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Facing My (physically) Painful Reality

SAMSUNG CSCAt the very end of a run on Tuesday evenings with my training group is a street named “Anita.”

The name Anita brings to mind happy things:

  1. Like your Aunt Anita who always had fresh apple pie
  2. A cool summer breeze
  3. A childhood friend
  4. Or a long afternoon nap

Sadly Anita is none of those things.  In reality it’s one of the most painful experiences you will ever go through.

As a runner most hills come on in one of two varieties

  1. Ones that are very steep but short (don’t take long to get over)
  2. Ones that are less steep but take a lot longer to conquer

Anita is one of the few hills that are both long AND steep, therefore in my opinion the name should be changed to:

“Oh my word my legs hurt SO MUCH and I feel like I’m gong to die!  Seriously how long is this hill?  I can’t believe I actually paid money to do this, and will never run ever again in my life…street”

Of course that wouldn’t fit on the sign

There are blessings with Anita however since it shows exactly who is in shape, and who isn’t (I’m not in shape by the way).

My training group is divided into smaller ones that each run a different speed or pace (some faster, some slower).  Knowing that the Marathon training was going to be a big challenge, I decided to start running with a faster group.

After keeping up (more or less) with everyone else I was actually feeling really good about myself.

Until Anita…

As my partners sprinted towards the finish  I slowed down considerably…and then gave up and walked the rest of the way (making sure to hit the seven-mile mark before quitting).  In that moment it was painfully clear my fitness level didn’t quite fit theirs yet.

There are experiences in life like Anita that reveal we aren’t as far along spiritually, physically, or emotionally as we thought.  That’s okay though since they give us a healthy dose of reality.

In the past I would usually run with one of the slower groups since it made me feel good about myself.  Trust me when I say there is no better feeling than pulling away from other group members in the last mile :-)  During races however when facing runners who were stronger than me I deeply regretted not training harder.

It’s not always easy to admit your weakness (especially when everyone else in your group is a lot stronger) but you can do it with a smile on your face.  Because a painful reality embraced now keeps you from having to admit it on race day.

Thirty-Minutes After Running Anita

Thirty-Minutes After Running Anita


When Ministry isn’t Fun Anymore

IMG_0113Yesterday was a very sad occasion in the Wilburn household since I had to go clothes shopping.  Now that doesn’t usually bother me, but this was a special kind of clothes.

The kind you use while teaching a class or mentoring High School students…dress shirt, dress pants or khaki’s, and dress shoes (of course none of it can be wrinkled).

In other words the summer ministries are almost over

Most of my ministry outside of summer centers on teaching or mentoring in the school system.  But during summer break  I’m able to be involved in more enjoyable ministries with young people.

  • Like camps
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Teachers assistant at a school for special needs children
  • And traveling to teach groups about Australia

These are things I am really passionate about and enjoy doing.  More importantly though they are relaxed ministries that allow me to connect with others in a relational way (translation-they allow me to be goofy).

In celebration of Summer ministries in May I purchased three super-hero t-shirts (Superman, Batman, and my personal favorite Captain America).  Since then they have compromised my wardrobe along with shorts that didn’t fit me, and had ten to fifteen different stains on them.

Please don’t think this relaxed wardrobe means I didn’t work.  In fact this was one of the most exhausting summers of my life!  At the same time though it was awesome because I was doing things that were fun or enjoyable.

Sadly my beloved super-hero shirts will soon be packed away and I will be involved in ministry that (while necessary) wouldn’t be something I would refer to as “fun.”

  1. Lesson plans for English as a Second Language Classes
  2. Calling Pastors about sharing my ministry with their Church
  3. Mentoring students who may not want to be there, but are forced to because they are failing a class
  4. Starting a one on one computer teaching ministry

Now there is an element of enjoyment in each one of these; however they all involve hard work, dedication, and commitment.

To be honest it would be lot easier to keep wearing my t-shirts and ministering to teenagers who think I’m awesome because I have an Instagram account…but sometimes Ministry isn’t fun, and that’s okay

Sadly we are living in a broken world that because of mankind’s sin means hard-work is just a reality.

Does this mean ministry will never be fun?  Of course not!  But there comes a time in our lives when we are called to pack up the Captain America t-shirt, put on our big boy pants (with a snazzy dress-shirt), and just do the work.

Oh don’t get me wrong I’ll still rock the super-hero shirts around the house, and live in them on weekends :-)  The important thing is I’m willing to put in the work and discipline.

