An Apostolic Fellowship

With zeal 3,000 new believers turned towards their new opportunity to live out their faith. The first Christians hungered for the apostles’ teaching, prayed with tenacity, and worshipped wholeheartedly. They were not passive or neutral about it. They “continued steadfastly” in their commitment to God and to the apostolic fellowship. They had a passionate commitment.

Luke describes the believers’ zeal with a Greek word that is fairly rare in the New Testament. The word communicates an intense, consistent dedication. It means to persist in adhering to something, to be intently engaged, or to attend constantly. A verb in the imperfect tense, it signifies continuous action: ‘They kept on continuing steadfastly” in day-to-day commitment. These believers possessed wholehearted devotion.

Luke used this powerful word several other times. The 120 disciples who gathered in the upper room “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14). The first church members were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple” (Acts 2:46). After the congregation grew into a so-called ‘megachurch,’ the apostles declared their intention to “give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)

As a result of Peter’s preaching, many present on the Day of Pentecost declared themselves to a whole new way of life. The Amplified Bible translates verse 42 as: “And they steadfastly persevered, devotion themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles.”

Believers’ lives were marked by:

      • The apostles’ doctrine
      • Fellowship
      • The breaking of bread
      • Prayers

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NOMINAL OR PHENOMENAL 

Click Here to Hear the Teaching

LOOKING AT BELIEVERS … (Their life – not their ministry) 

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ

As a disciple of Jesus

As someone who is following the way of the Lord

You can choose to be nominal and thus insignificant in impact and a Christian “in name only”

Or – You can choose to be phenomenal – extraordinary, exceptional, unusual and out of the ordinary – having a major impact for the King and Kingdom on those around you

You choose …

The box that you have created for yourself to live in with self-imposed limitations and boundaries

OR

The adventure that God calls you to live which is without limitations because all things are possible with God (Luke 1:37)

Your choice – Nominal or Phenomenal

Here is what I know for certain:

