Judgment Without Being Judgmental

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” – Roman 2:1-4.

We are all familiar with Jesus’ words, “do not judge.” We stand all the ready, with best of intentions, to judge the mistakes and wrongdoing of others. Something is satisfying about somebody paying for their misdeeds. We judge through opinions, jokes, rumors, name calling, and characterizations, to name a few. Some of these methods can seem like mere words, but we can’t fool ourselves, in many cases we are judging others. And when we are being judgmental we are not using good judgment or truly understanding what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7.

Yes, we are to discern good from evil, but not when judgment turns to condemnation. Being judgmental is one of the biggest reasons people leave the church or refuse to attend church in the first place. Being judgmental creates a divide. Everybody makes mistakes and sometimes it can seem like Christians can’t overlook those mistakes. Judging people creates the sense that you are not welcome in church. Yet, this phrase “do not judge” is telling us to do the exact opposite. It is telling us to stop looking outward and look inward. We have no right to feel superior and righteous. We are all in need of reconciliation. And as such we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. That calls for good judgment, not being judgmental.

The actual message in the phrase do not judge, deals with one’s own sins before looking at anyone else’s, since good judgment requires a pure heart. Likewise, it is critical to understand that Jesus emphasizes repentance and right action and assumes that once these things are in place, good judgment can be made and is in fact necessary. 

In summary, in this passage, Jesus warns of the human tendency to judge based on our own faults and flaws. This warning should be considered before trying to judge another’s actions or intentions. Instead, the passage tells us that we should always examine ourselves first to see if the log we see is actually affixed to our own eye—and only if our eye is clean can we trust our judgment enough to begin the process of helping remove the offense from anyone else. This is an incredibly important point, both emphasizing the importance of good judgment and the steps necessary to acquire it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What in your mind is the difference between good judgment and being judgmental?
  2. Why do you think it’s so hard to let go of judgments we make about others?
  3. What can we do this week to replace judging others with good judgment?    

You Be The Judge Of That

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Luke 6:37-32. 

There is a story of a bishop who was embarking on a transatlantic voyage. When on board, he discovered he was sharing the cabin with another passenger. After going to his cabin, the bishop went to the purser’s desk and inquired if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe. He explained that he normally didn’t take that type of precaution, but after meeting his cabin mate, he grew concerned that the other man appeared to be untrustworthy. The purser accepted the responsibility for the valuables and remarked, ’It’s all right, bishop, I’ll be very glad to take care of them for you. The other man has been up here and left his for the same reason!’“

The verse about not judging lest you be judged, is probably the most misquoted and taken out of context verse in the Bible. I have talked about it and have heard it talked about on multiple occasions. Often it is used to stop a conversation. Somebody will say “Judge not, lest you be judged,” and the conversation generally stops because who wants to be labeled judgmental? This series is intended to help us to learn and understand the Bible. 

Let’s look at the big picture of Matthew 7:1-5. Those verses are not saying not to “judge” things, but it is saying not to do it hypocritically. There are many examples in the Bible where we are even called to judge things. Jesus even tells us how we are to judge things in John 7:24, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” We are to first “judge” ourselves. We are to examine ourselves to make sure that we aren’t doing the very thing that we are admonishing someone else to not do.

Jesus’ point here isn’t to say that we always have the same problem we see in others, just that we tend to see in others what we have in ourselves. In this passage, Jesus warns of the human tendency to judge based on our own faults and flaws. This warning is one that should be considered before any assumption about another’s behavior or intentions. Instead, the passage asserts that we should always examine ourselves first to see if the splinter we see is actually affixed to our own eye—and only if our eye is clean can we trust our judgment enough to begin the process of helping remove the offense from anyone else. This is an incredibly important point, both emphasizing the importance of good judgment and the steps necessary to acquire it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we have a tendency to judge others? What are some general perceptions of what it means to judge others?
  2. According to Jesus, why are we often unfit to be judges (Matthew 7:3-4)? Are we ever fit to be judges?
  3. Some have assumed that Jesus was forbidding all judgment. How would you respond to this suggestion? What kind of judgment does He have in mind?
  4. Jesus refers to our relationship to believers (brothers and sisters). What steps must we take to truly help a brother or sister? 

God's Love Is Proactive

“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” – Psalm 27:10.

When you hear the word adoption, most believers think in one of two ways. First, they are praying for a family that is thinking of adopting, or second, they are giving a love offering to help the state or local children’s home. These are good things to do. We should pray and we should help economically when we are able. But if that’s all orphan care is to us, then we have missed God’s perspective on adoption. 

Adoption was never plan B for God. It wasn’t an alternative solution. It was plan A. Before the universe existed, God had planned on adopting us into his family through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5 says, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

God did not adopt us because of who we are or what we bring to the table. He adopted us because of His amazing mercy.

