Is God Smiling on my Ministry?

I don’t mind pouring my life out for God as long as I know he is truly pleased. But how tragic it would be to spend my whole life, working hard for God, and find out I somehow missed the entire target!

Some people evaluate their ministry by results. If lots of people get saved and the church chairs are full, God must be pleased.  If hardly anyone gets saved and numbers are down, God must not be pleased.  But a careful study of Jonah, Noah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah will show that results are not always indicative of God’s approval. So how do you know if your work is good enough for God? How do you know if you are basically pleasing Him?

Warren Wiersbe says, “There is a difference between fruit and results. You can get results by following formulas, etc, but fruit comes from life. Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God.”

My husband and I have worked on two different fields for over forty years. We have been through years in which we have seen little visible fruit.  At a time like that, this question, “Am I pleasing God?” is crucial. If I’m not, I might as well go back to America and life a more comfortable life. If I am pleasing God, however, I will continue to serve in this place as long as He keeps me here. But how do I know?

Steve Saint must have had similar questions when he took his entire family to live, for one year, with a primitive tribe. His teenage daughter died shortly after leaving the tribe. As he reflected on her life he said, “Whenever I got terribly discouraged, she was the one who reminded me that we had not come for results. We had come for love and to be obedient to what we were convinced God wanted us to do.”

At one point, when our work seemed to be failing, I was desperate to know if God was smiling. We felt God had called us to our work there in Taiwan. We had worked hard, doing what we felt he wanted us to do. Our hearts are deceitful by nature and we can never completely know them, but we felt we were doing our best out of love for the Lord. God wasn’t showing us any major thing we were doing wrong, but, as far as we could see, the work was not moving forward.

I asked God to speak to me and show me if he was happy with my ministry. I searched Scripture for answers. This is what I came up with:

  • God understands. He knows what we’re like.
  • He’s not impossible to please.
  • If we are searching for what He wants us to do, He will let us know.
  • If we ask Him to show us ways that aren’t pleasing to Him, He will. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Isaiah 40:27-31, Psalm 103:11-14, Psalm 139)
  • Therefore, if I am serving Him the best I know how, depending on Him, following His guidance, and He doesn’t show me otherwise, He must be pleased!

In time God called us away from Taiwan to a ministry in New Zealand. We’ve now worked here for more than twenty years. We’ve had some good years of fruitful ministry, as well as difficult years with little visible fruit. We’ve learned that every ministry has ups and downs. We can’t let the down times shake us. We need to be faithful in every season of ministry.

God sees and rewards.

Our labor is not in vain.

God won’t forget our work when we serve Him out of sincere love. (1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 6:10)

In my imperfect efforts, God sees my heart. As an earthly father is pleased with his child’s best effort in drawing him a picture, however imperfect it may be, so our Heavenly Father is pleased by our best efforts to show our love for Him.

Have you been through times in your ministry when you struggled to see God’s smile? What verses helped you?

 

 

 

20/20 Vision: New Focus for a New Decade

Since my last blog we’ve moved into a new decade. Maybe you’re entering it with mixed emotions. You’re challenged by the new opportunities, but alarmed at how fast the world is changing. You’ve memorized some of God’s promises, but you’ve also seen your share of heartaches. Worry-filled whispers disturb your peace.

What will this new decade bring to your life?

Recently, while sorting through my files, I found a journal from the 1980’s. Reading those entries I was reminded of a long forgotten period in our lives that included some of our most difficult days. At that time my family and I were missionaries in Taiwan.

Finances

Due to a rapid decline in the value of the US dollar and a new financial commitment in our ministry, we were not making it financially. Things were breaking that we could not afford to have fixed. Our finances were inadequate and I could find no other reasonable ways to cut corners.

Conflict

We were going through one of our most stressful times of personal conflict in a situation that had developed there in Taiwan. As a result, we backed out of a group in which we had previously found friendship and emotional support.