God wants us to be phenomenal and not nominal

God desires His people to be supernatural and not to just walk in the natural

God wants believers to be extraordinary and not simply ordinary Read more

Sometimes I’m Disappointed With God

An apostle from North America was meeting with a group of leader of the underground church in China
During the evening there was a fellowship time among the leaders as they shared what was happening in their lives and how God was moving in their homes and in their ministries
The apostle from North America took the opportunity to ask a question of these Chinese leaders of underground house churches … He asked:
“If I were to visit your home communities and talk with the non-believing families, friends, and neighbours of the members of your house churches — and if I would point out your church members and ask, ‘Who are these people? What can you tell me about them?’ — what answer would I get?”
The apostle writes: Many people started to answer at once. The response that jumped out at me, though, was the answer of a man who told me that his church’s neighbours would probably say, “Those are the people who raise the dead!”
As we read the gospels we see that Jesus raised the dead…
These believers just assumed that because Jesus did it that they too could do it
After all, Jesus was living in them and working through them
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14)
“I tell you this timeless truth: The person who follows me in faith, believing in me, will do the same mighty miracles that I do—even greater miracles than these because I go to be with my Father! For I will do whatever you ask me to do when you ask me in my name. And that is how the Son will show what the Father is really like and bring glory to him. Ask me anything in my name, and I will do it for you!”  (TPT)
“The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do” (MSG)
Sometimes I am disappointed with God
Because I believe these verses and have prayed in line with what I see Jesus doing in the gospels … and from my point of view, nothing happens a lot of the time
I have prayed overseas to raise the dead a number of times … and nothing happened
I pray for the sick … and sometimes they are healed and sometimes they are not … and I am disappointed with God
I read the book of Acts and wonder why the things that happened in the early Church don’t seem to be happening in the Church today … and I am disappointed
I desperately want to see multitudes saved and I work hard at being a good witness of His grace and His mercy … and few respond and become believers – disappointing
The list could go on…
The same apostle was in Ukraine and as his time there was drawing to a close…
The believers had been sharing their testimonies and stories of prison, persecution, and God’s provision for His people
He writes: “Once again I was struck by the power of their testimonies and stories that I was hearing. As we came to the end of our time together, I asked: ‘I just don’t understand why you haven’t collected these stories in a book? Believers around the world ought to hear what you have been telling me here today. Your stories are amazing! These are inspiring testimonies! I have never heard anything like them!”
An older pastor reached out and took my shoulder. He clamped his other hand tightly onto my arm, and looked me right in the eye. He said, Son, when did you stop reading the Bible? All of our stories are in the Bible. God has already written them down. Why would we bother writing books to tell our stories when God has already told His story. If you would just read the Bible, you would see that our stories are there.”
He paused and then he asked me again, “When did you stop reading your Bible?”
Without waiting for me to answer, he turned and walked away. There was no friendly smile, no encouraging pat on the back, and no kiss on the cheek.
His convicting question still echoes in my mind.
This older pastor was simply living the faith the way Jesus said we could and should … doing today the things that Jesus did 2000+ years ago
For him it was not something special to write a book about … it was simply normal Christian living
As we read the Bible – Old and New Testaments we see God doing amazing things…
Releasing His people from prison – Peter in Acts 5
People being saved in the thousands – Acts 2
People being baptized in the Holy Spirit – Acts 2
People being healed
The lame beggar – Acts 3
Aeneas – Acts 9
Dorcas – Acts 9
Believers being bold in the midst of life and death persecution – Acts 4
Building shaking in answer to prayer – Acts 4
People dropping dead for lying to the Holy Spirit – Acts 5
Miracles, signs and wonders – Acts 5
Angels opening prison doors and setting leaders free – Acts 5
People martyred for the faith – Stephen in Acts 7
Holy Spirit sending Philip and a revival breaking out in Samaria – Acts 8
Confronting a powerful sorcerer and seeing multitudes saved – Acts 8
Philip sent by the Spirit and bringing new life to the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8
God knocking Saul off his horse and speaking audibly to Him – Acts 9
 The dead being raised
Visions directing believers
Peter on the rooftop having a vision – Acts 10
Ananias receiving a vision and going to Saul to bring healing – Acts 9
Churches being planted – Acts 11 and onwards
Believers dying for the faith – James – Acts 12
And that was not even the first half of the book of Acts
And the older pastor in Ukraine said the the young apostle … “When did you stop reading your Bible”
With the point being that the same God who did these things in the early Church is still working with and through believers today
And, reading the stories in the Scriptures should build our faith to believe for and walk in the supernatural as a part of our regular, daily life
“I tell you this timeless truth: The person who follows me in faith, believing in me, will do the same mighty miracles that I do—even greater miracles than these because I go to be with my Father! For I will do whatever you ask me to do when you ask me in my name. And that is how the Son will show what the Father is really like and bring glory to him. Ask me anything in my name, and I will do it for you!”  (TPT)
And Sometimes I’m Disappointed with God because this is not happening on a regular basis in my life and I wonder why
I want to know why!
A True Story From Russia…
The young father and husband had been arrested for teaching the Bible to others …
He had recently been saved – a miracle in itself – and began to read a Bible that he had obtained – a second miracle in Communist Russia
He began to teach his wife and children the Scriptures – reading them together late at night and discussing them together … they received Jesus
In time neighbours joined them, and then more neighbours … until the house was full every night – people hungry to hear the Word of God … and they got saved
It’s like reading a story straight from the pages of the book of Acts
He was arrested – just a believer, not a pastor nor a leader – and moved a thousand kilometres away from his family and locked up in a prison because he was influencing people for the Kingdom
His cell was so tiny that when he got out of bed, it took but a single step either to get to the door of his cell, to reach the stained and cracked sink mounted on the opposite wall, our to use foul smelling open toilet in the “far” corner of the cell. Even worse, he was the only believer among fifteen hundred hardened criminals.
He said that his isolation from the body of Christ – his house church – was far more difficult than even the physical torture. And there was much of that. Still, his tormentors were unable to break him. Dmitri (not his real name) pointed to two reasons for his strength in the face of torture.
There were two spiritual habits that he had learned and that he took with him into prison. Without these two disciplines, Dmitri insisted, his faith would not have survived.
For seventeen years in prison, every morning at daybreak, Dmitri would stand at attention by his bed. As was his custom, he would face the east, raise his arms in praise to God, and then he would sing a HeartSong to Jesus
HeartSong … a song he had learned that was very meaningful to him and expressed his heart and his love for the Lord
The reaction of the other prisoners was predictable.
Dmitri recounted the laughter, the cursing, the jeers. The other prisoners banged metal cups against the iron bars in angry protest. They threw food and sometimes human waste to try to shut him up and extinguish the only true light shining in that dark place every morning at dawn.
There was another discipline too, another custom that Dmitri told me about. Whenever he found a scrap of paper in the prison, he would sneak it back to his cell. There he would pull out a stub of a pencil or a tiny piece of charcoal that he had saved, and he would write on that scrap of paper, as tiny as he could, all the Bible verses and scriptural stories or songs that he could remember. When the scrap was completely filled, he would walk to the corner of this little jail cell where there was a concrete pillar that constantly dripped water — except in the wintertime when the moisture became a solid coat of ice on the inside surface of his cell. Dmitri would take the paper fragment, reach as high as he possibly could, and stick it on the damp pillar as a praise offering to God.
Of course, whenever one of his jailers spotted the piece of paper on the pillar, he would come into his cell, take it down, read it, beat him severely, and threaten him with death. Still, Dmitri refused to stop his two disciplines.
Every day, he rose at dawn to sing his song. And every time he found a scrap of paper, he filled it with Scripture and praise.
This went on year after year after year. His guards tried to make him stop. The authorities did unspeakable things to his family. At one point, they even led him to believe that his wife had been murdered and that his children had been taken by the state.
They taunted him cruelly, “We have ruined your home. Your family is gone.”
Dmitri’s resolve finally broke. He told God that he could not take any more. He admitted to his guards, “You win! I will sign any confession that you want me to sign. I must get out of here to find where my children are.”
They told Dmitri, “We will prepare your confession tonight, and then you will sign it tomorrow. Then you will be free to go.” After all those years, the only thing that he had to do was sign his name on a document saying that he was not a believer in Jesus and that he was a paid agent of western government trying to destroy the USSR. Once he put his signature on that dotted line, he would be free to go.
Dmitri repeated his intention:”Bring it tomorrow and I will sign it.”
That very night he sat on his jail cell bed. He was in deep despair, grieving the fact that he had given up. At that same moment, a thousand kilometres away his family — Dmitri’s wife, his children who were growing up without him, and his brother — sensed through the Holy Spirit the despair of this man in prison. His loved ones gathered around the very place where I was now sitting as Dmitri told me his story. They knelt in a circle and began to pray out loud for him. Miraculously, the Holy Spirit of the Living God allowed Dmitri to hear the voices of his loved ones as they prayed.
The next morning, when the guards marched into his cell with the documents, Dmitri’s back was straight. His shoulders were squared and there was strength on his face and in his eyes. He looked at his captors and declared, “I am not signing anything!”
The guards were incredulous. They had thought that he was beaten and destroyed. “What happened?” They demanded to know.
Dmitri smiled and told them, “In the night, God let me hear the voices of my wife and my children and my brother praying for me. You lied to me! I now know that my wife is alive and physically well. I know that my sons are with her. I also know that they are all still in Christ. So I am not be signing anything!”
His persecutors continued to discourage and silence him. Dmitri remained faithful., He was overwhelmed one day by a special gift from God’s hand. In the prison yard, he found a whole sheet of paper. “And God,” Dmitri said, “had laid a pencil beside it!”
Dmitri went on, “I rushed back to my jail cell and I wrote every Scripture reference, every Bible verse, every story, and every song I could recall.”
“I knew that it was probably foolish,” Dmitri told me, “but I couldn’t help myself. I filled both sides of the paper with as much of the Bible as I could. I reached up and stuck the entire sheet on that wet concrete pillar. Then I stood up and looked at it: to me it seemed like the greatest offering I could give to Jesus from my prison cell. Of course, my jailor saw it. I was beaten and punished. I was threatened with execution.”
