10 Things I’ve Learned From Difficult People

By Steve Dunmire

When I first went into ministry, I was warned that, as a pastor, I would have to deal with difficult people. But I was not prepared for how venomous they could be at times.

I have been on the receiving end of vindictive anonymous letters, berating phone calls and accusing rants. I’ve watched too many difficult people literally storm out of the churches I have served (not to mention their passive aggressive behavior, sarcastic remarks, cutting jokes and backhanded compliments).

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But I’ve also learned a lot from difficult people. Here are a few of the lessons they have taught me:

1. Difficult People Have the Nerve to Say What Everyone Else is Thinking.

Sometimes (not always) difficult people are the people who say to your face what others will only mutter under their breath. They are sometimes the only ones who have the nerve to say what everyone else is thinking. Difficult people can be the pastoral equivalent of when a physician orders blood work for a patient: an efficient way to find out what is going on in the church’s bloodstream.

2. Difficult People Help Me Develop Thick Skin.

Dealing with difficult people is one of the most effective ways to develop the thick skin a pastor needs in order to be fit for ministry. There may be no other substitute. Dealing with difficult people is to our souls what weight training is to our bodies, so I have learned to love difficult people because they make me stronger.

3. Difficult People Reveal My Insecurities.

Difficult people force us to face up to our insecurities and our need to be liked. They force us to choose the need to be firm on some issues over our need for acceptance. Their criticism strikes at the lie that the Enemy has planted in our hearts: “This is who you really are, and all the nice things people say is just them being polite.”

Difficult people and critics in our lives can be like carnival mirrors who criticize an exaggerated and distorted version of ourselves. We recognize immediately that the distorted image is not who we are—and this can provide for us the opportunity to look at our lives and see ourselves as we really are.

4. Difficult People Make Me Clarify What I’m Doing.

Just as one out of tune string on a guitar can force us to retune all six strings, one difficult person in a church can prompt us to clarify everything we do. They force us to make things clearer and more precise because of their complaints and sometimes in anticipation of their complaints. In this way, difficult people make our ministry better because they force us to be clear and precise about what we want to do, and how we are going to do it.

5. Difficult People Show Me I Am Doing Something Right.

There is a common strand running through every major turning point of ministry, every breakthrough, every visible success, every time I could point to measurable results, or even every time I received some level of recognition. The common element in each of those things is the pestering presence of difficult people who opposed me every step along the way. I love people difficult people because they are one of the most reliable indicators I have been able to find to tell me that I am doing something right.

6. Difficult People Create Supporters.

A pastor needs meaningful friendships in order to endure. And in my case, some of my most meaningful partnerships and friendships in the ministry have been forged in response to the difficult people in a church. At times I have seen people become much more vocal supporters of me as a pastor because they have seen a critic’s harsh attack. I am grateful to have several significant friendships that were forged in direct response to difficult people.

7. Difficult People Make Me a Better Boss and a Better Subordinate.

Difficult people have helped me to see how important it is to recognize good work, applaud hard work and express appreciation. They also help me to see that not every opinion needs to be expressed. On the whole, I would like to believe that I am less critical of those who serve above me because of my experiences with difficult people.

8. Difficult People Drive Me To Prayer.

I wish this was not true, but it is. And if difficult people drive me to my knees in prayer, then I know they are a great gift. A.W. Tozer writes, “Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.” Difficult people drive me nuts, so they drive me to my knees in prayer, and that is one of the reasons I have learned to love them.

9. Difficult People Are Not an Obstacle to Conquer.

I once heard someone give a sermon about Eliab, David’s older brother, who burned with anger against David when he was asking the men about Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28). The pastor pointed out how David had to choose in that moment to press on to defeat Goliath, or stop to fight his critics.

Critics are neither an indicator of success nor failure, so I have chosen in advance to battle giants, not critics. I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is an option. I do not want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over his critics; I want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over giants.

