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LAST POST ON THIS BLOG!

SEE YOU OVER AT LAFREELAND.COM! (http://www.lafreeland.com/)

In case you missed it,

This is the story I wrote about our Christmas in 2004,

less than two months after

Kyle was diagnosed with leukemia.

Conceding Christmas

PART ONE

3 AM

I burrow deeper under the covers, the bed large and lonely. Thirteen days until Christmas, but I’m not planning a celebration.

Arranging a funeral seems more likely.

My husband stayed at the hospital tonight with our ten-year-old son. This time, Kyle struggles with fever, low blood counts, and multiple infections—staph in his central line and fungus in his left lung. READ THE REST AT LAFREELAND.COM

PART TWO

I curl up in a ball. Think about that verse from Matthew 11. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Do I believe it? Can I live it?

Release him. Trust me.

Every moment I don’t let go, fear eats away at me. I live in bondage to the terror that Kyle will die and leave me. I can’t hold out any longer on the tugging of my heart.

READ THE REST AT LAFREELAND.COM 

Thanks!

Lori

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My Grandma Holding Me!

With a sigh, I drop into my favorite overstuffed chair and rest my cheek against the green tweed fabric. Leftover turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes, brown with gravy, litter white plates scattered across the counter. The spicy aroma of warm pumpkin pie floats into the family room.

My boys tear through the room, flashing silver foam swords, my husband on their trail. He scoops them up and plops them down on the couch next to my sister and my grandpa.

“Turn the game up, I can’t hear the score.” My mom yells from the kitchen.

The dishwasher clicks on and I tune out the soft hum and close my eyes. Full of warmth and family, the day seems perfect. Yet, something is missing—the picture incomplete.

Grandma’s absence fills the room.

Grandma, Me, and Kyle (my oldest son)

The smooth scent of vanilla slides over me. A hand rests on my shoulder and I cover it with mine—trace the bumpy veins on loose, spongy skin. I open my eyes.

Grandma kneels beside my chair, dressed in her favorite outfit—blue sweater, matching pumps, and pearl clip-on earrings.

I bite my lip. She’s not supposed to be here.

A smile warms her face. “I just want you to know that I’m okay.”

“It’s not the same without you.” I squeeze her hand and lean my head against hers. “I miss your hugs.”

Her fingers comb through my hair. “I miss yours, too.”

“Mom made your pistachio salad. It was all wrong. She put in the nuts.”

With a laugh, she kisses my cheek.

A harsh buzz shatters the moment. Startled, I sit up in bed. My husband snores softly by my side. I hit snooze on the alarm and fall back against the pillow.

It had only been a dream.

And now it’s too late. Too late to tell her how much she meant to me. Too late to hug her and realize what I had.

My husband rolls over and rubs his eyes. When I take the time to think about it, there are so many things I’m grateful for—like when he takes out the garbage and scoops out the cat litter. He’s made dinner on my tired days more times than I can count.

I roll over and scoot down so I can face him. “I love you.”

With a sigh, he pulls me close. “I love you, too.”

My hand rests against the rough stubble of his cheek and I breathe him in. I want to live in this moment, be grateful for what I have right now.

“Thanks for putting away the laundry yesterday and coming home early to drive Maddy to church.”

Surprise lights his eyes and, after he stares at me for a moment, a huge smile lights his face. “You’re welcome.”

As he holds me, I think of my kids still asleep, under their covers. How many hugs have I pushed off, busy with the drive to finish this or that? How many times have I punished their bad choices and neglected to praise their good choices?

My devotional reading from early in the week drifts through my mind.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NIV).

Thankfulness. Something I don’t spend much time pondering. It will take a conscious decision, some deliberate prioritizing, and major prayer to make a permanent attitude change. But it will be worth it. My grandma may be gone, but my husband and my kids are here.

After a soft kiss on my husband’s cheek, I climb out of bed to wake my kids up with a hug. I can’t wait to tell them how special I think they are!