Dmitri was dragged from his cell. As he was dragged down the corridor in the center of the prison, the strangest thing happened. Before they reached the door leading to the courtyard — before stepping out into the place of execution — fifteen hundred hardened criminals raised their arms and began to sing the HeartSong that they had heard Dmitri sing to Jesus every morning for all those years.
Dmitri’s jailers instantly released their hold on his arms and stepped away from him in terror.
One of them demanded to know, “Who are you?” Dmitri straightened his back and stood as tall and as proud as he could.
He responded: “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His Name!”
The guards returned him to his cell. Sometime later, Dmitri was released and he returned to his family.
Prisoners being set free by the Lord… like in New Testament times
The apostles all in prison and set free by an angel – Acts 5
Peter in prison awaiting execution in Jerusalem – Acts 12
Paul and Silas in jail in Philippi – Acts 16
As the old Ukrainian pastor said to the young apostle:
“When did you stop reading the Bible?”
What happened then is still happening now …  But, do I really believe that?
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
And so if I really believe that — do I act / live like it is totally true?
But, if I can be so bold to ask: Why does it happen “over there” and not happen “over here?”
Sometimes I’m disappointed with God
It seems He is working hard “over there” and not working much at all “over here”
And so Sometimes I’m Disappointed With God
You read the Bible and see so many amazing stories of God moving, guiding, directing, intervening, touching lives…
You read about God intervening in regular life and revealing Himself in powerful ways…
People being saved
Prisoners being set free
Those being persecuted being warned by the Spirit of imminent danger
People being openly directed by the Holy Spirit
The sick being healed
Demon-possessed people being set free
The dead being raised to life
Churches being planted
Cities being changed and challenged by the Gospel
Jesus appearing to people and directing them
Miracles, signs, and wonders
Visions and dreams
God directly strengthening and encouraging believers
People dying for their faith – strong witnesses to faith in Christ
So, I asked myself …
Why is all of this not happening in my daily life?
Is there something I need to change or do differently?
Is it just a matter of not having enough faith?
Is it because I live in North America?
Is there sin in my life that prevents the moving of the Holy Spirit?
Do I need to change the way I am praying?
Are my priorities all wrong and thus preventing the move of the Spirit?
Do I have a wrong worldview?
Is there compromise in my life?
Do I simply not trust God enough?
Maybe I don’t really understand the Kingdom
Maybe deep down inside I don’t want my lifestyle to change?
Am I simply too comfortable and safe and secure and not wanting to be disturbed?
Maybe I am complicating the faith and making it something it is not?
Are I just being disobedient?
Am I so busy that I am missing the voice of God and direction of the Holy Spirit?
The young apostle moves on to a Central Asian country…
During my time there, a forty-three-year-old-Muslim-background believer somehow heard through the oral grapevine that a Westerner had come to his country wanting to discover how Muslims were finding Jesus and what challenges these converts were experiencing as they lived out their faith in hostile environments. I still have no idea how he learned that I was coming or where I would be.
It turns out that Pramana traveled 29 hours to find me. He had lived his entire life in a remote, tropical, and rural region of his third-world country. He had never before been on a bus. He had not even traveled on a paved highway. Yet, somehow, he found me in one of his country’s major cities. Upon his arrival, he matter-of-factly announced: “I have heard about what you are doing. You need to hear my story also.”
This man had been born into a people group with a population of 24 million. In his people group, there were only three followers of Jesus, and no church. The only religion that he had ever practiced or known while growing up had been a sort of folk Islam. Pramana knew the Quran by rote. He couldn’t actually speak Arabic, so (as an oral communicator from an oral culture) he simply memorized the words of the book as if they were part of some sort of magic formula. He knew the story of Mohammad, of course. But he had never heard of anybody called Jesus, he had never met a believer, and he had no idea what a Bible was.
“Five years ago,” he told me, “my life was in ruins. My wife and I were always fighting; I was ready to divorce the woman. My children were disrespectful. My animals were not growing or multiplying. My crops were dying in the fields.
“So I went to the imam of the nearest mosque for help,” Pramana continued.
The imam, who also functioned as the local spiritualist, told him, “Okay, son, here is what you need to do. Go buy a white chicken. Bring it to me and I will sacrifice it on your behalf. Then, go back to your village to meditate and fast for three days and three nights.  On the third day, you will receive the answer to all the problems that you are having with your wife, your children, your animals, and your crops.”
Pramana did exactly as he was told. He went back to his village. He meditated, he fasted, he waited. Then, as he explained it: “I’ll never forget, on that third night, a voice without a body came to me after midnight. That voice said, ‘Find Jesus, find the gospel.’”
This Muslim man had no clue what that even meant. He didn’t know if Jesus might be a fruit or a rock or a tree. Pramana told me that the voice without a body also said, “Get out of bed, go over the mountain, and walk down to the coast to name of city (a city where he had never been). When you get to that city at daybreak, you will see two men. When you see those men, ask them where such-and-such a street is. They will show you the way. Walk up and down that street and look for this number. When you find that number, knock on the door. When the door opens, tell the person why you have come.”
Pramana did not know that it was an option to be disobedient to the voice (Holy Spirit). He simply assumed that he was required to obey what he had been instructed to do. So he went. He didn’t even tell his wife that he was leaving, let alone where he was going. It turns out that he would be gone for two full weeks. During that time, his family had no idea where he was.
Pramana simply got out of bed, hiked over the mountain, trekked down the coast, and arrived at the specified city the next morning at daylight. He saw two men who told him where to find the street he wanted. He walked up and down that street until he found a building with the right number on it. He knocked at the door. A moment later, an older gentleman opened the door and asked, “Can I help you?”
The younger man declared: “I have come to find Jesus; I have come to find the gospel!” In a flash, the old man’s hand shot out from the darkened doorway. He grabbed Pramana by the shirt, dragged him into the apartment, and slammed the door behind him. The old man released his grip and exclaimed, “You Muslims must think I am a fool to fall for a trap as transparent as this!”
The very startled and confused traveler replied, “I don’t know if you are a fool or not, sir. I just met you. But here is why I’ve come.” Then Pramana told the older man the story of how he had come to be there that day.
The Holy Spirit of the Living God had led this young Muslim man through his dream and vision and his obedience to the home of one of the three believers in his 24 million people group. Stunned, the older man explained the gospel to this young Muslim man and led him to Christ. For the next two weeks, the old man discipled this new convert in the faith.
That had been five years ago. Now, Pramana had made another journey. This journey was to find me and to tell me his remarkable story. He had travelled 29 hours to share how his life had changed since he had found Jesus. There had been blessings and trials and tribulations during the last five years, but his life had clearly been changed in startling ways.
You know — that sounds so much like the story of Saul of Tarsus finding Ananias to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus – Acts 9.
I read these stories and something inside me starts to cry…
There is this hunger for the New Testament times to become real once again in this day and time … and, if I may say, in my life
There is this desire for the adventure to start in a fresh and new way
There is a deep dissatisfaction right now – inside of me – that what I have, what I’m experiencing, what I know as Christianity is no longer enough
It is like my spirit is crying out “there has got to be more”
Deep inside there is a ‘divine discontent’ letting me know that major change has begun for me in my walk with Jesus and in my every day life
I am seriously “Sometimes Disappointed With God” but it is a good thing because it motivates me to move forward regardless of the cost
And, I have begun to think through what needs to change for me to experience more of God in my life
And my desire is that you will also experience this hunger if you haven’t already
And that you will think through what needs to adjust and change for this type of lifestyle to become real and an every day occurrence in life right here and right now
May I tell you one more story?
The same young apostle writes…
Before I had even arrived at the first stop on my planned Southeast Asia tour, I received an e-mail from a European doctor living and working on the border of two Central Asia countries that were experiencing a great deal of violence and unrest. The words of his e-mail were guarded and carefully worded. The message read: “Dr. Ripken, I have heard about the research that you are doing from a friend I knew and worked closely with in Somalia some years ago. I believe that the Lord needs you to come to name of country and he names his border town.”
My wife had already booked and purchased my plane tickets for the entire, tightly-scheduled trip. I responded to the man’s e-mail, explaining that my itinerary included not only Vietnam and Thailand, but also Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Then I explained further: “These are the last of the countries that I have already made plans to visit this year. I am expecting to be in your region late next year, so please be patient. I will be sure to get back in touch with you and I will gladly consider your invitation at that time.”
After another stop to see the killing fields of Cambodia (where very few believers survived the Khmer Rouge reign of terror), I landed in Bangkok. From there, I went up and stayed for a time among the Karen people group living in the Golden Triangle region where Thailand’s borders meet the borders of Laos. Then, I attempted to travel to what was once called Burma (now Myanmar). Several days later, I came back to Bangkok where I had another e-mail from the same doctor.
This second e-mail was more insistent, “I really think you should come now,” the man wrote.
At that point, I responded with a slightly less gracious reply: “I am sorry, but I will not come your way until next year.” At that point I set out for another country on my itinerary. Just before arriving there, however, I received a phone call informing me that all 18 pastors that I had lined up for interviews there had been arrested and were currently in jail. My primary contact in that country said, “This will not be a good time for you to visit us, unless you want to stay a lot longer than you had planned!” I certainly wanted to visit that country, but I had no interest I spending time in prison.
I wondered about the strange turn of events. Even more, I wondered if maybe it was some sort of a sign. I changed my plans immediately and returned to Bangkok. I am not sure if I was really surprised or not, but I received another e-mail from this same annoyingly persistent doctor.
This time I replied even more bluntly. Didn’t want to sound rude, but I was confident in the plans that I had made. In effect, I said to him: “Please stop asking me to visit; I am not coming to your country at this time.” A few days later, I prepared to leave Bangkok for my next destination. After leaving Bangkok and before I reached my next stop, however, I received a phone call from an in-country contact. This phone call informed me that some of the pastors who were planning to talk with me has been in an automobile accident. Several others were sick in the hospital, and ever others were under tight surveillance.
“I am sorry,” I was told, “but this is no longer a good time for you to visit. We will contact you to let you know when you might try again.”
Once again, I returned to Bangkok. Arriving there, I was startled to find yet another e-mail from the European doctor.
