God’s Grace Leads Us to Worship, Not Work

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Amazon must love me…I mean seriously look at this picture my father took of the front porch Sunday afternoon with nine boxes of items for a Christmas barrel that will be sent next week.

As I look at this picture two very different thoughts run through my head

“Thank you Lord for your blessings”

And “I don’t deserve this”

The second thought isn’t low self-esteem but an understanding that those boxes some very cool stuff I bought online.

  1. Two pounds of pumpkin spice coffee
  2. Three large containers of Gatorade powder
  3. Fifteen pounds of Jolly Ranchers (its for the kids…no seriously)
  4. Fifteen pounds of starlight mints (No it seriously is for the kids!)
  5. 2 1/2 pounds of Krispie Creme Coffee (sadly the donuts wont fit)
  6. One bag of Starbucks coffee
  7. A refurbished iPad
  8. Three containers of protein powder
  9. 2 pounds of Colombian coffee (are you noticing a theme?)
  10. A charger for my macbook
  11. Two Bibles
  12. And of course a new coffee maker along with lots of other goodies

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The picture my dad sent me this morning of the items that will be shipped in my barrel (and more are coming) is honestly pretty overwhelming.  Last night visions if coffee without the words “folgers” or “maxwell house” danced through my head (editors note:  You may notice some folgers coffee containers in the picture, these are for my missionary co-workers who aren’t coffee snobs like me).

The picture creates not only excitement but in a strange way creates guilt in my heart. Part of me says “I have to earn all of these precious treasures.”  In other words missionaries who are winning people to the Lord every week, spend four hours every afternoon discipling Believers, and are planning their third Church plant deserve pumpkin spice coffee.  Of course I know that success isn’t based on outer fruit, but this subconscious thought creates a sinful response to God’s blessings.

God takes great pleasure in showing us grace.  This usually isn’t something as massive as my Christmas barrel, but daily provision of strength or wisdom that we could never earn.  These gracious blessings are meant to be reminders of the Gospel that lead to confession (I cannot earn Holiness), belief (God must rescue me), and worship.  

The sad thing is we each have a longing to “earn things” so when God provides grace instead of remembering the cross (our greatest blessing) and submitting in worship we live out a testimony that says you have to earn Gods grace, which of course means it isn’t grace after all.  

This doesn’t mean of course that I should sit on the couch all day watching television and eating donuts because I’m  living “in grace”.  Instead I stop trying to earn God’s daily blessings (you can’t do that anyways) and allow the smallest blessings to remind me of the cross.  Eventually those daily moments of Grace will become a motivation as we serve God out of love instead of obligation.

 

(Luke 5:1-3) When Obeying Jesus Makes You a Rockstar

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Luke 5:1 ¶ And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,   Luke 5:2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.   Luke 5:3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are Simon Peter in this passage.  After a long night of fishing not only are you exhausted, but discouraged about not catching any fish.  The only thing your interested in is fixing the nets as soon as possible and going to sleep, but then you notice a large crowd of people coming towards you.  And as they get closer you recognize Jesus of Nazareth is with them!

You’ve heard about Jesus of course (everybody has) but you have never seen him face to face.  He’s the one who John the Baptist told everybody he was preparing the way for (Mark 1:1, 1:7-8) and after John was put in prison told everyone the Kingdom of God had begun (Mark 1:14-15).  Suddenly you don’t feel so tired anymore and sit down to hear Him teach, but it doesn’t take long for a massive crowd to gather on the beach, and soon people start pushing and shoving so they can get closer to Jesus.

As you stand up to get a better view you notice Jesus is looking for someone, slowly his eyes scan the crowd until they come to you….”excuse me” Jesus asks, “can I borrow your boat?”

Suddenly every eye turns towards you frozen in a state of shock.  “Of course!”  you finally find the strength to say and can’t help but feel very important as the crowd parts allowing you through.  Soon you’ve pushed into the shallow waters and Jesus is teaching the people gathered on the shore.

 

Luke 5:1-11 is a passage of Scripture that the Lord has used to teach me the motivations of obedience are more important than the obedience itself.  Peter in this story obeys Jesus three separate times, but it’s only the last time (Luke 5:8) that his obedience came from the right motivation.  

Peters obedience in Luke 5:1-3 (pushing the boat out so that Jesus can teach from it) doesn’t come a belief that He is God’s Son.  Instead Peter obeys because Jesus is a great teacher with huge crowds, and more importantly it gave him (Peter) the chance to look like a rock star…after all who wouldn’t want Jesus to use their boat?

The danger with this kind of obedience is the crowds wouldn’t always follow Jesus.  The same ones who loudly praised His triumphal entry called for His crucifixion once they realized Jesus wouldn’t free them from Roman rule (Matthew 21:9, Matthew 217:15-32).

More importantly though Jesus is interested in those who will be totally committed to Him instead of the crowds of half-hearted followers.  

