Missions Cannot be Cheap

I have grown up being careful with money, so being frugal or “cheap” is part of my identity. This doesn’t mean I don’t give to others (because I do) but am cheap when it comes to spending money on myself.

Recently the Lord showed me being cheap isn’t a bad thing……..

But it can be a great hinderance to ministry.

The fact of the matter is ministry takes money. Programs such as VBS, camp, and outreach in the community have lots of cost involved. Being cheap or frugal in this situation would be a great detriment because it offers a below-average ministry.

The principle then is to be very frugal personally, so that you can invest money in ministry.

Solomon explains it this way in Proverbs

Prov. 11:24   There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.

Scattering in this verse refers to giving money away. So the person who invests money in others and ministries (scattereth) will increase, but the person who is greedy will lose everything. Practically this means being willing to give away what you have saved.

The Lord reminded me about the importance of frugality that invests in others a few weeks ago when a friend was scheduled to work at a nearby island, but did not have the money to get there. In desperation he texted me to ask if I could loan the money for the trip. Of course I gave it to him! The week before I loaned money to a man who was welding a gate, and couldn’t finish it without purchasing some new material.

I couldn’t have helped either of these men if my life wasn’t frugal, but I couldn’t let that frugality keep me from giving that money away.

There is a delicate balance here between saving and giving, but the important thing is understanding we don’t save to accumulate money. We save to grow ministries, and help others in need. The danger of course is to refuse to give when someone’s in need because being cheap is more important than ministry.

I will stay cheap because God made me that way.

But by His grace that frugality won’t weaken my ministry, but help it thrive

Faith is Doing What’s Next

Faith is a big part of missions, but we often romanticize it. People think of faith as doing the impossible task, or facing insurmountable odds.

This is true sometimes, but usually faith is far less exciting….

It’s simply doing what’s next

The enemy of faith is anxiety or worry about what comes in the future. Often this anxiety focuses us on the upcoming challenges mentally as well as emotionally. In worst cases we may not act at all in the present because of worry about the future.

So faith must forget about tomorrow, and deal with today

Of course the foundation to this is the understanding that our Heavenly Father knows our needs. He will meet those needs in His perfect timing, and in a way that gives Him glory. Our job is to simply focus on the needs of today.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Of course focusing on the problems of that today is easier said than done…

So God has to remind us He has tomorrow under control

A few weeks ago I wrote my big project of creating notes for a three-week church history class. The research for that meant going through a 600 page book to make a teaching outline. Two Sundays ago I officially reached halfway, but was planning to spend a week at camp (NO TIME for research!)

I realized that camp was more important than my church history notes, but was still stressing a bit about it because the week off put me farther behind.

The Lord knew I was anxious about this, so He had a friend send me the text above around 10:30 Tuesday morning. A few hours later I had 173 pages of notes!!!

The thing is God shouldn’t have to remind me yet again that He has tomorrows problems under control…..

but I’m thankful He still does

So faith is consistently doing what’s next even when God doesn’t send 173 pages of notes. Because tomorrow there will be fresh measure of grace to meet that days challenges.

Filling Their Love Tank

Last week I had the opportunity to help out at a church camp with young people. It was a wonderful opportunity to develop relationships, and teach teens about the Lord.

It was also a powerful reminder that we all need grace

One of the boys at the camp was constantly getting into trouble from the very first day. He LOVED attention, and would constantly misbehave to make people laugh. As the days went on he definitely tested my patience! But I realized his true problem was a leaking love tank.

Dr Ed. Welch refers to our need for encouragement and affirmation as “a love tank”. This is supposed to be be filled by our relationship with God, but many individuals fill it with people.

Of course the problem is our love tanks leak, or we lose the feeling of being loved or affirmed. This means it must be continually refilled.

This young man for one reason or another (maybe his home life) had a love tank that was nearly on empty….and he was desperately trying to fill it with the attention of others.

I was actually drawn to him because in my younger years I was a lot like him, a class clown so to speak who everyone liked to laugh at. Whenever people laughed at my joke or silly thing I did it filled my love tank, and I did it more often. Of course my antics had to become sillier and sillier in order to gain the attention over time.

The answer wasn’t to fill his cup with loving attention.

By this I mean being completely present with him, and pouring all of the love that I have into his heart. This meant we spent a lot of time by ourselves, but I made sure he always knew that I loved him

  1. Thursday morning he got in trouble during chapel so I asked him to sit along the wall
  2. And then against the wall outside of the building (he kept getting people’s attention inside)
  3. And the underneath a tree!
  4. During that time he went from pleading with me, to being, angry, and feeling sorry for himself. Through it all I just sat with him, patiently filling his love tank

The truly interesting thing is after that morning he was good for the rest of the week. In fact we had no problems with him at all!

Why?

Because his love tank was full.

As someone who struggled with self-esteem let me assure you the children who misbehave do need correction. But they also need someone who will sit on the other side of the tree, and tell them they love them.

Dealing with the Disease not the Symptoms

“The symptoms may vary tremendously from case to case, but the business of the preacher is not to medicate symptoms, it is to treat the disease. ” Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones

Over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with an annoying head cold. It wasn’t anything serious, just caused some ringing in my ears, and headaches. I tried taking care of it with basic measures like using ginger and tumeric, or taking pain meds.

My reason for doing this is going on cold medication (or Histal) would knock me out for a day, and leave my head in a fog for a day or two thereafter. I HATE feeling like that so kept putting if off.

Finally last Saturday I broke down and started taking the cold meds. Though most of Monday was spent in bed, the cold was gone by Tuesday.

This experience reminds of the spiritual disease we all struggle with. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones in his excellent book “Preaching and Preachers” refers to the call of preachers to confront sin with the Gospel of Christ. It is easy for sermons to focus on secondary issues, or symptoms as he refers to him (happiness, peace, joy, comfort) while the true problem is not dealt with.

For a few days I could overcome my head cold with exercise and supplements. But the truth is my disease WAS STILL THERE! The symptoms may have been cured (like headaches) but the cold itself would remain till I took proper cold medication, and gave my body time to rest.

In the same way Dr Lloyd-Jones explains the symptoms of the disease may be gone. The individual may be calm, happiness may be restored, they may be involved in Scripture reading and prayer. But the disease of sin IS STILL THERE!

This fact becomes clear to me when counseling unsaved friends. Many of them struggle with relationship issues, family drama, or poverty and during our sessions will say something like this. “If only I could have enough money for this bill everything will be okay!” It’s my job as a missionary to explain they are focusing all their attention on symptoms while ignoring the major disease.

A few nights ago a friend came by to visit, and we started talking about some struggles in his life. He told me the goal right now was to finish one last project, and then go overseas with family for a while. With love in my voice I said “but your problem will still be there.” He could get on a plane and leave SVG, but the spiritual need in his heart will leave SVG with him.

Often dealing with the disease means coming back to the real problem of their heart like I did a few nights ago. The Devil wants individuals to focus on symptoms or something that they “can handle” promising fulfillment once that goal is reached. So with an open Bible and words of wisdom, we must shine the light upon their real disease.

Of course it goes the other way as well! As Christians we can deal with the symptoms of a heart that has turned away from the Lord. Like with my cold these attempts can bring temporary relief, but there is no healing till we repent of our diseased sin-nature, and seek the restoration of Christ.

The Gospel brings hope to those who are lost in sin. But first they must admit what the real problem is, and stop trying to fix the symptoms of their disease.

A Closed, and Open Door of Ministry

Last week I was visiting with some children when their father pulled me aside. He explained that the kids absolutely loved my Bible studies, and asked if it was possible to help them in another way. Two of them were in desperate need for extra help with school, specifically their reading.

In that moment I knew the Lord wanted me to make a change from discipleship studies to a reading help ministry

Many of the young people here are in need of tutoring and practice with their basic language skills. Sadly they cannot receive this personalized help in school because the classrooms are so large, and some cannot get it at home since their parents struggle reading as well.

Before Covid the Lord allowed me to volunteer for a few years with reading groups once or twice a week at local schools. It was amazing to see how much these groups of boys grew as we practiced phonics, learned sight words, and practiced reading.

I can remember one boy was VERY shy about his reading but over time grew more and more confident with practice. One Monday morning he finished reading from a book, and the other boys all on their own applauded. I wish you could have seen the huge smile on his face!

The conversation with that father along with prayer has re-ignited the passion in my heart to help children with reading.

But that means a big change must take place

Currently I do Bible clubs with three groups of children in the community. This reading program calls for me to deal with only two or three kids who have special needs instead of larger groups. Of course this also means switching to an emphasis on phonics instead of Scripture.

It would be easy to just keep doing what I’m doing…….

but in ministry you need to find what works

Not all ministry activities are blessed by God! The Lord will often open, and close doors of ministry as he sees fit. When this happens the temptation is to fight the plan of God and continue doing what we are comfortable with, yet this won’t be blessed by God. Instead we must be willing to let go of the ministries that the Lord is closing the door to, and embrace the new opporutnities.

It is difficult to step away from something already established for a new ministry

But meeting a genuine need in the community is better than just doing the same thing

A Bright Light in a Dark Place

Yesterday morning I preached on the Holiness of God in a local prison. During that message I read a passage in Leviticus 11 where God called the Jews the “sanctify themselves” because He was Holy.

Because that chapter dealt with the dietary Jewish law I mentioned in passing this didn’t apply to us since we weren’t Jewish, and are no longer under the law (God deals with us in a relationship of Grace based on our response to Christ instead of good works).

As I walked out of the hall a prisoner stopped me and very graciously asked why I said the law didn’t apply to them…..

He proceeded to say this was wrong because I’d condemned the Old Testament Law

This experience (while he was respectful) illustrates the most serious problem we face in the prison ministry. My church comes and ministers on Wednesdays as part of the “Prison Ministry Fellowship” which holds to the correct doctrine. The issue is other groups can come in as part of that fellowship and share on other days. It’s my understanding they have chapel almost every day.

This opens the door for false doctrine to be proclaimed, and seriously confuse the inmates!

In this case I’m almost certain the teaching of Seventh Day Adventists, who teach Christians should live by the Old Testament law, and worship on Saturday is his reason for disagreeing with me. A few years ago we had to spend three weeks explaining why it isn’t necessary for Christians to obey the Old Testament law in order to be saved. And now because the opposite is being taught we need to do it again.

This does raise a question,

Why continue ministering in the prison if some individuals in that group preach false doctrine?

Sadly there is only one group allowed to minister within the prisons of Saint Vincent, so if I backed out of the Prison Ministry Fellowship our work with them would finish. I also personally know the head of the PMF Is a Pastor who stands firmly against the false doctrine being taught. It’s my understanding the ministry itself has to have an “open door policy” regarding preachers.

But even if that wasn’t true….I would still go to prison every Wednesday

Because those men need a voice of truth in the midst of the confusion, a light in the dark place.

Thankfully the ministry doesn’t try to control what I say. So I’m able to stand before the men and clearly state Rastafarians and Seventh Day Adventists are preaching wrong doctrine from an open Bible. And the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to convict men of their false beliefs.

You see the man stopped me because his belief was challenged. But what if nobody ever told him the Old Testament law is not for Christians, and African Americans are not Israel in the Bible (this is a prominent teaching of Rastafarians). He would have gone on being deceived.

Being a light in a dark place is not about being hateful or angry. Its about calmly and clearly showing from Scripture God’s truth, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

I wish with all of my heart I could have sat down with that inmate yesterday and from Galatians, showed him one on one how we are no longer under the law (they won’t let me). But I’m thankful for the opportunity to step into the darkness created by confusing false doctrine, and proclaim the light of Christ.

A Quiet Rebellion

A few months ago a young boy moved into a house just over the wall from me. He was quiet and pretty shy, so I visited him a bit to help with reading and math, and then eventually he got involved with my Bible club.

Because he always obeyed me I thought he wasn’t a problem……

But I was wrong

Around me this boy would always be respectful to people. But when he wasn’t around me, he would be rude to people, and had a very bad habit of stealing their things. I learned this last week after we had done some painting at the church.

We took one of the paint brushes and put it in some gasoline on a sink in my backyard. When I went with a friend to wash my car he noticed it was missing, so we looked around the yard, but couldn’t find it. Later that afternoon my neighbor found it in his yard because the young man had stolen it, and carried it into their yard.

