Never Stop Starting

My motto: You’re Not Done Until You’re Done

If you ever get into an unfortunate scrape, you might hire Frank P. Lucianna to represent you. He’s a razor-sharp attorney in Hackensack, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York City. You can spot Lucianna in the courtroom daily, dressed in a dapper suit with a pocket square, chopping his hands in the air and defending people in trouble. He does it with energy and effectiveness.

Lucianna has been defending clients for quite a while. Forty-five years ago, a local newspaper claimed he was the city’s “busiest criminal lawyer.” Twenty-two years ago, the same newspaper called him “a consummate showman” and new Jersey’s “oldest active attorney.” Today, Lucianna still waxes eloquent before judges and juries at age ninety-seven.

Lucianna doesn’t rest on his laurels. “This is a very consuming profession and it has taken a lot out of my life,” he says. “I am constantly involved preparing cases, and it’s a tremendous strain, both mental and physical. Physical because when you go to trial in a case, your whole being is obsessed with trying to help the person you represent, and it places your body and mind under tension.”

When asked about his future, Lucianna said, “I hope God lets me continue doing this. I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to go to Florida. I just want to do what I’m, doing.”

I feel the same way. I hope God lets me continue doing what He’s called me to do. My name isn’t Archippus, but I take the one verse addressed to him in the Bible as though it was written to me: “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17 NIV).

You know, like me your role may change. Your assignment might evolve and your situation may alter. You may have to make adjustments. Even so, one fact won’t change: as long as God leaves you on earth, He has ongoing work for you. There’s no expiration date to this fact. You never retire from the Christian life, and you never drop out of God’s will.

I urge you — never stop starting, and do your best to finish what you start in the Lord’s will. 

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff describes how hard this seems for some people:

“I’ve only completed 10 percent of the books I own. It took me three years to finish six days of the P90X home exercise program. When I was twenty-three I made it to blue-belt in karate … I have thirty-three half-started Moleskine notebooks in my office and nineteen tubes of nearly finished Chapstick in my bathroom.”

Acuff adds that he’s not the only one who doesn’t stick to things. “According to studies, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Every January, people start with hope and hype, believing that this will be the New Year that does indeed deliver a New You. But though100 percent start, only 8 percent finish.”

Another statistic that is astonishing: A study by Jefferson Smith states that 63% of readers never finish the book they are reading.

So, my point is simple: You are not done until you are done and God has not said you are done

And, never stop starting new things that will help you grow and develop and “stay alive inside

And, Grab hold of each day and give it your 100% so that you will finish what you started whatever that may be. 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Six

We are talking about having a life worth living, getting out of ruts we have accepted as normal for our life when they are anything but ‘normal. And, how to get rid of that feeling that life is overwhelming. 

Last time we started to look at having the courage to choose what’s best. This involves two main things. We saw that the first one was ‘courage to embrace your limitations’. Today let’s look at the second main huddle to choosing what’s best…

b> Courage to eliminate your distractions

To get out of your rut and stop feeling overwhelmed by life you need the courage to eliminate distractions by saying “no” to bad things and even saying “no” to some good things. You only want to say “yes” to the best things.

Warren Buffett (one of the riches men in the world) has learned he can’t focus on too many things at once. He advices making a list of the top twenty-five things you want to accomplish in the next few years. From that list, pick the five that are most important to you. Now you have two lists. Buffett suggests you “avoid at all cost” the longer one, for those items may well prevent the big things from happening.

To overcome obstacles, that feeling of being overwhelmed by demands and expectations, and to move forward into the fullness of your life, you have to discover the beauty of the word “no.” The practice of a graceful “no” takes courage, but it is certainly liberating.

Here is something that I have learned in my 50+ years of pastoring … If you don’t set priorities in your own life, someone else will.

In her book Learning How to Say No When You Usually Say Yes, Maritza Manresa advises her readers that it’s all right to say no to lesser things to have room for the best things. Most of us say yes more than we should because we are taught to be available or because we don’t want to disappoint others or challenge authority. Maybe we feel guilty, or we don’t want to damage a relationship. As a result, we’re constantly overcommitted, and the greater things are left behind. 

Manresa suggests several ways to say no. The first is simply: “No!” That’s a complete sentence. But if you want to be gentler about it, try statements like:

      • I’m sorry, but I simply can’t at this time
      • I have a personal policy…
      • It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to, but if anything changes I’ll let you know
      • It looks like I’m going to have to pass this time
      • I just can’t fit it into my schedule 
      • That is such a good cause but I am already supporting other good causes
      • No, thank you

Is this hard for you? It is for me too. But we must have the courage to eliminate distractions if we’re going to live the life God intended and no longer feel overwhelmed by life on a daily basis.

Jesus often said no to others so that He could say yes to His Father. In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to  Jesus, asking Him for a sign. He said no. He gave them a blunt little sermon instead and left them and went aways (Matthew 16:1-4). In Mark 1:38, Peter asked Jesus to return to Capernaum, where everyone wanted to hear Him. But Jesus said, “Let  us go into the next towns, that I may preach also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

We can’t do everything, but we can always do our Father’s will. We can fulfill His design for our days.

So, learn to say ‘no’ and mean it. Stick to your ‘no.’ Let your no be no! That takes courage but you can do it. 