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Mole-Ectomy

After a recent Mom’s Movie Night Out, I stood in the lobby catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Becky waited against the wall, alternating her gaze between my face and my arm.

“What?” I asked her.

She leaned forward and touched a small brown spot on my upper arm. “I think you need to come have that mole removed.”

Lesson number one—Never go to the movies with your doctor.

Lesson number two—Wear long sleeves if you do.

Shaving off my mole with a razor blade? Not my first choice activity. I shuddered. “I think it’s good. Let’s go out to eat instead.”

She raised her eyebrow. “Call my office Monday.”

All weekend I thought about that razor blade and cringed. I asked my husband to come with me and hold my hand. “I have to work,” he said. I told my kids. My son, who gives himself nightly injections, called me a big baby. My daughter offered to perform a musical to take my mind off the pain.

I decided to go alone.

Monday arrived and I sweated the creepy crawlies out in the waiting room reading Fit Pregnancy, even though the last time my belly swelled with child had been 2001. The nurse called my name and took me back to the room. She set out the equipment for my mole excavation.

My hands shook.

When she finally left, I eased back onto the crunchy white paper and closed my eyes. It’s no big deal, I told myself.

“Oops.” The nurse returned pushing a box on wheels. “Forgot this.”

“What is that?” I jerked up.

“It cauterizes the wound when she’s done.” She smiled and pulled the door shut.

What? My tiny mole hole would need to be cauterized? Like burned?

Just as I geared up to sneak out, Becky walked in. “Ready?”

“No, but go ahead. Just remember next time we get together, we have to do something fun that doesn’t involve you cutting or me crying.”

Just in case you worried about my mole—the procedure went fine. Turned out super doctor found another suspicious bugger on my back and I had a double molectomy. But true to her word, after numbing spray and Lidocaine, I didn’t feel a thing. I love you, Becky!

Sometimes anticipation feels worse than the actual event. I waste so much time and energy dreading things that may happen or things that aren’t half the big deal I’ve made them out to be.

Worst case scenario? Real life plays out exactly like my imagination pegged it. Counting the pre-worry anxiety, I’ve wasted double the time and energy fretting.

I think that’s why God tells me not to go there. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34 NIV).

I can’t change the outcome of an event with worry. But I can drive myself crazy with the pain of dread. And I often do.

God has a much better use for my time than worry. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

I think I lost a good twelve hours of my life dreading what turned out to be a non-event. I still may think twice about going to see another movie with Becky.

Or I maybe I’ll just wear a sweater.

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Courting Catastrophe, a true story, won second place in last year’s NTCW Conference for Adult Novel/Short Story. My baby bump will be turning 18 in January!

The gun was small and black. It looked plastic.

 A party raged in the apartment next door—music blared, people laughed. Oblivious to the nightmare transpiring in my living room. My mind sprinted forward, sorting through the possibilities of how the next few minutes could play out, while my body melted into the couch, overloaded with the mental pictures my mind produced.

I should yell. Run. Do something.

Instead, I froze—acutely aware of each hammer of my heart, each prolonged breath. My hands slid down the soft terrycloth robe to cradle the small, round bump over my stomach.

Lord, please, protect this baby.

“Get on the floor!”

Kevin—if that really was his name—staggered forward, nothing like the man we’d chatted with this afternoon. His hand trembled, but at close range, he probably wouldn’t miss.

My husband, Pat, sat on my left and our friend, Judy, on my right. A TV mini-series played in the background. Next door, the music cranked up a notch, loud enough to drown out gunshots. Laughter floated through our screen door as people came and went from the party. If any of them came close enough, they would have a clear view. Of us. Of Kevin. Of the gun.

But no one did.

How long had Kevin been here? Minutes? Hours? Days?

Lord, please, protect this baby.

Pat moved off the couch to stand in front of me. Kevin lunged forward, smacking the gun against Pat’s head hard enough to send him to his knees. I slid off the couch beside him and locked my panicked eyes with his.

