Three Ways to Disciple Those Dealing With Drama

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Last Wednesday while pulling lesson plans out of a notebook I asked my English student how her week had been. This is a normal way of starting class because it allows her to practice small talk, and since the answer is always good I wasn’t really paying attention while asking it.

Instead of the normal response though she looked down at the table and shaking her head said “so many problems.”

Suddenly the lesson plan didn’t seem all that important.

My student proceeded to explain some problems she was having with a rebellious teenage daughter which included among other things

  • Skipping school with forged notes and parental excuse forms
  • Telling the school her mother’s phone number had changed (it hadn’t) and then getting a friend to send messages using that number excusing her from class
  • Creating a second Facebook account for herself that her parents didn’t know about
  • Failing classes because they were too “boring”

To be honest I was pretty overwhelmed and didn’t really know how to help (single young men with no children don’t have much rebellious teen experience). Yet the pain in this mothers eyes challenged me to do something about the situation.

As Christians in a broken culture we have the opportunity to interact with people struggling with the drama (crisis situations) of life. And though we may not have all the answers, God calls us to enter into that suffering with them for the sake of the Gospel.

There are a number of ways to minister in the midst of drama, but here are the ways God led me to help my English Student.

  1. Offer Sympathy-The one thing a suffering person needs more than anything else is someone who will simply listen
  2. Offer Personal Assistance-It didn’t matter that this rebellious child would respect me even less than her parents, asking “how can I help?” still had tremendous healing powers
  3. Offer Insight-Share lessons that the Lord has taught you along the way that can help them in their time of great need

Of course in this situation it’s also necessary to pray for the student, preferably right there after getting permission.

People around the world are overwhelmed by the drama of their lives and desperately looking for someone to help. Sadly many are too busy (or burdened by our own drama) to stop and help, so there is a greater need than ever for Believers who would bind up the wounds of those who are hurting instead of crossing to the other side of the road.

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.

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.

When Mentoring becomes a Father Son Talk

IMG_0331 1Towards the end of my mentoring session with a student last week on how to discover your learning style I asked if there was anything he wanted to talk about.  “Yeah” he responded, “I’m having some real problems with one of my teachers.”  He proceeded to explain how she had been targeting him in class (whenever a person was being disruptive she immediately thought it was him) for no reason whatsoever, and went out of her way to watch him closer than any o the other students.  In his mind it wasn’t fair that she was watching him closely while lots of other students were able to do whatever they wanted.  Of course I knew better than to believe this teacher would act that way when he was completely innocent so I asked how he felt about the class itself.

“Well it’s pretty boring and way too easy for me” he said, “so usually I just end up putting my head down on the desk and going to sleep instead of taking notes.”  A few moments later the student admitted even though the class was too easy there were homework assignments he hadn’t been able to complete on time.

The weird thing is this High School Senior truly believed that falling asleep in class and not turning in his homework was no reason for the Teacher to give him a hard time.  The true problem in this situation came from a sense of entitlement the student had (things have to be done the way I want them) since his learning style was more about doing things (completing assignments) listening to students ask questions and the teacher answer them was incredibly boring, so his specific needs not being met were reason enough to stop paying attention at all.

There are times in our mentoring sessions that are enjoyed a lot more than others….and last Tuesday was one of occasions since I got to give the “life’s not fair” speech, but I didn’t really expect to be giving it to a High School Senior.  It was hard  to figure out why he hadn’t grasped the idea of doing right even when it was hard since my parents (father especially) had drilled that idea into my stubborn head (I prefer to the term strong willed).  Then it came to me…this student didn’t have  Godly parents who challenged him to have the right character.  So in the middle of our small office I had a “father son conversation” with a teenager whose view of justice left a lot to be desired.

For those of you who don’t remember the “life is not fair” speech it’s meant to show the world will not comply with their view of fairness (justice).  For our situation I explained to my student there are some teachers who will pay closer attention to him than everyone else (which in a way is unfair) but he brings that upon himself by only focusing on his own needs in class.  There is an idea in our culture that if a persons needs are not met that are obligated or have the freedom to rebel (like falling asleep or not doing homework) in the real world however life rarely gives us what we want, and in those experiences we are still responsible to do the right thing.

It is a sad fact that there are teens and children today who don’t have a proper view of life or how the world works.  This  gives us an opportunity for redemptive ministry however (going to the Unsaved with the Gospel) by sharing with young people the “father son or mother daughter” talks their parents never gave them.  The funny thing is that youth are more open to receiving these truths from people closer to their age even if we use the same words as their parents (the simple fact that you are not their mom or dad makes an impact).  So practice those talks your parents had with you (in their own voice if possible) and feel free to add what happened when you didn’t listen to them for good measure

Choosing Comfort over Courage

 

This morning I preached from 1 Samuel 17 where we find the well known story of David vs. Goliath. During the research I learned that not only did the soldiers of Israel refuse to face Goliath because of fear, but started running away whenever he showed himself (1Samuel 17:24). They more I thought about that response the more it bothered me. Why would warriors who had received military training since childhood run and hide in their tents like little boys?