Again, he insisted strongly: “I really believe God wants you to come here now.”
Given the recent events and the apparent closed doors that I was facing, I was suddenly more open to his request. I broke down, swallowed my pride, and called the doctor. After introducing myself, I sheepishly admitted, “It suddenly looks like I really don’t have anything else to do for the next couple weeks. I guess I’ll be coming your way after all.”
I flew into the capital city of his country, then traveled on to a smaller city. From there, I took a smaller plane which landed on a short dirt runway outside a small border town. As soon as I exited the airplane, I spotted a man who was obviously the doctor. Standing beside him were five men in traditional Muslim dress who also seemed to be waiting at the remote desert airstrip for my plane to land.
As the doctor and I exchanged greetings, I asked him, “Who are your friends?”
“You don’t know who they are?” He reacted in surprise.
“No, I didn’t even know who you were until 30 seconds ago,” I told him.
“Well, Dr. Ripken,” he said, as he cast a furtive glance over his shoulder, “If you don’t know these men — and I don’t know these men — then we have a serious security problem. They told me that they had come to meet you.”
“So,” he continued rather abruptly, “I’m going to have to leave you now. Here’s my cell phone number. If everything turns out all right, call me, and I’ll come back and get you.”
Then he turned and walked away.
I was stunned, and it dawned on me that I was already praying. I felt that I was self-trained in being careful in the midst of danger, so there was no way that I was going to leave with these five men. As I dragged my bag towards the small terminal, I was already thinking about how quickly I could catch a flight out. The men followed me. They tugged on my clothes trying to get me to stop. I tried my best to ignore them. Finally, one of them said in broken English, “Sir, stop. Please stop. We are followers of Jesus.”
I immediately stopped and turned to listen to what they had to say. The quick summary of their story rang true. Against my better judgment, but sensing the hand of God on our meeting, I went with my five unnamed new “friends” to a room that they had rented in the nearby town.
When we got there, we sat down together on the floor in an unfurnished apartment. They simply looked at me and smiled. They seemed perfectly content to wait. I had no idea what was expected of me. I shared briefly about myself, though my words were more guarded than usual. I talked a little about where I had been. How I had been travelling around the world, the research that I had done, and why I wanted to talk to believers in different parts of the world. I even speculated a little on why I had ended up in this tiny corner of the world.
One of the men spoke English. He translated my words to the others. After he finished. All five of the men began to laugh.
I was confused and I wanted to know what they thought was so funny.
They shook their heads, smiled, and said to me, “You may think you know why you have come here. But we would like to tell you why you are really here.”
They briefly sketched out their own personal stories. They had each had dreams or visions that had raised spiritual questions and prompted a long search for answers. They had each miraculously found a copy of the Bible to study. After reading the entire book several times, they had each, on their own, decided to follow Jesus. They had each been rejected and disowned by their families. Eventually they had to flee their country. They made their way across the border to this small border town. Somehow they found each other and they realized that they all shared the same newfound faith in Christ.
They didn’t really know what to do next, but they instinctively started meeting in this tiny third-floor apartment. They met daily from midnight until 3:00 in the morning, hoping that no one would notice them. They read the Word of God secretly and tried to provide spiritual support and encouragement for one another.
Two months earlier, they explained, they had started praying this prayer: “Oh God, we don’t know how to do this! We grew up and were trained as Muslims. We know how to be Muslims in a Muslim environment. We even know how to be communists in a Muslim environment. But we do not know how to follow Jesus in a Muslim environment. Please, Lord, send us someone. Send us someone who knows about persecution, someone who knows what other believers are doing, someone who can encourage and teach us.”
Chills were running up and down my spine as they explained what had happened when they had been together in this same rented upper room earlier in the day: “At 1:30 this morning, we were here praying when the Holy Spirit told us to go to the airport. The Holy Spirit told us that we were to go to the first white man who got off the plane. The Holy Spirit told us that He was sending this man to answer our questions.”
“So,” they said as they smiled at me again, “that is why you are here. Now you can do what God has called you here to do. Before you start teaching us, however, we have one other question for you: Where have you been and what have you been doing for these last two months? We started to pray for someone to show up two months ago. And, only now are you here.”
I shook my head in embarrassment. I confessed, “Well… I guess I have been being disobedient! I tried my best for weeks not to come here at all. Please forgive me!”
They did. And we had a great time of teaching and learning from each other over the next few days. I listened to each of their personal testimonies of faith and asked them specific questions about the details of how and when they encountered Jesus and became His followers.
One of the five men told me, “I dreamed about a blue book. I was driven, consumed really, by the message of the dream. ‘Look for this book,’ the dream said, ‘read this Bible.’ I began a search, but I could not find a book like that anywhere in my country. Then, one day, I walked into a Quranic book shop and saw this sea of green books lining the walls. I noticed a book of a different colour on a shelf at the back of the store, so I walked back there and pulled out a thick blue volume to discover that it was a Bible. It was published in my own national language. I actually bought a Bible in the Islamic bookstore, took it home, and read it five times. That’s how I came to know Jesus.”
Another one told me, “I dreamed about finding Jesus, but I didn’t even know how or where to look. Then one day I was walking through the market when a man I had never seen before came up to me in the crowd. He said, ‘The Holy Spirit told me to give you this book.’ He handed me a Bible and disappeared into the crowd. I never saw him again. But I read the Bible he gave me three times from cover to cover, and that’s how I came to know and follow Jesus.”
Each one of the five men told me a different variation of this same story. Each one of them had come across a Bible in some unusual, miraculous way. Each one had read the Gospel story of Jesus. Each one had decided to follow Him.
After hearing their stories, I felt drawn to open the book of Acts. With an entirely different point of view, I began to read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. For the first time in my life, as I read that passage, I wondered: How in the world did an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a man of colour, and a foreigner get a copy of a scroll containing the book of Isaiah?
In New Testament days, even partial copies of Scripture were handwritten on scrolls. They were very rare and very expensive. What’s more the Jews had strict rules and restrictions about who was even allowed to touch the Holy Scriptures and where the Scriptures could be opened and read.
By all accounts, this Ethiopian official would not have been allowed to touch a copy of Scripture, or open it and read it, or possess it. Yet, Philip finds this Ethiopian man in a chariot on a desert road in Gaza pouring and puzzling over Isaiah 53. When I read the story on this night the fact that the Ethiopian official was actually going home with a copy of a portion of the Jewish Bible seems extraordinary and unlikely.
In fact, it was so extraordinary and unlikely that I blurted out a question: Where did this man get a copy of Your Word?
In reply, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: I have been doing this for a long time. If you will take My Word out into the world, I will get it in the right hands.
What a marvellous, miraculous, and mysterious partnership this is! We have no clear understanding of what sent that official of the Ethiopian queen on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel, Something or someone did. How did that man miraculously get his hands on that part of the Word of God? And why was he on the empty stretch of desert road, at that very moment, reading that particular chapter of Isaiah? Of course, we know how Philip ended up there – the Holy Spirit sent him.
I had to admit that I did not know the answers to any of those questions.
Yet, now, after being among believers in persecution, I was pretty sure that God must have had to work a number of small miracles for that encounter between the Ethiopian man and Philip to take place. In God’s marvellous timing, this encounter happened in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time. Almost two thousand years later, the same thing had happened when I walked off of a plane to meet five Muslim men who had miraculously found Jesus. I had never intended to be an answer to prayer that day, but evidently I was.
Reading from the book of Acts that evening was a completely new experience. Two thoughts stayed in my mind: this is what God did then and this is what does does now. Suddenly, my modern world didn’t look all that different than the world of the Bible.
Much, much later, after years of gathering stories, I came to understand that the tales told by these five new friends were actually pretty commonplace. Time and again, in the years since, Muslim-background believers from many different countries and cultures have told me about being directed by dreams and visions. They have told me about finding Bibles through amazing circumstances. They have mentioned reading the Bible multiple times. In the reading, they have talked about feeling drawn to Jesus. They have told me of a personal decision to follow Him. Many of those pilgrimages to faith involved a Philip who miraculously showed up at exacting the right time, in the right place, with the right words that finally pointed the seeker directly to Jesus.
So, As I thought about all of this … struggling with the feelings inside my gut as I read these and multiple other stories … I wondered why God’s hand is not as evident in my life
Why does it seem that God does amazing things over there but not here?
Why does He seem more active in the life of believers in the third-world nations?
What is it that I need to change or adjust so that He is free to work in and through my life in ways that are more evident and ‘now’?
After all, God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34)
And, “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
Let’s discuss this as I would like to hear why you think we/you don’t always see the supernatural in our daily lives?
My answers:
1> I don’t live with a Kingdom perspective – Live with a worldly perspective
2> I am not as aware as I need to be of the fact that there is a spiritual reality to every day living on planet Earth
3> I am not “seeking first the Kingdom…” as I often put myself or the needs of others first
4> I am not directly aware of the absolute necessity of people coming to know Jesus and the power of the Gospel to change lives (Romans 1:16)
5> Not always sensitive to the moving of the Spirit and thus not aware of what He is doing … resulting in my not being involved in His plans
6> Often see daily life as daily and natural and not part of a bigger picture – God’s plan and purpose
7> I fail to live life in an ‘expectant’ mode … anticipating that God is moving and wanting to involve me in what He is doing
8> Not fully submitted to the will of God – Lordship
9> Not depending on God — trust, faith,, flesh / Spirit
Answers during discussion:
1> Complicate things too much
2> Disappointment from the past
3> Not looking for the supernatural and the intervention of God in daily life
4> Lack of faith
5> We think we don’t have God’s power or we don’t use God’s power
6> The desire for this type of life is not there
7> Feel that we are not ready to do what God is asking
8> Too comfortable to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit
9> Not sensitive to the Holy Spirit and so miss opportunities
10> Cares of the world and daily life simply take over and so miss hearing God
11> Confusion on the inside
12> Self-conscious and worried about what others will think
13> Simple disobedience