Ministry

During the most painful part of this conflict, a family in our tiny mission church felt overlooked and quit coming over a very trivial matter.  They shared their complaints with singles in the church.

Missionary Friends

In the same couple of years that these things happened, some missionary friends of ours, a family and a single, had to leave Taiwan suddenly due to extreme personal problems and failure.

It was a scary time for us, but we lived through it and continued our ministry in Taiwan for nearly ten more years until the Lord led us away from there and to our current ministry in New Zealand. Why am I sharing this? Because tough times can shake our resolve or even our faith. Or they can make us stronger. In the moment of crisis we just want to survive. In tough times we all need encouragement. Looking back to this difficult time in my past gives me help and hope for the future that I want to share with you.

Hindsight is 20/20.

At the moment of decision we often wonder which choice is right. In hindsight, of course, we can see things that would have helped us make that decision, had we but known. Looking back on my situation from the 1980’s in hindsight encourages me as I approach the 2020’s with confidence. God brought us through those days and He will bring me through my future. When I forget that, it’s because I’ve lost my spiritual focus. How can you and I adjust our spiritual vision closer to 20/20 and see more clearly? It’s a matter of focus.

Focus on God’s promises, not your fears.

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

The future is as bright as the promises of God. But sometimes we can only see the problem and not the provision. As our finances tightened in the 1980’s, we wondered if we would have to leave the field early to raise support. Then several churches raised our support. Also, due to a sad situation in the life of another missionary, a church from Singapore started supporting us, sight unseen, and became one of our highest supporting churches throughout the rest of our ministry in Taiwan. Philippians 4:19 proved true once again.

The future may look dark, but God sees it perfectly and He promises to give us everything we need to follow His will. When we get discouraged, it’s a sure sign that we are focusing more on our problems than God’s promises.

Focus on the future, not the past.

 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

These verses liken the Christian life to a foot race. To run the race of the Christian life well, we have to forget the things behind and press forward. The past can hold us back if we hold onto it too tightly. In the midst of our difficulties we need to come to terms with the challenges and resolve problems when possible. But then we need to move on.

During the conflict in the 1980’s, we were unable to resolve our differences with one family, but we learned to greet them in a friendly way when we ran into them. That didn’t make us best friends, but it did allow us to breathe when they were around. Time healed that wound and the experience of moving past a painful situation taught us how to handle a similar situation years later.

Reading my journal from the 1980’s also made me thankful for a poor memory. These years were some of our most difficult, but thankfully time has dimmed the memory and healed the pain. We chose to remember the good times and let the bad memories fade. That tells me that, when life seems so difficult you can scarcely breathe, that is not the end.  Healing and hope ahead call us to keep running the course God has given to us.

Focus on where God is leading.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. Psalm 37:23

Sometimes a disturbing event signals a change we need to make. In the 1980’s God used the conflict we were experiencing to lead us to change schools for our daughters. Later, in 1996 the Lord led us away from Taiwan, but we stayed until God’s leading was clear and certain. Leaving before God’s time would have been failure. Staying past God’s time for us to leave would have been failure as well.

The Lord not only orders our steps. He orders our stops as well.  When God stops you, take time to refocus. Perhaps God is leading you in a new direction. If so, that stop is actually progress.

Focus on your own course.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Hebrews 12:1-3

 These verses compare our life of faith to a race to be run. It’s easy to get distracted by other runners or worries that weigh us down. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the finisher of our faith, who endured His course all the way to the cross. He will help us finish our course.

In the 1980’s, it was scary seeing other missionaries fail and become disqualified from ministry. Later on, some of our closest missionary friends left the field to move to other ministries. But their race was different than ours. We needed to persevere in Taiwan as long as God’s will for our ministry was there.

When we face fears, conflict, failure, confusion, or any other obstacles, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and get on with the race.

So how will you greet the 2020’s? Will you shrink back in fear or welcome the decade with faith? I choose faith. Will you join me?

I close with a quote from Our Daily Bread about 60 years ago. Times have changed, but God’s wisdom, power, and control are as strong as ever.

