March 23, 2010
Few things in life are more difficult to handle rightly than criticism. How hard it is to speak and to respond in a gospel-centered way. As a pastor, I am a frequent recipient of criticism–the constructive and the destructive, the accurate, the half-true, and the utterly false, the well-timed and the ill-timed, the gracious and the malicious–I have learned that how I respond reveals a lot about me. What do I do with my critics? Do I shrink them in my field of vision so that I no longer acknowledge them, regard them, pay any attention to them, share with them, or regard them as part of the family? Or do I inflate them in my field of vision so that I brood over their words and think about them constantly, see them as larger than they really are, give them control over my feelings and decisions, or allow them to lead me around like a bull with a ring in his nose?
I commend to you Alfred J. Poirier’s “The Cross and Criticism,” which appeared in the Spring, 1999, issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Here’s an excerpt:
In light of God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy. If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom. 8:33-34a).
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5).
February 11, 2010
One of our favorite hymns begins, How sweet and awful is the place with Christ within the doors. Well, John Newton wrote it that way. The editors of the 1990 Trinity Hymnal “updated” it so that now we sing How sweet and awesome is the place…The substitution of awesome for awful (as in, “full of awe”) works. The meaning is nearly identical. But as a lover of words and sometimes reverse-chronological snob, I will often still sing awful in place of awesome anyway. I do the same thing with the last line of last verse of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, singing the original
Let the amen sound from his people again gladly for aye (with long a) we adore him.
instead of the revised,
Let the amen sound from his people again loudly fore’er we adore him.
But I digress. Awful is one of the English words that is an auto-antonym (AKA antagonym, contranym, Janus word, enantiodrome, self-antonym, oxymoronym). Gene Edward Veith recently posted a partial list of English words with two contradictory meanings:
(1) an admission of error accompanied by a plea for forgiveness (2) a formal defense or justification (as in Plato’s Apology), also referred to as an apologia
(1) in advance of (“the future is before us”) (2) at an earlier time, previously (“our forefathers came before us”)
This is a homophone, where two words, spelled and pronounced alike, have different origins. (1) “To adhere firmly”, from Old English clifian. (2) to split (as with a cleaver), from Old English cleofan
Can mean “vital to success” (a critical component), or “disparaging” (a critical comment).
As a noun, this means “conventional behavior”; but as an adjective, it means “specially designed”.
“To permit” or “to restrict” (as in “economic sanctions.”)
To add seeds, is in seeding a field, or to remove seeds, as in seeding a fruit.
Normally meaning “to hit”, in baseball it means “to miss”, and an extension of this usage has led to the meaning “to make a mistake”. Further adding to the contradiction, in bowling it refers to the best possible play. Another contradiction results with the phrase strike out: the baseball lineage leads to the meaning “to run out of hope”; but the original lineage also leads to the meaning “to start pursuing a desire”
Can mean that a person is acting in a way that suggests wrong-doing, i.e. “He seems very suspicious.” or can mean that the person in question suspects wrong doing in others, i.e. “He was suspicious of her motives.”
December 1, 2009
Nate Barksdale at Cardus comments on how the intersection of technology, language, etiquette, and culture transformed “HELLO” from a vulgar boatsman’s call to a nearly universal, everyday greeting–all thanks to Alexander Graham Bell’s great invention. If Bell had his way, we’d be saying “AHOY” instead. Uncle Leo and Lionel Richie and The Cars would never be the same…
The history of hello is long and mired in many vowels. Though it didn’t show up in its current form till the mid-19th century, its forbears are many and obvious: hallo, halloo, hillo, holla (a Shakespearean favourite recently returned to slang prominence), hollo, holloa—all generally being a combination get-attention-and-greet, useful for hailing passing boats and that sort of thing.
Drifting beyond the bounds of English, hello’s roots diverge: is it from the Old High German ferry-call halâ, an emphatic imperative of “to fetch,” from the antiquated French stop-shout holà, roughly “whoa there!” or maybe, as Wikipedia tenderly suggests, from the Old English hœlan (heal, cure, save; greet, salute; gehœl! Hosanna!)?