Let’s review what we have learned in this series of blogs …We can live an abundant and joyful life overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed by the expectations and demands of life  and other people if we will simply:

  • 1> Consider what’s best 
  • 2> Clarify what’s best
  •      a> The priority of loving God
  •      b> The priority of loving others
  •      c> The priority of loving yourself
  • 3>  “Choose What’s Best.”
  •     a> Courage to embrace your limitations
  •     b> Courage to eliminate your distraction

Last but not least as we look at overcoming that feeling of living in a rut and being overwhelmed by all the demands of life …

4> Commit to What’s Best

When you get stuck, find some traction to get you out of the rut and moving forward in life once again. God doesn’t want you to live life feeling overwhelmed by the demands and expectations that come at you every day in your life. God does not want you spinning your wheels. Once you get moving, you need clarity to know what direction to move in, and Jesus provided that by telling you to love God, love those around you, and love yourself. Armed with that clarity, you need the courage to stay no to some things so you can say yes to the best things. And finally you need the consistency to practice what’s best. Proverbs 23:17 says, “But be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day”.

Paul said that we are to be, “His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

When you do what we have been sharing about in this series of blogs, you’ll palace yourself in the paths God has promised to bless. Even when things appear discouraging, keep pressing ahead, trusting God to make a way. Stay committed to what’s best, for the Lord takes things from there and works wonders. It is not always easy but it is always good.

 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Five

So to get unstuck and get out of the life-rut you are in and begin moving, once again, into God’s plan and purpose for your life we have seen…

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

b> The priority of loving others

c> The priority of loving yourself

Today let’s start to look at #3 – “Choose What’s Best.”

Once you have clarified what is God’s best in your life (step 2), the next thing you need to do is actually choose these priorities. You need to make intentional, planned decisions that elevate what is best and remove what is merely good. 

Doing so will require courage.

As Moses was dying, he told his successor, Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

It takes zero courage to stay in a rut. It takes grit and spunk to rouse yourself to climb out and move forward. So, to get out of your rut – whatever it might be – have the courage to do something new. Whatever God leads you to do, move forward, grow, change, adjust, learn, conquer. Once you establish your priorities, find the courage to say “no” to some things and “yes” to others. There are two areas where this kind of courage to make life changes are required. 

a> Courage to embrace your limitations

First, embrace your limitations. Do you have any of those? We all do! Beware of living in denial. To change and adjust so as to move forward in your journey with Jesus you have to be realistic. To overcome that feeling of being overwhelmed by life you will need to embrace your limitations. Progress comes by embracing your God-given limits. Yes, they are God-given because He created you.

Some limits have to do with your age or stage in life. 

Some of your limitations have to do with the gifts God has given you or the location where He’s placed you. 

Perhaps you battle a handicap or a chronic illness, or you’re a caregiver for someone who does. Maybe you have a dysfunctional family member, or you live in a dangerous area. You might be on a fixed income or you couldn’t afford to go to college, or your job is being phased out. Whatever they are, accept your limitations; don’t use them as an excuse for not doing what God assigns you.

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had limitations. As almighty God, of course, He had no limitations. He was and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Not even the entire universe can contain Him. His power, might, grace, holiness, and justice are limitless, boundless, and measureless. But when the Son of God entered the human race in Bethlehem, He was confined within the animal’s feeding trough. He grew up in a small hillside town. He did no recorded miracles for the first thirty years of Hid life and He lived in submission His parents.

When Jesus began His ministry, He didn’t fly around like an angel from one preaching assignment to another. He didn’t even have a horse or donkey, except on one known occasion. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).

Jesus’ area of ministry was limited to a little strip of land along the Mediterranean, and He never visited the great cities of His day: Athens, Rome, Milan, Alexandria, Carthage. He had a limited education, a limited income, and a limited time for His work — only about three years. Oh, and His nation wasn’t free; it was occupied by Roman soldiers.  

The limitless Son of God was financially, geographically, chronologically, politically, and physically limited. And then His limitations became far more stringent. On the cross, He became so limited by the nails in His hands and feet. He was unable to wipe the blood from His eyes or scatter the flies from His face.

Yes His limitations worked for the advantage of the whole world. Imagine that! 

Limitations should never become excuses for staying where you are. Your priorities are determined by the gifts God has given you, your stage in life, and your personal shortcomings. Doesn’t the Bible say something about God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)?

So have the courage to embrace your limitations and move forward so as to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by life. 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Four

So, we have seen that we need to continue our journey with Jesus as we live our daily life. And, often we tend to get stuck and simply exist and not really live. And, in the midst of being stuck we feel totally overwhelmed by all the things that need our attention. Some of the solution to feeling overwhelmed that we have looked at include:

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

Let’s continue with “clarify what’s best” based on Jesus’ answer to the scribe as found in Mark 12:28-31

First, let’s review the Scripture we are looking at:

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

As we clarify what’s best we need to look at The priority of loving people.

Jesus continued, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Within the same priority of love there’s a second application. We’re to love our neighbours – and we have almost 8 billion of them! We can’t know or personally care for each of them, but the Lord knows exactly how to lead us to those we need to serve.

