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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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Ups and Downs of Ministry

Remember when you started your ministry? Fresh from Bible college your dreams were high and your goals were worthy. You had notebooks full of ideas. You were a fountain of enthusiasm. You were going to pour your  life into the lives of others and, with God’s help, you were going to make a difference!

You knew your ministry might be small at first, but it would grow a little each year. You would be faithful. God would bless. Slowly your work would build to a peak and then you would retire or perhaps just move on to build another ministry.

After years of ministry, however, you found your work didn’t resemble the steady rise of a mountain as much as it did a roller coaster with continual ups and downs. The novelty wore off and you wondered why you were such a failure. In the dark of night, when you’re trying to sleep Satan whispered, “Why doesn’t God bless your ministry?”  Maybe you even wanted to give up.

It’s possible that who you are and what you are doing is causing your ministry to fail. You may need to change. But so often ups and downs are just part of ministry. We all see the high profile churches that are bursting their seams and we want to know their secrets. Comparison can rob us of our confidence and our joy.  The truth is, around the world we see some mission fields that seem to be wildly productive. Others seem to struggle no matter how faithfully the missionary serves.

Maynard Belt tells of a mission society who, in 1853, discussed closing a station in Ongole, India, because only ten people had been won to Christ in fifteen years. “At that time more than 167 languages were spoken in that area.  This area had been called the “Lone Star” church of India.  Only two men on the mission board pleaded not to abandon the continued support of this work.” But in time the others changed their minds. “The men voted unanimously to continue the ministry and because of this decision God worked and hundreds of people in India became believers.  Thirty years later the Ongole church had grown to 15,000 members.  The Lord had another plan for the “Lone Star” church and marvelously rewarded the efforts of all who had patiently labored in the region.”

Pastor Belt ends his article with these words: Are you discouraged because you may not be experiencing fruit in your God-appointed vineyard? Have you thought about resigning your ministry because nothing seems to be happening? Have you quit casting a vision before your people because no one seems to care?  Have you lost the excitement that you first had when called to your particular ministry? Yes, God does use such circumstances at times to nudge us on to different ministries, but sometimes it is just the devil discouraging us to the point where we just want to give up. Over the years I have learned that with God something is always happening, even if we do not see it. Maybe we need to pray more?  Trust more? Work more? For sure we need to wait more! While living in a “Hurry Up World” we must be careful not to forget that the Lord is patiently working out HIS plan. (2 Peter 3:8-9) The great believers have been unwearied waiters! There is no time wasted in waiting IF you are waiting on the will of God!

May these words encourage and challenge you today as you wait on the Lord.

*Maynard Belt is a retired pastor who writes articles of encouragement to people in ministry at: www.BarnabasFile.com

 

Traveling with a Special Diet

chili wafflesManaging a special diet while you are traveling is a fine art. We are missionaries so every few years we spend months in America in which we travel most of the time. My husband is a Celiac and must have a gluten-free diet. He also likes to eat (rather than starve, which is the obvious alternative.) Our first challenge wherever we go is finding food he can eat. This has not only built our patience, it has taught us some tips that we’re happy to pass on to others who struggle with a special diet when they travel.

Eating in Restaurants

Prepare to take extra time and patience to order your meal.

Often counter clerks, waitresses, even managers may be unfamiliar with the special needs for your diet. You are asking them questions which may be hard to answer. You may have to ask them to bring out a gallon jar of dressing to check the label or hunt down a brochure which is hard to find. You are more likely to get the help you need if you continue to smile and patiently work with them to find something you can eat.

Do your homework.

Before you leave home, research websites of food chains noting what their options are for your diet. Many times you can download diet specifications and bring it with you. Then if the counter clerk or waitress doesn’t know what you can have, you’ll be prepared ahead of time. You will still need to specify your diet and double check on it, but it will give you more confidence and save time if you have done this before you’re standing in line waiting to order.