I waited for him to show up that afternoon so we could walk to Bible club, wondering if he would tell the truth. When I asked him about the paint brush he just looked at me with a confused face and claimed not to know anything about it. After telling him I had found it, he immediately confessed.

Since then I’ve learned of many times he has lied to people

I talked to him yesterday and calmly explained he was banned from coming to any of my activities for a while because of his selfish actions. Cutting ties with him is hard, but necessary if he is going to understand the seriousness of what his actions.

Of course discipline is just the first step……..

Then I must convict him about his sin.

It’s easy for a rebellious child to be convicted about their sin because it is obvious for everyone to see. But a “good child” is hard to be convicted because they don’t look sinful (of course I put the words “good child” in parenthesis because they aren’t good). Because they are usually obedient and quiet people are always talking about how GOOD THEY ARE, when in reality their hearts are incredibly dirty from sin.

Please pray for me as I begin sharing the Gospel with this young man named Deshawn soon. May I be able to explain clearly that obeying the rules will not let you into Heaven. God knows the sin of your heart, and its your heart that must be transformed by the Gospel of Christ

Putting in the Work

In mid-June I received the syllabus for the fall semester at Baptist Bible College of the Caribbean where I’ll teach two classes. The first was a two-week course on Historic Books, which wasn’t a serious problem.

It’s the second class that frightened me…..

A THREE-WEEK course on church history!

The frightening thing is I don’t have enough of a background in church history to teach it for three weeks, and it takes a lot of time to create material like this!

I tried reaching out to everyone who could possibly have some material that could be used in teaching, but only found a small amount. As more doors closed I realized the Lord wanted me to put together class material, but still held out hope someone could give me the material.

On July 14 (a few Thursdays ago) I put out a desperate message on Facebook asking anyone who could help with material to send it to me. When no responses came I began putting together material covering 20 pages a day covering “Church History in Plain Language.” I’m up to page 200, so only twenty days to go!

The frustrating thing about this situation is I could have started on it much earlier…..

  1. The research for this class could have begun when the syllabus came in mid-June, and I’d be done by now
  2. Or I could have begun in early July when I learned there were no notes and been almost finished
  3. But instead I put off the work for a few weeks

The Lord through this experience reminded me the most massive undertaking can be achieved through consistent effort

Since beginning my work on church history I’ve committed myself to spending an hour and a half on that in the early morning hours after devotions. And that repetition of doing the same thing, at the same spot, at the same time every day makes an impact.

At first it seems like nothing is happening (like when I was at page twenty) but with each repetition, more material is covered. Sunday with the Lord’s help I’ll reach the major milestone of being HALFWAY through the book!

Sometimes ministry is easy and bring lots of glory

Sometimes it’s slogging through twenty pages of church history

Just like you did yesterday

And the ten days before that

Work isn’t always glamorous. Sometimes we honestly have to make ourselves show up, but that repetition of hard work will yield great results in the future.

The Gospel Comes Slowly

I have a close unsaved friend who is faithful the church, and is incredibly near Salvation. What’s interesting is he enjoys the church services, but likes our weekly Bible studies more.

Usually on Wednesday nights we will sit down and read through a chapter of Scripture (usually going through the book of Revelation). This gives time for questions, explanation, and clarification. I’m sure he enjoys the interaction in our Bible study, but it’s the slow and patient teaching of Scripture one line at a time that truly speaks to him.

As a minister I know God loves the church, and has chosen to use preaching as His tool to transform Believers. Yet along with that, there must be discipleship (one on one Bible studies) that go verse by verse through chapters.

A Strong ministry takes both preaching and discipleship……

Because the Gospel comes slowly.

There are times when the Gospel transforms someone’s life like a bolt of lightning. We rejoice in this, but normally evangelism occurs slowly over time. As the Gospel truths are repeated and Scripture carefully explained the Holy Spirit will draw their hearts to the Lord.

Sadly we often lose patience and try to “force a decision.” But it is far better to let the Holy Spirit do His work than try to accomplish it ourselves. This in worst case-scenarios means someone enters a Christless eternity because they though they were saved.

So we open the Bible again

And read the words slowly

Adding explanations as we go

and let God open hearts

Remembering The Forgotten

Last week I had the opportunity to visit and older saint on her eightieth birthday. For the last three years of so, I’ve been coming to visit her every Thursday morning for a time of singing, Scripture reading, and prayer.

Last week was a huge blessing because so many family members had come to celebrate her birthday (even her son from Chile!).….

But it was also a little heartbreaking because it’s usually just me and her

A big part of ministry is remembering those people who others have forgotten. This especially refers to older Believer’s who can no longer get around the way that they would like. The eighty-year old saint (we affectionately call her “Granny”) never leaves her porch! I’m sure children and grandchildren don’t try to forget her, but the busyness of life causes us to forget the older generation.

The truth is it’s hard visiting Granny sometimes because her mind has really started to slip in the last two-years. Before Covid she would read three or four chapters of Scripture (without letting me read at all)! Now she can barely read ten verses.

She used to spend hours telling me stories about her childhood in Goergetown…now I remind her of those stories

She used to have a very sharp mind…..now she often can’t think clearly.

But then there are moments that she remembers

And those are the moments I come for

I’ve written in the past about the expression of joy that comes over her face when I start singing some of older songs. After the first two words she always joins in (without missing a word) with a huge smile. Or the excitement when she remembers an experience from her childhood. In a way I am a guide (so to speak) who helps her remember how far the Lord has brought her.

There are days when Granny’s mind isn’t clear when I visit, but that’s okay. Because as we sing, read, and pray together her eyes light up. She may not always remember me, but she remembers her Savior

Missions Takes Patience

Last year I began meeting every Monday with Jason (not his real name) for a Bible study. Because he is in financial need I’d give him some rice to cook after every study. After about four months we stopped meeting together because Jason had no interest in the things of the Lord, and was constantly asking me to give him other things.

Last week with the Lord’s help I started meeting with Jason again

Not because a change had come to his heart…….

but a change had come to mine.

There is nothing wrong with desiring for individuals to grow spiritually. But sometimes spiritual fruit can become the only thing we care about, and we give up when it comes too slowly for our liking.

There are many individuals in the world like Jason who only seem to care about what they can get, and have no interest in God. But as Christian’s we are called to reach those hardened hearts just like the fertile soil. Reaching people like Jason is possible with the Gospel!

But it takes lots of patience

Patience For Jason

One of Jason’s biggest issues is he’s laser-focused on his physical ailments. He struggles a lot with arthritis, and has a fairly serious cataract in his eye that causes him pain. Sadly because he has little money much of Jason’s day is spent gathering plastic bottles that can recycled. This of course makes his physical problems worse. Another issue is Jason loves to drink alcohol. So lots of the money that he does have is spent on rum instead of food, or necessities.

The major reason I stopped meeting with Jason was because he refused to live in a way that glorified the Lord. He could go pick up bottles in the early morning, and then come rest himself at home for the rest of the day, but Jason didn’t want to do that. I even offered to come to his house so we could read Scripture together but he refused to tell me where he lived.

What convicted my heart wasn’t the realization of how stubborn Jason was with me……..

it was how stubborn I was with God!

The Lord helped me realize that in many ways I am just like Jason. Choosing the foolish road instead of God’s path because I’m to stubborn to admit my need for help. Then like the wicked servant who had been forgiven a great debt, I refused to show grace to Jason after the Lord had forgiven my great stubbornness.

So I reached out to Jason a few weeks ago and asked him to start coming again.

This morning we read how God healed a man with leprosy because of his faith. And I carefully explained to Jason that God DID want to heal him. But He wanted to heal his heart! Every time Jason tried to talk about his physical pain (which I know is great) I gently reminded him God was more interested in his heart. As we continued talking his distractions became quieter, and I feel he genuinely listened.

If not that’s okay….

Because I refuse to listen to God as well.

Much of missions involves sharing the Gospel with open sensitive hearts. But part of it involves sharing with people who are more interested in talking about their pain, and what they can get from you. This takes patience that can only come from reminders of God’s patience in our own lives.

Coming Back to Jesus

There’s an old saying “keep the main thing the main thing.” This means we must focus all of our attention on the main point instead of being distracted by secondary issues. This is especially true when it comes to reasoning with the unsaved.

Experience has told me the unsaved are willing to talk about just about anything…….

Except their relationship with Jesus Christ!

Actually on the mission field this is slightly different because the unsaved love to talk about things that are controversial

  1. Like where Lot got his wife
  2. The Nephilim (giants) in Genesis 6
  3. What kind of wine Jesus drank
  4. And what it meant when Solomon told the Shulammite Woman She was “dark” (they take this to mean black)

but again they don’t want to talk about their personal relationship with God

The reason they do this is because the Gospels central to not only my beliefs, but the transformation of their hearts. Satan will do everything he can to distract us from sharing the Gospel. When controversial facts in the Bible don’t work he will use politics, or cultural issues (like gun control) to change the subject.

I am not saying there isn’t a place to discuss subjects like this Biblically. But I have found unbelievers usually bring them up to distract from the Gospel. They would rather argue than talk about their own spiritual need.

In situations like this it’s necessary to bring the conversation back to the Gospel…..and not be a jerk!

My reason for saying “not be a jerk” is unbelievers are looking for any reason to reject our message. Obviously I never compromise the message of the Gospel for anyone, however my method should always display humility along with love.

So whenever they change the subject I put a confused look on my face and say “I’m sorry but I don’t think I understand.” They usually ask what I’m confused about and I say “well we were talking about how good someone has to be in order to enter Heaven, and you started talking about racism. Could you help me understand what racism has to do with God’s standard for Heaven?”

Sometimes my refusal to take the bait leads to frustration, but usually there is no animosity from them. Instead I promise to meet with them at another time to discuss the secondary issue that week and we return to discussing the Gospel.

But what if they do become belligerent?

We still come back to Jesus!

All is Scripture is God-breathed, but only the Gospel can transform lives. So moving away from the one truth that will transform everything is a great disrespect to them. Paul stood before the Corinthians preaching only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” because that was God’s message.

This is important because the world would rather us talk about anything but Jesus. I’ve been confronted by angry men screaming expletives more than once (I wasn’t in danger) because I wouldn’t stop talking about my Savior.

The world has enough people shouting their own message friends

Lets stand and proclaim Jesus

From the Archives: Reasoning at a Rum-Shop

Originally written March 22, 2021

I was walking by what is commonly called a “rum shop” in the community Tuesday morning when a man called out “pastor!”, and invited me to come in.

A “rum shop” is a small store that sells a number of items. However, it’s most popular item is rum, hence the name. Its common to see men and women spend much of the day sitting in these shops drinking strong rum mixed with water.

As you can imagine, trying to share the Gospel with someone at a rum shop is difficult.

  1. They are usually blasting music filled with profanity
  2. Their language is filled with profanity and blasphemy
  3. Since they have been drinking, outbursts of anger or rage are common
  4. They enjoy attacking my beliefs
  5. And things are done in a very disorganised way 1

A part of me didn’t want to walk into the rum shop Tuesday. But I passed out tracts, and tried to share from the Bible, as profanity blasted from a nearby speaker. Finally because it was too distracting I promised to come back at a better time.

I continue to visit those rum shops though because it’s a Christians responsibility to go to the world instead of expecting the world to come to them

the great commission clearly states that the disciples, along with ourselves, are to “go and make disciples.” The idea here is we don’t wait for them to come to us, but approach them ourselves with the Gospel.

This is because Satan has blinded their eyes to Gods truth, and wants to keep them from church 2. The greater motivation however is the Gospel in which Christ came to me in my own sinfulness. The Lord didn’t wait till I had “cleaned myself up” before coming, but came to me in my sin with the Gospel.

In the same way, christians must go to the unsaved.

For me personally there is a greater reason for sharing at places like a rum shop….

it keeps me from believing in my mind subconsciously, or acting as if I am better than them.

The truth of the matter is we are all sinners desperately in need of God’s help. Till the Lord takes me to Heaven, I will daily struggle with my own sin-nature.

Now my rebellion against God isn’t the same as others, but the Lord doesn’t have different levels of sinner. Instead He proclaims all of us “fall short of the glory of God. 3. Though I don’t believe those other individuals are worse sinners than me in my heart, my actions may speak this message very loudly.