Though fear of man like Goliath who was at least nine feet tall would easily turn the strongest person into a coward in my opinion there’s another reason for their turn and run response. They were following the example of their leader King Saul who almost always chose comfort or the easy road instead of the Lords Will for his life which could lead to pain and suffering. A clear example of this is when Saul’s son Jonathan attacks the Philistine army which greatly outnumbers the Jews and every soldier of Israel comes to him for direction (1 Samuel 13:2-4). Instead of rallying the troops with a motivational speech and updated military strategy we next find the King hiding underneath a Pomegranate tree with six hundred soldiers (14:1-2).

Why is Saul under a tree instead of leading his men to battle? Because it was easier to stay in a place of safety than face a huge army which would almost certainly defeat you. This habit of choosing comfort illustrates itself in his allowing the king Amalek to live when God had clearly commanded he should die (1 Samuel 15:1-9) and offering a sacrifice himself instead of waiting for Samuel the Prophet of God (1 Samuel 13:8-12). These and other choices instilled in his men a love of comfort or choosing the safe easy road. So when faced with the giant Goliath they reverted back to what they did by nature, running to the comfort of their safe tents.

As I prayed about this message the Lord reminded me that the choices we make in life develop habits or responses that cause us to rely on ourselves instead of His strength. Though none of us are going to face a nine foot tall Philistine warrior today there are places of comfort we all run to whenever faced with a great challenge.

For me that comfortable response involved self-pity, hours of television, and a huge amount of french fries that had been cooked until extra crispy. At first it was a conscious choice I made (comfort food and tv makes you forget the bad day at work) but eventually it became an automatic response to any pain, fear. or discouragement. When I failed at something instead of immediately thinking about what the Lord wanted me to learn from it my mind turned to eating comfort food and forgetting it ever happened. It wasn’t until years later that I realised how foolish my responses to these painful experiences were. Thats not to say we can’t enjoy a night of rest and relaxation, but when crashing on the couch for hours is my response to fear there is a problem.

The warriors of Israel didn’t become cowards overnight, their choosing the comfort of a tent over fighting Goliath had been ingrained in them by the choices of Saul. Their story is a reminder that our choosing comfort over courage becomes a habitual way of life that results in running away from the Will of God instead of embracing it.

The Tipping Point of Courage

Most of us have gone through experiences that challenge us to display courage in our lives. It could come from watching a movie or television show, reading an inspiring book, spending time with a friend who is pursuing huge goals, or a conversation that renews our passion to attempt something we dream of doing. Whatever the reason this challenge creates a desire to do something courageous and we begin looking for chances to display it every day. But in most cases this search ends in frustration as we cannot find these opportunities and soon return to the safe confines of our comfort zone.

So is there a choice other than beating our desire for courage into submission and burying it under mountains of emotional dirt? Thankfully there is and it has to do with changing our perspective or what we look for.  Instead of searching for massive opportunities each day like what we read about in the book,  The Tipping Point principle (introduced by Malcolm Gladwell) states that small decisions or choices can make a huge impact upon life. Just like tipping over the first domino in a long line of them sparks a chain reaction, certain decisions can put things in motion that will bring massive change into our lives. Most of us don’t look for the tipping points of courage because they rarely bring immediate results or their impact cannot be seen. But months or years later those small seemingly insignificant decisions will be viewed as a turning point in our lives.

Looking back on the last five years serving in Melbourne Australia I can clearly see the turning point in my ministry. It involved moving from an area on the outskirts of the city to a growing suburb which was closer to the Church I would begin working with. This was a huge leap of faith of course but the tipping point had come a few months before the actual move when I realized living in the original area was keeping me from serving the Lord effectively (the Church where I ministered was almost an hour away). So on a warm afternoon in December I walked into my backyard, confessed to the Lord that being comfortable was in many ways more important to me than serving Him, and started preparing for the move that would come two months later.

That act of confession and packing boxes had a huge impact upon my future ministry. Today I live in one of the fastest growing suburbs of Melbourne and am less than five minutes from the Church where God has called me as Pastor. I am volunteering twice a week at an elementary school that ministers to children from an area filled with poverty, crime, broken families, and violence. Twice a week I have an opportunity to teach religious education classes in the public school system and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has also allowed me to begin teaching English as a second language to a young man from India and there is an opportunity to begin teaching other students later this year. These and other wonderful blessings from God have come into my life as I rely on Him, but would never be experienced if I hadn’t moved from the original rental property.

Most of the time the power of these tipping points aren’t realised until later, I moved in 2008 and began experiencing the results two years later. This is why so many of us seek for massive opportunities instead of the small choices that display our Faith in God. But those huge displays of courage we read about in books, see in movies, or hear about from others don’t come every day…..they are experienced once or twice a year, sometimes once in a lifetime. And its the small tipping points of courage that prepare us for those huge challenges just like training at the gym prepares us for a race or playing a sport. I can’t expect to never visit the gym or train then show up and run a 5k race, in the same way we cannot expect to show courage when God calls us to display radical faith if we aren’t faithful in taking small steps of courage.

It would be great if we could go to the local drug store and buy courage tablets that give an immediate infusion of confidence when facing fear. But there are no shortcuts to displaying strength in those moments of crisis, it can only be developed as every day we faithfully look for that tipping point of courage the Lord has placed in our lives.