With a biblical mindset we must come to realize that God has put us here for His purposes, to carry out His mission, whatever that might be and however He might lead us.

Loving others is sharing the compassion of Christ with the people around you.

The Bible states, “”Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law … Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10). And the apostle Paul wrote, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

Well, we are all living through the start of year two of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and we realize that it has caused great disruption in life and that it has affected all of us. So, it is a good time for believers to reach out with the Gospel of the Kingdom and offer those who are feeling hopeless the hope that only God can give. 

As in all calamities and tragedies, we’ve had choices to make. And the first choice should always be to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. To give to others. The Bible states it is more blessed to give than to receive, and loving you neighbour is not something you feel … it’s something you do!

For as James 2:8 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well.”

But keeping priorities correctly aligned is a daily challenge. The first step is knowing what’s at the top of your list. Once that’s settled, other things fall into place more naturally. What comes first is clear — love — for God, for others, and then for ourselves.

The priority of loving ourselves…

Notice again how Jesus stated this command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). That means it’s okay to love ourselves. In fact, we are commanded to love ourselves!

Of course, we have to be careful at this point, because the devil always attempts to turn self-love into selfishness, ego, low and high esteem, conceit, haughtiness, self-importance, and all the other elements that make up sinful narcissism. I’m not recommending any of those things.

On the other hand, the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28).

Let me paraphrase here: take heed to yourselves and to everyone else assigned by God to your care.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. If you become fatigued and irritable, you can’t uplift others. If you don’t pay attention to your diet and exercise, you’ll lose the strength you need to fulfill God’s will.

You have a God-given responsibility to take care of yourself. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Your personality is the means by which God touches others. If you get in a rut you’ll pull others down into it with you. But when you have your priority — love — in its right place, and you understand these three applications, things have a way of falling into place and that feeling of being overwhelmed begins to permanently fade. 

So maybe we can conclude this part and say: “Put God ahead of everything else and He will take care of all the rest.”

Sometimes our lives need to be cleaned out. A lot of our activities and attitudes should be jettisoned. Other interests need to be tucked away in an orderly place on our calendars. It’s only possible to know what’s worth keeping when you have the clarity to know what’s best and when you understand the priority of love.

So to get unstuck and begin moving, once again, into God’s plan and purpose for your life we have seen…

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

b> The priority of loving others

c> The priority of loving yourself

Stay with me – we are over half way there….

Feeling Stuck? – Part Three

Once you consider what’s best and set your priorities you are well on your way to being unstuck. Once you’ve understood the significance of priorities, the next step to getting unstuck is actually to determine the most important things in your life. To do that you need the clarity to know what’s best. So, step two to getting unstuck and away from feeling overwhelmed is to “clarify what’s best.”

To do this you should start be asking what’s most important to God. And ask, What isn’t important to God? This will help you to determine what you need to focus on in your life right now and what you can start deleting. And, of course, deleting some things in your life will help to reclaim the calm that you have lost and then remove that feeling of being overwhelmed.

To regain forward movement in your journey of life and remove that feeling of life overwhelming you, evaluate your activities. Delete things of less importance to keep things of greater worth. I can’t give you an itemized list of what should be important to you. Each of us is unique and so each of us has different things we are dealing with that need to be eliminated and other aspects of our busy life that need more attention and greater effort. However, in Mark, Chapter 12, Jesus gives us three principles that should be central to everyone’s life. 

These three principles are the subject of today and tomorrow’s blogs. 

In that passage, a Jewish temple scribe approached Jesus asking advice on how to organize life. How to set priorities (Part Two in this series). How to live a full life without feeling overwhelmed. His specific question was, “Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28)

The Great Commandment! The one above all others. The ultimate priority. In effect, the scribe was asking Jesus, “What is truly important in life? From God’s perspective, what one thing is indispensable?” “What should my priority be?”

This scribe came from a Jewish tradition boasting a multitude of commands and obligations. Jewish rabbis divided the Old Testament commandments into positive and negative laws and into major and minor laws. According to the calculations, the Old Testament contained 613 commandments. Of those, 248 tell us to do something positive and 365 prohibit us from doing something negative. This scribe was asking Jesus which of these 613 commandments was most important from God’s perspective.

Jesus answered without hesitation: “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

What an answer! Jesus boiled down the contents of the entire Old Testament into one overarching, overwhelming priority: love. And He ascribed to that priority three applications. All three to be priorities in a life well-lived and unstuck. Without understanding this, it’s impossible to move forward and live life without feeling overwhelmed. Love — as God defines love — is life’s ultimate priority.

The priority of loving God … Highest priority

First is the priority of loving God. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

More than anything else, this is what we’re made for — a passionate, practical embracing of God with all His attributes, all His virtues, all His grace, embracing Him with an overflowing heart of burning devotion and passionate enjoyment. That affects everything else we think, do and say.

But what does it mean to love God?

In his book, Do I Love God?, professor Rod Culbertson says the greatest question is: “Do you have emotions and passion for, and devotion to, the one living and true God, as well as a settled commitment that He is the Lord of your life and everything to you?”

Culbertson also asks, “What keeps you from loving God with a devoted, heartfelt love? Work, play, leisure, family, poor time management, technology, laziness, sin, or personal failure? The excuses and reasons are numerous and somehow allow us to ignore or underdeveloped our relationship with God, the most important relationship in life. So, I conclude with one more question: Are you growing in your love for God?”