“The year ahead is untried – it is beckoning tomorrow fraught with new experiences and possibilities. The wise in heart will enter it with faith, hope, and Scriptural optimism, and determine to take advantage of every God-given opportunity.”

 

A Thankful Heart

Do you ever experience days so dark that you can’t see God’s hand in your life? Mary Weaver tried to save the life of a baby in her care, but when the baby died, she was accused of first degree murder. This Christian lady and her lawyer friend fought hard to prove her innocence. At times it seemed that life had spiraled out of God’s control, but time showed, during the darkest days, God was quietly working for her good.

Mary chose to be thankful, even during her darkest days in prison. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from Mary’s story as a challenge to all of us to keep a thankful heart. At the end I’ll tell you where you can get the entire ebook with Mary’s amazing story for free during this month of December 2019.

Excerpt from Chapter 25 of Edges of Truth by Deb Brammer

Mary Weaver sat on her prison bunk and slipped a family photo from the pages of her Bible. It pictured her with her husband and two children, before she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She caressed her red-headed son, John and his blonde sister, Catherine in the picture. For sixteen months she had only seen them once a week when her husband brought them to the prison visiting room.

It all started January 22, 1993 when Mary was providing childcare for 11-month-old Melissa. When the baby quit breathing Mary fought for her life, but the baby died later that day. Mary had never done anything to hurt Melissa, but experts were divided on their opinions about her guilt. A life sentence was currently stealing time with her precious children. Mary’s lawyers were seeking to appeal her case, but over a year had passed and they still hadn’t been able to get a new trial. Meanwhile Mary was separated from her husband and kids who were now five and six years old.

Mary felt sure God would eventually free her and clear her name. She was a Christian and she knew God would get her through prison one day at a time. But she grieved for her children and unsaved husband. Months had passed into a year and more and her children were growing up without her. She would never get those years back.

As Mary sat in her cell worrying about her family, a guard appeared at the door. “Mrs. Weaver? You got a visitor.”

Mary set her Bible aside and preceded the guard down the prison corridor. Who could this be? As she stepped into the visitor’s room Catherine skipped up to her in a pink tutu and leotard.

“Mommy, Mommy, I’m going to my dance recital! Aunt Lisa brought me so you could fix my hair.” Catherine jumped around until Mary could hardly get a hug from her.

Mary smiled her thanks at her friend, Lisa Murphy, who had figured out this creative way to include Mary in her daughter’s special occasion.

Mary drew her daughter close. “I’d love to fix your hair. Shall we do French braids?”

“Yes, yes, yes, with pink ribbons!” Catherine bounced with every word.

Mary removed ribbons and elastic bands from Catherine’s ponytail and pulled long blonde strands into sections with her fingers.

“Hold still,” she reminded her daughter as she started one braid. Mary breathed in the fruity fragrance of the superfine hair as she began to weave the strands into identical braids on either side of her daughter’s head, then tied perfect pink bows at each end.

Catherine shook her head to feel her new hairdo. “Thank you, Mommy! I can’t wait to see myself in the mirror.”

Mary surreptitiously wiped tears with one sleeve. “You look beautiful. Can you show me your dance?”

Catherine performed several ballet steps, ending with a lopsided pirouette. Mary clapped loudly. “Good job! Just remember, when you’re in that recital today, I’m going to be thinking about you.”

Catherine gazed at her mom with pleading eyes. “I wish you could come to my recital.”

Mary blinked some tears from her eyes. “Me too, sweetheart, but Aunt Lisa will take pictures and I’ll study them carefully. Just remember that your mommy is very proud of you!”

Mary gave her daughter a quick, prison-acceptable hug and watched the two walk away. Satan whispered, “You are missing her recital and all the other important moments in her life.”

Mary lifted her chin. But God allowed me to fix her hair. God gave me that precious moment. God is good.

