Why So Judgmental?

Why are Christians so judgmental, when it’s obvious that God is all about love? This is a hard question to answer. It’s normal to judge. We all do it. We depend on judgment. We depend on a shared moral code. Distinguishing good from bad preserves the peace. It guides us in our common life, as a community and a nation.

But God tells us not to judge. God tells us to replace judgment with forgiveness. He tells us to love each other as He has loved us. How do we make sense of this?

Suppose you’re sitting in a park on a sunny day. Maybe you’re even reading your Bible. You happen to see a guy drinking a couple of six packs, and he’s getting pretty drunk. You know what the Bible says about drunkenness, so what do you do? It’s really hard not to say, “Man, that guy is a bad person. He needs to change. He needs to find Jesus.”

Well, maybe he does need to find Jesus! Maybe you are right. But before you judge him to be a bad person, think about Jesus. What would Jesus do? I think He would look at the guy and say, “I see his heart. He was born into sin. Who wasn’t? Now he’s sinning. Who isn’t? I think I’ll go talk to him. I’ll go love on him.”

That’s what Jesus does. He doesn’t look at the guy and say, “What a bad person.” Jesus looks at the guy with love and understanding.

If that’s what Jesus does, then why should a Christian, a follower of Jesus, look down on the guy? Some Christians even judge a guy and then expect his admiration. I’ll let you in on something. It doesn’t work.

Some people treat their kids the same way. They drag them to church. They tell them, “You’re bad! You need to do better!” Kids hear that, and guess what? They feel bad!

This is terrible. It’s terrible that kids live in fear of their parents. It turns into fear of God, and I’m not talking about reverential fear. I’m talking about actual, scared fear. They will look at God and literally be scared of His judgment. “Mom and Dad think I’m bad. God must think I’m bad too.”

Teaching children to fear just wounds them. It drives them away from God. That’s not what we want! We want our children’s hearts to fill with love! We want them to love themselves and love their neighbors! But love only happens when children experience God’s love. Not their parents’ judgment.

Let’s go back to the guy in the park, the one you were tempted to judge. Judging him does not help him. It hurts him. It pushes him further away from God. It doesn’t help you either. Judging others hurts you because it draws you away from grace and into a judgment mentality.

Here’s what I try to do. I see that guy in the park, and I think, “Well, in my view, what he’s doing is wrong. I’m not going to go and get drunk with him. Does he need Jesus? Yes. But I’m not going to bring him to Jesus by smacking him in the back of the head with a Bible. He’s not going to love Jesus because I’m standing there, telling him he’s wrong.”

How about just loving on the guy?

Hiding in Shame

The consequences of hiding in shame are deep and damaging.

When you hide in shame, you don’t reveal who you truly are. You don’t let your husband in. You don’t let your wife in. You don’t let your children in and you don’t let your friends in. This is very serious. If you don’t let them in, then they can’t protect you.

You will fall.

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you won’t even let Jesus in.

That’s when you get entrenched in addiction, whether it be alcohol, gossip, porn, lying, negative thoughts, anger, rage, or something else. Whatever it is, it all comes from the absence of grace. In the absence of grace, shame moves in.

If you can extend grace to other people, then you can give them permission to speak into your life and protect you.

People who affect you deeply are the hardest to give grace to. I’ve seen it. It can create a nasty cycle of anger, fear, despair, and distrust. And it all happens because of shame. So the one thing I never want to hear in my home is, “How dare you do that? You should be ashamed of yourself!”

That is not said in my home. But in how many homes is it said? I was raised in it. I had it said to me. And I’m sure my parents had it said to them. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I’ve heard it from the pulpit! “You should be ashamed of yourself for doing that.” No I shouldn’t! I shouldn’t be ashamed. None of us should be ashamed of our weaknesses. We should recognize them and ask for help. 

When you ask for help, you give your loved ones permission to protect you in the areas where you are weak. If you don’t ask them to help you, then you will hurt them, because you’ll react out of the weakness you are trying to hide. You can avoid this. You only have to reveal your true self. That includes your weakness.

It’s not easy! I know it’s not. It’s very hard to reveal our weaknesses when we have been shamed. Shame makes it very hard to ask for help. But we have to ask. If we can’t overcome shame, then we will die in our weakness, and we can’t let this happen! It contradicts what Jesus did on the cross. He hung on a cross to take away our sin and our shame! 

