Tag Archives: Criticism

Opposition is Inevitable

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that [Jesus] drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:34 (NIV)

One of the things I have noticed over recent years is the divergent poles of political thought on both sides of the political spectrum. One side thinks that everything they believe is “all good” and whatever the opposition believes is “all bad.” Those in the middle who desire to seek compromise are pulled apart by the extremes on both sides. No matter what good any one tries to do or say, they are immediately attacked, slandered, criticized and their thoughts summarily dismissed.

I found it interesting that amidst Jesus’ unprecedented display of divine power and love He experiences criticism and negativity on all sides.

  • Jesus extends forgiveness to a paralytic, then heals the man … and the religious leaders dismiss Him a blasphemer.
  • Jesus shows love in reaching out to Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends … and He is condemned by the religious leaders for being with sinners, and criticized by the disciples of John the Baptist for partying and not fasting.
  • Jesus arrives to raise the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead … and He is laughed at by the mourners gathered there.
  • Jesus quietly heals two blind men, restoring their sight. He asks only that they keep quiet about it … and they do the opposite of what Jesus asked.
  • Jesus casts out a demon who had made a man mute … and the good religious people said that Jesus must be the Prince of Demons.

Along life’s road I have come to understand that you can do nothing worthwhile in this world without being criticized and condemned by somebody. Opposition is inevitable in this world, even to the things of God’s Spirit. Today I witness Jesus, who is healing, forgiving, loving, raising the dead and releasing people from spiritual bondage. At every turn He is being criticized, dismissed, ignored, laughed at, and condemned.

Why should I think that it would be any different for me?

This morning I’m reminded that no matter where Jesus leads and no matter what I am called to do, I will encounter some measure of doubt, criticism, hatred and opposition. My job is to press on, keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and to love even those who criticize me for it.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

Judgment, Fruit Inspection, and Mixing Metaphors

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

For over 25 years I have been in the business of the behavioral analysis of human interactions (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training and quality assurance purposes“). One time the Quality Assurance (QA) manager of a client told me that she gave an agent a score of “0” on her call. There were about 30 behavioral criteria analyzed in a given call so that the score reflected a generally accurate picture of what the customer did and didn’t experience in the interaction. To get a “0” an agent would almost have to pick up the phone and immediately stroke out, but even then the agent would be credited for not rushing the caller off the phone. Getting a zero is practically impossible if the agent had blood pressure and a pulse.

As I asked a few questions I soon discovered that the manager didn’t particularly like the agent who took the call she scored “0.” I suspect there were other employment or personality issues between the two. When the agent did something the manager didn’t like on the call, the manager took the opportunity to exercise her power and dismiss the agent and her performance as utterly worthless.

In today’s chapter Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount with a direct command not to be judgmental of others. He goes on to illustrate what he means by describing those who will find a “speck” of something wrong about someone else which they use to justify their judgment, grudge or dismissive attitude towards that person. The judgmental person is, of course, ignoring the glaring 2x4s of their own personal flaws as they do this.

Later in the chapter Jesus is speaks specifically about “false prophets.” In Jesus day there were all sorts of religious teachers, cult leaders, and false prophets making all sorts of religious claims. One of the things we fail to realize is that teachers and preachers claiming to be the Messiah were quite common in Jesus’ day. Just like televangelists and cult leaders in our current era, it was a lucrative gig to convince the crowds you’re the Messiah.

Jesus then gives a word picture to help his listeners be discerning and objective in their Quality Assurance assessment of these “false prophets.” Look at the fruit of their teaching and ministry. Is it the things of God? Goodness? Humility? Generosity? Repentance? Reconciliation? Changed lives? Or is it the things of this world? Wealth? Arrogance? Pride? Power? Control? Hatred? Look at the outcomes and results of these prophets and teachers. That’s the way to know if they are servants of God or servants of themselves.

Along my life’s journey I’ve run into many of my fellow followers of Jesus who will proudly and loudly proclaim: “I’m not supposed to judge other people, but I am called to be a fruit inspector!” These individuals then quickly find a “speck” on the “fruit” of another person’s life and feel perfectly justified in claiming the power and authority to dismiss or condemn the whole tree for quality issues. They use Jesus’ call to be “fruit inspectors” of false prophets to justify their judgement of anyone and everyone’s “specks.”