She thought of other ways God had allowed her to mother her children as well. God had given Mary a prison job, and her wages had been raised from thirty-eight to forty-one cents an hour. So what if it was only ten percent of minimum wage? The job made her time pass more quickly, and she could use the money in the commissary or craft store. Supporters could also add twenty dollars a week to her prison account. The activities directors had been especially kind to use this money to purchase fabric and patterns for her. Mary had been able to sew outfits for the kids, paint T-shirts, and buy presents for them.

Mary returned to her cell, sat on her bunk, opened her Bible, and prayed. Lord, help me to be thankful for what I have, not to complain about what I don’t have.

A prison sentence made it easy to slide into self-pity. Unfairness could defeat her but only if she let it. Instead she thought about The Hiding Place, a prison library book she had recently read. Corrie ten Boom had hidden Jews in Holland during World War II. The Nazis had caught her and thrown her into a bitter cold prison for four months, then a women’s extermination camp in Germany. Except for her sister, who was imprisoned with her for a time, Corrie had almost no contact with her family. She and her sister existed in overcrowded, filthy cells with little regard for sanitation and little to eat. They were allowed no exercise or fresh air.

Like Mary, Corrie was unfairly imprisoned, yet Corrie’s sister challenged her to focus on what she had. Corrie accepted the challenge. In solitary confinement she hungered for human contact, but she thanked God for an ant that crawled into her cell and provided a bit of company. In one of her prison cells, for one hour a day, she could stretch herself out tall and feel the sun shine on her head and chest. She thanked God for the sunshine. Later, at the extermination camp, she slept piled on a straw-covered platform with many other prisoners, sandwiched between other crowded platforms. Fleas infested the stinking straw, but Corrie even learned to thank God for the fleas. The tiny insects kept the guards away from the overcrowded bunk, where she hid her precious Bible.

Mary closed her eyes to shut out the conversation of the other inmates lounging right outside her cell. Her prison cell was the Ritz Carlton compared to the ones in the book. “Thank you, Lord, that my family is safe and that I can see them every week. Thank you that I have other gals to talk to. You’ve even given me a roommate who seems to be a true Christian. Thank you that I can feel safe in prison, that other inmates haven’t given me trouble, that the guards treat me with respect. Thank you that I have a Bible and I can read it openly, whenever I want. Thank you that I’ve grown closer to you in prison.”

The State had stolen her family. The first year they seized all her possessions, even her clothes. Only now they allowed her to keep a few things of her own. The State could separate her from her home and family, but they couldn’t take God away from her and they couldn’t take her away from God. She would focus on him and the things she was allowed to enjoy. Today that meant fixing her daughter’s hair for a special occasion.

***

God showers us with so many blessings every day that we sometimes get used to them and claim them as rights. When we have them we don’t appreciate them, and when we don’t, we complain.

This Christmas time is a great time to focus on what we have. What has God given you today?  

Mary’s story challenged me constantly during the two years it took to write it. You can get Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story, the whole ebook, for free, along with Christian books by 19 other authors, here.  Current subscribers to Deb’s Book Blast have already received a link to download Edges of Truth for free.

You can find the companion Bible study book here for 99 cents. I Survived! uses illustrations from Mary’s story in this study of 5 Bible characters who survived disaster.

Have a Christ-filled Christmas and take some time quiet time for reading quality Christian books during these last days of 2019.

Changes in Christian Publication in the Last Forty Years

I’ve been neglecting the writers who follow me for a while, so this one is for my writer friends. This year I’ve been writing for publication for forty years. Things have changed dramatically during that time. One advantage to getting older is understanding the history behind things. Today I want to talk about the changes I’ve witnessed in publication over the last 40 years.

I tend to think of the changes in decades. In the 1980’s I started writing articles for publication on my typewriter. Much of the time I aimed at one article a month. I found a publisher that liked my articles and quickly built a foundation of published articles and stories.

