"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!

Simple Hope

Candle Breakthrough Trust Promises Transformation Hope

OK, so there’s a few “pingback” links here.

You may have noticed I’ve been absent in the writing world for a couple of weeks or so.

I needed a break. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes we need to step back. I have a mountain of emails to reply to. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, forgive me. You’ve been in my prayers but life sometimes gets in the way – especially for a Gospel Warrior!

Right now isn’t the time (or place for now) to share everything that’s happened.

But I can share some of it.

There are changes brewing for me. Some Major changes.

I’m planning a move, geographically. 9000 miles. Moving back to England.

Most of the people in my day-job have no idea. But it’s something I need to do.

My hope for growth in South Africa is all but shattered. I’ve been trying to raise funds to help a church in Kenya that has to meet when it can because they have a tree, not a building. Another church needs Bibles and literature to learn from. They’ve asked for help based on what they’ve seen written here.

I’m humbled by the trust these men of God have placed in me.

I’m ashamed at the level of help I’m able to give.

Every day I see “Christians” driving their new cars, shopping in the upper-class malls with trolleys full of luxury items who don’t want to help their brothers and sisters who have nothing.

In fairness, I also see Christians with trolleys full of food and clothes they have bought to clothe the homeless, feed the hungry and who go and offer shelter where they can. This is not a rant about all those hypocrites.

If it were, I’d have to be complaining about myself a lot of the time too.

I’m an incurable optimist. I see the best in everyone. It has got me into trouble more than once. I trust too soon, far too often. The result is I get damaged. And so does my mission.

I spent much of my degree studying marketing and psychology. I hate the idea of using psychology to “sell” a ministry, but I’ve realised it’s what is needed.

Branding is also important, both personally and for Eagle’s Wing Ministries. There needs to be recognition for me personally and for the work of the ministry so if anything happens to me the work can continue.

I’ve been reflecting on forgiveness for the time I’ve been away. Reading the parable of the Prodigal Son, and realising it should actually be called the Parable of the Loving Father.

Max Lucado, one of my all time favourite writers, speaks of the Father in his book “Six Hours One Friday” (available on Kindle via Amazon.com). I’ve gone through half a dozen copies of this book in paperback, worn them out by re-reading them so now I have it on my phone and computer. But his take on the Father is this:

If there is a scene in this story that deserves to be framed, it’s the one of the father’s outstretched hands. His tears are moving. His smile is stirring. But his hands call us home. Imagine those hands. Strong fingers. Palms wrinkled with lifelines. Stretching open like a wide gate, leaving entrance as the only option.

When Jesus told this parable of the loving father, I wonder, did he use his hands? When he got to this point in the story, did he open his arms to illustrate the point?

Did he perceive the thoughts of those in the audience who were thinking, “I could never go home. Not after my life”? Did he see a housewife look at the ground and a businessman shake his head as if to say, “I can’t start over. I’ve made too big a mess”? And did he open his arms even wider as if to say, “Yes. Yes, you can. You can come home”?

Whether he did that day or not, I don’t know. But I know that he did later. He later stretched his hands as open as he could. He forced his arms so wide apart that it hurt. And to prove that those arms would never fold and those hands would never close, he had them nailed open.

They still are.

[Lucado, Max. Six Hours One Friday: Living in the Power of the Cross (pp. 87-88). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I first heard that passage read by Mike Yaconelli at Greenbelt Christian Festival in 1991. I can’t read it without hearing the passion in his voice. I hear in my head the pain of the boy, feel the shame of the businessman.

But I feel the hope Jesus offers as well. The forgiveness.

The hope is simple. It’s the hope of a second chance.

I’ve had more than my share of second chances.

As a biker I’ve had close calls I have no clue how I survived, never mind walked away from unharmed. I’ve walked through gang territory and been untouched when others were terrified for me.

I’ve been spared what insurance companies call “dread disease” even after exposure to so many in South Africa – TB, HIV and many more. I’ve had knives pulled on me, and even once the threat of a gun, yet I never feared for my life.

I walk in Hope.

I walk by Faith.

Faith, according to Hebrews, is the substance of what we hope for, and the evidence of what is – as yet – unmanifested in the physical world we inhabit.

Faith provides a tiny flame in the darkness. A candlecandle which seems like it should be snuffed out at any moment, yet flickers on.

The darkness cannot overpower the tiny flame of a candle, no matter how black it seems. The flame burns on through the night.