This morning I’m thinking about the ways we mix up Jesus’ metaphors and twist His teaching to justify the very things he commands us not to do. Even as I write this I’ve got my own 2x4s staring me square in the face. I’m praying for mercy this morning, and confessing my own critical and judgmental attitude towards others. God’s Message tells us that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. In order to consistently produce a good crop there is regular regimen of cultivating, watering, tending, and pruning. I’ve been following Jesus a long time, but I constantly have some pruning to do.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

Easy Prey

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
James 3:2 (NRSV)

Public speaking has been a big part of my life and vocation since I was a very young man. I have stood in front of many groups both big and small, and I have addressed a host of subjects with listeners.

When you step into the spotlight of the podium you are setting yourself up for scrutiny. Often the environment itself lends itself to critique. You as the speaker are alone, elevated before the crowd with bright lights shining directly on you. I have often quipped that when you stand up before a group of people you have an invisible target on you. You’re easy prey; The proverbial sitting duck. People will listen with critical ears, watch with critical eyes, tear apart your words, and question both your message and your motivations.

Even as I write this I am flooded with a host of memories. I regularly have complete strangers correct me, challenge me, and criticize me. And, quite often, they are correct. Wise King Solomon said, “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” The more you speak, the greater likelihood of staying something wrong, stupid, ignorant, or offensive.

And, that is James’ point in today’s chapter. For being such a small thing, the tongue can get me into all sorts of trouble. This morning I’m thinking about words. Words from the podium, words in blog posts, words in conversation, words in tweets, words to strangers, words with loved ones.

This morning I’m reminded of what James wrote back towards the beginning of his letter: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak….” Today, I endeavor, once again, to apply that simple principle.

Beginning now.

(Have a nice day!)

Every Leader Wears a Target

The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon.
Nehemiah 4:17 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I’ve learned that when set yourself up to lead almost any effort, no matter how noble your intent, you will always encounter opposition. Parents trying to lead their family well will experience opposition from children, so-called experts, other parents telling them they’re doing it wrong, or the grandparents telling them they’re screwing up the kids. Teachers leading a classroom have to wear emotional body armor against the slings and arrows they get from all sides. Every preacher on Sunday morning, no matter how true his or her message, has at least a few congregation members who will serve up roast pastor for their Sunday dinner. The greater the task being led, the more virulent the opposition will be.

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In this life, God has not led me on roads where I have been called upon to take on monumental leadership roles. I have never been Patton called on to lead armies in saving the free world from Hitler’s minions. I have always been George Bailey fighting the relatively silly skirmishes of Bedford Falls. Still, I am always amazed at how universally this paradigm holds true. People are people. Stand in a position of leadership and you wear a target on your chest.

So it was that Nehemiah and the people building the walls of Jerusalem encountered opposition from their neighbors and enemies in today’s chapter. Their enemies did not want the wall rebuilt. They did not want Judah to rebuild its regional power. They wanted the walls and gates to remain in heaps of rubble. And so, with the threat of their work being attacked, the laborers had to build the wall with one hand, and had to be prepared to defend their work with the other.

I love that word picture as I wear my relatively minor mantels of leadership. I have to be prepared for opposition as I lead any kind of task. Of course, I’ve also learned that not all opposition or criticism is malicious or divisive. Quite often it is criticism that makes me aware of my blind spots and helps me shore up areas of need. Wise King Solomon said, “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy.” Word. I’ve discovered that wisdom is often required to discern the difference between constructive criticism and opposition of ill intent. I’m still learning.

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An Encounter with “Yes Men” Leadership

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source: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” 1 Kings 22:8 (NIV)

Some time ago I found myself appointed to a project committee. The head of the committee was a young leader in the organization. I did not know him well, but I knew from observation that he was an up-and-comer. I was a late appointee to the committee and I did a lot of listening the first couple of meetings. I wanted to get a sense of group, the leader, and how my own personality and style might best fit into the whole.

