Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How do you offer a critique?

How do you offer a critique?

"Corrective Criticism" might just be one of the biggest self-deceptive-oxymorons of our times. I'm not saying giving advice, offering correction, or voicing your opinion/dissatisfaction is ever out of line, but, the term "corrective criticism" itself is a contradictory statement. Criticism tears down; Biblically we offer advice to build the other person up.
When you know that there's a need to tell another person they have room for improvement, how do you tell them? is an important question!

As you contemplate this question, here's a checklist I've put together, for your consideration:
  • What is your tone of voice when you address others?
  • Is it crystal clear from your language how deeply you love the other person? "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ..." (Eph 4:15)
  • What does your body language convey about your attitude?
  • Do you walk away knowing that the other person felt like you really had their best interest at heart, or are they left brokenhearted?
  • After you leave will the other person miss you, looking forward to when they can see you again, or are they happy you are gone?
  • Are people drawn to you by your words, or driven away?
  • Have you balanced out your negative comments with several positive affirmations of how much you value the other person?
  • Does the other person open up to you or do they cringe and squirm more often than not?
  • What reputation are you developing among your brethren as a result of how-and-how often you criticize others?
(Prov 22:1 "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.")

What most people seem to forget is that there's a difference between a complaint and a criticism.
Complaints are healthy ways we verbalize a problem, on the other hand, a criticism is an attack on another's character...
It is legitimate to have a complaint, the way you handle it is what makes it healthy or unhealthy.
We have a Biblical command to handle ourselves, and our words properly, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (Col 4:6)

Let me get to the point: Criticism is not a spiritual gift and being critical is not being spiritual.
When we talk to each other as Christians, remember Jesus promised when two or three gathered in His name, He is in our midst. So, when we talk to each other, Jesus is there listening to the conversation. I wonder how we'd temper our tone if we thought about His opinion more often???

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What are you looking for?

What are you hoping to find?

When was the last time you changed your mind on a spiritual topic? What did that feel like? How often does that happen??? It's not often in our adult life that we can pin down a time where we had a new insight that really, drastically changed our point of view. I remember one of those wonderful moments, and in this article I want to share with you the very resource that I found extremely helpful in one of my personal breakthroughs!

First, I need to ask: How do you go about studying Biblical, spiritual, or eternal topics? Do you make sure you "leave no stone unturned" or do you avoid sources and ideas that make you uncomfortable? It's been said, there's more than one way to skin a cat... Well, while I've never skinned a cat, I do like to peal back the layers of the onion...

Secondly, I want to ask: Why do you study? Studying the Scriptures and investigating spiritual topics should have, minimally, a twofold goal:
#1. Increasing/enhancing our depth of knowledge. And, hopefully, #2. Experiencing some-type of transformation that helps us personally apply our new/increased understanding.

Third, I must point out: We are commanded in the Scriptures to be prepared to back up our beliefs and to continually grow in our studies. Read, for example, I Pet 3:15, II Tim 2:15, Heb 5:12-6:3 for admonitions on being lifelong learners...

The dangerous trap we need to be weary of, is that we "already know" all we need to know on the given subject and with a little study we can help verify what "I've always" thought... Or we surround ourselves with others who will "safely" repeat what we want to hear... There's not much room for growth there. Like my favorite Old Testament teacher at Harding, Tom Eddins, used to say, "The greatest enemy of learning is the illusion of knowledge." There's another danger too, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just dumping everything we've been taught and starting from scratch. To turn our back on our heritage is not only disrespectful, it's foolish!

How do we stay balanced in our studies, not being so ridged we can't grow, nor being so open-minded nothing can stay in our mind? In other words, how can we avoid the detrimental-immaturity Paul warns of in Eph 4:14 "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." Here's how: Be willing to admit that possibly we could've been wrong (or incomplete in what we did know) and then sincerely examine the evidence.

Whenever we merely seek to confirm what we've always thought, while we don't have to work too hard at that, we can't expect much personal gain... When we want to sharpen our thoughts and examine another's point of view, we have to stretch ourselves somewhat. I'd like to recommend for your consideration a useful series of books that covers several extremely interesting theological topics. The books I highly recommend to you are the "Counterpoints" series by Zondervan Publishing. I have at least a dozen of these counterpoint books on my shelf and each one is excellent.