To be honest it can be frustrating when individuals willingly choose sin over the church. Thursday night during prayer meeting a group of men sat on a set of steps directly across the road from where my vehicle was parked. Instead of coming in, they sat there listening to music 4, smoking weed, and cursing. Last night after the evening service I passed a large group of men just up the road from us drinking and listening to music while the service was going on.

Some righteous anger and frustration is right in a situation like this. But it should be anger towards Satan who blinded the minds of these men instead of the men themselves. And this anger motivates me to come where they are with the Gospel instead of developing a heart of bitterness towards them.

  1. They enjoy asking dozens of questions at a time
  2. 2 Corinthians 4:4
  3. Romans 3:23
  4. They did turn it down during the service

Don’t Play With False Doctrine

I was sharing a few days ago with a friend who holds to the Rastafarian beliefs (this is very common in Saint Vincent). It’s interesting that he agreed with much of what I said, and used the same words even though there were HUGE differences in our beliefs.

Thankfully I didn’t believe it when he said we both hold to the same Doctrines……

Because I knew EXACTLY how he believed differently than me.

A huge part of reasoning (sharing the Gospel through Bible studies) is being students of other religions in the area. I was taught this by veteran missionary Alan Berry who knew the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (we have quite a few here) better than most of them! Because he knew the differences between their beliefs and the teachings of Scripture, Pastor Berry would mercilessly attack that weak spot with doctrine.

Yesterday I wrote about the most subtle form of false doctrine which is interpreting Scripture by our own ideas instead of Biblical context. While this form of false doctrine is extremely prevalent, it’s also quite easy to deal with since the context of Scripture does the work. However those who firmly hold to false doctrine require a much more direct approach. Their foundational beliefs must be destroyed using Scripture.

As an illustration, a popular beliefs with Rastafarians is that there’s no heaven or hell. They believe hell is on this earth (referring to war, poverty, etc). The problem is they have no Biblical foundation for that belief whatsoever. On the other hand, there are numerous proofs in Scripture that hell is real, including Jesus talking of a place “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44).

There are also other foundational beliefs Rastafarians hold to that cannot be proven by Scripture

  1. They refer to themselves as “Israel” so the Jews aren’t the people of God, the black man is
  2. They believe everyone today must follow the Old Testament diet for Jewish people
  3. They believe in God the Father, but not Jesus. Jesus is just a fairy tale
  4. And they believe that King James removed all references to the black man from the Bible when the King James Version Bible was compiled in 1611

With each of these I hold out an open Bible and calmly ask “can you show me that in this Bible?”

The danger of false doctrine is it’s built upon darkness (or lies). They dress it up to sound just like our beliefs, and talk as if they are saved, but when you pull back the curtain their foundation of darkness is clearly seen. Thanks to missionaries like Pastor Berry I know right away the lies that Rastafarians base their religion on.

Sadly many don’t…..

So we must shine the light of the Gospel onto the cracks in their foundation for the world to see.

The Most Common False Doctrine

The Lord calls us as Christians to not only share the Word of God through evangelism, but also explain and teach it to the unsaved through a ministry I refer to as “reasoning.”

One of the biggest motivations for reasoning is the huge amount of false doctrine that is either being taught, or believed by the unsaved around us. This refers to those who believe in works salvation, question Scripture being God’s Word. or don’t believe Christ was the Son of God.

But the truly dangerous false doctrine is one very few people notice…….

It’s when Scripture verses are taken out of context.

Last year I was having a discussion with friends about the churches responsibility to feed the hungry during the pandemic. We do provide food for those in need, but in times of great crisis it seems as if everyone is hungry. I explained it wasn’t my responsibility Biblically to feed everyone whose hungry.

A friend objected and I handed my Bible to him (you can read about why I always use an open Bible here)

He took my Bible and immediately turned to 1 Peter 5, asking me to read the first two verses.

I immediately saw where he was going because verse two states “Feed the flock of God which is among you.” 🙂

Now my friend was being funny but it reveals a very serious problem with Biblical interpretation. Individuals pick and choose verses that they can found their own beliefs on without paying attention to the context (surrounding verses).

A simple reading of 1 Peter 5:2 reveals it’s a MENTAL and SPIRITUAL feeding referred to here with doctrine instead of physical. Immediately after the phrase my friend used the passage says “taking the oversight thereof,” which emphasizes leadership and organization. The emphasis of the verse is not on helping others at all, but being a strong shepherd for the local church.

This kind of interpretation that overlooks context is very dangerous because it chooses to interpret the text by their wisdom instead of Scripture. This breaks what for me is the second most important the rule for interpretation, “we interpret Scripture with Scripture” (the first is “We interpret literally”).

Dr. Howard Hendricks in his excellent book “Living by the Book” explains that many Christians skip past the most important part of Bible study observation (asking “what does it say?”) moving directly to the step of interpretation which asks “what does it mean?” This is where many false beliefs are born because the interpretation is based on our own understanding.

We live today in a culture that knows bits and pieces of Scripture. It is our job to show them the whole picture.

I have a somewhat “old school” approach to destroying the false doctrine of personal interpretation.

We study books of the Bible one verse at a time.

It is important for people to “stand on their own feet spiritually” by defending their own beliefs with Scripture. But I’ve found going through verses slowly and explaining truth as we go allows the Holy Spirit to show where they interpret with their own ideas instead of Scripture. Exegetical (verse by verse) study also emphasizes what Scripture emphasizes, the redemptive plan of God instead of what speaks to them.

It is vitally important to fight against those cult groups who want to destroy our foundational beliefs. But we must also challenge those who ask “what does it mean?” before asking “what does it say?”

The One True Standard

A lot of my ministry during the week involves what I call “reasoning.” It involves counseling, answering questions, or explaining Scripture to individuals. Sometimes this happens randomly, but I prefer to visit certain individuals at specific times or days during the week.

There are many important tools for reasoning….

But the most important by far is an open Bible.

I don’t have an issue with electronic bibles on phones or tablets. But when trying to explain God’s truth to people an open copy of the Bible is necessary because it provides less distractions. In my experience the phone or tablet will get people more interested in that item than the Scripture on it. Also, turning a physical Bible towards the person so they can read it FOR THEMSELVES is very powerful.

Notice I say it must be an OPEN BIBLE

This is incredibly important because SCRIPTURE must be the foundation of my beliefs.

When reasoning with someone who disagrees with me on an issue it’s interesting because they don’t want me to talk about the Bible. One man who I was having a discussion with last year became VERY ANGRY after I pulled a Bible out of my bag. He kept telling me he wanted to talk about “facts” instead of “myths” (which according to him the Bible was filled with).

This animosity towards the Bible comes from the fact that their beliefs are based on personal opinion, while mine is based on Scripture. Therefore they want me to move from the Bible to defend beliefs with the “facts” which are only personal opinion. Of course the real issue here is the Lord uses His word, NOT MY OPINION!

Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, and convicts using the Word of God. It is Scripture that according to the Lord is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12). When I move from Scripture to my own personal wisdom, it just brings confusion.

Though Satan and the person screams for us to stop, we must not stop using Bible

Yesterday I was having a conversation with an unsaved friend who told me that God, and Jesus (along with everything else in the Bible) were myths. I calmly held the Bible in my hand out to him and asked “can you show me that from my Bible?” After asking a number of times for proof the Bible was a myth (and getting none) I calmly packed up my Bible and left.

This doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying to reach him, but in that moment he refused to listen to Scripture. So I stepped away and will revisit again when he’s willing to listen.

It’s better to close the Bible and walk away for a short time than to close it permanently and stand on my own beliefs

A Long-Term Evangelism

Reaching the unsaved of a religious mission field means three things.

  1. Inspecting fruit (looking for change of life that came from their Salvation)
  2. Letting the Gospel do its work (don’t force a decision)
  3. And going to them with Scriptural truth

Going to them refers to taking the initiative (not expecting them to come to you)…….

And consistently sharing the Gospel

Particularly in religious mission fields evangelism is hard, slow work. This is because the unsaved are totally convinced their actually saved since they say, and do the right things. Also the religious unsaved agree with what the Bible teaches, but haven’t placed their faith in it.

So reaching the unsaved takes what I call “long-term evangelism”

Long-term evangelism is a form of outreach that explains the Gospel slowly and repetitively over a long period of time. It usually begins with a Gospel presentation, and then develops into Bible studies with the individual.

This evangelistic outreach is difficult because it requires two things:

  1. Patience
  2. and a strong knowledge of Scripture

In the early days of long-term evangelism the focus can be on “reasoning” or answering questions people may have about the Bible. In some cases reasoning takes extra patience because the individual aggressively defends beliefs not found in Scripture. But as we give them answers from an open Bible, the Holy Spirit will soften hearts.

The important thing about long evangelism is remembering that Gods Word won’t return void. This means we don’t have to spend time trying to change the person. Instead we simply point back to the Gospel, and truths of Scripture. And then allow the Holy Spirit to do the work. This makes it better than our “short-term (fast) evangelism” because we aren’t trying to force them into a decision. Long-term evangelism does take a great commitment and can be discouraging. But it’s work the work to see the Holy Spirit begin to reveal God’s truth, and convict of sin.

Like Christ the good shepherd who seeks out the wandering sheep, we must continue going back to the lost with Gods truth. Till the day we can bring the wandering sheep home with rejoicing.

From the Archives: The Gospel Draws Hearts

Originally written February 20, 2018

A few weeks ago after a lesson about King Sauls dirty (sinful) heart and king Davids clean  (pure) heart a seven-year-old came to me and said: “Mr. John, I think my heart is dirty.”

A half-hour later she prayed to accept Jesus as her Saviour!

There are a few doubts about whether or not her decision was genuine, but her coming to me shows a working of God upon her heart.

There are dozens of children in Barrouaillie who would gladly pray the sinners prayer with me if I asked.  But instead of choosing Christ as their Savior, they would be doing something to make me happy.

So I usually wait for a “Mr. John my heart is dirty” moment

This can take a long time….but it’s well worth the wait.

There is another little girl who attends every service at Tabernacle, take notes sitting beside the pastor’s wife, and can explain clearly what it means to believe in Jesus.  But if you ask where she will go when she dies the answer will always be “hell.”

The honest truth is she isn’t ready to accept Christ yet.

It’s incredibly tempting to put pressure on her for Salvation, but instead, I’m called to place the Gospel and Christ’s free gift of Salvation before them every day (Romans 1:16).

My words may lead to a decision, but only the Gospel can show children their heart is truly dirty.

Looking for Fruit

Ministering in a religious mission field creates many different challenges. One of the greatest is understanding when a person is truly saved. A religious person can believe the right things, do the right things, and even pray a sinners prayer without becoming saved.

So how do we know when Salvation has come?
We look for fruit!

Its true religious can do things. But the fruit of Salvation is a TRANSFORMED LIFE! As mentioned earlier this week, religious people focus on Godly action’s while their own hearts are incredibly sinful. Salvation transforms and cleanses the heart of an individual, so a dramatic change takes place overnight.

This transformation is seen in the change, but the consistency of that change is what truly reveals who has been transformed.

The decisions of a religious person are normally based on emotion or circumstances. So they start strong (sometimes even stronger than everyone else) but quickly run out of energy. The blazing fire seems to become a pile of ashes overnight.

True transformation on the other hand keeps burning!

This doesn’t mean there will never be struggles for the new Christian of course. They will find themselves on the front lines of spiritual warfare! Satan will do ANYTHING to keep them from serving the Lord. But the true Believer has the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to help withstand Satan’s attacks. The young Believer obviously won’t be perfect but with God’s help they will stand firm.

The problem with the religious is they fall down, and never get back up.

Many people refer to themselves as backsliding Christians. They were doing well, but then messed up spiritually. But don’t worry because they will “catch themselves” (make it right). I always ask people when they backslid, and its usually over seven years ago.

That is not a backslider….

That is an unbeliever!

A true Believer would return to the Lord because the conviction of being away from Him would be far too great for them to endure. Only those who don’t really have a relationship with the Lord can walk away for that long.

