Why My Heart Needs To Be Heavy

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Tuesday morning at the local Pastors Fellowship a representative of Baptist Mid Missions played a recently completed field video from Australia to highlight the need for more foreign missionaries.

That video is important to me because I’m actually in it, and even remember driving the men from their audio and visual department around when the filming took place…however I’ve never watched it.

The video has been played in a number of Churches while presenting my ministry of course, but I have never watched that DVD on my own because of the things it reminded me of.

•      It reminded me of the people in Australia who desperately needed Christ

•      It reminded me of the great need for more missionaries

•      It reminded me of the dear friends and co-workers in Australia

•      And more than anything else it reminded me of my desire to return

These emotions have a profound effect on me since I’m in a stage of ministry that focuses on getting practical experience while waiting for my Visa process to be completed. Therefore the faces and voices in that video are powerful reminders of what I miss, but cannot do anything about right now.

Yet there must be a healthier response to these emotions than putting a DVD in one of my drawers never to see the light of day.

In recent months the Lord has been teaching me ways that having a heavy heart (sadness, sorrow, frustration) can be a blessing for my life instead of a curse.

1.     A Heavy Heart keeps me close to God

2.    A Heavy Heart highlights an inability to live in my own strength or wisdom

3.    A Heavy Heart keeps me from losing sight of what’s important (returning to Australia)

4.    A Heavy Heart leads to sharing my burden or struggles with Brothers and Sisters in Christ

5.    A Heavy Heart is a constant reminder God has called me to Australia

Most of us have parts of our lives that will bring great sorrow and pain to our heart just by thinking of them.  It’s tempting to hide from that, but those emotions actually come from God, and therefore are part of His plan for our lives.

Which is why I just watched the field council video from Australia

It felt like someone had taken out my heart and stomped on it but that’s okay, someday soon I will watch it in Melbourne, and thank God for His faithfulness.

My Motivation For Not Eating Junk Food

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Just about any runner can tell you that there will be good days, and bad days when it comes to your training.  On a good day things seem incredibly easy and your always the fastest one in your group (theres even something left at the end), but on bad days those hills that felt like speed bumps suddenly become Mt. Rushmore.

Last night was one of those bad days for me…

In my defense it was an eight mile run with some pretty intense hills yet I had run pretty much the same course a week before (slightly shorter with seven miles) and had no problem leaving others in my dust.  After getting home last night I spent some time thinking about why things had become so much harder.

The answer was simple yet incredibly profound…I had filled my body with junk food.

In short last nights run was doomed to failure because of buy one get one free Monster muffins at Lowes, and rice krispie treat snacks from the After School Program (don’t worry I didn’t steal a child’s snack, we had some left over).  So by about mile five my body looked for some extra energy, and finding muffins and rice krispies slowed down.

The lesson that a body filled with junk food won’t finish a race strong doesn’t just refer to our physical fitness, but spiritual life as well.  Those of us who want to complete the race God has given to us with strength and endurance (II Timothy 4:7) need to fill our mind with healthy things such as God’s Word, time in meditation or prayer, challenging books, or fellowship with other Believers instead of spiritual junk food.

I realize how hard it is to spend time in something that challenges us spiritually instead of television, movies, or the internet just like it’s almost impossible to walk past that “buy one get one free sign.”  So in these situations it’s necessary to think the action through to it’s end, or remember what happened last time.  For me the image of running partners pulling away when I didn’t have the strength to continue gives enough motivation to reject every monster muffin in the world.  And those discouraging moments of our lives spiritually motivates us to spend time in a relationship with God.

We all have bad days in our lives and thats okay because they are part of  the learning process.  The important thing is to remember those moments so that when Satan tempts us to take a shortcut (spiritual or physical) we can remain faithful to the healthy food instead of feasting on junk.

How Bad Days Made Me a Missionary

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There are many lessons the Lord taught me as a teenager that helped prepare for ministry, but few were more important than the one I learned my Junior year of High School…there will always be bad days to go along with the good ones.

Two years before my junior year God had challenged me to give Him complete control of my life.  This was frightening since I didn’t feel like the Lord could use me (I didn’t have any ability) but on Easter Sunday Night 1992 a commitment was made that eventually led me to Australia as a Missionary fifteen years later.

In 1993 God proved once and for all I wasn’t worthless when a simple devotional shared in front of friends was sent to every classroom in the school a week later over the PA system.  Entering my junior year the transformation had been made from someone who had the social life of a large rock in the ninth grade, to an elected leader of the student body.

In my case this position (referred to as “Student Body Chaplain”) gave me the chance to share three five-minute devotionals a day.  This was an absolute dream for me since I enjoy teaching others the truths of Scripture, and am blessed with the ability to connect with people through speaking.  Some people hate speaking in front of large crowds but I absolutely love it, and looked forward to the opportunity.

