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My Big Fat Mouth: Criticism

We are in the second week of a series called “My Big Fat Mouth”. The series is based on Luke 6:45, which reminds us that our words are really an issue of the heart. It is out of the abundance of our hearts that our mouths speak. What do our words say about the condition of our hearts?

Last week, we kicked things off with a message on complaining. We were encouraged to look for the good…to see the signs of hope even in the midst of our turmoil…to compliment instead of complain.

This week, we’re going to focus on complaining’s cousin, criticizing. I believe criticizing goes hand-in-hand with complaining.
– Complaining negatively focuses on our own situations and circumstances.
– Criticizing generally focuses on others in a negative manner.
– There are times we are self-critical…but more often than not, we’re pointing the critical finger elsewhere.

Why do we criticize others? It’s easier to feel better about ourselves when we are pointing out others flaws. When I’m overly focused on my neighbor’s faults, it’s easier to overlook my own. When I compare myself to those I critique, I always come out looking better.

When we talk about criticism, we’re not talking about the constructive feedback that we give because we care about people and want to help them get better. Of course, let’s be honest, constructive criticism is really just a term that makes the constructive critic feel better about saying something mean! What we’re talking about is the critical nitpicking, unkind, uninformed, cruel criticism that so often goes on.

For some of you, as soon as I said we’re talking about being critical got really excited…thinking about some overly critical person you know who really needs to hear this message (maybe they are sitting next to you). You’re glad that we livestream via YouTube so you can send the link to your in-laws or your boss.

Let’s remember, this series is called my big fat mouth, not their big fat mouth.

We hate when other people criticize us, but we often don’t realize when we’re criticizing other people because we often feel very justified in criticizing them.

We wouldn’t criticize them if they weren’t…so weird…so stupid…so oblivious to reality…so deserving

We wouldn’t criticize them if they didn’t spend their money on ridiculous things…hadn’t hurt me (holding grudges is often the launching pad for criticism)…didn’t dress so poorly…took better care of themselves

After all, we know what’s best for their life. If only others understood that God has a wonderful plan for their lives and I can tell them what it is!

If others don’t live up to my plan, well, I will criticize the way you raise your kids, the way you dress, what you post on social media, how you drive, how you park and where you went for your last vacation because we all know you’re in debt and cannot afford that. School is starting soon, so don’t even get me started on my thoughts regarding school pick up and drop off procedures!

When I think of criticism, I think of the late Jessica Walters character, Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development. It’s totally not a church appropriate show. I shouldn’t admit that I binge watched the show, multiple times. As I admit that I really enjoy the show, some of you are being tempted to criticize me (how could a pastor watch such filth? He probably watches Stranger Things too. Yes, he does!)!

Anyway, Lucille Bluth can simply be mean and cruel. Nothing is ever good enough. Even when something is awesome, she finds the critical flaws…and points them out!
– When referring to her daughter, Lucille says, “She thinks I’m too critical. That’s another fault of hers.”
– When referring to family values she states, “We may pick on each other, get into little scrapes, call each other names and occasionally steal from each other, but that’s because we are family.”
– She told her son, Michael, who is trying to keep the family from losing everything, “You are my 3rd least favorite child.” She has four children!

It seems like every time her children or grandchildren try to get close to her, she is annoyed and find ways to belittle them. In some ways, this is to keep her position as the controlling matriarch of the family. In other ways, it’s just to be hurtful. Lucille is extremely critical and manipulative of those around her and usually acts in completely self-serving ways. Some of you may know someone like Lucille…always critical, nothing is ever good enough, and generally unhappy.

At the suggestion of some members of the congregation, we started watching Schmigadoon. As I continued thinking about critical people, I also found myself thinking about Kristin Chenoweth’s character, Mildred Layton, the judgmental, critical, super strict pastor’s wife. If you have AppleTV and haven’t watched Schmigadoon, well, it’s incredibly entertaining. Of course, it isn’t exactly church appropriate…so, you didn’t hear about it from me! Mildred brings to life the stereotypical judgmental, critical Christian.

If we’re being honest, we would be willing to admit that there are times we can be critical too. Later today, some of us will criticize coaches and athletes who are paid way too much to make such terrible mistakes…or not get a hit…or not make the catch…or not turn the double play…

This morning, we’re going to look at a fairly familiar verse of Scripture. Even for those who have never spent time in the church, this might sound familiar (especially since Jana read it earlier in the service).

Let’s look at Galatians 5:14-15 it says, For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Hopefully that sounds familiar!

But then it goes on to say, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another”.

Love your neighbor as yourself, but be careful. If your words are constantly critical…If you’re always cutting into people…If you’re always harsh with your words, be careful of destroying one another.