It is tough sometimes inspecting spiritual fruit. In a way it would be easier to just let the person believe they are saved. But for those who don’t know the Lord, telling them the hard truth is the most loving thing I could possibly do!

A Circumcision of the Heart

Reaching a religious mission field first of all involves showing individuals that being religious is not the same as being saved. But it is also involves showing Believers that the Christian life is not about religion.

The sad truth is many believers are saved by Grace through faith…..

And then try to live the Christian life by works

A lot of times this isn’t even a conscious thing because the focus is on outer acts such as attending church, prayer, and reading Scripture. Of course these things are wonderful, but the most important thing to God is a personal relationship walking closely with Him. This emphasis on works can make us believe that we are close to the Lord when this isn’t really true.

I can remember when the Lord taught me this in the eleventh grade. Up till this point I had accepted Christ, was actively involved in the church, and had accepted the call to preach. So I was in no way rebellious or wicked! But the whole emphasis was on just doing what the Lord wanted me to do.

One Wednesday night at youth meeting a friends brother gave a devotional from Romans 2:29. As he explained how the Jews were emphasizing outer works like physical circumcision while the Lord cared about an inner relationship, the Holy Spirit began to convict me. Suddenly I realized that Christianity is a relationship with God, not something that we do.

As an illustration its about the difference between a personal and public relationship with God. A public relationship with God is absolutely a part of Christianity with the outer works. Yet there must also be a personal (private) relationship with Him based on time spent in meditation, Bible study, and prayer. It is the personal time spent with the Lord that’s truly important to God. Unfortunately many Believers have a vibrant public relationship, but a weak personal relationship.

The answer to this problem is to start with the personal relationship, and work from there.

As a person focuses on their heart relationship with God (time spent with Him, commitment to Him) then the public relationship will become vibrant. Now the outer acts such as church memberships are forms of worship that flow out of a heart that truly loves the Lord.

The Apostle Paul is right in asking the Galatians if they are foolish enough to think faith can save them, and then works can perfect the Christian life (Galatians 3:3). The same religious works that could never save someone, could never bring Holiness.

Why I Hate Religion

In the early days of missions, missionaries would take the Gospel into areas where the Gospel had never been heard. Some places would have heard the Gospel, but hardly anyone believed, or there was serious persecution from unbelievers.

Today many missions fields have changed…..

they have become religious!

The area of Saint Vincent where I live is a community called Barrouallie. If you include both my community, and the two just over the hill, there are more than ten churches in less than a ten-mile area! Every Sunday dozens of families can be seen walking to church because its an integral part of the community. So much so that during the pandemic, churches were only asked to close for one weekend.

There are blessings to being in a religious mission field

  1. People care about the things of God (I pass out tracts almost every day, and people take them)
  2. Acts of sin won’t be tolerated
  3. and there are many open doors to talk about the Lord

But regardless of those blessings, I would rather not live in a religious mission field

Because there is a huge difference between being religious, and being saved!

The old saying is “before you get somebody saved you have to get them lost first.” Its true that only after a person stops relying on their own good works that they are ready to be saved. Because Salvation is based on faith alone instead of any works.

The problem with religion is it’s based on good works

  1. Going to church
  2. Reading your Bible
  3. Tithing
  4. telling others about Christ (etc)

These good works are meant to be a FRUIT of Salvation that proves we are God’s children. But the can never be the foundation for perfection, because God’s standard is perfection. If God let one sinner into Heaven who had not accepted Christ, He would not be perfect, and therefore not God!

Unfortunately Satan deceives many individuals into believing religion is the same thing as saved. This leads countless individuals who thought they were saved into a Christless eternity.

This is why Christians must make a very clear distinction between those who religious, and those who are saved.

While in Australia as a missionary, I was able to volunteer in a conversational English group, that had quite a few different religious represented. Towards the end of a session the Lord led me to explain the difference between religion and salvation so I said “I hate religion”!

I chose not to elaborate on that statement, so the next week another volunteer asked me “why did you say that”? And in front of many religious people, I explained that good works changing your hands can never change your heart.

There are days I wish the Lord called me to a pagan country.

Because the religious ones are harder to reach.

Sharing What You’ve Learned

A few years ago I prepared notes for a class on “The Life of Christ” using the same textbook that Dr. Wayne Willis taught me from during my days at Piedmont Bible College (now Carolina University). And last summer while putting together notes on Eschatology I fondly remembered many lessons Dr. Hoyle Bowman taught me (in his own voice of course).

The call to teaching is an incredibly important one….

because God calls us to share with others the truth that has been shared with us.

The thing about wisdom is it’s very quickly forgotten. The Lord has privileged me to learn from many Godly men and women, some of whom have gone home to be with Him. Their wisdom has been very formative in my spiritual growth, and ministry philosophy. And now it is my responsibility to share with the next generation of leaders what they taught me.

The teachers my pass on

But the legacy of their ideas must continue!

This legacy idea doesn’t just involve my professors from Piedmont, but older resources and books as well. In classes I use textbooks from solid scholars from past years:

  1. Dwight Pentecost
  2. John Walvoord
  3. and Wayne Grudem (though he is newer)

In this way the knowledge of these older scholars will live on in the hearts of new students

And they will have a solid theological foundation for the future.

Today students are bombarded with dozens of new philosophies, theological ideas, and ministry programs. What they need to hear is the wisdom that created a firm foundation for us in our younger years. And will do so for many years to come.

Ministering to their Wallet, as Well as Their Heart

Once every year around November I bring in “Christmas barrels” that include personal items for me to use during the year (like coffee and electronics) as well as some ministry tools. Almost every year I also bring in items that can’t be found in SVG for individuals who will pay me back during the year.

Over the years I always collect from individuals after the receive the times….

Except for Bible College Students

They almost always get items for free.

The financial reason for this is because students are unable to work a normal job since they are always at the college. But even if they had the money, I still wouldn’t worry about getting paid back. Because a big part of missions is giving to the next generation of ministers what they need to succeed.

I have written about this in the past, but a pastor visiting Saint Vincent for a Bible conference gave one of the best definitions of missions I’ve ever heard. He said “missions is like being a grandparent. Their goal instead of doing the work themselves, is to give their spiritual grandchildren what they need to do the work. Then they just stand back and smile.”

This grandparenting view of missions has greatly impacted my teaching because it reminds me students don’t just need spiritual help, but financial as well.

This begins by simply sharing what you have

Over the years, I’ve shared any goodies from home, and necessary items with the students

  1. Jolly Ranchers
  2. Gatorade
  3. Oreo Cookies
  4. Peanuts
  5. and LOTS of coffee (I even give them creamer which I never use)
  6. Pens and backpacks
  7. Notebooks
  8. And other items

After sharing what you have, it’s about giving what they need

There are two people I’ve ever allowed to drive my car without my being present. The first has since gone overseas, the second is a college student who drives it to do young peoples meetings on Fridays. It was a joy to go up with him one weekend to see the young people he was able to minister to.

This post probably sounds like I’m bragging, please forgive me for that, the truth is I can do so much more for the students! Instead of making myself look good, my point is missions must be at it’s core generous. While we cannot help everybody with everything, we must give whatever we can to those who are actively serving the Lord.

How Does it Work?

In my second year of teaching at Bible College, a tradition began. I’m not entirely sure how it got started, believe a student jokingly asked me for Kentucky Friend Chicken. I agreed, and ended up buying it for all of the students.

Eventually buying KFC for everyone after the classes final exam became our traditional form of celebration.

While I’m sure the students enjoyed KFC, the most important part of that meal wasn’t the chicken…..

It was the conversation while eating our chicken.

Often during class questions would come up about how to practically apply what what he had been learning, or how it worked in daily life. There wasn’t always time to emphasize application during class itself, so meals together (both the celebratory KFC, and college meals) were spent talking about how to live out what we learned.

Those meals may have been more important to students than class because it answered the question “so what?”

This application step of teaching because it helps students understand

  1. Why this information is important
  2. What chance it should bring to their lives
  3. And how they can help that change take place

Sadly many teachers (myself included) have overlooked the importance of applying the information we teach, expecting the students to apply it themselves. This does great damage to the class because it’s the teachers job to build excitement in students (not the other way around). And one of the best ways of creating excitement is to show how the material can help them spiritually.

A big part of this is not only explaining how this works in class, but also taking it for a “test spin.” Over chicken we would discuss how the material in class could apply to different scenarios they experience at Bible College, or in the ministry. As the material becomes a principle of life that can help with ministry challenges, their excitement soars.

Foundationally our discussions around KFC show that truth must be applied. Having an understanding of theology is definitely useful, but if it DOESN’T IMPACT YOUR LIFE, what good is it? Theology along with other truth is meant to affect not only our head, but our hands.

Our meals together helped me reject the “dump truck method” of teaching that simply dumped a huge amount of information into students minds, and then left them to sort it out. Because teaching in the end teaching isn’t about covering the material, it’s about transforming the student.

Standing On Your Own Feet

Teaching bible college students has taught me Biblical education must be theologically based, and practical to daily life.

It was also be very loud!

To be honest I enjoy having discussions regarding the more controversial, or dividing subjects (dress, forms of worship etc.) even if our conversations do get VERY ANIMATED! Firstly because there are few places where those subjects are actually discussed. And secondly, people aren’t used to defending their beliefs with Scripture.

Sadly this is the way many Christians defend their beliefs

  1. Find one (or two) verses that teach what they believe
  2. Use that verse as the foundation for an argument based totally on their personal opinion
  3. this is neither Biblical, or glorifying to God!

This doesn’t mean that verse (or verses) aren’t part of Scripture of course. However the emphasis of this argument is the persons own opinion. In some cases an individual will look for a passage that defends their position instead of actually studying what the Bible says about that subject!

The point it is isn’t enough for Christians to have a theological foundation….

They must have strong convictions that can be defended from Scripture

This usually means using doctrinal or theological themes as an answer to controversial questions. To use an example, we discussed whether or not it is right for women to wear pants. I actually am against women wearing pants most of the time, but probably not for the reason you think. My foundation is not Deuteronomy 22:5 which states “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God”. My reasons are this a Jewish covenant (we are Gentiles), and there are no other verses in Scripture referring to a woman not wearing pants.

My foundation for this belief comes from the broader theme of modesty, or wearing nothing that would lead someone to lust. Much of the current style of jeans are created to accentuate the body (at least in SVG) so I’m against women wearing them.

Deuteronomy 22:5 BY ITSELF is not a firm foundation for my convictions. If I used that alone, the defense would come from my own personal opinion or beliefs. But if modesty is the foundation of my conviction there is a massive amount of Scripture to back it up!

It pains me to see so many Christians who use one or two verses (out of context) as a foundation for their convictions. If we are going to proclaim the Gospel of Christ boldly in this world, we must stand firmly on the rock of Scripture instead of the shifting sand of personal opinion.

You Can’t Teach Them Everything

Wednesday I began putting together notes for Fall classes at Baptist Bible College of the Caribbean. Starting the senior year of classes with the current students I’ve learned a lot of lessons about teaching (Some of them the hard way).

One of the first lessons learned, and most important is this….

you can’t teach them everything!

There will always be TOO much information to cover during a class. For instance, last fall I taught a class on Major Prophets which covered almost 200 chapters!! It is obviously impossible to teach everything there is to know about a subject. And more importantly, it isn’t necessary!

Bruce Wilkinson in his excellent book “The Seven Laws of the Learner” describes what he calls the “irreducible minimum.” This refers to the most important information about that subject that students absolutely needed to know. The role of the teacher is to understand that minimum, and then repeat it till their students grasped it.

The notes for my original classes were outline formatted and ran around 200 pages (double spaced). These notes were definitely impressive, but I noticed during class (particularly the second week) we would have to skim or rush through twenty to thirty pages each day! Obviously this is far too much to cover if the student is supposed to master the information!

The notes for my next class (Historical books) will have a three to five page outline for each book. The whole set of notes will be less than fifty pages. But I can GUARANTEE YOU students will get more out of those notes.

Why?

Because the emphasis is on repetition and discussion of the core truths.

What Wilkinson refers to as “the irreducible minimum” I call “themes.” A theme would be a Biblical truth found within the context (never just one verse) that points towards a theological theme found elsewhere in Scripture. Themes usually fit into larger categories such as characteristics of God, total depravity, redemption, and Gods plan for evangelism.