Kevin knelt, placed his knee on Pat’s neck and grabbed my left hand. Diamonds sparkled under the light and I understood why Kevin had come back.

My finger, already swollen from the pregnancy, throbbed in his rough grasp as he tried to wrench the ring over my knuckle. When it got stuck, he rocked back on his heels and shoved his glasses back up his nose. Sweat dotted his forehead.  He wiped his face against his shirt and pushed the gun into my cheek. It was cold and hard and didn’t feel at all like plastic.

“Please.” My voice shook as I held my hand up. “I can get it off.”

Kevin pulled the gun back a few inches and stared at me with unfocused large black pupils.

I licked my finger then twisted and pulled until the ring finally slipped free.

Kevin snatched it from my hand, stood and backed toward the door. Hesitated and shifted his feet. Brought the gun back up. “Down on the floor! Face first.”

Judy and I obeyed. Pat grabbed my hand and squeezed. Afraid to rest on my stomach, I rolled slightly to the side.

Why had we put the ad in the paper about the moving sale? Why had we let Kevin in our apartment hours earlier to look at our furniture?

We invited death to our door.

Would he kill Pat first and work his way down the line? What would it sound like? Would I feel it or just slip away? Would this baby be with me in Heaven right away?

Lord, please, protect this baby.  

There were so many things to wrestle out, but no time to work them through. Half curled into a fetal position, I waited, wanting it to be over.

Nothing happened.

I glanced up, careful not to move my head. Kevin rummaged through my purse, pocketed my wallet. I stared at his shoes—black sneakers, white laces, Nike stripes—watched him walk closer, the gun hanging at his side.

I closed my eyes again, entirely powerless to save my child.

Lord, please, protect this baby

The Nikes shuffled back a step. “Get up. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. Come out, you’re dead.”

Pat quickly pulled me up, pushing me into the bathroom, locking the door after all three of us were inside. I slumped onto the edge of the bathtub. Dizziness spun around my head and my legs went numb.

The screen door slammed and after a moment, Pat carefully turned the door handle and peeked out. Kevin had disappeared.

It was over.

Hours later, my heart had yet to settle into a regular beat. My stomach tightened and rolled. Tea wasn’t helping. Neither was rocking back and forth on the edge of Judy’s bed, but I was grateful she asked us to stay with her tonight. I was never going back into that apartment again.

Our seminary friend, Brent, sat in the rocking chair across the room.

“I’m not ever going back inside the apartment.” The teacup wavered in my hands. I put it down on the nightstand.

“It’s okay if you don’t.” Brent rocked a moment, his hands on his knees. “But later, when you can breathe again, remember that you weren’t alone tonight. Jesus was with you.”

“Was He?” I hadn’t felt Him there.

The rocking chair scraped along the floor as Brent dragged it closer to the bed. “He was. I’ll show you. Picture yourself back in your living room.”

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

Brent leaned forward and pulled my hands into his. “Close your eyes.”

After a few deep breaths, I closed my eyes. I was back in the apartment. I watched Kevin pull open the screen door, reach into his black jacket and pull out the gun.

My eyes snapped open. “It’s too real. I’m still there. I’m trying to forget this day, not relive it.”

“Close your eyes and look behind Kevin. Jesus is standing there—completely in control. He’s whispering in Kevin’s ear. ‘You can wave that gun around, but I won’t let you hurt them. They’re mine, not yours.’”

I closed my eyes and tried to see Jesus.

But all I saw was Kevin.

Six weeks later sun streamed through the glass window in our hotel room, bathing me in a rectangular glow. After stretching along the large, soft bed, I looked at the clock—9:00 am. Moving day was tomorrow.

These last six weeks, the hotel had been my safe haven—a gift from God, complete with maid service and a breakfast buffet. Miraculously, we were moving to Colorado! Pat received his transfer papers the day after the incident. As part of his relocation package, the company agreed to put us up in a hotel on this end of the move, rather than on the Colorado side. I hadn’t set foot in the apartment since that night.

