Category Archives: Ministry

When Are You Gonna Be a Pastor Again?

I get this question just about every week, and I never quite know how to answer it.

Or rather, I don’t know how to answer it in under 10 seconds, which is the time frame most people are looking for when they ask a question.

The 10-or-fewer-second answers I have are: (1) “I don’t know,” which is actually true, but not particularly informative; (2) “When God tells me to,” which is also true, but comes off as flippant—like I don’t really want to answer the question, so I’m punting to God; (3) “Maybe next year. Maybe in five years,” which may or may not be true, for all I know; and worst of all, (4) “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer” (followed by no explanation whatsoever).

If you’ve had lunch or coffee with me and received answer #4, you know it’s the worst one because once you’ve received it you have to make the uncomfortable choice of either saying, “Oh, okay. Nevermind,” and risk making me feel like you don’t really care enough to hear the long answer, or you have to commit to buckling up and listening to an attention-span-testing monologue.

There may be an easy solution to this problem. From now on I’m just going to say, “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer. So, I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in the long version.” I already know that people are going to say, “Oh. Well, give me the short version.” (Insert answer #1, #2 or #3 here) But it’s worth a shot.

Q: So… When do you think you’re gonna be a pastor again?

A: Man… Thank you for asking that. I guess I don’t know for sure why you’re asking it, but I think I know why, and I really appreciate it. Being a pastor was an unbelievable honor, and the fact that people wanted me to be their pastor and were actually sad when I wasn’t anymore is mind-blowing to me. And I don’t say that with any kind of obligatory faux humility. It’s… I honestly don’t how to wrap my mind around that. So, thank you.

Here are the things that come to mind when I try to formulate an answer to that question (in no particular order):

First of all, I really like my job. And I’m good at it. Which is a very rare combination that I don’t want to take for granted for a second. I love my team. I love working with very high-caliber people. I love my bosses. I love their vision for doing real good in the lives of people. I love my clients. I love that I get to employ a large swath of my skill set in this role. I love the rewards that come from doing this job well. I love being welcomed into people’s homes. I love helping people make wise decisions. I love being trusted as a guide and advisor. No one in their right mind would leave this job and this team.

Is this job the purpose of my life? Of course not. But I don’t know too many guys whose purpose in life is their job. My best friends—the best guys I know—are all among the best in their field in sales, finance and music. None of them have made their job their purpose in life. Their purpose in life is clearly to know Christ and make him known. And that can be done well without getting paid for doing it.

I might be made to be a pastor. That might be what I’m supposed to do. I guess that remains to be seen. But my purpose in life is to know Christ and make him known. And I don’t need to get paid to do that in order to do that well.

Second, being a pastor sucks. And it’s the sweetest vocational calling imaginable. And it sucks.

Maybe I should unpack “it sucks” a little bit…

Earlier this week someone on my team at work asked me whether being a real estate agent—especially this time of year, in a booming market, on a very driven team, when 60+ hour weeks are common, and I’m away from home several nights a week on appointments— is harder, or whether being a pastor is harder. My response was that it’s a very different kind of hard. For the most part, I can deal with my current vocational fatigue with one full day off. If between Friday night and Sunday night I get in a date night with my wife, a good run, some time in the Word, play time with my kids, and a few pages of a novel, I’m pretty much good to go for the five days that follow. In other words, there are distinct times in my life right now when I’m not a real estate agent. I’m much more clearly a husband, or a dad, or a Bible student, or a runner, or a reader, or a House of Cards fan.

That was never really the case when I was a pastor. When I wasn’t at the office, I was a pastor-husband (“Is my marriage a good example to my congregation?”), a pastor-dad (“Am I raising my kids to be example-setters for my congregation?”), a pastor-Bible-student (“How would I preach this text?”), a pastor-runner (“God, I need you to download a sermon outline into my brain by the time this 5-miler is done”), a pastor-reader (“Are there any good anecdotes in this novel that I could use as sermon illustrations?”), and a pastor-House of Cardsfan (“I probably should watch this show if I’m going to be able to engage with real people, not just squared-away church-goers”).

