Judgements Aside

Acts 10: 1 – 3

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment . . .

If you lived in the Apostles’ day, what would you say about a Roman soldier? How would you judge him? The Romans did string up Jesus like a Christmas goose after all! They did torture, berate and mock him. Moreover, the Romans occupied the territory as an unwanted conquering force. Who could like the Romans? They ruled with an iron fist and almost unimaginable cruelty.

I went to a bike ride in the Shenandoah Valley in October. Quite a few of the riders camped and eventually we all had tent neighbors. Because we were camped in the green spaces around a sponsoring church, people put up their tents wherever they could find a bit of space. I ended up with a neighbor named Andy who drove all the way from Arizona to participate in this event.

Clearly Andy is an avid cyclist. It didn’t take long for me to find out that he is passionate about something else. He is a sold out, in love with Jesus, Christian. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, he is also Catholic. Is it hard to believe that a Catholic, or a Roman army officer, can also be a devout Christian? Look at today’s passage in its entirety:

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

Wow! I like that. Jesus gave him a vision. Not only that, if you read the rest of the story, Jesus actually sent Peter to him. That’s pretty good for a heathen Roman. That reminds me of another chap. There was this guy named Saul. Unlike the Romans soldier, he had all the right credentials. He was a Jew’s Jew, educated in the law of Moses, trained by the most highly esteemed teacher of the Jewish faith. He, however, was the number one persecutor of Christians. He had the right robe, the right papers in his pocket, but he was about as far off track as a person can get. We can sit here today and judge him as harshly as the Christians of his day surely did. However, Jesus appeared to him in a vision too! I guess Jesus just doesn’t know who the saints are. He kept picking the wrong folks. What is wrong with him? Saul was on his way to Damascus with the permits in his pocket to arrest and persecute anyone professing Jesus as the Messiah. He was fervent in his pursuit of Christians, yet he became the great Apostle Paul.

It is interesting to me that there are two stories in the Book of Acts about people receiving visions and, in both cases, these men who received the visions were “heathen.” One was a Jew who didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. The other was a Roman who did believe in Christ, but was a Gentile. Both were outcasts of the faith in one way or another, but Jesus bothered to visit each personally. What are we to conclude from this?

The moral of the story is that you can dress up in the right Christian garb and utter the proper Christian “speak” but be as much a heathen and just as lost as a Gentile. Alternatively, a person can look like the wrong sort, not have the raiment of proper Christianity and yet receive a visitation from Christ because of his devotion. Some people judge Catholics harshly, but I tell you this, Andy lived his faith in Jesus. Whatsmore, I didn’t hear him judging anyone. He was a good neighbor to have for the weekend and he vocalized his praise to the Lord Jesus for giving him a faith partner for a neighbor. The moral of the story is judge not! We are called to be believers in Christ, not judges and we better get our lives straight on that score lest we incur Jesus’ wrath.

Love all, judge none. Easier said than done, but the command of Jesus none the less!

Grace & Judgment

John 3: 17

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.

Many of us know John 3: 16, but Jesus went further with his declaration of purpose. This idea goes along with the pronouncement that grace and truth are realized in Jesus. Judgment is an anchor around our necks, one which Jesus is here to free us of. Being judged is no fun but being the one with a judgmental spirit is just painful.

Grace means you are free to move from laws to principles. You are free to accept people  even when someone sets a foot awry. The law is very strict and it is judgmental. Law tends to be black and white. It is not gracious and kind. It takes people to add that gentility and forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace flow from the Father. Acceptance and understanding are beyond law concepts. That is not to say that we should pay no heed to the laws of the land or God’s laws. It is to say that grace is the ability to see beyond the law to the greater principle of serving one another in love. Grace does not mean lawlessness. It represents a higher degree of behavioral deportment. The law did not require Jesus to heal anyone. In fact, the law forbade him healing on the Sabbath. Grace, truth, mercy and the love of God required Jesus to show compassion.

Judgement was, and is, easy. The Pharisees did not need to lift a finger to condemn the sick or criticize Jesus.  The law required nothing of them.  Strict adherence to the letter of law would have left the sick in pain and torment.  It also condemned Jesus. The Pharisees were so stuck in their judgments that they could neither receive nor administer grace. Law and judgment are evil twins. If we, as a body of believers, lean towards law, then we will also find ourselves quick to judge. When we, on the other hand, are full of the grace of the Lord, we find it easier to minister forgiveness and understanding.

Tomorrow – part 3 of Moses’ Law and Jesus’ grace.

Fallible

Luke 6: 37

Do not judge.

Simply said, not so simply done. It is easy to be judgmental. Why? Because people are fallible. Look at even some of the great Biblical heroes. Take David, for example. God said of him, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.” (Acts 13: 22). What better testimony can one have? God has never said anything like that about me. None the less, we find it pretty easy to judge David. He messed up big time and, for some, that sin has become David’s legacy more than the years and years of trusting God and doing his will. Is he remembered as the man who wrote most of the psalms or as the man who sinned before God and country?

