Walking a Thin Line

Written for my church’s daily devotional in June…

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

Romans 2:1-3

As a chaperone for a New York City field trip, I boarded the subway with my daughter’s class. A man lay on one seat, sweatpants pulled up to the knee revealing legs crisscrossed by scabs. Despite open eyes beneath his blue-tinted sunglasses, he remained oblivious to our group. When spoken to, he either could not or would not respond. A wet stain with yellowed edges on his pants added a tragic stroke to an already dismal image.

Recognizing signs of drug abuse, I stood between him and the teenagers in my care, uncertain how the chemical cocktail in his veins would manifest in his behavior. My heart hurt for him.

Early in my Christian walk, I lacked such compassion. Shamefully, I often disdained anyone who fell short of obeying God by my standards, blind to my failure in obeying Him to Christ’s standards. Such judgmental thoughts never stay secret but corrupt actions and attitudes, poisoning our witness.

Since those days, God has humbled me, reminding me I’m no better than the man on the subway. But for the grace of God, I could have been lying there.

As an unbeliever, I struggled with an intense self-focus I preferred to call depression. I congratulated myself on not taking prescription antidepressants even as I self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana. Pride blinded me to my double standard. How many steps down this slippery slope did I lack before tumbling into my own pit of addiction? I shudder to imagine.

 The truth is, the condition of the man on the train closely mirrors anyone’s spiritual state apart from Christ. Including mine. When I reflect on the mercy God showed me, I can no longer condemn others.

What horror brought this man to a point of surrendering hope and dignity for a temporary respite from reality? I doubt he made a conscious choice to enslave himself to a drug. Addiction is insidious, seeming to offer relief. But over time, it takes more and more until it has complete dominion. Exactly like every other sin.

Today, Christ alone stands between the filth of my sins and the wrath of the Father, and He alone offers genuine and lasting relief.  He offers it to the man on the train, as well. My place is not to judge but I have the privilege of sharing the freedom I’ve found in Christ. I pray that poor man will find Christ, too.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Most of us struggle against addiction in some form. If not drugs or alcohol, it could be porn, food, approval, work, reward, entertainment – the list is long. What are you prone to enslave yourself to?
  2. Does what you give your time and effort to really satisfy, or does it take more and more over time?
  3. Next time you find yourself craving some relief or release, try crying out to God instead, asking Him to change your craving for what does not satisfy into a desire for Him.  He alone can truly fill our gaping need.

Wise Words

When you get sick, and sad, and weary of God’s people, turn your thoughts to God Himself; and if ever you see any spots in the Church, Christ’s bride, look at her glorious Husband, and you will only love Him the more as you think of His wondrous condescension in having loved such a poor thing as His Church is even at her best.

C. H. Spurgeon

Back in the days of my atheism, I had a ridiculous habit. OK, I had several ridiculous habits, but one of the silliest was a tendency to judge Christianity by Christians.

This, of course, is foolish; akin to judging the entire field of theoretical physics by the mathematical expertise of the world’s preschool students.

If you want to rightly assess Christianity, the Person to examine is Yeshua Messiah, aka Jesus Christ. He is the one who set the standard. His Church are the ones learning how to live up to it – one computational error at a time.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 19:7-9

Here Comes the Judge

“Judge not, that you be not judged…”
(Matthew 7:1)

In today’s world, I would venture a guess that Matthew 7:1 is probably as well-known among unbelievers as John 3:16 was in previous decades. Almost everyone, it seems, knows that Jesus tells us not to judge.

So pervasive is this awareness that cries of, “Don’t judge me!” are often used to deflect even the hint of disagreement or disapproval. In part because of this trend, many Christians are labeled as “judgmental” by unbelievers. And so the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is clumsily wielded by untrained hands, severing bonds that might otherwise hold neighbors accountable to a higher standard.

But are these judges misjudged?

About 7 years ago now, a much younger family member announced to me that she was pregnant. At the time, she was unmarried and the man she was with did not treat her with love and respect and also lived a dangerous lifestyle — a volatile concoction of entitlement-fueled anger and illicit drugs. I was heartbroken for her and told her so, to which she replied, “Don’t judge me.”

But as I explained, I was not judging her. Rather, I was commiserating. From my own personal experience and that of another family member closer in age, I knew many of the battles and much of the pain that lay ahead for both her and her child.

I, too, became pregnant with my first child before I was married, and although I did end up married to the child’s father, the beginning of our relationship was marked with needless complication, not the least of which was that we barely knew one another at the time.

But we put our heads down and did the work that needed to be done — laboring through communication issues, in-law issues, and the like while simultaneously struggling to understand each other in the midst of pregnancy hormones and poverty.

None of it was fun. There was no romance; there was only a determined decision to learn to love and to sacrifice in order to do what was right by the child.

The other family member I had mentioned had it much worse. She had been only 19 when her first baby came along and had a second baby 14 months later. Although she, too, married the father, he did not put his shoulder to the plow as my man did. He indulged in illicit drug use and eventually abandoned his young family.

And these hardships were merely the barest glimpse of the difficulties we and our children faced. So naturally, when I heard the news from the younger generation, I was reminded of these things and I sorrowed, but not because I had judged the pregnant woman and deemed her sinful. It was because I was also sinful and had already reaped the noxious fruit of the very same sin.

Thanks be to God, all three of our stories are now stories of redemption; of God’s saving grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Due to our experience, all three of us are also passionate about telling the truth to those who still believe the myth of so-called “casual sex.”

Truth be told, we also agree that God’s condemnation of fornication is just and right, but this is not because we are judgmental. It is because we have sown our little gardens with the world’s way and tasted the bitterness of its fruit. We have seen the anguish in the eyes of children whose fathers abandoned them or did not care for them as they ought. And we have experienced that the forgiveness of our mighty God does not erase these consequences.

Oh, people! Oftentimes, when the true followers of God seem to condemn an action or a lifestyle, it is neither from hatefulness nor hypocrisy! To say a thing is wrong is not necessarily judging but may well be a statement of fact.

I cannot speak for all, but I know that my decision to agree with God on His views of right and wrong are twofold.

First, I love and trust my wise and ancient Creator, and I know that His way is best because He does know right from wrong, and He alone understands the fullness of the consequences of both. He is the Judge, and I defer to His sound judgment.

But secondly, and most important to my point here, I agree with Him out of love for others. My heart breaks for sin — my own included — not because I am judging the transgressor but because I know from experience that walking in sin brings unnecessary grief to both the perpetrator and to others.

My dear people, please do not judge the Christian too harshly.  It may well be that what is often called “judgment” is merely a loving wish to warn a person away from an already-trodden path of pain. Who better to know the perils of a path than one who has been lost on it and rescued?

Sometimes, too, that feeling of being judged is more accurately called “conviction,” and has nothing to do with the Christian at all.

Personally, I still chuckle that I also once attempted to assuage my guilty conscience by believing Christians to be judgmental.  There is no little irony that in accusing another of judging me, I had made a knowledge claim on their motives and thus assumed the role of judge.

…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?
(Matthew 7:2-3)