she must patiently hit “call again” as “no connection” repeatedly appears on her screen.

There are moments of homesickness or loneliness in Barrouaillie, but missionaries, friends, and countless children who shout “Mr. John!” mean those moments don’t come very often.  Though part of me will always miss mom and dad the strong relationships on the mission field are used by God to fill the void of being away from family…so it’s easy to think sometimes other relationships will fill that same void in my parent’s life.

But it doesn’t

The truth is we missionaries (Including myself) often get so wrapped up in the busyness of daily ministry that we forget about the emotional pain of those still at home.  Yes God gives grace, yes it is a sacrifice they make willingly, yes they are incredibly proud…but it still hurts sometimes.

Thinking about Mothers day and Thursdays article reminded me of the morning I accepted the call to full-time missions.  The Lord had been dealing with me for months (I was too scared to go), but after a veteran missionary, Chick Watkins preached from the last book of John there was no more running.

As I knelt at the altar my mother came down and put her arm around me.  She thanked the Lord for my obedience to His will and gave me over to a life of missions.  In that moment I didn’t realize the worries, concerns, and questions that were going through her mind, but they didn’t keep her from obeying God’s Will for my life.

Today she rejoices in the Lords work through my life and every morning texts to ask how my “fur babies” (puppy and cat) are.  But its necessary to remember those texts and brief video chats can never take the place of actually being there.

There are still moments of concern, worry, or even heartache. It’s in those moments she remembers that prayer many years ago, and once again lays me upon the altar.

The kind of sacrifice that is precious in the eyes of God

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.
sunrise.JPG

 

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!”

A Ministry of Dead Leaves 

Psa. 1:3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.   

Psa. 1:4 ¶ The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Last week I began praying through the Psalms after devotions (praying through Scripture keeps my mind on track) and partway through Psalms 1:3 became extremely convicted.  The idea of “fruit” led me to thank the Lord for people who were growing spiritually as a result of the ministries of Tabernacle Baptist Church or its outreach programs.  I began “Lord thank you for working in _________”  but had a hard time thinking of anyone (particularly children I work with) who display true spiritual fruit.

Now the kids I minister display good works

  1. They come to church or Bible club
  2. Have a strong knowledge of Scripture
  3. And will be on their best behavior
  4. But at the same time, few of those children display true fruit

Many of them cannot give a strong testimony of Salvation and tell me they are going to Hell

Few read the Bible for themselves daily

And they spend much of their time in Church talking, sleeping, or not paying attention

So in reality instead of fruit, they are displaying dead leaves (“chaff” in Psalms 1:4) which will blow away when hardship enters life 

Recognizing my children viewed dead leaves as fruit was convicting, recognizing my way of ministry developed dead leaves was heart-breaking.

Kneeling beside my bed I saw the children of Barrouaillie needed to be taught the hard truths of God’s Word through discipleship…while I fed them a diet of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” and “Jesus Calling” (editors note-I do enjoy using both of these books, but they give a very basic understanding of Scripture, and eventually should lead to deeper truths).

The Lord used that moment of conviction to reccomit myself to the ministry of discipleship (spiritual parenting) with one or two children instead of trying to reach as many as possible.  Theres nothing wrong with reaching lots of people of course, but it usually means they receive a basic ministry (lets say 30 minutes a day) instead of intensive teaching within spiritual parenting.

It wasn’t fun realizing much of my ministry was dead leaves, but I am grateful for the wake-up call because it changed my goal from crowds to fruit.

When the Mission Field is More Religious than America

 

I don’t usually take pictures of peoples faces but last Sunday afternoon had to make an exception.  The line of boys sitting down and reading tracts wasn’t just too good to pass up, but it also illustrated a massive shift that has taken place in Missions.

In many places the mission field has officially become more religious than America.

it used to be that missionaries left the United States to reach Countries where people had no knowledge of the Gospel.  There are some areas where this is still true, but people in most mission fields have already heard the Gospel, can quote Salvation verses (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:3), and regularly attend Church services while still not knowing Christ.  Even more frightening they seem to have more of an interest in religious things that Americans

Though we should never stop handing out tracts, its becoming more and more difficult to do this in the States.  Handing out the Gospel can lead to hostility, and being labeled names I cannot write here, while as religious freedom laws change it can be viewed as illegal, and a “hate crime.”
The interesting thing about Barrouaillie is people love to tracts when members of Tabernacle give them out on Sunday afternoons!  They willingly take tracts (or even ask for them) and usually start reading right away.  Its a common occurrence for children to take as many different kinds as they possibly can so I’ve had to make a “three tract rule.”

There is an obvious blessing with their taking tracts since the Gospel is going out.  We have seen the Lord open doors of conversation about a persons need of Christ on Sunday afternoons as well.  However there is a serious danger with an increasingly religious mission field, it becomes more and more difficult to know who is truly saved.

While I don’t personally know every boy reading those tracts I’m friends with a few and can tell you that they are like so many others who rely on works and church membership for Salvation. 

That picture reminds me of a conversation I had with a girl last summer.

Me:  Can I ask you a question?

