"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!

The "Microwave" Ministry

Slowly

The word has little relevance any more. We live in a fast-food society in the Western and pseudo-Western cultures of the world. Everything needs to be instant.

I lamented in a post several years ago (I can’t find the item now, but will link in comments if I do) about an experience I had at a drive-thru McDonalds where in complete earnest the young cashier apologised that I would have to wait “about a minute” for my food.

A minute. For this I got an apology. More recently I was offered a free drink because my order would be five minutes – and that was in a sit-in branch.

We are a people obsessed with instant gratification.

And it’s hit the Church as well. No sooner has someone converted than they are made a leader. And we wonder why so many churches are in crisis.

There is a brandy I read of where a whole pear in contained inside the botpomme_prisonniere_800x600no_boxtle. “Pomme Prisonniere” is expensive, last I saw it was about £100 a bottle so too rich for my pocket, but what struck me was the time and patience it takes to make.

The pear is selected just after the fruit sets. A bottle placed over the new fruit and secured in place. Then the fruit is nurtured carefully and allowed to grow to ripeness inside the bottle. At the time the fruit is ripe it is carefully cut from the tree, the bottle filled with good quality brandy, corked and prepared for distribution.

Aside from the time it takes to distil a fine brandy, the producers add months to the process by waiting for a pear to mature. Producers can lose 30% or more of their crop because the fruit may drop before it ripens or a contaminating agent manages to get into the bottle. Most places that produce this fine liqueur don’t produce much as a result, so the final product is justifiably high-priced.

Imagine the producer wants to make it for sale next week. It’s not possible.

I am privileged to live in a country that, while it seeks to be “Western” in its style, is still very much a developing country. South Africa’s neighbour to the North West, Namibia, is even more left in the past in many ways.

This, in many ways, is a good thing. Age is respected for the wisdom it brings. Character in the small communities is more important than personality. Sadly this isn’t reflected in the political scene in South Africa as the population 25 years after Apartheid is still stuck with a minority elite who hold the money and power, except now they are ethnically black instead of white, and the poverty the majority live in is in stark contrast to the opulence of the fat-cats at the top who feed off them.

I knew a man who worked for a company in Namibia that sold microwave ovens. He was sent to find out why in the smaller towns their stores hardly sold any. His quest returned with the simple answer in the form of a question: “Why do I need a microwave? I have my fire!”

Much cooking in this part of the world is done slowly in a black iron pot over a fire. Not much use for a microwave. I’ve come to appreciate this, and when I go on holiday I look for self-catering places that have a fireplace and iron pots available. The richness of a stew that has been allowed to cook for hours over a slow fire is something I’d never experienced in England, and something should I ever go back that I will continue to do myself.

Mutton has a deeper, richer flavour than lamb. But it takes longer to cook or it is tough. But it’s worth the wait because the meal is richer for the maturity.

So we look at the Church.

Jesus didn’t call the disciples on Monday and send them out on Tuesday. They walked and Jesus Israellived with Him for at least 3 years before the Crucifixion. I looked at a map of the Holy Land recently and realised just how much time they must have spent walking. Jesus’s ministry took Him from the far North to the far South of Israel.

We know He spoke of Tyre and Sidon in the far North of the country, and ministered around Galilee and South to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

That’s a long way to walk. The disciples weren’t marathon runners. A journey on foot of a hundred miles would take days at best, and the group travelled extensively.

Time consuming.

But Jesus probably didn’t walk in silence. He would have been talking and teaching the disciples the entire time. So much that the Gospels don’t directly record in detail because there would be so much to write down.

After Paul’s conversion he goes to be taught of Jesus for several years before he began his missionary journeys. If you’re determined, you can read all four Gospels in a day. But to truly know them takes a lifetime.

By the time I was 11 I knew the basic highlights of Jesus’s life, David and Goliath, Jericho’s walls, Daniel in the lions’ den etc, but I was no way ready to lead a church. In my 20s I sat as a member of the parish council in the church I attended. More prepared, but really I think looking back I was too young and headstrong. I offended many people, and was offended by them during my time in leadership there.

As I got older, my fire was tempered and became controlled. The result was the ability to preach effectively and not alienate people. Now I’m in my 40s and my fire is more explosive again, but with a different outlet – this one – for the words I’ve spent the last 30 years learning and fully expect to still be learning for decades to come.

My ministry of words has taken three decades to reach this point. I have much respect for those who have been able to learn the original languages of the Bible as it’s something I’ve never been able to do. Languages in my own alphabet are not something I’ve been able to master. Ancient Greek and Hebrew alphabets and their associated sounds have thus far been beyond me. But thankfully I have access to dozens of translations that I use to reference my learning. But it’s taken 30 years to appreciate that it takes 30 years.

