In July, 2007 when I became serious about Ralph Howe Ministries – the exact launch date being July 1st – I started using what was then a new copy or a new version.

A  new version to me – ESV (English Standard Version)
It is now the battered and tattered well-worn friend that I still preach from although near  retirement as I have broken in its twin brother recently…
The first thing I read when I first started this version was the book of Ephesians
In this book Paul, the author and apostle, tells us a lot about who we are as believers and what we have been given…

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Several years ago I was in a rundown Russian resort built by the Communists during their control in the U.S.S.R.

No heat, no hot water, and a building that hardly slowed the wind down
It was February and cold but a powerful 4 days with 350 youth from 5 nations
I was sitting waiting to listen to the night speaker – my night off – when someone came to me and told me the car and driver were waiting
They had forgotten to inform me that I was heading into the city of Yaroslavl to minister in a church that served only addicts
Several hours later after driving through a blizzard we arrived to a group of 200+ addicts
Drug addicts and alcoholics who were in recovery

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The Coronavirus and its current form called Covid-19 has certainly suddenly ended what we consider to be “normal life” here in Canada and around the world
International flights (except to London) have been cancelled
Schools and universities are closed for March and maybe into April
Events being cancelled …
Sports leagues cancelling a substantial number of games and even, in several situations, the rest of the season
Playing to empty stadiums and arenas or not playing at all
Airlines cancelling all international flights

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Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn – and most folks do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Aristotle the philosopher once said, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

Criticism is a part of every day life for the majority of people. Especially so for serious believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in today’s society where truth is relative and every one lives by their own opinions. Thus Christians are often seen as narrow-minded and bigoted because we hold to the absolute truth of Scripture.

The mainstream media, talk shows on radio, and television now spend most of their airtime presenting news laced with various degrees of criticism. Cheap shots are common on late-night television, and drive-by assassins take aim by the minute on the internet. Follow the comment section on most websites and you’ll find a boatload of hypercritical, cynical, rough comments and attacks. 

Anywhere there’s an opportunity to weigh in with an opinion, the comments are unfiltered and fierce. Without a bridle and free of hesitation, people are openly judgmental and critical of topics they know little about and, even worse, people they know nothing about. Criticism has more bandwidth than ever before, and it’s not going away. We’ve all been criticized by someone for something at some time. No one is exempt from criticism, but it’s dangerous to live your life attempting to avoid it.

Many people who feel insecure and are not walking in the assurance of God’s love and acceptance concentrate on avoiding criticism. When you concentrate too much on avoiding criticism you become an overly cautious, compromised version of who you are meant to be. So, as Aristotle said, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

You’ll still be criticized by somebody, because you can’t please everybody. So, if living a life of purpose is important to you, you can save yourself a lot of internal struggle by deciding that your goal is not to avoid being criticized. That’s way too small a goal for somebody who wants their life to count. It’s better and so much more rewarding to focus on being the best you can be and not worry too much about the critics.

Doing this takes courage today more than ever before. The reality is that the more good you attempt to do, the more vulnerable you will be to criticism. In regard to doing good, Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of a former president of the United States) said, “Do what you feel in your heart is right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” 

Jesus spoke of the certainty of criticism when He said that John and He were targets of unavoidable criticism. Although they were deserving of respect, people still found something to criticize. He said, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Matthew 11:18-19)

One way to look at it is by realizing that if you’re doing your best and being criticized, you are in good company with some great people. If Jesus, who was perfect, still had critics, then what chance do any of us of not having critics? Even though criticism is not new, social media has given every critic a microphone, and the volume has gone way up. It’s more essential than ever that anyone who is going to do life and make an impact for Jesus in their world not try to avoid bering criticized.

What’s worse than the criticism  itself is the effect that criticism has on the people who hear it. The cause of the effect is usually unknown, because no one actually credits criticism as the culprit. It just sounds too weak to admit, “I’m afraid of criticism.” But, even though it’s under the radar for most people, the fear of criticism is having a greater effect on modern society than most people realize.