Young Lady:  sure

Me:  Why should God let you into Heaven?

Young Lady:  Because I am a Child of God!

Me:  And how do you become a Child of God?

Young Lady:  Do good things

It was very tempting to stop after hearing her say “I’m a child of God” but being in Saint Vincent for over a year helped me realize we were talking about two different things.  I was talking about being saved by Grace through faith, she was talking about relying on works (baptism) for Salvation. Only as I dug deeper than the “religious answer” was her need of Christ revealed.

No longer are we going to groups of people caught up in pagan idol worship.  More than ever before we go to religious mission fields filled with unsaved people who grew up in Church, have memorized the Romans road, and know all the right Bible answers.

And sometimes that’s much more dangerous

Confessions of a Terrible Handyman

God in His infinite wisdom has given me many talents

Unfortunately being a handyman isn’t one of them.

Truthfully it isn’t that I can’t fix things, but I’m so bad at it that people tend to point and laugh 🙂  However some times God puts us in situations where our weaknesses take center stage.

When I moved into my rental property two of the three porch lights weren’t working properly.  This was a cause for concern since I sit on the porch at night (it’s cooler) and only having one light means being in the shadows.  Things went fine for a few months till sure enough within a few weeks two porch lights died.  Unfortunately part of the lights were damaged (because of things prior tenants did) so both fixtures had to be replaced.

For months I sat in shadows on the porch because my “male pride” kept me from asking for help, and I didn’t want to experience the embarrassment of putting it up on my own.  Finally three weeks ago I bought new light fixtures…only to leave them in the closet and promise to put them up “someday.”

Yesterday afternoon the Lord began to really convict my stubbornness and I bravely went outside to start the job.  Just a few minutes in my worst fears where realized when my neighbor asked “John do you know what your doing?”

In that moment part of me wanted to say “of course I know what I’m doing!” but that wasn’t really true (editors note:  I could have done the job but it would have taken hours). So instead I responded “um I think so” in what I am sure was a very shaky voice.

From that point he took the role of handyman and within about 20 minutes we had the new fixture working.  Sitting outside reading the Bible last night (there was plenty of light) I asked myself “why didn’t I ask for help sooner?”

Of course I knew the answer to that question…my heart was filled with pride and a desire to ALWAYS look successful

 

It’s a natural thing to try to cover up or hide our weaknesses, which is why God brings moments when friends will ask “do you know what your doing?”  Saying no and revealing our weakness means swallowing some pride…but it also means enjoying the light that comes from a friends helping hand.

How Paperwork Challenges Missions

We had already been to this office before, now two months deep into becoming residents in our new home country. We had already been turned down on numerous occasions. But this time I arrived well-prepared, complete with proof of an eye exam, my passport, copies of my visa, extra passport photos, my resident ID card, and my US driver’s license. That’s when I heard the sentence that my foreign ears had already begun to understand.  “Sir, all of your paperwork looks fine, but you are missing one thing.”

I couldn’t help but smile while reading that paragraph from Gene Lee’s “Abiding in Christ is the only way to survive cross-cultural transition this morning” because I’ve been in the same situation (and heard the same sentence more than once.

Sadly one of the biggest challenges to missions today is paperwork.  Please understand I don’t blame the Government agencies (they are just doing their job) but the individuals, businesses, and yes even religious groups that took advantage of residency or immigration laws.  However the constantly changing laws can become a source of frustration for missions work.

Specifically the new laws and their paperwork affect Missions in two ways:

  1. You will hear something different every time you try to apply or come to the office (sometimes from people in the same office)
  2. And there will constantly be a new form to be filled out
  3. situations like this make it VERY EASY to get angry

Last Fall I was going through an application process that would help me serve the Lord effectively in St. Vincent.  I came with the necessary paperwork (including a letter sent by fedex) but was told additional documentation would be needed.  By the time that had been mailed (three-weeks) I was told they couldn’t see me for at least two more.  That was mildly frustrating, especially after receiving a call two days before my appointment asking me to fill out another 10 pages of paperwork.

Finally I came in with all the necessary documentation but was declined…their reason was the letter I brought in the summer was now too old.

The same letter I handed them five-weeks earlier 🙂

Often we think about challenges on the mission field in terms of spiritual warfare:

  1. Sharing the Gospel with the unsaved
  2. Planting new Churches
  3. Correcting the wrong doctrine of cults

There are classes pertaining to these and other “big challenges” but nobody in Bible College teaches us how to respond when they ask for “one more meaningless piece of paper

And that’s why Satan loves to use it so much.

May God help us all understand it often isn’t the huge challenges of life that make us quit, but the small daily frustrations.

Putting “What Do You Think That Means?” Out of It’s Misery

Years ago while on deputation I started meeting with some friends for a Bible Study on Friday mornings.  This was a time of encouragement and challenge from God’s Word, but there was one part that I absolutely could not stand.

After reading the passage one of my friends would look up and say “okay guys what do you think that means?”