It was in that second meeting that everyone on the committee was asked to share how they thought things were going and what could be done better. One of the first things that I had noticed was that our project leader had revealed two things that concerned me:

  1. He had an aggrandized vision for what our project was going to accomplish, speaking in hyperbole about how we were going to change the world, when it wasn’t clear we were actually going to accomplish what we were trying even on a small, local scale.
  2. He had placed himself in a position in the implementation that ensured he’d be in the spotlight, but it was clear to me that the position required strengths, abilities, and giftedness that I had not seen him demonstrate. I was concerned that he was setting himself, and the project, up for failure.

It would not have been appropriate for me to share my reservations about the leader with the entire group, so I kept that to myself. In the meeting I shared one thing I thought was going very well, and I shared one thing I thought our committee could do to improve the project outcomes.

I’m still not sure what I said that got me called into the leader’s office after the meeting. It was there that I was told I was too critical and the leader was questioning whether my presence would be destructive. He went to explain that he believed all criticism was inherently negative and counter productive. When I asked about the concept of “constructive criticism” he balked at the idea as an oxymoron, as all criticism in his estimation was negative and destructive.

It was at that point that I realized that the leader was right on one point. My presence on the project committee would be a negative. I knew I could not serve under such delusional thinking and keep my own personal sanity. At that point, I figured I had nothing to lose. I expressed my concerns with the project leader about his vision and his giftedness being misaligned. He saw this as just another example of my critical, judgmental spirit and said that it proved his point. I told him that I would quit, to which he responded, “Let’s not say you quit. Let’s just tell the others you’ve decided to take a break from the project.” I told him he could say whatever he wanted to say to the rest of the committee. I was done.

I thought about this experience as I read about King Ahab and the prophet Micaiah. Ahab hated Micaiah because the prophet refused to tell him what he wanted to hear. The king had clearly surrounded himself with “yes men” prophets who put their spiritual rubber stamp on whatever the king desired. Such leaders rarely become great leaders. Leadership requires an honest understanding of one’s own strengths, gifts, and weaknesses. It also requires wisdom to discern between good and weak criticism, the humility to accept responsibility for failures, and the strength to make changes for the good of the whole.

As I look back at my experience with 20/20 hindsight, I believe the project leader was a young leader driven both by his passion to do great things and his insecurities. To be honest, I recognized in him some my own weaknesses as a leader at his age. I believe that in his own personal journey he will encounter wise counsel from whom he can receive honest feedback, and he will eventually temper the dim view of constructive criticism he expressed to me. I simply wasn’t the right person to work with him. It happens.

By the way, the project continued on for another couple of years. I witnessed it accomplishing some good outcomes, and I chose in to contributing on occasion from outside the project committee. It never came anywhere near to realizing the grandiose vision I’d heard the leader proclaim in my brief time on the committee. The project leader eventually jumped at the chance to move on to bigger and better things.

Responding to Disloyalty and Criticism

L to R, President Harry S. Truman, Press Secre...
L to R, President Harry S. Truman, Press Secretary Charles Ross, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower chat after President… – NARA – 198756 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”

I once met a man who had served under five different U.S. presidents while working for the Department of Commerce. His favorite, he told me, was Harry Truman who always made a requested decision in a timely way and was always on top of the many details necessary to carry out the office well. His least favorite, he added, was Dwight Eisenhower whom he observed was on the golf course more than he was in the oval office and who seemed to avoid the politics and details the job required.

As a history buff I’ve heard it said that military generals make poor presidents. Politics is messier than the military. People don’t have to obey your every command. You can’t just give orders, you have to persuade and cajole those who disagree with you. U.S. Grant, another general who ascended to the White House, is generally regarded as the worst U.S. president in history.

As we read the story of David, I find it fascinating that this theme of difficulty moving from military command to political power appears to be very apt, even in antiquity. David was a great military leader, but his leadership as monarch had some fatal flaws that echo the reflections of Eisenhower by my acquaintance. Absalom stole people’s hearts because he would take the time listen to their cases and grievances while David avoided the responsibility and kept people waiting. David appears to have been more interested in personal pursuits than in national problems.

