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.

The Gospel as a Story Part One

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One huge challenge to sharing the Gospel in todays culture is people lack a foundation of Biblical Truth. So instead of starting with the Book of Romans (their need of Christ) its necessary to start with page one of the Bible (there is a God).

One of the best ways to do this is telling the Gospel as a story because it allows us to focus on the major themes of Scripture which are

The Holiness of God (marked in Gold)
The Sinfulness of Man (marked in Blue)
And the coming Redeemer Jesus Christ (marked in red)

As a framework I use The Story of Hope evangelism material published by ABWE which uses major events in Scripture to explain the Gospel.

I particularly love the full color cards that they offer covering each event that can easily be used to share Christ, or small booklets that are easier to carry.

In part one of this series I will go from creation, to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. I pray it can encourage us all to tell the story of the Gospel beginning in Genesis 1:1.

1. God who existed in the beginning created the Heavens and the Earth

2. God Created Adam and Eve, and after putting them in the Garden of Eden, they are commanded not to eat the fruit from one tree.

3. An Angel of God rebelled against Him and tried to take His place. God responded by throwing him out of Heaven, and since that time Satan has tempted us to rebel.

4. Adam and Eve choose to eat the fruit and take the place of God instead of obeying Him

5. Because Adam and Eve sinned against God they felt shame and separation from Him for the first time

6. God promised a man would come and redeem all of us from our sins by crushing the head of Satan

7. Until the promised Redeemer arrived, Adam and Eve temporarily covered their sins with the blood of animal sacrifices.

8. They are forced to leave the Garden of Eden because of their sin. Since that time our sins have created a wall of separation between us and God

9. Instead of obeying God mankind became worse and worse so He warned them of a coming flood that would kill everyone

10. God called Noah to build an ark that would protect people from the flood, this is a picture of the coming Redeemer

11. God called a man named Abraham to leave his family and travel to a place were the Lord would make him a great nation.

12. God later asked Abraham to sacrifice his firstborn son Isaac, Abraham was about to do this when God provided a Ram to be sacrificed in his place

Come back on Saturday to read The Gospel as A Story Part Two.

Why The Unsaved Need To See Us Angry

970752_sad_young_boy_on_the_bankI’m normally a pretty relaxed person so it takes quite a bit for me to get angry, however there are moments when displaying anger before the unsaved is absolutely necessary.

Last Tuesday I was waiting for kindergartners and first graders to arrive for an after school Bible program.  I’ve been able to teach and help organize these classes for a long time, and it’s been and incredible blessing, but last week was one of those days when things didn’t go well.

For starters the name tags for children weren’t properly organized by age group or boys and girls so I had to go through each one looking for every child’s tag.  This kept me from helping keep the group under control, so it didn’t take long for things to get VERY LOUD.

Some girls became indignant when I couldn’t remember their name (I usually give name tags to only the boys) and were giving me a lecture on the subject

One of the boys was yelling at another because he “threw his hat”

A student whose mother was a teacher went into her classroom looking for candy after he was told four times not to go in her room, and once entering refused to leave

A girl lost her ear-ring and became convinced another boy had “stolen it” which led to a very heated argument

Once the girl couldn’t find her ear-ring she started crying, so all of the other girls comforted her while ganging up on the boy who had stolen it (he hadn’t)

Another boy was playing in the middle of the hall after I had told him roughly one-hundred times to stay against the wall

All of this and other things that happened within five minutes caused me to go from “relaxed and happy John” to “angry John” and I proceeded to let the boys know when they had been taken down the hall to their bathroom a few  moments later.  The actual words can’t be remembered; but I remember lots of finger pointing, a raised voice, and threats of going to the office while they all looked at the floor.

Now some people may have an issue with my showing anger to kindergarteners and first graders since they were just being kids, however in my opinion it was very important they saw Mr. John angry.  This of course did bring things under control (we had an awesome class from that point on) but it was what I did after the speech that was more important.

The first thing I did was take a deep breath and calmly explained I didn’t want to be angry with them, but they brought it upon themselves by not listening to me when we asked them to do things.  For the rest of class I focused on praising those same boys who had made me angry a half-hour before and thanking them for doing such a good job obeying the rules.  And though the dreaded “naughty chair” was used a few times during class, I was always careful to explain why they were there.

There is a need for the lost in our community to see us frustrated and angry in extreme situations because it allows us to model “anger under control.”  I’m sure many of those boys had seen their mother and father angry about disobedience, but sadly that would lead to unhealthy actions like yelling or violence.  So it’s important that they see someone who is indeed angry, but doesn’t stay that way.

This doesn’t mean we as Christians should walk around getting angry at everything.  But in those rare cases we do, it’s important to show Love and Grace as well.

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 Missionaries Can’t Be Poor

1093478_aussie_moneyHi, my name is John, and I am cheap…

There I said it

While the term “frugal” is preferred there’s little doubt I’m the kind of person who always buys the cheapest item (which is why I practically live at Wal-Mart). Anyone who doesn’t believe me can ask my brother Michael who takes great joy in telling the story about our going through a McDonalds Drive Thru together about seven years ago and I “conveniently” forgot I didn’t have any cash in my wallet.

Not that being careful with my money is a bad thing; in fact in todays culture there’s more of a need for financial responsibility than ever before. However there are situations in life that demand we break open the piggy bank: things like gifts for loved ones, dealing with our health, necessary debt (mortgage or vehicle), and ministry.