The real reason I emphasize teaching themes is because otherwise I’ll decide what’s important to teach instead of Scripture.

All of us have verses or subjects in the Bible that we find especially interesting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing these truths in class because our passion for them is reflected in our teaching. However, it is dangerous because our own emotions or personal interpretation is relied on instead of context.

At the end of the day the important truths aren’t the ones that “speak to me.”

They are the ones emphasized in Scripture.

Wednesday afternoon I started the hard work of compiling outlines, notes, and background material on the Historic Books. That’s actually the easy part because in about a week I’ll start working all of that information down to brief outlines focused on the themes of each book. It would honestly be easier to just share the passages that speak to me, but that would be robbing students of God’s Truth.

I have failed many students by trying to teach them everything, or only what is interesting to me.

But with the Lord’s help my current teaching philosophy emphasizes what Scripture emphasizes,

And this is what will transform lives.

Getting Back on the Bike

picture taken from http://www.mikevaughan.co.uk

This week I have revisited some “confessions of a missionary” that emphasized areas of my life that needed lots of work spiritually. Thankfully the Lord gives the grace and strength to arise when we have fallen, but we must have the tenacity to try again through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The successful Christian life isn’t about never falling (because we always will)….

It’s about how many times you get up after you fall.

The thing about spiritual growth is it’s incredibly hard work, that takes lots of self-discipline. Some would say this is sinful because we are under grace instead of works in Christ. However even under grace there is a responsibility on our part.

Last week I shared a devotional that explained God gives illustrations of obedience being God’s Wil for the Christian life.

  1. We are called by God to become “doer’s of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22)
  2. Christ illustrated this with the parable of the wise men where he says “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24) (emphasis added)
  3. And finally James states very clearly “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

Yes this obedience is done in the power of the Holy Spirit instead of our own strength. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are called to obedience

To put this in simple terms, there is a greater blessing from God to those who faithfully obey. Our Salvation has nothing to do with obedience (obviously), but our closeness to God has everything to do with obedience!

The application of that truth is this

Our obedience doesn’t have to be perfect……

but it does have to be consistent.

What keeps us down when we fall is a belief that everything has to be done perfectly without any weakness. As human beings with sin-natures we cannot accomplish this, so we eventually just throw up our hands and give up. But perfection isn’t the goal, faithfulness is! God gets greater glory from that child who keeps getting up spiritually than the one who tries to be perfect.

Most of us had the same experience riding a bike

We were incredibly scared so our parent (usually dad) ran behind us holding onto the bike so it we couldn’t fall. Of course they eventually DO let go (without telling us) and we coast along on our own. But immediately after realizing they have let go, we fall! The parent will give some tender attention to us, and then say “now get back on the bike.”

Because that’s how you learn how to ride a bike, getting back on!

Riding a bike is a process, just ask any child who is learning to do it. They are covered with bruises, scrapes, and cuts from falling down. But they keep getting back on!

Why?

Because the joy of riding is stronger than the pain of falling.

We all fall friends and sometimes hear a voice saying “stay down!”

Please don’t listen to it. Get up, dust yourself off, and get back on the bike.

The joy is worth the pain.

Rising When I Fall (Micah 7:8)

This week I have been writing a series of “confessions” that deal with weaknesses in my life. I don’t share those for self-pity or attention, but to highlight the fact that we are all in need of God’s help. At times people may view missionaries as “super Christians” who never struggle, which is very far from the truth.

Of course owning our weaknesses is only part of the victory…..

We must claim the victory over them through the Holy Spirit.

The book of Micah is quite sad because it describes a time in Israel when injustice ruled the land. The Jews had wandered from the Lord, and He responded by withdrawing protection. Now the people were allowed to consume and destroy one another.

In the midst of that sorrow over injustice Micah writes these words:

Mic. 7:7   Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.

In this time of overwhelming injustice and sin Micah focused his eyes upon the character of God. This refers to a repentance (turning back to the Lord) and prayer that God would restore the justice they needed. He also submitted to the time and plan of God by waiting for the Lord to do the work.

Micah continues to speaking directly to those who mocked him (were celebrating their sin) telling them not to rejoice. He then shares my favorite phrase in this passage.

when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. (emphasis added)

Micah told them he had fallen (sinned, and experienced the punishment of God). But because of his repentance, he would also be restored.

The beautiful message of that phrase is WE WILL FALL…..

But through Christ, we can get back up!

Micah makes clear his confidence is that God once the time of judgement had ended, would restore him to a place of strength.

Micah 7:9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.

The application for us today is don’t expect the Christian life to be perfect. We all fall daily spiritually (at least I do!) but the cross of Christ has paid the price for not only our past sins, but present, and future as well! So EVERY TIME I fall, God through His grace will lift me up!

The problem is Satan doesn’t want us to rise. He wants us to wallow in the shame and guilt of our sins, believing the Lord cannot use us. Or perhaps we never attempt anything else for God since we failed that time. So when we fall a big part of us may say “stay down!”

But we must rise

I will apply this thought tomorrow, but today be encouraged friends God gives grace for every time you fall

Yes, Missionaries Stare at Screens

I fondly remember the summer of 2020 when the Lord led me to make reading of physical books a commitment. This came from an understanding I spent far too much time staring at screens between my laptop, phone, and kindle. With the Lords help, the evenings were always reserved for reading which led to spiritual, as well as mental growth.

In December 2020 I took a picture of all the books I’d been able to read (along with a few by kindle that I didn’t have a physical copy of).

That picture used to give me joy……

but now it makes me very sad

Since that time I began to slowly fall back into entertainment by screens using Netflix, or news in the evenings instead of reading. I told myself “just ten minutes of this, and then I will read my book”. But as you can imagine, it ended up lasting a lot longer. Books such as “Digital Minimalism” make it very clear social media, or streaming sites are created to keep our attention. The apps especially make it very easy (too easy!) to swallow up all of our free time.

In a deeper sense this isn’t really about social media and streaming though

It’s a question of how we will invest our free time.

I usually come home from visitation about 6:00 in the evening pretty tired. In that moment I have an incredibly important decision to make.

  1. Do I read a book while cooking?
  2. Or do I watch something?
  3. In the end this comes down to education, or entertainment?

Sadly in my tired state I choose entertainment most of the time.

“But wait!” you might say, “it isn’t a sin to be entertained!”

No it isn’t……

but every time I choose entertainment over education at night, I develop a habit of choosing it at other times.

James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” says our choices “are like votes for who we would like to become.”

So if I vote for entertainment every night at 6:00, guess what I will vote for when I do have energy.

Recently I was at the doctors office (had taken a member there) and brought a book, and notebook to pass the time. As the minutes passed I spent some time working on sermons in the notebook and decided to reward myself with fifteen minutes of social media. But because my brain was focused accustomed to indulging in it every night, it was incredibly hard to just spend 15 minutes on it. The book was never opened 😦

The answer to staring at screens is simple but not easy…….

Defend your free time with everything you have!

This means making a book THE FIRST OPTION in EVERY SITUATION! I currently rely heavily on my kindle because it doesn’t allow me to go online (I have a basic reader) but don’t use the phone app since it is too much of a distraction. The funny thing is if I make myself reach for the book first, I will enjoy it immensely! But reaching for it first is very difficult.

In my backpack I always have a physical bible, a kindle, and preferably a physical book. In my right-hand pocked I always have my phone. In moments of what I reach to makes all the difference in the world.

Yes, Missionaries Get Distracted

A few weeks ago I shared a devotional at prayer meeting from the book of Proverbs entitled “do it now” (you can find a version of it here). The more I studied for that devotional, the more it convicted my own heart. Through it the Lord showed me that one of the greatest sins in my life is “randomness.”

Randomness is not the absence of activity……

it is activity without structure.

The funny thing about randomness is the people are actually quite busy! Unfortunately, they spend most of the day doing THE WRONG THINGS! The secondary (unimportant) tasks will be accomplished, while the harder (more important) jobs are left undone.

At the core of randomness is a continually distracted mind (and life).

In other words, there is no plan

As someone who struggles with randomness, I desperately need structure:

  1. A to-do list for that day
  2. A schedule that focuses on accomplishing those tasks
  3. A clear vision or purpose that includes future goals
  4. A rythm of healthy habits that help accomplish those goals
  5. And most importantly…..WRITE IT DOWN!!!

Structures incredibly important because it gives you a target to shoot at

Randomness tries to shoot at every target that pops into your head. This is good initially, but our short-term memory is known to focus on things only for a brief period of time. So the target of randomness keeps moving!

It’s far better to have one specific target, take aim, and hit the bullseye for each goal.

The greatest lie randomness ever tells us is that planning is “a waste of time.” Again, it is true a random life will be very busy. But we must ask ourselves, “is it effective?”

As someone who has spent too many days running around like a chicken with my head cut off dear friend, let me answer that with a resounding “no!”.

Yes structure is hard work and takes lots of time.

But it’s the difference between an arrow hitting the target, or laying in the grass nearby.

Yes, Missionaries Get Lazy

A few Saturdays ago a friend was in town, so he stopped by to visit me. As I walked out of the house he took one look at me and said, “boy you have gotten fat!” He actually continued to talk about how fat I had gotten, and made me promise to lose weight by the time he came to visit again.

My first response to his statement was surprise with some frustration….

but my second response shame

because He was right, I HAD gotten fat!

The truth is I’d known I was heavy for a while (combination of treats from my Christmas barrel, and lack of exercise). But I kept on making excuses about it (I’ll start training tomorrow). The Lord knew I needed someone to confront me about being overweight, which is why He sent my friend.

So last Sunday I began working on getting more exercise

  1. By walking to places locally instead of driving
  2. Starting strength training through an app
  3. And getting started on longer training walks

While starting this exercise program I started to ask myself “how did I get fat?”

In the past people always told me I had the OPPOSITE problem of being TOO SKINNY! When I came home for two-weeks of Christmas in 2018 my mom and dad were shocked at how much weight I lost (it comes from being in a tropical climate, and walking). I can remember friends expressing concern about how skinny I was in 2019, at which time I wore a small shirt!

So did I become fat?

It’s easy……….

I GOT LAZY!!!

It probably began with unhealthy habits that didn’t involve activity developed during 2020 (I stayed at home). After a while that added some weight to my body, and got me out of shape. Shortly afterward the walking done during ministry and visitation that used to be so easy now resulted in being out of breath, and exhausted. So I began to pull back on the activity (it hurt after all) and became even more overweight.

The Lord used last week to remind me that laziness of all kinds creeps into our lives slowly (never overnight). We don’t realize its a problem until the day that short walk fills our lungs and legs with pain. And because laziness didn’t come overnight, it cannot be conquered overnight.

Monday evening I was a bit discouraged while going through the core training with my exercise app

  1. I couldn’t do the exercises properly
  2. EVERYTHING HURT
  3. And I couldn’t do it as long as I was supposed to!

The Lord then reminded me it wasn’t about being pretty or perfect….it was about doing the work

In the same way, we conquer laziness but focusing not on results, but simply showing up

Do it Now! (Proverbs 14:23)

The Lord reminded me of an very important but often forgotten point.

Talking about doing something is never as good as doing it!

I happen to be someone who likes to plan things out before attempting them. There’s obviously nothing wrong with planning of course, but the planning can become an excuse for not attempting the action.

Or to paraphrase Proverbs 14:23: Hard work brings rewards, but talking about work brings poverty

This message can be broken down to three simple words….

Do It Now!

There are two foundational truths that challenge us to do the work now. The first is God calls us to obedience

  • We are called by God to become “doer’s of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). This means a true Christian will obey the Lords commands (James 2:14-26), so submission is a fruit or “outgrowth” of Salvation.
  • Christ illustrated this with the parable of the wise men where he says “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24) (emphasis added)
  • Finally James states very clearly “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

The second truth is quite frightening. Satan doesn’t want us to do the work of God!

  • He will come up with many different reasons why we can’t do the work that day (proverbs 26:13)
  • He encourages us to put it off till tomorrow, even though we may not have tomorrow (James 4:14)
  • Or do it when you “feel ready”

The devil knows that God desires for us to accomplish His will. So in order to destroy the plan of God, he will do everything possible to keep it from getting done!