And yet Christians shame each other all the time. We can’t seem to acknowledge that everybody will react out of weakness now and then. We are shamed so much that we end up hiding in it.

No matter how hard it seems, it’s okay. We already have all the help we need. We have Jesus. Jesus loves us! We are so precious to Him! We can give Him permission to protect us, because He longs to do it. Then through Him, we can give permission to our loved ones. We can allow them to love us as we truly are, and they will allow us to love and protect them in return.

Jesus will help us before we react out of weakness, whether it be anger, rage, fear, pride, greed, laziness, envy, or something else. Other people can protect us too. They can stop us when they see what we are doing, or are about to do. They can protect us from circumstances that trigger our weakness, either by intervening directly with us or running interference for us.

In your shame, you might ask, why would they do this for me? Easy! They’ll do it because they love you.

A lot of things go into relationships. A lot of things go into marriage, and parenting, and friendships. These relationships are very important and we need them to be healthy. But a relationship is only healthy when the people in it protect each other. You have to allow this. You have to protect others and allow them to protect you. It takes a lot of patience, but it honors what Jesus did for us on the cross. His sacrifice was for our sake. It was for the forgiveness of our sins. Look at what He did! He took away our shame, and gave us the gift of life!

This is a big deal. It’s a deep deal. It needs to be addressed, and very quickly among Christians. Grace is the way to Christian unity, and our unity in love and fellowship is something that Jesus deeply desires for us.

So let’s love one another in truth. Let’s love each other openly, not hiding in shame. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

See you Tuesday.

All Messed Up, and It’s Okay

“I know you’re a mess.” That’s what God says.

He knows. He knows that every single one of us is a mess. We’ve messed up before, we’re messing up now, and pretty soon, we’re going to mess up again. God’s promise is that there will be no condemnation. There will be no shame. (Romans 8:1)

There are plenty of people who hear that and are incredulous. “Wait a minute!” they say. “No condemnation? No shame? How is that possible? You have to be punished for breaking a rule.”

And God says, “How did that work out for you guys the first time?”

He says, “That’s why I sent my Son to the ultimate punishment. He died! And now, because of His sacrifice, you don’t have to sacrifice lambs or sheep. You’re already right with me.

“You also don’t condemn people and stone them. Don’t do that! Jesus died for everyone.”

In His death, Jesus also took away shame. So now God says, “Don’t sacrifice your souls by keeping yourselves in shame. Don’t keep other people in their shame either. Don’t sacrifice your relationships by trying to control people. You’re never going to have control. You’re not!

“Why not just trust me instead? Trust that I sent Jesus because I know you people are a mess.

“If you give me permission to speak into your lives, then I can protect you. Trust me to protect you. When you mess up, I won’t punish you. I’ll help guide you. Some of my guidance will include discipline, yes. Sometimes there will be ramifications. But it won’t be because I’m mad at you. It will be because your choices can really hurt you. That’s why sometimes a slap on the hand is okay. The sting helps. It lets me tell you no, you don’t want to do that, and here’s why.” 

God says, “Do you know what? No matter what you do, I’m still going to love you. If you will let me, I’m still going to speak into your life. I’m still going to guide you. I know you’re going to mess up again, and when you do, I’m going to say it’s okay. In your flesh, you have weaknesses. You have weaknesses that are unique to you. I know what they are, because I know what has happened in your life. That’s also why I know that you’re going to mess up. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect for me.

“If you can trust me and give me permission to speak to you, then I can protect your heart. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistakes as often. Hopefully, you won’t have to make them at all.”

In the wake of His passion and resurrection, this is God’s message to us.

You only have to allow God to do it.

See you Friday.

Grace is not a Chore

In a life filled with grace, you receive such joy and fulfillment from loving your neighbor and doing the right thing that the law becomes unnecessary. You want to love, so you love. You want to give, so you give. You don’t need a set of rules to tell you to do it!

There are ways to teach our children about this. How often do we meet resistance when we say, “Clean your room!” When I tell one of my sons that he has to do something, the resistance can be incredible. There might be yelling, and jumping and stomping of feet. Doors might be slammed.

But what if I can look at him and say, “Hey bud, you know what? It’s your call.”

In other words, what if I take my son’s freedom into account? When I do, it is amazing. No one gets angry! I don’t yell at him and he doesn’t yell at me.