10. I Am Someone’s Difficult Person.

I know I have been a difficult person in someone’s life. Sometimes I appear difficult to another person because of a disagreement, sometimes it is just because of a personality conflict, and sometimes it comes with being a person in leadership. But I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is a way I can do unto others what I would have them to do me.

Learning from difficult people and learning to love them is still a work in progress, but I hope that someday I’ll be able to truly love difficult people as God loves difficult me.

This article was originally posted at SteveDunmire.com.  Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/10-things-i%E2%80%99ve-learned-difficult-people#tUIcsOltP9IqbjMq.99

Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church

By Ashlee Holmes

It’s time to get serious about diversity in the body of Christ.

There’s a fine, gray-ish line between things in life that are nice and things that are absolutely necessary.

Cable TV and Wi-Fi access? Nice, but not necessary. No-chip manicure with shellac polish? Nice, but not necessary. My iPhone 5? Nice—and embarrassingly crucial to my sanity—but ultimately, not necessary.

There are plenty of choices we make on a daily basis that can be categorized as either nice or necessary, but what about when it comes to more weighty topics—like multiculturalism in the church, for instance?

First off, let’s talk about what multiculturalism is and is not. The dictionary talks about multiculturalism as being “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society.”

I like that word: preservation. To preserve means to keep alive or in existence, to keep safe from harm or injury, to maintain, to retain. So to only tolerate and blindly accept people of many colors (or to be multicolored) isn’t enough. A person’s culture and experience must be kept safe and alive. It must be threaded so flawlessly into the human tapestry that others start to learn and eventually grow from the truth of someone else’s identity.

Multiculturalism means inviting someone to be fully oneself, unapologetically, and actively celebrating the difference. “Multicolored” leaves gaps and disconnection. “Multicultural” builds bridges and elicits celebration.

Interestingly enough, my first bout of wrestling with the value of multiculturalism didn’t start in the church. It started the day a little girl in my after-school program innocently asked me if I took showers because my skin was so dark, and it continued the day a girl on my club track team asked me why I talked so “white.”

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So my wrestling with this value didn’t start in a community context at all; it started with me. Why was it puzzling to others that I was so different? What was so threatening—if anything—about my dark skin and dialect? I didn’t have answers to those questions at that time, but I knew I felt singled out and uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable being myself around my white friends, and I was uncomfortable being myself around my black friends. There was a huge, painfully daunting gap between me and people with whom I so desperately wanted to engage in friendship and community. I internally apologized for my uniqueness and decided to become whoever I needed to become in order to be accepted. The idea of fitting in, then, wasn’t just nice to me; it was necessary.

Anyone feeling out of place experiences some level of discomfort when they’re the “other.” What I realized later in life, however, was that discomfort was actually good for me. Not only was I forced to seek my true identity in Christ—an identity formed on much more than the color of my skin—but I also took inventory of the people I’d chosen to surround myself with, and the inventory was beautiful.

I realized my life was richer and more wonderfully complex because of others’ uniqueness and truth in which I’d chosen to engage. Over time, I resolved that sacrificing my comfort for the sake of that beautiful advantage wasn’t just nice; it was necessary to my walk with God and a deeper understanding of how His Kingdom worked.

I truly believe God feels the same way about His Church. A simple, yet profound display of this sentiment is found in the Gospel of Luke, when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross. Cyrene was a city in Libya, a country in Northern Africa. An African carried Jesus’ cross.

Not much is mentioned about Simon of Cyrene, but metaphorically, his being singled out and uncomfortable says something to me about the heart of God: that everyone—regardless of race or ethnicity—has a vital role to play in the Gospel story.

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another’s stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.

My hope for the Church is that congregations and communities become more challenged—more uncomfortable, even—in wrestling with the idea of welcoming not just color, but culture, and that expressions of worship, teaching, evangelism and discipleship would be influenced by multiculturalism so richly that Christ in all of His beauty may be known more fully by many.

 

Three Things Muslims Can Teach Christians About Prayer

By Sofya Shahab

Just because we believe differently doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention

I knew I would love Afghanistan before I even arrived. As a student of arts, it is easy to romanticize the Middle East, drawn to its exotic mysticism, history and culture.