There is a need for “relevance” in society that is a red herring in Christianity. Jesus talked of fishing and tax collectors and shepherds because his audience was made up of fishermen, tax collectors and shepherds as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked down on them. But His stories are still relevant today.

I lost R100 (about $8) a few weeks ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a country where many earn less than R5000 ($400) in a month, and some even less than half that, it’s a lot of money. I turned out every pocket of every item of clothing I’d worn that week. I looked in every bag and under every chair at home and in the office. Eventually I found it fallen under the seat in the car, crumpled up and looking like a till receipt ready to be thrown away. Nobody can tell me the story of the lost coin has no relevance today.

A few years ago my dogs escaped when someone broke open the gate to my home. I spent hours going through the local township opposite my house looking for them. One came home on her own, one was hit by a van and spent time recovering – several weeks. His father sat guard over his broken body in the road and refused to leave him. Finally I found his sister far away from home, put her in the car and took her home. Don’t tell me the lost sheep isn’t relevant.

This country is paranoid about immigrants. At times it makes Donald Trump look tolerant (not often, but sometimes). Xenophobia, racism, sexism are part of daily life here. As an immigrant I regularly encounter it. I live daily as a member of a racial minority where the law is stacked in favour of the majority – at least theoretically.

The leaders need maturity, especially the Church. The necessary wisdom to be a moral compass can only come with time spent in the trenches of the Church. It’s impossible to be a good leader until you know how to follow.

This is obvious to most. But it gets overlooked because an individual is popular and they are promoted to positions of power they are simply not equipped to handle. bc346-sheepThe result is disastrous for followers. They produce borderline heretical teachings (both sides of the border) and like sheep the people follow, assuming that their “leader” knows what he’s talking about because they know the face.

It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t yet matured to impart maturity to others. Look at the secular dictators and pseudo-dictators “elected” in the last century, as well as the “popular” choices being offered come November in America. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Peron, Mussolini, Mugabe and so many others were swept into power on a surge of popular opinion and given positions no sane people would offer such tyrants if they understood the facts. But their nations were so indoctrinated by fear that they let themselves be led into wars by these men because they were blinded by the rhetoric they spouted. They could all have been truly great leaders if they had been able to follow before they were handed power. Instead they had power get them drunk and paranoid.

6d3b6-shepherd-leading-sheepWhat we need in the Church now are real shepherds. Men and women who have sat and learned from experienced leaders from the past and have a sound foundation and understanding to build on. So many “mega-church” congregations have recently hit trouble because they were built on the personality of their founder instead of the teaching of Christ. The need is perhaps greater now than ever before for maturity in leadership. The strength to stand against popular secular opinion unflinchingly, teaching the Truth of the Gospel rather than pandering to popular opinion.

There’s a reason the Bible says God is unchanging.

It’s because man’s opinion isn’t.

Anyone who’s ever led a group in business knows the danger of “Group-think”. It’s the phenomenon where the group simply accepts without question what everyone in that group says simply because they are in that group. Cults are born when that happens in Church. Heretical teaching leads people away from God by simply not challenging one another. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. It seems impossible to stop and inevitable that it will happen.

The church I was a member of in Torquay a few years ago had wisdom over it. The individual home-groups were regularly shaken up, members moved around and the result was a solid foundation in a young church. In 3 years I was a member of about 7 cell groups. The shake-up was initially an irritation for me. I wanted stability as my dad had recently died and my world was a mess. It’s only looking back that I realise the changing was what kept me stable and gave me the strength to walk out of depression that almost killed me. Different people at different times in those 3 years spoke words into my life that guided my recovery, something I didn’t see at the time.

But everything hinges on maturity.

My wife tells me to not “druk die vrugte ryp“, or try to force the fruit to ripen. You can’t make the pear in the bottle ripen faster by poking it to make it soft. All you do is end up with rotten fruit.

Spiritually we try to microwave our ministry too often. Granted sometimes we miss the season by waiting, but seasons change and the chance comes round again because God’s promises are without repentance. It took me 20 years to do more than think about Eagle’s Wing Ministries, despite having the chance in the late 90s to step out and create an organisation. I was too afraid, partly, that I lacked the maturity needed to do what I’m doing now. I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about following to be able to lead.

Looking back, I think in some ways I was more equipped then than now to do this. I had a larger support system, more friends – real friends, not acquaintances – who were prepared to call me out if I was wrong, and financially in a significantly stronger place. Today I can count my real friends on one hand, and I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like to. I rely on email and phone calls to keep me strong and on-track.

