Tag Archives: Judging

Judging the World

I read this story over a decade ago, and it’s been haunting me ever since. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this story. It’s in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. A friend of Yancey was a Christian counselor in Chicago, and a young woman had come to him with a severe addiction. She had to started to prostitute her body out to provide for her substance abuse, and when that wasn’t enough money, eventually she started selling her 2 year old’s body  as well.

Now this counselor has got to report her. But first he asks her a question, he asks her, “Have you ever thought about going to a church?” And she says, “Church?!! Why would I ever go there? I already feel bad enough about myself.”

Told you it’s a haunting story.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the need for Christians to live in a community that is able to judge each other in loving ways, and today is the last post in this series. And on some level this whole series has all been a set up for this post.

Because despite that first story, I do think that Christian communities should be known as the places where we are able to speak the hard truths into each other lives. I do think we should be known for being lovingly judgmental, but not in any sense like Christians are known today.

The real problem with the Western Church today is not a lack of programs or leaders, it’s not us not having the right building location. The real problem we have is a lack of American Christians looking like Jesus. The Barna Group is a famous research company that surveys American Christians, they basically ask us “What has following Jesus changed in your life?” And every time the Barna group comes out with another survey, the answer is always the same, “Not much.”

We sleep around at the same rate as non-Christians, we use our money the same way non-Christians do, we are just as likely to beat our spouse or divorce as a non-Christian is. Christians are even more likely than non-Christians to object to someone of a another race moving into their neighborhood.

I like the way Dallas Willard talks about this:

Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem…It is now understood to be a part of the “good news” that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to “cheap grace” though it would be better described as costly faithlessness

In other words, The biggest problem is that Jesus followers don’t follow Jesus. Continue reading Judging the World

The Grace of Truth

So I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the need that we have for Christians to be able to speak the hard words into each other’s lives. Next week will be my last post about this, but I’ve been thinking about this because I have a hunch that we’ve reacted so much to the idea of not judging each other, that we’ve used it as an excuse to really living in community with one another. We live in social circles and call it church.

So there’s a time in the book of James where he talks about how anyone who knows the truth and doesn’t act on it is like someone who looks in a mirror and sees what’s there and immediately forgets it. I like that idea.

Because just about everybody I know looks in the mirror everyday. And for some of us it’s more painful than others, but we do it, and we stand in front of that mirror as long as we have to before we go out into the world. And we do that, no matter how disturbing what we see in the reflection is, because what we are looking at is reality.

And reality, whether we like it or not, is our friend.

A few years ago, a young woman came into my office who I had known in passing. We talked for a few minutes, and then she just kind of blurted out that she had an eating disorder. She was anorexic, and was paranoid about gaining weight, to the point where she was slowly starving herself. And I was shocked. On the outside, this young woman seemed to be emotionally healthy and happy, she was very thin and pretty, had a great job and a healthy dating life. And so I asked her why this was such a concern for her. And she told me that she had always struggled with her weight.

I don’t know what led me to ask this question, but the next thing I found myself saying was, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” And without a second of hesitation she replied, “I see a very fat person.” She couldn’t have weighed over 120 pounds soaking wet.

Sometimes mirrors lie.

And so I spent the next few minutes just talking to her about the lie that her mirror was telling her. I talked about having an identity in Jesus versus identifying with our appearances. And then I asked her about her friendships. I wanted to know if she had anybody in her life who she was very close enough with to share what she was struggling with, and who could speak some truth into her life.  She couldn’t imagine that, and then she went on to tell me that she didn’t plan on radically changing her behavior, or even the way she viewed herself, she just wanted to get it off her chest with her minister. And I think most of us know why she didn’t want to take this further.

Because some mirrors are more painful than others.

The book of James is probably the most practical book in the New Testament. James is trying to create a certain kind of church. And so James talks about judging each other with mercy, he talks about the power of the tongue, and how we should not use our mouth to put people down or gossip, he talks about how faith is something that leads to action, and how we shouldn’t treat people better or worst based on things like how much money is in their bank account. And then here’s how James’ ends his letter:

 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

That’s it. That’s how he ends it. He says that and then drops the mic and walks away.  Continue reading The Grace of Truth

A Graceless World

So I’ve been thinking and writing the past few weeks about the need for Christians to be able to “judge” each other in healthy ways. It seems to me that we have reacted so much to the condemning, judgmental things that we’ve seen and experienced, that we’ve lost being able to see the value in allowing the people we share life with to speak an occasional hard word into us.

We need people in our lives who love us enough to speak these words, but not only those words.

One of the things that is so central to Scripture but so foreign to our church cultures, is the idea that we create with our words. The Bible starts off with the famous lines, “In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth.” God said “Let there be Light.” And because God gets what God wants, light had no choice but to exist.

