"Constructive" Criticism

Criticise all you want. There’s definitely change in the air.

But, as many have noted before, change for the sake of change is pointless.

Take the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. Trump is starting to dismantle it without having anything to replace it with – which he kind of admits. His own fanbase in the voting pool has just realised that they no longer have health cover because they’re too old to be on their parent’s now they are at university.

oops…

But the Donald can’t take it when he’s crossed. I’ve never seen such a thin-skinned US president. Even when the comment is supposed to help him get back on the right path. Like firing the AG, not really because of the criticism, but so he could put in another “Yes” man.

OK, this is a Christian blog. What does this have to do with Christ?

Actually, a lot.

Like it or not – and most believers I’ve spoken to don’t – Trump is president. Some voted for him and regret it, some voted Clinton, and some didn’t vote because they thought it was a slam dunk for Clinton – so why bother.

I don’t believe (as I’ve said before) that either candidate was suitable. I was horrified to see the list of famous preachers lining up to kiss Trump’s ring – some people I had expected, but one or two that truly worried me.

Not being American, I didn’t get a say in who the individual charged with “leading” the “free world” would be last November. Honestly, I wouldn’t have voted for either of them. But there was one thing that alarmed me most about both, but Donnie in particular: their complete unrepentant attitudes.

Neither could take criticism, both tried to pass the buck. And that’s not a suitable attribute for any president, especially one (as both do) that professes to be a Christian.

And that’s the point.19b87-grindstone

“As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]”

Proverbs 27:17 Amplified

Discussion involves criticism. It requires honing the individual, just as honing a blade sharpens it.

I usually have a knife in my pocket. I know a bit of first-aid and it’s a useful tool to carry. Yesterday I found a paramedic whose car had broken down outside our office. All he needed was a knife or pliers. I leant him my knife and he tried to use it to cut a steel cable.

Now I keep the blade sharp, but not that sharp! After it inevitably failed to cut through the cable, he returned it. The first thing I did when I got inside was to sharpen it.

Why?

It was so dull after trying to cut the cable that I couldn’t have cut butter with it. I keep it sharp to be able to cut a bandage, or wadding, or (on myself twice in the past) even open a smaller wound to allow cleaning it properly. In the field, a blunt blade is useless.

But here’s the thing: you have to wipe the blade after you sharpen it, because (if you did it right) there is now metal dust on the blade – not something you want to get in a wound.

I use a ceramic sharpener, so the metal can only be from the knife. When I sharpen the carving knife before a meal it’s the same. To sharpen it, you must remove the dull part.

We are supposed to take the rough edges off through truly constructive criticism. But we have to be tough enough to take it.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to criticise. His followers weren’t afraid to let Him.

Peter wasn’t offended when Jesus called him out for rebuking Him over his path to the Cross – “But turning around [with His back to Peter] and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan; for your mind is not set on God’s will or His values and purposes, but on what pleases man.”” (Mark 8:33 AMP)

These days, feeding the 5000 might actually look like this:

5000 modern issues

But Jesus would never have stood for it! Jesus was not subtle. He didn’t beat around the bush. He called things exactly how He saw them.

If that sounds eerily familiar, it should. Donnie said that’s what he does.

But the big difference is he can’t take it when someone does it to him.

As Christians, we are the real leaders of the world. Salt and light. But to be effective, we must be sharp. So we must avoid being loners. Stay around other people who are real believers. Not who believe in God, but as I have said in previous posts, people who believe God.

If we truly believe Him, we won’t mind when He sharpens us through others.

So we need to learn humility. Accept constructive criticism.

Believe God.

Trust Him.

Act like you do once you truly do…

And together we can change the world.

Together. Not alone. Not “only me”.

This isn’t “Highlander” – “There can be only one” in the real world needs to be referring to Jesus, not ourselves.

Let’s step out together with Jesus.

The World won’t know what hit it!

Everything has a Context…

“I am a rock,
I am an island.”

I am a Rock; Paul Simon 1965

I’ve had this song stuck  in my head for a couple of days now. I like Simon & Garfunkel. Their songs often reflect where I am. Billy Joel is another favourite of mine, in fact I’m fairly sure his “Innocent Man” album was written specifically about my life at that point!

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts recently. My focus, which with ADD isn’t great to start with, has been off. Physically I’ve been in pain for longer than I can remember and it’s getting worse, my psychologist had to postpone my appointment with him for this coming week (I see this guy because he’s also got Bible Study qualifications – my experience with non-Christian psychologists has been less than great and very expensive) and my ability to help the people I care about as an individual is compromised because of all of the preceding factors.

BUT…

Things are changing. Finally.

Despite the best efforts of my family I’ve felt very isolated the last few years. As a group we’ve had some major issues to deal with, which are not my testimony to share, and as an individual I’ve had to deal with an altered reality after finding the context of my early life changed by initially one, now two medical discoveries: ADD being the first, and a diagnosis of Schoemann’s Disease – a condition where the vertebrae in the thoracic part of my spine are not “normal” leading to chronic back pain – being the second, and I only found out about that a month ago. It changed the context of my life – again – and I’m dealing with the change that means for me, and my perspective of who I am and have been for 44 years.

“Have you considered my servant Job?” asks God several times in Job. Satan takes his family, influences the “helpful” comments of his wife and friends, bankrupts him and finally is given leave to attack his body as long as he does not actually kill the man of God.

Job refuses to curse God or blame Him for his current situation, no matter how bad it gets. He can’t see it, but somehow he recognises there is another perspective to what he’s experiencing and God will be faithful if he remains true to his God.

So true he remains.

And God restores him with more than he’d originally lost.

