MONDAY, 10/31
Read Matthew 7:1.
This verse fits the description of short, simple and to the point.  Jesus doesn’t mince His words.  “Do not judge or you too will be judged,” He said.  
So what is Jesus saying here?  Jesus is expressing His vision for God’s Kingdom people to be a people who do not judge others.  It is clear that Jesus has an aversion to our taking up the mantle of being judge, jury, and executioner for others.  It’s not our place.  Our sin means we’re the ones on trial, not sitting in the judge’s seat.  Jesus reminds us of that here.  As the Righteous One, Jesus is the Judge of humanity, not us.  And if we choose to judge others, we too will be subject to the same kind of judgment.  
It’s worth noting here that there is a tremendous difference between making judgments about what is right and wrong and having a judgmental spirit toward another person.  The book of Proverbs implores us time and time again to exercise discernment as we navigate a world that isn’t always friendly toward God.  We must see the difference.
As Jesus makes clear in the Sermon on the Mount, we are citizens of a different Kingdom with different values than the world.  We will encounter things that run contrary to God’s Kingdom.  We must be able to differentiate between what is God’s desire for His children and what isn’t His desire for us.  We can do that without possessing a spirit of condemnation against those who do things that go against what we believe to be right.   
What Jesus wants us to avoid is exercising a judgmental spirit that easily devalues another’s humanity.  Whenever we look at someone with the intent to make them less human, we lose any sense that they can be redeemed, which is God’s greatest hope for humanity.  
The gospel reminds us that all of humanity is broken in sin.  We are, in a sense, not the humanity God envisioned when He created us.  Jesus came to make us a new creation by His grace and transformative power at work within us.  God’s Kingdom people must first experience His grace, and then as those who have been touched by it, desire that the world would be touched by His grace as well.  If we hope to have a God-pleasing and impactful ministry, it is essential for the church to possess such a heart for the world.  
Praying Together:
“Jesus, You know how easy it is for us to fall into a spirit of judgmentalism toward others.  Picking at the sins of others is so common, but it is far from Your desire for us.  Free me from what compels me to judge.  Give me a new heart with which to love others. You loved me before I loved You, and I want to love others as I am loved.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 7:2.
Verse 2 should be considered an attention-getter.  At least I hope it gets our attention.  It shows us just how serious Jesus is about His Kingdom people possessing a harsh spirit of judgment against others.  Whatever standards you hold people to regarding their behavior and character, Jesus will judge you according to those same standards.  Let’s be honest with ourselves–how often have we fallen short of our own standards for ourselves?  That doesn’t even take into account God’s standards for us, which I imagine are much higher.
This kind of warning shows up a few times in Jesus’ teachings.  He does the same thing with forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  That statement is simultaneously asking God for our own forgiveness and our being aware of how well we are forgiving others.  Jesus wants to make sure we do a heart check when it comes to living out the greatest ethic in God’s Kingdom, which is love.  Love here means we exercise forgiveness as God has forgiven us.  This shows us how important it is to Jesus and how important it is that our hearts are changed by the values of God’s Kingdom.  
The same is true of our judgment of others.  Yesterday, we noted the differences between discerning right and wrong and being judgmental.  Knowing the difference between right and wrong is called wisdom.  Having a spirit of harsh judgment against another is called condemnation.  Jesus is warning us that if we condemn others, we run the risk of being condemned.  Why, we might ask?  The answer is that we are not showing the effects of having our hearts transformed by God’s Kingdom.  When we receive grace, we are to give grace.  You cannot be truly touched by grace without its having a tremendous impact on how you treat others.  Grace is intended to change us.  Even the hardest heart is now able to exercise compassion.  This is the aim of grace.
So, what about you?  What measure of judgment do you dish out on others?  Do you feel good about God holding you up against that same measure?  Be honest with yourself.  We need to look in the mirror here to make sure that our hearts and practices are aligned with God’s Kingdom values.  