What of Moses? Here is another great heroic figure. He essentially created a new nation out of a group of slaves. He rescued his entire nation, millions of enslaved Jews but, he, too, was fallible. In the end, he failed and, subsequently, didn’t get to go into the Promised Land. He rose to prominence in his own eyes rather than trusting in God’s power and God forbade him entrance to the Promised Land. Wow! Are you kidding me?! This is the guy who parted the Red Sea, who got water from a rock, and more. He, too, had faults, and in the end suffered a major failure.

The point? People are fallible. It is easy to be judgmental because every person you know has faults and weaknesses. The harder thing is to be the instrument of grace. Grace is the opposite of judgment. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” (John 1: 17). The problem is, like the Jews of the New Testament, we get stuck in the law. Jesus told us if we live by the law, we will die by it. That is not what any of us want. We all want God’s grace and that is a major reason we should live by grace.

We can look at a person and see their flaws or we can see the work of God. We can cover them with a mantle of grace such that what we see is through the veil of Jesus’ work in us and them. I do not say this is an easy thing to do. In fact, I believe it can be quite challenging. The easiest thing in the world is to focus on the many flaws each of us presents. The grace of God is acceptance in full view of our shortcomings. If Moses failed and didn’t get to go into the Promised Land because of it, what is the likelihood that many of us will fall short of God’s best? Thus, we are all easily judged as failures and miscreants. We don’t show the fullness of Christ’s love. So, if you want to judge me, or most others, it’s just not that hard. What Christ is looking for, though, is the for the love he has poured out on us to be used to spread grace, forgiveness and understanding for others. I think his instruction is pretty clear, “Do not judge.”

Seek and Find

Luke 19: 10

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

I am re-reading probably my favorite Christian book of all time, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen. In chapter 8 the author hits on what I believe is a critical distinction. He writes, “The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’” (Image Books, 1994, P.106) Many of you read my own story recently in a Word of the Day entitled, Lost and Found. About that momentous event in my life I often say, “I chased Him until He found me.” It’s so true. Father wasn’t holding out on me. I needed to lower a couple of walls and I needed to accept Him.

It is so enlightening that we spend so much time and energy talking about judgment when Jesus explicitly said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world,” (John 12: 47). He came to seek and save the lost. He meant us. He isn’t judging us; he is seeking us. We were lost and now we are found. However, that is not the end of the story. We think of this as a salvation message and that is not wrong. It is not the fullness though.

Remember in my story, I was already saved. So, why was God seeking me? He had already found me, right? Not completely. I was saved, spirit filled and going to heaven, none the less, I was separated from Him here on earth. It was not as if I did not know the Father at all. In fact, if you had known me before the fateful trip to Anaheim, you would have said I was a pretty religious person. However, there was much more for the Father and I to share, much more that He wanted with me and for me. It makes me wonder; despite our closeness now, how much more does He still want to give me? Does He still wish to “find” me in new ways or at new levels? Is there more Father?

This is the reality I want us to ponder and question. Though we have come to know the Father, have we really allowed ourselves to be found by Him? Are we allowing Him to speak to us, express Himself to us, love us? Though you may have been saved for fifty years now, I think the need of seeking Him has not lessened. It seems the more of Him we have, the more we can have and even the more He longs to give. The closer we get to Him the more of Him radiates on us. Therefore, my admonition to you is, “Seek and be found.”

Not Jesus, Not God, but Us?

John 5:22

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son.

Yesterday we saw Jesus saying, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him,” (John 3: 17). Today we get to see more about what Jesus had to say regarding judgment. There are many messages we receive from this short statement. Although not the topic of today’s Word of the Day, I do think it worth noting for those who characterize God as a vengeful, angry God that Jesus, who probably knows Yahweh best, said, explicitly, that God is judging no one. That is a pretty big statement, well, huge in fact. He is not attempting to wreak vengeance on a disobedient generation.

Taken together we learned, first, that God did not send Jesus into the earth to judge the world. Second, we are told that the Father is not judging anyone Himself. Therefore, if we are judged it is by our own actions and of course, by other humans. Judgment and salvation stand in opposition to one another. If God wished to judge us, then he would not have sent Jesus to save us. In fact, Jesus saved us from judgment in his coming to earth. We would have been judged by the law, but the saving grace of Jesus and his blood saved us from judgment. This is the basic tenet of Christianity. Therefore, we especially need to come to grips with judgment both of ourselves and that which we direct towards others.

Being saved from judgment is huge. It isn’t just good news. It is Great News! One might think this truth is being shouted and taught from every pulpit in the world. Yesterday I revealed why it is not. We, ordinary Christians and clergy, are not motivated to give up judgment. That, I believe, is why you don’t hear these lessons taught frequently.

First, clergy. If we give up being able to pass down judgment on the laity, then how will we keep you in line. You see, clergy can brow beat you with the threat of judgment and that works to keep people toeing the line. If we give up judgment with what will we threaten people? Instead, if we preach gloom and doom judgment, people may be more inclined to curtail bad behaviors and add good behaviors like working at the church. So, if we give up judgment, we, the clergy, may not be able to control you any longer.