That year was supposed to be an absolute dream…

So why did I want to quit a few months later?

The problem was with my expecting that year of leadership to go as smoothly as the year before.  When people stopped attending the Bible studies and began criticizing decisions I was taken completely by surprise.  Over time this turned into shock, frustration, and finally discouragement.

I can remember leaning against a locker two months after the year started and crying my eyes out while asking God why everybody hated me (of course they didn’t, but in my mind they did).

There is a story in the Old Testament that much like mine sees a strong confident man become overwhelmed by fear because things didn’t work out the way he expected.  It’s found in I Kings 19 after wicked Queen Jezebel learned that God’s prophet Elijah had done in killing her priests.

  1Kings 19:1   And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. 

 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, so let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. 

 3 And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.

 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down  under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

Elijah was a very strong and courageous man who had just gotten finished confidently standing against four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:25-36), killing all of them (18:39-40), and praying down rain for the first time in months (18:41-45).  Yet we see a very different man in 1 Kings 19:3.

We see a frightened man who instead of facing the queen runs away.

We see a man who flees all the way to Beersheba (traveling for days) for fear that a leader in another one of the cities may kill him.

We see a man who leaves his servant there (not trusting him) and travels for another day into the wilderness (19:4) then after reaching physical and emotional exhaustion asks God to take his life (19:4).

So how did Elijah go from victorious warrior to gutless coward in one day?  He didn’t expect any challenges in his life and ministry after the victory on Mount Bethel.

Elijah felt that it would all be smooth sailing from that point on, so the death threat of Jezebel made him forget the power and provision of God that had been so prominently displayed in chapter eighteen.

Thankfully the Lord was gracious to Elijah in his time or depression and instead of giving death provided much needed strength and rest…eventually revealing to him that there were others who had not bowed down to Baal, and leading Elijah to his follower Elisha.

The good news is God is faithful to give Grace and Peace in our darkest moments just like He did for Elijah.  But this doesn’t change the fact that painful experiences are a part of life, especially as we take the Gospel to those who don’t know Christ (this puts us on the front line of spiritual battle).

While the setbacks of my junior year were painful (I eventually got used to leadership challenges) I’m incredibly thankful for it, because that experience taught me to expect hardship.  That lesson came in very useful when arriving as a Missionary in Australia, so when the hard days came, with the Lord’s help I was ready for them.

Why Outreach Ministry Focuses On Weakness

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The trip home for this furlough included among other things an eight hour layover in the LA Airport, which gave lots of time to think about the ministry God had planned during my time in the States.

The goal was to get practical experience for future outreach ministries in Australia (specifically focused computer tutoring, Conversational English, and Childrens Ministries).  These were all things I was passionate about and could do well so my expectation was for God to offer those opportunities right away.

Two months later all of those doors had closed.

I was a bit confused and to be honest frustrated by this lack of ministry opportunities, then God started opening doors.

But they weren’t the doors I expected…

In November 2012 a woman named Julie got in touch with me about a program that teaches English in the local YMCA’s (focusing on grammar or pronunciation) and the day after surviving the Marine Core Marathon I met my first students.  Since then God has made this my main focus of ministry and relationship development.

The thing is I’m not passionate about English or Grammar, and am actually quite bad at it (as you can see by reading my posts).  At first it seemed a bit strange that God would take a disorganized individual with bad grammar (me) and make him an English teacher.  But little by little the Lord gave more opportunities to use these classes for His Glory.

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This afternoon at 4:30 I will meet with my third English student for the first time and we will start discussing the Constitution in preparation for her American citizenship test (I can hear my High School History Teacher laughing hysterically already).  Trust me when I say you don’t want a History teacher who has a hard time remembering family members birthdays (and no I’m not kidding).

The thing about true outreach is God uses it to challenge us.  Outreach if you do it correctly is scary….it emphasizes our weakness and constant need of Christ’s strength so that when it’s over He is the one people remember.

Why I Put the Donut Down

What is the greatest challenge to reaching the world for Christ? There are many different obstacles but for me the most greatest one has nothing to do with spiritual life, doctrine, or Church programs…it’s my daily diet.

All Believers struggle with bad eating habits, but this is especially true for Missionaries like myself. In the south visiting Churches to share my ministry meant experiencing “Southern Hospitality” which was a nice way of saying they’re going to give you enough food to kill a person (not that I ever complained of course). Add to this Church dinners, fast food restaurants, lack of exercise, and hours spent on the road it’s a wonder I survived the support raising phase of ministry.

But eventually the unhealthy eating catches up with us, and we come to a point were we know a change needs to be made.

