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Monday, June 20, 2011

Being Judged

I once thought a fitting title for a review of the relational struggles of my life could be: Judged. I limit it to relational stuff because it wouldn't be a fitting title for my whole life since so much else has happened that takes center stage. But when I think of how I've lived with and around others 'Judged' is probably the first word that comes to mind. A couple years ago I heard a sermon on not judging others. It was a very good message - and helpful, challenging, convicting as sermons tend to be. At the same time it left me very frustrated. I felt like I was the proverbial 'choir' being preached to. I wanted to stand up in the middle and say, 'Yes, I know all that - about not judging others - but what do you do about those who chronically judge you?' Of course I had barely enough self-control to not do that. (I wonder what church would look like if we could raise our hand and ask a question in the middle of a sermon? Wouldn't it be fun?! It's precisely people like me who need to not have this kind of freedom or we'd ruin everything). Sorry for the rabbit trail. You can see how my mind works (or doesn't).

I decided at that point to do two things: First, to write a letter to the one who preached and dump all my questions on him (lucky him! - ha ha!). Second, to begin my own study of what Scripture says to, about and for those who are judged by others - rightly or wrongly. Below is and edited version of the letter I wrote, plus my initial study. Enjoy my thoughts on judgement! (And feel free to answer any/all of my questions!)

Dear Preacher,

I am not in the habit of writing anonymous letters, but in this one rare instance, I feel so compelled.

Your sermon last week was on Judging. I have given some thought to the things you expressed and would like to share some of my own experiences.

I’d really love to hear a sermon that addresses judging from another angle: that of the judged.Your sermon was quite healing for me to hear because I wanted everyone in the world to hear that message. Lest you think I am unaware of a judging spirit in myself, that is not the case – but I have always landed more on the side of perception as opposed to judgement. I have many questions as to how to handle judgement when you are the one being judged. I think a title for my life story could possibly be: ‘How One Bears Up Under Judgement’ – or some such thing.

I unraveled some of these struggles throughout college and some courses both in psychology, philosophy and theology really served to balance, correct and re-introduce me to the God I had known throughout childhood, but with a healthy dose of understanding of His love. Feeling that God loved me was refreshing to my soul and my spirit revived some. I still knew/felt that I was deep down a horribly terrible person, but was so thankful to know God accepted me in spite of myself – and I fully embraced the Cross of Christ which paved the way for such acceptance. It was a great time of growth in my life.

There have been seasons of my life when I’ve faced seemingly unending judgement. I don’t need to describe them all here – but suffice it to say I am familiar with the territory.

Since your sermon came along and I got to thinking. I’ve worked through major issues in my life spiritually, practically – many areas. I hope we all do – grow and change and progress! At the same time there are obvious glaring faults in me – the way I am, how I do things, what I do, the way I think, the way I talk, habits good and bad, tendencies, idiosyncrasies… I read Romans 7 and I find Paul was a lot like me – trying to do good but failing: finding himself a wretch and needing the comfort of a rescuer. I live in hope because of these passages in Scripture. If Paul humbly, realistically found himself to be a wretch – the chief of all sinners – and he was useful to God, then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a place for me in God’s kingdom.

My questions are:

When judgements are accurate (and if we are honest, all of us could be truthfully judged for our failings, shortcomings etc), how are we to handle the judgement? How are we to relate to the person who judges us?

When change is slow to come, no matter how hard I try, or pray or seek God’s help or whatever, what should my response be to my accusers?

From 1 Peter I get that Jesus entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly and He didn’t reply to His accusers.

From Psalm 103 I get that the Lord does not always accuse nor does He harbor His anger forever.

From ? (can’t recall) I get ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’

From Psalm 9 I get that God is on His throne judging righteously.

From Genesis I get ‘May the Lord judge between you and me’ when Abraham and Lot (?) separated.

In Ecclesiastes I get ‘God will bring every deed into judgement’

…I could go on, you get what I’m saying.

I just wonder if for one who has been judged throughout life if there isn’t a silver lining to the depressing verdict of who I am.

Before God I stand in Christ, complete and covered and perfect as He is. The silver lining is that though judgement is painful and difficult, it refines, humbles and shapes us and it drives us to the loving arms of God Who loves and accepts us filthy though we are.

And yet we are on earth and must relate to people, fallen people, sinful people, and less-than-perfect people. And these people may judge us. Then what? They may be right. Are they therefore justified in judging? I’m talking about stuff where it’s not sin – explicitly defined in Scripture. Maybe I don’t study my Bible enough, maybe I don’t pray enough, maybe I am not as diligent as a student or worker as I should be, maybe I don’t have all the externals in order, maybe there are annoying things I do that aren’t necessarily wrong. Maybe I don’t serve enough, maybe I don’t listen enough, maybe I am not godly enough. None of these things (except for diligence I suppose, and maybe listening and being ‘godly’ – defined by who though?) are clearly defined as to how much we should do or improve or be.

What does the judged do when others want him/her to live up to their standards? What should the judged one do with the criticisms – the valid ones (I understand the invalid ones are inconsequential – they might hurt or sting, but their content is vapid and empty).

How should one deal with parents, a spouse, a child, a relative, a fellow Church member who judges?

With grace, with love, with forgiveness, with kindness, with patience – I know these things. But how can relationships grow and improve in trust if judgement is a main component?

I guess the best answer is to just change and be perfected. But it doesn’t seem to happen no matter how I try or ask God to help me. Whose clay am I anyways – His or the judges in my life?

Enough said – I have been thinking ‘out loud’ here. And rambling, and not concise with my words (another valid criticism). I apologize. I’ve tried to think through and ask and answer my own questions, but I am still at a loss as to how God might want me to proceed in life.

If you ever preach a sermon on this I’ll be listening with wide open ears.

Thank you.

A wounded but hopeful child of God.

I will interject here that he did preach on the subject - a wonderful message that I wanted to order hundreds of copies of! At the same time, I have continued to have my ears/eyes open when I read Scripture for what it might teach me further on the subject. The following was my start:

2 Tim 4:8
There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

I am doing a study of judging - God as judge, us as judge of others - others who judge us, how we are to judge ourselves - how God sees us? These are my thoughts from today:
How could Paul be confident - SO confident that God would reward him? On the one hand he knew he was chief of all sinners. But on the other he knew and empraced the redemption of Christ. When I think of God being my judge is it with fear and cowardice or with joyful, confident hope? I confess the former! Yet my thinking has been and must be wrong here.
Paul ends this verse by saying the crown is also laid up for ALL who love His appearing - all who eagerly anticipate Christ's return. That describes me.
This verse encourages me to not be so down on myself and think God is wagging His finger in my nose. On the contrary. It removes fearful dread of God as my judge and replaces it with holy passion and gratitude. I can still say 'what a wretched man I am' yet can fully rejoice that God doesn't look on me as a wretch but as His own - (as righteous and pure as His Son - and bestows on me the measure of love wherewith He loves His own Son), who weak and failing as I am, still loves His appearing.

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