One of the biggest challenges for Missionaries is raising the financial support needed to reach the lost and plant Churches, in recent years that amount has skyrocketed forcing many of us to raise $1,000 or more of new income. Of course asking for financial help from Churches that struggle caring for their own Missionaries (much less new ones) makes the process that much harder. Adding to this pressure is the confusion some Believers have about why more support is needed.

In the past ministry could be done cheap, by which I mean the American dollar was stronger than the foreign currency so you wouldn’t need as much. Unfortunately our economic collapse has reversed this so suddenly Missionaries start LOSING money once it’s exchanged, and the stronger foreign economy leads to things being more expensive there. For instance rent in Melbourne Australia will normally be about $1,300 a month (you can’t have a mortgage without bringing about $25,000 as a down payment) that obviously is hard to pay if you’re losing money each month.

I truly wish things were the same as in 2007 when you gained thirteen cents on the Australian dollar but instead we lose ten now. So the financial side of Missions becomes a huge deal that will make or break your ministry.

There is a sense were we need to rely on God for our financial needs, but this cannot be traded for common sense. In 2009 I listened to a Missionary proudly proclaim he and his family were leaving for the field under-supported (believe they were about 80%) because “God cared for the Apostle Paul and He will care for us.”

This is true but the Apostle Paul didn’t have to pay more than $1,000 for rent

Or care for a motor vehicle

Or pay expensive utility bills in the winter

Am I saying that God cannot meet our needs? Of Course not! But there is a responsibility for us to raise the money needed to reach the lost in a way that glorifies God. So even though the fund raising part of ministry is something I absolutely hate I still do it.

Because it’s okay to buy the Wal-Mart brand of Orange Juice and save a few bucks, but funds given to reach lost of souls of Australians is money well spent.

My Michael Jordan Experience

Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu
Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu

Even as an Introvert in High School I loved to preach the Word of God.  This led me to join a “preaching class” that was used as an elective for seventh period twice a month.  Actually our class didn’t teach us how to preach, but was an excuse for students to share a message they had been working on.

One Wednesday when it came my turn I used a well-known passage from the book of Matthew.

Matt. 16:24   Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

To illustrate the idea that wealth or riches cannot save a person (Matthew 16:26) I decided to use a fictional conversation between Michael Jordan and God at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  That year Jordan won his fourth NBA title out of six, and cemented himself as the greatest basketball player of all time, so using him would get peoples attention.

The conversation involved Jordan listing all of his accomplishments as reason for him to be let into Heaven, and God refusing him entrance because he had not accepted Christ as Savior.  It ends with the voice of Michael Jordan echoing as he is thrown into hell, “My name is Michael Jordan, don’t you know who I am?”

That wasn’t the first time classmates had heard me preach, but that story along with an explanation of Scripture definitely changed their perception.  Up till that time I had been the guy who didn’t talk and had the social life of a large rock, but now I was someone who could communicate in a powerful way.

As shocking as that moment was for the others, I can guarantee you nobody was more surprised than me.

Growing up I had spent many years looking for the one thing that I could do better than anyone else.  Now after a long search my gift had finally been found, I was the guy who could speak with confidence in front of large crowds, and actually enjoy doing it.  Everyone in the class told me what an awesome sermon it was (after picking their jaws up off the floor) and for the first time in years people actually started to notice me for something other than my lack of a social life.

The excitement of that class-period and the realization God hadn’t created me with no talent was enough to give confidence for at least a year…but things were just getting started.  A few days later a Senior named Paul (one of the most popular kids at school) walked up after seventh period and asked if I would share my Michael Jordan illustration during Homeroom Devotions (played over an intercom to everyone in the student body).

Almost immediately after saying, “Sure okay,” my heart was filled with crippling fear.  There was a huge difference between speaking to a small group of fellow students who I knew well, and having my voice transmitted to every classroom in the High School!  As the day approached I viewed it as a test to determine if the Lord had truly given me a gift to communicate with others..

To this day I’m incredibly grateful that nobody actually saw me speaking that morning except for Paul and the school secretary, because I was literally trembling from fear, and had a hard time holding the microphone still enough to talk into it.  Yet in the midst of that fear and trembling I found peace in my heart.

In recent years the term “coming out party” has been created to describe individuals (particularly sports players) who seem to come out of nowhere and play the game of their lives.  The ability of hindsight allows me to go back eighteen years and see that five-minute devotional as my coming out party.

Suddenly people who didn’t even know I existed the day before were running up and congratulating me on doing such a great job.  There were even quite a few who thought I was a new student, even though I’d been sitting in class with them for a year and a half.  Slowly more speaking opportunities came and my confidence continued to grow.

A few months after my Michael Jordan story the impossible happened, I became popular.  And it’s that popularity that created one of the most exciting experiences of my life.  But I’m getting ahead of myself….the Mountaintop Experience comes next week.

As a Ninth grader I truly felt like the only person in the world who didn’t fit in during High School, but the truth is there were many others who had struggles much greater than mine.  Today more than ever there is a challenge to find something you can do well and promote it as your identity or be viewed as an outcast.

A few weeks ago I met with a High School Senior whose part of a mentoring program and listened as he expressed frustration over not being able to fit in at school.  My heart broke for him because in his eyes I saw myself and definitely knew his pain.  That’s why it felt so good to lean over the table and explain there was something special inside of him, something that he could excel at, and take great pleasure in.

I don’t know what that talent is but I do know God has placed it within this student’s life.  And I can only hope to be there for his “coming out party,” because it’s going to be glorious.