I often sleep with a night-light candle burning by my bed (safely in a completely fire-proof holder that cannot be knocked over – I’m not stupid!) The light it gives off is soft. At the red end of the spectrum, giving a warm and relaxing glow that encourages sleep and peaceful mind – something I need very much.

But I light is mainly to remind myself when I wake up that darkness cannot quell this light. And what God has placed in my heart cannot be overwhelmed by the power of Darkness, it can only be surrendered by me.

My breakthroughbreakthrough began a few weeks ago when I visited Jongensgat for the weekend. It’s amazing what being unplugged from the 21st Century for even a couple of days can do for your soul.

Four days with no internet, television, telephone, cell reception and having to cook over a fire – slowly – does wonders for the soul. jongensgat-sea-1And your relationships. For me it reminded me how closely I need God. Even in the work of writing for Him, sometimes it becomes more about publishing by a certain time and less about the message.

It gave me a much needed time of refreshing with my wife. We are closer than we have been for a while as a result. We still don’t communicate as well as we should, but at least we know that now!

When I became a Christian, there was a change in me. Not everyone could see it because I help on to a LOT of pain, but a few could see the transformation beginning. The Featured Image of this article is one of my favourite nature images: a butterfly emerging from a cocoon to begin a new life, casting off life as a caterpillar and becoming something of incredible beauty instead of something that eats your prized cabbage leaves.

That transformation is a work in progress. It will continue in this world until I pass through to be with Him. My Grandfather became a Christian at the age of 16. Two weeks before he died he phoned me, incredibly excited, to share what God had shown him in his quiet time: “He told me to get ready for the greatest adventure I can imagine” was what he told me. Neither of us imagined such a strong man would then pass away so soon – but what an adventure awaited him as he walked through the Gate of Heaven after 64 years of service!

Trust has always been an issue for me. Trusting people when I was young resulted in me getting badly hurt, so I stopped letting people in. I trusted a friend who then set me up on a blind date which led to a very messy month of dating where I had no clue how to talk to a girl – and this particular girl was one I had known when we were very young – I was 5 and she was 4 – now we were teenagers and I had expectations of myself I knew I couldn’t live up to. I don’t know what her expectations were of me because I was too scared to ask! I tried to trust, and I got very deeply hurt. That hurt burned the good memories from a time of innocence as friends in primary school to ash. So the next girl I got involved with I am ashamed to say I did so for expediency. She pursued me, and it was convenient for me to be caught. Not a recipe for a good relationship.

After that I got involved with someone I wanted to trust, but by that point I was so damaged I couldn’t trust myself. All that was left was anger and when cancer attacked a family member that was all I could express. She was hurt, I was hurt and my ability to trust was – once again – damaged.

Then my dad died. My mum and weren’t close and despite her best efforts I found myself alone. I’d just moved church and most of the members didn’t know me. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone so I became a virtual recluse. Depression set in and four suicide attempts followed on.

But the members of this new church refused to let me stay alone. They inserted themselves into my life – often at great personal risk as I had major anger-management issues back then – and gradually forced me to trust them.

They forced me to trust them by not letting me push them away. They rang back when I hung up on them. Repeatedly. If I then didn’t answer their call they would knock on my door and not go away until I’d let them come in and make sure I was ok.

They forced Love into my life in a way I didn’t expect. It rebuilt hope and trust in me as they refused to simply give up. They refused to give up on a guy they mostly barely knew and had only just met.

For several years, this mis-matched group of people became my most trusted friends.

Much changes in our life as we walk with Christ. And feel free to slap anyone who says it’s easy to be a Christian.

It isn’t.

It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s scary. It means reaching out to the unloved and the unlovely. It means seeing past the darkest part of yourself and seeing the light of Christ shining through in spite of it.

I still have anger management issues. People will tell me to “just do ‘X'” whatever “X” may be, with no understanding of what it is like to be inside my mind and deal with the issues I have. I get the urge to slap people who do that. That’s the “old nature” Paul writes about. I sit and close my eyes and let a tune run through my head until the feeling goes away. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes It takes too long to be able to keep my eyes shut. So I stay quiet instead and take it to God when I get a chance to.

We all have issues we wrestle with. Read my other entries and I’m sure you’ll realise quickly that mine is usually my temper.

But so were James and John. Peter lost his cool and hit Malchus with a sword in Gethsemane. The real issue is how we channel our tempers or whatever it is we struggle with. We have a choice.

Be transformed by the renewing of our minds is the invitation of the Gospel.

It’s not easy.

But the choice is simple.