If you find yourself on the wrong end of this, take heart.  God has grace for you.  Repentance is God’s gift for us.  We can all turn to Him for healing and renewal.  Confess your tendency to judge harshly and ask the Holy Spirit to touch your heart.  Ask for new eyes with which to see others.  Ask for new, Christ-like love for them.  God will take you on a journey of transformation if we allow Him to do so.  
Sending Prayer:
“Father, You know the measures and standards I use to judge others.  If I’m being honest, I don’t usually measure up to my own standards, let alone Your standards, yet You have mercy for me.  You offered me grace.  Help me to do the same.  I want the world to experience Your goodness as I have.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 7:3.
Here Jesus uses one of His favorite tools, hyperbole, to make His point.  Jesus uses the images of a speck and a plank to reveal the values of God’s Kingdom.  There are a lot of implications to the images Jesus gives us here.  Let’s explore a few of them here.  
One of the meanings behind this image is that we have to look hard to find our neighbor’s faults.  While our faults should be evident to us, they often go unrecognized.  This is a deliberate choice to overlook our own sin.  As such, we should be deliberate in looking for our own flaws, surrendering them to God’s healing grace, and growing through them.  In the same way that we are generous when dealing with our own shortcomings, we should be generous with the shortcomings of others.
Another idea comes to light in the sheer disparity between the size of the two items.  Perhaps Jesus is suggesting that your responsibility for your neighbor’s sin is like a speck compared to your responsibility for your own sin, which is much greater.  The plank poses a greater danger to you than the speck does to your neighbor.  You must learn to care for yourself before you are able to help your neighbor, with “help” being a key word here.  
Another thought to add is the image of having a plank in your eye.  Try to imagine what it would be like to have something massive stuck in your eye.  Could you imagine the fear or the pain?  I would think you would feel a great deal of urgency to get it removed.  This is also a lesson that is packed in here.  We must be aware of the danger that sin poses to our soul.  Like an object stuck in our eye, it has a way of harming us and others.  We should feel a sense of alarm when we consider sin’s presence in our lives, yet sometimes we willingly dismiss either its presence or the danger it poses.  
Sending Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, examine my heart.  I want to bless others and experience abundant life in You.  I know there are parts of me—planks that need to be removed– that need Your healing touch.  Remove them.  Give me the grace to deal with them.  I know that ultimately, I will give an account of my life only to You.  I take responsibility for myself and throw myself upon Your mercy.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 7:4.
Here, let me help you.  I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that to you more than once in your lifetime.  Oftentimes, such words have blessed you.  Other times, in retrospect, the people saying them didn’t help much, or possibly even hurt you in the process of trying to help.  There may not have been any ill intent, but harm was done nonetheless.  
So, the question to consider in this passage could very well be this:  How can I help my neighbor with the concern in their life?  Jesus gives us two answers in this verse and in verse 6: Check your motivation for “helping” and learn how to get rid of your sin first.
We must first check our motivation for wanting to address our neighbor’s sin.  What is our motivation for approaching our neighbor?  We have to consider the real answer behind why we feel compelled to go to them.  
God’s Kingdom people are a compassionate community who want to see God’s greatest good realized in the lives of others.  We want their well-being, and sometimes that means we need to speak the truth in love, with love as  only motivation.  We don’t approach them to set them apart from the community or shine a light on them.  We do this because we want them to experience abundant life in Jesus.  Love must be our motivation.  If we have any other agenda, then our attempt to help will more likely than not inflict harm.
The other way we can help our neighbor is by dealing with our own sin first.  Look, it’s fun to be a backseat driver for someone else’s life.  When someone has a problem, everyone thinks they’re Dr. Phil.  The only true wisdom we can give is the hard-earned kind that comes from the experience of removing sin from our own lives.  Once we go through the struggle and watch God’s grace triumph in our lives, then we have something to offer others.
Our primary responsibility is to address our own sin first, then to keep that in perspective whenever dealing with our neighbor.  When the reality that we too are in need of God’s grace and in the process of growing in Him with our own stumbles along the way, we are able to approach our neighbor with a very different spirit.  We are able to exercise compassion and mercy.  
If we keep these two things in mind, then we just might be able to bless them rather than hurt them.  