It’s exhausting. The spiritual, mental and emotional fatigue of being a pastor is staggering. To never really turn off being a pastor is an enormous struggle for most pastors. And not just for pastors. Also for pastors’ wifes and pastors’ kids. And certainly, a lot of that is pastors’ own fault. I certainly should have worked harder to create margin, to shut my pastor-brain off, and to say “no” to more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. But some of it is inevitable. It’s just part of what you sign up for when you say ‘yes’ to being a pastor. And, what’s more, the devil knows it. He makes a living out of shredding tired pastors.

All of that to say, I want to make sure I’m ready for that, and that my family is ready for that. Don’t get me wrong. Being a pastor is an amazing vocation. “You’re going to pay me to read the Bible and help people understand what it means and live it out?! You’re going to pay me to have coffee with hurting people? You’re going to pay me to help people become the best, most God-saturated version of themselves? You’re serious?!” It’s almost unbelievable. It’s an incredible privilege. I can’t describe how happy it made me.

But I want to make sure I’m ready for the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught as well. I’ve spent the last 21 months with my heart and soul plugged into a monitor to assess my health, get rid of disease, heal, and make sure that I’m as strong and robust as possible if I’m called to head back into the fray. I think I’m there. God’s redemptive and renovating power is as advertized, I’m happy to say. But I want to see a clean bill of health from people who are in a position to give it. Which leads me to…

The third thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not really up to me. I’m only one of the people who has a significant say in whether I become a pastor again or not. I’ve invited at least a dozen people in on that decision, and I take them all very seriously. Some of them are friends. Some are pastors and church leaders. Several of them are people who know me, my heart, my tendencies and struggles, my strengths and virtues, and my character better than anyone else in the world. The most significant one, of course, is my bride. Leslie has absolute veto power over any plan I devise, any opportunity I want to pursue, any interview I want to take, or any church plant I create in my mind. If she’s not a million percent on board, it’s just not happening. So… ask her.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor again until I have a very clear sense of a callI had an undeniable sense of calling to be a pastor for almost six years, and it came with two crucial elements: A group of people asked me to come be their pastor, and God said, “Yes, I want you to go do that,” in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore or deny.

A calling to the pastorate doesn’t come with a guaranteed lifetime appointment. This isn’t the Supreme Court. There’s no tenure track in pastoral ministry. Maybe I was supposed to be a pastor for a season of life, and now I’m supposed to be a real estate agent for the rest of my life, pastoring my family, loving my neighborhood toward Jesus, and offering my gifts in service to a local church as a layperson. I spent six years urging men and women who weren’t pastors to do pretty much exactly that.

I can’t deny that I’m a dreamer. I make plans in my mind, and scrap them, and revise them, and scrap them again, and start over…. I doubt I’ll ever be able to turn that off. But none of it will ever take shape unless there is a clear sense of calling. I’m not telling God how he has to do it. He can do what he wants. I’m just anticipating that when and if it happens, it will be because a group of people said, “Would you come do this?” and God says, “Yes, I want you to go do that.”

So, there’s the long answer. What can I say? I’ve never been good at short answers. I never had a problem figuring out what I was going to talk about for 35 minutes on a Sunday. My problem was always figuring out how to cut out 25 minutes worth of material to get it down to 35.

Maybe I should be a pastor.

Divided: A Youth Pastor’s Perspective

Hello TWOG readers.  Just in case you were wondering if my role here was more of an honorary or emeritus position, I actually do plan on posting occasionally.

You should know that, while I am a youth pastor, I don’t plan on having all or even most of my posts related to the subject of youth ministry.  Something recently came up, however, that I thought might be a nice introductory post.