Elizabeth Elliot likewise said, “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord putting all my energy and strength into it.”

That is the first of three things we need to consider as we clarify what’s best.

So, we have seen that we need to continue our journey with Jesus as we live our daily life. And, often we tend to get stuck and simply exist and not really live. And, in the midst of being stuck we feel totally overwhelmed by all the things that need our attention. Some of the solution to feeling overwhelmed include:

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

Next time we will look at the priority of loving people as we continue to “clarify what’s best.”

Sometimes I Suck At Handling Criticism

The truth is, I suck at handling criticism — especially nitpicking, ignorance-based, selfishly motivated, unjustified criticism. 

Alright, I admit it — Sometimes I suck at handling any kind of criticism. 

At my age you would think I should be able to rise above it. 

I hate the way it always gets to me. 

This confession reveals one of my greatest character flaws: I probably care too much about what people think. 

I know I should be consumed with pleasing God, but I’m often consumed with the impossible – trying to please other people. 

I know it’s wrong, but it’s the truth. 

When people take their shots at me, I find myself wanting to defend my actions, justify my behaviour, or even criticize back. 

As I struggle with this …

I have learned that the more insecure we are, the harder it is to take criticism. 

Because we are insecure in many ways we have a hard time ignoring harsh criticism and those who express them

We are already questioning ourselves, so having someone else apparently find fault with us is pretty hard to take. 

I have also learned that the more secure I am in my relationship with the Lord

The more I am aware of who I am “in Christ” and thus living in the assurance of His love and the confidence that comes with knowing I am loved unconditionally

The more secure I am the less other people’s criticisms bother me and the better I handle them

I can handle them in a more constructive manner

I can pull the truths out of the criticism, adjust my life accordingly, and treat my critic with respect and dignity

There is at least 10% truth in every criticism

One pastor writes:

Years ago, one church member’s dog died of old age. Sugar, the fourteen-year-old mutt, went to wherever dog go when they die. I’m very aware that for many people their pets are a vital part of their family, and the loss can be traumatic. So I sent Sugar’s human a card – the only card I’ve ever sent for the death of an animal — intending to follow up with a phone call. In my mind I was displaying exceptional pastoral care.

To my shock, he called me first, extremely upset. At the top of his lungs he shouted, “HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A PASTOR? YOU …DIDN’T EVEN VISIT ME IN MY HOME AFTER I LOST A FAMILY MEMBER!”

The pastor goes on to write: A house call for a dead dog? It never occurred to me.

It is a little unlucky for me that tolerating critical people is part of my job description as someone in full-time ministry

Article 7, paragraph 19.2 – if you want to look it up

And, believe me, people can be and are critical … often over the smallest things

Here is one of life’s difficult realities:

Negative people simply won’t go away

They have been around since the beginning of time — Even godly people in the Bible faced constant criticism

Moses married a foreigner, and for that, his siblings Aaron and Miriam criticized him sharply

The man who wrote two-third of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, was called a hypocrite and criticized for being a lousy speaker

Even Jesus Christ, the Messiah, took heat for healing on the Day of Rest, eating with there wrong crowd, and claiming to be the Son of God

And, I am sure you often face critical people

It could be someone where you work

A family member – even your spouse

Someone you respect who jumps on you and is critical – they think that your clothes, your hair, your attitude are all wrong

You don’t measure up

You are criticized coming and going

You are just never good enough

I battle two wrong desires when I’m criticized 

Depending on the day, I’m tempted towards either fight or flight

Both responses are useless and wrong for the believer and follower of Jesus

Most often, my first reaction is to fight — to defend myself and silence the accusers

I feel bitter and I want to retaliate

Experience has taught me that this method usually backfires

My fallback reaction comes when I’m tired for whatever reason … especially tired of the constant battle

When I don’t feel like another fight — I resort to flight

I want to hide

I want to pretend that the criticism isn’t real

I want to quit and move somewhere – anywhere

I want to stick my head in the sand and hope it all just goes away

God’s method is, by the way, better than either of these options

So, I am hoping to give you some useful strategies for dealing with critical people

It is never fun or easy — But it is necessary as critical people are everywhere and in everyone’s life

And we need to learn to handle criticism and critical people if we are going to make any sort of difference in this world

I learned a valuable lesson from one of my mentors — a valuable principle about criticism

They taught me to simply “Consider the source”

In other words, before I focus too much on what’s being said, I should ask myself who’s saying it

The who is often more important than the what

Why is that important?

Well, the who helps me determine my most appropriate response

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

To choose the best of these three in any given situation, we need to know who’s offering the criticism and why

So here are a few pointers in the art of diagnosing, and dealing with, a critic

LISTEN to criticism when it is appropriate

Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT) says, If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself.”