So I had to put the donut down

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Photo courtesy of http://junquerethunque.blogspot.com/2013/03/crafting-and-coffee-and-donuts-oh-my.html

If you’re ever at Walmart go into the bread section and nearby is a case filled with self-serve donuts for 59 cents…those donuts are my arch nemesis, and have ruined countless diet’s or resolutions to eat healthy. Alas simple will power has no chance when facing cheap pastries.

This year will be different though, because God has given me a reason to put the donut down.

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A goal at our Church this year is building bridges or relationships into the lives of the unsaved. The Lord gave me many ministry opportunities in 2013 but almost none of them resulted in those kinds of relationships. You see bridges in the lives of others take lots of time, hard work, suffering, and patience; unfortunately  I couldn’t do this since a diet based on carbs and sugar filled snacks left me feeling tired all day.  So in order to take the next step in reaching others for Christ my junk food had to go.

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A “Bridge Building Eating Plan” was started based on fresh fruits and vegetables, with my beloved donuts replaced by fruit smoothies. After almost three weeks (it’s day nineteen) I have tons of extra energy and mental clarity that can be used building those important relationships.

I’m not going to tell you eating brussell sprouts, tuna, or greens will taste like a hamburger and french fries. However I can tell you trading your donuts for fruit smoothies will give energy to reach this broken world with the Gospel of Christ. The world is filled with people looking for Christians who can live the Gospel in front of them, so I’m begging you, put the donut down

Surviving a Non-Christians “Evaluation Stage”

IMG_0386The Lord allowed me to become involved with many ministries in Australia, but only one involved meeting with Buddhist’s, Muslims, Catholics, and individuals who had no interest in God whatsoever.

An interesting thing about Australia is the big cities are filled with immigrants from other Countries so you won’t see many “true blue Aussies” with the authentic Australian accent.  This results in people who do know the English language, but struggle using it in everyday conversation since there are many who speak their own language (they end up speaking it most of the time).  To remedy this some of the local libraries started something called a Conversational English Group were people could simply come and practice their English speaking skills for an hour and a half.

Attending this group as a volunteer wasn’t really all that hard…sharing with everyone I was a “Baptist Minister” did give me cause for concern.

Though it was challenging, my time with the Conversational English Group taught me everyone in the world is searching for people who are real (or have something different about them); and a consistent Christian testimony that earns a persons trust will speak louder than any Gospel Presentation.

During one of our last sessions they threw a big going party in my honor complete with food, gifts, and a cake that said come back soon John in big letters.  The truly special part was before the meal when one of them asked me to pray, I watched as Buddhist’s, Muslims, Catholics, and even those with no interest in God bowed their heads and prayed along with me.

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That kind of influence didn’t happen overnight.  Instead it came from living out the Gospel in front of them for more than a year.  Slowly they moved from an attitude of skepticism to one of acceptance, asking questions about God, and introducing me to their friends as “John the Baptist Minister ”

When you identify yourself as a Christian, that is a good way to make yourself accountable, even to non believers. By saying in your workplace (without being obnoxious), “I am a Christian,” by saying to members of your family or in your neighborhood or among your friends, “I am a follower of Jesus,” you are putting that stake in the ground, and they will be watching you and evaluating you.

And frankly, they will be evaluating God, too. They are will be thinking, So that is how a Christian acts. That is how a Christian treats his wife. That is how a Christian treats her husband. I get it. That is how a Christian raises their child. That is how a Christian does thus and so. . . . They will be watching you. And nothing is worse than getting your behavior corrected by a unbeliever, especially when they are right.  Greg Laurie

Sadly many Christians never get past the “evaluation stage” of relationships with Unbelievers because their beliefs don’t really match up with their actions.  This is why I would like to share with you the most important lesson learned through the Conversational English Classes, and something that will absolutely make or break your evaluation stage.

We were talking in one of the first sessions about the differences between  Cultures when one of the students asked me how America was different from Australia.  After thinking about it for a moment I told them that we were too fat because fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s serve much bigger portions than you would get in Melbourne.

This kind of surprised them since most Americans have the reputation of covering up their faults, and my answer led to a discussion about the weakness of US policies for about an hour.  Those kinds of conversations earned the trust of the other group members since I was showing a commitment to being real or honest, even when the answer hurt a bit.

That honesty eventually led to sharing my struggles with them (what made me angry, frustrated, sad) and telling stories about God’s comfort in those times of need.  With every story or experience I shared they gained more trust or confidence in me, and soon we were all sharing the personal side of our lives with one another.  This kind of impact came however because I was willing to be open about what was going on in my life and use the struggles as an opportunity to share Christ.

To be honest getting through the evaluation relational phase with the group members wasn’t hard at all since it was obvious they were watching my life very closely.  However I’m convicted by the question ‘how many times have I failed to pass the evaluation of a lost person, and never even realized it?”