Dressed in jeans and his favorite Packer’s sweatshirt, Pat stood by the bed. “We need to go back and get anything that’s important to you because the mover’s are putting our stuff into storage.”

I rolled away from him, burying my face in the pillow. “You pack.”

The bed dipped and his hand rested on my arm. “Lori, please. Just walk in, pick up what you want and then we’ll leave.”

I was safe here in the hotel. I didn’t want to go back.

Pat rubbed my back through the covers, leaned over, and kissed my neck. “Get dressed. Ride with me.”

I shook my head.

He whispered in my ear. “You can wait in the car and boss me around through the window.”

The mental picture made me smile. “Fine. But I’m not going in.”

Pat parked in front of the apartment, kissed my cheek, and disappeared through our front door. The police had never caught Kevin—I wasn’t sure they’d ever really looked for him—and in the back of my mind I wondered if he would come back. Suddenly, being in the car alone didn’t feel safe. I opened the door and heaved my pregnant body off the seat.

I only got as far as the sidewalk before I congealed on the concrete.

Birds sung. The sun shone. And sweat trickled down my back. Staring at the front door stole my breath. My hands flew to my belly. The baby kicked, pulling me out of paralysis.

My foot slid forward and pushed against the screen door. The TV remote lay on the floor where Judy dropped it. Pillows were piled on the couch. My slippers peeked out from under the glass end table. Everything was the same—as if we walked away and hadn’t come back—exactly like we had.

How many times had I begged that night—Lord, please protect this baby? And He had. But I was still afraid.

My ring finger tingled. It felt naked without my ring.

I inched forward and paused where Kevin had stood. What had he been thinking that night? Had he come here to rob and kill us and then changed his mind? Had there been a plan at all? Or was he too high to think anything through? What drove someone to do what he had done—meeting with us earlier, sharing about his fiancée, fabricating such an intricate story? Had there been any truth to his words?

My legs trembled. Before they gave out, I made it to the edge of the couch and closed my eyes. I could still see Kevin in front of the door—gun lifted, black jacket hanging open, greasy ponytail. My breathing quickened. I squeezed my hands into fists and thought about what Brent had said.

Jesus was standing behind Kevin. Jesus was the one in control.

And then suddenly I could see Him behind Kevin—glowing and full of power, filling the room with warmth and peace. Tears slid down my cheeks.

My hand flattened on the couch, the fabric soft against my palm. The other hand rested on my stomach.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I erased Kevin from the picture and left Jesus standing there alone.

The fear wound into a tight little ball, growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared. “Thank you for protecting this baby.”

My eyes flew open and fell on the front door where the sun entered and brightened the room. Grateful for the baby’s life, all our lives, and for the peace in my heart, I smiled.

I pushed off the couch and went to help Pat pack in the bedroom.  


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I spent last weekend up north in Bayfield, Wisconsin. I had not experienced such a spectacular fall season since moving to Texas over five years ago. The entire trip, I couldn’t stop gazing at the profound beauty surrounding me.

Vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows dotted the landscape. Had the colors deepened since I’d last been here?

Fallen leaves covered springy green grass and gray fractured sidewalks, crunching under my feet. Had the dying leaves grown crisper?

The smoky smell of dried firewood seeped from fire pits and wood burning stoves to warm the air. Had that inviting scent intensified?

What changed?

I did.

Separation dimmed my memories of this awesome display. I had forgotten how amazing fall could be. When I took the time to come back and view the wonder, I remembered all the fall seasons that came before.

That’s how it is when I set my Bible on the shelf. I forget how God’s Word speaks into my life as a moving, living force. The relevance dims with the distance of time, until I skim through the pages and begin to read. Then the words flow and come alive in arrays of colors even more amazing than autumn in Bayfield.

                                                                                                                                                                Happy fall! Happy reading!

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Why does God teach me the most valuable lessons at the center of my rawest moments? Whether I’m humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed or aching—those are the times He reveals the deepest truths.