Sometimes I’m Disappointed With God

https://rhm.podbean.com/e/sometimes-im-disappointed-with-god/

Sometimes I’m Disappointed With God

An apostle from North America was meeting with a group of leader of the underground church in China

During the evening there was a fellowship time among the leaders as they shared what was happening in their lives and how God was moving in their homes and in their ministries

The apostle from North America took the opportunity to ask a question of these Chinese leaders of underground house churches … He asked:

“If I were to visit your home communities and talk with the non-believing families, friends, and neighbours of the members of your house churches — and if I would point out your church members and ask, ‘Who are these people? What can you tell me about them?’ — what answer would I get?”

The apostle writes: Many people started to answer at once. The response that jumped out at me, though, was the answer of a man who told me that his church’s neighbours would probably say, “Those are the people who raise the dead!”

As we read the gospels we see that Jesus raised the dead… Read more

Sometimes I Feel Completely Inadequate

https://rhm.podbean.com/e/sometimes-i-feel-completely-inadequate/

 

Sometimes I Feel Completely Inadequate

Have you ever felt somewhat or totally inadequate for a task or a role that you are about to engage in?

In my life there have been numerous times when I have felt inadequate:

      • As a teenager I felt totally inadequate in gym class and track and field days – unable to do what was expected of me
      • When I went to seminary I felt totally inadequate as I knew little to almost nothing about God or the Bible
      • When I became a priest I felt totally inadequate personally and even more so professionally
      • First funeral in small town south of Regina
      • Becoming a husband
      • Becoming a father
      • Becoming a born again believer
      • First time prophesying
      • Planting a new church
      • Witnessing on the streets
      • First trip overseas to Ukraine
      • Working through a translator
      • Even today … some of the things I am called upon to do I feel totally inadequate to accomplish
              • Writing a series of books comes to mind
              • Teaching and leading through Zoom

Feelings of inadequacy lead to… insecurity lead to… uncertainty Read more

Loving Difficult People 

Are you aware of the tremendous advantage frogs have over humans? They can eat anything that bugs them! Wouldn’t it be great of we could consume our relational problems rather than letting them consume us! What “bugs” you the most about people? Is it inconsistency? Inflexibility? Inability to give and take? Bad attitudes? Whatever it is that makes relationships difficult for you to build and maintain is something that needs to be looked at and dealt with. 

I personally can handle disagreements or differences of opinion, but people who refuse to engage in and embrace a relationship that they have chosen to become involved in really gets to me. It means that the relationship becomes very one-sided very quickly. All give and no take. You share feelings and thoughts and there is no response, no interaction. So, it is like talking into a void never knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling. 

I find that most Christian people suffer from very poor and even surface relationships. They truly are missing the relational skills needed to form and build healthy beneficial relationships with others believers and with non-believers. And, as a result they suffer from guilt in their relationships with others. 

Christians are often taught that we should be full of grace,. Sounds good. But, what does it mean? Does God expect us to get along peaceably with everybody? Are we suppose to simply overlook other people’s faults and idiosyncrasies? Right relationships with difficult people can seem like an impossible standard to reach. Just what are we suppose to do?

The Apostle Paul offers this practical advice, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). You might paraphrase that verse to read: Do the best you can to get along with everyone. Yet realize that once in a while you are going to have a relationship with a difficult person that may fall short of the ideal. 

A personal inventory of the “Three P’s” will help you determine your part in a difficult relationship or association.

    • Perspective. How do I see myself? How do I see others? How do others see me? Our perspective determines how far our relationships will develop.
    • Process. Do I understand the stages of a relationship? Do I realize there are some stages in a relationship that are more critical than others?
    • Problems. When facing difficulties in a relationship, how do I handle them?

Show me a person who sees themselves in a negative light and I will show you a person who sees others in a negative way. The opposite is also true. A person who sees himself positively also looks for the good in others. It’s all in one’s perspective. 