Because sometimes ministry just isn’t fun…but that’s cool…because the truth us life isn’t always fun either.

Why I Love Steal the Bacon

indexOne of the coolest things about speaking at camps this summer (other than acting like a teenager) was sharing stories from my life that illustrated a Biblical truth.  And none of these were more enjoyable than my “steal the bacon story.”

In this post I will give the abbreviated version, but if you would like to read a longer one it can be found here.

As a teen I was one of those kids who had not athletic talent whatsoever…today that doesn’t really bother me, but of course in my younger years that was a big deal.  This lack of athleticism led me to avoid sports of any kind or games that pointed out my lack of ability.

Most of the time this could be done pretty easily (like putting myself in the one corner of the kickball field the ball NEVER came to) but steal the bacon was different.

For those of you who never played this game, people are divided into two teams, and an item (in our case an eraser) is placed in the middle of the field.  A number is called and those on both teams with that number try to take the bacon, then run with it to their teams side.

Unfortunately with a game like this there was absolutely no hiding the fact that I was terrible at sports.  As a form of mercy they usually paired me against someone equally as bad (in most cases a girl) but for some reason one day I went against one of the most athletic boys in our class.

I can remember standing on the line praying our teacher wouldn’t call  my number.  But of course he did, so I started slowly jogging to the middle (not really trying) and waited for my opponent to grab the bacon.

But he didn’t

Instead of taking it and running he actually stopped and waited for me.  Then once I got there he leaned over and whispered the words “take it.”

It took a moment to realize what my classmate was doing…he offered me the bacon out of pity because I couldn’t possibly win the game myself.

In that moment I was overwhelmed by the understanding of just how pathetic I was at sports which resulted in tears (I faked an ankle injury as an excuse).  So for many years even the thought of a chalkboard eraser brought feelings of humiliation.

But not any more

As a teen God used Jeremiah 1:5 to dramatically impact my life

Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.

Allow me to phrase this verse in a way that’s clearer.

Jeremiah before your mother and father even met or fell in love I set you apart, and chose you to be prophet to the people of Israel

The interesting thing is there were no qualifications for Jeremiah to meet before being used by God.

God didn’t say “okay Jeremiah once you have a 4.0 GPA, huge muscles, and absolutely own people in steal the bacon I will use you.”  No He chooses to use us just as we are (lack of athletic ability and all).

Understanding that helps me embrace the humiliating “steal the bacon experiences” of life since it doesn’t matter what I can or can’t do.  The only thing matters is I am loved by almighty God.

A Letter To My Campers

SAMSUNG CSCTo the Campers I Taught This Summer,

I told you guys it would be like this.

The moment you left camp on fire for God Satan was already waiting at home ready to hit you with everything he had.  And soon you entered the real world filled with

  1. Drama and stress
  2. Lack of Godly Christian friends
  3. Peer pressure to do the wrong thing
  4. Suffering and pain

Slowly but surely the temptation to take control of the situation and do things the way we want will become stronger.

But there’s a big problem with that thinking…we are broken (unable to save ourselves or withstand temptation on our own).

Even on the trip home from camp Satan probably started lying to you:

  • Don’t worry about reading the Bible, you can catch up tomorrow
  • Keep the pain bottled up inside instead of sharing it (they will just make fun of you anyways)
  • Don’t share the Gospel if your scared to do it
  • Life is too busy for things like prayer or deep Bible study

I truly wish that I could defend you from those attacks myself or bring us all back to the camp experience where everyone wants to live for God.

Unfortunately that’s impossible, and you don’t want it anyways because I’m just as broken as everyone else.

Thankfully you don’t have to suffer alone.

Through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross we can be whole

Collossians 2:13-15 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities* and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.*

As Satan calls you to doing things in your own strength (the broken way) listen instead to the voice of God, and run towards Christ.  For there you will find strength and hope in this incredibly broken world.

I’ve thrown dozens of sticks into fires and made countless decisions at camps as a teen only to turn from them a few days later.

This had nothing to do with not wanting to live for God, but after the spiritual mountaintop I returned to my own brockeness.  With all my heart I pray this doesn’t happen to you.

As you enter into spiritual warfare remember this:

  1. There is nothing you can do in your own strength to become more Holy
  2. Christ paid your debt so you don’t have to earn His approval
  3. We are called to a relationship of obedience with God because of the price Christ paid
  4. And you weren’t meant to carry the stress and pain of life alone (turn to God with it)

May you enter a broken world the power of God and share the good news…in Christ we are made whole.