I had the opportunity to view Divided, a somewhat controversial new movie about youth ministry produced by the National Center For Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) and directed by the Leclerc brothers.  You can actually watch it free online for a limited time.  The premise of the entire film is that “modern youth ministry is contrary to Scripture,” but really, the film goes way, way beyond that.  I’ll explain below.

It’s important to point out in the beginning, however, that this isn’t a new argument.  The idea that youth ministry is not only unfounded Scripturally but opposed to the Bible has been argued ad nauseam.  At the same time, however, I am deeply troubled by how youth ministry has been done in many contexts in America, so when a proponent of the Family Integrated Church (FIC) movement writes a book, I’m in the habit of reading it.  I have always found voices like Voddie Baucham to be incredibly helpful.  This is why I was eager to watch the film.

So what about this movie? As someone who not only has a youth ministry major but also has been a youth pastor for the past five years in the Twin Cities area, am I now convinced that my college major and ministry position are somehow deeply unbiblical? That I have wasted not only my four years of undergrad work, but my previous five years as a youth pastor?  Not hardly.  I’ll tell you why.

A Fun Movie to Watch

First of all, let me say that in many respects, Divided was a fun movie to watch.  The Leclerc brothers are obviously very talented filmmakers, and their eye for cinematography makes the film not only engaging, but, dare I say, entertaining (which itself is ironic, considering that using entertainment and “worldly tactics” to get students interested in what you’re saying is a method that the movie lambastes, but I digress).

I also agreed fully with many of the ideas presented in the movie: the mandate for men in the church to raise up and disciple their families; the family being the primary place where discipleship of children/adolescence takes place; the need to get away from program based ministry and engage more intentionally in an organic, and at times even integrated, model of church; the destructiveness of entertainment-based youth ministry and the wrongheaded tendency of teaching in youth ministry to be based on the lowest common denominator.  All of these are major themes in the movie and I whole-heartedly agree with them.

A False Dichotomy

But here’s the problem.  Why does any church, anywhere, need to choose between actively discipling the parents in the church and having additional supplements and outlets for the training and equipping of young men and women?  In other words, I’m not saying that the FIC understanding of church is wrong.  Far from it. As a youth pastor I often find myself resonating with the FIC model, and refreshed by authors and writers who advocate for the primary role of the family in the discipleship of students.  However, the Leclerc brothers and the NCFIC make it sound as though any age specific model that any church has ever offered is contrary to the Scriptures and therefore offensive to God—that it has been influenced by Darwin and paganism but not the Bible.  This is unquestionably the point of the entire film.  This assertion, however, is not only untrue, but a false dichotomy.

We don’t need to choose between the primary role of discipleship that the family plays in the lives of students and a ministry that teaches, preaches, and lives out the gospel specifically with students.  A church can (and sometimes even should) do both.  That is to say that the church should always be raising up fathers to disciple their families primarily. But sometimes, and depending on the context, the church should spend at least some time building specifically into young people with the gospel.

One of the ways the film sets up this false dichotomy is arguing two points throughout, and these points can, at times, seem utterly contradictory.  For instance, one individual taking the FIC point of view on youth ministry argues that the reason that youth ministry in the church is dangerous is because it keeps youth from having many fathers, many grandfathers, and many brothers and sisters in the family of God (and I agree that this is a danger, incidentally).

But the very next person interviewed says that the reason youth ministry is dangerous is because it turns the hearts of the youth away from their fathers and toward many different people in the church—such as youth pastors, adult youth workers, and peers.  But which is it?  We need some clarity here.  Are they saying that youth can and should have many fathers, grandfathers, mothers, grandmothers, and brothers and sisters (mentors and peers) in Christ, but none of those people are a threat to turning hearts away from fathers unless that person is a youth worker?  If so, what specifically about a “youth worker” makes him or her dangerous in turning hearts away from fathers in comparison to others in the church?  Something seems strange here.