The best people with the greatest potential are choosing to avoid the criticism that comes with putting themselves out there, which leaves the lesser-qualified in charge. Talented, competent people who have a lot to offer are second-guessing whether they want to subject themselves to the scrutiny that goes along with the pursuit of their dreams. It’s as if the fear of criticism has turned into a massive epidemic that is harder than ever to overcome. 

People are playing it too safe by communicating a boring vanilla version of their ideas instead of taking aim at the extraordinary. People are holding back instead of contributing, in order to avoid having their ideas criticized.

      • The fear of criticism is why people who have something to say don’t speak up
      • The fear of criticism is why most people struggle to make decisions
      • The fear of criticism is why we’re uncomfortable with vulnerability
      • The fear of criticism is why most people get defensive when other people offer helpful suggestions

Listening to the never-ending sounds of criticism around you is making it more and more difficult to get past the fear that you won’r measure up to expectations and will be judged severely as a result. 

You can’t help being aware of criticism, but there’s a big difference between being aware of criticism and being controlled by criticism. But since the criticism is here to stay, the question is, what can we do to counter the negative impact it’s having, which is causing some of the best and greatest people to live quiet and less productive lives?

Pushing past the fear of criticism starts by not trying to avoid it, by not changing our course when we know there’s criticism ahead. If we can stop avoiding criticism, we’ll end up where we are meant to be, living the life we are meant to live – the adventure the Lord has planned for everyone who declared they are true believers. 

Who Do You Think You Are?

As believers we need to discover who we really are in Christ. And, I don’t just mean rhyming off a bible verse or two … “I am an ambassador of Christ,” “I am a minister of reconciliation,” I am a new creature in Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 5). It’s all head knowledge and simple information unless it has become a reality in your life. Changes your life. Makes you live big!

As we saw the last time (Blog: Don’t Fence Me In – Blog for March 13, 2020) we can live small when we are really meant to live big, powerful, expansive lives.

We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”

Let’s list how internal smallness affects you…

        • It causes us to be self-conscious
        • It cause us to be slow to compliment and encourage others
        • It keeps us from responding to others – not expressing thoughts and feelings
        • It cause us to be slow to celebrate the wins of others
        • It causes us to be very poor conversationalists
        • It means we will speak out of our insecurity and wound others
        • It means we will be be very poor listeners as we talk too much to hide our insecurities and smallness
        • It causes us to engage in petty and negative conversations where people complain, gossip, and criticize
        • It causes us to be envious of other people’s success
        • It causes us to shrink ourselves to stay as small a target as possible so the world won’t shoot us down
        • It causes us to pass up opportunities to contribute – being careful not to put ourselves out there where we risk saying the wrong thing or having our ideas rejected by others
        • It causes us to take things too personally
        • It causes us to assume the worst in people or about people
        • It cause us to put the focus on what we want to avoid – pain, confrontation, and embarrassment – instead of what we want to accomplish
        • It causes us to let criticism lay us low rather than help us grow
        • It causes us to be inhibited to love out loud – not free to say love, show love, or feel love
        • It causes us to turn inward, shut down, and withdraw emotionally
        • It causes us to make excuses rather than owning our choices, our moods, and our behaviour

I’m sure when you look at this list, at least some of these are habits that feel harmless right now in your own life. You are so intent on being comfortable in the moment that you are willing to overlook the consequences in the future. That is sad! That’s thinking small and living small. It is not living openly and expansively. 

When you look around you for people who model bigness, it’s not always easy to differentiate between those who appear to be big on the inside and those who actually are. Being big on the inside is not the same as being popular, being wealthy, or having a big, outgoing personality. In fact, some of the most popular, wealthy, and big-personality people are small inside. Once you get past the outer layer of their positions and persona, you often see their internal struggle with smallness. You start to see glimpses of their struggle with insecurity. You start to hear about who bothers them, what worries them, what they dread most, what irritates them, and what triggers a bad mood or even a paranoia of some kind. They can be petty, have issues with other people, carry grudges from the past, and have a hard time celebrating the success of others.,

On the other hand, there are people who are just the opposite. When you first look at them, you see them as pretty average. They don’t have big personalities; they are not loud or the center of attention. The more you get to know them, the more you start to see glimpses of unusual confidence and courage. You start to realize how positive they are in their conversations. They think well of others. They believe the best about the future. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They are uncomplicated, have a genuine love for life, and are comfortable putting themselves out there as if they have nothing to lose. 

