After kissing his six children goodbye, he was on his way to the airport. On the curb at the airport, after his father led him and another preacher in prayer, Bryan Matthew Dockens also kissed his wife goodbye, knowing it would be about a month before he’d be back from South Africa.
After traveling for thirty hours and catching up on some sleep, there was enough time before their 17 consecutive days of preaching to work in a tour at Robben Island to see Nelson Mandela’s 2x2-meter cell where he was held for 18 years during the apartheid. The tour was especially stirring given the fact that it was led by former political prisoners who spoke openly of their forgiveness and reconciliation with their former tormentors. Bryan was moved by the sobering stories of moral courage.
In the course of his travels during the month he was gone, there would be nine flights total to get to all the congregations they were helping. Many of the subjects covered were by the request of the members or leadership at those locations. The assemblies often extended three hours by the time the local leadership stood up to summarize and clarify the sermon to voluntarily demonstrate they had understood correctly what had been taught, and all the follow-up questions asked by the attendees were answered. Though the assemblies were lengthy, all attendees consistently appeared quite engaged. Often a translator would be present, and the songs would be sung in Zulu, and other times the services were conducted in English, even if the sign out front was in Afrikaans. If thunder and lightning were exploding overhead, they’d simply shout over it as needed, and when, even on a nice day, electricity was suddenly unavailable, that was also considered par for the course. Topics ranged from the Lord’s Supper to church leadership, idolatrous worship, gender roles in the church, Calvinism, personal growth, the dangers of social media, and much more.
Bryan has been preaching in a full-time capacity for almost a quarter-century, and I had to smile when I learned that though most of the people he has baptized into Christ were baptized in a church house’s baptistry, he has also baptized eleven people in a swimming pool, five in a bathtub, one in a birthing tub and three in a trough! In the course of preaching in Africa, Bryan has learned the ins and outs of conducting a tent meeting from his brothers Mzwandile Gazu and Shadrach Shabalala in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. After he’d been preaching in New Mexico for a few months, he made use of what he’d learned by hosting his first “tent meeting” early the first summer of his work in the Rio Grande Valley.
In preparation, the congregation ordered custom vinyl banners to hang from the pavilion and park fence while they were there, making sure to word the banners in such a way that they could make use of them again and again on future occasions. They also left flyers in many of the local businesses, advertised twice in the weekly Valencia County News Bulletin, and spread the news of their upcoming tent meeting on Facebook, including within a local 14,000-member group in Belén called “Good Stuff”. The three-day, five-session event was held in the heart of Belén at the Anna Becker Park Pavillion, and about one-third of those who attended were not members of the local congregation. While there they gave away Bibles and hymnals, and though the outdoor preaching required Bryan to, at times, speak loud enough to be heard over barking dogs, exhausts of motorcycles, and people playing sports, he was unbothered given that such is to be expected and has been happening since from the beginning of the church’s speaking the word in all kinds of public places. In the couple of months that followed the meeting, studies transpired and as a result, the eternities were changed for two souls that are worth more than the whole world. Preaching in a location where souls can stumble upon something precious they were not even necessarily looking for is brilliant, and Bryan strongly encourages other evangelists elsewhere to consider taking up this effective, old-school method and is willing to answer any questions from those interested in the process.
Our delightful visit with the Dockens family was about four months after this tent meeting, and though we’d never met, this sweet family showed us the warmest of hospitality. After enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal together, we enjoyed a great conversation. When we retired for the evening, though my van was toasty warm, for whatever reason, I got the chills in the middle of the night and woke Sunday morning with a sore throat and thus stayed home from worship to try to knock it out with some extra rest and grapefruit extract. Though I got twelve straight hours of writing done that day of quarantining, I would have gladly traded that written progress to meet the good brethren there at the Rio Grande Valley congregation and to take the family walk that I missed along the canal around sunset.
Several months after our visit, I had reason to ask Bryan to share with me what he had gleaned from his studies about what our Lord says on the topic of judging. His astute observations were so airtight, that I knew they would be of great benefit to my readers. You can find the sermon in its entirety online on their YouTube channel under the title “I Did Not Come to Judge”, but I’d like to share here what I thought to be some of Bryan’s best points:
First was the point that though many people take false comfort in Jesus saying in John 12:47, “I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world”, they are erroneously assuming that He will never judge the world. They only misunderstand this for having failed to read the verse that follows, which goes on to explain, “ …he who rejects Me and does not receive My words has that which judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” We see then that when Jesus said “I have not come to judge”, He wasn't talking about what He would always do with regard to judgment, but rather what He was doing in his first advent (arrival) on earth, for on this appearance, His purpose was to present the good news of Salvation to everyone, which could prepare them for His return to render judgment, for “...truly these times of ignorance God overlooked but now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the Dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Similarly, Bryan pointed out the lethality of assuming that when Jesus told the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you” we can think “Sweet! I can do whatever I want! If the Savior won't condemn me, how could any man on earth ever be qualified to tell me that what I did was wrong?” Given the entire Bible tells us from cover to cover, over and over again that adultery will keep one out of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9) and is a sin worthy of removal from the church (1 Corinthians 5:13), and will send unrepentant souls to hell (Revelation 21:8), such a conclusion would be but wishful thinking.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus says “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”, but in context, Bryan made the point that this is no more a blanket statement to never judge than the John 6:27 statement “Do not work for the food which perishes” is a blanket statement to never work for food. Rather, it is a warning that goes on to clarify, “... in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Remember the last time you got something in your eye? How interested were you in dealing with it immediately? If someone sees your weepy inability to keep functioning and starts in your direction with some eye drops to get that little speck flushed out, the best ones for that rescue are most certainly those without a stick poking out of their head.
Thus, those who are honest with the scriptures admit that what’s being addressed here is hypocritical judging, that is, applying to other people a standard that one is not willing to submit to oneself. Hypocrisy always disqualifies one from judging (Romans 2:1-4).
When Christ commands in John 7:24 that we judge with righteous judgment, such is both non-hypocritical and likewise, not according to appearance (1st Samuel 16:7). It is to not render judgments with an arrogant attitude (Galatians 6:1-2), or rashly (Proverbs 12:18), or without love for the soul that is self-destructing (2 Corinthians 12:15). To judge is to discern and Philippians 1:9 connects the ability to discern with love when it says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”. Likewise, Hebrews 5:14 connects the ability to discern with maturity when it says that only the mature “have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Discernment is an ability in which Christians are taught to “grow,” and when we do so, we are able to distinguish good from evil so we can help one another. To say, “I don't judge”, is an indefensible excuse because by saying, “I don't judge” we are essentially saying, “I have not grown and I have not increased in love enough to discern.”
May we never stop at those first two words “judge not” in an effort to feel absolved of the responsibility to help correct another's wrongs or reject correction from another. May we never persist in our own sins, to use them as an excuse to not help others. Let’s instead overcome those sins through the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus so that we can be qualified and well-suited to help one another remove “specks”. It’s why we’re here.
When one repeats what the Judge has said, he or she is not judging, but is mercifully letting another know what the Judge has said in writing so that he or she can gain maturity in Christ and thus be ready to meet his or her Maker face to face. Calling sin “sin”, is most certainly not en vogue, but before a doctor can administer a cure for one’s disease, both the doctor and the patient must acknowledge the sickness. When the prescription saves your life, you owe him or her profound gratitude. How much more the person attempting to snatch you from eternal fire so that instead you can experience eternal pleasure? These are the ones that love us best. Let’s be grateful (Colossians 3:15).
Rio Grande Valley Church of Christ
75 Sherrod Boulevard in Belén, New Mexico
Box 989, Belén, NM 87002