Ephesians 5:1 says, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children”  God’s completely underserved mercy for us should compel us to mirror His adoptive love to a world in need. God’s love is proactive. In our fast paced world where we are bombarded with news and information constantly, we have become very reactive. That reaction can be building walls between what is happening and our lives. The question is are we building walls to separate ourself from those who need Jesus or are we building bridges of love to lead them to Him?” The only way I’ve seen to build bridges is to be proactive in sharing God’s love. Christian love is not based on loving people the way we want to be loved. It’s loving people the way God has loved us. He acted. He pursued. He showered grace on the sinner. This is the way we should look at adoption.

Obviously, not everyone is called to adopt, but every believer is called to act. That means not merely feeling sorry for orphans. Sentimentalism is no substitute for action. There are many ways we can help orphans in our area. We just need to seek God’s guidance where we can best help. How is He calling you to love the orphan today?

Discussion Questions

  1. Adoption is who’s responsibility? Why do you feel that way?
  2. How can we be more proactive in helping orphans in our area?
  3. Pray and ask for guidance on how to get involved?

A Change Of Heart

“ You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me.” – Acts 20:34 

I admire and thank God for the people who are willing to become foster parents. It is not easy. It is an exciting adventure. No doubt about it. It also has its fair share of trials. To be honest, it can be like boarding a rollercoaster with so many twists, turns, and loops that you feel it’s never coming to an end. 

But every day foster parents across this country are opening their doors to children, guiding them and helping them reach their potential. Every day they invest their love, energy and prayers to give these kids the home they need. And when you watch from a distance, the sacrifices these parents make to first reach these kids, see their progress and witness their development, brings a smile to your face. Foster care is just as much about changing the story of the child, as it is changing the story of the foster parents.

It is easy to view foster care as simply bringing a child from an unstable place into a better one. While that is in part the case, it is more than that. When a child is welcomed into a foster parent’s house it is actually the child that is inviting the parents into their story. Foster parenting has the ability to warm your heart and turn your life upside down all in one. 

You will become attached. It happens all the time and it won’t take long for it to happen. You can try to fortify your heart, because it would make it easier for you to detach from them when the time came for them to return home. It probably won’t work. Foster parents have told me that it was nearly impossible not to love the children they are caring for. It just happens. You get hooked and that’s not a bad thing. You cannot have these precious children in your lives and not be moved by them. You cannot open your heart to them and not have it transformed by them. The experiences and memories will always be a part of you, and a piece of you is now always a part of them. Mark 9:37 says, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

The need for foster parents is great. Yes, there can be challenges, but there’s an overwhelming need for loving people to step up to the plate. There are unexpected blessings if you do. You could be positively rewriting the story of a child’s life while rewriting your own. 

Discussion Questions

  1. John 14:18 says, “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” What does that mean to us today?
  2. What, in your view, are the qualifications of being a foster parent?
  3. Do you believe the child or the foster parents receive the bigger benefit?

Where The Action Is

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.“ –  James 2:14-17.

We believe that only the church can truly change the reality of orphans around the world. First, we need to be educated on the needs both locally and globally. Then we need to move from learning to action. Whatever your skills and experience, and however much time you can offer, there are ways for you to make a difference. It is just a matter of where and what. I encourage you to suspend reality for a moment and see what is possible. But if we are to be the solution, we need more than good intentions. 

Doing something in the area of orphans may cost you. Maybe some money, certainly some time, definitely some energy, and more than likely some emotion, convenience, comfort and normalcy. No one ever said, “Yes, I want to get involved, but I don’t want that involvement to change any part of my life. The reality is nothing will be the same, everything will change.

There will be costs, but it is important to stress that it is worth the costs because of the gains the child may receive. A child is always worth the process and more valuable than the costs. Always. 

This is not for everybody, but maybe, just maybe it is for you. The Bible urges us to care for orphans, and provides some context as to why we should. In James 1:27, we are told that of all the measures by which our faith can be demonstrated, caring for orphans in their distress ranks among the highest and purest. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” Why does God rank caring for orphans among the highest expressions of our faith? Perhaps because caring for orphans is not only one of the clearest expressions of the heart of God, but also a tangible demonstration of the Gospel. Or maybe it is a beautiful continuation of the redemption story of God and a vivid demonstration of the love of Jesus extended through us.

Let me end with this: If you’re someone who keeps wondering about it, talking about it and praying about it then you’re probably someone that just needs to do it…and most likely somebody that would be great at it. And I understand this post may not be written to your particular circumstances right now. No book, blog or article ever can address the uniquenesses of everyone’s situations. But please pray about the orphans in this world that need a family. We have a job to do, and that job is being God’s Plan A for people without families.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the word “orphan?”
  2. Caring about orphans is a way to define your faith. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. “God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6 NIV). How does He do that? What might your role be in His plan?
  4. What steps can you take to make your heart more like God’s with regard to orphans?