In other words, some criticism is actually useful and important

Sometimes it’s given by people who care enough about you to risk offending you

Their criticism is constructive

They offer suggestions to help you improve yourself

And, remember:

In any criticism there is at least 10% truth

I try to LISTEN to others when I believe their motives are pure – constructive criticism

When someone you love and trust offers advice, you’re wise to LISTEN and take it to heart

And, this is important, occasionally, someone outside your inner circle may also offer constructive criticism

Outside criticism is hard to receive, but it may help you if you will only LISTEN

So, as my mentor taught me — consider the source

If the source is a mature Christian — someone you can learn from — pay attention

When someone cares deeply about you, the Bible says you’re wise to listen, even if the truth hurts

Even when the criticism is from someone outside your trusted circle – Listen

If you don’t, you are only hurting yourself

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

Let’s look at the second way: ANSWER

Other times, someone may criticize you without the goal of helping

They simply want to voice dislike for you or something that you said or did

We might call this destructive criticism

In this case, you should answer the criticism and the critic

Question: When it it wise to answer the critic and speak to the criticism?

Whenever you think that offering a response can help the critic understand you and your position

BUT, watch your attitude — simply answering can easily turn into defensiveness

Consider answering critics when they are missing important information that could change their perception

Of course, this is assuming they are open to listening and are not simply dumping and running

Maybe they only know part of the story

Perhaps tactfully providing one or two missing detail could transform a critic into a someone who can support you in fighting the rumour and righting the situation

Gideon, one of Israel’s national leaders, gave us a great model for answering criticism

The delegation from the tribe of Ephraim was upset that Gideon didn’t seem to be paying them enough attention

Judges 8:1-2 recounts the story: “The Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this?’ … And they criticized him sharply. But he answered them…”

Gideon acts wisely

He gave them more information — in this case, information about the high regard in which he held them

He built up the Ephraimites with encouraging and positive words, and his answer helped them understand his heart and his thinking

“When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon’s answer, they were no longer angry” (Judges 8:3 NLT).

Sometimes a soft and wise answer can silence the critics

Try to choose an opportune time for your response

Think out your answer carefully

Prepare your heart to present your explanation in an appropriate way

Gentle, thoughtful and helpful answers sometimes make sense to the person with an open mind

If they are honestly seeking clarification or are simply confused, it is a pleasure to offer understanding

BUT, if my critic is obviously not going to listen, I have to approach them in a different – and very difficult way

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

The third appropriate response to criticism when it is not a valid criticism may be simply to DISMISS it

I am convinced that some people see only the bad side of everything

All of their silver linings have clouds

These horribly miserable individuals have the gift of dragging people down — especially themselves

They are what I call “VDP” people – Very Draining People

I have chosen not to let them do that to me

And, if you face someone who can’t be pleased, dismiss their invalid criticism 

Here’s a thought:

Someone said that praise and criticism are windows to the heart

What a person praises and what he or she criticizes tells us a lot about that person

What we praise often reveals what we value the most

If I say that you have a beautiful car, chances are I value nice cars

If I go crazy over your yard, then I value a well maintained flower garden

At the same time, the topics of our criticism often reveal our deepest insecurities

If I criticize you for being overly confident, chances are good they I have a self-esteem problem

If I judge you for living in a nice home, I may battle with materialism or jealousy

When dealing with overly critical people, try to see past the arrows to the struggles that launched them

A striking example of this would be:

A young guy who threw a fit because his roommate was looking at pornography on his computer

With apparently righteous passion, Steve went to his pastor and ranted about his roommate’s lustful sins. He was really critical and wanted to know if he should evict his roommate immediately. 

The pastor was able to cool Steve down a few degrees. They prayed for his roommate and then the appointment ended. However, Steve was still boiling about his friend’s sin

The next day the pastor learned some tragic news

Steve had been having a three-year affair with a married woman

Steve’s anger at and criticism of his roommate was really a manifestation of his shame over his own sin and transgression

As I mentioned: Criticism can be a window into the critic’s soul

Perhaps that is why Jesus asked in Luke 6:41-42

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Is someone picking you apart, finding fault with everything you do?

You may simply need to take the third option and DISMISS the criticism and love the critic

However, as you do that you should work at understanding who the critic is and why they are bitter and critical

The person may be emotionally unhealthy or wounded

And it is a fact that “hurt people hurt people”

They usually dislike themselves and criticize others in a misguided effort to validate themselves

If one of these injured souls lobs a criticism grenade in your direction, defuse it with understanding

Part of considering the source (my mentor’s advice years ago) is seeking awareness of what that person may be going through

          • Your critic may be struggling at work
          • He may be facing a midlife crisis
          • She may be several years into a painful marriage
          • Weathering some family problem,
          • They may have a dying parent or a sick child

You just got lucky — you were the closest target

Dismiss the criticism and love the person through their pain

A pastor writes:

One time I was praying during worship, a few moments before preaching. Eyes closed, focusing on God, I felt someone slip a note into my hand.

I never saw who it was, but the note was marked “Personal”

I thought to myself, Someone probably wrote a nice note to encourage me before I preach. A warm, loving feeling settled over me as I unfolded the paper

A moment later, I lost that loving feeling.

Evidently, the note was from a woman who had tried to see me on Friday, my day off. She took offense to my absence and blasted me with hateful accusations

This happened literally seconds before I was to stand up to preach

In that moment, I had a choice.

I could internalize the offense and become demoralized and discouraged.

Or I could ask myself, I wonder what she’s experiencing that caused her to lash out?

I chose compassion over depression.

