Criticism is something we all have to deal with, isn’t it? None of us are perfect, and yet it surprises people when someone makes a mistake. As a pastor I deal with my fair share of criticism, but I also know that I do some criticizing of others. Sometimes I deal with it correctly, other times I don’t. Criticism in itself is not sinful, even though it can be painful. We can take some comfort in knowing that even though Jesus is perfect, He was constantly criticized — and doled out a good deal of criticism as well.
It’s how we deal with criticism (giving and receiving) that sets us apart from others and shows us to be like or unlike Christ.
Two Kinds of Criticism
First, there’s Constructive Criticism which I would define as: Important and relevant information given by a compassionate individual, in a caring way, directly to a person they want to help — even though it might hurt. A wise person understands that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6).
On the other hand there is Destructive Criticism which is: Information given (though often not directly) to an individual purposefully meant to hurt them, damage their reputation and break their confidence. It may have grounds in reality, and possibly even be true (though not always), but it is not given to build up, but tear down.
Let Us Be Careful
I feel in my heart that Christians need to be more mindful of how we are giving and receiving criticism. We need to evaluate our words and our motives by testing them with scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and checking with the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1) to see if it is His prompting which is motivating us to speak — lest we become a false prophet.
We may think our critical words are meant to be helpful, and even deserved, but they can be very damaging if not tempered with wisdom from God, grace, love, and a peacemaking heart (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). Ironically, even when we have been the targets of harsh criticism that has hurt us, our response can be to criticize the critic and hurt them back. That only deepens the wounds and feeds the “bitter root” (Hebrews 12:15).
On the other hand, some people need to remember not to give others too much of a voice in their lives. They are in constant fear of someone else’s words, and are kept from obeying what God wants them to do because they live in fear of man. They must learn how to listen carefully, mine out truth, not to be shaken by difficult criticism, to rise above and bear with those brothers and sisters who are being foolish (Colossians 3:13), and to dismiss the words of those who work for the enemy of our souls . It behooves us all to ask God for the wisdom to discern what is being said, and the heart behind the speaker (Jam 1:5).
A Memory Verse for Giving Criticism:
When giving criticism, remember this:
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col 4:6 ESV)
Two Memory Verses for Receiving Criticism
When someone is giving your feedback directly, or you hear something someone said behind your back, remember:
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 Jn 3:21 ESV)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Pro 12:1 ESV)
I just paused my sermon prep for a moment so I could post this to the blog. I’m currently writing a sermon on The Powerful Witness of Unity in the Church and remembered that I had written in a Facebook Post earlier in the week. The two didn’t really connect in my mind until now, so I want to share it with you. I’ll post the sermon later.
We all Need a Good Church
The last five chapters of judges shows what life is like when a group of religious people try to govern themselves. Selfishness, pride, foolishness, hardheadedness and hardheartedness is played out in spades as God is given lip service but not truly consulted, obeyed or worshipped. It breaks my heart to read of the abuses these people heaped on each other and how the weaker among them (women and children) suffered so greatly at the hands of these religious men who were “doing as they saw fit”.
This reminds me of how important it is that we are part of a good church and how dependent we must be on the daily provision the Holy Spirit gives us. When I think myself wise enough, strong enough, spiritual enough, smart enough to move forward without God and His people, I am setting up disaster for myself and pain for those around me.
There are so many in this world who have been inoculated against the church and who do not want to set their foot inside the door because of hurts or pride. They believe they can set up their own religion, meet God on their own terms, and live as they see fit outside the Church God has given us. That is folly.
Be careful when you begin to think that you can live outside the influence, support, and discipline found within the Christian church. You are setting yourself up for temptation, foolish mistakes, and courting an avalanche of disaster. We are built to be in community, led by His Word, taught and held accountable by wise elder believers, and ultimately under God. It is in that place where we will be happiest and most fruitful.
I preached this sermon on Sunday, October 31 2010 as a way to help the congregation process Halloween, but it grew into something much bigger. It became a sermon about how to make all kinds of decisions. I repeat it here in hopes it will encourage you to make wiser choices, release you from fear of judgement, open you up to deeper relationships, and help you live in greater freedom as a child of God.