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, thank You for extending grace to me.  You have given me forgiveness and victory over any sin I bring to You.  Show me the things I need to surrender to You and grow me as I work through those things with Your help.  I also pray that You give me a love for my neighbors.  I want to have a gracious spirit toward others.  I pray for Your accountability when I want to speak into their lives.  May my help actually be a blessing to them.  Amen.”  
FRIDAY, 11/4
Read Matthew 7:5-6.
Years ago, I got a call from my younger brother only to learn that Mom and Dad had staged an intervention to save him from his life of “allegedly using recreational drugs, smoking cigarettes, and calling himself an atheist”.  Though all three were problematic for a high school aged boy, it was the turning away from Jesus that upset my parents most. My parents did not seek help to confront my brother.  Their pastor was not involved in this moment, and they did not consult a counselor as they planned their line of questioning.
They were way off base. Their assumptions about him were incorrect.  They came after him from a legal perspective, given he was not of a legal age to smoke cigarettes and they “just knew he was using drugs” given he was an atheist.  They quoted Bible verses. They tried to shame him.  And that was the moment he shut down. He did not have an advocate to defend him, and they made sure to do this when I was not around. It took me a while before I could forgive my parents for this. I should have been there to walk him (and them) through it.
At the time of the shaming, my dad had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. He spent most of his teenage years on a Harley; in fact, he had the battle scars to prove it. He announced to the family one day that he had been smoking since he was 14 years old. Though his faith was strong as an adult, he never spoke about his early years. You can see why my brother shut down. He was being yelled at for things our dad was likely doing at his age. 
When we are kids, we eventually catch on to how we are being manipulated.  We may even get angry at the hypocrisy of our parents’ words. Harsh words are hurled at us for reasons that seem out of proportion to the crime committed. From my brother’s perspective, the best move was to pull away from a close relationship with our parents. Where my brother felt betrayed and hurt, our parents felt righteous in what they were saying.  
All my brother saw was a thinly veiled attempt to control his behavior.  Based on our scripture, Dad should have pulled the log out of his own eyes (smoker, lived a rough life as a biker) before trying to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.  Yes, my brother did some things wrong, but was my dad in a place to judge my brother, given his own checkered past? Was my brother in a place to hear about the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus, while our parents were yelling at him for being a criminal?  Did they dare to share what they knew about Jesus with someone who had no interest in who He was at that moment (i.e., do not put your pearls before swine}?
I wonder what would have happened if each of the parties prayed before the discussions began. As a parent, we have the right to discipline our kids and keep them out of trouble. At what cost should that discipline happen? When we approach discipline as judgment, how likely will we be to have a positive outcome?
Sending Prayer:
“Lord Almighty, I am quick to judge.  It’s not my intention, but I know that I sometimes try to separate myself from others by seeing how I am much better than they are.  But I know I’m not. Sometimes I am jealous of what other people have, so I make fun of their lives. And as a parent, sometimes I can see what my kids are doing wrong, and I want to drive my point home when I am disciplining them. We are all broken people in need of grace. Judgment costs us dearly in the end, especially if we don’t know the people or circumstances we are judging. Help me to temper my judgment.  Show me the best way to love people, regardless of who they are.  Show me a life of love, instead of jealousy or anger or desire. Allow me the chance to do better in my relationships with people, especially with my children.  It is in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Read Romans 2:1-4.
Oh, the patience of our God is eternal. I try to do everything I can to be this patient, especially when dealing with another’s judgment against me. Right after we were married, my spouse and I lived in an apartment that was midway between Dallas where I worked and Waco where he worked. I had had back surgery just before the wedding, and I was still on a cane with a brace on my leg. I began getting up way early for work so that I could come home before 5 PM.  When I parked, I usually parked in the handicap space.  I had a state-issued hang tag and thought nothing of my choice of parking space. 
But my neighbor had a lot to say about it. She was also in need of that space.  Parking in that space was closest to the building and, evidently, she felt entitled to it.  She complained to management about what I had done.  She brought proof that she had earned the right to use the space more than I did. She caught me at the door of my apartment and began yelling at me about how my disability was not as deserving as hers was, even if it was based on the fact that she lived longer in the apartment than I did.  
