Judgment or Discernment?

Journal 2005

I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.

One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?

Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.

*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!

2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.

Should You Ever Break a Vow?

From my 2009 Journal.

The Bible instructs us to keep our vows; however, some vows are unhealthy and must be broken “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll build a wall to protect my heart” can be detrimental to our healing journey.

When I was in junior high, my ambition was to become a missionary nurse—just like my mom. But one day, one of my teachers whom I highly respected asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I told him, he replied, “Well, you should consider becoming a doctor instead. You have good enough grades.”

To please my teacher, for the next six years I informed everyone I was going to become a missionary doctor, and I began to look into med schools. Very quickly, I realized I really had no passion or even the slightest interest in studying the medical field. And so I floundered, trying to figure out who I was. Consequently, I made a vow never to become a counselor. I did not want to be responsible for guiding someone incorrectly in their life choices. How ironic that I am now pursuing a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling!

Today I read:

Personally I am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge and competent to admonish and counsel and instruct one another also. (Romans 15:14 Amp, Emphasis added):

Note the order:

  1. First comes goodness
  2. Then comes knowledge
  3. Next competency
  4. And finally comes the act of counseling.

Character precedes knowledge. Practice comes before proficiency. I have no business counseling others if I don’t begin with character; and without training, counseling others can be dangerous. In Job 38:2 God asks, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” I wonder if I’ll make a good counselor?

A 2023 Update. Technically, I kept my vow since I became in inner healing prayer minister instead of a counselor. However, breaking that vow would have been acceptable as it was made from a place of emotion and wrong motives. Better not to make an unhealthy vow or promise than to have to break it later.

My mother, Martha Seger

Judgment or Love?

From my 2009 Journal.

A few years ago, I had a friend who struggled to care for her two adopted girls when she injured her leg. Another friend remarked, “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting children if she couldn’t afford them.) Yes, my friend had made that choice, but it wasn’t her fault she hurt her leg and needed compassionate help.

But what if I am at fault for the consequence of my choices? A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema. I find it difficult to drum up any sympathy. I may fetch an oxygen tank if he runs out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it.

And then I think of an obese friend who struggles with physical challenges. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? I may conclude that she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s love for her.

I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own shortcomings, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes. I need God’s mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change and quit judging others for losing their battles. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)

The Gift of Faith

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you” (Luke17: 17-19 The Message).

Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one thanked Him. The Samaritan had faith; I don’t know if the other nine had it or not. Did Jesus heal certain people out of compassion or because of their faith? He raised the dead—and that’s not because of their faith! In this case, the one leper demonstrated that he “got it.” I suspect God does a lot of things for us that go unacknowledged.

Maybe faith is like a promised Christmas present, an unopened box. Jesus hands it to me and says, “I’ve made you a promise. It’s in the box. But it’s not time to open it yet.” And faith says, “I believe You, Lord. And I will patiently wait till You say it’s time.”

Abraham was given a box. Inside was the promise of a son. But I think he got impatient waiting—or perhaps he thought God had handed him the wrong box, and so he set it aside and opened a different gift under the tree. But even with his mistake, God still handed him the right one and he still got to open it.

I have so many precious promise boxes under my tree I can’t even count them all! What box am I holding that I’m ignoring, substituting, not waiting for, anxious about?

When Jesus handed the one leper his gift, he remembered to write the thank you note. The other nine got their gift, too, but were so excited they forgot where it came from. We must pause, notice, respond in gratitude, and recognize the source of our healing, our salvation.

On Prejudice

Prejudice is an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. (Webster’s Dictionary)

From my 2005 Journal.

I had a dream last night in which a professor told me I had an issue with prejudice. I denied it—but part of me recognizes the truth.

Prejudice has a negative connotation, but prejudice simply means “pre-judging.” We live most of life that way. Before I sit in a chair, I pre-judge that it will hold me up. Why? Because I’ve had prior knowledge and experience with chairs. What happens when we pre-judge people, however? The problem comes when we attribute one characteristic to an entire race, not allowing for individual differences.

What’s the relationship between pre-judging, expectations, and anticipation? When does it become negative, wrong, sinful, unproductive, or damaging? In a court of law, to pre-judge is to declare guilty or not guilty without prior or proper trial. What would be the opposite? No judgment at all? Or . . . judgment after the fact instead of before? How is it possible to avoid pre-judgment of people?

Isn’t prejudice merely a trigger? Reduced to that, it would be easy to detect and feel one’s own prejudice—because there is emotion involved. There are or can be good triggers, can’t there? Or is that suspect too? Pre-judging what Christmas will be like can set you up for disappointment.