You can also phone the restaurant ahead of time and ask about their menu. If you are going to a new restaurant, you may want to ask if they have menu options for your diet before you are seated. We have had to walk out of some restaurants because they have nothing Art can eat or they aren’t willing to work with us.

Home Invitations

Communicate ahead of time.

If we are invited to someone’s home or we will be visiting a church, we always tell them ahead of time about Art’s diet. We recommend my website as a place to find recipes and guidelines about what he can eat. If you have a complicated diet it is much better to warn the hostess ahead of time than to show up hoping there will be something you can eat.

Suggest some easy menus. Some cooks like challenges and want to try new recipes. Some, like me, want to keep it simple. I tell them Art can always have plain meat and vegetables. It’s the seasonings that get them into trouble. For lunch I often recommend nachos with G-F chips like Tostitos, seasoned ground beef with Taco Seasoning like Old El Paso, a can of tomatoes, and a can of G-F baked beans.

Bring helpful items with you.

We always travel with a box of G-F cereal so breakfast is always easy. Sometimes we bring a loaf of G-F bread. You could bring a can a soup you know you can have or a few things that travel well. With the stress taken away from breakfast and lunch, it’s not as hard for your hostess to prepare supper.

Pot Luck Dinners

Bring a dish you can eat to share with others.

This is often the easiest solution. Sometimes you are coming from out of town, however, and can’t do this. If this is the case I suggest the next option.

Nose around in the kitchen ahead of time.

On furlough we eat pot luck dinners almost every Sunday. Because we are missionaries, we’re usually pushed to go to the first of the line and we feel the pressure to choose quickly and make way for others. This usually works better if I amble off to the kitchen ahead of time, make friendly conversation with one of the cooks who doesn’t look too distracted, and ask some questions. I might take a glance at the table first and spy out dishes that look like they might likely be G-F, then ask if anyone knows who made that dish.

When I first start doing this I get some funny looks like “why is this lady inspecting our food?” I try to explain early on why I am being so nosey. If the first person I approach can’t help, they can often introduce me to someone who can. This is also easier if we have already notified the pastor ahead of time so at least one cook has prepared a G-F item.

 

Helping Missionaries on Difficult Fields

 

Ten years ago Max Missionary was appointed to the field of Boondockia (fictional country.) Max and his wife, Maxine, looked forward to a glorious future of planting churches in that needy country. But Max feels he has failed. He just can’t figure out what went wrong.

 After being appointed, Max and Maxine spent their first three years on deputation. Max gave challenging messages that showed his burden for the Boondockians, but many churches felt that was not enough. They wanted snake stories, and Boondockia is too cold for snakes. Max, although earnest, was not flashy. Their support trickled in slowly.

 Once on the field, Max and Maxine worked diligently for two years in language study, trying to master Boondockese. Before long they got used to the different sentence structure, but Max had trouble remembering the eleven different tones and when they changed in a sentence. Maxine did better with the tones but had trouble forming her glottal stops. After two years they did not master Boondockese, but they had a good foundation and were determined to continue working on it.

The couple spent the next two years trying to build friendships with the Lower Boondockians and tell them about Christ. Finally one lady said she would believe in Christ if Max taught her English. He decided she wasn’t ready. Max could not start services because they were due for furlough and there was no one to take over the work. No one showed much interest in Christianity anyway, since the Muslim state religion forbade worshiping Christ. Max decided to wait until the next term to begin services.

After furlough Max started services in their home. They passed out 10,000 fliers advertising their services and showed attractive Christian films once a month. Once in a while someone besides their family even came to the services. One Sunday three Boondockians came. Max walked on air for a month.

But Max is getting a little discouraged. He has held services every Sunday for the last two years, but only one person has been saved. That person moved away after a few weeks. Visitors don’t want to come back because there are so few people in the services. No one has come to the services for the last month.

Just yesterday Max got a questionnaire in the mail from a supporting church. They want to know how many people he has led to the Lord in the last year, how many he has baptized and the average attendance for his services. This church wants to support missionaries “who produce fruit.”