How To Make Wise Decisions
This morning we are going to talk about Halloween. What are we supposed to do with it? What’s it all about? And hopefully we will be able to open up the question into understanding how we can know what parts of our culture we are supposed to do and not do, join and not join, participate in and not participate in.
This question doesn’t come around only because of Halloween, but is something we are presented with all the time. Do we have birthday parties or not? Do we have Santa Clause or not? Do we participate in Remembrance Day, or Earth Day, or National Prayer Day? And it gets bigger. What school should I send my children to? Should I home school or not? Are there certain jobs that Christians can do, and others they shouldn’t? Can a Christian be a collections officer or a bartender? Can a Christian be a stock market broker, or a Hollywood actor or a swimsuit model? What movies can they watch? Should you own a TV?… it goes on, and on and on into every area of your life. So much so that these sorts of questions can take over our life.
Instead of having a passionate, growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus, the expression of your faith can become all about what you do and don’t do. Instead of focusing our lives on worship, fellowship, discipleship and outreach, we can live either paranoid that we are somehow messing up our relationship with God every moment of every day… or we can live like prideful religious Pharisees who think we are better than others because of all the things we don’t do.
“I don’t have a TV and I only listen to the Christian radio station, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”
“I’ve never had a beer, and I don’t go out dancing, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”
Other say, “I watch tv and drink beer and listen to rock music and still love Jesus, so that makes me better than you.”
Somewhere in there the gospel of Jesus Christ rescuing our poor souls by His amazing grace is totally lost. If having being saved by Jesus is really as simple as admitting we are sinners and believing Jesus died for our sins, then do we really need to worry so much about all of these other things… like to trick-or-treat, or not to trick-or-treat? It seems so.
As with most important questions, this one is addressed in scripture in a bunch of places. The most comprehensive places that I know of is 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. Turn there with me and lets read the whole thing together because it shows the problem face, gives an illustration and then wraps it up with the general principle.
“ “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
Let’s look at the first part together. This whole section here is talking about the problem that the early church faced with eating meat sacrificed to idols, and whether or not it was ok for Christians to eat with other people in a pagan temple. The principle found within can stand for a lot of things though. For the past couple chapters Paul has been talking about how important it is that we be different from the world, and how we shouldn’t be putting ourselves into places where we can be tempted, or fall into old habits of worshipping idols or debauchery. Right before the passage we’ve just read he says in verse 21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”
In other words, you can’t play both sides. You can’t call yourself a Christian but also live as though you don’t know Him. You can’t worship Him on one day, and then worship someone or something else on a different day. It’s not about the food that’s on the table, it’s about the intentions of the heart. That’s why he clarifies that it’s not about the food right in the next sentence. Eat whatever you want because it’s not about the food… it’s about what’s going on in your heart and in the heart of those around you.
Question 1: What is the intention of my heart?
So that would be the first question we must ask ourselves when we are deciding these kinds of questions: What is the intention of my heart? Is this an act of worshipping God, or someone or something else?
I like to use my favorite phrase here: “Own your ‘why?’”. I came up it some time ago to remind myself to make sure my motives are pure. “Own your ‘why?'” What I mean is that when I do something I need to make sure that I own up to my reasons for doing it. I will have to answer for why I did it someday, so I had better have a good reason. I need a defense for why it’s ok with God – to think through the consequences. “Own your ‘why?”
So, if we use the example of Halloween, how do you answer the first question? What’s your, “Why?”. Is there another God you are going to worship? Perhaps the god of your stomach who desires the sacrifice of candy? Maybe it is the god of personal attention, which is why you put so much emphasis on being seen that day? Perhaps you struggle with sexual sin and the reason you go out or participate is to see the slutty costumes the women and girls are wearing.
Or, are your motives pure? You don’t have a problem with it — it’s no big deal. It doesn’t strike your conscience one-way or the other. In fact, for you, it’s a good way to get to know and have fun with your neighbors and friends, and perhaps even build new relationships. “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof”, so candy and dressing up is no big deal. Why you are doing what you are doing is the first question to ask.
