Meditating on the Commands of Christ (61): Judge Not

This has been a really challenging post for me to write, because by nature I am a moralist, and as I’m slowly learning—also a legalist. So, to figure out what Jesus was teaching—and is (present tense) expecting from those of us who attempt to be his disciples, I studied every verse in the Bible that talks about judging. . . and there are literally hundreds! From Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is commended as someone who will “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” all the way to Revelation 19:2, where God is worshiped because “true and righteous are his judgments,” the Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of understanding and keeping God’s laws, of living justly, and doing right.

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Luke 6:37 ), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The first thing that struck me from studying is that Jesus doesn’t mean, “Don’t attempt to discern right from wrong.” The entire weight of scripture promotes a life of knowing and keeping the “way of wisdom,” embodied in knowing and keeping God’s laws: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9). Being a moralist and a legalist is not all bad. God wants us to know and do what is just and good. “Mind over matter.” “Do right ’til the stars fall.” “Keep on keeping on.” These aphorisms are right and good! Don’t shove your moral compass (the scriptures) into a back drawer; keep your Bible as the GPS on your dashboard!!

The second thing I learned is to distinguish between discerning good from evil and judging people. I think Jesus is saying, “Judge not [people], that ye be not judged [by other people].” So, the standard is personal purity for ourselves while not assuming responsibility for the actions of other people . . . or passing judgment on them. You can call it a “Double Standard” if you want, and I think that’s almost appropriate, but the double standard puts the burden for purity and uprightness squarely on our own shoulders. It is up to us to do right regardless of what anybody else does.

What does this look like day to day? Jesus didn’t come only as an example to us (He came to die for our sins and become our redeemer), but He is the perfect example for us to follow, and in studying the life of Christ, we have many accounts of how he interacted with people—all of whom had character flaws, and some of whom were characterized by immoral behavior. Jesus never shunned anybody! (If you can correct me, please do, but I haven’t found a single instance.) Jesus rebuked those who confronted him with sinful behavior: “Sin no more” (to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11) and even “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (speaking to his most passionate disciple, Peter, in Mark 8:33). Jesus’s most violent reaction was to the religious leaders who had turned God’s temple into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Jesus was clearly enraged by the spiritual leaders hypocritically oppressing the people, and he cleansed the temple, but he didn’t lay a hand on anyone . . . anyone. If Jesus—who could have called down fire from heaven to devour evil men—never harmed anyone and only rebuked sinful behaviors, then none of the rest of us ever has the right to attempt to take justice into our own hands and repay evil with evil.

How do I know? Because the scriptures are crystal clear on how God intends for judgment and justice to work:

*God is ultimately responsible for judging: “He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

*God, as the creator, ruler, and sustainer of Earth, is the only one with the ultimate right to judge: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

*God is the only one who can judge and execute justice perfectly: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30).

*Furthermore, God does care about good and evil, and He is at work, even though it’s not always obvious to us: “God is angry with the wicked: God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

*God has ordained governments and church leaders to serve as judges in disputes between people: “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). Also: “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:12).

*In situations where we are being personally oppressed, we are free to pray for relief and for God to judge— based on our personal uprightness and innocence: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:12). ” The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).

*Because Jesus did not come to earth to judge, we are relieved of that responsibility at this time also: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

*Our responsibility is to teach the Bible to others so they’ll understand right from wrong, because it is ultimately the Word of God in the Bible by which people will be judged: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

*We are specifically warned against judging other people: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

* We are reminded that we are also not without sin: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).

*Instead of being judgmental, we would do well to pray for those who are trapped in sinful lusts, doing everything we can to help them overcome: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

*Instead of being angry and shunning those who are doing evil, we need to learn to be broken-hearted for them, as they will eventually become miserable, whether or not we can observe it from the outside: “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Romans 2:8-9).

*Lastly, let’s remember that there will ultimately be a judgment for our entire earth, where good will be vindicated and evil punished: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

*Still confused? I am sometimes! But thankfully, if we are believers, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to interact with others, and we can remember that it’s HIS JOB to convict people of their sins, not ours!If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).

Joel's Cottage Pie

Our family has been savoring “Shepherd’s Pies” and “Cottage Pies” ever since we first started visiting England years ago, and our son Joel has really perfected his rendition, so I’ve asked if I could share it with you today. It’s the perfect “comfort food” for a cold winter’s night!

Cottage Pie can really be a meal-in-one, although we normally serve it with some sides (such as you see here, from the last time he served it at home). Last Wednesday he made it again as his offering for a fellowship dinner with his church “life group” (prayer meeting; small group . . .) However you cut it, it’s always a hit!