If you can allow your children to make their own decisions, then you may not meet quite so much resistance.

I have learned to talk with my sons, instead of making demands. I tell them, “You need to clean your room, because Mama has asked you to clean your room. I’m just letting you know that you can make your own call here. There are two roads you can take, and you’re the one who has to choose. If you take the wrong road, there will be consequences, but we’ll deal with them together. I’m going to help you, and I’m still going to love you. So it’s your call.”

That way, when it comes to doing chores, my sons knows it’s their choice. And I also tell them, “You can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to force you to clean your room. We’re living in grace here. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do. I’m going to help you understand what you should do. And then after that, it’s your call. If you make the wrong choice, we’ll handle it as we need to, in love. It’s up to you.”

After explaining it to one of my sons this way, I just look at him. He looks at me. And then he says, “Okay, I’ll clean my room,” and he does. He cleans his room and we go on with our day.

I’ve had to learn. My way of making decisions is not necessarily the way any of my sons make decisions. My boys don’t have the same personality as mine. God has given each of them their own personalities. It’s tough to learn the different personalities of your children. It’s a challenge! But when we can do it, there’s freedom. There’s freedom in being able to allow our children to live in grace. There’s freedom in saying, “Hey, look, it’s going to be better for you if you choose to do right, but it is your choice.”

I think God treats us the same way. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and when we choose wrong, there are consequences. But there is no condemnation. We’re living in grace here. God has brought us into His family, and He will help us deal with the consequences of our choices. He will help us in love.

I’m going to love my son just as much if he doesn’t clean his room, even though my wife and I will discipline him. I will never love my son less. I couldn’t!

How much more does God love us?

See you Tuesday.

The Difference Between Joy and Hell

Jesus is grace. This is a very, very big idea. It’s huge. It’s almost too big to fully grasp, because it sums everything up.

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

“No other commandment greater than these.” Love is the golden rule of relationships. Our lives happen in relationship. God is a relational God. He dwells within and among us. He teaches us, heals us, and loves us, in relationship. And the key to relationship is grace. That’s the big idea.

To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is to love the One whose grace is infinite. Our love for Him brings us into the community of grace. Our love for our neighbor reflects His grace. Grace is It! Without grace, there is chaos.

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”…And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-53)

Just for a moment, Jesus felt forsaken. The world was devoid of grace, and there was chaos. There was darkness in the middle of the day! The temple curtain was torn in two. There was an earthquake that split rocks and opened tombs. The bodies of saints rose from their graves and went into the city!

If this is what happens when grace leaves, then oh, my goodness! God, don’t turn your back!

No grace. That’s hell.

People ask, “Is hell a real place?” I don’t know, but I can tell you this: hell is devoid of God. When there is a lack of God, there is a lack of grace. That’s why there is gnashing of teeth, arguing, bitterness, shaming, judgments, and fighting. It’s hell. A relationship without grace is hell.

Can you be in a living hell? Yes, if you have no grace. Relationships without grace become relationships without trust.

When there’s no grace in a marriage, it’s a hellacious marriage. When there’s no grace with your children, it’s a hellacious life for you and them. When you don’t have a relationship of grace with your family, you will not have them, and they will not be yours. 

This is not what I want! This is how huge grace is. It’s the difference between joy and hell.

See you Friday.

Legalism Breeds Shame

There is an unbreakable connection between legalism and shame.

In our story as Christians, this goes all the way back to the fear and doubt that the Israelites experienced in the desert. They followed Moses out of Egypt after witnessing miracle after miracle. God even parted the sea to help them escape, and then drowned the entire Egyptian army! But they still said, “Moses, we need structure. We can’t live without structure.”

That’s when God summoned Moses to the mountain. But Moses was gone for over a month, and the people didn’t know when he was coming back! So they built the golden calf. They were thinking, “We can see an idol, and we can touch an idol. If we worship a god that we can see, then all our problems will be solved.”

Moses was so angry when he saw this that he punished everyone. And it was severe!

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, “That’s the sound of war in the camp!”

But Moses said,

Those aren’t songs of victory,
And those aren’t songs of defeat,
I hear songs of people throwing a party.

And that’s what it was. When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (Ex 32:15-20, MSG)

Later the Israelites said, “We need a king.” So God gave them Saul, and Saul tanked it. He really did.