I don’t have a problem with discussing the meaning of a passage, however this question (or more common “what does that mean to you?”) hands the interpretation over to every individual at the table.  Focusing on our views instead of the passage itself can lead to many conversations that have NOTHING to do with the text!

Instead of screaming “I don’t care what you think!” when someone asks that interpretive question (in love of course) it’s better to explain the difference between meaning, and application

Meaning is what God wishes to say through the human author:

  1. This is determined by the human author instead of ourselves
  2. Pays close attention to the grammar, context, and background of the passage
  3. Clarifies interpretation is outside of ourselves (Scripture is a communication between author and ourselves)
  4. It does not change

Application on the other hand is our response to the Meaning

  1. Refers to specific impact upon the reader’s life
  2. Can be applied to different situations and backgrounds
  3. This is subjective (can vary from person to person)

Duval and Hays in their textbook “Grasping God’s Word” describes the meaning as a “Theological Principle” or core Biblical truth that can then be applied to daily life.  The important thing is finding the theological principle first.

And in order for this to happen we must “what do you think that means?” out of its misery

Instead try using questions like:

  1. What is the meaning God intended in this text?
  2. What does this passage mean?
  3. How should you apply this meaning to your life?
  4. Or what is God showing us here?

These questions do still involve personal opinion (and can lead differing views) but they bring us back to the text itself as our foundation instead of a persons ideas.  And never forget the greatest weapon against “what do you think that means?” is an open Bible, a confused look, and humble question…”where did you find that in the text?”

The Power of Pizza and Knowing You Aren’t Alone

Last Sunday I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at a tent-meeting in the nearby island of Bequia and spend a few days with the missionary serving there.  The Lord used many things during  that time to encourage and challenge me, but the thing He used most was the Pizza.

Now Mac’s Pizza is absolutely amazing (I suggest the pepperoni and bacon) but it was the conversation over the pizza that ministered to my heart.

One of the greatest temptations for those in full-time ministry (Pastors and Missionaries) is to isolate themselves.

  1. Because Satan tells them that’s how its supposed to be (don’t share struggles)
  2. There is nobody who can “minister” to them the way they minister to others
  3. It seems that only those in that ministry can truly understand what you struggle with
  4. And sharing weakness or struggles destroys the persona of “having it all together.”

The problem is ministry can’t be done that way.  To Quote Paul Tripp “None of us is wired to live this Christian life alone. None of us is safe living separated and unknown

The truth is all Missionaries know this, but we also have the voice of Satan that says “there is something seriously wrong with you so don’t share those struggles with anyone, just work harder.”

On a ride around town Monday and during lunch we began to share stories and it didn’t take long to realize the challenges he faced in Bequia were the same things that I faced in Barrouaillie. 

in other words I wasn’t alone

The Lord reminded me Monday of how important it is for missionaries to share their struggles.  It’s no necessary to share all the gory details of course, but you simply make sure co-laborers know they aren’t the only ones who dealt with that issue.

One of the greatest ministries to my heart during my first years as a missionary came from veterans on the field who encouraged me to come and “vent” to them.  On more than a few occasions I would in discouragement and despair send a text saying  “I’m having a bad day” and less than an hour later we would be talking about it over cappuccino.

After pouring out my heart they would always smile and say “let me tell you how I responded when that happened to me”…and suddenly I knew everything would be okay.

Electronic Bibles, and the “flat reading” of Scripture

As someone who uses technology for pretty much everything I never really had a problem with reading Scripture on a smartphone or tablet.  However an interesting article from late February called “How Smartphones and Social Media are Changing Christianity” changed my opinion.

In it the author Christ Stokel-Walker explains how using an electronic Bible such as Youversion instead of a physical copy affects our approach to Scripture.  He quotes Reverend Pete Phillips who explains the difference this way.

“If you go to the Bible as a paper book, it’s quite large and complicated and you’ve got to thumb through it,” says Phillips.

“But you know that Revelations is the last book and Genesis is the first and Psalms is in between. With a digital version you don’t get any of that, you don’t get the boundaries. You don’t flick through: you just go to where you’ve asked it to go to, and you’ve no sense of what came before or after.”

 

This lack of context is a problem that also affects the way we interpret Scripture.

The way religious scriptures are read can influence how they are interpreted. For example, studies suggest that text read on screens is generally taken more literally than text read in books. Aesthetic features of a text, such as its broader themes and emotional content, are also more likely to be drawn out when it is read as a book.

The Greatest danger is what Reverend Phillips calls “flat reading” (“When you’re on a screen, you tend to miss out all the feeling stuff and go straight for the information”) that approaches the Bible as “Wikipedia instead a sacred text in itself.”

Reading the Bible for information as if it was a textbook instead of God’s Word obviously creates serious problems

  1. Personal preference decides which verses to share
  2. It allows us to create a more personalized view of religion
  3. And Verses can be used in a less than respectful fashion (like Memes)

The biggest problem with flat reading is interpretation comes from our own personal opinion or experiences instead of the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

As technology fills our minds with ever increasing amounts of information, we must make sure God’s Word isn’t read as a blog post, or article, but instead as the Word of Almighty God.

 

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.