I listened to her yelling until she walked into my personal space, within arm’s length of me.  Now this is where my mind began racing with what I should do to stop her. I was angry. My disability was new enough for me to be embarrassed by the attention she gave to this matter. My neighbor ranted, “Who are you to take this away from me? How dare you move in here and think you’re entitled to take what was mine.”  In my mind, I felt real judgment against her. I fumed and thought to myself, “First come first served!  So the more disabled person wins? Take a look at my latest MRI results!  Who are you to back me against the door of my apartment?” While I said nothing, I certainly judged her. I also was reminded that I couldn’t run away from her; there was no quick getaway possible.
No one likes to be yelled at for this. She was angry, too. I looked her in eyes and waited for her to stop. Then she left. I was shaken up.  Where would this end?  The apartment complex gave me a covered parking space for free. Easy solution. But it opened up how I felt about myself as a disabled person.  It touched a nerve because she was fighting a life-long battle in every word she yelled out at me.  I stayed mad for some time after that.  I may not have said anything to her, but with my new disability, my perspective made me susceptible to judging others.
I wonder if there were things I could have said to her to slow her anger. How much of our circumstances play out in the way we judge others? How would a change of heart affect our willingness to judge?   Judgment seems more about us than the ones we actually judge, in our minds and from our lips.
Sending Prayer:
“O Lord Almighty, weather the storm with me.  When I am angry, I tend to judge the person I am angry with. When I am suffering I tend to seek someone to blame.  When I am doing well, I tend to take the credit.  My arrogance keeps me proud of myself and justified in all that I do and say. Help me step back from all of life’s challenges and see where my responsibility lies.  Teach me to approach my challenges with humility and with graciousness.  I know You are always with me, taking every step with me.  Thank You for Your grace and Your kindness.  Thank You for Your patience.  Thank You for seeing me as I truly am and walking with me during the sunniest of days and the darkest of days. Teach me to see You in all things.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
SUNDAY, 11/6
Read James 4:11-12.
Several years ago, a man came into the front office of the church. As he sat down, I was struck by the thought that I knew him from somewhere, but I could not place him.  When I asked him his name, he said that he had been here before and that Pastor Brady, Mary Beth, and I had helped him.  I asked him how we could help him again.  And he said, “I just wanted to thank y’all for inviting me to sit down, for offering me a drink of water, for praying over me, and for your kindness several years ago. You helped me pay some bills I could not pay at that time.”
He said that he had gone to other agencies for help earlier that morning, and one of them gave him a number and asked him to wait until his number was called before he could receive assistance.  Hours later, at the end of the business day, they began closing the office down and told him that they had run out of time to help him, but he was welcome to come back the next day.  He told us he was humiliated by that comment and was angry that he was passed over for assistance after he sat there for most of the business day.  
He told us he was ashamed because he was not “man” enough to handle his own responsibilities. He lost his job and struggled to find work.  He knew he had a family to feed and one on the way.  He continued, “And you saw me in my place of shame and offered me a safe place to receive assistance without humiliating me. Thank you for not treating me like a number and like a nuisance for even asking for help.” He had his own business that was up and running with his wife.  He gave us a card and said, “If there is anything I can do for you to make up for your kindness, let me know.”
When we judge someone–whether it be with our mind, heart, or in our actions–we are working against what God has asked us to do.  We are not loving others as we have been loved. We are not valuing others as we have been valued by God.  I wonder what it might take for us to see others the way God sees His children. It is not our right or responsibility to judge others.  This right belongs to God and God alone.
Sending Prayer:
“Holy God, place me at Your feet.  May I be humbled and recognize that we are all of sacred worth.  I pray that I remain humbled when I encounter suffering, sickness, poverty, and injustice.  I pray that I remember that we all are in need of grace and that You alone are “able to save and destroy”. I have no right to judge or condemn, but help me to look within for the reasons I feel the need to do so.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”