Tag Archives: Teacher

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.

 

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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A Teacher’s Love

 

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
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Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.. Galatians 4:7 (NLT)

Several years ago my mother was greeting at church and a woman asked her if she was Tom Vander Well’s mother. “I am,” my mother answered. The woman told my mother that she had been my first grade teacher and she wanted my mother to say hello to me. I was blown away to know that Mrs. Avery would remember me after all those years. I loved her. She changed my life by giving me a love for school and for learning. I made a point of visiting her a few weeks later to tell her that and to thank her. Sitting in her living room, she pulled out my old class photo and began naming each student and talking about each one as if we were the previous year’s class. When she told me that she prayed for each of her students, I wasn’t surprised.

I’ve been teaching a class this fall on creativity. It’s been several years since I’ve taught, and I’ve been amazed to remember how intensely I feel for those in my class. In my morning quiet times I find myself thinking of each one, naming them individually and praying for them. During the week I feel concern. I wonder how their week is going and what God is doing in their lives through the assignments and material.

I identified with Paul when in today’s chapter he described his feelings of responsibility for those he taught in Galatia as labor pains. On one hand it seems a bit of an odd metaphor because, face it, neither Paul nor I can really understand true labor pains. I think Paul used the metaphor because as a teacher you realize that something is being birthed in your students. There are new thoughts, new perceptions, and there is new life emerging when God’s Spirit is at work. And that is the key. God and the students are doing that hard work. I’m just a facilitator and conduit. Nevertheless, when I’m involved in the facilitation of that process, I experience a love and commitment to those in my charge.

We All Follow Footsteps…Choose Well

Footsteps
Footsteps (Photo credit: courosa)

Follow the steps of good men instead,
    and stay on the paths of the righteous. Proverbs 2:20 (NLT)

As I walk this life journey, I travel in the footsteps of good men and women. I have been blessed with a host of mentors who made a positive difference in my life:

  • Parents who love God and taught their children the values of honesty, hospitality, hard work, loving your neighbors well and serving others the way they’d want to be served.
  • Grandparents who laid their own set of footprints for my parents and siblings.
  • Siblings who loved their little brother, protected him, and let him hang around.
  • Primary teachers who cared about me as a person, who prayed for me without my knowing it and encouraged me to develop my talents and abilities.
  • Friends who encouraged me to do the right things.
  • Spiritual mentors who took me under their wing, taught my by example, and poured more time and energy into me than I deserved.
  • College professors who put up with a young man’s maddening mix of pride and insecurity while patiently pushing and pruning.
  • Business mentors who led me by their every day example.

We all follow in the footsteps of others. Choose well.

If you haven’t chosen well, today is a good day to find different footsteps to follow.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 28

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Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” Mathew 28:18-20 (MSG)

This morning as I thought about Jesus final charge to His followers, I pondered the process. Jesus teaches the disciples, then sends them out. The disciples teach another generation of followers who are sent out and on, and on, and on.

I think back to the people who were instrumental in my own decision to follow, and my subsequent learning to follow. I remember Bob. I think of my parents and my siblings. I think of Chuck, Andy, and David. I remember teachers like John, Dave, and Bill. I think back to amazing friends who have been instrumental in walking beside me in key stretches of the sojourn like Randy, Dave, Craig, Kirk, Stephen, Jon, Kevin, and Matthew.

All of us who follow received from others who learned from those before who received it from yet others who walked their own journey long before us. It is a spiritual lineage that goes back all the way to Jesus standing on a mountain with a handful of followers.

Today, I’m thankful for those who have been instrumental in my own spiritual journey. I pray that I have been and will continue to be faithful in passing what has been entrusted to me along to my children, eventually to my grandchildren, and to those who God brings into my sphere of influence.

Keep passing the baton. The race isn’t over.

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Chapter-a-Day Judges 17

In those days there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing. Judges 17:6 (MSG)

I still remember some of the substitute teachers that would fill in on a regular basis during my high school years. Most of them were excellent teachers, but there were a few who did not take their jobs very seriously. They did little teaching and cared very little what we did in class. They were like babysitters but with less sense of accountability. The result, of course, was not good. Students did pretty much whatever they wanted and constantly pushed the boundaries to see how much they could get away with.

One of the things I've noticed though the years is that people don't do well without leadership and authority. Given to ourselves, mankind tends to slip into the painful consequences of chaos and anarchy. One of the themes that flows in the subtext of the book of Judges is the free-for-all that resulted from the lack of a central governing authority.

Authority is a good thing, even when we don't always see eye-to-eye.