I Love You All,

John Wilburn

Why We Should Revisit Our Childhood

On Friday my brother came over with his wife and two children for the weekend (which caused me to “break Instagram” with the amount of cute pictures).  While the whole weekend was an awesome experience, Saturday was really special.

That morning after getting back from my twelve-mile run (and no I’m not kidding)  I along with my brother and father drove to a small farming community called Swan Creek.

This area was precious to us since Michael and I spent six years of our childhood filled with amazing memories there.  I had just gotten out of Kindergarten, and Michael would have turned two.

All of us had opportunities to be at the Church my father pastored in Swan Creek since then, but Saturday was the first time in twenty-six years we all revisited it together.

My brother came up with the awesome idea of interviewing us at different points in our visit like

  1. The hill where we played every Sunday after Church
  2. The spot where I (allegedly) hit him with my bike one afternoon
  3. The place where Michael accepted Christ as his savior
  4. The baseball field where he played little league baseball
  5. A neighborhood store where we played Mrs. Pac-Man every Saturday morning
  6. A produce store we visited every week
  7. And the restaurant called Speedy Chef where we went to every Sunday after Church to watch Night Rider and eat hotdogs

The fun thing was as we started making those videos all kinds of memories started coming back to me

  1.  Like the year my mother dressed up like a hillbilly and brought our dog to Vacation Bible School
  2. Or riding ponies at a neighbor’s house
  3. The hours spent riding my bike around the Church parking lot
  4. Breaking a $5.00 air freshener at the Church and acting as if they world was coming to an end

Of course we had to end the afternoon by having lunch one more time at Speedy Chef….somehow the hot dogs didn’t taste as good as they used to.

The Lord used Saturday to remind me about the importance of remembering the simpler times in life.  In a world filled with stress and missed deadlines, being able to embrace childhood memories is an awesome thing.  Of course that doesn’t mean you live in the past, but it is a great blessing to visit those places (either literally or mentally).

Even if the hot dogs do taste terrible


How Facebook Is Your Bedroom

Desk with Social Media and Connection ConceptI have always been in love with technology.  I don’t know what why, but electronics (and computers especially) have always been fascinating to me.  So whenever the latest website, software, or online tool become available I was almost always the first one to try it out.

I have always been in love with technology.  I don’t know what why, but electronics (and computers especially) have always been fascinating to me.  So whenever the latest website, software, or online tool become available I was almost always the first one to try it out.

Except for Facebook….it took me a long time to see the importance of it.

I’m admittedly someone who came late to the Facebook party, not taking it seriously until late 2010 (although I’ve been on it since 2007). My reasons for this is like many other people I viewed it as unimportant since most communication involved

  • Playing a game or Inviting someone to play it
  • Updating personal information
  • Sharing person opinions on a controversial subject
  • Or sharing details of their life I had very little interest in (like what they made for dinner)

Over time though it became clear to me what Facebook is really about.  A lot of this came from reading a book entitle “The Church of Facebook” by Jesse Rice that describes how social media (and Facebook in particular) affects our lives.  One of the greatest lessons learned is one of Facebook’s true purposes:  It gives us a place to safely share things important to us.

Explained another way “Facebook is Your Bedroom”  Every teenager wants a bedroom of their own.  While there are a number of reasons for this, there are three that stand out was most important.

  • It gives them a place to express individuality without fear of rejection
  • It gives them a place where they have control
  • It gives them a place to simply relax and be themselves

We live in a world filled with stress, peer pressure, and approval addiction (strong desire to be loved by others), so having a place where they could simply be themselves is extremely important.  That desire for a “safe place” doesn’t go away with age…which is a big reasons why Facebook has become so popular.

1.  It Gives Us a Safe Place to Express Ourselves  Everyone is passionate about certain things in life, and in most cases a casual glance at their Facebook Wall (the area where they post information) will reveal exactly what those are.  For instance spend two minutes looking at my Facebook posts and you will find I’m passionate about

  • Running
  • Returning to Melbourne Australia
  • Making people laugh
  • Sharing random pictures (which are experiences from my life)

The cool thing about Facebook is I can share as many training updates from my Garmin watch that my heart desires without fear that someone may make fun of me about it.  It is true that people can share negative comments, but in most cases, an individuals right to post whatever they want on their wall is respected.  There are few places left in the world that offer as safe place for individuality, which is why people use Facebook so much

But that isn’t all

2.  It Gives Us a Place to Control:  There is a LOT in life that we cannot control!  This is why having one area that you can restrict access to (such as closing a bedroom door) is so precious to us.