A 2022 Perspective: I went through a lengthy period where the Lord worked on my heart about my judgmental attitude. Obviously, I’m not perfect in this area, but looking back, I can see how very far I’ve come.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Spiritual Fruit

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)

From my 2005 Journal.

I’m not sure where or when in my spiritual journey (from the pulpit?) I picked up the notion that we were supposed to strive to do the list of Fruits of the Spirit. “Look over this list,” they’d say. “Which one do you lack? Work at this one today. Be more (“more” is unquantifiable) loving, put on a joyful countenance, exercise patience or self-control.” Shame for failing in any area became a natural by-product of this teaching.

But one day I began to ponder the nature of fruit, and then, thankfully, I heard (from the pulpit?) a correct interpretation of this verse. Spiritual fruit is not a to-do list but rather a by-product, a result of abiding in the Spirit, of being attached to the vine, of mind renewal. I can choose to exhibit the fruits by determination and self-effort, and that is not a bad thing. I can choose not to punch my friend in the face if I’m mad at her. But how much easier and freeing to have these qualities flow out of me naturally, graciously, without effort as a result of inner healing prayer and mind renewal. Even “abiding in the vine” is no longer a grit-my-teeth, work-at-it endeavor. Rather, it is a natural by-product of connecting all parts of my heart to the Lord.

Fruit plate created by my friend Renate.

The River of Life

From my 2009 Journal

When people and things disrupt my workflow, how can I tell if an interruption is a distraction or a God-event? Is it like a child’s bumper lane in a bowling alley, meant to keep me out of the gutter? Or is it a snare, a stick-pile in the river?

The rapids are the events over which I have no control, and I’m glad I have an experienced Guide with me Who knows where the hazards are. He expects me to use my paddle as I’m able and engage in the fight to stay upright, but He’s strong enough to keep me on an even keel.

Sometimes, when I’m about to be dumped into the river, I just hang onto the sides for dear life. But I’m not going to drown (unless it’s my time to go Home). When He comes to rescue me, I must relax and not struggle against Him. He has the lifeline in His hands. Thankfully, not all of life is rapids. Sometimes it’s okay to drift and to rest.

So, whether I encounter shallows, a stick-pile, or the rapids, I don’t have to figure out its source. I just need to navigate what comes with patience, faith, and grace.

Guilt and Shame—a Visual

GUILT is like treading on a sandy beach leaving visible footprints. SHAME tries to smooth sand over the prints, but as you walk away, you create more footprints.

GRACE is God sending His wind (the Holy Spirit) and blowing across the sand, erasing all the prints. And even if you fail again, the wind continues to blow.

But how much better to scramble up onto a rock where no footprints can imprint, and no guilt and shame exist.

“I’m on the Rock, hallelujah,

I’m on the Rock to stay,

For He lifted me from the miry clay—

I’m on the Rock to stay.”

On Hatred

Journal 2005

At my missionary boarding school, I was taught it was a sin to hate. Therefore, if we hated someone, we’d piously say, “Oh, I don’t hate her; I just strongly dislike her!” As if we didn’t say the words, we were not guilty of the deed.

This week the Spirit of God confronted my self-righteousness with a memory where I carried hatred in my heart. As I released that emotion, years of bondage slipped away, and I felt free. Nobody but Jesus knew that sin was there. And nobody but Jesus and the person who prayed with me for deliverance knows it’s gone. But will others sense a change in me? I don’t know. I feel the change, and I know that something is different.

TV and Movies

From my 2009 Journal

I was reared in a small African village without the basics of running water, electricity, or flush toilets and, thus, no TV or movies. I remember as a first grader on furlough being mesmerized by black-and-white cartoons flashing across the screen of my Grandpa Peterson’s small TV set, and then again four years later, on our next furlough, unable to unglue my eyes from this novelty.

I struggle to navigate parenthood without experiential knowledge in monitoring entertainment. What makes a good story great? What details make it acceptable? What scenes are suitable for my children to watch? What images will leave them with nightmares and fears? At what age do I allow exposure to realistic scenes? When is violence and sexual content and adult language appropriate and for what audience? I don’t think I can predict what that limit is . . . until it’s too late. These decisions for my children are messy ones for each stage of their growth. How can I be wise, balanced, and sensitive to their needs? How can I push back against the culture?

Unfortunately, some children experience far too much reality for their age; others are exposed to it by their peers. How long can I or should I shelter their innocence? Information, should they desire to gain access, is readily available but, as a parent, I have a responsibility to guide them.