I would suggest that the reason they sound contradictory is that they’re setting up a false dichotomy.  Why can’t it be both?  Why can’t a child have their hearts turned in a positive, loving, respectful way to both their parents and their pastors?  After all, even if youth ministry is non-existent in the church, children and students in the church are still going to have pastors and pastoral authority.  And the Scriptures still command everyone in the church to submit to their pastors.  So what do we do with that?

Do we really want our students not to have positive, loving, growing, engaging, respectful, and equipping relationships with their pastors for fear that it will turn their hearts from their fathers?  Is it really an either/or situation?  Or is the idea for children to have both a healthy relationship with the pastor/elder role in the church and have a deep relationship and love for their parents, who have the primary role of discipleship?  In other words, I don’t understand why students can’t be influenced in a meaningful way by a pastor without that relationship threatening the family.  But this is exactly how the movie portrays the student/youth pastor relationship.

Actually, this is only one of many false dichotomies presented in this movie.  According to this film, you probably cannot both have age-specific classes and be a biblical church, believe in an old earth and have a high view of Scripture, or attend a rock concert and be committed to teaching against worldliness. And the list goes on.

A False Representation

If you have seen the film, at this point you might be saying, “okay, but Jeremy, didn’t you watch the movie?  Both sides were presented and the FIC model clearly won out.”  My answer to this is that yes, I did watch the movie, and both sides were presented in the same way that both sides are presented in a Michael Moore film, such as Bowling in Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11.  You have to be cautious when viewing any documentary, because they obviously are crafting an argument.  Granted, it’s more beneficial when a film says at the outset that they are crafting an argument rather than stating that the filmmaker is simply a person “on a journey” who is looking for answers, but we have to expect this when viewing documentaries.

The producers of this film were obviously very careful with who they selected for interviewing and equally as careful in the editing process. Straw men are easy to knock down, and the NCFIC create their share of straw men in this film.

Are there problems with the way many churches do youth ministry?  Absolutely.  Does that mean that all modern youth ministries are the same?  No.  Does it mean that there is only one biblical model of ministering to youth and family?  Absolutely not.

Tim Challies, who wrote a review of the film a couple of weeks ago, is absolutely correct when he says that “there are many conservative, biblical Christians who reject FIC and I am sure it would not have been difficult to interview a couple of them.”  So why didn’t they?  If it is true, as they claim, that nobody is able to make a reasonable argument from Scripture for youth ministry, why not simply interview some people who reject the FIC model? The reality is that if biblically faithful pastors like John Piper, Tim Keller, and Josh Moody, to name only a few, all have churches that from time to time use age specific models as a supplement to family discipleship, it is uncharitable not to let them explain why they think this is biblical before charging them with sowing “pagan seeds.”  It’s one thing to question the timeliness of certain methods for today.  It’s another thing entirely to assume that these men do not have any biblical grounding for the way they do ministry.

This misrepresentation is actually the most disappointing part of the entire film, as Challies Explains.

“Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the film, then, is it lumps all non-integrated churches together.  Those that have Wednesday evening classes for children end up in the same category as churches that have entire Sunday morning services geared specifically to entertaining the teenagers.  Churches that have an evening set aside for youth fellowship end up in the same category as churches that build their whole youth ministry around partying and Christian rock.  This is not only uncharitable, but also utterly ridiculous.  According to the subtle suggestions of this documentary, even the best youth programs are utterly unbiblical and will cause most of the young people to fall away from the faith.  That is complete and utter nonsense.”

Challies has put his finger on the fundamental problem with this film.  It is this misrepresentation that robs it of its credibility and therefore decreases its effectiveness.  This is heartbreaking and unfortunate, as the movie has so many great things to say—but it was completely avoidable.

A Few Remaining Problems

There are actually several other key problems with the film itself, such as (1) the statistic upon which the entire movie is based (the claim that roughly 70 percent of churched students will walk away from their faith in college), (2) the remarkably absurd claim that the movie actually devotes considerable time to that youth ministry is founded on paganism, and (3) the unconvincing attempts to make the FIC model of doing ministry a biblical mandate for every church.

