Like a lot of people, I’ve spent several hours in front of the television, or on the computer following the Winter Olympics, even though I’m not much of a sports guy. I have marveled at what the athletes have done. Often they have accomplished moves that had I not seen them I would not have believed humans were capable of such feats.
As I have watched the various venues, I have been intrigued with the scoring and the determination of who wins the gold, silver, and bronze. Hockey is pretty straight forward, though the refereeing can be a little dicey. Whoever has the highest score at the end of three periods wins. Bobsledding, speed skating and the slalom are simple, too. Fastest time wins. But there are several competitions that the medals are determined by judgment calls. Snowboard and ski slopestyle and figure skating are good examples. The athletes go down a course, or complete a program. A team of judges then deduct points and add points determined by how well the athletes meet certain objectives and criteria. There are specific guidelines that the judges follow, but much of it is still a judgment call. Some of the competitions have been close—so close that it might not have been the athlete’s skill that determined the outcome as much as the judges’ perspectives.
While watching the action in Sochi, it occurred to me that life is more like figure skating than it is the giant slalom. Life involves more judgment calls than it does precise measurements. This is comforting, for the most part. It is nice to know that true success or ultimate failure cannot be determined by a numerical formula. The value of relationships cannot be quantified, and the fullness of life cannot be accurately determined. Where I see a problem arising is when Christians make judgment calls based on what they believe to be accurate measurements.
A short time ago, I was talking with a good friend over a cup of coffee. Since he’s an active member of a non-denominational congregation and I’m a Lutheran pastor, the conversation strayed to things religious. At one point in our conversation, my friend stated that there were many people who worshiped at his congregation who were not Christians. I was taken aback, at first, but then I realized that what he was saying was that there were many people who didn’t meet his standards for being a Christian. Using his standards as precise measurements he was able to make a judgment call. Of course all of his standards for determining whether or not a person was a Christian were based on sound Biblical principles—at least in his mind. I couldn’t be too critical of him, because I had been there and done that. Confession time!
I was raised in a pious branch of Lutheranism. We said that we lived by grace, but included with that grace was an extensive list of do’s and don’ts. Smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and cursing were all forbidden. We could say “gosh”, “darn,” “heck,” and “jeese,” but that was about it. Pre-marital sex was anything past a chaste kiss. My young mind accepted these premises without question—well most of them at least—and they became my precise measurements for determining the validity of a person’s faith. Obviously, even back in the good old days there were a lot of people who didn’t make the grade; they were out and not in.
Imagine my surprise when later in life I met Christians—people with a vibrant faith—who danced, and others who played cards. My precise measurements began to crumble and I began to question my judgment calls. Now, after many years of associating with such people, I have become one of them, and I’ve discovered that these precise measurements have absolutely nothing to do with my relationship with God.
The precise measurements that help us determine our judgment calls come in all shapes and sizes. On several occasions, I have struck up conversations with fellow travelers or conventioneers and discovered that we were both Christians. During the course of the conversation, though, a judgment call was made and I was found lacking. Our dialogue went something like this:
My partner in conversation will say, “Wow, isn’t the Christian life fantastic! If I had known how great it was, I would have become a Christian sooner. You know, I only became a Christian five years ago at a revival held by a congregation in town. When did you become a Christian?”
I reply, “Well, I was baptized three months after I was born, so I’ve been a Christian almost all of my life.”
No, that’s not what I mean. When did you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Now there was a time in my life as a teenager when I changed and began to take my relationship with Jesus more seriously, but I’m not going to tell my new acquaintance this. So, I say, “I became a child of God at my baptism. Jesus accepted me as his brother and his disciple at that time.”
The conversation ebbs. Brows furrow, eyes darken and a frown appears on the man’s face. I know that the vote has been taken and I have been found lacking. No longer am I a brother in Christ. I am now a person who needs to be saved.
Christians tell ourselves that we should judge—the Scripture tells us not to—but we still do. There seems to be a desire deep within us to determine who is in and who is out; who is good and who is bad. If it isn’t dancing, or decision, it’s worship attendance, or service projects.
It takes a determined effort to stop making judgment calls. For some time, now, I have kept reminding myself of a couple of verses of Scripture: John 3:16, “For God so loved the WORLD …” and Ephesians 2:8, “We have been saved by grace through faith and this is a gift …” Everyone I meet is God’s creation and a child of God. Everyone is a part of God’s extended family. Everyone is in and no one is out. These are the precise measurements that I can use to make my judgment calls. I have found that making judgment calls is now easier. In fact, I don’t even need to make them. Everyone is a winner. Everyone stands on the podium and takes home a medal.