Tag Archives: Criticism

Footnote to a Proverb

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

One of the things about my job is that I am sometimes placed in the position of being the bearer of difficult news. Sometimes the data from a survey, or a team’s service quality assessment, is not what my client wants to hear. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to communicate undesirable truths in a way that they can be received and turned into tactical options for turning things around. Sometimes, that’s impossible.

One of the things I’ve observed in my career journey is that the crucial variable in these types of situations is the wisdom, maturity, and attitude of the leader who is hearing the news I have to bring. There are times when it didn’t matter how I approached the situation. I, the messenger, would be shot.

I was once asked to sit in on a CEO’s advisory team as he launched a new initiative. I was impressed with the team that had been assembled and was actually excited to participate as an “outsider.” What became clear, however, was that the CEO wanted team members who only provided advice deemed positive and encouraging to the ego. I’ve seen this before. A client asks us to create a quality assessment scorecard that ensures every employee will get nothing but perfect marks all the time. The motivation for this request is the mistaken notion that everyone will “feel like a winner” (the customers are the losers who are still getting a poor service experience from the company’s representatives, while those representatives are continually rewarded for their mediocrity). I didn’t last long on that advisory team. I was good with that.

In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon shares that success comes with “many advisors,” and I believe that to be true. However, I found myself wanting to add a footnote to the proverb. The heart of both the leader and the advisors are crucial. The advisors have to be willing to say what the leader needs to hear, and the leader must be willing to hear whatever wisdom the advisors feel necessary to share (even if it’s not what the leader wants to hear).

As I was mulling these things over I found myself reminded of a recent Board meeting of our company in which one of our Directors really challenged a decision. Even though it didn’t ultimately sway a change in the decision, we needed that challenge. We needed to discuss a different point-of-view. It helped bring clarity to the issue and forced me, the leader, to consider the wisdom of other options. I want my Board members to be honest, and I want to be wise enough to heed their counsel even when it goes against my personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on several experiences as both leader and advisor along my life journey. I’ve learned that I can’t really change others. I can only be responsible for myself in the role of both leader (accepting wise counsel) and advisor. My time is most wisely spent with those who really want my honest input, whether they ultimately heed it or not. Those who don’t really want to hear what I actually think and believe are better off finding another advisor.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Lord Protectors of Orthodoxy and Tradition

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere.
Luke 20:20 (NIV)

It’s been years, but I can still see their faces. The look on most of those faces is a scowl. Along my journey, I have been a member and have taught in many different churches of diverse denominational bents. I have found these individuals in almost every one of them.

They are the thought police, the guardians of tradition, and the Lord Protectors of the Orthodox Realm. They wear the mantel of righteousness, believing themselves responsible to strictly observe and question anything they perceive to seep outside the rigid box in which they hold their tradition and orthodoxy. They often believe themselves to be spiritual heirs of the first century Berean Jews who are described as follows:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Acts 17:11 (NIV)

My experience, however, leads me to believe that “noble character” is not an apt description for most of these individuals. They don’t receive my message with eagerness and open examination but with skepticism and censure. I have come to believe that their motivation is often fear and or pride cloaked in religiosity. Their minds and spirits are not open but closed. The fruit of their words and actions is rarely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, or gentleness. I have observed that the root of their words and actions lie in the soil of fear, pride, self-righteousness, and anger. The fruit of their words and actions is conflict, quarrels, division, and dissension.

The faces of these individuals came to mind today as I read Luke’s account of the final week of Jesus’ earthly journey. We find Jesus in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple courts. He is drawing large crowds. He is the talk of the town. And, the orthodox power system of that Temple is angry and afraid. Jesus threatens their lucrative religious racket that has amassed their wealth. Jesus threatens their power and social standing with the people whom they control through religious rule-keeping, condemnation, judgment, and shame. Their tradition is holding onto power and they are bent on taking Jesus down.