My heart hurt for her

I knew that such a disproportionate reaction must indicate deep pain, so I didn’t take her note personally

My point: Consider the source

And consider that the jab may come from an injured heart

Dismiss it and move on 

Okay … 

      • Sometimes you should listen to your critics
      • Sometimes you answer your critics
      • Sometimes you dismiss the criticism and love the critic

But what if you can’t ignore them?

What do you do you do when people say things about you that are not true and you try to dismiss them (#3)

But, they resurface again and again and again?

There is a forth response to criticism

And it is not, in any way, an easy thing to do

When critical people just won’t go away, I can only tell you one thing to do: endure

Endurance is critical if you want to succeed at anything that God sets before you

Whenever you veer off the beaten path

Whenever you blaze a new trail

You will be criticized — and sometimes it will be relentless

You must endure

In the church world, I’m grateful for the spiritual trail-blazers 

Ten of the twelve original disciples died a martyr’s death spreading the Gospel so that one day I’d hear and believe

The Church Fathers of the first three centuries endured over-whelming persecution for their faith

Martin Luther faced a life-and-death trial for defending God’s Word

Wesley, Finney, Moody, and Spurgeon patiently held up under criticism during the great historical revivals

Modern-day pioneers have endured battles to reshape and renew the church

Someone said you can always tell a pioneer by the arrows in his back

I hope you are a pioneer

Maybe in the business realm, in your family, in your faith, or even in missions

I pray God uses you to break new ground and make an eternal difference

However, when He does, you must brace yourself for more criticism and pain than you might imagine

To move forward in your faith

To succeed at any new venture

To continue to grow spiritually and follow Jesus more fully

To take a stand for righteousness at home or at work

To risk telling a loved one about Jesus

To do whatever it is God is asking you to do

Any area where you need to step out and take a risk will result in someone being critical as you rock the boat or question the status quo

One of the most common pains obedient risk-takers face is the pain of criticism and so we must learn to endure (#4)

Jesus is our greatest model

He was willing to obey His father’s voice no matter what the cost

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

It’s for the joy and reward set before you that you will often have to endure the critics and the harsh criticism as you move forward in obedience to God

Listen

Answer

Dismiss

(Harder still) Endure

Above all else, never forget

Never forget that you can’t please all people, but you can please God

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never please everyone

It’s an impossible goal

Give up trying to please the unpleasable, and live first of all for God, your Father, who always has a smile ready for you

I love the way Paul says it in 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “Our purpose is the please God, not people” (NLT).

If, like me, you hate being criticized, recognize that the root problem is that we are people pleasers

Once we find freedom from our need for people’s approval, we can focus on the eternal goal of bringing pleasure to God

How do we shake the desire to satisfy and please every human?

The answer is simple: Know who you are in Christ

In Christ we are forgiven

In Christ we are loved

In Christ we are accepted

In Christ we are secure

In Christ we are free to be ourselves

You are who God says you are, not who people say you are

Don’t try to base your life on the unstable foundation of human opinions

Instead, build on the unshakable truth of God

If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Saviour, the Bible tells you who you are “in Him.”

No matter what anyone else thinks, you are forgiven, loved, accepted, secure, and free

When someone says, 

    • You’re not good enough. 
    • You don’t measure up. 
    • You made a stupid decision. 
    • I don’t like your leadership, 
    • You don’t belong here

God’s Word says that just the opposite …

And knowing and living the truth will allow you to rise above the criticis

 

 

Extra material:

Constructive and Destructive Feedback

ConstructiveDestructive

PrivatePublic

Addresses behaviourAddresses personal characteristics

SpecificGeneral

PromptDelayed

PositiveNegative

Suggests actions to solve the problemNo solutions offered

 

Deference between constructive and destructive criticism

Constructive: Focuses on what the problem is and not the receiving person

Destructive: Lacks specific details about the problem or situation one is unhappy about

Constructive: Explains why the problem or situation is not good

Destructive: Focuses on the individual at fault and not the problem or the situation

Constructive:  Suggests ways in which the problem or situation can be improved

Destructive: Does not offer any suggestions about ho the problem or situation can be improved 

Constructive: Is done with the intention to help with the situation or to solve the problem

Destructive: Aimed at hurting the feelings, self-esteem, and confidence of the receiving person

Constructive: Intends to educate

Destructive:  Intends to embarrass

Constructive: Related to work 

Destructive: Feels like a personal attack

Constructive: Helps build on an idea and encourage a person

Destructive: Tears down an idea or a person 

Constructive: Makes outcome better

Destructive: Makes the person feel down and discouraged

Constructive: Comes along to help

Destructive: Tries to take over

 

Five Tips for Handling Criticism:

1> It usually contains a bit of truth

As for the grace to see and admit it, even if it makes you made

2> Don’t let the negative eat you up

We tend to keep negative feedback rather than positive remarks

3> Say a quick prayer for your critice3

It is difficult, but Jesus asks us to pray for those who hurt us

4> The only opinion that real matters is God’s

He is the One who truly knows us and loves us without limits

5> Criticism might be a sign of your fidelity and faithfulness

Often criticism is part of a life rooted in Christ

Feeling Stuck? – Part Two

Yesterday we started looking at choosing to move forward in life. A great topic after being “on hold” for a year due to Covid-19. So, how do you get free of the sandbar and back to sailing in open water? Today … the first of a number of suggestions that will help you to do just that. 

