"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 Safest Road

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”

CS Lewis: The Screwtape Letters Ch 12

I’ve walked a fairly “safe” road the last few years spiritually. If you’ve read much of this blog, that may be a surprise to you as my writing tends to be from my heart but my actions in my daily walk get diluted by the issues of a daily battle, complicated by studying, working, married life and so on.

We all suffer these distractions if we are not careful. I lost sight of how blinkered I’d become until recently when my wife and I were forced to take several major steps of Faith. We made them tentatively at first, leaving the flat where we had been living for a year to move back in with my mum and finally making the decision to finally and definitely move to England as soon as possible. Within a few days of the final hard decision being made, and me declaring that “No matter what, we will move to England in the next three months”, my wife was contacted by a new agency, had an interview with a company she had previously been introduced to by another agency and rejected by, and offered a permanent job in Somerset to begin as soon as possible. The interview was last Thursday, the offer made on Friday morning, just nine hours later. We went out to dinner to celebrate Friday night and…

I was admitted to hospital on Saturday morning with a mystery infection in my foot that isn’t responding to prayer (first rebuttal attack as always), oral antibiotics, steroids or any other medications. My sugar control shot to pieces and so now I write from a hospital bed, not feeling even slightly ill, but told it could be quite serious. The phrase “e-coli” has even been thrown around this morning!

All I can do is laugh! I think it’s getting to my fellow inmates, but it’s nice to be the most positive voice in the room. I have things in common with everyone, some of which I can share – a love of motorbikes, a dislike of crashing motorbikes, quality and portion sizes of hospital food and how hard it is to sleep in hospital – and some of which I have been told in confidence, and I will not break that.

Something that has been hard for me in the last 24 hours has been to sit still. I don’t have much of an option here, but with my head racing at a billion miles an hour being forced to sit still is not a bad thing. I chatted to David, the chap in the bed opposite me, for a while this morning. Neither of us slept much last night but I found myself suddenly sharing a part of my testimony I’ve not spoken out loud in over ten years with him. I don’t expect to see a harvest personally, but it felt like planting a seed for the first time in years. I’ll leave it to God what happens next for him, but for me I found a sudden peace and stillness I’ve missed for years. Then I decided to open my Christmas Present to myself – a book of devotionals called “Knowing the Heart of God” by John Eldredge. Today’s passage was 1 Samuel 3:9 “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.

Apparently God has a sense of humour – but I’ve thought this for 30 years.

There is much to do before I can move to England. Our dogs must be quarantined for rabies and housed in suitable kennels for the duration. I feel dreadful leaving them for so long, but the upside will be having them with us or their twilight years as they are both over ten now, so for big dogs they are ageing now.

dsc00031Their father, Cadbury, died of cancer as a young dog, but their mum, Beamer, only passed a few months ago at the age oIMG_20160531_154122f 12.

Losing her was a shock for us, the picture to the right was only taken a few weeks before she died and she was still very much herself, just a loss of appetite. It turned out that was caused by liver cancer and she would have only had a few weeks left and they would have been very painful. Having watched Cadbury deteriorate over three weeks from cancer a few years ago we elected to not let her suffer.

What does this have to do with a safe road though?

Basically, we were tempted to take the easy road.

A week ago I was offered a small business in South Africa for no financial investment. A friend’s father has decided to stop his gardening business and I was offered the use, for a profit share, of: the pickup, several top-of-the-line weed-eaters (strimmers) and petrol run gardening tools as well as a generator and some electrical equipment. I have some experience from a few years ago in building and garden maintenance and the thought of a ready-made business is beyond enticing at a time when a white foreigner in South Africa is almost unemployable.

The offer came days after I’d made the declaration about going to England, and it’s incredibly tempting. It’s easy work for me – employ a couple of men to do the heavy work, do the business management and marketing stuff myself and a nice little business to keep things ticking over here. A month ago I would have jumped on the chance, but I felt something say “Hold Back!”

So I asked for a few days to mull it over and discuss it with Rene. She reminded me of my declaration of Faith that we were going to England. Now the offer for England is there, and I’m working on not just the move, but also a series of Kindle books to publish via www.smile.amazon.com (that’s amazon.com but with a portion of your purchase being donated to the charity of your choice – mine is Andrew Wommack Ministries, but choose your own!) over the next two months for Lent, Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost. It’s all happened so fast even my faster-than-normal brain is spinning!

