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Posts Tagged ‘judging others’

pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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Jo 23We have had an interesting time in our house recently. Our bedroom and bathroom needed painting, as well as various spots in the kitchen. So each morning, bright and early, our friendly painter turned up, cheeky and chirpy as ever.

Some parts of our house needed much painstaking work. We have lived here for thirty-two years, after all, and the house was in existence long before that. But other parts, especially our kitchen area, needed only a little touch-up on the ceiling—or so we thought. However, when asked his opinion, what was our erstwhile painter’s response?

‘Look, I don’t need any more work … but have you noticed at how dirty these walls are? It’d be just as easy to paint’em than to scrub them all. I could clean’em down a bit with metho and water, then give’em a quick couple of coats. That way, it’ll all look spic and span!’

I was doubtful—until he showed me the area high up he had wiped clean. In that spot, the wall was a nice, light cream colour, while elsewhere … Well, let’s just say it was noticeably a few shades darker. Hmm. Now I could see where all that kitchen grease had gone!

In the end, we decided to paint those kitchen walls. It made sense, after all—and that way, other imperfections would be covered up as well.

As I watched the whole process unfold, I began to think how much easier it is to repair our material surroundings than to repair ourselves. If we try to clean ourselves up in our own strength and make ourselves appear more presentable, we might look and feel okay for a while, but nothing has really changed. Soon we fall into those same old traps—judging others, losing our temper, being a little dishonest here and there, or whatever seems to come naturally to us and has been our weakness for so long. As Jesus himself said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Matthew 9:16-17

What we truly need in our lives is not just a ‘touch-up job’—or even a good makeover. We need those new wineskins. We need a complete demolishing of the old, a brand new start, a deep change that begins on the inside and flows out into our words and actions.

And that is exactly what God has given us in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Yes, we will still make wrong choices in our lives. But we are still God’s beloved children, part of God’s family, changed forever at the core of our being. God’s own Spirit lives in us. And God is always there for us, welcoming us home, reaching out in forgiveness. In Jesus, God has given us much more than a couple of coats of paint to cover those blemishes. And I’m so glad of that.

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Jo 17‘They look so joyful!’ I commented rather cynically, while watching some people singing a hymn on TV about, of all things, the joy of the Lord, all the while with decidedly doleful expressions. Yet, even as I opened my mouth, I felt judgemental. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps this was the tenth time they had sung this same hymn. Perhaps they had to get it perfect for this particular TV program. And perhaps they did mean what they were singing, but simply didn’t convey that in their faces.

‘They look so joyful!’ I commented again, as I watched various well-known singers, actors and TV personalities perform Christmas carols at the Sydney Carols in the Domain on TV.  And yes, most did indeed look joyful, smiling and with eyes glowing, as they sang with great gusto.

‘But do they really believe it?’ a certain even more sceptical member of our family asked.

‘Well … they might,’ I replied, remembering how some of the performers at least had publicly declared their faith in God in past times. ‘We don’t really know, do we? As for those people in the audience, they must love singing carols, if they’ve bothered to turn up—and they might truly love God too.’

‘If you go by the statistics though,’ was the response, ‘chances are only a small portion do have any real faith in God.’

I had to admit that probably was the truth. Yet, whether all those people believed what they were singing or not, I reflected, at least these carols that honour the coming of Jesus were being sung in our city and broadcast far and wide.

The next day, when I sat down to read my Bible, I found I was up to 1 Samuel 16, the account of how Samuel seeks to decide which of Jesse’s sons the Lord wants as the next king of Israel. As soon as Samuel sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, he thinks he must surely be the one God had chosen. Yet in verse 7, we read:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Hmm. Don’t judge by appearances. What a timely reminder! Yes, our cynical comments might have been true—but then again, they might not have!

We can often see how people are feeling by looking at their faces. We may notice, for example, whether someone is happy or frustrated or angry or sad or discouraged or embarrassed. And it’s important to be observant of others and try to discern where they are at. But sometimes we can jump to the wrong conclusion. Sometimes we can assume so much, merely by those outward appearances. Sometimes we can judge so easily—without knowing all the facts.

It’s true only God can know what is really going in someone’s life and heart. The Lord looks way beyond the outer surface, to the very core of a person. But I’d like to think I could become more like him in this regard in 2017 and look beyond those outward appearances more often. Perhaps then, the world would be a more grace-filled place, don’t you think?

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Jo 17It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? As I watch the news each evening, I often do just that when I hear of someone who has reportedly committed a crime or some ‘celebrity’ who has gone off the rails. Admittedly, their track record might speak for itself—but we don’t really know all the facts. So often, we make up our minds about people on a very small amount of information, don’t you think? And that information might well be quite biased anyway.

I remember some girls I taught at an exclusive school when I was all of twenty-one years old. In my naivety, I assumed there was no excuse for any of them to do poorly or behave badly. After all, most came from such privileged backgrounds. Yet I recall one boarder who had trouble passing any exam and would rarely speak in class. When she did, she was quite aggressive. What internal battles was she facing? Homesickness? Loneliness? Lack of self-esteem? I did not enquire and ignored her, failing her in a particular exam by one mark when, in grace, I could easily have encouraged her and no doubt found that mark somewhere.

Twenty years later, I returned to teaching, ending up at a school where students were graded. I taught Introductory Language to all ten Year Seven classes there. Can you imagine how keen that poor tenth class was to learn a foreign language? I worked hard to make my lessons interesting and accessible for them. I cajoled. I threatened. I yelled—a lot. And, in my heart, I judged them as hopeless. Only occasionally did I ever wonder what difficulties they might be facing in their home and family life. Instead, I ranted and raved when homework was not done or the relevant workbook was missing.