My first nights in Kabul were spent sleeplessly listening to the helicopters passing overhead, wondering what was happening and where they were going. At 4 a.m., the city would receive its wakeup, every Mosque sounding out the call to prayer, rousing Afghans and expat alike.

In each country, the call to prayer is slightly different, and while Afghanistan is far from the worst, I certainly didn’t welcome the local Muezzin intruding on my sleep.

But it didn’t take long for my body to tune out the nightly chorus of Kabul, much as those living near railways learn to adjust to the noise of passing trains. Ten months later, I now appreciate the intrusion of prayer time throughout my day as I have realized how much there is to learn about my own faith from my Muslim colleagues.

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Christians and Muslims obviously have very different beliefs. As Christians, we need to be firm on that, and not compromise what we know to be true from the Bible. But there has to be a dedication to learning from our neighbor while holding true to our faith.

Think of Malala Yousafzai’s recent statements to Jon Stewart on the importance of turning the other cheek. Or of Eboo Patel’s tremendous work in the area of creating interfaith dialogue. These are Muslims who have lived out something that is beautifully true. And, as is often said, all truth is God’s truth.

In that interest, I’ve seen three things Christians can learn from Muslims about Prayer:

Discipline

A majority of the Christians I know will spend the first part of their day in morning devotions, rising perhaps 30 minutes before the rush to get ready begins in order to spend time with God. But I’m not sure I know many how would wake at dawn, no matter how early it falls, in order to pray.

To me, to get up with the sun each day demonstrates an uncontainable excitement for God. There are far too many mornings where it is all too easy to hit the snooze button and simply relegate God to later in the day.

Utilizing the call to prayer as a reminder to take time out and invest in a relationship with God teaches a discipline that can often be lacking. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you must stop in order to read, worship or reflect. It puts God at the center of your life and physically demonstrates that He is more important than any other concerns you may have as they come second to Him.

Reverence

Seeing the preparations for prayer that Muslims go through can change the way in which we approach God. Removing their shoes and washing their hands, face and feet; they are making themselves clean.

While the blood of Christ has already done that for us, it is a poignant reminder that our God is a Holy God who we should come before with reverence. He may be our Father who loves us, but that does not mean we should come before Him lightly.

One of the beautiful things about the cross is it has removed the barriers between us and God, so that we can raise our voice to Him, sharing our needs and joy whenever it strikes us. But maybe we should also picture who God truly is when we talk to Him. He is the God of Moses who said “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) And the God of Revelation 4, who shines out from His throne like precious stones.

Community

Praying five times a day, whether at the Mosque, in the office or in the home creates a sense of unity amongst Muslims, whether they are literally together or spread throughout the world.

I was raised in an evangelical Baptist church, so it was not until I came to Afghanistan that I first experienced the liturgy. I was surprised by how much I enjoy it.

One friend who has recently been working her way through The Divine Hours explained how praying a prayer that you know someone else somewhere else will be taking up after you feeds into a community that represents the true body of Christ, regardless of denomination or location, creating “a cascade of praise before the throne of God,” as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Divine Hours.

In some ways, it is easier to be a Christian in Afghanistan than it is in England. There is a value and worth placed on religion that is often dismissed within secular cultures. Although Christians and Muslims obviously disagree about a lot of aspects of who God is and how we relate to Him, there is much we can learn from each other.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/3-things-muslims-can-teach-christians-about-prayer

Who are You, and Why are You Here?

By Dan Miller

What Will You Do With Your Blank Canvas?

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When I was 13 years old, I painted a horse head with a paint-by-numbers layout.  I thought it was pretty good, but now that I’ve seen some real masterpieces, I realize it was pretty amateurish.  The paint was clumpy where I tried to stay inside the identified lines.  It didn’t look real; it just looked like I did a good job of painting.

My wife, Joanne, on the other hand, has drawn some amazing pieces – always starting with a blank canvas and then allowing her imagination to direct her brush or pencil.