“What am I supposed to tell them?” he asks Maxine. “That after they’ve supported us for ten years, we’ve seen only one person saved? There’s no place on the questionnaire for the hours I spend several nights a week with Mr. Quaptrx trying to answer his doubts about Christianity. Or the time we’ve spent building relationships with others. What are we doing wrong? Are our last ten years for nothing?”

Max is typical of many missionaries who work on “slow fields.” Though he feels like a failure, he is just the kind of missionary needed in Lower Boondockia. He may not be flashy, but he is faithful, persevering through fruitless, seemingly nonproductive times. Boondockians are beginning to trust him. Max has given several a foundation for faith in the Word of God that will eventually lead some of them to trust Christ.

If Max will be able to stick it out for a few more years, he will plant a small church, the first one, in the city where he works. But right now he’s ready to quit.

Churches need to realize that not all mission fields are alike. On some fields people are saved in great numbers in a relatively short time, and it’s possible to build large, successful churches in a few years. On other fields, no matter how diligently the missionaries work, few souls are saved. It takes many years to build a small church. These are the “slow fields.” Given enough years, these fields should become more productive; but in the beginning it takes faithful missionaries with staying power.

In the case of a difficult field, a missionary is still just getting started after the first term or two. A missionary who will stay on the field for life is the best investment. If he quits after his first term much of his time is lost, and a lot of money is lost too. Consider a missionary couple who spends three to four years raising support, two years in language school, and another couple of years to complete their first term. The cost of living, travelling, setting up house, and study for those years could easily exceed a quarter million dollars. It makes sense to stand behind missionaries on slow fields and encourage them to serve as long as the Lord leads them to do so.

How can your church help missionaries on especially difficult fields?

 1. Recognize that different fields have different results.

Let your missionaries to slow fields know you don’t expect the same kind of results from their fields as you do from some others. Tell them you understand the heartbreak they feel when they work hard and see few results.

2. Realize that it takes different kinds of missionaries for different fields.

The flashy kind of person who makes outstanding first impressions on deputation may not last on the slow field—or any other field, for that matter. Learn to recognize the faithful missionary who has a quiet determination to persevere, no matter what. This kind of missionary is often overlooked, but may end up doing the best and most lasting job.

3. Make sure your missionary acquires good language skills.

If he does not get the language down, he is more easily tempted to give up and go home. Don’t put other expectations on your missionary during his time in language school. Churches that demand a missionary have an additional ministry greatly handicap his ability to learn the language. A missionary in language school needs your prayer and encouragement—even though his prayer letters may not have much to say. He needs to have enough financial support to meet his language school needs. Language school is often very expensive, and missionaries may have to cut down on the hours they take or avoid refresher courses because they can’t afford to take more.

4. Make sure your missionary has adequate financial support for every area of need.

This will take a lot of pressure off his shoulders. For example, he should have enough support to educate his children and take a vacation to get some rest. He won’t be able to stay with relatives, so even simple vacations may get a little expensive. Encourage your missionary to take a vacation and assure him he doesn’t have to feel guilty about the money and time spent. Many missionaries do well to get two or three days off a couple times a year.

5. Take the time to encourage your missionary.

Write him personal letters that show you have taken the time to get to know him and his field. Packages can be helpful when you have made the effort to find out what he will enjoy and the best way to send it. When possible, develop a friendship with him on deputation or furlough. His life may be so transient during these times that many people are afraid to make close friends with him.

6. Let him know you trust him.

Some churches are afraid to trust missionaries. They’re afraid appointees will never make it to the field so they don’t start supporting them until they leave for the field, or maybe until their second term. (If all churches did that, no missionary would ever get to the field.) Or they’re afraid their missionary isn’t working hard enough. It’s far more likely that he’s overworked and does not know how to cut down his hours. Missionaries working on slow fields especially need to know that their churches understand and trust them. The lack of results is hard enough to bear without their churches’ criticism.