Mark 1:32-38 is one of the clearest examples in Scripture of Christ’s desire for those who will truly follow Him.

Mark 1:32 And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.
Mark 1:33 And all the city was gathered together at the door.
Mark 1:34 And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
Mark 1:35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
Mark 1:36 And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.
Mark 1:37 And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.
Mark 1:38 And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. (emphasis added)

Peter and the other disciples searched everwhere for Jesus and when they found him asked “why did you leave?” (paraphrase of 1:37).  The response of Jesus was “I didn’t come for them (paraphrase of 1:38).”  Contrast this with the response of Jesus to a leper who believes He is God’s son (1:40-41) and his strict command not to tell anybody (1:43-44) and it’s clear Jesus isn’t interested in large crowds of people who aren’t really committed.

There are moments when everyone will love Jesus and serving Him will bring us great Glory…but we must also be willing to obey when people hate Jesus, and it brings suffering.

(I Kings 19:13) Escaping the Cave of Isolation and Depression

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1Kings 19:13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

1Kings 19:14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

Every Christian no matter how strong or faithful will end up having bad days from time to time, and missionaries or pastors are obviously no exception.  In fact, I would say those on the front lines of ministry experience more of these since Satan wants them to give up, and walk away from God’s calling.

Sadly this mean that discouragement, and even depression are a part of ministry (editors note:  I am referring here not to “clinical depression” but intense emotional responses to frustrating or depressing situations such as loneliness, apathy, anger, or isolation from others).

Since God in His sovereignty has created me as an incredibly emotional person I’m used to experiencing this kind of depression on days when things don’t go well (have at least two “bad days” a month).  And believe it or not that’s good news, because my response to those kinds of situations has changed drastically.

Normally the blah’s (what I call my depression) comes from a few different sources

  1. There wasn’t a lot of face to face ministry (evangelism, discipleship)
  2. The children raised lots of discipline problems
  3. Or the heat got to me (I’ve learned that lots of walking in the early afternoon will do a number on my body, and open the door for blah’s)

Over time I could feel the blah’s coming and would respond

  1. With comfort food (extra crispy french fries)
  2. Netflix
  3. Nap in an air-conditioned room
  4. Or listening to music

now there’s nothing really wrong with these things, but they focus on isolation (drawing more into myself) instead of drawing closer to God.

Elijah chapters eighteen and nineteen are one of the greatest contrasts in all of one Scripture.  One chapter sees Elijah courageously standing up to 400 prophets of Baal, the other sees him asking God for death (19:4) because there was nobody else who followed God (19:14).  Elijah eventually traveled to Horeb  (19:9) and God met him there.  He probably thought that the Lord would give an encouraging word since Jezebel had promised to kill him (19:1-2) but instead God asks a question.

What are you doing here Elijah?

God actually asks the same question twice (19:9, 19:13) and Elijah in response says “you aren’t being fair to me!” (paraphrase of 19:10, 19:14).  Evidently he felt that after the victory over Baals priests everything would work out, and was upset this didn’t happen.

That question “what are you doing here?” stuck in my head as I read it in devotions this morning.  Probably because I could hear God asking me the same question when my blah’s lead me to laziness or apathy instead of His presence.

Why are you here John?

  • Why are you watching that rerun of “Everybody loves Raymond” instead of reading my Word?
  • Why are you laying in bed instead of spending time in prayer?
  • Why are you filling yourself with comfort food instead of sharing the burden of your heart with trusted friends?
  • Why are you hiding in the cave of isolation instead of seeking me?

Now let me be clear there’s definitely a place in life for air-conditioned naps, netflix, and comfort food (some days you need all three), and of course there is always a need for rest in our schedule.  yet our emotional responses to life are tools of God to remind us of our brokenness, and our need of Him.  In a way even the blah’s are a picture of the Gospel as I confess (again) no amount of work or human strength can bring me happiness.  

This afternoon during lunch I got emotional while watching a Garfield cartoon (don’t judge) as the blah’s caught up with me (combination of really hot days, and lack of ministry opportunities).  I made sure to take a nap in the air-conditioning after lunch, but not till after holding my hands out in prayer to the one who uses my moments of depression for His glory.

When God Provides Luxuries

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When I came back to Barrouaillie in May two barrels that had been sent three weeks before were waiting for me.  The Lord actually worked it out that they arrived and were cleared the day I got into the Country, so I just had to pick them up from the Church!  These barrels were filled with things that were essential for life and ministry in SVG.

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Dishes, pots, and pans
  4. Appliances (popcorn popper, microwave, toaster oven)
  5. Sheets and towels
  6. And of course a tv 🙂

Along with those essential items there were some “non-essentials” that to be perfectly honest didn’t make the cut since sending these barrels can be an expensive process after clearing customs.  Most of these would fit in the “food category” like extra coffee, big containers of Gatorade powder (helps in a hot climate), protein powder, snack bars, and cereal.  Most of these things can be found in St. Vincent, but they just end up costing too much.