Tempting though it is to hallow hello (as Kleberg County, Texas apparently did in 1997, proclaiming “heavenO” the constituency’s official greeting), its current ubiquity is tied to the telephone and the specific social and technological situations that the new device brought about. Initiating a conversation on the telephone involved two difficulties: first, the person might or might not even be there; and second, the caller had no way of knowing who they were talking to, and thus how they should be appropriately addressed.
For the technical problem, there were several early contenders. The British favoured “Are you there?” as a proper way of answering the phone, and in the days of newfangled and spotty phone technology, it was probably a useful one, saving the user the embarrassment of accidentally offering a personal greeting to the void. Once connection became commonplace, one assumes “Are you there?” must have lost its edge as the implications of its question drifted from the technical to the existential.
Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone’s inventor, unsuccessfully promoted an alternative that outdid even hello for nautical implications, answering his phone calls with a hearty AHOY! (This tidbit opens up in me a great deep pool of longing for a pop-cultural world that might have been: Ahoy Kitty pencil cases, Jim Morrison crooning “Ahoy, I love you, won’t you tell me your name,” Renée Zellweger shutting up Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire with a tearful “You had me at ahoy!“) But it was Thomas Edison who won the day (or at least claimed the day in hindsight), suggesting the old ferry-hail-whoa-there as being most suitable, writing to a business partner, “I do not think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.”
Though it passed the technological test, Edison’s ringtone was some decades in overcoming its social stigma as a low and crass word whose audibility at 20 feet was not entirely advantageous. In 1916, the business-minded Rotarian magazine lamented: “You would not think of greeting a customer at the front door, particularly one whom you had never seen before, by saying ‘Hello.’ What is good usage in face to face conversation is good usage in telephone conversations.”
But it turned out to be the other way around. Hello streamed into the gap created by an unprecedented social scenario, gaining popularity and, little by little, respectability. By the 1920s, Emily Post had given up on banning hello from her version of proper speech and simply tried to tame its former brashness: “On very informal occasions, it is the present fashion to greet an intimate friend with ‘Hello!’ This seemingly vulgar salutation is made acceptable by the tone in which it is said. To shout ‘Hullow!’ is vulgar, but ‘Hello, Mary’ or ‘How ‘do John,’ each spoken in an ordinary tone of voice, sound much the same. But remember that the ‘Hello’ is spoken, not called out, and never used except between intimate friends who call each other by the first name.”
In English, intimacy could be modulated by simply speaking loudly or softly, and the word hello could be, in the words of a 1915 elocution guide, “made to express suavity, expectancy, patience, impatience, exasperation, profanity; in fact, was in itself a whole expressive dictionary.” The fact that the message did not depend on the word itself was probably as key a factor as the device’s American pedigree in the internationalization of the telephone hello. This was especially for languages that have an active distinction between the formal and informal you. In Bulgarian, say, the formal greeting is zdravejte, while the informal is a simple zdravej. The phone rings in Sofia: what do you do? Is the caller a friend or a stranger, an official, a salesman, a wrong number? Will it be zdravej or zdravejte? I know, alo!
By 1903 Telephone Magazine pretty much called the trend: “The telephone has made the word ‘hello’ a universal greeting in every place on the globe where language is spoken by wire . . . every telephone message in all languages is preceded by the great American ‘hello.’”
Perhaps the best defense of hello was written even earlier than that, right at the turn of the last century by the American educator, theologian and diplomat Henry van Dyke, who, as the author of the verses to “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” knew a thing or two about properly channeled enthusiasm: “Even the trivial salutation which the telephone has lately created and claimed for its peculiar use—’Hello, hello!’—seems to me to have a kind of fitness and fascination. It is like a thoroughbred bulldog, ugly enough to be attractive. There is a lively, concentrated, electric air about it. It makes courtesy wait upon dispatch, and reminds us that we live in an age when it is necessary to be wide awake.”
I’ll say hello to that.
November 11, 2009
Great article by Dr. Albert Mohler on “The Hypersocialized Generation”–those for whom Twittering and Facebook updating and texting are as familiar and essential as breathing. Parents of teens especially need to read this.
