Are You Stoning Your Prophets?

 

It’s folly to stone your prophets.

Yet I see it all the time: people (I include myself here) who deal with unwelcome truth by rejecting the truth-teller. The child who denounces his mother for telling him his behavior is unacceptable. The employee who grouses about her boss for giving her a less than sterling review. The wife who harangues her husband for asking her to cease her gossip, or the husband who berates his wife for asking him to be kinder.

You know the beat.

There is some device in us that resists truth and resents those who bring it. The device is very active in my own brain. I can feel my hackles rising, my breath shortening, my jaw clenching, and my mind racing as soon as I see the slightest criticism coming my way. I start thinking up excuses before I even know what I’m excusing.

One of the best disciplines I’m learning is to turn off the device. Or at least ignore it. I’m teaching myself, not just to not resist honest criticism: I’m teaching myself to actively seek it and wholeheartedly welcome it. A question I’m asking people more and more: “Is there anything about me you wish I’d change?”

And then I take a breath.

And then I get an earful.

It’s rarely as bad as I dreaded. It’s always better than I hoped. It’s usually fair and accurate. In the end, it’s always life-giving – which the Bible says is a sign of true rebuke.

So far, I’ve been talking about criticism from people who love you. From those who want your best.

But let me push this even further. What do you do with harsh criticism? With the snipes of the cranky, self-appointed prophet – the accuser in the guise of a prophet? With the attacks of your enemy? With the barbs of the one who wants the worst for you?

Here’s a hard truth: they may be right. The day King David fled Jerusalem at the advance of his son Absolom’s revolt, an old embittered enemy – Shimei – followed him and taunted him all the way. He hurled rocks and dirt at David. He unleashed a brutal litany of curses and accusations.

David’s response? I think God is telling me something here.

God sometimes uses the mouth of an enemy to tell us what we refused to hear from the mouth of a friend. When we stone our prophets, it’s actually grace when God sends a foe to take his place.

Next week. I’ll to write about responding to criticism. But I wonder if you have a story of when God has used a friend, or maybe an enemy, to tell you a hard truth?

Getting Egged

 

I once got egged in Africa.

It’s not what you’re thinking. Getting egged in Canada is supremely unpleasant – a raw egg, sometimes rotten, hurled at you with contempt. It stings. It humiliates.

That’s never happened to me, and I hope it never does.

Getting egged in Africa was very different. It was not humiliating, but humbling. It did sting, I’ll admit that, but in a deep-down healing way. 

Let me explain. I was preaching in a church in rural Kenya. The people were mostly poor. During the collection, every man, woman, and child brought something to the front to offer to God – some were dressed in suits and dresses, some in rags. Some were obviously well-fed, some gaunt with hunger. Some brought bills, some coins, and some – the really poor – brought food: chickens, cabbages, potatoes. And eggs.

All laid on the altar. All offered to God.

At the end of the service, the pastor auctioned the food to the wealthier people in the church. And then an amazing thing happened: many of those people gave the food away. To a little boy who came to church alone. To a single mom with hungry children. To an old man too sick to work.

And that’s when I got egged: someone gave me a basket full of brown eggs, still warm. I’m not sure what need they spied in me, if any. Generosity is like that: it has a logic all its own.

I think of that moment often – whenever I need a fresh lesson in humility, and especially when I need a heart check on generosity. Most my life I’ve practiced a thin version of generosity, where my giving is only a disguised form of purchasing – I give expecting something back, some service, some privilege, some influence, some pat on the back.

And then I got egged, and I got it: real giving is giving away.

I’ve been a Christ-follower for over 30 years. Since then, God has had excavate me deeply and rearrange me extensively. One of the deepest excavations and most extensive rearrangements has been in the area of generosity. He’s had to turn a skinflint into a philanthropist, Scrooge into Santa. I’m not better than half-way there, but I’m moving in the right direction. I’m not yet what I will be, but I’m no longer what I once was.