Some people see a relationship as a series of isolated incidents, and one bad incident can break the relationship. People who think this way never develop deep relationships. Their friendships are precarious, on-again-off-again types of associations. These people run every time a difficult situation arises. They seldom, if ever, develop long-standing relationships.

Let’s take a look at perspective first. We act in a way that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. I act as I see myself. In fact, it is impossible to consistently behave in a manner that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. Understandably, this is the cause of many relationship problems. 

Only when we view ourselves with 20/20 vision will we be able to see other people clearly. Perspective is crucial. That’s why Jesus spoke about judging others: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5). He is telling us we need to deal with our own attitudes before we criticize another person.

In Matthew 22:39 we read Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself.” He knew that if we truly loved ourselves, we would also love our neighbour. He also knew that before we could really love our neighbour, we would need to love ourselves — not a selfish, self-serving type of love, but a deep appreciation of who we are in Christ. Most of the time our relational problems stem from the fact that we ourselves have problems or issues that have not been resolved. It is not possible to treat another person’s hurt until we have first discovered the cure and accepted the treatment ourselves.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 illustrates this principle. The robbers who beat the the traveler used people. They stole from the traveler and saw him as a victim to exploit. The priest and the Levite were legalistic and withdrawn. They saw the beaten, robbed victim as a problem to be avoided, because they believed if they touched a dead man they would be unclean according to the Law. The Good Samaritan was a social outcast — despised, ignored, and rejected by society. He knew what it was like to be passed by and uncared for, but he also had experienced the cure. When he saw this victim, he was able to empathize with him. He looked upon him as a person who needed to be loved, identifying with the traveler’s problem and sharing in the solution. 

It is perspective that helps build relationships. 

When you realize that people treat you according to how they see themselves rather than how you really are, you are less likely to be affected by their behaviour. Your self-image will reflect who you are, not how you are treated by others. You will not be riding an emotional roller coaster. This type of stability will have a tremendous effect on how you feel toward and deal with others.

The key to successful relationships really gets down to responsibility. I am responsible for how I treat others. I may not be responsible for how they treat me; but I am responsible for my reaction to those who are difficult. I can’t choose how you’ll treat me, but I can choose how I will respond to you. 

Difficult people come in all shapes and sizes:

There are several types of difficult people, and it’s helpful to identify their common traits in order to learn how to deal with them effectively. As we review these traits remember that you can choose how to react to them. The effect of difficult relationships — whether they make us or break us — is determined not by the treatment we receive but by how we respond to it.

Take a look at the SERMAN TANK personality. This label may bring to mind a person who runs over everything and anything that is in the way. These people have a tendency to intimidate others because of their “I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong” attitude. They intimidate through their force and power; they’re behaviour is aggressive and even hostile. Because of the Sherman Tank’s insensitivity, people tend to battle with them. It is difficult to sit down and reason or rationalize with “tanks.”

Don’t lose hope; there is a strategy for dealing with the Sherman Tanks of life.

First consider this person’s influence as well as the issue at stake. How important is the point being fought over, and how many people are being influenced by the “tank?” If the issue could have a direct, negative effect on others within the organization or group involved, it is probably worth fighting over. But if it an insignificant issue or a matter of pride, it’s not worth the battle. When crucial issues arise, however, you must stand up to this personality. True, there is no easy way around these people. Be direct, because they probably don’t understand tactfulness. Look at them face to face and confront the specific issues at hand. Unfortunately these people cause more pain than any of the other difficult personality types because they feel little pain themselves. As a result, they can afford to be unreasonable. What adds to the burden of dealing with these people is that, with their power to intimidate, they can pull together many allies. 

Another difficult personality with whom we call come in contact with is the SPACE CADET. These people live in their own world, walking to the beat of a different drummer. They usually do not respond to normal motivation techniques. Frustration is the overwhelming feeling you get when working with this type of person. And, you will quickly learn you should not be greatly influenced by this person’s comments and feedback. Probably the people you know who fall into this category, you have labeled ‘weird.’

Consider these guidelines when working with a SPACE CADET:

    • Don’t evaluate your leadership or relational skills by the Space Cadet’s response. In fact, don’t even ask his or her opinion about something because you will get an off-the-wall answer. Space Cadets are not good sounding boards.
    • It’s not a good idea to place a Space Cadet in a ‘team ministry’ position. When you need a group of individuals to pull together to accomplish a goal, the Space Cadet has difficulty pulling with other people in the same direction.
    • Don’t place Space Cadets in positions of leadership because they won’t be able to determine the heartbeat of others.
    • Don’t write your Space Cadet friend off as a lost cause, though. Search for the key to his or her uniqueness and seek to develop it. Many Space Cadets are extremely brilliant and creative; they have much to offer if you put them in the right spot. They work best when they work alone, so find an area in which they’re interested and give them space to dream and create. 

The VOLCANO is an explosive, unpredictable type of person who tends to be unapproachable. How do we treat them? Should we walk around them softly, or test the waters and see what kind of a day they are having? It’s difficult to relax around them because we don’t know when the heat is about to rise. Just as the Space cadet causes frustration, the VOCANO causes tension. Those who have to work with this person can never relax; they never know what might set him or her off. It is like having to walk on egg-shells all day. 

How should we handle VOLCANOES when they blow up? Calmness is the key. Remove them from the crowd and remain calm yourself. They don’t need an audience, and you are better off to keep your blood pressure down. Once you have them alone, let them vent steam. Allow them to blow as hard and as long as necessary; let them get it all out. Don’t try to interrupt because they won’t be hearing you. In an attempt to get the story straight, you may need to go back and ask them to repeat some details. Minimize any exaggeration and remove any hearsay that has mingled in so you can deal with the facts and not the emotion. Then provide a soft, clear answer concerning the situation. Finally, hold these people accountable for the things they say and the people they harm.

Another person who is difficult to deal with is the THUMB SUCKER. Thumb Suckers tend to pout, are full of self-pity, and try to get people to cater to their own desires. This pouting is used as leverage to manipulate others. If things are not going their way, they can create a heavy atmosphere that is as oppressive as a rain cloud. They can do this very cleverly. Often they employ the silent treatment to get what they want.

Here is a strategy in dealing with this individual.

First, make the Thumb Sucker aware of the fact that moodiness is a choice. This is essential. People become moody to manipulate people and gain control. They are very seldom moody by themselves. Teach them that they are responsible for the atmosphere they create, especially if they are in a position of leadership in the team or the church. Everyone in the world has problems; the Thumb Sucker has no right to add his or her personal petty grievances to the load. They can choose to be even-tempered and no longer impact a situation or others by their pity party approach to life. 

Sometimes it is helpful to expose Thumb Suckers to people who have real problems. Perhaps it will cause them to see themselves in a different light and to have a more grateful heart and positive attitude. 

It is important to never reward or give attention to moody people. Giving them an opportunity to publicly exhibit their negative attitudes gives them a sense of recognition. The best method of attack is to praise this person’s positive ideas and actions and ignore him when he is sucking his thumb.

Thumb Suckers are subject to mood swings; they’re negative only part of the time. However, The WET BLANKET, on the other hand, is constantly down and negative. He is the classic impossibility thinker who see a problem in every solution. He is afflicted with the dreaded disease of Excusitis — finding problems and making excuses.

