Making a Positive Impact on Others


Did you ever leave church or a social gathering more discouraged than when you came? Maybe the majority of your conversations were largely negative. Sometimes our conversations just get in a negative rut and it’s hard to reverse and go in a better direction.

What can you do? Everyone has problems and needs a listening ear. You want to show concern, even when you can’t solve their problems. There’s a time to weep with those who weep. But we also want to make most of our conversations uplifting.

Today’s world is a desert thirsty for encouragement. If you are in ministry you have a constant need to connect with people, sometimes the same one over and over. We often talk about the weather, which may not be pleasant at the time, or ask how the person is, which may not be pleasant either. Then how can we steer the conversation in a positive direction?

Negative Subjects

The biggest enemy of positive conversation is negative subjects. Yes, we need to take a stand against the evils of the world, but sometimes these negative subjects dominate our conversations. It’s hard to have uplifting conversation about abortion, gun control, political leaders we don’t like, immorality in the world today, unemployment, or high prices. We may need to talk about these things sometimes, but we need to balance them with the positive aspects of life if we want to encourage ourselves and others.

Preparing Yourself for Positive Impact

Matthew 15:18 says, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart.” (NKJV) So if I have a positive heart, I will say positive words that will encourage everyone around me. What positive things can I think and talk about to balance out all the negatives of life? Here are some ideas:

1. What new thing can I thank God for today?

2. What small success can I celebrate in my life or the lives of others?

3. What everyday thing have I been overlooking that could bring me joy?

4. Have I found something in a book or blog recently that has encouraged me?

5. What nice things have other people done for me recently?

6. What advantages do I have that make my life easier than life 30 years ago?

7. Who could I call that I haven’t talked to for a while?

8. Was I expecting some bad thing to happen that turned out better than I thought?

9. What’s one nice memory I haven’t thought about for a while?

10. What ordinary people do I have in my life who bring me joy every day?

As we think about answers to these questions this week, we can become positive people who are ready to make a positive impact on a negative world.

 

God’s Invisible Work

Are you feeling discouraged in your ministry today? Maybe you’ve been working hard, but you see few results for your labor. You’ve analysed your ministry to see if you could makes changes to be more effective, yet you don’t feel the Lord’s leading you to make changes. You’ve poured yourself into the lives of people who are making bad choices. It looks like you are accomplishing very little. You’re trying to be faithful, but if what you’re doing isn’t working, why not quit?

Wouldn’t you like God to speak to you today and give you words of comfort? He has. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10 NKJV)

God sees your work. If you are following his leading and serving him to the best of your ability out of a heart of love, he is pleased, even if you can’t feel it. God often works beneath the surface.  He may be doing his greatest work at a time when it looks like nothing is happening.

A friend recently told me, “Satan is really working. I’ve told all these friends about Jesus and they just aren’t responding.” Within days of hearing that I read these verses in my devotions. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, NKJV)

Most people don’t respond to the gospel the first time they hear it. Many times it takes years of exposure to the gospel before they are ready to believe. Over the years they meet various Christians who show an attractive picture of who Christ is and plant gospel seeds. The unbelievers remember bits and pieces of things they hear, but mostly they resist the message.  All these things seem to do no good. Then one day someone witnesses to them and “suddenly” they get it. They’re ready to be saved. But actually the decision wasn’t sudden. All the words by Christians that they seemingly ignored were actually helping to prepare them for the sudden decision.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)

God hasn’t forgotten your work. He is working in hearts. Your labor is not in vain. May you experience his joy in your ministry today.

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.

Why Doesn’t God Punish Evil?

Life wasn’t fair for Mattie Ellen. Her husband died, leaving her with four children and nothing else. In those days in the early 1900’s no high-paying jobs were available for women. Mattie Ellen did housecleaning, mending and other odd jobs. Still her little family was dirt poor. They didn’t know what a good square meal is.

Then one day Mattie Ellen and her children got a job picking strawberries. It didn’t pay a lot, but Mattie Ellen saved every spare penny. Finally she could buy a few new clothes and badly needed shoes for her children.

Soon afterward, a traveling salesman passed by with a catalog full of wonderful things. Mattie Ellen looked through the catalog and carefully chose a few things for each child.

Then the long wait began. Every day the family watched the mailbox, waiting for the magic day when their precious clothing would arrive. New clothes at long last! How they needed them!

The weeks dragged on into months, but the package never arrived. Finally Mattie Ellen had to tell her four waiting children that the package would never come. They had been cheated.

A poor woman like Mattie Ellen could do nothing to get her money back. The scoundrel continued to travel from place to place, cheating people everywhere he went. As far as Mattie Ellen knew, the salesman was never brought to justice.

“It’s not fair!” we cry out. “Why didn’t someone stop that man?” Yet we know that life is often unfair. Every day evil people work out their schemes on innocent people and get away with it (for now, anyway).