So these teachers of the law and religious authorities send people to question, to trap, and to report anything the upstart Nazarene says which might be used to make a case against Him. They are already trying to find a way to send Jesus to the Roman Governor, for under Roman occupation it is Pontius Pilate alone who can sentence one to death, and they want Jesus dead.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. As a follower of Jesus, I firmly believe that I must be responsible to consider, weigh, and test the things said, written, and taught in the name of Jesus. At the same time, I am called upon to be both shrewd and gentle. I have been commanded to follow the law of love in all things. I have been told to reserve judgment for the One true Judge. I am not judge, jury, and executioner of orthodox justice with a Junior Holy Spirit badge pinned to my chest. What a sad way to live and be. It doesn’t seem like the “full life” Jesus wanted His followers to experience and live out.

Back to the faces and the individuals. I have learned along the way to always try responding thoughtfully, gently, and with self-control. If they are open to a sincere and kind conversation to explore and discuss, then wonderful! However, when a thoughtful and gentle reply is fruitless (and it typically is), then I endeavor to press forward on the path to which God has led me. I keep loving, keep praying, keep reading, keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking, and I focus on the only things in my control: my intentions, thoughts, words, and actions. And, I pay as little attention to my scowling critics as is humanly possible.

Sometimes, the most loving thing I can do is to walk away.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Muttering

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered….
Luke 15:2 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that if one attempts anything of real value there will be muttering.

I was struck this morning when the chapter began by saying that the teachers of the law and Pharisees “muttered.” Digging into the original Greek and the definitions given for the word Dr. Luke used here, it described “droning on in low, constant murmur” and “smoldering discontent.”

Having been in different positions of leadership my entire life, I have come to understand that there will always be muttering. In fact, as I sit in the quiet this morning and take a stroll down memory lane I can quickly bring to mind mutterers and their mutterings from every stretch of my journey.

A couple of thoughts on muttering:

Even Jesus Christ had mutterers muttering. I can always take solace in the fact that I’m in good company. I’ve come to accept that there will be mutterers. In fact, if there are no mutterers, then maybe something is wrong.

Muttering came from all sides. Muttering is typically not as simple as a black-and-white differentiation between those who mutter and those who don’t. The teachers of the law muttered. The crowds muttered. Jesus’ family muttered. Even Jesus’ disciples sometimes muttered. When you say things and attempt things that make people feel uncomfortable, there will be muttering, and Jesus was very clear that discomfort is a natural part of spiritual growth. Life comes through death. Salvation comes through loss. Growth comes from pruning. Receiving comes through giving. Let the muttering begin.

Jesus was never afraid to address the issue at the heart of the muttering. When there was muttering about healing on the Sabbath He questioned the reasoning of the mutterers and then healed on the Sabbath. In today’s chapter, when the muttering was about His keeping company with “sinners” He told three parables about God’s love for sinners and heaven’s celebration when a sinner repents. I’ve learned that responding to muttering head-on is often the best way to handle the smoldering discontent.

Jesus rarely showed anger or animosity towards mutterers and their muttering. Jesus was frequently the dinner guest of Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they were the ones who seemed to always lead the muttering. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is to separate the mutterers from their muttering. It’s so easy to distance myself from mutterers and demonize them, but that solves nothing. Confronting the issue at the heart of the muttering is important, but I try to treat the individuals muttering with kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

There will be muttering. I can’t prevent that. Like Jesus, however, I can choose how I respond.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Balak’s an Idiot (and so am I)

Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed themthese three times.”
Numbers 24:10 (NIV)

Yesterday morning, after writing my post and finishing my quiet time, I settled in at the breakfast table. Wendy was just finishing reading our previous chapter as she waited for me.

Balak is an idiot,” she said with a chuckle and shake of her head.

I laughed, and agreed with her. The narrative clearly portrays the Moabite king as not being the sharpest tool in the shed. Balaam the seer clearly spoke the terms up front to Balak. He would say only what the Lord told him to say, no matter how much treasure Balak offered Balaam to say what he wanted to hear.

Nevertheless, Balak makes Balaam view the Hebrew encampment from three different vantage points, expecting Balaam’s prophetic message to change with the view. When the prophecy doesn’t change to his favor, Balak tells Balaam that he’s not going to pay. Duh. Balaam reminds Balak that he knew that up front.