What if our critical words are actually destroying the potential growth and depth we could have in our marriages?
What if our critical words are driving a wall between us and our children or friends?
What if our critical words are actually keeping us from sharing the goodness of Jesus because people can’t get over how critical we are about anything and everything?
Be careful that our words do not end up hurting those around us.
Let’s remember too that sometimes it’s not just critical words, but critical looks too! I’ve received some looks that communicate more than any word could…

Ephesians 4:29 says, “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.”

Did you catch that? He said don’t let unhelpful, unwholesome, impure words come out of your mouth. Don’t tear other people down. Let the only words you speak be words that are helpful for building others up according to their needs. Yes, unwholesome talk includes those critical, judgmental, demeaning words that don’t qualify as swear words.

While we often acknowledge that we’re all made in the image of God…and that God dwells within each of us…there are times when that image and Gods in-dwelling spirit is hiding under a bunch of…stuff…when we are complaining, criticizing and judging…that’s not God, that’s not love, that’s our sinful, human nature rearing up its ugly head. When we are overly critical, it is difficult for others to see the love of God in and through us.

Here’s what I hope we will understand…we have no idea how a single word of criticism can pierce someone’s soul and stick with them for years and years. Some of us can repeat word for word hurtful, critical words that were spoken to us in our childhood. They say sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…but, I can give a testimony that words hurt.

At the same time, we have no idea how God can use a single word of encouragement to build someone up, to give them the faith to go on.

In what areas of our lives are our words having a negative affect (marriage, friendships, work, school, children)?

How are our words having a positive effect in our marriages, friendships, workplace, school, families)?

Who are we biting and devouring (figuratively, not literally)…and, if you are biting and devouring others literally, well, that’s an entirely different sermon and we have some deeper issues to talk about…so if you are here today and you are literally biting and devouring others…well, stop watching the Walking Dead and cut it out!

How do our words impact our witness? Our words can have a positive or negative impact on our witness. There’s a reason I no longer play golf. The words that come out of my mouth on the golf course do not positively impact my witness for Jesus. You see, I’m incredibly competitive, but I’m a terrible golfer.

Pastor Craig Groschel has said, “don’t be a fault finder, be a hope dealer.” People who tear us down are fault finders (Lucille Bluth or Mildred Layton). People who encourage us are hope dealers (hold up rock).

Our words have the power of life and they have the power of death. What kind of person do you want to be? Which type of person do you want to be? Do you want to be a fault finder or a hope dealer?

Hopefully, no one truly desires to be a fault finder. However, this, quite honestly is what most people are. Because of our human nature, we tend to look to find what’s wrong before we find what’s right. Those of you who are married, oh, be careful. Because it’s so easy to be a fault finder. You can take a relatively good person and pick them apart before you get to lunch that day.
I don’t like the way you walk.
I don’t like the way you chew.
I don’t like the jokes you tell.
I don’t like the way you snore.
I don’t like the way you breathe.
I don’t like the way you dress
Or at work: I don’t like the way she runs her meetings.
I don’t like the way they talk.
This is the stupidest place I’ve ever been.
Or with family and friends: I can’t believe the picture she posted on Instagram. She says she loves Jesus. Looks like she loves herself, but you know, I’m not judging, I’m just saying.
Can you believe the way they raise their kids? I mean, if they’re gonna raise their kids like that, they might as well put them in prison right now because those kids don’t stand a chance.
Have you seen the way he drives?
Whatever it is, it’s so easy to be a fault finder.

If you’re a fault finder, let me remind you, you’re a lot like the religious leaders of Jesus day. The religious leaders were continually looking for faults in Jesus.

Why are so many of us fault finders? The reason is because we are full of pride, we think we know what’s best. We’re also insecure and therefore we criticize in others the very things that are weaknesses in ourselves. More often than not, we criticize what we don’t understand. It’s a lot easier to criticize than to become informed!

We can criticize a lot about the church too! They didn’t sing my favorite song. It’s too loud! It’s not loud enough! The pastor didn’t wear his robe or a suit.

Church, sometimes we get so worked up about our human rules, preferences and traditions that we miss out on God’s presence in our midst.

We can be critical about things that happen or don’t happen in the church, right? They didn’t offer my favorite program this year. They changed the order of the service. I mean, I heard the pastor watches Arrested Development and Schmigadoon. Fault finders!

Not only that, I’m pretty sure the pastor was just being critical about critical people! He’s a fault finder too!

I believe that First Wayne Street is being called to be a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community of Christ followers committed to sharing the good News, through word and deed, with the diverse population living and working downtown. But it won’t happen if we choose to be fault finders.

Critical Christians are one of the biggest threats to the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Why? Because no one wants to be around a bunch of judgmental critics.