Why doesn’t God put a stop to it all? We know these people will get their due in eternity, but what about now? Why doesn’t God punish evil—promptly, consistently and completely?

Free to Love or Reject

God in His omnipotence could snap His fingers and put the world in order. Yet while Christians yearn for God to “make it all right,” God often restrains His power in the interest of free will.

Free will is a mysterious concept that stumps even the theologians. God chose out a people to believe on Him before the foundation of the world. Yet they choose to believe by an act of their wills. Impossible as it seems to reconcile the two concepts to human minds, it makes perfect sense to God.

God has so ordered life that a person can take God or reject Him. Without free will, our love means nothing to God. Love that is forced, bribed or manipulated into existence is not real love.

What if God dealt with people fairly, the way we see fairness with our human minds? What if God immediately and consistently rewarded every good, noble act and punished every mean, sinful act? People would serve and obey Him, not out of love but out of simple selfishness.

God does reward and punish, but it is not always obvious to us on a day-to-day basis. This way, many ignore God or openly reject Him. But others desire to love Him completely, even when they don’t understand the things that happen to them. And that is exactly what God is after. That kind of love fills God’s mighty heart with joy.

The opposite is also true. When God’s children turn from Him despite His faithfulness and goodness, He is grieved. When sinners refuse His gift of salvation, paid for at such a cost, it cuts Him deeply.

Read the Old Testament from God’s point of view, and you can witness the pain He felt. For centuries God showered rich blessings upon His precious people, the nation of Israel. He promised to continue to bless them if they would only be faithful to Him. And He promised just as sure punishment if they turned to other gods. In spite of the warning, the Jews consistently, repeatedly ran after other gods. Yet as we scan the pages of His Word, we sense God’s dragging His feet in His dealings with them. The rod of punishment moved very slowly in His hand. God never compromised His holiness, but His slowness to act gives us a glimpse of His patience and His yearning for His children to turn back to Him.

God’s Patience

The nation of Israel knew well the benefits of God’s mercy and patience in dealing with them. Yet those beneficiaries of God’s patience could not understand when God turned that patience toward their enemies.

God had promised to destroy Israel’s enemy, Assyria. But the prophet Nahum must have wondered, “What is taking God so long?” Assyria was at the height of its power and constantly fighting wars with Israel and other nearby countries. The Assyrians took pride in their atrocities. They tore off the limbs of their victims, skinned them alive, boiled them in tar, put out their eyes and beheaded them. They erected pyramids of human heads as monuments to their greatness. Next to them Hitler was a wimp.

More than a century earlier, God had promised to destroy the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. But before He did, He forced Jonah to warn them of their doom. Nineveh repented, and, just as Jonah had feared, God had the audacity to forgive them and save the city.

Nineveh’s revival, however, was short lived. By the time Nahum prophesied, the Assyrians were more wicked and ruthless than ever. God still hadn’t kept His promise. Nahum and his people were getting a bitter taste of God’s patience.

Then came the good news. God was finally going to destroy Nineveh. Though it looked as if the Assyrians had been getting away with their cruelty for more than 100 years, their end was near. Nahum wrote verse after verse about God’s wrath, yet this one stands out: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nah. 1:3).

The Jews wouldn’t miss Nineveh any more than Jews in this century miss Hitler. God told Nahum the Jews would “clap their hands” when Nineveh fell. But we don’t read of God gloating over Nineveh, glad to see them get what they deserved. God didn’t rejoice at seeing Assyria suffer.

If God, whose spotless holiness is offended by every sin, can be extremely patient and loving with sinful men, we would do well to still some of our cries for justice. God waited patiently for us to come to Him. Dare we complain when He holds out His mercy to others?

It is not easy to stand by and watch evil men prey on the innocent and prosper because of it. Even King David struggled with that frustration in his day. In Psalm 37, however, we see David realizing how short the days of evil men are before certain destruction. In the meantime he counseled righteous men to “cease from anger, and forsake wrath.” Anger leads only to evil.

How Should Believers Respond to Injustice?

Sometimes Christians have to stand up to injustice and demand that things be put right. Most of the time, however, such things are beyond our control. Then we have to stare injustice in the face with peace in our hearts. When we are treated unfairly and can do nothing about it, we have to let go of our hurt, forgive the person and go on.

Is that possible? I know it is. Mattie Ellen’s little boy grew up. He knew poverty. He met grief when his mother died when he was eight. He witnessed plenty of unfairness and was taught to respond by getting even. Then one day he met the Master and learned to forgive. When he had children of his own, he taught them to let go of anger and wait for God to repay evil.

And that’s why I know this truth. I am his daughter. Pastor Ray Allen is now in heaven.

In my next blog I deal with this question: Is God in control?