Is There Someone Out There Who Cares For Me?

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” – Zephaniah 3:17

Imagine that you are a child that was unwanted from the time you were born. Everything about you was wrong. Born to the wrong parents, wrong gender, wrong size, wrong disposition, wrong intelligence; everything is wrong. Your parents never stop criticizing, constantly telling you to be quiet, telling you that you are stupid, that you are an embarrassment and finally saying, “I can’t stand the sight of you, I wish you had never been born.”

Yes, that is an extreme case, but the reality is that there are millions of kids out there who are at this moment wondering if anyone truly cares. And many of those kids who feel abandoned and betrayed are wondering, where’s God? To them, He feels like a distant, impersonal force? Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s love for the orphan is visible throughout the Bible. It is very clear where His heart lies and that He’s called us to join Him to help the orphans all over the world. But here’s the thing. It takes getting involved. Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you take an active interest. But once you do, everything changes.

Saint Augustine said this: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” We cannot change the world. Only Jesus can do that. We can, however, change the world for one person. We can show an orphan in our area that somebody does care and that there is a God that loves them more than they can know. 

Many people wonder what true religion really is. The Bible leaves no doubt. James 1:27 says,  “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you”

Once we realize how much God loves us and what He went through to adopt us into His family, we really have only two responses. First, it’ll clarify to you how much your life matters. Second, it should make us sensitive to the plight of orphans around the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the needs of orphans today? Have those needs changed over the years?
  2. Why do you think orphans and widows are mentioned in James 1:27?
  3. What steps can you take to make your heart more like God’s with regard to orphans?

The Heart of The Matter: God Cares About Every Orphan

“True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans, and you must never accept a widow’s garment as security for her debt.  Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery. That is why I have given you this command. “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows.” – Deuteronomy 24:17-21. 

There is a superhero movie coming out every week. The formula is the same; watching these powerful, superheroes defeat their fiendish arch-villains plotting to destroy the planet, or the universe. These movies fall in line with our fascination with the powerful, the rich and the popular. The Bible has a different perspective. The Bible has stories of the meek, the humble, and the disenfranchised. These stories would not be riveting superhero movies, that is for sure. 

We see God’s interest in people on the margins on nearly every page of Scripture. God selected a nation of slaves to be His special people. God chose sheep-tenders to be the first to hear news of the Savior’s birth. But perhaps nowhere do we see this reality more clearly than in God’s passion for the orphan. 

Just think of the contrast for a second. We see God, the indescribable, powerful and self-sufficient creator of all things, concerned about the least powerful and self-sufficient — the orphan in distress. “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice…” (Deuteronomy 10:18). The Prophets echo the same truth: “No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” (Hosea 14:3b). And, again, in the Psalms, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:5-6).

In this, we see the beauty of God’s heart. He cares not only for the orphan, but for each of us as well. He pursued us when we were poor and alone. He adopted us as His children. He invites us to call him “father” and to live as His daughters and sons. Of course, we must not miss the fact that God calls His people to do the same. We are to live out “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”  (James 1:27).

As we do this, we reveal God’s heart to the world. Whether by adoption or foster care or mentoring or supporting the local church in care for orphans in our area, we display that astonishing reality that God cares passionately for the least of these, the least of us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God’s consistent concern for the orphan tell you about His character?
  2. What does it reveal about how He feels about you?
  3. In what ways might you be able to reveal God’s peculiar, beautiful sense of priority to the world?
  4. What can we do this week to help orphans around the world? 

Diversity Starts Here

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.“ – Max Dupree

Business has long understood the value of diversity. Corporate America recognizes that diversity is not a luxury, but a business necessity. The latest research finds that companies who rank high in gender, racial and ethnic diversity, are more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. Diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time. Diversity makes a company better. Diversity also has the ability to make our churches better. 

Think about what happens when you don’t have diversity. But there’s more to diversity than the color of the skin. There’s gender and age, geographic upbringing, personal interest, language, family structure, education, spiritual gifts and personality traits to name a few. What happens when you are not diverse? Consider this scenario: You clone yourself hundreds of times and once you have at least a hundred you start a church. Several hundred you’s may be interesting, but it would tend to be uninteresting and predictable, possibly even boring. There would be no one to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, experience or abilities. There would be no unique ideas or suggestions.

God created us as a diverse people and He wants us to work together to further His kingdom. That’s why He gave us different skills and strengths so that we would recognize our need for one another, while still appreciating our individuality. God made us different to make a better whole. And His love for variety is not just visible in us, but in all aspects of His creation. There are approximately 4,740 species of frogs around the entire world, not including the 120 species that went extinct over time. 