Next, Paul paints a picture of a common situation that would happen then, which has some parallels for us today. “ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” Lots of ifs there. If someone invites you, and if you decide to go, and if they serve you food that might have been sacrificed to idols… just keep your mouth shut, eat it and enjoy it. This what we like to call Christian Liberty. We are not like the Pharisees who are bound to hundreds of laws about what to eat, how to wash, when to pray, what to say, how far to walk, etc, etc. We are Christians, saved by grace, living in a world that is a gift from God and is full of wonderful things. The person who you are eating with is far more important than the food on the table and so we can do a lot of things and have no problem at all.
If someone invites you to a party, then go. You don’t have to sin if you are there, and you can enjoy your time. If you know the whole focus of the party is to indulge in sin… just as it was in the ancient pagan temples, then you know that you shouldn’t be there and nothing good can happen. But it’s ok to go to all kinds of things as a Christian. Jesus was widely known for going to parties with all kinds of people, and yet never sinned. Halloween party? Go ahead.
Again… if someone invites you, and if you want to go (you don’t have to), then go ahead and enjoy yourself and thank God for the time. But… let’s read verse 28.
“ But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it…”
What’s going on here. Three things could be occurring:
1. An unbeliever thinks that the Christian isn’t allowed to do something, and has put it in front of the Christian as a test of their faith to see if they will fall for it and sin along with them.
2. An unbeliever isn’t being devious, but their conscience is telling you that whatever it is might be morally questionable, but they’re not sure what your rules are.
Or 3. There person speaking is another Christian who isn’t as mature in the faith as you are, and still has a problem with such things. You know that it’s fine for you to do it, but this brother or sister is having an issue.
Paul says, then don’t do it. And he qualifies why… “if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—” In other words, don’t go against someone’s conscience. The conscience is a gift from God that gives us an internal meter to understand right and wrong. If someone’s conscience is twitching because of something, then don’t do it. We need to be careful to listen to our consciences, and we don’t want to teach anyone to stop listening to theirs.
If the unbeliever is feeling a conviction from God that whatever they are doing is a sin, then why on earth would we reinforce that it’s ok for them to do it? And if an immature brother or sister is just learning how to listen to God, then why would we ever teach them to ignore what their conscience is telling them?
By the way, today isn’t just Halloween, but it’s also Reformation Day where we celebrate when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg Door in 1517. And when standing before the Imperial Diet at Worms in 1521 and being asked by the Roman Catholic Church to recant his beliefs he said this, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
Question 2: How does it affect the consciences of those around me?
So there is our second question: How does it affect the consciences of those around me? As Christians we are allowed to do a lot of things because we are not bound by a bunch of religious rules and regulations… nor are we trying to impress God by showing him how pious we are. But we must ask ourselves how our actions are affecting the spiritual journeys of those around us.
1 Peter 2:9-12 addresses this exact issue by likening the Christian walk of faith to a stranger, an exile or a sojourner, who is living in a foreign land. Turn there. He says that we are to be different and careful how we live in regard to those around us. “ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Our lives are to be different, and they are to point people to a different way of living. They must see in us that we have been liberated from sin, death, addiction, fear, religion, pride, and selfishness, and that we are different. The path we walk is as strangers in the world, and it should be one that they can safely follow. And so it is up to us to be careful where our steps fall in relation to the consciences of those around us.
But… let me give you a word of encouragement. There are some who live a life of paranoia because of this question. They are always wondering about everything they do because someone might just see them – even when they’re not doing anything wrong. They can’t go bowling at 3pm on a Thursday when they have the day off because they’re worried that if someone sees them they’ll think they have skipped work… and then that person will think it’s ok to skip work… so they better stay home. They go out and have dinner and think about ordering wine or a dessert… but somewhere in the room there might someone who struggles with alcohol or overeating and their glass of wine or cheesecake might push them over the edge… so they only have a salad and drink water. An invitation comes to somewhere they want to go, but they are absolutely burdened by the dichotomy of wanting to go, knowing it’s no big deal for them, but wondering if there is some person they’ve never met who might possibly stumble because of them. They don’t actually know… but they always wonder if someone is watching them. That, by definition, is paranoia.
Where does this come from? It comes from a misunderstanding of Romans 14 which is all about being sensitive to other believers. The main gist of the text can be found in verses 14-17, “…decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with any food or any drink. None of them are sinful in and of themselves. But some people have a problem with different foods and drinks and therefore because we consider them more important than the food, we will love them by abstaining while around them. The key word is “put”.