What about us as normal, everyday Christians? Well, some of you are good at being non-judgmental. Others of us, not so much. Why is that? One of the truths about judging others’ behaviors and finding them below par is that it makes us feel better about ourselves. We do not look so wretched when compared with some of the folks around. The problem with this philosophy is that we are, perhaps, committing an even bigger sin by our judgments. Paul warns us about having a critical, cynical nature in Ephesians 4 and instructs us to use our words for only those things which are edifying. I find, instead, that we can be very critical of the unsaved and even of our own brethren.

None of us has received a judicial appointment from God. He has reserved judgement only for His Son. I have written on this because I think it is very important and probably more important now than ever. We must look to our own transformation and allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in us. As long as we cast aspersions on others we display evidence that our own hearts are not yet mature. I do not deny that this is a challenging topic, but if we want to be a blessing in this time of great trial, it must begin with a cessation of judgmental attitudes. People are damaged and people are hurting. Often it is that damage that creates the “sins” we so easily recognize in others. So, we judge their actions rather than praying for their hearts. It is easy to do but we need to step up in our position in Christ and stop criticizing and condemning those for whom Christ died. We need to stop compounding their sin with ours. Let’s pray for healing and release so that our critical natures may be relieved. Let us be the voice of Christ in this world. The accuser is not Christ. He is the sacrifice. It is an important distinction.

The Next Words

John 3:17

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

I have been riding my bike quite a bit this summer and one interesting observation of note is the number and variety of places I have seen quoted John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” You will not be surprised that I have seen it on more than one church sign but would you believe I have ridden by private residences with this verse posted in their yard or at their mailbox. It is encouraging that people are devoted to Jesus’ words and sacrifice on behalf of the world. I would hazard a guess that John 3: 16 is the most widely known verse in the Bible. What I find interesting, though, is that so few people have any idea what Jesus said in the very next verse, practically in the same breath. It seems to me, that verse 17 is at least as important as verse 16. Verse 17 tells us that God sent the Son into the world for salvation. He came to save the world. It goes further by relieving our anxiety about judgment in that Jesus explicitly says that God did not send him to earth to judge the world. Whew! Salvation without judgment. Does the Good News get any better than that?

It seems clear that one of the reasons we do not know verse 17 is because it is not taught to us or drilled into us the way verse 16 has been. Truly, there does not seem to be as much teaching, especially good teaching, on judgment. Recently I dialogued with someone about sin. What caused it to be enlightening is that, for many people, though they are happy to hear that Jesus isn’t judging them, they shy away from verse 17 because it might force them to drop their negative judgments of others. If we don’t preach verse 17 then we are free to go on judging others. Afterall, it is their sin which is compromising the world, not mine.

This is dangerous theology at best; an all out denial of the Gospel of Christ at the worst. I do not deny that living a judgment free life is extraordinarily hard. That is why we need a daily walk with Jesus. Only by his wisdom and strength can we learn to let go of the painful reality of a critical spirit. We suffer greatly if we fail to let go of judgment and criticism. Jesus died for the people we like to denigrate. I can’t think that makes him feel very good or very proud of us. I write this today in the hopes that we will begin to think about John 3: 17 with some of the same fervor that we have given verse 16 and in meditating on it, that we might become a gentler, more compassionate body of believers.

The Crimson Lens

Romans 5:9

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

In 2015 I wrote a devotion titled “The Crimson Veil.” The substance of that article is about the effect the blood has on our relationship with the Father. When He looks at us, He looks through a crimson veil, that veil being the blood of Christ. God sees Jesus’ righteousness and worth when He looks at us because He looks through the veil of sacrificial blood. Speaking for myself, that is a powerful image and certainly helps me understand who I am in Christ. And, it is a relief because which of us wishes to stand in our own right?

I had another thought about the crimson veil, though. You have heard that we all perceive the world according to our own filters or through the lens of our world, hence the rose-colored lens. It dawned on me that if I saw the world through a crimson colored lens it would most certainly color my perspective. What if I was able to see other people through God’s crimson-colored lens? I think that would change my world, and that would be a good thing.

Imagine if we all looked at the world through crimson-colored glasses. Think of some of the challenges of 2020 and then put on Dad’s glasses and look at them anew. Does it change our thoughts, our prayers? What does the world look like when it is covered in Jesus’ blood? Oh my!

This one observation shows why God cannot be the judgmental, vengeful God some people make Him out to be. He sees Jesus’ blood everywhere He looks. Imagine if Christians saw every other person through the crimson lens. What if, when we looked at someone who might not even have a redeeming character, we, none the less, saw them splattered with that precious blood? How would that change things? Well, it is something to pray for. I think I would be much more gracious and accepting. Wouldn’t anger recede? What about a sense of betrayal? Think about someone who really gets under your skin and imagine Jesus’ blood covering them. Isn’t it harder to feel the anger and frustration that you might normally experience? Maybe we should all take a deep yoga breath, slowly and fully exhale, and picture our adversaries covered in the sacred blood. I believe this could change the world and in a hurry.