I came from a place of judgment. I grew up with legalism, with no corresponding love for Jesus. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. Just the product of the culture of my church, of knowing “truth” without ever meeting Jesus. I looked at others through the lens of superiority, and myself through the lens of condemnation. Always trying. Yet never good enough for God.
When I first met Jesus, He revolutionized my life. I discovered grace, where before I experienced only shame. When I realized He could love me—me!—it changed me completely. I longed to be in His presence, to sense His acceptance, and to walk in His will. As I received His forgiveness and victory, it changed the way I viewed others. Instead of looking at their behavior, I began to see people as my wonderful, God-breathed brothers and sisters. We’re all on a different journey, but God has called us to live in community, to encourage each other.
I grew to love ministering for Jesus. To hear other people’s stories, to pray with them, to share God’s Word, became my greatest passion. For five years I had the opportunity to minister to my sisters in the local county jail. God used that experience to peel back another layer of judgment as I discovered who they really were—God’s daughters, beloved by Him.
A woman I respect highly approached me. “Jill, you should share the talk on forgiveness.”
I recently discovered that my old spirit of judgment still lives on. A group of us from Three Angels Broadcasting Network had partnered with Christmas Behind Bars, as we brought care packages and the message of salvation into prison. We first went to the women’s prison. As I looked at the hundreds of inmates, I saw only my sisters, women just like me. Broken, yet seeking redemption.
The next day we entered the men’s prison. Even though I was walking beside my husband, with our entire group, I felt small and vulnerable. I wasn’t sure if I was going to speak, or even what I would say. Certainly nothing specific or personal. The guard at the door explained that most of the inmates were sex offenders. Really? I was coming to talk with them?
Just before the men walked in, a coworker, a woman I respect highly, approached me. “Jill, you should share the talk on forgiveness that you gave to the women.”
I instantly froze, and tears filled my eyes. That was intensely personal. How could I share the story of my pain? of my shame and journey to forgiveness? These men were abusers. Why did I have to minister to them? Surely someone else could minister. That old spirit of judgment, the one I thought was gone, came and rested heavily upon me.
The men began to pour through the door. I stood next to Greg, shaking their hands as they entered.
The service began. Sitting in my chair, I hardly heard the music or what was said. A battle raged in my heart. God had clearly exposed my sin. These men came to hear the Word of God, and I sat in judgment. Yes, there are consequences to sin, but that wasn’t my job. It was God’s responsibility to convict and convert. My duty was to respond in love to anyone, anywhere.
Rising from my seat, I paused a moment, feeling incredibly defenseless, still uncertain if I should risk sharing my story. But aren’t all in need of forgiveness? Don’t all need my Savior? The words began to flow, and with that decision God broke a bit more of the spirit of judgment from my heart.
Jill Morikone is vice president and chief operations officer for Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), a supporting Adventist television network. She and her husband, Greg, live in southern Illinois and enjoy ministering together for Jesus.