7. Don’t forget to pray specifically for your missionary.

You can’t do that without reading and studying the prayer letters he writes. Your missionary tries hard to live up to the commitment he has made to you by working faithfully. Are you living up to the commitment you made to him by praying faithfully and specifically? Your missionary may be wondering why he is failing when he’s working so hard. Could it be you aren’t doing your part by praying?

In 40 years of ministry on two continents I have sometimes felt like Max and Maxine Missionary. But God sees and rewards faithfulness year after year.

As a former pastor used to say during my college days, “With God the hardest field can be the harvest field.”

Is God in Control?

Every day we scroll through Facebook and other social media to find out what’s happening. And what reward do we receive for our faithful commitment to the news? Full term abortions, gross immorality, violence, corruption, rape, hatred—news so bad that we have to screen it when children are in the room.

That kind of news makes us wonder: Where is God in all of this mess? Is He still in control? Why does He allow such evil? If He can stop it, why doesn’t He? Questions such as these can turn unbelievers away from God and can shake the faith of Christians. However, we don’t have to fear the answers. We just have to make sure we look to God for the answers.

Nevertheless, God doesn’t explain the reasons behind all of His actions. After all, He is not accountable to us. He does, however, explain enough of His logic so we know that we can trust Him. His explanations give us some facts to anchor our faith upon.

What does God’s control mean?

Is God in control? Yes. But God is like a teacher watching her students on the playground. The teacher watches while one student uses another’s truck without asking. She sees a big girl crowd in front of a smaller one in line for the slide. She hears a boy call a girl “stupid.” She does not police every action. She doesn’t force each child to correct each misbehavior, though she often disapproves. She knows that children must learn to give and take and cope in an imperfect world. But the teacher watches carefully to ensure that actions do not escalate out of control and that someone does not get seriously hurt.

The teacher controls the situation without controlling the students’ every move. In the same way, God controls everything all the time. Furthermore, He keeps perfect records for coming judgment.

Is the world today more evil than ever before?

But how can we conclude that God is in control when the world around us lists in a sea of chaos? This stormy world gets more evil every year. Have circumstances ever been as bad as circumstances today? History teaches us that our world’s immorality, greed, cruelty and indifference to God are not unusual. In fact, many periods of history were just as bad or even worse!

The Minor Prophets lived during one of those dark periods of history.

Zechariah and Haggai worked to rebuild the temple in a time when Jerusalem looked like a Midwest town after a tornado. The people in Zechariah’s and Haggai’s day laid the foundation of the temple. Then jealousy, disillusionment, poverty and selfishness stopped the project for 16 years.

In Hosea’s day even the priests turned to drunkenness, prostitution and murder.

Micah lived while government leaders were corrupt. But, then, everyone else was equally corrupt. Micah couldn’t trust anyone—not even his friends, his relatives or his wife. He claimed that not one honest man remained in all of Israel.

Those prophets questioned God. “Why?” they asked, just as we do today. God did not try to hide from us the doubts and despair those men felt. In His Word, He gives us a clear record of their feelings. He reveals to us all of Israel’s chaos and hopelessness. But during the nation’s darkest hour, God was in control.

Don’t Blame God.

In spite of the fact that God has complete control of everything at all times, He doesn’t cause our greatest problems; He allows them. Sometimes we think that allowing them and causing them are the same. We think that if God doesn’t stop life’s tragedies, He is partly to blame for them.

Who, then, is to blame for the chaos in the world? Not God. He created a beautiful world and put in it people to whom He gave volition, or free will. He made them free to love and serve Him—or to disobey Him. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and all of us have followed in their footsteps. Sin entered the world and brought with it death, disease, hatred, greed and every other kind of evil. Our world is cursed by sin, not by God.

Blame Sin.

Satan wants us on his side. And he has a lot of help: society taunts us to do what feels good, and an urge inside us makes wrong seem quite right. In spite of this world full of people trying to please Satan, society and self, many still blame God (not people, not sin) for the world’s problems. They’ve forgotten who their enemies are.