Joel’s Savory Cottage Pie
(8-12 Servings)

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.
Preheat oven to 400F.

1.5 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into pieces. Boil until tender.
Brown 1 pound of ground beef in skillet.
Chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 4 oz mushrooms. Add to browned beef. Cook until vegetables are tender.
Add 1 cup frozen peas.
Lower heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to meat/vegetables, stirring until thickened.
Add:
3/4 cup beef stock (or 1 bouillon cube + 3/4 cup water)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Pinch of allspice to the meat/vegetables. Stir until combined.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mash potatoes with 2–4 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup half and half.
Put meat/vegetables in the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover completely with mashed potatoes. Use a fork to give the potatoes texture.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. on top rack until the potatoes start to brown on top.

Now, the only difference between “Cottage Pie” and “Shepherds Pie” is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb rather than ground beef. We’ve found that ground lamb is a rarer commodity in America, so we usually make cottage pie, but if you can find ground lamb and want to be more authentically English, try it with lamb too sometime for a special occasion. Both ways taste really delicious! 🙂

Individual serving of Shepherd’s Pie on a ship cruising the North Atlantic

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). Have you listened to Handel’s Messiah yet this Christmas? We just attended it last weekend. The Messiah is a majestic, musical retelling of the story of Jesus, the great Shepherd who died for all of us and wants us to become part of his flock. How? Simply by asking. By praying something like this: “Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. I know that I have sinned and need a savior. I am sorry for all the ways in which I have failed in the past—and for the times I still selfishly choose evil over good. Please forgive me, save me, and become my Lord and my Savior. Thank you for being willing to save me and make me your child. Please lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.”

“Love Heals; Hate Hurts”

Two nights ago, Grand Rapids enjoyed the great privilege of being addressed by Martin Lowenberg, a ninety-one-year-old survivor of the Holocaust who has taken up the mantle of trying to be an agent for spreading love and peace. I arrived fifteen minutes early, which was way too late to actually be admitted into the overflowing hall. After winding slowly through the stop-and-go traffic (all of whom were looking everywhere for parking, just like me), I found my way to a nearby church lot. But alas, the venue was dangerously overcrowded and the leadership made the decision to turn away all remaining wanna-hearers.

However, I noticed that the hour and a half presentation was recorded and is available on the Kent District Library Face Book page (Lowenberg starts at about minute 8):

The powers that be are trying to find a time to bring him back to speak at a larger venue, but meanwhile, I wanted to simply report the heart of his message, particularly in light of the reactivity of at least one of my blog followers, who disagreed with the church sign I posted yesterday, encouraging people to “Just love everyone. I’ll sort “em out later. —God”

Of the 179 times the word “hate” is used in the Bible (KJV), the overwhelming preponderance has to do with people hating God or one another. There are about twenty times it mentions things that the Lord hates, such as wickedness (Psalm 45:7), evil (Psalm 97:10), pride, lying, murder, discord (Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven sins the Lord hates), etc. I think Amos 5:15 sums it up: “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.” God clearly hates evil, and he also wants us to hate evil, love good, and establish justice. What are we doing to “establish justice”?

Certainly, justice isn’t established by hating people!! Hating evil is not the same thing as hating people. Jesus specifically commands us to love people, even those who are cruel and hurt us: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

This is also the message of Martin Lowenberg, who is Jewish and suffered terribly—in five different concentration camps during World War 2. His message? Love others. Be kind, because love heals and hate hurts. Lowenberg’s life demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and be happy. In the Q&A afterward, he mentioned that we can all learn to be happy and understand that life doesn’t have to be serious and sad all the time.

On the other hand, this sweet, bent-with-age, very elderly gentleman is clearly not just resting at home! He’s on the road sharing his story, not for the sake of making people feel sorry for what he endured, or to make himself famous, but to help people learn that hatred hurts others. “We all want to live as long as we can in happiness and harmony with our families.” So, he advised those who asked for advice to “Be good people, help others, be with others, and show them what you would like to see . . . stand up against evil. It’s very difficult to speak against evil, but we need to do it all the time.”

Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” God anoints those who love righteousness and hate evil with joy, and I think this is the message Martin Lowenberg was sharing . . . and demonstrating in his life.

One Hindu Who Now Worships Just One God

Psalm 40:2 – “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

I have a dear friend from India who was baptized just a few weeks ago at our church. She has changed from heartbroken to radiant and full of joy . . . that remarkable difference that only Jesus can make in us as we surrender our lives to his love and care! I asked if I could share her story with you, and she has kindly given me permission. Thank you, Neha! I know God will continue his work of amazing grace in your life!!