Diversity enriches the Christian experience. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own. Diversity can go a long way to challenging stereotypes and preconceptions. It also encourages critical thinking and helps us learn to communicate with people of varied backgrounds. It fosters mutual respect with each other regardless of color, ethnicity, or culture. 

Diversity is embracing and following the original blueprint of the early church. The early church came to realize that followers of Jesus may not look alike, act alike, sing alike, and we are all in need of the love of Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe diversity is Biblically mandated? Do you believe cross-race relationships enrich our lives?
  2. Do you see value in greater diversity in the church? Why or why not?
  3. Do you believe diversity will help with our prejudices? Why or why not? 

Prejudice Someone

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” –  Audre Lorde

Most of us would like to believe that discrimination and prejudice ended in the 60’s. It is difficult to believe that prejudices have any place in modern America. But the truth is, we are a long way from being free from prejudice, and we need to face any prejudices we have because it has no place in Christianity. 

While there are many kinds of prejudice, the one that comes to mind is racial prejudice. If you are white, you may never totally understand what it feels like to be treated prejudicially simply because your skin is not white. Even so, as Christians, we have the personal obligation to root out any prejudices toward other races, and to work toward understanding and relating to everyone regardless of any differences.

Jesus made a point of ignoring the racial prejudices of His day and teaching His disciples to do the same. For example, when He chose to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well, He shocked the disciples because Jews hated Samaritans and considered them to be second-class citizens. A Jew never talked to a Samaritan unless they had to, but Jesus chose not only to talk to this Samaritan woman, but to reveal great and marvelous truths to her and lead her to become His follower. And then there is the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the wounded person. To the Jews of his day, it was a message loud and clear against prejudice.

God wants us to see people as individuals, created and loved by Him, of equal importance and value. We must, by His grace, root out the prejudice within us so that we can show the world what God’s love is like. This is especially important within the church, and I pray that we will get serious about facing our own prejudices and asking God to forgive us and teach us to see others as He sees them. That’s the secret—looking at the world through the eyes of Jesus. Because we are prone to judge others according to outward characteristics, rather than to accept them as individual human beings on an equal par with us.

Here’s a radical prayer request: Ask God to show you your prejudices. When He does, obey Him by putting your prejudices to death and by showing His love to those whom you might not naturally be inclined to like. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you have fears or reactions based on prejudicial stereotypes?
  2. Consider talking to people of another race and ask them what it’s like to experience racial prejudice. 
  3. Ask God to show you where you have prejudicial attitudes.

Love and Accept Those Who Are Different

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.” – Romans 14:1-3. 

I don’t think there’s anybody who would deny that the greatest teacher that ever lived, the person who has impacted history more than all others is Jesus. Not just by how He lived, and not only by the resurrection, but His teaching. The last night before He died, Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34)

Surely, Jesus didn’t mean to love everybody. Jesus’ expectations are a little too high. Jesus never saw the way people treated me in high school, or the way my friends abandoned me or the degrading way my boss treats me. If so, surely He’d know that it’s not so easy to love everybody. 

But here is what we know: everyone is created in God’s image. So if we are worthy of love, so is everyone else because of who made them. Sin made us unloveable, but Christ changed the rules by offering love, grace and forgiveness (Romans 5:8). If God can love us, surely we can love those around us. Our commitment to accept one another transcends race and prejudices. We don’t have to agree with people that look or think differently. But we need to love them and we need to accept them.

Jesus accepted people unconditionally and indiscriminately. It didn’t matter what their gender was, it didn’t matter their race, didn’t matter their political persuasion, it didn’t matter if they were the worst of sinners. He was a magnet. People were drawn to Him because He did not judge them. You know why? Jesus was better than everybody else but He never treated anyone like He was better than them. He made every single person that came in contact with Him feel like they really mattered, even though they didn’t believe they mattered. Jesus did not place a standard on the kinds of people He would love and care for.

See, if you want to learn how to accept people, be like Jesus. Start by evaluating how you view others. It might be that to be more like Jesus, you have to look at people differently. Try to view people in light of eternity rather than their skin color, appearance, possessions, status, or behavior. Look at the presumption and prejudices you may be carrying against some people. Try to understand them better, try to unconditionally, indiscriminately accept each person and you will see compassion and empathy start to boil to the surface. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there people or groups of people that we undervalue? Why?
  2. Do I only surround myself with people who think like me, act like me, or believe like me?
  3. Do I say I love people who are different from me, but never invite them into my life? 
  4. Do I love first and judge second? Or vice-versa?
  5. What can I do this week to be more accepting of people?