It is out of Alcoholics Anonymous that we got the popular notion that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It appears Balak could have benefitted from the Twelve Steps.

In the quiet this morning, however, I’m reminded that I can often find my own reflection in the individuals I criticize. There are stretches of my own journey in which I was looped in endless cycles of brokenness. Truth be told, I have found that significant spiritual progress usually requires breaking systemic negative patterns of thought or behavior. The further you progress the deeper, more intimate, and less obvious those negative patterns are to the casual observer. Recovering Alcoholics will tell you that they once thought drinking was their problem. Journeying through the Twelve Steps you discover that your addiction is just the tip of the iceberg.

This morning as I laugh at King Balak’s idiocy, I have to humbly confess that I am also laughing at myself.

Have a good weekend, my friend.

Facing Opposition

Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.
Numbers 16:1-2 (NIV)

Every leader of an organization, whether it be politics, business, community, church, or non-profit, will face opposition. It is, I’m afraid, simply part of the  territory.

In today’s chapter, Moses and his brother Aaron face yet another round of opposition to their leadership. They’ve already faced multiple waves of criticism, experienced sharp drops of popularity, and had to address multiple acts of defiance. Now, a Levite and three men from the tribe of Dan were ring-leaders of a 250 person rebellion. Their beef was that Moses and Aaron sat a lone at the top of the religious system. They wanted a piece of the power. “We’re all holy,” they argued. “Why is it only the two of you alone get to enter the Lord’s presence and speak for the Lord?” 

I’ve found it very common for leaders to face opposition from members of the group who envy all of the benefits of leadership. I also have found that these individuals often ignore the very real responsibilities and burdens that come along with that leadership. I’ve also observed that where there are a few passionate opposition leaders, you will soon find a growing group of supporters that they will have stirred up in order to support their own feelings and desires.

We later find that part of the opposition wasn’t just about power and control, but about material possessions. The Levites weren’t allowed to own property. God intended for them to take care of the temple and to be provided for through the temple and the offerings and sacrifices of the other tribes. Those opposed to Moses and Aaron’s leadership eventually reveal that what they want is the ability to own property like everyone else.

I’ve observed that opposition is often rooted in others’ appetites for power/control, money, or both.

I also observe this morning a couple of important lessons from Moses’ response to this latest round of opposition:

  • Moses didn’t ignore the opposition. Moses acknowledged the opposition and even allowed for a test of their opposition. He confronted Korah the Levite directly. He attempted to speak with the leaders of the opposition from Dan, but they wouldn’t speak to him. Opposition rarely just goes away and it often refuses direct communication. Left unchecked, opposition typically grows to become a larger and larger issue. Good leaders rise to the challenge and find ways to address opposition. There are many and diverse ways of addressing it, but I have learned (in some cases through failure, I confess) that it needs to be addressed.
  • Moses differentiated between opposition and the whole.  Rather than stepping back and accepting God’s anger to burn against the entire assembly, Moses’ pled for the consequences to be confined to those responsible. It’s easy from a position of leadership to perceive that the opposition is greater than it really is. Trying to remain objective and place responsibility and consequences where they are due can be critical to future success.
  • Moses continued to exhibit love and compassion for those under his leadership. At the end of the chapter we find Moses pleading with Aaron to make atonement for the entire assembly before a plague gets too far out of hand. It is easy when frustrated by opposition and the weariness of leadership to stop caring. Moses continued to exhibit deep concern for the people, despite the never-ending headaches they caused him.

This morning I’m thinking about my own experiences and qualities as a leader. I’ve had my share of successes along the way, but I’ve also failed at every one of the three leadership qualities I observed in Moses this morning. Specific situations, individuals, and circumstances come to mind. As I ponder these failures it humbly brings a final thought on leadership to mind: I can’t let failure stop me from trying. Learning from failure is perhaps the most critical lesson any leader can embrace.