For further thoughts on the trouble with this statistic, I would suggest an article by Kevin DeYoung entitled Beware the Over-Hyped Stat, where he actually calls this statistic of 70 percent of young adults leaving the church “a classic example of a good statistic gone bad.”  Tim Challies also writes an excellent piece on this stat entitled I Am Unalarmed, where he states that “far fewer than this number abandon the church when they have been raised in homes and churches that treasure and model and celebrate the gospel.”  Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, offers a general warning in his article entitled Evangelicals Behaving Badly With Statistics, where he claims that statistics in the church are commonly abused by individuals who “are usually trying desperately to attract attention and raise people’s concern in order to mobilize resources and action for some cause.”  While I am certainly not attempting to make light of this problem, we would be wise to heed DeYoung’s warning and “beware the over-hyped stat” that is at the core of the film.

For further thoughts on the biblical nature and history of age specific ministry, I would suggest the book Four Views on Youth Ministry and the Church, edited by my seminary advisor, Mark Senter.  It not only contains an FIC argument, but three others also, and these authors charitably and directly interact with one another in the book, leaving the reader in the end to realize that no ministry model is perfect. The reality is that the ministry model that works in our context in New Hope might not be the right model for a church in Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, New York City, or anywhere else.

Final Thoughts

So overall, this movie presented two extremes: Entertainment based youth ministries that exist primarily to give students a fun experience, and family integrated churches that believe age specific ministries to be completely unbiblical.  My position would have to be somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, entertainment driven youth ministry is destroying the spiritual life of students in America.  There have been numerous articles written from youth pastors on this topic.  As Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean have noted well, students in our generation don’t hold to the gospel as much as they do a moralistic, therapeutic deism.  The hard reality is that we do need to continue to head toward a better way of doing youth ministry that expects more of students.  As Mark Driscoll notes in his book, The Radical Reformission, “the American concept of adolescence excuses immaturity among young people and welcomes rebellion and folly as rites of passage.  In our kingdom culture, young people are identified not as adolescents but rather as Christians of whom Christian living is expected.”

Youth ministries need to give students the truth—the gospel of Jesus Christ—as the gospel is not only what brings them into the kingdom, but what brings them transformation.  If I only have three years with students, I’m going to spend those three years relentlessly teaching the gospel.  And we certainly need to recognize the role of the family.  The family is the primary discipleship force in the lives of students, which is why we have ministries at our church that are designed to come behind the family in this role and to train up men to take on the leadership of their home.

I also completely understand when churches see the need in their context to not have an active youth ministry.  Youth ministry can become dangerously over-programmed to the point where the mission force of the church is stripped from their community because they’re always at church. This is one of the reasons why I think FIC is one among many models that is seeing real fruit and benefit for the kingdom of God.

On the other hand, I think that describing the FIC approach as the only biblical model is uncharitable and disingenuous.  Paul’s words have to be pretty strained in Ephesians and Colossians to somehow make them mandates for family integration in all situations. The reality is that we need to have many different models of family ministries in order to figure out what will be most effective in different contexts.

But that could be (and probably should be) another post altogether.  The bottom line is that while Divided offers some great thoughts about ministry, it may actually cause needless division—more division, actually, than the age specific ministries they are challenging.  So, while it could be great to watch this movie (there are so many great challenges throughout the film, especially in the last few moments), I’d suggest that you do so cautiously.  Normally I’d advise viewing a movie like this with a grain of salt.  For this movie, though, I’d bring the whole shaker.

The Sierra Leone Chronicles (Part 7)

bo1.jpg February 20 (Sierra Leone, Day 10)

Last night wasn’t terrible.  The temperature dropped a few degrees (into, probably, the low- to mid-80s) and they hooked up a generator so that we could have a ceiling fan from about 7pm to 2am.  I woke up around 3am and slept restlessly because of the heat, but I did sleep well from about 10:30pm until 3am, and slept on and off from about 3am to 8am.  So, all in all, not a bad night.