Christian fiction was very limited before 1980, but Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly changed everything. It astonished Christian editors with its unexpected overnight success. Suddenly Christian publishers were hungry for fiction, especially prairie romance. Some were putting out new titles every month. In the rush to publish, quality fiction was mixed with inferior fiction. Readers slowed their buying and some authors got stuck with manuscripts they’d been asked to write, but couldn’t sell. Great opportunities to publish opened up in the early 80’s, but dried up quickly halfway through the decade. Publishers turned to other genres like mysteries and fantasy and writers tried to follow the trends. Manuscripts started flooding the desks of editors.

Moving into the 90’s, most Christian publishers were refusing to consider manuscripts that didn’t come from agents. Now writers were not only concerned about good writing, but marketing their books to agents, who would then try to market them to editors.

I had written a book in the 80’s that I’d had professionally critiqued with favorable comments. I kept revising and submitting the book, without success. Those were the days of printed manuscripts and envelopes and stamps. With each submission I had the long waiting period of sending manuscripts one by one and waiting for replies. In the meantime, I wrote Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. This kids’ book was easy to write because I was basically living the book on an adult level. Bob Jones University Press bought it and published it in 1994. I only had to worry about the writing of that book. Publishing and marketing were completely out of my hands. The book sold well, better than any of my other books have. It has now had been printed seven times.

By 2000 we had the internet and writing for publication was changing quickly. The tragedy on 9-11-2001, for reasons I don’t understand, really hit Christian publishers hard. Readers quit buying as much Christian fiction and publishers couldn’t take the risks they had taken before. It became harder even to find an agent who would consider your book. At the same time, it became far easier to self-publish. The stigma of self-publication began to fade as some well-known authors turned to self-publication in order to gain higher royalties. Soon writers’ success of a writer started depending less about their writing ability and more about how well they do social media and marketing. Kindle brought ebooks into the equation which dramatically changed the way books where published and marketed.

BJUP published Two Sides of Everything in 2004, and two of my other books in that decade, but I could see they were slowing down, too, in what they would accept, even of my books after they had already published four of them.

Today anyone can publish his own book. Many new authors publish, not because they are ready, but because they can. Vast numbers of writers write one book. Some of these are poorly written, but a few of their friends buy their book and they can say they’re  published authors.

Self-publication can work well, however, because it pays much higher royalties than traditional publishers and gives control over the book’s content completely to the author. With this method, authors don’t have to spend years trying to find agents for their books who then have to market it to publishers. They can publish their books whenever they’re ready. On the other hand, the author may lose the safety net of an editor who helps him hone his work until it becomes good enough to sell. Today’s writers aren’t finished with their job when they finish writing their books. Now they have to market their books. They need their own websites and blogs and need to keep up on several forms of social media so readers can find them.

In December of 2010 I first heard Mary Weaver’s story. (Now published as Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story.) I felt it was a story that needed to be told. I returned to the States in 2011, wrote a book proposal, and attended a writer’s conference to try to find an interested editor or agent. When I told Mary’s story to people in general I sensed huge interest, but every editor and agent refused to even consider it. They all agreed on two things. The story happened too long ago and Mary wasn’t a celebrity. Sensing God leading us forward, I knew it was time to consider self-publication. Now I’ve self-published Mary’s story, a companion Bible study book, and the Art Spotlight Mysteries, a series of cozy mysteries that are light-hearted, but deal with some deeper issues.

Today authors like me are more likely to refer to themselves as “indie authors” instead of self-published ones. Indie authors are independent authors who may hire help for proofreading, editing, and design but keep complete control of their book. I’ve joined the ranks of writers who need to continually grow in social media and marketing skills. Thankfully, with the huge increase in Christian indie authors, the help available has also increased. Many professionals who used to work for publishers now hire their services out to indie authors. These authors also band together in Facebook groups to learn from each other in the ever-changing world of indie publication. I belong to a group called “Christian Indie Authors” that has been a huge help to me.

Right now I’m working on a series of contemporary novels that deal with missionary ministry in New Zealand. As I edge close to retirement, I’m trying to establish a foundation for selling adult novels so that I can continue to write well into retirement.