Here are a few things God’s taught me about generosity along the way:

  • Generosity is an adventure. I have more fun giving than spending. I always feel a residue of guilt and regret when I spend too much. I never feel that when I give, no matter how much.
  • Generosity is catalytic. Few things have grown me faster and deeper spiritually than giving. Let me spell out what I just said: giving is not just a sign of spiritual growth; it’s a catalyst for it. Generosity isn’t something you do once you’re spiritually mature; it’s something you do in order to become spiritually mature.
  • Generosity is generative. That’s the root meaning of the word – it generates, it creates. It brings something new into existence. Ironically, we get richer, not by accumulating, but by giving.
  • Generosity mirrors Jesus. At his core, God is a giver. The whole mission of Jesus was to give until, literally, he bled. Let me put this bluntly: unless you’re becoming more and more generous, you are not becoming more and more like Jesus.
  • Generosity is living large. Think of anyone you know whose life is infectious – who you love to be around, who you’d love to be more like. My guess is that they’re generous – with stuff, with money, with words, with time, with encouragement. Or ask it this way: Is there one stingy person you know who you actually want to be with and be like? I can’t think of one myself.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on generosity.

One Blessing after Another

 

 

Good-bye Pentrecwrt - We will miss this view.

 
 
We are on the eve of leaving our rural hideaway in West Wales. We arrived on a dark night the last day of February, and prepare to depart just past the longest day of the year. 
 
We've been here just shy of four months.
 
The trees were barren when we arrived. They are full now. The sheep were shaggy with winter-coats and nursing spindly lambs when we got here. They are shorn to the skin now, and the lambs are almost as big as their moms, and feed on grass.
 
Four months in a foreign land is a lifetime. 
 
Four months in a foreign land is a blink. 
 
It's unfolded slow as wonder and fast as astonishment. It plodded and ambled and seemed to never end, and then hurried and scurried and, abruptly, has. For the people back home, our four-month absence has barely registered. For us, it's marked an era.
 
I re-read this morning my first post from this place. I talked about sojourning – putting roots down in a new place long enough to learn some of its quirks and rhythms. I think that's happened. I've only picked up a thin handful of Welsh words, and those I mangle in the speaking. But I talk like a Brit: I call gasoline petrol, and a car trunk a boot, and anything I don't like rubbish. I calculate money in pounds. The landscape has altered me. The roads – such narrow, twisting affairs, where a traffic jam is a farmer herding his cattle from one field to the next – has slowed me down and opened my eyes. The hillsides have taught me a million shades of green. Bleating sheep has become my music.
 
It's all come to feel like home, and the people like family. We will miss it keenly. 
 
In that first post, I talked about what we hoped to accomplish here – I wanted to write a novel; that is mostly done. Cheryl set out to finish two online theology courses; she just finished her last paper yesterday. Nicola was to complete her grade 11 course work; well, that's a work in progress. 
 
And I wanted to change, in some indefinable way. I have and I haven't. I feel I've changed too much, and not enough. Four months here has been sheer gift, but not magic, and so I am still subject to bouts of anxiety, pettiness, anger, fretfulness – need I go on? Everywhere I went, there I was.
 
But one thing especially has grown brighter. I understand the power and beauty of blessing like never before. God's covenant with Abraham, which we inherit, is a covenant of blessing: God blesses Abraham in order to make him a blessing. The simplicity and potency of this are breathtaking. It gets better. "From the fullness of his grace," the Apostle John says about Jesus, "we have all received one blessing after another." Our lives are drenched with blessing. We have it in abundance. We have it to spare. This simple truth – we are blessed, and called to be a blessing – has the power to change everything: ourselves, our churches, our communities, our world.
 
Four months in Wales has helped me see that clearer than ever. We have basked in blessing – God's, our church's, the places we've seen, the people we've met.
 
We have received one blessing after another. We leave here, fully intending to pass it on. 
 
Thank you, New Life Baptist, for blessing us with the gift of this sabbatical. Thank you, Stephen and Sulwen Evans, for blessing us with the gift of your home. Thank you, all our new friends in Wales, for blessing us with your robust welcome and bountiful hospitality.
 
To the good folks in the Cowichan Valley, see you soon. To the good folks in West Wales, hope to see you again.
 
Shalom
 
Mark