My malaria pills have made for some very vivid and bizarre—almost comical—dreams.  I’ve woken up a few times the past two nights laughing out loud.  It’s actually kind of good entertainment!  Almost like having TV in my head.  I actually look forward to seeing what I dream about at night!

No shower in at least three days now, but I have a plan for that.  I’ve found that the water in the kitchenette in the lobby runs moderately well, and I’ve found a bucket I can fill, so I might be able to get the job done that way.

Rick and I actually had a very pleasant morning.  We found what I think is probably the coolest part of the house (relatively speaking, of course) and had coffee and white bread for breakfast, along with a long, meandering conversation about our brides and kids, good books, marathoning (he’s run ten to my one) and potential future ministry opportunities in Sierra Leone and China.  It passed the time well and lifted my spirits.  He has been an excellent travel companion.

We teach for the first time in Bo this evening, from 4pm to 8pm.  So, I’m going to read Scripture this afternoon, read some John Owen (Communion with the Triune God, which I haven’t read in 3 years), drink lots of water, try to stay relatively cool, and try out my “bucket shower” idea.

—–

The turnout tonight in Bo was far less than in Freetown—about what we originally expected to see in Freetown, actually: about 14-16 people.  Most of them are pastors and elders, though, so this could have a powerful impact just as well.  We worshiped together in the Sierra Leone style: No instruments, no PowerPoint or hymnals, just singing and the most complicated clapping patterns I’ve ever heard!  Absolutely wonderful!  We ended our worship by singing, over and over and over again: “Papa, we say to you, ‘tankee!’ Papa, we say to you, ‘tankee!’ (“Father, we say to you, ‘Thank you'”).

The teaching time went very well, and we are looking forward to serving these people.  I’m in bed now, and I’m writing by the light of a flickering single light bulb hanging (rather, dangling) from the ceiling.  It gets dim when anything else in the house is turned on, and then gets brighter again.  Almost like writing by candlelight, I suppose! Also: The “bucket shower” idea worked to perfection!  I even found a small cup to use so that I didn’t have to dump the whole bucket at once!  Luxury!

Four more nights in Bo. Two more before I get to talk to Leslie again.  Seven more until I see her.

How Do You Know If You Are Called to Preach?

The following has been one of the key confirming signs in my sense of call to the pastorate, and it’s one of the most important things I say to aspiring pastors and preachers.  But Spurgeon says it way better than I do:

“If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it.  A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach cannot help it.  He must preach.  As fire within the bones, so will that influence be until it blazes forth.  Friends may check him, foes criticize him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of heaven.  All earth might forsake him; but he would preach to the barren mountaintops.  If he has the call of heaven, if he has no congregation, he would preach to the rippling waterfalls, and let the brooks hear his voice.  He could not be silent.  He would become a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” I no more believe it possible to stop ministers, than to stop the stars of heaven.  I think it no more possible to make a man cease from preaching, if he is really called, than to stop some mighty cataract, by seeking, with an infant’s cup, to drink its waters.  The man has been moved of heaven, who shall stop him?  He has been touched of God, who shall impede him?  With an eagle’s wing he must fly; who shall chain him to the earth?  With seraph’s voice he must speak, who shall stop his lips?  Is not his word like a fire within me?  Must I not speak if God has placed it there?  And when a man does speak as the Spirit gives him utterance, he will feel a holy joy akin to heaven; and when it is over he wishes to be at his work again, and longs to be once more preaching.… Let the sun stop shining, and we will preach in darkness.  Let the waves stop their ebb and flow, and still our voice shall preach the gospel.  Let the world stop its revolutions, let the planets stay their motion; we will still preach the gospel.  Until the fiery center of this earth shall burst through the thick ribs of her brazen mountains, we shall still preach the gospel; till the universal conflagration shall dissolve the earth, and matter shall be swept away, these lips, or the lips of some others called of God, shall still thunder forth the voice of Jehovah.  We cannot help it.  “Necessity is laid upon us, woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel.”