All of this happened because we believe we need structure, and structure includes rules. For example, we want something written down that says it’s wrong to kill somebody. We know it’s wrong, inherently in our souls. You can’t take a human life that you didn’t create, because it’s not yours to take. You don’t need a rule to tell you that. But we crave structure, so God said, “You want a rule, okay. Here’s your rule.”

Do you think the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” brought the murder rate down? No! There was all kinds of killing after the Israelites followed Joshua into the land of the Canaanites. You might say that establishing the rule increases the behavior. This is how sin corrupts.

It’s like the pink elephant. Suppose someone told you, “Don’t think of a pink elephant. It’s illegal.” What’s the first thing that happens? You start thinking about a pink elephant! That’s just how the human brain works.

Now look at how this leads to shame. Someone knows that you thought about the pink elephant and calls you out. “Man, what a wretched person you are for thinking of a pink elephant. How dare you think that way?”

Now you feel crappy and shamed. You tell yourself, “I’m never going to add up, because I can’t help thinking of a pink elephant.” See how sin corrupts?

And it doesn’t stop there. How about the guy that just shamed you? What do you think he was just thinking about? He calls you wretched, but he’s thinking about a pink elephant too. Maybe he tells himself that he hasn’t thought of it as much as you. He tells himself, “I’m not as bad as you, because you’ve thought of the pink elephant four times, but I’ve only thought of it twice. You’re way worse than me!” He’s going to shame you to make you feel bad because he’s hoping to feel better.

We’re in a chaotic mess based on shame. Based on shame.

So God says, “No! We are going to end this. I’m going to bring my son, and with Him, my grace. Then you will find that my grace is sufficient for you.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Bring Grace Home

There are so many wonderful things to say about grace. I frequently write about the freedom that comes with grace because it’s awesome. Grace frees us from sin! Grace frees us from slavish obedience to rules! We are free, because Jesus helps us with our sin. We are free, because the Spirit guides us and advises us. Do you see what this means? We don’t have to be afraid. We have help!

Think about that. Grace frees us from fear!

When your family is founded in grace, there is no fear in your home. Instead there’s freedom. Your kids are happy, your husband or wife is happy, everyone is growing and thriving, and you are living righteous and loving lives. People will look at your family and say, “Man! What are you doing? We want that too!”

I mean, who wouldn’t?

But then they ask, “What rule did you make? What law did you give them, that they live so well?”

That’s not the right question! That’s legalism. When people don’t understand grace, they think about dropping a Bible verse and making a rule with it. But that’s not me. I’m not a legalistic father who wants to drop a Bible verse on my sons when they’re not doing right. I want them to know grace.

I can hear you saying, “But Jeremy, does that mean you never discipline your children?” Not at all. It means I don’t use anger to control them.

We parents want so much to let our kids express their emotions. But have you noticed that we only really encourage it when those emotions feel good to us? We don’t get mad at them for being happy. We don’t get mad at them for laughing. We don’t get mad at them for being joyful. We don’t even get mad at them when they’re sad and crying.

But when they get angry, we get mad at them!

This is backwards. It makes no sense to tell them, “I’m going to get angry at you for being angry.”

Obviously we don’t want our kids to be angry. But it happens. What do they learn from us if we respond with anger? Nothing! It’s a vicious cycle.

I think our anger comes from trying to control our children. We want to control them so that we can control how we react to them. This is typical of legalism in the home. An angry child is not a reason to get angry. In fact, I think responding with anger is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Why not just accept them and be with them? You can acknowledge that there’s something going on. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know about. Maybe there’s something troubling them. Whatever it is, getting angry with them won’t help either of you. But grace can transform the situation. Grace says, “How can I help you? How can I love on you? How can I make you feel better? I can see that you’re having a bad time. How can I be here for you?”

When you do that for your child, then all of a sudden a bad day can become a good day. Now in their bad day, you’re not just someone else pounding on them. You are with them as a loving help to them.

I’m far from perfect, but I try not to get angry at my sons for getting angry. I let them be angry. And then we talk about it.

This is the difference between grace and legalism. My family loves and laughs and thrives because I didn’t give them a rule. I didn’t give them a law to live by. I gave my family freedom. My wife and I brought grace into our home and we are happy. With God’s grace, we are really truly free!

See you Friday.