For the fourth year in a row, I attended the annual North Texas Christian Writer’s conference held in mid-September. As usual, the workshops offered impressive teachers and valuable information, but what I took away from the weekend had nothing to do with writing tips. God had a bigger revelation for me—that words, often spoken without thought, can construct and create or damage and destroy.

I wish I could tell you I gleaned this pearl of wisdom from dancing out of the conference on a high. However, God rarely teaches me during a happy moment—maybe because I don’t always listen when I’m confident, secure, and delighted with myself.

Instead, He used a disappointing critique with one of the faculty to illustrate how flippant words do more harm than no words at all. Despite how desperate I am to hit the “rewind” button on the little breakdown I had Saturday morning at the conference—a meltdown large enough to prompt a dash out to my car where I could hide until my mascara stopped running down my face—God moved my heart in a major way. Using humility. I hate that word, almost as much as I hate the word patience. I try not to ask Him for either of those lessons. But He always knows what I need.

Being an artist, any kind of artist, makes for an emotional rollercoaster ride. What we write and paint illustrates the essence of who we are, and when other people don’t love our art, it feels as though they don’t love us.

I’m pretty certain I’m not alone on this rollercoaster. We all hold something close to our heart—our job, hobby, skill, talent, our children, marriage, or friendships. I know that as a mom who strives to build my kids’ character nothing pops my balloon faster than a well-placed dart targeted toward my deficiencies as a parent.

Yes, I want to stretch and grow as a person and a writer. In order to do that, my heart must be teachable. Yet, no matter how willing I am to learn, I still ache when someone criticizes my work or dismisses my effort—constructively or otherwise.

Hard work and perseverance will move me toward my goals. Poorly placed criticism can still be useful. There’s always a small truth that I can take away, but I work so much better with encouragement. None of us was made to walk alone. I Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (NIV). We need each other. Having someone push you up the mountain, in the midst of crippling criticism or personal crisis, makes the difference between falling down and re-energizing for the climb.

I choose to take what I learned at the bottom of the rollercoaster and use it as momentum to scale the rise and take another ride. And when I get to the top? I will remember that meltdown in the parking lot and remind myself that anyone can criticize, but it takes a special person to encourage, and that’s the person I want to be.

I challenge you to carefully consider the words of your mouth. Be an encourager, not a destroyer. Open your mouth and spread the love!

Link to this article in Crosswalk: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/the-power-of-the-tongue.html

If you liked this article, please pass it on!

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Please welcome my very first guest blogger. 

Nova Logo Antwuan Malone is a freelance writer and blogger who desires to engage in conversations that challenge Christians to (re)think about how to love the world and each other. You can learn and read more about his blog. 

Candid Christianity at http://antwuanmalone.com/about
twitter: @antwuanmalone.com    facebook.com/antwuanmalone

View judge-not...jpg in slide showMan, I hope I don’t turn into a grumpy, old man!

I can see it. Me, standing on my proverbial porch, shaking a cane at the next generation of Christians. I can almost hear the yells.

“Stop judging me, Old Man. Get over it!”

God knows I don’t want to be that guy. And yet, lately, I get so frustrated with how we toss around biblical phrases. I’ve already written about the mostoverused word in our society. Now, let’s talk a little about one of the most overused, under-understood, phrases floating about in the winds of conversations. You may even say it yourself!

“Don’t judge me!”

Ah. The crime of the age. The crime de jour. Judging.

It’s amazing how well we know the scriptures that protect us from conviction and feelings of guilt. Sure, we know what sin is, and we know that “no one is perfect “And yes, we all know Jesus said “not to judge.” Swirl all that together and you often end up the idea that your sin disqualifies you from telling me about my sin. And before we know it, that all-powerful “h” word gets tossed around like a ping pong ball at a championship ping pong tourney.

<Sigh.> Oh how I despise the misplaced tossing of a “hypocrite” grenade in otherwise helpful conversations.