There are many applications of doing it now, but for me it comes down to dealing with problems before they grow.

Jack Kent wrote a children’s book named “There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon.” It’s about a small boy who finds a small dragon in his room one morning, and tells his mother. Her response is “there’s no such thing as a dragon”! The dragon continually grows throughout the book while the mother still refuses to admit it even exists! Finally after the dragon has carried away the house, the boys mother finally admits there are such things as dragons. At that point the dragon became small again.

As someone who has spent far too much time ignoring the dragons in life till they start carrying away the house, let me beg of you. Do the work! And deal with your dragons when they are small.

From the Archives: Missions is embracing Rest

Originally written June 1, 2021 added material in bold and italics

To give some background to this post, at the time I was suffering from an incredibly bad cataract in my left eye, and a weaker one in my right eye. My blogging was non-existent during that time (three posts total from May to mid July when I got the surgery) because I could barely see!

Last week this time I was getting ready to visit a local clinic, and get my second vaccine shot.

I don’t share that to start a big debate over whether or not a person should be vaccinated. It’s my opinion you should be for your safety and others, but the point of this post is what happened AFTER the shot.

I fully expected to feel awful the day of the shot, so didn’t plan much afterwards. I ended up getting home around 2:00, and spent most of the day in bed after that.

Following that day of rest I woke up Wednesday sore, but with good energy, It felt great to have strength during the day that helped me catch up on what wasn’t finished Tuesday.

Then Thursday came

I woke up not feeling too great, but was able to get stuff done that morning. But around 2:00 though my whole body started hurting! So I ended up spending much of that day in the bed or resting as well.

Thursday really frustrated me because I wanted to do work, but my body just wouldn’t co-operate. Yet looking back on it, I believe it was Gods way of teaching me a lesson.

The period of time between mid-May and early July when I returned to the States was God’s way of teaching me to rest in Him instead of focusing on activity. In late June it got so bad I couldn’t even drive! There were many frustrating days during that season, but in it I found my identity isn’t found in work, but Christ

I love being busy, which is not a bad thing. However, it’s easy to begin worshipping my work, In other words, i find my identity (happiness) in how much is accomplished during that day. When productivity becomes something that I worship instead of God. It is a problem.

So the Lord gave me two days last week with little work accomplished.

As the frustration faded Thursday afternoon, the Lord reminded me that effectiveness or “getting things done” wasn’t something to be worshipped. Instead it was a form of worship to God.

This makes all the difference because my identity and happiness doesn’t have to be found in how much I accomplished that day. Instead it’s found in the cross of Christ, and Gods placing His righteousness to my account.

This doesn’t mean I should sit around and do nothing all day. It does mean that God in His grace gives me days of rest. And those restful moments come because the work of Salvation doesn’t rely on me.

Thankfully my body is back at full-strength and I’m slowly but surely catching up on unfinished tasks. But I’m grateful that even if the to-do list is never finished, I will still be Gods child.

The truth is it would take about a month till my eyes were full-strength. But through that season of hardship I found myself relying on the Lord instead of myself, and that He is faithful.

Choosing Average or Excellent

Last month we began the process of restoring the stage at church. This involved removing the carpet that had covered it, and replacing that carpet with tile.

The project itself was a good reminder that change is a good thing,

But it must be done the right way.

Removing the stage carpet was not a problem since everyone was in favor of that. However when it came time to look for tile, the decision wasn’t so easy. We had decided on a newer form of tile that ended up being quite expensive, and hard to find (lots of people wanted it).

After a morning of looking for the newer tile (and failing) I went with a friend and found another kind of tile that could be purchased that day for a cheaper price. But this was an older style of tiles that didn’t look good in the long-run.

We were faced with a choice between average tile, and excellent tile

Of course we decided to spend the money and get the higher quality…..

But that made me think about how many times we choose average over excellent

Choosing excellent over average is very easy when we are talking about something connected to ministry like tiles on a stage. But it’s much harder to consistently pursue excellence in daily life. There will almost always be an easy average road, and a difficult road of excellence. And the paths we choose make a great impact upon life.

Just today I chose between being average and excellent many times when it related to my fitness

  1. Do I get out of bed (excellent) or hit the snooze alarm (average)
  2. Do I exercise (excellent) or put it off till tomorrow (average)
  3. Do I eat a healthy meal (excellent) or an unhealthy one (average)
  4. Do I walk while visiting people locally (excellent) or drive (average)

The sad truth is I find these questions very convicting because of many average choices.

The motivation to choosing excellence is this: You cannot get an excellent ministry without an excellent personal life

In other words, it doesn’t matter what kind of tile I put on the church stage if my sermon preparation habits or lazy.

And the most majestic building won’t accomplish much if I don’t have integrity

The truth is the Lord does indeed build the church, but the leaders of that church have a responsibility to represent Him well. Growth comes not by making the inside more beautiful, but choosing Gods road consistently.

Leaving Foolishness Behind

Last month, a young man named Jonathan got saved, and began attending church. He was very committed to serving the Lord and rejecting the old sinful way of life.

I’m sure Jonathan knew this would mean leaving friends who weren’t interested in things of God……

but it probably happened sooner than he expected.

I like to tell people who are interested in growing in the Lord they need to leave behind “the foolishness.” By this I mean individuals who will fit into the Biblical term fool. Those who sit around doing nothing, take the Lords name in vain, usually drink, display anger, distract those who actually want to serve God. It is possible to spend time with foolish people (I do) but it’s important not to spend too much time around them. Because the more time you spend around foolish people, the more foolishness you will experience!

Last Tuesday was a perfect example of how fools bring foolishness, or confusion and conflict.

A simple issue of a man taking two lengths of steel for welding without asking (he should have asked) that cost less than $20 US became a big issue. The owner of a chicken shack the steel was taken from had a loud confrontation with the man’s girlfriend who lives just across the road. For hours they screamed and shouted at one another! Then Tuesday night someone burned down the chicken shack!

Sadly there is no proof of who actually did the job, so nothing will come of any investigation. The chicken shack owners have already built back a smaller stand to sell from.

That afternoon I saw Jonathan wearing his secondary-school uniform, which made me very happy! He had reached for four (around the end of grade 11) before leaving school, with only one year left before graduating! He told me that afternoon the Lord led him to start classes again.

While I am proud of Jonathan’s going back to school, I’m actually more proud of WHY. He recognized the foolishness of those around him, and got away as fast as possible!

Jonathan was actually apprentice to a welder in the process of learning a skill. But this was the same welder who neglected to ask permission before taking the lengths of steel. In a testimony during out prayer meeting service, Jonathan said seeing the huge argument between neighbors over steel showed him this wasn’t a safe environment. He immediately went to his boss, and told him he was going back to school.

I rejoice over Jonathan’s deliverance from the foolishness, but mourn over those who will not leave

Many people in Barrouallie have social lives that revolve around foolish people, which means they experience foolish things. I’ve had friends tell me countless times they are done being in those places, only to see them there the next day. The problem is we all need places to socialize, and there aren’t too many healthy places in the community to do this. Which is why the Lord is leading me to create a refuge for those who want to escape foolishness.

The decision of Jonathan to walk away from what he knew to begin something new was a reminder for me from God. A reminder that no matter how careful we are, socializing with fools will affect you.

Eventually we have to leave the fools behind.

Spiritual Guerilla Warfare

On June 1 Matt Walsh of the “Daily Wire” news group released a film called “What is a woman” (it can be viewed here after subscribing to the daily wire.

In the movie he interviews many experts on transgenderism asking the simple question “what is a woman?” while seeking proof a man can become a woman through identification, or surgery.

What makes his movie fascinating is his approach.

He doesn’t get angry or shout at people….

He simply asks questions.

This is purposeful since Matt Walsh understands most holding to views such as transgenderism (even the experts) cannot defend their own views. So instead of confronting them directly, he calmly asks for proof that their view is correct. This is firmly grounded in the “burden of proof” philosophy that places the burden not on myself to prove you wrong, but you to prove yourself right.

Walsh explains this philosophy in depth with an interview with ex-NFL player Jason Whitlock (you can find it here). Whitlock in the interview asks him “can we win the culture war?”

Here is his response

“Right now, we are kind of the guerrila fighters in a hostile environment. We’re kind of the ones in the woods that are having to hide…come up with these little operations, and we got to this point over the course of generations. So it only makes sense that to pull ourselves out of it, it’s going to take generations too.”

This guerilla warfare quote stuck with me since most Christians today find themselves in a “hostile environment”

And it means we must show wisdom.

I have found in many conversations with those who disagree with me on political or religious on the mission field that transforming what people believe or hold to takes time. Very rarely will one conversation change things. Instead change comes using Walsh’s strategies of asking questions, highlighting weaknesses, and showing a better way that will put a “pebble in their shoe” as author Greg Koukl says.

A calm question has much greater power than a screaming voice

It’s Okay if Your Not Okay

This week I finished reading Mark Vroegop’s excellent book, “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. Discovering the Grace of Lament.” In it he describes how a series of miscarriages led he and his wife to practice prayers of lament bringing their sorrow to God, but trusting His goodness.

The book itself shares many wonderful lessons….

But for me the most important is “it’s okay if your not okay.”

Life is hard! So occasionally everyone will have a bad day. It’s interesting while struggling with things like anger, self-pity, discouragement, frustration, and weariness we will put on a smile and act like everything is fine (when it obviously isn’t). Even worse, when a brother or sister in Christ comes by and ask us how we are doing, we will always say “fine” even though everyone can clearly see we are anything but fine.

This attitude flows out of a belief that we should suffer (or endure) tough situations with confidence and strength. But there is also a sinister attitude that believes “nobody can see me hurting.” Part of this comes from people using us in the past, but most of it comes from our stubborn pride.

This leads to the covering up of our sorrow which is actually the ABSOLUTE WORST THING we could possibly do! Because that sorrow won’t stay covered up forever. And it will reveal itself with an explosion of anger!

Pastor Vroegop in his book encourages us to do something different with our sorrow…..

Embrace it!

He encourages us to embrace our sorrow in four ways

  1. Keep turning to prayer
  2. Bring your complaints
  3. Ask boldly
  4. And choose to trust

The first two steps (keep turning, and bring your complaints) encourage us to deal with our sorrow in a Biblical way. This means bringing it to the Lord in constant prayer, and sharing our frustrations. The author explains these are complaints from a confused heart instead of a bitter or angry one that believes God isn’t fair. After facing our sorrow we can turn back to the Lord (ask boldly, choose to trust)

The beauty of this is there’s a balance between grasping the grief, and grasping God. This is illustrated by my favorite quote from the book.

“lament is the personal song that expresses our grief while embracing God’s goodness.”

As someone who is not always okay (but tells people I am) this idea of lament is a beautiful reminder sorrow and grief are tools for God’s glory. But they must be embraced instead of hidden.

Racism is a Heart Problem, Not a Skin Problem

Originally written August 18, 2021

As one of the few white people in my community (I’m usually the only one) I’ve had lots of conversations with Vincentian friends about racism. This is particularly true about racial situations in the United States. And I’ve had some fun experiences because of my whiteness as well

A few weeks after coming to Barrouallie I was walking down the road, and a man called me over. He smiled and said, “why is a white man walking up and down my street?” The important thing to remember is he wasn’t being racist, in fact when he was excited to learn I’d come as a missionary. For the first few months the name “white man” stuck, not because they were being racist, but because they didn’t know my name, today they all call me John.

Living here has taught me many lessons about racism, but none more important that this

Racism doesn’t have to do with your skin color…….

It has to do with your heart.

I would define racism is an attitude that looks upon other people groups as less important than you. But there are others who define it as some other nationality (particularly white) getting privileges others don’t receive.

This is a very flawed definition because the answer to racism becomes “becoming inclusive” or making sure others have the same rights as white people. I’m all for people having rights or privileges, but that won’t fix the attitude of my own heart, or how I perceive them.

The only cure for Racism is a transformed heart that treats all people groups with dignity and respect.

Over the last six-years, the Lord has helped me live in unity with my Vincentian brothers and sisters. This has nothing to do with my being “anti-racist” or becoming more “inclusive”. I just treat them with respect and dignity as image-bearers, and they do the same for me.