The most difficult thing about working with a person like this is that he or she usually takes no responsibility for his or her negative attitude and behaviour. It’s either “the other guy’s fault” or it’s “Just the way I am,” — a way of blaming God. Again, don’t reinforce the Wet Blanket’s behaviour by providing a platform from which to make excuses. Kindly but firmly point out that you have confidence in this person, but his or her present attitude is hindering progress. He needs to choose whether or not he is going to  risk being positive and responsible. If he chooses to change his behaviour, he’ll have a cheering section. If he chooses to not change, though, your best move will be away from him.

The GARBAGE COLLECTOR is locked even deeper into the mire of negativity than the Thumb Sucker and the Wet Blanket. Garbage Collectors have surrendered the leadership of their lives to negative emotions. Oh, how they love to rehearse and replay the injuries they have suffered at the hands of other people. They nurse their wounds and hold onto their wounded ill spirits. Briefly and concisely, they stink! The fact that there is garbage in life is depressing enough, but to collect it and haul it around town in a dump truck for public viewing is downright sick.

How do you deal with these people? First confront them about the way they try to represent other people. I never allow a person to tell me “there are many others who feel this way also.” I won’t hear them out unless they give me names. That single requirement takes a lot of the “stink” out of their garbage because it usually boils down to just one or two individuals who have an affinity for garbage too. I challenge their statements by pinning them down when they make generalizations and exaggerations. If they have created a serious enough situation, it may become necessary to destroy their credibility by exposing them to a decision-making group.

The USER is the person who manipulates others for his or her own personal gain. Users avoid responsibility for themselves, while demanding time and energy from others to benefit their own situations. They often use guilt to get what they want. The put on a weak front in order to get people to feel sorry for them and help them out.

How do you work with USERS? First, set predetermined limits on how far you will go to help them. Otherwise, they will push your guilt button and you will weaken. Remember that these people will not only take you the second and third mile, they’ll take you to the cleaners if you allow them. Require responsibility from the User. Even if you feel disposed to help him, make sure he is responsible for some part of the job. Otherwise, you will wind up carrying the load while he goes on his merry way — more than likely looking for another gullible soul.

Last, don’t feel obligated to Users, and don’t feel guilty for not feeling obligated. Most of the time a simple, firm no is the best medicine.

Perhaps you have recognized someone you know in each of these caricatures we have been looking at. Or maybe you’re dealing with a person so difficult, he is in a category all by himself. Take heart; there are certain general rules which you can put into practice that will enable you to work more effectively with problem people.

1> Love them unconditionally.

2> Ask God for wisdom in working with them.

3> Stay emotionally healthy yourself.

4> Set and maintain proper personal boundaries with the person.

5> Be honest with God, yourself, and them.

The Process of Relationships

It’s important to understand the process of relationships; specifically the stages of a relational breakdown. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

  • The Honeymoon stage is the one we begin with. We usually have an unrealistic view of the relationship at this point. Obviously, what attracts people to each other, whether it be a business relationship, a friendship, or a romance are their positive qualities. The excitement of finding someone who meets some need in our lives tends to temporarily blind us to their negative traits.
  • Specific irritation is the stage where we begin to open our eyes and see things we don’t like. Here we develop a memory bank of these negative traits. But then we also see the relationship in a more realistic light. If you look back at the early weeks of your marriage or of a new job, you will probably recall the first incident that shook you into reality — the time you realized the honeymoon was over.
  • General discomfort should cause us to deal with the specific irritations that have piled up in our memory banks. We become more open, honest, and transparent about telling someone why they are making us uncomfortable.
  • Try harder stage of development where we raise our energy level to make a success of the relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s very hard to separate the problem from the person.
  • Exhaustion often becomes a serious problem in a relationship because we are too tired to try any longer. We tend to throw up our hands and quit at this crucial point. 
  • Separation is the final stage. By this time the relationship has usually been terminated with little hope of restoration. Usually, by the time this happens we are too numb to even care or hurt.

The series of stages does not have to be completed; the cycle can be broken. Most often, if the process is reversed, it happens during the stage of general discomfort. At that point it is still possible to make the decision to accept what you don’t like about a person and to love that person unconditionally. As you try harder to overlook a person’s faults, it becomes easier to again focus your attention on his or her positive traits.

Problems in Relationships

In most relationship it is inevitable that at some point a confrontation will take place. At this crisis point it’s very important to approach the offending party prepared with the right attitude. If a confrontation is handled correctly, it can actually strengthen the relationship. If not, it can bring an abrupt, unhappy end to the relationship. In order for this not to happen, follow these six guidelines:

1> Bring in principle persons involved in the conflict. Experience has taught me that unless all persons involved come together, the whole story will never be pieced together accurately.

2> Line up the facts. Relying on hearsay evidence or “general impressions” will only invite emotion-laden rebuttals and, possibly, resentful counterattacks.

3> Never reprimand while angry. Make sure you are in control of your emotions. The angrier you are, the less objective you’ll be — and the less effective you will be in dealing with the problem or issue. It’s prudent to delay a confrontation until you’ve coolly asked yourself two questions: Could I have contributed to the problem? Were there mitigating circumstances I’m overlooking

.

4> Be precise about the offense. Let the person know exactly what the problem is. Don’t try to soften the blow by hemming and hawing or refusing to cough up the details. 

5> Get the other person’s side of the story. Always give the other person the chance to explain what happened and why they behaved as they did. There may be extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, you may even be a part of them. 

6> Don’t harbour a grudge. Once you have handled the issue, don’t carry around hostilities or unforgiveness. Let that person know you consider the problem a closed book and act accordingly.

 

Our ultimate goal in dealing with relational problems should be to present the truth in such a way as to build and strengthen the relationship, not destroy it. Unfortunately, this cannot always be accomplished. If a relationship cannot stand an honest face-to-face encounter, then it probably is not a healthy relationship. In some cases, ending the relationship is the only solution, but this should be the last choice. 

Growing Through Criticism – Part Two

To grow through criticism there are some things to note…

1> Understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.

You need to learn how to interpret criticism. Is it positive criticism to build you up or negative to tear you down? Someone once said that constructive criticism is when I criticize you; destructive criticism is when you criticize me.

To determine the motive behind the confrontation, ask yourself some questions. 

A> In what spirit is it given? Look behind the words and determine the motives. Is the critic projecting a gentle attitude or a judgmental attitude? If your critic’s attitude is kind, you can rest assured that the criticism is meant to be constructive.

B> When is the criticism given? Times of confrontation must be shared privately, not within public view or hearing. If a person criticizes someone publicly, you can be sure his or her intentions are not the best. They are out to destroy and not to build.

C> Why is the criticism given? This question deals with the attitude of the critic. Is it for personal benefit and growth, or is it given from personal hurt? Sometimes the person who has experienced difficulties and problems will deal with others in a negative, critical way. 

2> Don’t take yourself too seriously.

If you can develop the ability to laugh at yourself, you will be much more relaxed when given or giving criticism. Face it, we all do some stupid and silly things. Blessed is he who can enjoy his blunders. We are approved by God; we don’t have to win the approval of others and look good in their eyes. We are not perfect people. Too many of us take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.

3> Look beyond the criticism and see the critic.

When someone comes to me with news about another person, I am more interested in the person who said it than what was said. In fact, that’s one of my first questions: Who said it? Who told you that? When I find out who the perpetrator is, I know whether or not to listen. I will either straighten up and take it seriously or I will think to myself, “There they go again.”