In spite of sin’s influence, in spite of man’s blame-shifting, God is in control. He has, however, determined to work for a while in this sin-crushed world. Sin causes many problems. Sometimes those problems come as punishment for a specific sin committed, but often they come simply as the natural result of living in a sin-cursed world. At other times we get hurt because of someone else’s sin. It isn’t fair, but sin never promises to play fair.

Crimes of abuse, murder, theft, rape or drunk driving claim innocent victims. Sin by its nature hurts others. When a teenager rebels, parents suffer. When Christians neglect witnessing, prayer and giving, unbelievers don’t hear of the One Who can change their destiny.

Are we doing our part?

When Christians get too busy meeting their own needs to help others, the needs of other believers go unmet. Naturally our sin and neglect hurt others. Today God uses people to do much of His work. When we fail to do our assignment, or our part, we hurt others.

Instead of blaming God for the world’s problems, we need to ask ourselves, “What problems am I causing? If I’m not part of the problem, can I be part of the solution?”

We can offer tremendous help to the others in our own little corners of the world. But so much of the world lies beyond our reach. Even if we all do our share where we are, the world will remain in terrible shape.

God will fix it.

“Why doesn’t God fix things?” we might ask. Wouldn’t it be great if God would get rid of sin and make life perfect?

He will. In Heaven. But we aren’t in Heaven yet. Earth’s flaws and hardships will make Heaven all the sweeter by contrast. They set us longing for Heaven, and that longing is only right.

Well, then, why couldn’t God just fix up the earth, make everything fair and just, and make people do what’s right?

He’ll do that too—for a thousand years when Jesus reigns on the earth. However, even then, many people won’t love Him.

Right now we’re locked into time. The great here and now seems so important that it’s hard to peek past the now into eternity, when Jesus Christ will make everything right. Though God cares very much about every detail of our lives, He never loses His perspective. All of our tragedies and cares put together form only a speck of eternity. Many of the problems that we regard as crucial now will one day seem trivial. If we would see time as God sees it, we would face life with confidence.

In the meantime we can use that speck of time to live out our lives in a way that will affect all eternity. As small as “now” is, it is all we’ve got to work with.

Don’t lose your joy.

How can we cope with the world’s chaos and come out on top? Believers still need this old prayer: “God, give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, to change what I can’t accept, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sounds great—until we come across something we can neither accept nor change. What do we do then?

Accept it anyway—with joy. It’s easy to let the world’s chaos and life’s trials rob us of our joy. We need to guard the joy in our hearts.

Paul’s entire letter to the Philippians explains how to remain joyful in chaos. It is in this context that Paul instructed us to fill our minds with things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. This verse is more than a how-to for keeping a pure thought life. It provides a how-to for guarding our joy.

We sing “Count Your Blessings,” but we more often count our trials—the appliances that have quit working this month, the number of times the kids have been sick, the people who cut in front of us in line.

While living on one foreign mission field I could easily count trials and problems: the traffic violations I had seen at a given intersection, the trash dumps on a certain road, the missionaries I’d heard about that got cheated or the weird diagnoses of doctors.

Bad things happen. Denying reality won’t make it go away. However, after we’ve dealt with our problems, it’s time to push them out of our minds and replace them with blessings. After we’ve faced the tragedies of the world and can do no more to help, we need to dwell on God’s benefits. When our conversations center around negative issues for which we have no answer, we can introduce some positive issues to balance them.

Sin cursed the world, but it did not completely destroy God’s creation. In spite of the violence, hatred and ugliness brought into the world by sin, much of the gentleness, love and beauty created by God still remains.

Searching for it will bring the joy back into our lives.

Give God control.

God is in control of the world today. And though we are forced to live in a sin-cursed world for a time, we can make that world a better place for others if we let God control us. We can refuse to let sin’s misery blind us to God’s blessings.

Every day gives us another opportunity to build our faith in God. We need that faith to face the world’s toughest problems.