It’s a joy to see how the people of Barrouallie “look out for me” because I “look out for them”

  1. Last year I suffered from a severe stomach virus so we couldn’t have church. Four church members came by to cook for me, and make sure I was okay. The next day many people from the community asked what had happened.
  2. Another time I got sick, and had three separate friends to come by, and see how I was doing
  3. A few months ago my car hood wouldn’t latch properly. Three people came by to tell me it wasn’t closed, and then a neighbor helped me fix it
  4. Another day I left a car door open (still not sure how that happened). A friend came down, and told me it was open….nothing was taken
  5. And a few years ago I went home for Christmas and let a young man in the community drive my car while I was gone. The week after I got back a woman motioned me over and whispered “I saw somebody else driving your car!”

The point is it’s possible for people from other races to live in harmony

You just treat them with dignity and respect

And it helps if you’re part of the same family 🙂

There is no easy fix for racism friends, but I can tell you the starting point is your heart instead of your skin color.

Bring the Wandering Home

This week I shared a burden for a friend that I’ll call Stan (not his real name) who was trying to give up rum and cigarettes. The Lord led me to create a “refuge” or place where he could be without the temptations of a rum shop (you can read more about that here).

I wish I could tell you that Stan has been faithful to the Lord since his decision a few weeks ago…..

But he hasn’t

Two weeks ago I invited him to have a Bible study with myself and another friend. He promised to come, and was actually with us up till that time, but didn’t show up for the Bible study. Then Stan began to strangely avoid everybody. In the last fourteen days I have seen him just once, which is not normal!

It isn’t hard to figure out what is going on

He fell back into drinking and smoking, or got himself into more serious trouble, and is ashamed of it. This keeps him away from me, church, and those who would be a Godly influence. The saddest part of this whole situation wasn’t his falling back into sin (though that breaks my heart). It’s the shame and guilt isolating him from others.

And this sad story is repeated countless times

An individual makes a decision for the Lord and does well for a short-time (usually based on emotion). But eventually they fall, and hear the voice of Satan calling them a failure. “You may as well just give up!” Satan tells them….and so they do.

I’ve met countless “backslidden Christians” like Stan who tried to serve the Lord in their own strength, failed, and never tried again.

So what is the answer?
Christians must pursue them with Grace

  1. By continuing to seek them out (I can’t let Stan hide from me)
  2. By offering love and grace when we do meet again
  3. By explaining sin cannot be dealt with alone
  4. And by explaining the Gospel is based upon Grace instead of works
  5. More than anything this means not allowing shame to isolate himself from everyone else

The thing about shame is it lies to us

It emphasizes only one part of the Gospel, that being our utter depravity (we are sinful and cannot save ourselves)

But the other part of the Gospel that shame overlooks is God’s gracious forgiveness for those who turn to Him.

Pray for me as I search out the Stan’s of Saint Vincent and explain that your more sinful than you can ever imagine, but God is also more gracious than you could ever imagine.

The Harvest Will Come!

One of the best things about my rental property is the large mango tree in the backyard. I greatly enjoy continuing the long-standing tradition begun by former missionaries of placing ripe mango on the wall in front of my house for people to take.

But a strange thing happened this year….

I had very few mango’s to put on the wall!

Part of this has to do with the La Soufrière volcanic eruption in 2021, but mostly it’s because we haven’t been getting much rain. For a few weeks now I’ve had people asking about my mango’s, and I always tell them “wait for the rain to come.”

And finally last week the rains came!

Yesterday (Saturday) I walked into my backyard and picked up eight mango’s for people to eat (I don’t generally climb the tree, just take the ones that drop). Now the front wall, and the wall separating me from my neighbor has at least five lined up.

I can’t help but be reminded through this experience that just like a physical harvest, a spiritual one takes patience. Unfortunately this is something many of us (myself included) have little of! We become frustrated when spiritual fruit doesn’t come as quickly we believe that it should, and often just give up in frustration.

But the God who brings physical rain to grow fruit on trees will also do a spiritual work in lives if we are patient.

Ministry is sometimes frustrating because you put lots of work into lives, and see little fruit. Thankfully as I wrote last week, God is the one who brings the fruit, but He rarely works on our time schedule. Of course God’s time is always best, but it’s hard to remember that when you don’t see a difference being made.

In those moments we must rest in a simple fact….

The rain will arrive

And the harvest will come!

God WILL build His church! But He sovereignly chooses to bless the faithful who go through the seasons of bounty, and famine. So we plow the ground, plant the seed, add fertilizer, give water, and pull out the weeds. Knowing that someday our Lord will bring the harvest.

The World Needs a Refuge

A few houses up the road from me is a local “rum shop.” These are small stores that sell things like chicken, or daily necessities, and of course rum! Some individuals spend much of the day relaxing there with friends.

Though I don’t drink for any reason, I’ll occasionally visit the shop to visit the friends. There have also been times when I did counseling or even a Bible study there.

Recently a friend came and told me the Lord wanted him to stop drinking and smoking (he is especially addicted to cigarettes).

After congratulating him on the commitment and praying with my friend, I encouraged him to take an incredibly difficult step….

He had to leave the rum shop.

What made this so difficult is this step had an emotional challenge as well as physical since all of his friends were at the rum shop. Also this place was a part of his habits since he was used to going there after work.

It was actually possible for my friend to go to the rum shop and not drink or smoke. Especially if he told all of his friends that he’d stop doing both! However, eventually his willpower would wear down, and in a stressful moment he would fall back into the habit of getting a cigarette.

This is why he needs a refuge.

Recently I started making plans for a friend to make a large wooden table in my back yard with benches. This area will eventually become a refuge for those who want to escape the influence of things such as rum and cigarettes, as well as the music or profanity often heard there. Of course things like counseling and Bible studies can take place there, but in the beginning it’s just a place of peace.

Everyone gets stressed out sometimes…..

And where we go in that moment of stress makes all of the difference

The Lord has reminded me while working on the refuge about how many men in this community struggle with addiction to rum, cigarettes, or another substance

  1. how many are at the rum shop every day
  2. How many would rather work for a shot of rum than money
  3. How many spend every last dollar on alcohol, and run up a huge bill
  4. How many simply want to forget their pain

Yes I could look them in the eyes and say “don’t drink!” but that does little good when they are stressed, and there’s nowhere to go but the shop.

Please pray for me as I build this refuge. May the table be filled with men who choose community and Christ over a bottle.

God Will Build His Church!

Missions can sometimes be a frustrating ministry. All of your evangelistic outreaches bring little fruit, and individuals who you put lots of time and effort into discipling let you down. This is why the Lord likes to surprise us every once in a while with a reminder that the Gospel still works.

I’m incredibly grateful for the surprise of grace God gave me last Sunday.

I was getting ready for Sunday School when a young man named Jonathan showed up. His coming was actually a huge praise since he’d promised to come in the past, but to be honest few people actually follow that up with action. Not only did he come, but Jonathan was paying very close attention to the Sunday School lesson.

Before the morning service a church member called me over, and motioning to Jonathan said “he would like to give a testimony.” Since we sometimes have an opportunity for testimonies during the service, I just encouraged him to share that testimony when the time came for testimonies.

When the time came he approached the pulpit (which I allowed him to do since Jonathan has a quiet voice). He told everyone that the night before he’d accepted Christ as his personal Savior, and was completely committing himself to the Lord!

It was a joy to pray with Jonathan after the service, and make plans to begin discipleship lessons during the week. But the greater blessing was to see the Lord save a young man, and bring him right to us.

This was a huge reminder it isn’t my job to build or grow the church. Instead I’m called to serve the Lord faithfully in evangelism and discipleship. Then GOD HIMSELF will build the church!

Often the temptation is to twist things around so I am the one who builds the church in my own strength, or using my own plans. Satan in those moments will shout “try harder!” to those leading the church, but he knows the key isn’t in striving but submission to God.

Of course the work of pastoring and leading the church takes lots of discipline and effort….but this is done in dependence upon the Lord faithfully following His plan.

I rejoice with the blessing of Jonathan

But I rejoice more in knowing if I do my job faithfully, God is faithful to do His

More Than Ever, We Need Spiritual Parents

Last week there were two shocking incidents in Saint Vincent regarding young people. The first was a seventeen year old girl who was stabbed repeatedly, and stuffed into a bag (her body was found the next day). The second was a seven year old boy who was found dead in a car Thursday night.

The case of the boy was especially sad because he had not been home since Monday (people saw him Tuesday), and his mother had not filed a police report. She later told police that her son slept a lot a friends or family members, so she didn’t worry.

My point here isn’t to shame the mother…..

But to point out children need structure.

Lack of structure for children is a problem I have seen growing in Saint Vincent in recent years. Children need a safe home environment, rules (that will be enforced), and parents who know where they are at all times.

Sadly in Saint Vincent the men are too much of cowards to become fathers for their children, so the mothers care for the kids. This often means mommy is home with the youngest child who understandably takes up her time and energy, so the older children have a huge amount of freedom. Many of them are seen “in the road” or going up and down Barrouallie all hours of the day.

I personally believe that God wants to use those shocking deaths of two children to wake parents up…..and help them realize children need to be protected.

And this is why Saint Vincent needs now more than ever spiritual mothers and fathers!

A spiritual parent is a mature Believer who earns the respect of the child, and after communicating with the parents creates activities, or ministers to their needs. This can be as serious as a Bible study, a reading help program, homework help, an afternoon playing football at the park, coloring, or any number of other things. Through those activities the Gospel will be lived as well as shared.

As children grow older a spiritual parent becomes a voice of Godly reason when their friends want to get involved in things they shouldn’t. It’s my understanding the seventeen year old was stabbed to death by her boyfriend. You also become someone who meets their needs since the seven-year old boy was known to ask neighbors for food.

The greatest characteristic of a spiritual parent though is just to show love

I can’t help but wonder if the life of this seventeen year old girl had been spared if she had a Godly women who poured her heart into the child’s life at an early age, teaching that her identity is found not in a boyfriend, but Christ.

And I can’t help but wonder if that seven-year old had died if a Godly man had given him a meal, and a safe place to sleep every night.

My heart yearns for young people like this all over Saint Vincent who are walking a dangerous path, and just need someone to help them. May the Lord help me continue loving and discipling as many of those children as I can.

Living by “Island Time”

After being in Saint Vincent for seven years, I’ve acclimated myself to the way of life here, and actually PREFER IT to living in the States.

But there is one way I cling to my American background…….

I work from an American view of time.

“American time” simply refers to being on time for pretty much everything. In fact, I usually go by the “if your not ten minutes early your late rule.” This is very different from “island time.”

Vincentians are not as time focused in their culture. This isn’t a bad thing because it helps them develop stronger relationships with one another (lots of time is spent with friends). However it can cause frustration for someone used to working on “American time.”

They even have a saying called “just now” usually used when telling someone when they will come (“I’m coming just now”). The first time someone said that to me here, I expected them to come almost immediately, but it was a few hours before they arrived! This really confused me till a friend explained “just now” did not mean immediately. It meant “I will come when I can.”

Usually this doesn’t really bother me too much, but I got kind of annoyed last week. A friend was supposed to come over for lunch so I could give him a meal, and we could study Scripture together. Around 11:00 I saw my friend, and asked if he was ready for lunch. He told me yes and I encouraged him to come as soon as possible. Sadly he come over an hour late, and didn’t have time to do a Bible study.

I was definitely not a happy camper!

It wasn’t till the next day I realized the problem was my Fault! I had approached someone working on “Island time” as if they were working by “American time.”

The better way to do things would have been to say “whenever you have some time, come by for some food and a Bible study.” This would be frustrating in a sense because I’d have to put my plans (and schedule) on hold for him, but embracing their way of doing things will strengthen my ministry.

One of the most dangerous things a missionary can do is try to fix a culture.

There will always be things that we believe America does so much better, and sometimes it may BE BETTER! But wise missionaries understand for every way America is better than the mission field, there are five or six ways it ISN’T BETTER!

And we understand the goal of missions isn’t to transform your culture…..but transform your hearts.

Dealing With Our ὀργὴ Anger

Like so many of you, I am mourning the violence seen in the Buffalo shootings, along with those in Milwaukee, and a church in California on Sunday. Apart from the Gospel of Christ transforming lives, there doesn’t seem to be an answer to the rampant violence in this world.