Now we use this story a lot to argue with science, as if Genesis was trying to have a conversation with Darwin. But the point Genesis wants us to pay attention to is that God creates with language. He creates a world with words.

The Bible tells a story in which the words we use with each other matter a lot.

And that’s important because we talk quite a bit.

Did you know that the average person has, on an average day, 30 separate conversations? 1/5 of our day is talking. An average year of your talking fills 132 books with 200 pages. You are a walking annual encyclopedia.

The University of Denver recently did a study where they discovered that language was the biggest indicator of a healthy marriage. The most accurate predictor of whether or not a marriage was going to stay together was if the couple used a lot of negative language. They found that if a couple had 5 negative comments per 100 comments, than it was almost guaranteed that they were going to stay together, And If it was 10 negative comments per 100, then it was almost guaranteed that they would eventually split up.

We grew up saying that Sticks and Stones can never hurt us, but does anybody really believe that? Our words create, they name, they can heal and destroy.

There’s another part of the Bible that talks about the power of words, a letter written by James says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

The tongue leads to life and it can lead to death. Continue reading A Graceless World

The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

In the world that I live in everybody loves Jesus, he’s like Raymond, but less threatening. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t think Jesus is great. College Students, Hippies, Seniors, Hippies who are now seniors, Buddhists, Muslims, Nietzsche, heck even Richard Dawkins has started liking Jesus.

And while most of us don’t know a whole lot of what he said, at least one thing Jesus said has been passed around more than other in the West.

Do not judge.

So I’ve been writing for the past few weeks about why Christians need to live in the kind of community where confrontation and a generous judgment happen. And I know it may sound like I’m trying to get Jesus followers to not follow Jesus. But it’s only because we haven’t read the rest of what Jesus says there. So here is that whole section, in it’s entirety:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I’d like to point out a couple of things here. First off, Jesus calls the person doing this a hypocrite, they are an actor, just pretending to care about them but really having an ulterior motive. It sounds like Jesus is being so…judgmental.

And then notice what Jesus actually says, “Remove the plank, so that you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In other words, Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge, he’s just saying we have to start with ourselves first.

In his book, Beyond Evangelical, Frank Viola tells a story about a couple of the most famous preachers in the past 200 years. Charles Spurgeon was a Baptist preacher in England, and he had been impressed with the ways God was using D.L. Moody, a famous American evangelist, to bring revival to cities in America. So Spurgeon invited Moody to speak at his church. Moody accepted, took a ship across the pond, and preached an entire sermon…on the evils of tobacco.

Because Spurgeon smoked cigars.

So Spurgeon goes up to Moody after the sermon, and pokes him in his overweight belly and tells him. “I’ll put down my cigar when you put down your fork.”

Needless to say, the friendship got off to a rocky start. Continue reading The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

Judging the Cost

If you get a chance, watch the video above. I think this is a good parable for what it’s like to live in Christian community.  It’s an actual intervention. With people actually judging other people on national television.  A woman named Amber is about to lose her daughter and her life to alchohol, and her friends are taking the step to “judge” her.

It’s heartbreaking.

You can tell that her friends and family really do care about her. You can tell she’s angry and bitter. And you can tell that this is an extremely awkward situation to have put on cable T.V. She doesn’t want to be in that seat.

Nobody wants to be in that seat.

There was a season last year when I was going through a difficult few weeks in ministry and life. I had begun to make some personal decisions that were not very healthy. And at one point a very good friend sat me down and asked me about what was going on. And then he suggested that I make some behavior modifications.

And I on the outside I was great. I was smiling like an Olsteen, but inside I was immediately defensive and upset.. I suddenly realized this was no dear friend I was talking to, this is Judas. Outside I was trying to diffuse the tension with humor, but inside I was asking, “Who does this guy think he is? I have a mother and she’s not here.”

I immediately started wanting to point out the log in my friends eye, or at least make one up.

It’s often pointed out that Western Churches are not very good at Discipleship. The surveys show that Christians in America live shockingly similar lives to people who are not Christian. Churches are great at helping people become “Christian” but not very good at helping them become disciples of Jesus. We can get people into buildings or programs, but not much Jesus into people. Continue reading Judging the Cost

A Generous Confrontation

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about how and why Christians are called to judge and be judged by one another. Not in the condemning, self-righteous way that we all tend to have in our mind, but in a gentle loving way that is concerned for the restoration of the person involved. And while that sounds all good in theory, in my experience it almost never goes like that. Maybe because we rarely are able to confront each other well.