As I get ready to start my day, a familiar quote from Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The Critical Discernment of Criticism

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

When we left the story yesterday, the commander of the invading Assyrian army was talking smack at the gates of Jerusalem. The intent was the same then as it is today with smack talking on the athletic field, the playground, corporate offices, or elsewhere. The goal is to get inside the other person’s head, create doubt, instill fear, and win the psychological battle.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity of working with a wonderful group of people in my local gathering of Jesus followers. These individuals are actively working to develop their gifts and abilities at communicating God’s Message in front of a large group of people. I have enjoyed the privilege of helping mentor them in their development.

Every communicator who regularly stands in front of a group of listeners must at some point confront unwarranted criticism. I encounter the occasional denier who shuns all criticism. I had someone who once told me, “the root word of ‘criticism’ is ‘critical’ which is inherently negative.” I chose not to respond, knowing that I was speaking to a person whose heart and ears were closed to the fact that “critical” is also defined as “skillful judgment” and “decisive importance.” Most individuals understand that fair, knowledgable, and objective criticism is a crucial ingredient to improvement.

I’ve come to understand, however, that some unwarranted criticism you receive is a lot like smack talking. Smack talking critics can be identified by their intent, and that’s where discernment is required. Their criticism is not an honest and loving response intended to help the recipient (as much as they will claim that it is). Their criticism is an emotional gut reaction intended to defend something that has been stirred or threatened within themselves.

In this morning’s chapter, I found King Hezekiah’s response to the Assyrian threats fascinating. He immediately took the text of the threats to the temple, to the prophet Isaiah, and “spread it out before the Lord.” What a great word picture. Hezekiah didn’t eat the words and let them sicken his thoughts. He didn’t completely and foolishly dismiss the words and the threat. His actions were a measured and calculated response. He “spread them out” with a desire to get a good, objective look, wise counsel, and divine wisdom. What is true? What is not true? What is the intent of the message? What should I take from this? What should I ignore?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the amazing story that plays out in the rest of the chapter. The “word of the Lord” through Isaiah was that God was going to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Over night the Assyrian army was miraculously decimated and forced to withdraw. This was a historical event about which speculation and theories still abound.

This morning I’m reminded of my need of criticism, and the equal need to learn discernment with the unsolicited feedback I receive from others. I need to recognize and dismiss the misguided smack talk of people unconsciously reacting out of their own stuff. I also need to seek out and embrace the wise, honest and helpful reflections from those who love me and desire my continued, healthy development. It’s not just a good thing, it’s critical to the process of my maturity.

Faith to Reach Out Amidst the Shame

“Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him….”
2 Kings 13:4a (NIV)

One of the things that I’ve learned in my years as a corporate coach is that most people are quite aware of their own faults. When I give someone the opportunity to assess themselves I find they are usually quite accurate about the opportunities they have to do better. In fact, I find that people usually have a harder time identifying their strengths even though they can provide a laundry list of their weaknesses. They are generally harder on themselves than I would ever be.

Along life’s journey I’ve found that it’s quite common for my guilt (i.e. “I keep messing up by thinking/saying/doing [fill in the blank]”) to sink into shame (i.e. “I’m such a hopeless case that I’m sure I’m so unlovable/unforgivable/unworthy that I don’t merit anyone’s love or forgiveness“). As I’ve spoken to people along my path I’ve found it quite common for people to feel convinced that God would never love them as they are or forgive them for the things they’ve done (or not done).

In today’s chapter, it is pointed out that Jehoahaz had, throughout his reign, continued to do what he knew was wrong in the eyes of God. He committing idolatry and allowed it to continue in the nation. Yet, Jehoahaz got to the point where he was willing to approach God, despite his guilt, and pour out his heart in seeking God’s favor. Despite Jehoahaz’s awful spiritual track record God listened. God loved. God granted Jehoahaz unmerited favor (e.g. “grace”) and provided deliverance.

This morning I’m reminded that there are times when God seems distant and remote, but it’s my own actions and emotions that have created the distance. Jehoahaz is a great reminder that I must have enough faith to approach God even when my guilt and shame have convinced me that I’m unworthy of doing so.