So, who do you think you are? And, how do others see you? Something to ponder.

Don’t Fence Me In

A year or two before I was born a song was written that was sung by many and made famous by Roy Rogers, the Singing Cowboy. If you are not familiar with the song – click here for a copy of it recorded by Bing Crosby …

I was particularly struck by the title that has stuck with me for decades …”Don’t Fence Me In.” As I was recently reading 2 Corinthians 6:12-13 in The Message version again this phrase caught my attention …

We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”

And, if you search a little bit you will find that a former prime minister of Israel is quoted as saying: “Life is too short to be little.” (Benjamin Disraeli)

As believers we should feel confident in the love that God has shown us in His Son Jesus. And this confidence in His love, acceptance, and forgiveness should be the foundation upon which we build and live life. And, this life should be wide open and vulnerable because we have experienced and know the love of God. We should live transparent and be open and vulnerable; living without fear of criticism and rejection. As Paul states, “If God is for us (and He is), then what does it matter who is against us.” 

So, I can live fearlessly not allowing fear to fence me in. I can override past disappointments so they do not prevent me from obtaining today’s possibilities. I can see over the fence and realize that everything is working together for my good. I can refuse to be petty and insist that I look for the good in everything and ever one. Not being fenced in allows me to embrace the people who love me, stick with me, encourage me, and are there for me. I am reminded that these relationships are priceless and are the result of pressing in to people, believing in people, loving people, taking risks in relationships, and being open to the possibility of friendship and relationship. None of which happens when I am fenced in by my past, by shame, by fear or by __________________ (you fill in the blank). 

When I take the time and make the effort to remove my fences, without exception I always look back with gratitude that I did so. Regardless of how things turn out, I always feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that I gave it my best and didn’t play it safe staying behind the fence and wearing a mask (refusing to be the real me before others). This allows me, as well, to keep living in the confidence that God provides through His promises and presence in my life.

Living outside the fence in the fullness of who we are releases us to bless others. It allows you to give yourself permission to speak up, to help out, to take you to new places of faith and confidence that you have never experienced before because you lived life behind the fence – fenced in by your insecurities, past experiences, the pain you have encountered, and the failures and rejection you have experienced. Now you are free of the fences and can become aware of your untapped possibilities, untrained talent, and underdeveloped strengths. 

So, listen again, to Paul’s words…

We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”

Grab hold of the truths…

      • No one has fenced you in – if there are fences it is because you built them
      • God does not build fences to contain and control you
      • If you are living ‘small’ it is because you choose to (it comes from within)
      • Your were not made to be small or insignificant – you are not small as a person but you have chosen to ‘live small’
      • You have a choice to open your life and live fully being vulnerable and transparent
      • If you chose to live freely then it means you live openly and expansively

Time to remove the fences and make “Don’t Fence Me In” your theme song for this season in your life. 

Life Is About a Cause, Not the Applause

I have discovered that life is best when comfort is not the goal, hesitation is not your habit, and complacency is your enemy. If you are going to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 1) and enter into the fullness of the adventure Jesus has planned for you then comfort is not something to seek, hesitation becomes an enemy, and complacency can have no place in your daily life. 

Life is about responding to the opportunities, joining the team, being all in on the mission. It’s about leaving the cheap seats, getting out of the bleachers, and heading for the field. And doing so now!

Life is about getting involved in the cause of Jesus. It’s raising your hands to volunteer at church, serve in your community, and live to make a difference. Life is about the cause, not the applause.

I just read this recently in a book that I was recently handed…

On April 23, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech titled “The Man in the Aren.” It would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career. 

“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” he said. “A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities – all these are marks, not … of superiority but of weakness.” 

His message was inspirational and passionate. He went on today:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

In much the same way, our lives are filled with God-given opportunities that deserve to be met with an uninhibited display of openness and readiness. In order to live fully free, here’s what you have to know with absolute certainty and complete confidence: You have to embrace the life that God gave you and engage with it and do so with all of your being to be fully alive and fulfilled. 