“I was born in India as a Hindu and studied in Catholic School. Being a girl, I was not worthy of my parent’s love and felt rejected. My younger brother used to beat me. Throughout my life, I always felt like a “burden” or “shame” for my parents. My Grand Father was the only person who loved me and showed me how to have relationship with God. When I was 15, I met a boy and I thought I met my Prince Charming. I fell in love and married him at age 25.  But my dreams were crushed during the wedding itself. I was a slave for him and my in-laws. It was a very abusive marriage, and I was not worthy of his love or faithfulness. Over the course of time, we moved to America and God gifted me with two beautiful daughters. However, in fall of 2017, I was rejected again, when he announced our divorce. Since I didn’t have citizenship, this would likely lead me to being forced back to India without my daughters.  I was in a very dark place.

“Through my work, I reached out for help and found a Care Partner, Jay, who provided me with wisdom in my situation. When I met him, I felt, I met the Lord. He gave me the first Bible. He also connected me to a female care partner.  Jesus started his work in me, by first showing light of truth.

“I had to leave my job, I struggled for basic survival, and I had to fight to be with my girls. I was so scared that one morning I woke up and could not get out of my bed. I called so many friends, but no one responded, other than the female care partner. She came to my house and wanted me to start coming to church. I replied, “Yes, I should start going to temple.” It took her three times, and then finally she said, “You cannot find Jesus in the temple, you can find him only in Church.” That Sunday, I went to Calvary Church and was deeply touched with preaching of Pastor Samra. It was then I realized that he is Lisa’ husband, the lady who brought me to Church.  Since that day, I never went back to the Hindu temple and I started coming to Calvary Church on regular basis. For nine months, I sat with Samras. In the beginning, the Bible was difficult to understand. Lisa would even open the page in the Bible and would spend time in explaining the basics. 

“Jesus surrounded me with his army of angels through His Churches and people. Ada Bible Church connected me to Debbie Jo and Henry, who are my spiritual parents now.  Several other families embraced me and my girls with unconditional love and acceptance. My counselor, the divorce care group and Safe Haven Ministries helped me to heal. Calvary Church provided us with food and financially supported us. After three months, Jesus provided me with a perfect job, which sponsored my visa so that I could stay in the country.  Around 100 Christians from various churches came to help us. I even found an Indian Christian group in Grand Rapids.

“In spite of wonderful things Jesus did in my life, I was still holding on to Hindu idols until one day when I went to the prayer room and prayed with one of my friends, Bonnie Jean. That day, I finally gave up all the Hindus idols.

“Jesus continued his work, and gifted us with a beautiful house and sent his people at Calvary to help me move. I could hear the call for baptism.  However, I asked Jesus for one more miracle – to let my girls come to church. Jesus listened to our prayers and He finally made ways that my girls can come to church through my attorney, who is a Christian, and now my girls LOVE Jesus too. So here I am fulfilling my promise to share my story and be baptized in response to Jesus’ love and faithfulness to me.

“Jesus is the truth, He is faithful, and He loves us all unconditionally.”  

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

unPlanned

Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?

It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.

It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”

I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.

After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.

But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?

Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

Becoming The Best of Enemies

“Change is Worth Fighting For”—The Best of Enemies

Jesus talked a lot about loving our enemies, which includes praying for them and allowing good to overcome evil in our lives . . . and hopefully—eventually—in their lives as well. One beautiful example of this is played out in the movie, The Best of Enemies. I absolutely LOVE this story and hope you all take the time to watch it!

The Best of Enemies is a new release (2019) based on the true story of what happened when a school for African American children burned down in Durham, North Carolina, back in 1971.

It’s a PG-13 (which I think it very appropriate), and the language is rough . . . but so was the community.

The confrontation was over integration.

Taraji P. Henson in the role of Ann Atwater

The contestants were Ann Atwater, who was a black civil rights activist,

Sam Rockwell portraying C.P. Ellis

and C. P Ellis, the president of the local Ku Klux Klan.

The venue was a 10-day “charrette,” where the leaders and team members on both sides of the issue were forced to work together to solve the problem through discussion and information gathering in the city.

The prize: Well, to integrate or not to integrate was the question, but the prize was much greater, as we learned from the movie!

If you’re looking for a movie with a happy ending where “love wins,” this is one of those rare and wonderful times when good really did overcome evil! This movie has won all sorts of awards and received twelve Emmy nominations. Even the real families who were involved were happy about the way it turned out, so that makes it a win-win, and if you watch it and find it increases your understanding, empathy, and love for both blacks and whites, then it will be a win-win-win for all of us!

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:13-19).