Here's how they work. The editor/s will determine a topic for discussion, such as: Worship styles, Divorce & remarriage, Creation vs. Evolution, Baptism, are there still Spiritual gifts today?, and difficult topics like Hell. The editor will usually have four different views represented (inviting two to five Christian authors interact on the given topic within the book). How the authors interact is by each one submitting an essay, articulating their view on the given topic, and then in turn each author will critique the ideas of the other authors. So, you read one essay which is immediately analyzed on the following pages by contrary/differing views, then, each view is represented and examined so-forth and so on.

It's not a book series of debates; it is an exciting exchange of ideas/views from a crosscut of varying perspectives. As the reader, if you already have formed an opinion on a topic you will have an opportunity to have your current idea on a topic defined/articulated, and then examined to see it's strengths and weaknesses. If you simply are wanting to lean more on a topic that you are interested in but you haven't come to a conclusion on it yet, there are several views that can help jump-start your studies!

I recognize that for some people this "comparison" of ideas could be too challenging; yet for others it can be exhilarating! Please keep in mind as you consider utilizing this series of books, Prov 27:17 states clearly:
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Remember, All Truth is God's Truth!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Disproving evolution:

I have finally conclusively and decisively disproved the theory of evolution. Last night Zach (our 21 year old son) and I shared a hotel room. We are volunteering with Winterfest, folding tee-shirts for the thousands of people who attend, along with several other volunteers. The organizers of Winterfest provided a hotel room for us. Here's where I have disproved evolution: I didn't suffocate Zach with a pillow last night. Why would I? HE SNORED LIKE CHAINSAW! If evolution were true, parents would suffocate their children when they snored, depriving you of your much need sleep; sleep that is necessary for your survival.... Therefore, since I didn't put him out of my misery, evolution can't be true....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Have you ever noticed the way people are extremely fascinated with cataclysmic catastrophes? CNN, FOX, MNBC, ABC-TV, all run continuous live-footage from the scene straight into our living-rooms. Yet, after a few weeks or months, we quickly forget all about theses tragedies. Example, the tsunami that nearly wiped out Sri Lanka back in 2004.... Earthquakes, like the one that dropped the highway-overpass on San Franciscans in 1989; these simply don't remain on our minds for long. Last year China had sever flooding that ruptured dams and destroyed entire cities. Even the focus on the current crisis in Haiti will fade with time. One more word: Katrina.

On the other hand, there's one element related to destruction that seems to remain in vogue, though. Growing up through the Cold War and being an adult at its conclusion (Tear down that wall Mr. Gorbachev!), I've observed that people stay perpetually focused on the "Apocalyptic" style/genre of literature/movies. There was even a style of music driven by this, bands like Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth... I remember when I was in high school there was the TV-movie, "The day after" which portrayed life after the "bomb" was dropped and what a nuclear "winter" would be like. Who could forget all of the Mel Gibson movies with his "Mad Max" character?

Recently I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is now a movie. The book won a Pulitzer, and I'm sure the movie will be successful too. It is a story that covers several months; it's about a father and son who travel cross-county in the aftermath of a nuclear fallout. It was a very depressing setting for a story, but, a moving story of a father's love and dedication for his son.

Within the last month a new movie staring Denzel Washington, "The Book of Eli," hit the theaters. In this movie, Eli travels for THIRTY years across America. He has the last remaining Bible in the world, and he has to protect it from the bad guy who wants to use the Bible to manipulate the remaining survivors...

All most all of these stories have several themes in common: The main character almost always is traveling; usually headed for the coast. Also, he has to scrounge for food while avoid being eaten by the bad guys (yuck). The characters all lament the loss of technology... Inevitably the world is pretty much hopeless, but, the good guy won't give up. Maybe it's that last part, the un-willingness to give up, that tenacity, that keeps fans coming back? I guess these are all stories of survival. The drive to thrive to survive and stay alive taps into that part of our psyche that cries out, that screams, I want to live forever.

I imagine Apocalyptic plots will continue to drive ticket sales and will be a popular obsession until the end of time.... I'm also sure people will continue to try persevere in hopelessness, on and off the movie set. One of our callings as Christians is to help offer hope and comfort in a world filled with suffering.

Paul wrote in II Cor 1:3-7, "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort."