I realize now that life’s opportunities are presented to us in much the same way.  If we paint by the numbers (take the first job, buy a certain kind of car, take two weeks’ vacation every year), we will see predictable results.  You know what it’s going to be – and it might be good – but it will never be amazing to you or anyone else.

The only way to get a masterpiece is to start with a blank canvas.  Of course, a blank canvas means you could end up with a disaster you decide to throw away.  But the next one may be the masterpiece that makes the world remember you.

While you may think this is about willingness to take risks or that it’s a reflection of personality style, I think it’s more about dreaming, imagining, and taking action.  And this is not just a business or career question; it’s more a question of the kind of life you want to live.

Think of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Bono, Oprah, Rick Warren, Howard Schultz or Billy Graham.  Their personality styles cover the entire range of possibilities, and we would not consider them risk-takers in the sense of being people who’d go bungee jumping or hang gliding.  All of them had big dreams, started with a blank canvas and then took action to create their unique masterpieces. 

Success is never an accident.  It typically starts as imagination, becomes a dream, stimulates a goal and grows into a plan of action – which then meets with opportunity.

You get to choose what you’re creating of your life.  What will it turn out to be?

This article was originally posted at: Relevant Magazine

8 Things I’ve learned About Overcoming Porn Addiction – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

  1. Accountability is More Than Just Once a Week

There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week and approximately 720 hours in a month. Do we really think that sitting across from someone for 1-2 hours out of 168 and 4-8 hours out of 720 should be called effective accountability? No, it shouldn’t.

Accountability frequently just turns into a checklist of how you have or have not messed up. Real community is more intentional, and more natural. Have a group of friends that you’re living life with—who are much more to you than just a sin prevention mechanism.

If pornography is a part of your life, you need to find a few people that can help fill up some of those hours with genuine friendship—the benefits will be far greater than just kicking your pornography habit. And If you aren’t addicted to porn, you need to be one of those people who is there for someone who is.

  1. Don’t Let Your Guard Down

I sat across from a friend who told me that he had looked at pornography after about 30 days of not looking at it. When I asked him why he did that, he said that he began to celebrate the victory and let his guard down.

I have more “roadblocks” today than ever before. I can say that I have no desire to look at pornography anymore, but I’m not going to test that knowledge by becoming lazy.

On a similar note, nothing good happens late at night. Staying up late when there is no reason to do so can lead to all kinds of garbage. Just go to bed.

  1. If You’re Free, Shout It From the Mountain Tops.

If you are free from pornography, listen to me: you need to tell people.

I had a guy sit across from me bawling his eyes out while telling me he had never met anyone other than me who was free from addiction to pornography. It broke my heart, not because I thought that was true, but because even the free are being quiet. You hold hope for so many. Help them.

  1. Freedom is Yours. Claim It.

In my reflections on this, I’ve thought many times about Jesus’ work on earth. He lived, died and rose from the dead. I am free from the law of sin and death because of that. I am free.

I discovered that I fought and kicked and clawed and begged for what I possessed all along: Freedom. You have every tool you need to overcome this when you have Jesus. You just have to walk that freedom out, and let others help you along that path.

This article was originally posted at: https://relevantmagazine.com

8 Things I’ve learned About Overcoming Porn Addiction – Part 1 of 2

This article was originally posted at Relevant Magazine.

When I was barely in double digits, I was introduced to pornography by a friend.

As intriguing as it was, I knew it wasn’t right. What I didn’t know though was that I would choose to walk down a road that saw me addicted to that nonsense for over 15 years.

I spent money on my addiction. I lost relationships because of my addiction. I became numb toward God because of my addiction. I reached a point in life where I had literally spent more of my life addicted to porn than not.

Talking about porn, even freedom from it, makes people, especially Christians, uncomfortable. We can be pretty hush-hush on the subject. We don’t like to talk about the problem itself, or, curiously, even that some are free from it. Some don’t want to talk about the “why?” when it comes to addiction or freedom. I do.