There Is Only One You!

There is only one you. God can’t bless who you pretend to be. However, many of us have learned to wear a number of hats as we fill a number of roles in life. And the right ‘hat’ allows us to fit in to a social group or a gang of friends. 

Right from the start when we are born we are unashamedly real and are just who we are. We are not self-conscious and really don’t care what others think about us. We don’t wear ‘hats’ pretending to be someone we are not.

But, as we grow older and start school we have officially become self-conscious. We start to wonder what other people think about us. That’s where we start wearing different ‘hats’. It begins as an effort to either conform to or reject the social norms and expectations of those around us. We dress a certain way; we act a certain way; we like this but not that … all determined by social norms and the expectations of others. In the midst of this, we forget who we really are as we become who others want us or need us to be. And, as a result the real you often gets lost and even buried because of the ‘hats.’

The “hats” we wear help us maintain dignity in social settings and relational environments. But the “hats” can also separate us from our unique and authentic self.

One reason so many people struggle to know who they are meant to be is that they have spent all their life being who they are supposed to be. All their life they have tried to measure up to the expectations of those around them. Most of us have a whole bunch of hats that we have worn at one time or another in an attempt to fit in, follow protocol, and meet expectations. And, as a result we end up being someone we are not!

When our ‘hats’ start to dictate the choices we make, the freedom we have, the joy we feel, and the expressions we give, that’s when the ‘hats’ have to come off.

When a ‘hat’ gets in the way of us connecting and doing life in community, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ causes us to confuse who others say we have to be with who we are meant to be, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ hinders us from putting our whole heart into serving God, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ causes us to withdraw into observation versus a life of participation, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ causes us to close up or shut down emotionally, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ keeps us from having fun and enjoying life, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ makes us self-conscious and afraid of what people are saying and thinking about us, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ stops us from expressing our love for God, family, and friends, it has to come off. 

When a ‘hat’ becomes our cover-up for past pain that God wants to heal, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ makes us shrink back from opportunities, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ makes us unapproachable, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ turns us into a poser or a pretender, it has to come off.

When a ‘hat’ causes pride and disconnects us from the people God connected us with, it has to come off. 

We don’t take our ‘hat’ off because it makes us feel safe and secure. It allows us to fit in even when we really don’t care to fit in. But, if the ‘hat’ you are wearing and that defines you is not the real you then relationships remain shallow, intimacy is impossible, freedom from fear is never experienced, God’s purpose is not fulfilled, your potential is never discovered, and your best life is never lived. 

Time to take the ‘hat’ off. There is only one you!

Act In Faith

Here is a truth to remember: You can’t play it safe and act in faith at the same time.

At a meeting of church leaders in the late 1700’s, a newly ordained minister stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”

The reason that attitude is inconceivable today is largely due to the subsequent efforts of that young man, William Carey. Carey worked in various jobs to support his family while he continued to educate himself, even teaching himself New Testament Greek. In 1792 he organized a missionary society, and at the first gathering he preached a sermon with the call: ”Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Within a year, Carey, his family, and some like-minded daring people were on a ship headed for India.

In many ways, Carey was a catalyst for change, helping to inspire a big-thinking, risk-taking, faith-filled approach to modern missions. He served the rest of his life in India at a time where there was no modern travel or communication systems. He was a minister, a translator, social reformer and cultural anthropologist who founded the Serampore College and the Serampore University, the first degree-awarding university in India. Carey even translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese, and Sanskrit. He also translated parts of it into twenty-nine other languages and dialects. He helped educate horticulturists, which raised the quality and productivity of the nation’s agricultural industry. His life was a living, breathing example that big things happen when we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

Our tendency is to make decisions that we are comfortable with, to play it safe and do only what we feel is rational. But God has called us to acts of faith. We’re not meant to spend our lives as mere observes and spectators who hang out in the bleachers and offer commentary as world everts play out in front of us. We’re here to engage potential, explore possibilities, and act in faith. 

