Taking Criticism

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The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. ‘Those people…’ you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: ‘Whatever…makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.’ He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that ‘the doctrines of grace’ are operating in our life ‘as mere notions and speculations’ with ‘no salutary influence upon [our] conduct.’
 
So how can you avoid this temptation? First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel when the criticism comes from friends, and there is often such truth when the disapproval comes from people who actually know you. So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own short-comings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

– Tim Keller

Excerpt from Redeemer City to City Blog, “How Do You Take Criticism of Your Views?” by Tim Keller

Grief and Joy

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It’s the grief that makes you go to your resources. It makes you go to your roots as a Christian. It makes you go to the gospel. It makes you look at what Jesus has done for you. That’s what it does. The grief pushes you toward the joy, and it enhances the joy. The joy kicks on like a heat furnace and overwhelms the grief, but it’s there. I’ll go so far as to say if you get into grief, if you get into a time of trouble, and you have no tears and you have no problem and you say, ‘I’m just praising God,’ that is thought control. That’s brainwashing. That’s the way the cults operate. That’s some kind of psychological control.

It’s not supernatural. It’s not the way the gospel works. Don’t you see? The second principle is that a Christian is both happier and sadder at the same time. The gospel makes you a far more sensitive person, a far more feeling person, but at the same time a person who is feeling because you’re more hopeful than anybody else, a person who is able to sense and see the grief because you have a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

– Tim Keller

Words from the Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, “How to Handle Trouble”, 1993.

Speaking to Non-Christians

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It is hard to overstate how ghettoized our preaching is. It is common to make all kinds of statements that appear persuasive to us but are based upon all sorts of premises that the secular person does not hold; it is common to use terms and phrases that mean nothing outside of our Christian subgroup. So avoid unnecessary theological or evangelical subculture jargon, and explain carefully the basic theological concept – confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In the preaching, show continual willingness to address the questions that the unbelieving heart will ask. Speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity. As you write the sermon, imagine a particular skeptical non-Christian in the chair listening to you. Add the necessary asides, the definitions, the extra explanations. Listen to everything said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or troubles with belief…

Speak regularly to ‘those of you who aren’t sure you believe this, or who aren’t sure just what you believe.’ Give them many asides, even employing the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian living and belief better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even when challenging them severely for their selfishness and unbelief. Admonish with tears (literally or figuratively). Always grant whatever degree of merit their objections have. It is extremely important that unbelievers feel you understand their objections: ‘I’ve tried it before and it did not work.’ ‘I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.’ ‘Christianity is a straitjacket.’ ‘It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.’ ‘I could never keep it up.’ ‘I don’t feel worthy; I am too bad.’ ‘I just can’t believe.’

– Tim Keller

Truth is a Cube

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Somebody, some years ago, put it this way. The truth is a cube, not a square. Now what he meant by that when he said it was you can see the whole square from one vantage point, but you can’t see a cube from one vantage point. You have to move around it. So for example, if you were looking at a house and you want to see the true dimensions of the house, you can’t see it from one angle. You have to go around it. You have to see it from several angles.

That doesn’t mean truth is relative. Oh, we’re not saying that. We’re not saying truth is relative at all. We’re not saying that truth is all a matter of opinion. By my moving around the house, if three or four people move around the house to look at it, it doesn’t mean one person is going to see a ranch house, one person is going to see a split-level, and one person is going to see a two-story Colonial.

What we’re saying is unless you see all the sides you’re not going to see what the house really looks like. You have to go around it.

– Tim Keller 

Destroying Death

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There is no way to understand how the world was so changed by the Christian message if it was just a philosophy. It was a proclamation that something happened.

That’s the reason why Paul is able to actually taunt at death. Why? Because he says in the beginning of Romans 1:4, ‘God declared him to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection.’ Paul didn’t understand he was the Son of God till he saw him raised, and he began to realize what Jesus has done. There is hope why? Because this is the Son of God. Death could not hold him down.

