From Judgment to Grace – Changing a Family Story – Romans 14:4

I know we’re not supposed to judge, but I do it all the time. It’s so easy, especially when the person in mind is someone I’ve never met and who died in 1925. Years ago I heard things about him that made it clear his poor choices affected his family for generations after him. He was clearly guilty.

He was my great-grandfather, Robert Stowe, a married father of four who worked as an insurance salesman and music teacher in Elkhart, Indiana. His failing was that his addiction to alcohol ate up their resources and caused his family to live in poverty. His daughter remembered how the wind blew up through cracks in the floor. His wife took their children to church and taught them good values, but Robert’s was only a sad, depressing story.

That was the narrative I believed all my life, until a few months ago.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:4 ESV

My Robert Stowe story changed shortly before my mother died, when she gave me more details about his life. She told me about his love for his children, how he taught music at their school, singing with Beneta, my grandmother, in his rich tenor voice.

His wife was musical too, singing soprano and playing her guitar. In their poverty they enjoyed making music. I hadn’t known they shared good times together. Instead I based my opinion of him on a repeated story, that single story, which in my mind marked him for life.

I felt no affection for Robert Stowe, however, until Mom told me about how his church held the belief that when it came to drink you were doomed. Even if you believed in Jesus as your Savior, drinking was considered a moral failure. You were labeled “backslidden” and no longer welcome in God’s presence—or theirs.

Robert Stowe would repent and get sober, attend church with his family for a time, then backslide again. Can you imagine how hard it would be to face your friends again and again, and have them reject you because of your struggles? And how heartbreaking it would be for a little girl to think her daddy wouldn’t go to heaven?

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:7-9 ESV

Robert Stowe practiced a righteous life, humbling himself to admit his struggle with staying sober. He failed miserably, but the 1 John 3 scripture doesn’t say there’s a limit to how many falls we can experience. It does mention practicing, though.

I have three photos of my great-grandfather. In all of them he appears stern. Maybe he was hard on himself, a perfectionist that could never measure up. I can’t find any clues about his childhood or what happened to him. What I do know is that my heart changed. I understand him a little better now, and I have compassion for him.

I also know the graciousness of God and the truth that we all need a Savior. None of us come to God with a perfect record. And none of us are better people, or worse sinners, than another. God’s grace is enough.

Now I can easily imagine my great-grandfather performing the most requested song by his daughter’s classmates, Nita Juanita, and singing it with her name, “Nita” Beneta. If they share the love of laughter and the sparkle I’ve seen in his daughter’s blue eyes, it’s not a reach to imagine them enjoying a playful moment in heaven—free not only from his addictions, but from others’ judgments as well.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Kathy Sheldon Davis

Confession and Prayer Brings Healing – James 5:13-16

Until a few months ago some of my cousins had been out of touch with each other for decades. When two of them recently moved to Lane County, we arranged to meet at the Camas Country Mill and Bakery. It didn’t take us long to find ourselves delighted with all things old, the ancient schoolhouse with its furnishings and our childhood tales.

As we reconnected, the teasing and silliness escalated until it bordered on being ridiculous. Should people our age act like they’re still thirteen?

I sipped my tea and chased chickpeas around my salad plate until I spotted names, dates, and initials carved on a weathered wall not far from our table. This fascinated me because the boards had been salvaged from the building’s exterior. Diners now enjoy their meal while examining evidence of former students’ vandalism. I traced one date with my finger: 1900.

We were told a few names belong to people, or their descendants, still living in the area.

How would I like my misdeeds put on display for a hundred years, my name listed with those who have damaged public property? I realize they were probably young children, someone else may have been the culprit, or that it may now be considered art or an entertaining story. Still . . .

I don’t like the thought of someone judging me while chewing their sandwich, but maybe bringing my failures into the open is a good thing. Perhaps removing the façade and revealing underlying scars is healthy.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:13-16 ESV).

Maybe in the future our descendants will get a good laugh about our misadventures. Hopefully, there will be a lot to admire, too. Like our honesty.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

Judging Others – Luke 6:37

Do you size people up when you walk into a room? I do. It’s important to be aware of our surroundings, but sometimes I take it too far.

pizza. free papya45. pixabay.crop

A few years ago, I took in a scene at a pizza restaurant and passed judgment on a woman I’d never met.

Our three boys marched between the tables, their pace accelerating to the point I thought they might trip over themselves as they approached the play area. As Jerry led me toward an empty table, I took a glance at a woman seated nearby.

Here’s what I saw

  1. She was large.
  2. She was alone. There was no sign of someone else’s belongings on the seat to indicate anyone accompanied her.
  3. She was eating a piece from a huge, family size pizza.
  4. She didn’t appear to be happy.

I concluded the woman must be a person who was out of control with her eating and her life, that she worships food and thinks only of herself. And I went so far as to judge her as someone I wouldn’t want for a friend.

Why do we judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24 ESV).

He also said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 ESV).

The truth might actually be

  1. She was enjoying pizza in celebration of an 80-pound weight loss.
  2. She had been fasting, or this was her first meal in a long time.
  3. She would eat one piece and save the rest for later.
  4. She needed a kind word from a friend.

The scriptures tell me if I judge I must be careful how I do it. One definition I found says judging is forming an opinion after careful thought. I hadn’t given much thought to the woman’s reality. And I certainly wasn’t looking at her with God’s love and compassion.

It’s possible she may be far ahead of me in her walk with God. She may be withstanding trials and hardships and remaining true to her faith far better than I am at the moment. There was probably much I could learn from her.

Since it was decades ago, and I don’t remember what she looked like, she could be one of my dear friends today. If that is true, I’m sure if she passed judgment on me that day, she is forgiving. How could we be friends if she wasn’t?

by Kathy Sheldon Davis