But we live in a “don’t judge me” society, in an Age Of Entitleds, a “want it my way” generation who has its own versions of right and wrong. Americans, hate critique, but love criticizing. Myself included. On my blog site I’m critical, often. But the question is: Is critiquing the same as judging, or does the Bible mean something different when it references judging?

 View judge-not...png in slide show

“Don’t Judge Me!”

Right in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount, in Matthew 7:1-5, are the magic words. (as you can see, I love the KJV version)

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Paul says it similarly in Romans 14:10-13

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”

There you have it, the biblical justification for the morally sensitive chap of our day. Interpret these verses at face value and you’ll come away with a false teaching that only the clean can point out the dirty, that only the perfect can mention the sins of the imperfect.

But what about the other verses. Verses like the one immediately following the passage in Matthew 7 (verse 6), where Jesus says,

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Wait, what?  Who is Jesus calling dogs and swine?  And how will we know them if we don’t performs some judgment? Are these the same dogs Paul mentions in Philippians 3:2 where he says:

“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.”

Evil workers? Wouldn’t we have to judge people by some sort of criteria to know whether they are, as the Bible calls them, swine and dogs? Is Jesus being contradictory?

What Does It All Mean, Basil?

If you know who Basil is, kudos for you!

The answer is no. I don’t think the message is contradictory. Throughout the Bible, “judging” holds several meanings. For brevity, we won’t talk about them all.

But it’s worth considering what “judging” meant to the people Jesus and Paul spoke to. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus’ sermon on the mount was largely to Pharisees and other followers of the Law. These Pharisees classified people in three categories. You were either a hopeless sinner destined for Hell, a yet-to-be-convert, or well, one of them – the righteous. And by righteous, I mean just that. Righteous. Clean. By holding to the law, Pharisees literally considered themselves without fault, “more holy than thou.”

The irony, from Jesus’ perspective, lay in the inability of this group of “religious” people to see God’s real work of Truth through His Son. The “beam,” then, is the blinding misconception of what God desired from them and their ignorance of God’s plan of salvation for all. So when Jesus mentioned “judging” in Matthew, He was attacking the idea that a Pharisee (or anyone) could determine who was “hellbound” based on the Works Model of the Law. The Pharisees were oblivious to the law of Grace Jesus’ death later introduced. Who are they (we) to judge by works if God ultimately will judge by grace?

More simply said, Jesus cautioned them (and us) not to “judge” the destiny of anyone’s soul, whether Hell or Heaven. That’s interesting considering how quickly we send earthly menaces like Hitler, Osama, and the like to Hell, while sending Ghandi, Mother Theresa and others to heaven. Most people would agree with these judgments, and yet these are the very sort Jesus warned against. Jesus is saying we, like the Pharisees, have no idea what we’re doing when we pronounce who goes where.

Further, He is not telling us to ignore the sins of those around us. Quite the opposite. Sin is sin because of its destructive nature. The true heart of a Christian hates sin because of path to disease, disaster, and death it carves. To stand by and do/say noting while someone hurt themselves through their sin in the name of “not judging” is not loving our neighbor as ourselves, or edifying/equipping the saints.

Some of the main functions of the church community is to accept people despite their sin,to make room for the revealing of that sin, and to accommodate accountability for the removal of that sin as we grow more into Christ’s likeness. The latter cannot be done if we’re afraid to admit and repent (change direction) from sin, or are afraid to help urge our brothers and sisters in Christ to repent due to embarrassment or fear.

Jesus has not given us a license to do whatever we want. His statement does not relieve us from “feeling bad” or “looking bad” due to the sin we commit. His point was simple to leave eternal placement to God, but to also (judge) encourage our neighbors toward Christ, and our brothers and sisters in Christ toward holiness.  That’s what’s really going on.

Anything else is probably some form of selfish face-saving.

Question of the Day!

How would you define “judging?”  Do you think Christians should judge?! Check out this post in Candid Christianity and leave a comment if you have one. 

Image Credit: Lisamarie Babik, used under Creative Commons license

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