Facebook gives us many opportunities to create and exert that control through an online relationship

  • We must accept a person before they are allowed to communicate with us as our friend
  • Unless someone tags us in a post, we are the only ones who can put a post on our wall
  • We always have the ability to delete a post
  • When we share a post it’s possible to control who sees it

Yes this kind of control can definitely go to a person’s head, however having the ability to say “yes” or “no” to things on Facebook can be very liberating.

And Finally

3.  It Gives Us a Place to Relax:  This is a lot like number one (A Place for Expression) but it’s important to note Facebook gives us a place where we can simply be ourselves.

I am a proud believer in the fact that all of us are a little bit weird or crazy (at least I definitely am) and that’s beautiful because it points out the fact that God creates us as unique individuals.

Unfortunately things like stress or fear of rejection mean people rarely see our unique side.

That’s where Facebook comes in…

It’s a place where we can close the door, and in a place of safety just be ourselves

In a perfect world people wouldn’t have to worry about being themselves…till that day comes, at least we can do it online.


When God Opens a Strange Door

IMG_0021The last two weeks have been emotional for me because I’ve seen two of my English students return to their own Countries.  One to South Korea to live, and another to Mexico for the next two months.

Saying goodbye to these wonderful students couldn’t help but remind me of how my English classes started, and the fact that God many times opens strange doors in our lives

Upon the return to the States my focus was on getting practical ministry experience that could help me create outreach ministries in Melbourne.

Specifically my mind was thinking about things I was passionate about:  such as computer tutoring, working with children, and Bible teaching.

While the Lord did open the doors for these things to happen my main ministry while here is teaching English students one on one.

This is interesting since English definitely wasn’t my favorite subject in school and is still a struggle sometimes (my posts regularly have spelling mistakes) however since God provided me the opportunity to do this..I committed myself to it.

It began when a volunteer coordinator from the local YMCA called and asked if I would be interested in becoming part of their “Literacy Initiative.”  What began as one Hispanic couple has grown to teaching six ninety-minute classes a week (all on different subjects).

While this definitely wasn’t the door I expected God to open it did provide some wonderful blessings:

  1. Like completing an online course to become a certified ESL teacher
  2. Being able to share with my students my burden for the people of Australia
  3. Celebrating milestones like a birthday, or completing a citizenship exam
  4. Or explaining the Gospel of Christ

IMG_0072In all honesty I believe God enjoys opening the doors we wouldn’t expect Him to open, and keeping the ones we wanted to be opened completely closed.  Part of this would be because He has more wisdom than I do about what things will work (and what won’t).  In a deeper sense though this is a way the Lord challenges us.

See becoming involved in a ministry where I’m incredibly gifted would tempt me to rely on my own strength.  But put in a situation where I am in need of help ensures a reliance upon the Lord.

Besides, even though teaching English isn’t what I had in mind when I got back from Australia I’ve learned to love it.

  • Because it teaches me how to create clear and well-organized lesson plans
  • Because it helps me learn more about other cultures
  • Because it gives me an opportunity to meet students other needs (that have nothing to do with English)
  • And because it gives valuable ministry experience in Australia











Like many of you I spent a lot of time trying to force open a door that God had closed and found it impossible.  But have also found walking through the door He DOES open leads to incredible joy.


How Car Trouble was a Blessing From God

snow on carDearest Friends,

The month of June was pretty crazy for me since I was on the road for three weeks doing a Vacation Bible School, and two weeks of Camp.  Sadly this kept me from communicating with you the way I would like, but it was an awesome experience teaching young people about Christ.

This week I’d like to share a story with you about God’s blessing during that time, and reminder of how I need His help.

Following the last week of camp I was driving through Virginia when the check engine light of my car came on.  Like many of you my first thought in this situation was fear since traveling had put quite a few miles on the vehicle.  We were also already having some trouble with my cars air conditioning system (it cooled, but just barely).

Any thought that this may not be a serious problem was forgotten when large amounts of white smoke came out of my tailpipe while leaving a restaurant that evening.

While the Lord did not bless me with the skills to work on a car, I realized this was a serious problem.  Research revealed it could be the result of two things; oil leaking into the engine, or the engine itself.  Both of these would be costly to fix of course (and the air conditioning would still be broken).

So for a week I along with my parents thought and prayed about the situation.  We also looked into the options of replacing the engine in the car I was using, or my parents getting a new vehicle.  Finally we took the car to a local mechanic expecting the worst.