Lucky Charms

Editors note:  This would be around $10 US, still too much 🙂

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and $21 US for a small bag of Starbucks coffee

The thing is a person can live without luxuries like microwave popcorn, your favorite breakfast cereal, and coffee (editors note  I do drink Folgers and Maxwel House in SVG but that doesn’t deserve to be called “coffee”).  In fact after a while y0u don’t miss those things!  There were moments when I thought “man it would be nice to have a nice smoothie right now!” but to be honest it feels a little bit selfish to send over a barrel full of luxury items…

Until now

Every year the Saint Vincent government allows barrels to clear customs for a very cheap price (around $30 of their currency) instead of hundreds of dollars it would normally cost.  The moment someone explained that to me Saturday morning I began compiling a wish list on Amazon 🙂

For me this barrel of luxury items means God not only cares about our serious needs, or secondary needs, but even the things we can live without.  And occasionally He reminds us that the God who gives us the breath to live, takes great joy in providing Lucky Charms too.

Why I Don’t Lead Children in the Sinners Prayer

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Yesterday afternoon I sat on my front porch with a girl who attends Church regularly, and shared the Gospel using a flip chart of God’s Bridge to Eternal Life (one of my favorite tracts).  The last page has a picture of man’s side (in sin) and God’s side (saved) and after explaining the ONLY WAY to get to God’s side is believing in Jesus I asked her “Stephanie (not her real name) which side are you on right now?”  Slowly she reached out and pointed to mans side.

This actually didn’t surprise me since even though Stephanie knew all of the Bible answers, I had never heard her give a clear testimony of Salvation.  And the truth is five or six other children who regularly visit faced with the same question would tell me they were going to hell.  My response to that answer has changed quite a bit since coming to Barrouaillie a year ago.

When I began ministering to children a confession they were going to hell would lead to a clearer presentation of the Gospel, and encouragement to accept Christ. The Lord has since showed me this response leads to a prayer, but rarely genuine belief.

Last summer while washing bottles for VBS I had a conversation with Stephanie’s brother that went something like this:

  • Me:  Have you ever accepted Jesus as your Savior?
  • Him:  Yes I have
  • Me:  That’s great!  Could you tell me about it?
  • Him:  Well I prayed a prayer
  • Me:  What did you tell God in that prayer?
  • Him:  I don’t remember
  • Me:  Oh okay, so can you tell me anything about the day when you prayed that prayer?
  • Him:  (after telling me three separate stories about it) No I guess not

Now it is possible that this child is genuinely saved.  But the fact that he can’t tell me about the prayer or what led to it leads me to believe he’s one of the many children who “prayed a prayer” and believed it saved him when it hadn’t.

One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in children’s ministry is leading them in whats sometimes referred to as a “sinners prayer.”  This is where any children who want to accept Jesus are encouraged to pray after me, and then are told if they truly meant that they are saved.  While it IS POSSIBLE for children to be saved after doing this experience teaches us most haven’t accepted Christ.

There are a few reasons for this

  1. They pray because everyone else is doing it
  2. They are praying because they can tell I want them to do it
  3. Or their minds don’t fully comprehend what it means to believe in Jesus

So I’ve stopped leading children in the sinners prayer…

because my greatest fear is they will stand before God someday and their reason for entering Heaven is “I prayed a prayer with Mr. John” instead of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Instead of praying with them I tell the children “when you are ready to accept Jesus as your Savior you come see Mr. John.”  This helps ensure the Holy Spirit is the one who draws them, and Salvation is a choice THEY MAKE instead of one I force upon them.

It’s true that this makes Salvation difficult (a big step of commitment for the child) but in my personal opinion this brings greater glory to God.  I would rather have one boy or girl who seeks me out and asks to receive Jesus than ten or fifteen whose Salvation I have doubts about.

I’m not saying that isn’t frustrating because it definitely is.  There are many children in Barrouaillie who are VERY CLOSE to accepting Jesus, but don’t quite understand what it means to believe in Him yet.  One boy in particular will literally stretch out his arms as a symbol of Christ dying on the cross when I ask him what Jesus did for us, but when I ask what belief means he responds “telling God your sorry.”

It would be so easy for me to say that’s “close enough” and pray that someday the Lord would help him understand Salvation involves more than just repentance, but what if that doesn’t happen?  What if he spends eternity separated from Christ because I said “close enough?”

Yesterday I explained to Stephanie that someday God would convict her heart of sin, and show her need of Jesus, and on that day told her to come find me.  “Any day?” she asked looking up at me with large brown eyes, with all my heart I wanted to lead her to Christ right then and there, but because it had to be HER CHOICE all I did was smile and say “yes Stephanie any day.”