We should never make it our decision fully knowing we will cause another Christian to stumble – or worse, intentionally causing a brother or sister to stumble . It is sin for us to go out of our way to flaunt our Christian liberties before our brothers and sisters who are struggling with that issue. So we, out of love, don’t do whatever it is if because we have a knowledge that there is a brother or sister in Christ around whose walk with Jesus will be harmed by our actions.
But we shouldn’t invent imaginary people who might have a problem and therefore be bound by guilt, shame, and fear in everything we do, right? And by the way — don’t let gossips and religious nit-picks ruin your Christian Liberty either. Just because brother or sister so-in-so is going to tattle on you, or is going to have a fit… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Chances are that they aren’t going to cause you grief because you are causing them to stumble, but because they are petty people who want to hurt you, embarrass you, control you, and make you as miserable as they are. The thing is to be sensitive and loving in what you do, but also be free to enjoy the good things that which God has given you.
So, Halloween? We must ask ourselves, “how does the way I’m going to do Halloween affect the consciences of those around me?” What do I know will happen — because I’ve already talked to them and have a relationship with them — not inventing a bunch of scenarios in my head involving people that may or may not exist – with the more spiritually immature brothers and sisters and unbelievers who are around me when I do this? Do I know that any of them stumble in their walk with Jesus because of how I’m conducting myself this Halloween? Remember, that could mean going, or not going. Maybe the issue is that you’re not going. I’m not saying it is because I don’t know the people you know… but just consider it.
Question 3: Is what I’m doing showing people Jesus and giving glory to God?
And our final question comes from the last part of our passage in 1 Corinthians 10, “ So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
That’s the bottom line here.
Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5:13-16, “ “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Last question: Is what I’m doing showing people Jesus and giving glory to God? Can you say that of your actions – or your inactions? I can’t answer that for you. I want you to be as salty and bright as you possibly can for the sake of your soul and the kingdom of God.
I don’t want you to lose your saltiness because of a bunch of ungodly religious rules. I also don’t want your lamp to be hidden under a basket of sin. I want you to be able to add flavour to the place where you work, live, worship and play. I want the people who see you to not see you… but instead see the light of Jesus reflecting through you. I want your decisions to be based not on your own preferences and what would bring you the most pleasure, but on God’s will and what would bring Jesus the most glory.
We have an amazing God who has thrown open the gates of this world and will allow us to do so many wonderful things. This world and the people in it are a gift. We need to treat them that way – while at the same time recognizing that there will be temptations, and we must be sensitive and wise in our actions, because that pleases God.
So, what is your decision? What will you do? What does God desire of you in your context, at this time, among the people that you are with? Seek God, ask Him, listen to Him and have peace in the knowledge that if you believe in Jesus today, then you are loved as a son or daughter, forgiven by the blood of our Saviour, and blessed to be a blessing to others.
Own Your “Why?”
Some time ago I came up with a phrase that I try to live by and give away as much as possible — “Own your ‘Why?'” What it means is that when you do something (anything), make sure that you own up to your motives and reasons for doing it. Don’t try to fool yourself or anyone around you, but move forward with a defense for why it’s okay with God. Think through the consequences. “Own your ‘why?”
There are a lot of questions that we don’t ask ourselves. Too often we do things without thinking through why we are even doing them. And when challenged on these actions most can come up with any reason deeper than “It’s fun”, “I’ve always done this”, or “Everybody does it”. It’s not here yet, but it’s time to start thinking about a Christian response to Halloween. So, to process Halloween, let me give you some questions to ask so you can “Own your ‘Why?”‘:
Why do I do what I do for Halloween?
— In what ways can we redeem something a day used to celebrate gluttony and our society’s disturbing fascination with gore, death and evil?
— Are you going to “trick or treat”? Is it a fun way to get to know your neighbors, or just going door-to-door begging strangers for candy?
— Will you dress up? What is an appropriate, God-honouring costume? What are the limits you must set?
— Can you carve a pumpkin to show that “just like Jesus put a smile on our face and His light inside us, so we have done this to the pumpkin…”, or do we use it as a time to talk about the pagan foolhardiness of trying to ward off evil spirits with a carved up gourd?