Scripture tells us, “we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39). If you’re a Jesus follower, this applies to everything God has for you. When you have challenges, setbacks, even failures and mess-ups, you are not meant to be like those who shrink back. No, you are meant to take on the challenge and push through resistance that tries to contain you.

God has something for you to do for Him and needs you to keep walking by faith. Remind yourself that big things happen when you act in faith. Keep going big. Keep believing in what you don’t see. Pray bold prayers. Your life story will be dramatically different with acts of faith. Doors will open that would otherwise stay closed. Relationships with like-minded people and God-assigned connections will happen that would have otherwise never happened. When you live out of faith and not in fear, you will accomplish more, experience greater fulfillment, and leave a lasting legacy. 

Rather than seeing a need, you may start to see the opportunity. Rather than just thinking, Why doesn’t someone do something?, You may find yourself saying, I’m going to do something. 

Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. You won’t regret it!


Playing It Safe

Because we have all been hurt by others at one time or another we tend to “play it safe.” You don’t let people get too close to you again. Or, you keep your conversations superficial, sharing little to nothing of your personal or private life. We do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from being hurt again and so play it ‘safe,’ whatever that looks like in your life currently. The interesting thing is that when we do this, it seems that it rarely occurs to us that there are some very real dangers in playing it safe as well. 

Helen Keller said, “Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” 

This logic is counterintuitive to most, if not all people – most believing that avoiding danger is safer than outright exposure. So, they avoid risk no matter the cost. What I am saying is that avoiding risk is not a less dangerous approach to life than taking risks. Avoiding risks has it own horrific consequences that most people are less aware of because they don’t appear in the media reports and are not talked about nearly as much.

Playing it safe is the ultimate attempt at self-preservation. It passes up the opportunity to have an incredibly meaningful life in exchange for mere existence. The sure way to look back in the future with massive regret is to pay it safe, be guarded, be suspicious of people who are friendly, assume the worst, and refuse to take chances. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.” That’s a big thing thing for a guy whose life was filled with lots of mischief and adventure to admit.

When you play it safe, you pass up the opportunity to have the conversations that could have changed your life and someone else’s. When you play it safe, you never discover or know what is possible. When you play it safe, you lack passion for life, other people don’t feel your love, your potential is not discovered, and God’s purpose for you goes unfulfilled.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about four lepers in Samaria in a time of famine. The only food source was in the neighbouring community, where food was stockpiled by their enemy. These lepers were starving to death. They had every reason to believe that the enemy would not give them food and would kill them if they made any attempt to enter enemy territory. That’s when one of the lepers did a risk assessment. He began to question the sanity of staying where they were and certainly dying versus taking the risk of going to the neighbouring city in hopes of finding food.

“Why stay here until we die?” He asked (2 Kings 7:3). He wasn’t being irrational. He was pointing out the danger of playing it safe. He was saying, It may be risky to walk towards our enemy, but at least there is a potential for a better life than we’ll have here if we stay where we are.”

It’s true for us as well. The dangerous consequences of playing it safe may be less obvious, but they pose a greater threat in the end. The dangers aren’t sudden and dramatic. They develop slowly over time and can be difficult to identify, which is what makes playing it safe more dangerous than the high-profile missteps we hear about or see in the news. Like a slow leak in a tire, the dangers of playing it safe aren’t something we see or feel on a daily basis. We become aware of them only when we realize we’re stuck and wondering how it happened. That’s when we take note of the bigger picture and realize that playing it safe isn’t as safe as it appears to be.

What I love about the story of the four lepers is that heaven suddenly backed them up when they finally make their gutsy move to stand on their feet and begin walking in the direction of the food. When they headed into enemy territory, God caused the enemy to hear loud, thunder like noises, which they thought were the chariots and horses of an army coming to attack them. The enemy fled for their lives, leaving behind everything, including the food that they had stockpiled. The four lepers walked into the city and found it vacated and filled with plenty of food, not only for themselves but also for the people of Israel. 

This is what happens when we have the courage to not stay where we are or as we are even if it means risking failure. Acts of faith always attract God’s attention and cause Him to move mightily on our behalf. This doesn’t happen when we sit in safe places. It only happens when we dare to move in the direction of our dreams.