I came home from two English classes Monday morning and my dad immediately asked if I was ready to hear the “bad news” about the car.  It was a ten dollar piece of piping that was completely corroded and was leaking oil into the engine.  The entire job (air conditioning being fixed included) was around $300.

So what began as a serious problem became an opportunity to show His Grace

  1. By leading us to a mechanic who could discover the problem (and be honest about it)
  2. By providing the money needed to pay for that to work to be done
  3. By giving us patience for the week my car wasn’t working properly
  4. And by reminding me just how much I needed Him

Life is filled with stressful moments…but we can be thankful that God can use them for His Glory.
In Christ,

Why I Had To Be a Jerk Today (and It’s a Good Thing)

Picture of myself with my niece from 2009

Picture of myself with my niece from 2009

I absolutely love working with children (particularly those in kindergarten or first grade) because the Lord has given me gifts that minister to them in a special way.

Working with kids like this can teach you many important lessons about reaching the heart of a child with the Gospel, and a new friend who I will call Kevin (not his real name) reminded me of one this week.

Children can do a whole lot more than you think they can, but would prefer you do it for them

A few weeks ago I started volunteering with a summer program for children with special needs.  My role there involves playing with the kids, keeping things under control, and helping some of them move around.

The very moment I walked into the room that first Wednesday morning Kevin immediately walked up and took me by the hand.  From that point on I started helping him get up and down and very carefully leading him by the hand when we were walking to and from the playground.

There was just one problem with that…

Kevin could walk very well and didn’t need my help at all

He along with many other children (both those with and without special needs) have developed something called “learned helplessness.”

Basically this means a child will act as if they can’t do something they really can in hopes that you will do it for them

Thankfully the teachers explained to me that Kevin was able to do pretty much everything on his own and didn’t need my help.

We were on the playground today when I noticed two volunteers from another class were helping Kevin up the steps for a slide by his hand (something he could easily do without their help) and knew it would mean trouble.

Sure enough moments later he stood beside a car that the children could climb into, and started pointing at it (a sign he wanted someone to help him).

When we didn’t pay attention Kevin came over and reached out to take my hand but I refused (it made me feel like a jerk but in that situation it was the best thing to do).  After crying and pointing at the car for five minutes he decided to sit down and pull grass during the rest of our play-time.

Some individuals would probably view my refusing to pick Kevin up and put him into that car as barbaric.  However I knew from experience that doing that would feed his learned helplessness.

  • So sometimes you have to be mean when you work with kids
  • Sometimes you must force them to do the work by themselves
  • Sometimes you have to let them spend fifteen minutes pulling grass because they won’t do the work themselves

The child won’t appreciate it in the moment…but they will be eventually when being forced to do things makes them stronger.

Sharing Your Embarrassing Truth


I know a lot of you have been wondering how the process is going with my return to Melbourne Australia.  Let me just say thanks for showing such an interest in the burden God has placed upon my heart for the Country,  asking for updates shows that you really care.

Unfortunately the return has been delayed for a while since the paperwork isn’t being completed as soon as I had hoped.

Let me go ahead at make clear the blame for this shouldn’t be placed on Australia, it’s Immigration Department, or anyone helping with my paperwork…that’s all on me.  I did the best I could to move the process along but it just didn’t work out that way.

There really isn’t any reason to be ashamed about that (I did everything in my power to work it out) but it doesn’t keep me from feeling utterly humiliated.

In a way that’s human since a normal reaction to a goal that isn’t reached would be embarrassment.  However it’s easy to let that feeling of embarrassment overwhelm us so that we hide that truth we are ashamed about.

There is a big part of me that wants to hide the delayed Visa process using statements like

  1. Well it’s coming along
  2. We will see what the Lord does
  3. Things are progressing nicely
  4. or We are getting there

Here’s the problem with those answers

They hide the truth.

Now of course it isn’t necessary to embrace my shame or embarrassment so people feel sorry for me (or really uncomfortable) and I would  be depressed all of the time.  But hiding that embarrassing truth is just as bad because in a way it shows I’m finding my identity (source of strength) in myself instead of Christ.

If the relationship I have with God is the source of my identity it won’t matter how many setbacks the Visa process takes.  Oh the shame will still be there…but it will be overshadowed by the Love and Mercy of my Heavenly Father.

In the future I will do my best to give honest answers to your questions about my return, even if it does feel like I’m stabbing myself in the heart :-).  For it’s only as I truly accept all parts of my life that God can show how He uses everything for His glory.

In Him,

John Wilburn