—from a sermon entitled “Preach the Gospel,” on 1 Cor. 9:16

The Sierra Leone Chronicles (Part 5)

cotton.jpg February 16 (Sierra Leone, Day 6)

I slept terrible last night.  If there is power, we can sleep with the windows closed and the A/C on, but there is rarely enough power for A/C, so we have to sleep with the windows open.  There is enough breeze to make the temperature tolerable, but then the problem becomes the noise.  There is loud music all night, traffic noise, and incredibly loud jack-hammer-like power generators in the neighbors’ courtyards just outside our windows.  But our schedule allows for afternoon naps, so I have no real complaint, I suppose.

It was another good day of teaching today, with 50-60 students.  Some are pastors, some are military, police and fire chaplains, and some are other various church leaders and teachers.  I taught on the qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, but only got through verse 2 because we ended up in a very long discussion of marriage, marital faithfulness and divorce, which I was very happy to pursue with them given the massive problems with this both in the U.S. and in Sierra Leone.  Tomorrow I’ll finish with the passage (Lord willing).

Without a doubt, the clearest memory that will remain from today, however, was a conversation with some young men (mid-20s?) on the street.  I showed them my photo of Owen with his lawnmower, playing in the 4-foot deep snow.  They looked stunned, and having only heard of snow but never seen it, they asked us about “what affect snow has on the skin,” pointing to our white skin.  Apparently, they were under the impression that it is the snow that has made our skin white.  Not an entirely illogical conclusion, I suppose!

Tonight I am enjoying the cool breeze of the evening on the roof of our guest house, enjoying the sounds of a city that sleeps—but not until very late at night.  Music is playing. I’ve been watching on and off (get this) soccer!  I never have enjoyed the sport—in fact, I’ve always thought it was intolerably boring, but when it’s the only thing people play or watch here, it’s hard to avoid.  It’s the only sport here!  I think I could actually learn to enjoy it.  Maybe.

Tomorrow is Wednesday already, which means that tomorrow I can say that I get to talk to Leslie and Owen “tomorrow.”  It can’t come soon enough.

February 17 (Sierra Leone, Day 7)

I’m having a bit of a rough morning after a terrible night of sleep again.  I doubt I fell asleep until at least 2am, woke up when the generators outside turned on at 4am, and slept on and off until 7am.  I am really going to be asking my instant coffee to bear more of the burden than it’s designed to bear today.

Enjoyed a sweet time in Proverbs 16. “How much better to get wisdom than gold!  To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” (16:16). “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (16:32).  Keep these in my heart, Lord.

Today was exhausting, given our lack of sleep, but I think both Rick and I taught well and were useful.  I have high hopes for the potential of this teaching to have a ripple effect.  I hit very hard against the so-called “prosperity gospel” today.  It is so prevalent here.  It’s absolutely everywhere—enslaving people in poverty, taking advantage of the uneducated and gullible, and making evil “pastors” wealthy.  It is the worst export of the U.S.

Tonight I have spent the evening writing another brand new seminar for tomorrow.  There is very little focus on the centrality of the gospel here, so I thought it would be useful to build in ten central tenets of the gospel in a “problem/gospel solution” format—something easily transferable that they could use in their own churches and discipleship ministries.  I’m basing it on a 26-week series I taught on the atonement in the Keystone Biblical and Theological Seminars at NHC.

I “cheated” and tried calling Leslie tonight, but couldn’t get through.  Oh well.  It can wait until tomorrow.  I just hope I can get through tomorrow!   Lord, help me sleep well tonight.  I’m getting worn out, and when I’m this worn out I’m far less in control of my emotions in missing my bride and kids.