It is true for some people that reading books and watching movies provides a much-needed brief escape from reality. May we be insightful enough to share the hope we have which is grounded in reality, and, if it takes a discussion about a new book or movie to get others started talking with us, it's not the end of the world after all....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Warning on helping Haiti

Sad state of affairs

The earthquake in Haiti this week has reportedly been responsible for over 100,000 deaths. I can't imagine that.

Sadly though, beyond the human suffering and loss, there will be parasites that will loot and rob innocent survivors. And, then there will be conniving creeps that sit behind their computers, sending email requests for financial assistance, yet pocketing the money themselves.... I hate that skeptical feeling, but I know it's true.

I'm sure our congregation will help with aid, since we've maintained a longtime relationship with a missionary in Haiti. We've been supporting a work in Haiti for many years; actually exactly in the town of the epicenter. I would recommend that if you or your congregation decide to help with relief/aid that you only commit to helping people you know 1st hand. It's not limiting the aid/assistance; it's actually making certain the resources get to the people who really need it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why I think we can't fix health-care

The real issue behind our Heath-care controversy that legislation can't address

It's impossible to listen to the news these days without hearing about politicians fighting tooth & nail over the proposed legislation on heath care. I believe that the research that is ongoing will someday find a cure for AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and other tragic illnesses; and I know that type of research isn't free. And, I'm as thankful as the next guy is we've beat Polio and Smallpox, as well being grateful for my health insurance and the medical professionals that care for us. But, there's a huge issue facing our Country; there is a big problem here, to be sure, and I wonder if you see the same commonsense problem I do?

When it comes to the Heath care controversy, the problem isn't so much that we can't decide as a nation how much or how little Government involvement is appropriate. This isn't a Left VS. Right, or Democrat against Republican issue. The problem isn't really about providing or denying health care for everyone in America. The issue isn't about avoiding deficit spending, or raising taxes. Maybe since I'm not a doctor or a legislator, but a minister, I see it completely different than the majority of the views I see expressed.

I see three concentric problems surrounding our current Health care crisis:
1. Overpriced medical salaries/procedures/prescriptions that continue to escalate way beyond realistic bounds are driving up our insurance premiums beyond reasonable prices, simultaneously.
2. Laziness, or simply a lack of a sense of personal responsibility, on the part of many to take better care of themselves; example, lack of self-control when it comes to overeating and smoking.
3. Having the wrong focus; we value this temporary body more than our eternal souls.

Let me unfold these three problems like this: We've placed a high priority on self-preservation and now we have to pay the price. Sounds shallow, because it is. I like having only a $15 co-pay when I visit my doctor's office, but does my 10-15 minute office visit with really justify $100, or, does the insurance company really have to charge us what they do? The insurance company is banking on the fact that most of the time I'm going to be healthy.... but I'm concerned that I won't always be healthy and I know that medical expenses are unaffordable.... We are too lazy as a nation to exercise properly, and we don't watch what we eat. Those aren't the only two reasons for every single medical issue, but those are the top two reasons why we die from heart disease at an epidemic rate (Please don't misunderstand me, with many medical problems people are completely blameless, such as birth defects or several forms of cancer which are unavoidable) We're greedy, and the "dollar" is driving a lot more of this than we want to admit. We want other people to fix our problems because we don't want to face our own pain. We are in such sorry shape because we want to live in the here-and-now eternally, and we don't want to worry about the afterlife. Bottom line, our priorities are skewed. Health care is only "a" priority, somehow though, we've made it "the" priority.... Even the devil recognizes this, "Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life." (Job 2:4, ESV)

We won't ever really fix the health care issue until we have the right perspective. I don't care which way you slice this; whether you give health care away or charge $1000 a day for insurance, those are sideline issues. There is a deeper reality that somehow has been overlooked... that being, the spiritual reality. Until we are spiritually responsible as a nation, we will never be balanced in our approach to fixing this mess we are in.

Paul wrote that above all else we should keep our focus on eternal matters:
  • "for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (I Tim 4:8, ESV)
  • "16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (II Cor 4:16-18, ESV)

I'm all for doctors and hospital-staff members being fairly compensated, but compared to the compensation we offer, say, a school teacher or a bus-driver, are we really all that altruistic? It's true, you put your money where your heart is.... So, as long as we are willing to pay a premium cost for the preservation of our bodies, and neglect so much else, we get what we pay for.