Recently, I read some words attributed to the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria:

Be kind to all, because everyone is fighting a great battle.

Yes, those students in my classes were no doubt fighting lots of battles. And, as I think of many around me today, I am aware how real those battles are for them too, in some shape or form. But that’s only those I know about. What are the stories behind the faces of those in our street, at the shopping centre, on the train or bus, at work—at church?

Appearances can be deceptive. Someone might seem to have it all together, yet inside they may well be fighting ongoing emotional battles or wrestling with huge spiritual issues. Some might agonise over things we feel are relatively trivial—yet they are real to them. Some might gain a quick victory in a particular battle, while others may struggle a lifetime. But who am I to judge? Instead, my task is to be kind to all and sensitive to their struggles—as well as very mindful of some wise words Jesus once said:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:37-38

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Jo 23I knew I had an excuse to feel a little exasperated. After all, the person I had just spoken to on the phone had changed the date for a particular speaking engagement twice already. Now here she was, asking yet again for some information I had already given her several times. I sighed, then later complained loudly about her to two members of my family.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this lady! She seems so confused and disorganised. Let’s hope this speaking engagement goes okay.’

I duly turned up on the day and yes, everything worked out. The group of people I spoke to were very attentive and responded well. I was also welcomed warmly by the lady I had hitherto only spoken to by phone or emailed—and found her charming and interesting. Before I was introduced to speak, she gave me a personal thank you gift—her way of apologising for the inconvenience she had caused by changing the dates twice. I felt embarrassed but she insisted.

Later, she wanted to purchase one of my novels.

‘Which one should I buy?’ she asked me in her beautiful, European accent.

After discovering she was Hungarian and had travelled to Australia as a migrant via Czechoslovakia, I suggested one of my novels featuring a Czech migrant. Yet, even as I did, my embarrassment deepened. Did she really want to read it—or did she feel obliged to support me after messing up our arrangements? As we chatted further, she told me this was the first year she had volunteered to be the speaker coordinator for this particular group and how hard she had found it. My heart went out to her and I assured her truthfully I would rather speak myself any day than coordinate a whole year of other speakers.

At that point, I began to sense God was teaching me a lesson I would not forget in a hurry about perhaps being just that little bit less judgemental of others. But worse was to come. When I arrived home and unwrapped her special gift to me, I found an unusual and quite lovely card attached. Then I read what this lady had written inside in her beautiful, copperplate handwriting:

To dear Jo-Anne

Thank you for your unconditional generosity towards me. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Love …

Now I felt completely humbled and rebuked. Unconditional generosity—when, in reality, I had felt so exasperated with her and had maligned her to others! If that was unconditional generosity, I’d hate to see meanspiritedness.

What a lesson from God for my life from such an unexpected source. And what an insight into God’s unconditional generosity to me—that same unconditional generosity I needed to have in my heart for this lady rather than condemnation. How gracious God is, not only in the big scheme of things but also in those gentle messages we receive along life’s path that call us to live and respond in a better way and to show that same love and acceptance to others we have been shown!

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43:25

Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12b

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I was taught a big lesson one evening at our old church. I should never have had to learn it in the first place—I should have known better. But the way it happened has ensured I will never forget what I discovered about myself that evening.

Our service had finished and people were beginning to disperse. As I walked from the chapel itself towards our hall, I saw a man sitting at the rear on the old gas heater we used at that time. This man—let’s call him Alan—was known to us from previous visits to our church. Alan would tend to wander in late, smelling strongly of alcohol, and sit at the back, staring around with bloodshot eyes.

I always kept my distance from him. And this particular night, I realised he could see that. In fact, he could see right through me, I discovered. As I walked past him, I must have given him a less than friendly look, because the next moment, I heard him saying something to me.

‘You don’t like me, do you?’

At first, I had trouble taking in what he had said. I stopped and turned, already feeling embarrassed.

‘P-p-pardon?’

‘You don’t like me, do you?’ he repeated, looking straight at me in a way that gave me no escape.

I walked on, without even giving him the courtesy of a response. I sensed he was laughing at my discomfort—and rightly so, I began to realise. You see, he was right. I didn’t like him. In fact, I despised him for the way he lived his life. Yet I knew nothing about him. I had never bothered to try to find out what his background was like, what had caused him to drink so much, what issues he had faced, what opportunities he had missed out on. Others did chat to him and try to help him—but all I had done was judge him. And Alan could see that clearly.

Fast forward many years to the present. This time I sat while someone shared with me how broken-hearted she felt at the things she had done. As I listened, I found myself feeling just that bit angry with her—and a little self-righteous too. How could she have done those things I would never have done? How could she have let herself and others down like that?

But as full-blown judgement began to kick in, that image of Alan from all those years ago and that question he asked came to mind. And I was silent. Then I heard her own remorseful cry: ‘How could I have done it? How could God forgive things like that?’

Yes, we could both see some answers to her first question. But as to the second, there is no real reason, is there, except that God loves us so completely—enough to forgive us over and over again as we come with contrite, broken hearts. If I felt aghast at what I heard, how much more must God be offended by the things we all choose to do? Yet time and time again, God forgives, God restores, God takes our punishment away—because of Jesus and the price he paid to set us free.

Now that blows my mind. How about you?

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …Ps 103:12

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