Start be accepting that everything is not equally important. Let me repeat that: everything in your life is not equally important. Almost every adult struggles with this today. We become so distracted by molehills that we can’t charge up the mountain.

In February 2020, Dan Cain of Twinsburg, Ohio, came home to find postal workers hauling seventy-nine large bins of letters to his house. In one day he received 55,000 letters, all of them the same. They were duplicate letters from a student loan company. Somehow the company made an error in its mailing system, inundating Cain with enough mail to last a lifetime.

Now think of this. What if somewhere among those fifty-five thousand letters was a vital communication — a small package mixed among the bins? What if it was a letter from God? What if a small copy of the Bible, the message of hope and heaven, was jumbled among the letters in those seventy-nine bins of mail?

Your cluttered world bombards you with thousands of bits of data every day. No wonder you’re distracted! It’s easy for the most important things to be lost. That’s why you must acknowledge that not everything is a priority. Not every activity is vital. Not every situation is eternal.

In His parable of the sower, Jesus said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

Can you relate to that? I can. The Lord has sown the seed of His Word into our hearts, but it’s not as productive or fruitful as He wants. Somehow His work in and through us is chocked by “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.”

Often times out inability to get unstuck and move forward is due to a lack of priorities — we fail to even consider that some things are more important than others. Without understanding the nature of priorities, you can’t sort through the cares of this world, but you can become paralyzed by burdens, business, and busyness. In trying to do everything you end up doing nothing. This “paralysis by analysis” can devastate your morale and your emotional health.

In a book called Essentialism, the author writes:

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things. People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of his experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually nothing was.

Understanding that not al things are equally important is an essential part of getting unstuck in daily life and moving forward. Priorities keep you focused and help you to accomplish what really matters, because the best way to move forward in your life journey is to remove the clutter and then focus on what is of prime importance. We need to learn to major on the majors. 

Next time … Part Three: Clarify What’s Best

Feeling Stuck? – Part One

Authors call it writer’s block. Athletes call it a slump. Economists call it stagnation. Pastors call it burnout. Swimmers call it treading water. Off-roaders call it spinning their wheels. Retailers call it sluggishness. Scientists call it inertia. Retirees call it the “every day is Saturday” syndrome. Sailors call it the doldrums.

But I have good news. This is not God’s intention for your life. The Bible says, “He who has begun a good work in you will compete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

You see, our mighty God has a plan for your life, and He doesn’t intend to stop in mid-design! The One who composed the songs of the birds, fashioned the orbits of the planets, formed the cycles of history, and plotted the pathways of the great whales — that One has a unique design for your life. Nothing is more important than fulfilling it.

At certain points in life, you’ll feel incapacitates and stuck, unable to gain forward momentum. Some of the greatest characters in the Bible were immobilized for a time:

      • Moses was stuck on the backside of the desert for years, unaware of God’s future for him (Exodus 3:1)
      • Naomi was trapped in Moab after the deaths of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:5)
      • Elijah was stuck in the wilderness, feeling sorry for himself after his failure to bring about the revival he’d hoped for Israel (1 Kings 19:10)
      • Ezekiel was stranded in Babylon at age thirty, frustrated he couldn’t enter his priestly service in Jerusalem at the temple (Ezekiel 1:1)
      • Peter was caught in a dark, depressive cycle on the Saturday before Easter ( Matthew 26:75)
      • Thomas was cast into faithless despondency when he missed the Saviour’s appearance on Easter Sunday (John 20:24)
      • Paul was stuck in Troas where a great door of evangelism was open for him, but he had no peace of mind because of anxiety about problems in the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)
      • The apostle John was exiled on the Island of Patmos, lonely and unable to continue his ministry — or so he thought (Revelation 1:9)

But wait! God has a design for every situation and every person. Look at that list again. By God’s grace, each of these people managed to get themselves unstuck and they went forward, onto their greatest days of usefulness for the Lord.

You were created for an ever-fruitful, flourishing, thriving life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Bible says, “Never be lacking in Zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11 NIV).

In 1 Corinthians 15:58 the apostle Paul proclaimed, “Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

You can’t be stuck and live abundantly at the same time. You can’t be despondent while keeping your spiritual fervour in God’s service. You can’t be immobilized and give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.

So, how do you get free of the sandbar and back to sailing in open water? Tomorrow we will look at the first of a number of suggestions that will help you to do just that. 

I’m Getting Older

Just read the book Keep Moving by Dick Van Dyke. He is an ageless optimist that always sees tomorrow as fresh and new and a gift to embrace as he moves forward into whatever the day may have for him. He is 94 years old, but he doesn’t know it. In the book he recalled filming a Disney movie. He was performing a dance scene when he suddenly felt the back of his leg snap like a rubber band. His injury grew worse, and he saw a doctor who took a bunch of X-rays.

After studying them intensely, the doctor looked at Van Dyke and said, “You’re covered with arthritis from head to foot. I’m surprised you could dance. I’ve never seen so much arthritis in a single person.”

“What about a married person?” Asked Dick, ever the comedian.

“Married or single, you’re literally suffused with arthritis,” said the doctor.