In November of 2013, I celebrated 6 years “sober” from pornography. Here are eight things I have learned along the way:

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  1. A “Little Problem” is Still a Problem

Don’t fool yourself.

Don’t Fool Yourself. If you look at porn, you have a problem with porn.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people I talk to who think that if you don’t view porn frequently, it means you don’t have a problem. You may not have as big as a problem as someone else, but comparison is a dangerous game.

A little bit is the foundation for a lot. You have to stop before it becomes a bigger problem. Think if someone said to you, “But, I mean, you know, I just did a little bit of heroin this week!” Yes, you sound that ridiculous.

  1. The Blind Can’t Lead the Blind

If you were starting a business, would you go to someone who had little to no experience in business to ask advice on how to get started? Of course not.

The power of community is valuable, and there’s something healing about a finding solidarity with people going through the same struggles as you. That’s all well and good.

However, the blind can’t lead the blind. It’s like a bunch of blindfolded people in a jail cell with an open door stumbling around together hoping to fall through the opening. Funny mental picture. Poor usage of time.

But one thing that we don’t often consider is finding someone who isn’t addicted anymore and asking them how they found freedom. This is a different kind of community and confession than we might be used to—but it might also bear a different kind of fruit.

  1. Fantasy Doesn’t Make Reality Go Away

I found that I had a lot of wars between fantasy and reality. The crazy thing is that when you are done with fantasy, reality is always sitting there waiting for you when you come home.

Just like with any other addiction, if you look at porn in order to cope with stress, or because you are dissatisfied with life in some way, you aren’t actually solving the problem, you’re compounding it.

  1. Marriage Won’t ‘Cure’ You

It just won’t. Most people’s problem is not the lack of sex. As a matter of fact, you will probably have to “unlearn” desires that you take into the marriage bed because of your addiction.

Marriage may mask the problem for a while, but I haven’t met a person yet that was addicted to porn before marriage, and never looked at it again after saying, “I do.” If you don’t get help before you enter into marriage, you will only end up hurting yourself and your spouse more.

This article will continue in the next post.

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us subconsciously believe God gives us commandments to force us into a stiff, single-file line. This lie makes God seem like an angry referee obsessed with rigid rules and regulations, as if He bitterly paces back and forth in heaven, waving a red flag and trying to control our every word and step. Who would want to obey a god like that?

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The reality is that God is much more like a loving father trying to keep his children from running into traffic. The more we learn to submit to His commandments, the more we see they are not burdensome rules but rather signposts pointing toward the path of true joy, life and peace. For instance, I always thought King David sounded a bit crazy in Psalm 19 when he said the rules of God are “sweeter than the drippings of the honey comb,” but when I compare the peace of submission to the emptiness of sin, I know he was right.

We may think independence is what we want, but it comes with a hidden cost.

Speaking to an atheist who asked about the difference between heaven and hell, renowned author and pastor Tim Keller once said, “Nobody ever goes to hell unless they want to. People go to hell because they want to be away from a god who will tell them what to do. People in hell would say, ‘It’s pretty miserable here, but I would never want to be in heaven with God, where He is telling people what to do.’”

Our culture tells us true freedom comes in following our desires wherever they lead us. While this sounds nice and provides the plot for most romantic comedies, reality reveals why this is false. For example, I have a number of friends who have overcome extreme substance abuse. When one of my friends recounted his past addiction to pain killers to me, he said, “I had become a complete slave to pills. My desires were killing me.” In many ways, unrestrained pride, lust, greed, fear, control, jealousy and anger have the same effect.

Defiance of God’s commandments may give us a fleeting sense of power and independence, but this actually reveals our weakness and constant need for grace. We have to have the humility to acknowledge our own faults and the trust to follow God’s commands, even when they run contrary to our personal desires. Because something better is on the other side. God offers us abundant life, the fullness of freedom and more love than our minds have the capacity to comprehend.

If we ever hope to experience these things, we have to do the most countercultural, rebellious thing imaginable within our culture: submit to a truth deeper than ourselves.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/most-offensive-word-america