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Joel Belz - Who am I to judge my neighbor?

WORLD Radio - Joel Belz - Who am I to judge my neighbor?

We’re often too quick to jump to conclusions about someone else’s spiritual condition

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

A quick reminder for later this week: Friday we’ll be hearing Listener Feedback. So if you have something you’d like to share, now’s the time to send it! We welcome your emails, of course. But we really like to hear your voice! You can call our listener feedback line and leave a voicemail. That number is 202-709-9595.

REICHARD: Or better yet, record your comments on your smartphone and email them to us. You can find instructions for recording a voice memo at wng.org/preroll.

Alright. Here now is WORLD founder Joel Belz on thinking a second time about neighborhood annoyances.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: I’d never thought of a John Deere tractor as a tool of evangelistic outreach. And even now, I’m still not totally sure I’ve got this whole picture in proper focus.

I’ve been thinking about this since a recent Sunday morning when one of our neighbors uncharacteristically interrupted our typically quiet agenda with the roar of her green and yellow lawn mower. Never before had she invaded our Sunday serenity in such a manner. What had happened in her life to prompt such a change?

All sorts of crazy questions and silly conclusions raced through my brain. Was she listening to a new preacher? Was she going suddenly to a different church? Had she simply changed her mind about sabbath keeping? Does she even know what that quaint phrase means in this secular society?

The fact is that all of us—would-be covenant keepers and covenant ignorers—are constantly sending messages back and forth about changes in our circumstances. But who knows? What we’re watching might be something as monumental as a death in the family, dictating that somebody new has to step forward to mow the lawn. Or it might be as trivial as someone having forgotten to fill the gas can, leaving one of yesterday’s tasks for today.

In this case, I found myself trying feebly to interpret the signals as best I could. In that process I was seriously falling back on some highly outdated tools. I say “outdated” because I think those tools were probably shaped in my childhood. When as a youngster I saw an Iowa farmer ploughing a field on Sunday, I tended immediately to pronounce him a non-believer. If I saw a gas station on Sunday with a “CLOSED” sign on the door, I glibly concluded the owner was a serious Christian. I do remember my mother’s pointedly reminding me once: “Joel, don’t forget there are other things to keep in mind!”

“But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And among those less mature habits are the knee jerk responses we too easily resort to in determining who is in the kingdom and who is not. Even for the leaders of Christ’s church, who are assigned the task of saying “yay” or “nay” to new members, it can be a nuanced decision. I think I’ve spent too many hours of the time of God’s people chasing those nuances.

But back to John Deere tractors. I wish I had through the years formed a friendship with my neighbor. That would have made it easy and natural for me to wander over and ask what had brought about this sudden change in her schedule.

Certainly, this was not quite the time to do that. I yearn instead to be ready to tell her of the freedoms God’s people are privileged to enjoy. If she has ever noticed what my mowing habits might be, does she have any sense that they are shaped more by joy than by duty? I hope so.

And if my neighbor’s John Deere helps me read the signals about what’s happening in her family’s life, isn’t that almost certainly all to the good? I need all the help on that front I can get. If we had 50-100 believers in every community sensitively reading such signals and giving faithful witness about the freedom God showers on his people, we just might end up with a huge revival.

I’m Joel Belz.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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By their fruit shall ye know them? No one aside from the Lord himself is qualified to peer in and judge your heart state or mine. The most you or I can do is collect observable facts and construct a syllogism employing admittedly fallible logic: You observe I curse my kids and spouse [thru thin apt walls or maybe open window], you observe me staggering home drunk at 2 am. You observe my cold car in the drive way on Sunday where it never moves. You can probably safely conclude that I don't know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But then again I can point to lost folks who do NONE of the preceding. Gets back to what I said about flawed logic.