It would be easy to say “let’s stay in Cape Town” and do the gardening and Rene stay in her practice.

Easy.

Safe.

But hunting lions is not easy, and it’s certainly not safe. I may be the first person in history to be leaving living in Africa to hunt his Lion!

My passion is Christ. I hope that is obvious from these scribblings. But I’ve found it near impossible to find a church I was able to integrate into here. I know it’s me, not the churches that’s the issue, but it still grates that it’s over ten years since I’ve been an actual member of a church locally. That’s not to say I’ve not attended, or that I’ve not had regular fellowship with other Christians, in particular my wife’s family and my dear friend Thuli Nkoyana (whose poem I published on this site here) without whose encouragement I may never have got this far with my writing.

But staying put is safe. At least, it seems to be.

If you get a chance to read Bruce Wilkinson’s book “The Dream Giver” then do so. The story of Ordinary, from a land of Nobody’s who dreams of being Somebody is great, but the disturbingly accurate description of the land he comes from where the people go to their normal job in their normal car then come home and sit in their normal chair and watch their box for entertainment is such an accurate picture of society – all it needs now is to add in iPads and Tablets and it’s today’s society. Scary stuff.

But as Ordinary sets off to leave the land of Familiar to pursue his dream he encounters resistance from people he least expects it from. It’s the same for us. If we go after what God puts in our hearts to do it upsets other people’s lives as well as our own. Our sudden absence (or presence) in their life changes their familiar dynamics. I know my mum isn’t looking forward to us moving. She’s become very quickly adapted to our presence in her home and has stated how much she’s going to miss us. But sometimes we have to follow our dream even if it means disrupting, even hurting, the people we love.

The thing is, taking the safe road usually means moving away from God’s Will for our life. Satan doesn’t resist people moving in the direction he wants them to move in. Or sometimes the resistance is a token easily overcome. We exchange our grand, God-given vision for a smaller, more comfortable one. And we quietly sit in our comfortable life, taking the safe road, dying and not even realising it or living a fraction of what God had stored up for us.

Take the road less travelled. There will be risks. There may be dangers untold and losses unexpected, but the rewards are greater.

But be warned, there are things that will happen:

  • Friends will abandon you
  • Family will disown you
  • You will have to choose between your call and your day-job (if they’re different)
  • You are declaring war on an enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy you.

It’s hard on the front line of the battle. The pioneers who went West and settled America or South and settled Australia, New Zealand and South Africa faced unimaginable hardships. The men fighting in the trenches on the Somme a century ago faced death from the enemy and from the living conditions.

Some quit the battle. They turn back and look for the easier road.

But ours is not a road that is easy.

But it leads to the only truly Safe destination.

Carefree Living

There’s a lot of terms that can be used to sum up life in my home for the last few years.

Carefree” isn’t one of them.

Just on my side I’ve battles ongoing with PTSD, ADD, Diabetes and now (finally) I know my back pain is actually a condition called “Scheuermann’s disease” and I’ve had it since my spine was still developing. It’s fun living in this body sometimes.

The one thing that has never been dampened through all of it is my faith.

I can concentrate for longer periods when it’s something to do with God than other stuff. I’ve struggled to stand or sit for long periods – except (usually) when it has something to do with Jesus.

I don’t think that’s coincidence.

Jesus never promised our lives would be carefree if we followed Him. In fact He promised the opposite. We would face persecution in many forms because the World would hate us just as it hates Him. We become Christians not to get an easy ride.

Anyone who thinks being a Christian means getting the top job with a good wage, 2.5 kids, a house in the ‘burbs with a dog and no confrontation or problems is delusional. Anyone who claims they never have any problems because they are Christians is probably doing it wrong (or smoking the really potent stuff).

The late Dave Duell said at a meeting in England several years ago that if we don’t run into the devil it’s because we’re going in the same direction.

And for the record, the devil’s name is not “Donald” or “Hillary” or “Republican” or “Democrat”. He’s the accuser, the father of lies, the destroyer. He comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

Maybe I should rethink the “name” comment?

There’s enough hate being spewed by all sides in the US election garbage coverage that gets put out over the internet to fertilise the whole of Texas.

Twice.

Weekly.

And the most alarming thing for me is who is spouting this latest drivel. Men and women I’ve previously respected as Christian leaders decrying the Democrats as the “enemy” or Donald as the “antichrist” (ok, that was a bit far, but I can see why they said it).