Job realises his life is part of a context he can’t quite see.

Now I said things are rough. I’m not Job, but I can see how the guy could be tempted to quit. Isolation is not a good thing. Job’s friends and his wife left him feeling isolated, marooned on his own private island of contemplation.

That’s the part where I identify. 17 years ago at this tie of 1999 I was facing the imminent death of my dad from cancer. We knew it was coming, the tumour in his brain could not be completely removed because – as I understand it – a glioblastoma sets “roots” into surrounding tissue. Brain tissue. The tumour they removed was the size of a grapefruit. For a while dad’s personality returned, but there was damage. He lost his sense of balance and had to use a wheelchair or walking sticks to he didn’t fall over. I had made a mistake that had undone my faith to see him healed: I had asked the doctor straight out if the tumour would kill him. Rookie mistake. We place weight on the words spoken by experts, and when the answer came back “yes”, my ability to pray without doubt for healing was shattered and I didn’t have enough time for it to recover before he died.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I felt alone then, despite my mum’s best efforts. I realise now she needed me to need her so she wasn’t alone, but I was broken badly and couldn’t get past it.

In many ways I feel similarly broken at the moment. Lots of people are reaching out to help, but I seem to be unable to express what I really need – probably because I’m not 100% sure. I want them to be around and help me with what I’m going through, but at the same time I want them to butt out and leave me alone to do things my own way. The two are mutually exclusive.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

But things are changing. My time as an island is drawing to a close, finally.

Our regular receptionist is on leave this week so we have another lady filling in. I find it easier to relax with our stand-in for some reason I have yet to figure out. My wife is going to be in doing more hours, which I’m nervous about but is a good thing in the long run. We have a lady starting this week who I’m training to take over the part of the job I can no longer do. Exciting times.

We live in an isolated world today.

Growing up, “social networking” meant having my best mate over to play “Elite” on my computer, a few of us getting together to go for a walk, cycling to the local reservoir or just to hang out and talk. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, and my current SIM card has more memory than my computer did then.

Simpler times. And harder to be isolated in. We were there – physically – for one another. When my brother died I was with a good friend. I spent the next few days in the company of him and a handful of other real friends, not “virtual” ones.

I wasn’t an island. I couldn’t be. At a party I’d be the guy sitting in the corner making small-talk with the potted fern, sure, but in real-life when the ones tormenting me were split off from the group I was also the go-to guy for real advice. And I had go-to friends when I needed advice as well.

There’s a place here in South Africa I love to visit, although it’s been a couple of years since I was able to. Jongensgat has 2 timber cottages that have electricity and running water but no phone. No TV or internet either. My cell-phone gets no reception there.

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View from Jongensgat cottage

When you go with a few people you have no option but to interact. There’s no sense of urgency. Whilst there is a kitchen, cooking is done over a slow fire by the door in a potjie – a cast-iron pot that resembles a small cauldron – and the stews it creates take several hours to cook, so you settle down with a glass of wine, scotch (or two), cider or beer and talk. It’s a great way to be.

You get to really know people after a few days in that environment. The artificial barriers we put up as social norms begin to come down and we rediscover we were meant for fellowship. God was right when He said it is not good for man to be alone. Alone we kind of find new and improved ways of screwing up – not that it is possible to underestimate the impact of large groups of stupid people.

But to be able to unplug with people you care about and remind yourself why you care about them is very important.

Even Jesus had friends. He spent over 3 years walking around the countryside with 12 guys, talking, joking, eating, sleeping and praying together. And that’s just the time we know about from the Gospels. He was over 30 when executed, so some of those guys He’d probably known for some time. He was God, but He was human too – and humans are designed to function around other humans. His nature as God could not escape the fact that as Man, Jesus had needs. He needed rest, sleep, companionship. Maslow’s hierarchy would apply to Jesus just as much as it does to you and me.

Yes, Jesus drew away from time to time to be alone. We all need to do that sometimes, but He came back because as a man He was designed to need company of humans – and God designed humans to be His friends, not automatons mindlessly worshipping Him. Before the Fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the evening as a friend. God wanted to get that back, so He dressed Himself in Jesus’ body and became that He wanted to be reconciled with.

God didn’t want to be an island. He didn’t design man to be either.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

We’re not islands. Our lives have a context within the life-stories of those we are around.

My dearest friend is a young woman I met a few years ago. She was my boss at the company I was working for at the time, brought in from another city. I miss her company dreadfully because other than my wife, she’s the only friend I’ve had in over 20 years who makes me forget to check my phone every five minutes. The truest friend I’ve made in many years. One of her poems is an entry on this blog, “If I Give Up Now”, and is a post I frequently re-read myself. Please have a look as I know it will Bless you in ways you won’t realise unless you read it!

I’m not afraid to have female friends. It’s part of not being an island for me. Billy Graham made a point of never being alone with a woman so he could never be accused of improper conduct. There’s wisdom in that, but sometimes the softer nature or stronger nature of the opposite gender is exactly what we need. If the only waves to strike shore were stormy the coastline would be destroyed in no time. Similarly if all the waves ever did was to lap gently on the rocks there would never be any change. Nature needs soft and hard impressions, so do our spirits. That’s why God made men and women different from one another. A woman’s strength is often hidden in softness, a man’s softness hidden by strength.

Things happen in life. During the last 30 or so years in mine I’ve seen new lives enter the world, held the hands of the dying, attempted suicide, buried over 20 family members – some of whom I’m now older than – made and lost friends, loved and been loved.

I’ve also isolated myself and allowed myself to be brought back in by the ones who love me.

I’ve learned that while I can be an island, this life is so much better if it’s shared.

 

Island