Because of his leadership blind spots, David is on the run for the second time in his life. This time, he’s fleeing his own son. David’s scandals have decimated his approval rating. He has few loyal followers left. As his monarchy collapses around him, people’s true feelings come to light and we see two examples of it in today’s chapter. I find it interesting the contrast between David’s response in the the two confrontations found in today’s chapter.

Mephibosheth, the handicapped son of Saul, had personally been shown favor by David. Now that David appears to have let the throne slip through his fingers, Mephibosheth repays David’s grace with disloyalty rather than gratitude. There is a power vacuum and Mephibosheth is going to try an make a play to grab power for himself. David responds by rescinding his former kindness and give Saul’s holdings back to Saul’s servant, Ziba.

Shimei the Benjaminite lets out his frustrations with David in an annoying one man protest in which he screams his disdain for David and hurls stones at the king. Unlike Mephibosheth’s disloyalty, which was a personal dishonoring of David’s kindness, Shimei’s verbal and stone assault comes from pent up frustration with David’s leadership, scandals, and the resulting fall out. Perhaps David recognized the truth in Shimei’s criticism. David turns the other cheek and won’t even let his loyal guard force Shimei to be quiet.

Today I’m thinking and pondering the criticism and confrontations we all face. There is a difference between Mephibosheth’s selfish power grab and Shimei’s frontal assault and a difference in David’s response. Nevertheless, Jesus never made such distinctions in his command to forgive others. His parables and consistent message instructs me to forgive both hurtful verbal criticism and a very personal slap across the face.

I’m taking a little inventory this morning of those who’ve been critical and who’ve caused me injury. I’m thinking about my own life, leadership and blind spots which have given others good reason to be critical. I’m considering my responses and asking myself if I’ve truly forgiven them.

Between you and me, I’ve got some work to do.

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An Audience of One

audience of oneObviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

In the wee hours of this morning I was up praying for and responding to an e-mail from my daughter. Earlier this week she and her husband crafted a well articulated blog post about the journey of relational and behavioral they have been struggling through in the past three years. As happens whenever you offer up intimate details of your life for public consumption you are bound to receive diverse reactions and responses. The kids have been struggling through some particularly negative, personal feedback.

I thought of them as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to those following Jesus in Galatia. In the early years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were all sorts of quarrels and schisms between the growing number of believers around the known world. Paul was a fiercely independent person and I get the impression that he had a very strong, fiery personality. Because Paul was not one of the original group of disciples, because he had once hunted down and executed Jesus’ followers, and because he didn’t not easily fit into the organizational structure of the emerging group of believers, there was a lot of controversy surrounding him and his work to share the good news of Jesus with the Roman provinces in Greece and southern Europe.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes it clear that he is doing what God had called him to do. He did not seek nor solicit anyone’s permission. He did not beg anyone’s leave. He had an audience of one, and that was God alone. He did not care what anyone thought about him or his work. He was not answering to them nor responsible for their reactions to him. He was not out to please people. He was working to please God by being obedient to walk the path he’d been given.

Unlike Paul, God gave me the personality of a people pleaser. I want people to like me. It makes me uncomfortable when people take issue with me, my words, or my actions. Yet, I have learned along the journey to accept the criticism, harsh words, and negative reactions that sometimes come with public speaking, blogging, and performing. I can’t keep people from judging me, criticizing me, or condemning me. What I can do is continue to walk the path God has laid before me, step-by-step, to the best of my ability, and to keep my focus on the audience of One who ultimately is the only One who counts.

My daughter shared with me some of the outpouring of people who have been touched, encouraged, moved and motivated by their blog post. People who thought they were alone in their own pain now have someone with whom they can identify. Opportunities are opening for them to help others through the painful struggle of their own brokenness. Despite the criticism of a few, many are benefitting from their courageous honesty, openness, and transparency. They have no need to waste emotional energy on unimportant criticism and the judgment of others. They need that energy to be channeled in love, grace and encouragement towards the precious ones who are coming out of the wood work to say, “Help. Me too.”