Listen, I’m going to take a quick sidebar soapbox on that one…There are most likely some folks who are struggling not to throw their hymnal at me this morning because my shirt isn’t tucked in and I’m wearing my favorite Vans kicks. You’re wondering why my mother didn’t teach me better.

Well, my mother taught me that Jesus doesn’t really care what one wears to church – Jesus just cares that we’re here, striving to be good, kind, loving, grace-filled people. The idea of wearing our “Sunday best” when the church gathers is really just a human created legalistic tradition that creates an unnecessary distraction.

In the spirit of honesty, in the 13 months I’ve been at FWS, I’ve had more than one person share with me that they felt less than welcome in this congregation simply based on the way they dressed. Their perception of unwelcome was based on looks received and comments made.

We have to get over that because the looks we give and the comments we make actually have the power to push someone right out the door.

True spiritual maturity understands that appearance really doesn’t matter! That’s just an adventure in missing the point…showing that we’d rather play church than be the church. Most scholars would say that in the early church, there wasn’t such a thing as “church clothes” – the people, including the leaders, wore the common clothes of the day. There was a time when many churches banned the wearing of suits and ties because it was an outward display of wealth and created division between the haves and the have nots!

While we’re worried about what others wear to worship – or what shows they watch or what music they listen to – people are dismissing the church and the Christian faith. If we are going to make disciples for the transformation of the world, we don’t have time to waste worrying about trivial matters. We should just celebrate that we can gather together to worship a God who loves us, no matter what!

When engaging with some of the pious religious folks of his day in Matthew 15, Jesus reminded us that we often focus on the wrong things. The religious folks asked Jesus why His followers didn’t obey all the little legalistic rules that had been set by the elders. Jesus turned the table and asked, “Why do you break the commands of God?” He quoted Isaiah and said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are merely human rules.”

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather follow the commands of God (which are to love God and neighbor) than follow traditional, legalistic human rules.

While researchers tell us that increasing numbers of people are not interested in the Church, there is HOPE because those same people still view the Church as a source of hope. Unfortunately, they often only see the Church by what we are against. While they should know us by what we are “for”, they know us as fault finders.

Do we want to be fault finders or hope dealers? Ask yourself, have you ever met an overly critical person that you want to be like? I have never met a critical person that I aspire to be like.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were fault finders, but Jesus is full of hope. He offers hope to those who need it most! There’s a story in John 8 that perfectly highlights the difference between fault finders and hope dealers.

JOHN 8:2-11 “Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

In this interaction, is Jesus a fault finder or a hope dealer? He had every right and all the authority to condemn this woman – though there are plenty of holes in this story (like, for instance, where is the man caught in adultery – because he was guilty too). Rather than choosing judgment…rather than choosing to condemn…rather than being critical…Jesus deals hope and offers love and grace.

What do we want to be? Do we want to be fault finders? That’s what the Pharisees were. Just to be clear, they are not the heroes of the story!

Who is Jesus? He is the way, he is the truth, he is the living hope. He is the hero of the story.

We have no idea when we criticize our spouse what that does to self-esteem and intimacy.
We have no idea when we’re hard on our kids how it belittles them and distances us from them.
We have no idea how foolish we look when we criticize and criticize and criticize, thinking it makes us look better. It makes us look insecure and mean-spirited.
We have no idea how one word of encouragement, how God can use that to change a life.
We have no idea when we speak the best about others how God can build them up.
We have no idea the life transformation that can come when Christians choose love and grace over criticism and judgment.

Let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs.

We are followers of Christ. We are called to speak words of healing; we speak words of life. We have no idea how a single critical word can pierce, kill and destroy. We have no idea how a single word of encouragement (Rock) can build faith and begin to transform another more into the image of Christ.

Can we flip our criticism into encouragement?
My child’s room is a mess! He’s a slob – rather than focusing on the problem, focus on the possibilities – He may be a slob, but he is kind and compassionate
My friend eats junk food all day and dresses like a tramp – however, she’s loyal
That mom is just a mess, always late – But, her kids are awesome, she’s doing something right.
The yard looks terrible – But, doesn’t he look fine out there in his plaid shorts and knee-high black socks?

So, what do we want to be? Can you imagine what kind of renewal and revival can take place as First Wayne Street becomes a church full of hope dealers, pointing people to the one who is our living hope, our Savior, our King, our Lord?

Criticism is the easy road. It’s much easier to complain and criticize than to build up and encourage. Pastor and former Indianapolis Colt, Dr. Derwin Gray has said, “Don’t criticize. Create.”

We need to turn our criticism into encouragement. Can we create something good out of what we are tempted to criticize?

Let’s get out there and deal some hope to a world that desperately needs the Good News!

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