It says in Acts 2, when the first sermon was preached by Peter, ‘He rose from the dead because death could not hold him.’ It was impossible for death to hold him. Think about the power of death for a minute. Think about it. Nothing can stop death. No human being can stop death. The power of decay. The second law of thermodynamics. Even mountains can’t stop death. The mountains eventually get worn down to pebbles. Even the sun and the stars can’t stop death. Even they burn out and go to decay. Think of the power of death.

Yet someone came who overmatched death. Jesus Christ was swallowed by death and exploded in its bowels. Jesus Christ did not just defy death. He did not just deny death. He destroyed death. That’s the reason why Paul can say later on in this chapter, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ At the top of the service we said only Christians have this unbelievable ability to handle worry and handle anxiety. Why? Because they can look at the most powerful obstacle to happiness in the universe, death itself, and actually taunt it.

– Tim Keller

Four Kinds of People

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It is helpful to see that there are four kinds of people in the world:

Law-obeying, law-relying. These people are under the law, and are usually very smug, self-righteous and superior. Externally, they are very sure they are right with God, but deep down, they have a lot of insecurity, since no one can truly be assured that they are living up to the standard. This makes them touchy, sensitive to criticism and devastated when their prayers aren’t answered. This includes members of other religions, but here I am thinking mainly of people who go to church. These people have much in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Law-disobeying, law-relying. These people have a religious conscience of strong works-righteousness, but they are not living consistently with it. As a result of this, they are more humble and more tolerant of others than the “Pharisees” above, but they are also much more guilt-ridden, subject to mood swings and sometimes very afraid of religious topics. Some of these people may go to church, but they stay on the periphery because of their low spiritual self-esteem.

Law-disobeying, not law-relying. These are the people who have thrown off the concept of the law of God. They are intellectually secular or relativistic, or have a very vague spirituality. They largely choose their own moral standards and then insist that they are meeting them. But Paul, in Romans 1:18-20, says that at a sub-conscious level, they know there is a God who they should be obeying. Such people are usually happier and more tolerant than either of the above groups. But usually there is a strong, liberal self-righteousness. They are earning their own salvation by feeling superior to others. It is just that this is usually a less obvious kind of self-righteousness.

Law-obeying, not law-relying. These are Christians who understand the gospel and are living out of the freedom of it. They obey the law of God out of grateful joy that comes from the knowledge of their sonship, and out of freedom from the fear and selfishness that false idols had generated. They are more tolerant than number 3, more sympathetic than number 1, and more confident than number 2. But most Christians struggle to live out number 4, and tend to see the world as a #1, #2, or even #3 person. But to the degree that they do, they are impoverished spiritually.

– Tim Keller


Why There Is Hope

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There is no hope unless God himself has punched a hole in the ceiling of the universe and our great Captain Jesus Christ, who has opened a cleft in the pitiless walls of the universe, bids us come to see him. He has entered in. He was born. He died for our sins. Now he’s raised again. He has risen from the dead. If all that’s true, then you can be saved, then there’s hope for the future, then your sins can be forgiven, then you can have a relationship with God, then the Spirit of God can come into your life and change you.

– Tim Keller

Come On, Crosses!

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Christian friends, do you believe in the risen Christ? Is he your Savior? In that case, you can face death but you can face anything. Can you face worry? Can you face troubles? You already sang about it in the first hymn: ‘Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.’ If you believe the risen Christ is now in control of history, even the bad things that happen to you are crosses that are going to raise you. ‘Come on, crosses!’ says a Christian. ‘The lower you lay me, the higher you’ll raise me.’ ‘Come on, crosses!’ you say. ‘Jesus the risen Lord is in charge of everything.’

– Tim Keller

The Existence of God

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In the Christian view, the ultimate evidence for the existence of God is Jesus Christ. If there is a God, we characters in his play have to hope that he put some information about himself in the play. But Christians believe he did more than give us information. He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history, when Jesus was born in a manger and rose from the dead.

– Tim Keller