“What about the pain in my leg?”

“It’s the arthritis,” the doctor answered, chiding him and telling him it was no joking matter. The doctor predicted Van Dyke would be using a walker if not a wheelchair within five years.

Dick was scared so badly he did something rash. He stood up in the examining room and started tapping his toes, then shuffling around, then dancing, “as if proving to myself I could still order my body to do a soft shoe anytime I wanted.”

The doctor looked at him in shock.

“That was 1967,” said Dick. “I was forty years old. And I have not stopped moving ever since. Nor do I plan to hit the stop button anytime soon…As a card-carrying the-glass-is-half-full optimist, I’m going to … declare that old age doesn’t have to be a dreary weather report. In 99.9 percent of the stories I have heard it is better than the alternative, if only because you get to see what happens next. How can you not be curious?”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am ready to die and willing to live, but in either case I can’t wait to see what God will do next. How can you not be curious? The Bible says, “For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be” (Romans 5:2 TLB).

As I finish off my 73 year of life and look forward to a fantastic 74th year and beyond – way beyond, God willing – I recognize that I need to keep moving forward. I need to remain enthusiastic about life, excited about what God is doing, and anticipating what He is planning to do tomorrow and the next day and the next… I believe that I must be constantly growing and changing, moving forward into what could be, who I will be. The fullness of God’s plan and purpose for my life – my whole life. I am curious about what the future will bring as God continues to move and I continue to enjoy today and reach out for tomorrow.

Every morning I remind myself that “this is the day that the Lord has made” and that He gives this day to me as a gift to be embraced and lived to its fullest. 

Every morning I pray that the Lord would use me to glorify His Name and make His love known to someone during the day.

Every morning I read His Word to feed my spirit so I can enter the day having spent time with the Lord and having heard Him speak through the Word or directly to my spirit.

Every day I do my best to not waste time or simply spend time. I want to invest the time that He has so graciously gifted me with.

Every day I enjoy what I have to do and all that needs to be accomplished and am thankful to be working with Him in His Kingdom even when I am in the world doing regular life. 

And, every day, I dream of what is to come and plan how to take the first steps toward the future He has laid out for me. 

Yup! I am getting older. But inside I am still just 19.

Focus On Your One Thing

As I get older I have been narrowing my focus bit-by-bit. At one time I had the energy, interest, and the time to jump in to a large number of things, learning as I went along. It was fun. It was exciting. It was fulfilling. And, much was accomplished and learned along the way. 

I learned a lot about God’s purpose for my life. I gained a Kingdom perspective – His perspective on life, ministry, and the world. I became away of His plan for the Kingdom, His Church, and my own life within the Kingdom and the Church. Once in a while, I got a glance at the prize the faithful will receive when all is said and done. But, only recently have I come to realize that there is one other thing that pulls all of these — purpose, perspective, plan, prize — together. To move forward in all of these, regardless of what season of life you are in, you must find your passion and then give your life to that one thing; the thing you are seriously and deeply passionate about.

An old Russian proverb puts it this way, “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll not catch either one.” So focus on one thing and then pursue it and don’t lose focus as life happens around you each day.

I like someone who has focus — someone who never loses focus, who runs to win (to quote Paul the apostle), whose life is defined by one thing. You see this kind of focus often in the Bible, because the writers of the Bible knew something about focusing on one thing.

      • David said, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD…” (Psalm 27:4).
      • Jesus said to the rich young ruler, ““You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (mark 10:21)
      • He told the distracted homemaker, Martha: “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part” (Luke 10:42).
      • The man healed by Jesus said, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
      • And the apostle Paul said, “I focus on this one thing” (Philippians 3:13)

The phrase one thing implies consecration  — a word meaning to dedicate yourself and your every day to the wonderful will of God.

At the core of Paul’s life was one motivating principle: he focused on Christ. He concentrated on his walk with Jesus. He said in effect, “Lord, Your will be done — today and every remaining day I have on earth. Not my will, but Yours be done!”

Kent Hughes (an author whose books I have read over the years) wrote:

“Single-mindedness, the ability to focus, to shut everything out when necessary, is the key to success in virtually every area of life. It is the essential ingredient of the manic virtue of basketball heroes Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, or the golf great Jack Nicklaus, or the creative musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But here the focus is not a basketball rim, a flag fluttering on a distant green, or a musical score — it is Christ Himself and how to please Him. The single-minded disciple is in the world but he does not get ‘entangled’ in the world. He avoids anything that will hinder single-minded dedication to his Master.”

And the secret of a focused life? — Staying committed to your passion … to your one thing. 

The older I get the more narrow my focus. This is a good thing. I am putting all of my effort, time, energy, thought, work, and emotion into my now one thing … bringing the Church worldwide (yes, a big vision – why not, I have a big God) into biblical order and seeing the Church built according to the plan Jesus has for its construction as outlined in the Scriptures. There are many parts to this one vision, one task, one focus. But I am focused and am saying “no” to a lot of things that are good but that no longer fit into ’this one thing.’ 

In my life, and in yours as well, the passion for ‘this one thing’ will slowly pull together His purpose for you in this season of life, His perspective, His plan and His reward for you when it is all done. The key is to focus on this one thing and maintain the passion.