As ambassadors for Christ, we often never know the true impact of our efforts. Yet every once in a while we get a glimpse...
Radio is an odd medium because it is hard to know what kind of impact we’re having. For the most part, the communication is all one way. I sit in the studio and talk. Three lines are flashing, callers waiting. My screener and engineer watch through the glass as I speak. An audience of five.
Are there more? Probably, but I have no reliable way of knowing. There could be tens of thousands listening, or only a dozen. We’re in the dark. We never know the true extent of our impact.
Even so, every once in a while we get a glimpse of what God has been doing. We get letters. I have included one below that gives such a glimpse, and it touches me deeply each time I read it.
The writer, Josh Runyan, is a name I recognize. He and his wife have been part of Stand to Reason for years. They have encouraged us. We have helped them. But the one Josh writes about is a name I did not recognize, at least until just recently.
Josh has written to tell me about his friend, Tom. Read this carefully because there is a lesson and an encouragement for you in this.
September 24, 2001
Dear Stand to Reason,
I would like to tell you of a friend of mine in whose life STR splayed a part.
As all who knew him would say, he was a good and successful man. He flew Navy fighters off aircraft carriers, went to Top Gun, and according to his daughter “even looked a little like Tom Cruise, but more handsome.”
About six years ago, God powerfully entered his life causing him to realize that without Jesus he was still incomplete. The Holy Spirit worked through his wife, church, and not insignificantly, STR.
Almost every week he would record your show and then listen to it later while doing household projects or driving. He used your training materials and also learned from the wider community of scholars Greg introduced, people like William Lane Craig, Scott Klusendorf, J.P. Moreland, and Philip Johnson.
He later began leading Bible studies and drew on your teaching. Probably the two things from STR he used the most in his own life were Greg’s teaching on decision making and Greg’s model of being a winsome communicator.
I know all this because we would routinely get together and discuss the shows or teachings, critiquing, dissecting, but almost always affirming what we had heard. STR supported him and he was also a supporter of STR.
His name is Tom McGuinness and he was one of the pilots flying American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane that hit the World Trade Center on September 11th. He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and two teen-age children, Jennifer and Tommy, all committed followers of Jesus Christ.
I was his friend and I know he would have wanted me to say thank you.
I want to thank Josh for his kind letter. It is powerful as well as poignant. It encourages us at STR to face another day of hard work and spiritual battles knowing that through our efforts in the Lord we leave behind a legacy, even though we're often in the dark and will never know the true extent of our impact.
An Audience of One
What’s true for us as an organization is also true of any ambassador for Christ. It’s very hard to quantify the true extent of our influence. We may prepare for each contingency in a conversation, pray through each encounter, and profess the truth with care. We may talk, engage, and cajole. We may witness with great patience, clarity, and grace, yet fail to see a measurable effect.
At Stand to Reason we are not especially burdened by this fact because long ago we decided to let faithfulness be our focus, not results. We knew we couldn’t bring the increase anyway. Only Christ could do that. Results were a secondary, not primary, measure of our legitimacy.
Instead, we work to please an audience of One. Our first goal has been to do what is good and right in pursuing our ministry, to represent truth with honor and accuracy, to be careful in our approach, to be winsome and attractive.
Put another way, we’ve sought in our knowledge an accurately informed message, in our wisdom an artful method, and in our character an attractive manner. Our deepest desire is not to hear applause from the multitudes, but rather a solitary voice from our audience of One saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Judging from Josh Runyan’s comments, Tom McGuinness left behind his own legacy, not just with his wife Cheryl and his children, Jennifer and Tommy. Tom’s legacy is also with the many others he influenced as a winsome and attractive ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose arms he now rests.
Building Your Legacy by Passing It On
It touches us at Stand to Reason to know that in our own way we played a part in building an ambassador for Christ named Tom McGuinness, a pilot on American Airlines flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.
However, though Tom’s story is poignant, his life in one sense was no more significant than the life of each one of you who reads these words right now, you who serve quietly, often in the dark, often not knowing the true extent of your impact, laboring silently before your audience of One.
It’s always nice when people thank us for what they’ve received from STR. But the greatest thanks we can get from anyone who has learned from us is rather than passing the blessing back to me, they pass it on to someone else.
Tom had taken what he learned and was passing it on to others around him. Who knows how many of those—of crew or passengers—who perished on flight 11 at the World Trade Center were influenced by Tom McGuinness and his witness for Christ (though we do know that 1800 came to his memorial, including many non-Christians touched by Tom’s life)? And who knows how many others were changed by those ambassadors for Christ who Tom himself helped equip?
In the same way, you keep passing it on. Every ambassador for Christ is building his or her legacy. We go out in obedience doing what is right, speaking what is true. We try to do so in the most accurate, gracious, and compelling way that we are able. Sometimes we do a better job than other times, but we focus on faithfulness first, results second.
Every once in a while you will get a glimpse. Sometimes the glimpse you get will show that God has used you in surprising ways. Sometimes you will learn that the person you were talking to in a given situation was not be the person you had the greatest impact on. Instead it was a bystander, an eves-dropper, sitting in the next row on the airplane, or behind you in class, or working in the adjoining cubicle, listening in on a conversation you meant for someone else and seemed to be going nowhere.
Some call this “ricochet evangelism.”* You aim your message in one direction and it ricochets in another, hitting a completely different target. Of course, the final resting place of our message is not up to us, is it? It’s up to our Savior, the Sovereign whom we represent.
No Time for Fear
The events of September 11, 2001, will forever be burned into our minds. I hope they will remind us to number our days as we consider Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:15–16: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Whether God gives us many more years or whether He calls us home tonight, we want to be found faithful.
Now is not the time for any kind of fear. It’s not the time to pull up the drawbridge for fear of harm or fear of inconvenience. It is the time for ambassadors equipped with knowledge, tactical wisdom, and character to seize the moment as agents of change for the Kingdom of heaven when the world needs them most.
We may not feel up to the task God takes us into. That’s the time to remember the loaves and the fishes. The little boy in the crowd had little to give, but he gave what he had to his audience of One. When placed in the hands of Jesus, they were multiplied to feed the multitudes.
In the same way, we take what we have and place it in the hands of the Savior. We may never see the size of the crowd He feeds through our effort. But it is enough to give what we have to Him—our skills, our gifts, our capabilities, our opportunities—and He will take care of the rest.
Don’t ever underestimate your significance before your audience of One.
For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For the want of the shoe, the horse was lost.
For the want of the horse, the rider was lost.
For the want of the rider, the battle was lost.
For the want of the battle, the war was lost.
For the want of the war, the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a nail.
As ambassadors for Christ, we often never know the true impact of our efforts. Yet every once in a while we get a glimpse.
* I first heard this term from Lee Strobel.