But I know more about following now than I did then.

I hope age is giving me maturity.

A People Afraid

Fear plays a huge part in life today. It always has in some way or another.

But there’s a new wave now, more alarming than at any time in my life.

Instead of selecting leaders based on their strength of character and courage, we have begun to select them based on their fear-based rhetoric.

Cowardice has become the order of the day. Men and women elected because they personally are terrified of everything.

Oh, they won’t admit it. They claim their position on immigration or terrorism or gun control is coming from their place of strength, but the truth is they are afraid, and they reach out to others who they can build that same fear in.

Fearful leaders are inevitably tyrannical in their rule. Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Saddam Hussain in Iraq, Idi Amin, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Putin, and the most obvious one of all, Adolf Hitler:

Martin Niemoller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemoller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.

Fearless Chapter 1: “Why Are We Afraid” by Max Lucado

It takes a special kind of person to be so consumed with fear that they can infect an entire nation with it. But it takes special circumstances for that country to be so gullible that they fall for it.

Someone posted on Facebook a few months ago, just after Donald Trump had made his first comments about watching Mosques, registering Muslims and stopping Mexican illegal immigrants, a picture of a bowl of M&Ms. The bowl was huge, the caption read “There are 100,000 chocolates in this bowl. 10 of them will kill you if you eat them. How many will you eat?”

Fearmongering at it’s basest level.Ten out of 100,000. The storyline below went on to say how the refugees were being infiltrated by ISIS terrorists and how as a result none of them could be trusted etc, etc.

And people bought into it.

Christians bought into it.

A Spirit of Fear has gripped the world in a way not seen in 80 years. And it’s tearing the world apart.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

9/11 set in motion a chain of events that has caused the creation of enemies far more deadly than Saddam ever was. George W and Tony Blair flat out lied about the reasons for going into the Gulf War. Thousands of young soldiers on both sides were killed or mutilated as a result. Both men had no military experience personally, something the leaders in the Second World War all had. Perhaps as a result fear was a factor in the decision to go to war. The need to appear strong and decisive in the face of the attack has haunted the globe since.

This week saw a horrific event in Nice, France. Another mass murder by a man it is said was a “radical Islamist”. The events in Europe are increasing, as is the level of fear reported. The Brexit victory was driven by scaremongers who after they won vanished so quickly it was more scary than their win. Apparently they had not considered the possibility of victory, and what to do with it. They just spouted fear-filled rhetoric.

Donald Trump talks of building a wall on the border with Mexico and banning all Muslims from entering the USA. Pure fear talking, but the terrified people respond to it. Recently there have been reports of African-American men being told to “go back to Africa” by whites, who apparently have no clue about why the Black population went to America in the first place – they are simply afraid.

I live in South Africa, a country well known for violence. Prison of FearI’m white, my wife isn’t. After the end of Apartheid legalised interracial marriage – a fear-based ban by a terrified minority – it looked like things would be ok. Fast forward from 1994 to 2016 and I get strange looks from people when I walk with my wife. I generally ignore them.

But Government in South Africa since Mandela has become corrupted by fearful men. Policies have become law that prevent non-Blacks from getting top jobs, or sometimes any job. Instead of investing in the education of the masses the terrified politicians have lined their own pockets and tried to protect their fortunes. The result is increasing crime, unemployment and poverty.

All because of fear.

But the Bible says:

 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15)

The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in some form or other hundreds of times in Scripture. I was once told the count is 365 – once for each day of the year – but I have never counted myself. It does seem to come up a lot though.

The early Church feared the Freedom they had been given Spiritually. Some of them made a return to old sacrificial offerings, others began to insist new converts be circumcised – something that might drive men away from the faith! Paul writes in several of his letters reminding his readers that the Law of the Old Covenant has now been replaced by the Law of Faith in Jesus, and lived his life with no fear of man.

Through the centuries there have been thousands of Christians martyred for their faith. They lived with no fear of men or Man’s laws because they are free in their Spirit. It’s the 21st Century now, and still Christians are persecuted across the world. It takes many forms, from beheadings in the Middle-East to ridicule in the West. Anything that seeks to silence our voice for Christ is persecution.

But the truly fearful people are the ones who seek to silence us, and the ones who allow their voice to be silenced. When Paul was told he would be imprisoned if he refused to stop talking about Jesus, he kept talking. The result was that he then ended up teaching the prison guards about Jesus. Everywhere he went, in every circumstance, Paul talked about his friend, Jesus, who knocked him off his donkey and forgave him for everything.

We need to be the same. Especially in a climate of fear such as we have today.

We are called to be Peacemakers.

Not cowards.