— Is celebrating Halloween okay if everyone does the same thing but in a church? What if we dress up, eats lots of candy, carve pumpkins, and watch a G-rated Halloween movie… but we call it a “Harvest Party”?
— What place does the gospel have in Halloween? How can you use this day to teach people more about salvation through Jesus Christ?
— Is it right to pass out food that’s both unhealthy and addictive in a country that is facing a childhood obesity problem?
— Is it right to avoid participating altogether, turn off your lights and hide in the basement until it’s over? Is that a good “witness to your community”?
— If you give out healthy food or gospel tracts and your house gets egged, is that considered “suffering for the Lord”?
If one takes the side of being able to “Redeem Halloween”, then one might appreciate these links and ideas:
- Have a “Fear Not Party” for the kids.
- If you really want to talk about people that were dead but are now alive (no, not zombies) then instead of Halloween, read about Reformation Day (also on Oct 31).
- Instead of ghost stories, how about real stories from Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Hearts on Fire, or Jesus Freaks. They are not only scary, but also amazing and true!
Here’s a couple resources to help you make your decisions:
- The History of Halloween (blog)
If you haven’t heard of Michael Jr. yet, you are seriously missing out on some funny and meaningful stuff. Here’s a sermon he recently gave at the Gateway Church. [Also, this is officially the first sermon I have ever watched that has a commercial!]
Even though blogging has its downsides (carpal tunnel and trucker butt), there are some pretty great benefits to being a blogger. Check these out:
1. All the coffee I make I get to drink… after I offer my wife a cup.
2. A chair that goes up, down, round and round, and also reclines!
3. Having a forum by which I can bare my soul, share my deepest thoughts and emotions, and help thousands… hundreds… ok, a couple dozen… AMAZING readers find tools and inspiration to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God.
And now, to put the proverbial icing on the cake, I am now part of a “Blogger Review Program” for Tyndale, Moody Publishers and BookSneeze! I love books, and to be able to get them free and be allowed to honestly review them will not only feed my soul, but help me to point you towards even more great resources to feed your soul.
The books are in the mail, so look forward to some reviews in the coming weeks!
I started today confused. How can God love mankind while at the same time have complete hatred for sinners? Aren’t they the same people? And how does ordain the use of sinful people and sinful situations to accomplish His perfect, holy will without He Himself being the cause of the sin.
The first place my devotional reading too me was the story of Jesus turning away people who wanted to follow Him (Luke 9:58-61). They seemed genuine to me, and yet Jesus, who tells everyone to follow Him turns them away. Why? And can you imagine a church doing what Jesus did that today?
I then read the story of Samson. He’s a prideful, violent, jerk who disobeys God his whole life, and yet continues to have the Spirit come upon him in great power. Why would God choose this guy? Can you imagine a church today putting Samson in charge of anything? I wouldn’t trust him to sweep the floors without killing everyone in the room with the broom.
Then I read Matthew 12 which had a prophecy from Isaiah speaking about how Jesus heals broken people. I thought, “Aha, there we go!” Except when I turned to read it in Isaiah I went to chapter 24 instead of 42. So instead of reading about our Lord who “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”, I read “See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants…“. Wow! Can this be the same person? Can you imagine a church today with this text carved into the communion table, or hanging on a tapestry on the wall?
With my thumbs in my eyes I prayed, “Lord, what do you want me to learn about you from all this?” And I turned to read the next place my bookmark was – Romans 11:11-24, and the answer seemed to be this:
“Al, I’m able to graft together things that don’t belong together. I’m able to make life from branches that are dead. I can take a branch from the pile that everyone else would burn and graft it onto a tree that isn’t even of its own kind, and make it produce fruit. I will bring glory to Myself in ways that you do not understand, and build disciples by doing things that you would never do. Trust me, I know what I’m doing, even when you don’t.”
Then I reread Psalm 25 which begins: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.”
What a lesson for me today.
I can trust God to do good in ways that I could never imagine, to accomplish His will in ways I wouldn’t even agree with, to build His church by means I would never pray for, and to sanctify me in a thousand ways I don’t even recognize.
I learned today to trust God even more.
[Sidenote: Lesson 1 in Pastor Al’s guide to the Christian Faith (which isn’t a real book, but should be!) is — Do Your Devos! It’s a powerful thing when the Spirit of God speaks through His Word.]