Now I know that there are plenty of stories about Christians coming to other Christians with a spirit of condemnation and smug self-rigteousness. I’ve had it happen to me, and I bet you have too. But we shouldn’t use the abuse of something good to write off it’s use in healthy ways. And I think that’s why Jesus gives some of his most practical straight forward teaching on how to do this.

In Matthew 18, the same book that Jesus says his famous “Do not Judge” line, Jesus tells his followers how to approach someone who has sinned against us. Here’s exactly what he says:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Notice how practical Jesus is here. He’s not going to talk about mustard seeds or the birds of the air here, he’s going to be as direct as possible because he knows what a cancer sin and gossip can be on a community. So he tells us very specifically what to do, and even the order to do it in. But today, I just want to talk about the first sentence that Jesus says:

If your brother or sister has sinned against you.

If.

Because maybe they didn’t. What if they didn’t mean that the way you took it? What if they were actually going to pay you that back? Or what if they hadn’t actually told that person that thing about you? There is a big leap between If a person sinned against you, and When a person sins against you. And one of the reasons that I think Jesus wants  us to go to the person is so that we can know what is actually happening, Maybe that gesture didn’t mean what you thought, or maybe they really didn’t get the email. Continue reading A Generous Confrontation

The Symphony of Grace

So there is this one time where Jesus is talking with some religious leaders about their view of God. They have taken offense at Jesus for the way he is ministering, and more specifically the kinds of people he is ministering to. They are criticizing him for spending time with the “sinners” of their day. And so Jesus tells them a story.

Unless you live under a rock somewhere,  you’ve heard this story before.  It’s the one about two sons and their dad. And the younger of the two sons goes off and blows his inheritance on the same things that most young men blow their inheritance on. And eventually, after he hits rock bottom, this young man decides to finally come home. And the entire way back he’s working on his apology speech. Because when you’ve blown it as bad as he has, you need to have a pretty impressive apology.

Now you know this story, the Dad runs as soon as he sees him a long way off. Which means the Dad never stopped looking. He doesn’t let him even finish the apology speech before he starts going into party planning mode. They throw a party with music and dancing and roasted calf. And then dad notices that another son has gone prodigal on him.

So, like before, the dad who is always watching out for his boys, goes to him and tries to get him to join the party.

And If we just knew this about God, we would understand how He feels about the Human Condition.

He’s trying to get us all to join the party.

I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the deep need for Christians to live in community with each other. It seems like Christians in the West have such an allergy to all things related to judging, and maybe rightfully so, but we still have this deep need to be able to hold each other accountable and speak the redemptive and hard words into each others lives.  And last week, I wrote about one passage in Galatians that seems to be get at the heart of our objections to judging others, but hold on to the heart of what it means to live in God’s community. Here’s what Paul wrote:  Continue reading The Symphony of Grace

Everyday Restoration Movements

So I’ve been doing a blog series on Judging and Judgmental Christians for the past few weeks, and why we need them…kind of. I know this seems kind of counter-intuitive. At least it is for me. It’s so much easier to talk about stories of Prodigal Sons and grace and compassion than it is to try and talk about this. But I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and I’ve realized that what we call Grace can be  just a cheap cop-out for not wanting to live life deeply rooted in community and appropriate accountability.

So last week I talked about ways that have been helpful for me to receive correction from a brother or sister, and the next couple of weeks I want to talk about those moments when we feel called to approach another and initiate these difficult conversations ourselves. We’ve seen something in their life that we think they may be blind to, and we want to make sure they are aware of the danger, so we approach them.

Last week, I wrote about one of the great pastoral case studies of this. It’s where Paul corrects a Corinthian church for tolerating a man sleeping with his step-mother. He actually tells them to kick the guy out of church. He wants them to disfellowship this guy. Now, I’ve seen this happen a handful of times in my life, and it almost always goes badly. The person being disfellowshipped is hurt and filled with righteous indignation. And almost always, the church leaders who had to do it are too.

But go back and read 1st Corinthians 5. This isn’t Paul giving them a permanent solution, this is rooted in Paul’s hope for both the church as well as the guy who’s sleeping with his step-mom. Paul is asking the church to let the guy feel the full weight of his decisions, and then as soon as he has, Paul asks them to accept him right back into the community. Paul’s hope isn’t for condemnation for this person. Paul’s hope is for his restoration.

There’s another time where Paul is writing another church in Galatia. And toward the end of the letter Paul tells them this:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Gently restore them. I like that phrase. The word gently is actually a word for meekness, it means the way we approach the person should be as non-threatening as possible. This is the part I think we miss the most. We approach these difficult conversations with ultimatums and power plays and, all too often, quite a bit of self-righteousness. This is especially true when we are confronting someone with a sin that we don’t struggle with ourselves. So of course it gets messy quite quickly. Continue reading Everyday Restoration Movements