There’s nothing carefree about being a Christian at the moment.

This time in history is seeing a marked increase in the aggressive nature of Muslims – and I’m not talking about the politicised version present in Daesh. I’m talking about people I know, who I consider friends becoming more radical in their statements, their Facebook posts and tweets.

And it’s a response to what the radical “christians” are saying.

“Love your neighbour” has been replaced with “Love your neighbour as long as he/she is an accurate reflection of your own values”.

It’s a good job Jesus rose again, or He’d be turning in His grave…

Carefree living is what these “leaders” (in the loosest sense of the word) are promising. The freedom to live free – behind a wall. To worship freely – as long as you’re in the same denomination as the elected one. To carry guns freely (unless you’re not white) – because they don’t understand their own constitution.

Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm” that Napoleon the 1984Pig re-wrote the rules to say “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” You don’t have to read the whole book (although you should) to see he was right. 1984 was meant as a warning, but is being used as a “how-to” guide for leadership.

The image here may be a fake – to be honest I’m not certain – but it certainly isn’t far from the truth of the way the world lives right now.

We are supposed to live a life of Freedom, but we happily trade this Freedom Christ gave up everything to purchase for us in order to feel “protected” by the close eye of, well these days anyone with a video camera and a home computer. My cell phone has not one, but 2 cameras on it, designed to get perfect shots in near darkness. My computer has just one – usually covered with masking tape as they didn’t make an “app” that can remove it yet.

But I’m sure Apple are working on it.

The irony is we were far more carefree when we didn’t have access to so much “important” “news” like the Kardashians, who wrote Donald’s latest speech, who allowed some fool who thought he was entitled to hold an opinion different than everyone else at the RNC – and air it.

Folks, I have disabled 90% of the news feeds that were automatically loaded on my phone when I got it. And I still get swamped every day by worthless words.

In fiction there was always said (in the books I grew up reading anyway) to be power in names. Dragons, mermaids etc would never divulge their name to a human because it gave that human power over them.

In Scripture we can see the Truth in the power of Words.

The old adage “words will never hurt me” was obviously said first by a hermit who had never encountered another living person.

Jesus was careful with what He said and to whom He said it. Consider the length of the Sermon on the Mount, and the last teaching He gave the disciples before His arrest in John 14-17. Compare it with how much He says to Herod and Pilate.

Words taken out of context can kill you.

In Business Communication we talk about “interference” in communication. This term refers to what was meant by the speaker and understood by the hearer of a simple phrase.

Take this one:

“God is for you”

Where we put the emphasis can change the meaning completely.

God is for you”, “God is for you”, “God is for you” and “God is for you” all hold different meanings. And by stressing more than one word the number changes exponentially. It’s how the written text in the Bible has been twisted from a key to freedom into a hammer to beat down peoples throughout history.

And we add words to the statements as well. That’s what got Eve into trouble. God said “Don’t eat the fruit”. Satan asks her about it and the message is embellished to “don’t even touch it” either by Eve wanting to sound emphatic or because Adam had added to what God had told him.

We all know the result. Sin. Death.

God is not a Republican. Neither is He a Democrat. He’s certainly not a Communist or a member of the ANC, Conservatives, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or any other political party even (possibly especially) if it says “Christian” in the name of the party.

We are supposed to receive Life in abundance, not elections, and certainly not long-winded self-serving speeches.

Maybe not carefree – that will come after Christ returns and we go to spend eternity with Him – but certainly not oppressed the way we are today.

Russia has just banned all Christian meetings not taking place in a recognised church, and no correspondence of any kind mentioning God may be entered into by two people. Thankfully we are advised in Acts 5:29 to obey God, not men – although in Russia this may start to mean a long state-sponsored holiday to Siberia the way it did pre-Glasnost, and in the Middle-East it could result in decapitation at the hands of a lunatic. In the West and some emerging economies it will probably start costing promotions, employment, housing etc and Christians will be told to “get over” themselves because it’s not “real” persecution. After all, nobody in the West is ever killed for being a Christian. Unless you count Ireland where you need to be the right type of Christian, or America where you need to be the right colour of Christian.

So maybe my life isn’t carefree. In reality it never was after I left home – and for several years before that.

Neither is yours. But we can make moves together to walk back in the direction of the Cross and a life free of the cares of this World if we can just get past our own egos.

Make the step today.