Keep in mind certain considerations regarding your critic: First, is it someone whose character you respect? Adverse criticism from a wise man is more to be desired than the enthusiastic approval of a fool. Second, is this person frequently critical? Is criticism a pattern? If so, don’t place too much value in what they say. Possibly it’s a way to get attention. Criticism from a positive person, on the other hand, probably deserves your attention.

Finally, ask yourself this question: Does the critic sincerely want to help me? Remember that people who are busy rowing seldom have time to rock the boat.

4> Watch your own attitude towards the critic.

A negative attitude toward criticism can be more destructive than the criticism itself. Remember, a chip on the shoulder indicates wood higher up! Someone once said, “When you are being run out of town, get to the head of the line and look as though you are leading the parade.” In other words, maintain a positive attitude towards the critic. 

1 Peter 2:21-23 provides the right attitude toward criticism:

“This suffering is all part of the work God has given you. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps: He never sinned, never told a lie, never answered back when insulted; when he suffered he did not threaten to get even; he left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly.”

Could it be that a poor attitude reveals the fact that we have trusted in ourselves, rather than in God who knows the entire situation? If we are trusting Him and are obedient, we can expect some criticism. He often calls us to take an unpopular stand. He has also called us to love those who are critical of us. 

Loving Difficult People – Part Four

Perhaps you have recognized someone you know in each of these caricatures we have been looking at. Or maybe you’re dealing with a person so difficult, he is in a category all by himself. Take heart; there are certain general rules which you can put into practice that will enable you to work more effectively with problem people.

1> Love them unconditionally.

2> Ask God for wisdom in working with them.

3> Stay emotionally healthy yourself.

4> Set and maintain proper personal boundaries with the person.

5> Be honest with God, yourself, and them.

The Process of Relationships

It’s important to understand the process of relationships; specifically the stages of a relational breakdown. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

  • The Honeymoon stage is the one we begin with. We usually have an unrealistic view of the relationship at this point. Obviously, what attracts people to each other, whether it be a business relationship, a friendship, or a romance are their positive qualities. The excitement of finding someone who meets some need in our lives tends to temporarily blind us to their negative traits.
  • Specific irritation is the stage where we begin to open our eyes and see things we don’t like. Here we develop a memory bank of these negative traits. But then we also see the relationship in a more realistic light. If you look back at the early weeks of your marriage or of a new job, you will probably recall the first incident that shook you into reality — the time you realized the honeymoon was over.
  • General discomfort should cause us to deal with the specific irritations that have piled up in our memory banks. We become more open, honest, and transparent about telling someone why they are making us uncomfortable.
  • Try harder stage of development where we raise our energy level to make a success of the relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s very hard to separate the problem from the person.
  • Exhaustion often becomes a serious problem in a relationship because we are too tired to try any longer. We tend to throw up our hands and quit at this crucial point. 
  • Separation is the final stage. By this time the relationship has usually been terminated with little hope of restoration. Usually, by the time this happens we are too numb to even care or hurt.

The series of stages does not have to be completed; the cycle can be broken. Most often, if the process is reversed, it happens during the stage of general discomfort. At that point it is still possible to make the decision to accept what you don’t like about a person and to love that person unconditionally. As you try harder to overlook a person’s faults, it becomes easier to again focus your attention on his or her positive traits.

Problems in Relationships

In most relationship it is inevitable that at some point a confrontation will take place. At this crisis point it’s very important to approach the offending party prepared with the right attitude. If a confrontation is handled correctly, it can actually strengthen the relationship. If not, it can bring an abrupt, unhappy end to the relationship. In order for this not to happen, follow these six guidelines:

1> Bring in principle persons involved in the conflict. Experience has taught me that unless all persons involved come together, the whole story will never be pieced together accurately.

2> Line up the facts. Relying on hearsay evidence or “general impressions” will only invite emotion-laden rebuttals and, possibly, resentful counterattacks.

3> Never reprimand while angry. Make sure you are in control of your emotions. The angrier you are, the less objective you’ll be — and the less effective you will be in dealing with the problem or issue. It’s prudent to delay a confrontation until you’ve coolly asked yourself two questions: Could I have contributed to the problem? Were there mitigating circumstances I’m overlooking

4> Be precise about the offense. Let the person know exactly what the problem is. Don’t try to soften the blow by hemming and hawing or refusing to cough up the details. 

5> Get the other person’s side of the story. Always give the other person the chance to explain what happened and why they behaved as they did. There may be extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, you may even be a part of them. 

6> Don’t harbour a grudge. Once you have handled the issue, don’t carry around hostilities or unforgiveness. Let that person know you consider the problem a closed book and act accordingly.

 Our ultimate goal in dealing with relational problems should be to present the truth in such a way as to build and strengthen the relationship, not destroy it. Unfortunately, this cannot always be accomplished. If a relationship cannot stand an honest face-to-face encounter, then it probably is not a healthy relationship. In some cases, ending the relationship is the only solution, but this should be the last choice. 

A Look Inside Yourself

A Look Inside Yourself
Too often believers don’t take the time or make the space for personal reflection and self-examination. I call this taking a ‘spiritual inventory.’ It means actually scheduling the time to take a deep dive inside your own heart or spirit and being honest with yourself about the condition of your inner life. This is important for many reasons but especially because Jesus stated clearly that “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” And, the Bible teaches that your heart defines how you live and who you are. It is from the heart that life flows. This then plays a major influence on what you accomplish in life.
Over the years I have practiced taking a ‘spiritual inventory’ during the New Year’s break from my regular routine and again during my summer slowdown from ministry. And, I have collected a series of questions that enable me to focus on my inner life and take an honest look at the condition of that “life.” Let me share them with you.
1> Is my personal walk with God up to date?
This question should prompt a quick and positive answer. If not, you are getting too close to the edge, too close to trouble. Each day you need to be hearing the voice of the Lord for yourself. His Words are spirit and life (John 6:63) and without hearing directly from the Lord regularly then you are drifting and in danger (Hebrews 2:1). So, the question you should ask yourself (or have an accountability partner ask you) is:
“Do I have a word from the Lord for myself that is current and up-to-date?”
“What have I been learning recently in my time with the Lord?”
“What aspect of my life has the Lord been speaking to me about in the last few months?”

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Feeling Confident In Life

Have you ever noticed that some people simply stand out in a crowd? What is it about them that sets them apart and that draws them to your attention?
Their sense of direction — the assurance that they know where they are going?
Is it an awareness that they have certain abilities?
Maybe it’s because they have good people skills?
Is it their sincerity?
Their past successes?
Their ability to use eye contact and body language?
What do they have that draws people to them and that people appreciate, apparently feel comfortable around, and even want?
I believe it is “confidence!” Self-confidence carries a conviction, a strength, and it draws others to you. It allows you to stand out in a crowd. And, it helps people to feel comfortable around you. But most importantly, confidence allows you to feel comfortable and even relaxed around others. You know who you are. You understand your purpose at this stage in your life. You are good at what you do – having sharpened your talent and learned important skills. You feel strong and secure, self-confident. The result: you live with conviction and as a result others will feel comfortable around you.
A story I read back in September, 1989 goes like this:

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