October 23, 2009
One of our favorite preachers, Dr. Elliott Greene of the Tyrannus Hall Foundation for Pastoral Development, has an address from the 2008 CCEF National Conference posted at their website:
September 22, 2009
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” [Matthew 7:1-5, ESV]
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained this type of judgment that Jesus forbids as:
- Criticizing others in matter which do not concern us at all.
- Rushing to conclusions before we know the facts.
- Being unwilling to consider mitigating circumstances or to extend mercy.
- Being quick to impute motives.
- Substituting preference and prejudice for principle.
- Pronouncing final judgment on people.
Below is a fitting prayer (courtesy of Justin Taylor, whose blog has now moved to the Gospel Coalition site):
Help Me to Judge Rightly
Lord, help me to judge others
as I want them to judge me:
Charitably, not critically,
Privately, not publicly,
Gently, not harshly,
In humility, not pride.
Help me to believe the best about others,
until facts prove otherwise—
To assume nothing,
to seek all sides of the story,
And to judge no one until I’ve removed
the log from my own eye.
May I never bring only the Law,
to find fault and condemn.
Help me always to bring the Gospel,
to give hope and deliverance,
As you, my Judge and Friend,
have so graciously done for me.
July 2, 2009
Lewis writes this in Mere Christianity. It speaks to a characteristic of too much of our political discourse these days from pundits and talk radio. It also speaks to many of our personal relationships as well. Don’t read this if you don’t want to feel some sharp conviction:
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
In the Westminster Larger Catechism, the lengthy answer to the question ‘What sins are forbidden in the ninth commandment?’ contains these two phrases: ‘scornful contempt’ and ‘fond admiration,’ which are essentially the same sin–seeing only what we want to see in other people. ‘Scornful contempt’ is what Lewis described. It is what David experienced that he poured out to the Lord in Psalm 35:
But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth…
For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha! Our eyes have seen it!” [Psalm 35:15-16,20-21]
May 20, 2009
- Ross Douthat in The New York Times on why the popularity of Dan Brown (author of The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons) provides insight into prevailing attitudes toward religion in America.
- David Brooks in the aforementioned periodical on why “organized, dogged, anal-retentive and slightly boring people are more likely to thrive” as CEO’s.
- Tullian Tchividjian has summarized some contrasts Tim Keller has drawn between “Religion” and “the Gospel.”
- Ray Ortlund has shared some penetrating insights into the sin of gossip.
- Today marks the 1,684th anniversary of the opening of the Council of Nicaea (and yes, I still doggedly hold to the “ae”. I also favor ‘aesthetic,’ ‘anaesthesia,’ ‘aeon,’ and ‘mediaeval.’ And, if I’m feeling especially peevish, I’ll use ‘aeroplane.’)
December 24, 2008
What a great Christmas gift Tim Keller and Christianity Today have given us in his article on humility in the December issue. I think this is worth reading and re-reading to the point of memorization. Read it here.
September 30, 2008
In an address at the recent Desiring God Conference, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson listed 20 resolutions drawn from the book of James (in the style of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions) “that need to be part of the Christian’s covenant with God about how the believer is going to employ the tongue and lips, and master the heart in such a way that the beauty of Jesus is expressed:”
James 1:5 To ask God for wisdom to speak and with a single mind
James 1:9-10 To boast only in exaltation in Christ, & humiliation in world
James 1:13 To set a watch over my mouth
James 1:19 To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak
James 2:1-4 To learn the gospel way of speaking to poor and the rich
James 2:12 To speak always in the consciousness of the final judgment
James 2:16 Never to stand on anyone’s face with my words
James 3:14 Never to claim as reality something I do not experience
James 4:1 To resist quarrelsome words in order to mortify a quarrelsome heart
James 4:11 Never to speak evil of another
James 4:13 Never to boast in what I will accomplish
James 4:15 Always to speak as one subject to the providence of God
James 5:9 Never to grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door
James 5:12 Never to allow anything but total integrity in my speech
James 5:13 To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer
James 5:14 To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful
James 5:14 To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick
James 5:15 To confess it freely whenever I have failed
James 5:15 To pray with and for one another when I am together with others
James 5:19 To speak words of restoration when I see another wander
All the conference addresses and panel discusssions are available in mulitple formats at Desiring God.