While we cannot do much about these shooting deaths…..

But there’s a lot we can do about the many relationships destroyed by conflict, or misunderstandings

Because we are all fallen human creatures, we are bound to “get on one another’s nerves” of offend each other sometimes. And we usually don’t respond to those stressful situations with an attitude of love and grace. Sadly many Christians once their emotions have cooled down don’t go the trouble of restoring that relationship.

Because the issue wasn’t dealt with there will usually be a small amount of frustration or anger with the individual. Most of the time we can forgive them easily, but occasionally that small anger will grow. And if we aren’t careful that anger can grow to explosive levels.

There are many words for anger in the Greek New Testament, but the most powerful is ὀργὴ (pronounced or-gey)

This word refers to a “swelling or great pressure.: It gives the idea of a volcano that continues gaining more and more pressure till it literally explodes. Usually at the worst possible time!

Last week a simple situation (a man being removed from his home because he wasn’t paying rent) became a HUGE ordeal in our community. One woman walked by and simply said the home-owner was wrong for making the man leave. This led to an argument between the home-owners son and the woman, then the home-owner and her family arrived shortly to continue the argument. For around two-hours they stood about forty-fifty feet from each other shouting expletives and arguing. All this because one woman said the other was wrong!

I know from experience that ὀργὴ wrath can explode at any moment so it must be dealt with.

Ken Sande has written an AMAZING BOOK called the Peacemaker (you can buy it here). In it he gives good advice on handling our explosive wrath in what’s called the “Four G’s”.

  1. Glorify God: Sande encourages readers to ask “How can I please and honor the Lord in this situation?”
  2. Get the Log Out of Your Own Eye: This means confessing what YOU DID WRONG in the situation (regardless of what they did) and the root cause of it
  3. Gently Restore: This involves personally apologizing for your part in the conflict, and lovingly showing the other party how they are in the wrong (bring to repentance)
  4. Go and Be Restored: Finally you do whatever it takes to heal that relationship over time

In a very basic way the violence of this world is the result of so many ὀργὴ volcano’s just waiting to blow. Which is why it’s so important for us to “defuse the bomb” and now allow our anger to grow.

Don’t Waste Your Singleness

“A spouse, and a minivan full of kids on the way to disney world is a sweet gift and a terrible God.  If everything in Christian community revolves around being married with children, we should not be surprised when singleness sounds like a death sentence” Kevin Deyoung

Last Sunday while preaching through 1 Timothy, I spoke on singleness and marriage. To be honest this is a strange subject for me to speak on since I do believe its God’s will for singles to get married, while at the same time I’m single at the age of forty-six!

Leading up to last Sunday I thought a lot about the balance between pursuing marriage (because it’s God’s Will) and serving the Lord as a single. In the end, the Lord reminded me of the quote shared at the top of this post by Kevin DeYoung in “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality.”

From the time I read that quote in the summer of 2015, it truly spoke to me. Especially the first sentence because it shares how marriage is a sweet gift (something to be pursued) but a terrible God (something we must have at any cost).

Practically for me this means on the one hand saving myself in every way possible for my future wife (I haven’t met her yet, but pretty sure she’s Vincentian :-)). While on the other hand using my singleness for the Glory of God in the meantime.

That’s actually harder to do than it sounds!

Most people go to one of two extremes:

  1. Give up on getting married, and just focus on having fun with their singleness
  2. Or spend their entire lives waiting for marriage so God could use them

Interestingly both make the same mistake…..

They waste their singleness

One wastes singleness by falling into sin, while the other refuses to do anything for the Lord (since they aren’t married yet). But both do a very poor job of using the gift of singleness.

And singleness is a gift!

  1. It gives extra time and energy that can be used for the Lord
  2. Quiet and privacy allows you to get more done in a shorter amount of time
  3. And Your able to take become part of more adventures (easier for a single man to go on a trip than a family)

Is marriage a gift as well? Of course it is! The important thing is using the gift God has given to the best of your ability.

I told the people last Sunday if I had my way I’d be driving a large family around in a mini-van, but that is not God’s plan for me right now. So until he leads me to my Vincentian wife (and if He doesn’t that’s fine by me) I’m obligated to use the gift of singleness to the best of my ability.

Aiming at The Right Target

This week I will finish reading for the second time “The Seven Laws of the Learner” by Bruce Wilkinson, and probably got more from reading it this time!

There is far too much information in this book to put into a short blog post, but allow me to share the books foundational truth.

The goal of teaching isn’t to cover the material…..

The goal of teaching is to transform lives!

Bruce Wilkinson states (I believe correctly) that much of the preaching and teaching within Christian schools and churches is absolutely dead. This is because so many come in, and emphasize teaching the truths of Scripture while never really applying it to life. The master teacher however isn’t satisfied with covering the material, he demands the student be affected.

He uses an illustration from his early days of Seminary taught by Dr. Howard Hendricks to drive home this point.

The author decided one day to purposely look out the window during class as an experiment to see how long Dr. Hendricks would allow him to remain distracted. It took just over three-minutes before the professor put class on hold to confront one student looking out the window!

Wilkinson then asks a convicting question?

How many of us would let him just stare out the window during class? (after all, we covered the material).

On a more personal level he points out how preaching emphasizes “covering the material” by spending almost all of the time on explanation of Scripture, then illustration and application will often be put on at the end. While explanation is good, it must be balanced with clear illustration and application to show people why they should live in such a way, and how to do that (ideally 50% teaching, 50% illustration/application).

Thinking about this truth, I cannot help but be convicted by the number of lessons or sermons that did a great job of “covering the material” but did a very poor job of impacting lives.

It’s true that not every message should be a “home run” that brings an emotional response, but every message must have as it’s goal application of truth to everyday life. And in a deeper sense equipping of Believers.

I’m grateful for this timely reminder from the Lord that it isn’t enough to reach someone’s head,

I must reach their heart too.

NEVER Stop Growing!!!

Recently I began to read some books that brought a great conviction to my life.

Not because I was sinful…..

But because I could do better.

Last month I went through again “Christ Centered Preaching” by Bryan Chapell, and it greatly challenged me to preach “redemptive sermons” instead of sermons based on works. Currently I am going through “The Seven Laws of the Learner” by Bruce Wilkinson, and am INCREDIBLY CHALLENGED by the thought that teaching’s goal is to help the students understand instead of cover the material.

The interesting thing is, there’s nothing wrong with my preaching or teaching skills. Honestly these are my strengths in ministry! But I want them to become stronger.

The interesting thing is that speaking being a strength actually became a weakness in my ministry! I emphasized growth in other (weaker) areas and became somewhat complacent, EVEN LAZY in my preaching and teaching!

And accepting good speaking skills instead of great ones was a dishonor to the Lord.

Missions has taught me that even the strongest skills will weaken over time when we stop developing them. In the same way a sword grows dull over time and needs sharpening, skills, our abilities need to be “sharpened” from time to time.

So we NEVER stop growing!!!!

This doesn’t give the idea of explosive growth, but slow consistent growth

  1. By growing in our knowledge of the subject through books, and podcasts
  2. By constantly evaluating our effectiveness
  3. By continually making changes to the process
  4. And by making effectiveness the goal (doing our VERY BEST)

Satan doesn’t try to make us completely rebellious friends (he’s far too smart for that)……

Instead he tries to make us complacent and lazy by saying we’ve done enough.

He wants us to go to war with a dull sword.

The Lord wants us to continually grow in every area of life through study, personal development, and walking in the Spirit. This way when the day of battle comes, we don’t have a dull sword in our hands.

Grace for Wasted Days

Last week wasn’t a very good one….

I made the foolish decision to indulge in jelly beans and Oreos friends sent over. This resulted in headaches, and lack of energy Monday along with Wednesday. A pretty ineffective week when lots didn’t get done because of my mistake had me feeling pretty blue on the way home.

That’s when I saw the sky.

The sunsets here in Saint Vincent are almost always spectacular. Most nights I can turn towards the sea about 6:15 and see a picture of breathtaking beauty, But there was something special about Fridays sunset, it was somehow extra spectacular.

That beauty of that sunset wasn’t just physical though….

it was in the message it conveyed.

Part of me wanted to sit down at 7:00 Friday night and desperately try to catch up on all of the things that I didn’t get done. But that sunset was Gods way of saying “rest now John, there will be time to work tomorrow.”

The beauty of the Gospel isn’t that we are perfect, but that there’s grace for each new day

Christ comes to offer us not only Salvation, but cleansing and restoration when we fail. Therefore when we fall (and we will) the response shouldn’t be to try harder! Instead the response is to repent saying we CAN’T DO THE WORK, and beg Christ to do the work through us!

It’s interesting that Satan tries to get us to do the exact opposite

When we fail he fills our hearts with shame, and tells us to “try harder” instead of relying upon God for help. This creates a vicious cycle since we cannot serve God in our own power. A cycle that blinds us to God’s grace.

So walking home Friday I confessed to the Lord that laziness and lack of motivation had creeped in since I’d eaten too much junk food. I asked Him to forgive me of that laziness by His grace, and empower me to stay focused instead of distracted. I thanked the Lord that effectiveness wasn’t based on how hard I worked, but how close I was to Him.

Yesterday (Saturday since I wrote this Sunday) was a VERY productive day without junk food (a few handfuls of jelly beans last night).

It felt good to be back on track

But it felt better to know that God gives grace when I am off track.

Home

In the October 2018 I moved into a new rental property that belonged to veteran missionaries before the returned to the field.

After the first long day of cleaning, organizing, and unpacking I sat down on the porch in exhaustion. And then took the amazing picture of the sun setting on the nearby ocean. The picture is actually hanging on my wall today with the word “home” written on it.

This memory actually continues my thought from yesterday about air conditioning, and the importance of rest within life. Not only is there nothing wrong with resting, it is absolutely necessary!

There was still a ton for me to do at the house that day but I knew my body had reached it’s daily limit. So the wisest thing to do was sit down in a chair and enjoy the amazing view.

In the same way, rest must become an ingrained habit of life. Sometimes this means taking an actual nap. Other times it means reading a book, eating a good meal, relaxing with friends, or even taking a walk.

The important thing is to realize when it’s time to be done……and actually be done!

It is those who care for their bodies by making rest a priority that accomplish the challenges of tomorrow

Simple Pleasures

One of my favorite items in the home I began renting in 2018 is the AC system installed by Alan Berry. It does a VERY GOOD job of keeping the house cool if you close the doors to the front of the house.

Air Conditioning has almost always been a part of my life here when it came to relaxation. I had a window unit in my apartment that would run during my “after afternoon nap.” That’s still true here, and I’ll also run it some mornings when it’s very hot.

This afternoon I wrote a post about frugality (you can read it here) and believe being cheap so that you can invest in others is a good thing. At the same time, you must take care of yourself.

For me during a stressful day there’s nothing better than turning on the AC, and taking a nap, or just relaxing. That brief time of rest and renewal almost always gives much needed energy as well as focus. And there’s nothing wrong if your body is tired with laying down in blessed air conditioning 🙂

Yes we are called to self-discipline….

but there must also be a refuge for ourselves from time to time

Boys Need Men

While at camp last week the Lord reminded me of something that I actually knew, but in a way had forgotten.

Boys need men!

This doesn’t mean God doesn’t use women in boys lives of course (He obviously does!) but there is a deep need in the heart of a boy to have men of character. Men who will take a stand, and show them how to love the Lord.

One of the experiences God used to teach this truth was working with two groups of boys at a local school in 2018. I worked with each one once a week covering things like reading, math’s, and homework. We also played learning games on my tablet, and became great friends.

Both groups really looked forward to my visits so I made sure to be there when they started opening assembly. One week I had to go into Kingstown and do something so arrived a bit late. The boys were upset about not seeing me at opening assembly, so when I stepped into the teachers doorway they immediately let our a loud cheer.

The excitement wasn’t just about the learning…..

It was about Mr. John coming to spend time with them.

Through the years I have seen the longing on many little boys faces for a man who would show them love and teach them how to be one. Sadly dad isn’t there so they go long looking for spiritual father.

May God raise up Godly men who will pour their lives into the next generation.

The kind of men who will make them cheer when they see him.

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