Confessions of a Former Pharisee

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I used to be a Pharisee. One of those well-meaning religious people who totally missed God walking in front of them because they were so consumed with rules and spirituality. Yup, that was me.

And it wasn’t just back in my days in a cultic sub-group of Christianity. Honestly, I was a Pharisee up until a few years ago. I can still be a Pharisee right now.

I’ve been that religious person who only cares about people cleaning the outside of their cup and whitewashing their tombs. (Matthew 23:25-28) The one who wants you to fix your behaviors while missing your hurting heart. God used four teenage girls in leggings to remind me again just the other day.

When I’m not writing, or taking care of my family, or having coffee with friends, I’m probably Shipt shopping. That’s right, I’m a professional grocery shopper. LOL! Not exactly what I imagined myself doing for a career, but it’s all good. 🙂

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The other day I delivered to the Life Skills teacher at a local high school. I parked out front and waited for her students to come collect the pizza making supplies I’d just purchased. Four young girls showed up with a cart. They were polite and friendly as we unloaded the groceries. Pretty girls, put-together and made-up, they were typical of the upper class, suburban area where I work.

I shut my trunk, hopped back in my car, and started to drive away. Out of nowhere, tears began to sting my eyes and I felt my heart break. I’ve been learning to pay better attention to emotion and not assume that I know where its coming from. What I discovered this time surprised me. I wasn’t crying for those girls. I was crying for me.  They were tears of brokenness and repentance for the person that I have been.

See, every one of those girls was wearing leggings. A couple of years ago, that’s all I would have noticed. I would have been upset at their lack of decency and I would have missed their precious hearts. But that’s not who I am anymore.

I used to be a pastor’s wife. My husband and I went to Bible college right after we got married. We were in full-time ministry of some sort, either Christian camping or church, for the next seven years. I thought that I was free from all of the legalism and rules that I had grown up with in my teens and early twenties. But I look back and I see someone still trapped in religion, someone still obsessed with behavior.

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I cared more about people’s outward actions and appearances than I did about their hearts. Good Christian kids didn’t date too early or too much, they didn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops or two piece swim suits, and they came to youth group every week. I pushed good behaviors on people in the hopes that their hearts would change.

But I had it backwards.

There were some women who came to our church that I didn’t think were actually Christians. I remember overhearing a conversation they were having about taking one of those big pedal bikes around to the local breweries. I didn’t say anything out loud, but my face said everything anyway. Good people definitely didn’t do that kind of thing. Those women eventually stopped coming to my church and at the time I supposed they just weren’t actually serious about God. But honestly, I think they probably felt judged and condemned. I think I probably helped to push them away.

I’ve held a lot of stones over the years, and I’ve thrown a lot of them too. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until one day when the stones were pointed at me. I was the one who had messed up and made a mistake. I was the one who fell into sin. And I was the one who felt the judgement and condemnation from the other religious people holding stones.

That was when everything changed.

As I sat in the dust of condemnation and rejection, I found that Jesus was sitting there with me. Brokenness brought me face to face with my Savior, and in Him I found forgiveness and unconditional love, even in the middle of my mess.

I used to think that sin was avoidable…that we could work hard enough to be good people. Of course perfection was impossible, but somehow goodness was attainable. I thought that God wanted us to be good. I thought goodness held value.

I don’t believe that anymore.

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Sin is more than just the things we do or say that are wrong. Sin is the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It reaches into the very motives of my heart. I have been completely broken and corrupted by sin. There is no getting it together or being good. It’s never going to happen. And it doesn’t need to.

Because Jesus.

The more I sense the depth of my sin, the more I know I need rescue. I’m lost, helpless and without hope. But Jesus loves me. He has forgiven ALL of my sins. He is with me always and He wants me. I’ve known these truths since I was a child, but somehow the more broken I become, the more precious they are.

I don’t think that God values goodness as much as He values brokenness. All of my attempts at goodness are just dirty rags anyway. But when I am willing to just be broken, to repent, and to let go, then I am swept up in the beauty of His glorious grace. God has gifted me His incomprehensible goodness because of Jesus, and that has nothing to do with my pathetic attempts at fixing myself.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little… And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace'” Luke 7:47, 50.

The more I recognize my need of a Savior, the more I love Jesus. It’s not a passive love either; its a gut-wrenching LOVE. I would do anything for Him, give up anything, whatever He asks. I just want Jesus whatever that means.

Jesus wants my heart. He is after your heart too. It’s not about being good or looking like we have it together. It’s about being broken people who need a Savior.

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Embracing Our Sin

Oh wow, guys. I am a truly awful person!

That’s not how this blog post was supposed to start. I had my post finished, scheduled to publish tomorrow at 7am, and was talking with my husband before bed. I decided to read it to him. And guess what? He wasn’t a fan. Hubby decided to make a few critiques and we got in a nice little argument. And then I got stubborn, and irrational, and trashed my post (which WordPress fortunately saved for me anyway.) We continued to fight while getting ready for bed, and then enjoyed some stubborn silence in the dark. I was doing a great job making excuses for my actions, words and attitude. Then it hit me: this was a great introduction to the point I was trying to get across in my article! I rolled my eyes at God’s humor, practiced embracing my sin, hugged and apologized to my husband, and got out of bed to tweek this blog post.

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The truth is, all of us are a sinful mess. There is nothing that we do, apart from Jesus, that isn’t affected somehow by sin. So glad I could be your example! Ug!

It is incredibly painful, to come to that place where you look at your own heart and life, and realize there is nothing good inside of you, that all of it is tainted by sin. Even worse, there is nothing we can do about it. It goes against our natural pride to admit it, to accept it.

If you are like me, we tend to justify and excuse our sin. “My husband was being rude and inconsiderate, so he deserved what he got.” That’s just a taste of what was going through my head… Agh! It sounds so much worse in writing. But it’s true, we want our issues to be someone else’s fault, we want to feel vindicated, and we want to pretend it’s not wrong.

Or, we like to cover up our problems with a good coat of pretend perfection. I didn’t have to tell you about what a jerk I was tonight. I could have just smiled and said nice Jesus things in this post. I could have made you feel bad about yourself, but made you think I had it all together. We do this. We try to fake out the people around us. We even try to fake out God. Guess what? It doesn’t work!

What if we stopped making excuses, stopped pretending, and just embraced our sin?

What do I mean by embracing our sin? I DON’T mean that we just accept our sin, and live in it, and make excuses for it. I DO mean that we become honest about our mess, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Why?

Because Jesus is the most beautiful when we are the most broken. We cannot fully appreciate Him when we are trying to be perfect on our own or when we are attempting to justify our sin. When we see our desperate need, then our salvation comes alive! Because there in the wreckage, Jesus meets us and offers us forgiveness, life, and a relationship with Him.

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I love these words from my friend, Richard. “I was broken, broken down to the reality of how much I needed a savior. I was just as bad as the most vile person imaginable. Like Jesus says “looking at a brother with hatred, is the same to God as murder”. Strangely, I found hope in that thought. It was like I could quit “trying” to be good. So I surrendered.

What stops us from getting to this point?

Why are we so reluctant to face our sin?

Maybe our sin is what’s stopping us from dealing with our sin. Maybe we are too prideful to want to admit it, and too selfish to want to stop it. Maybe we are too self-absorbed to realize that what would truly satisfy the cravings of our heart is a genuine relationship with the God who created us.

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I want to learn to embrace my sin.

It’s pretty easy to look inside my heart and see that I am broken (as I so clearly demonstrated for you tonight). I’m FAR from perfect, more of a royal mess actually! So, what do I do about it? I could look at my sinful heart and become depressed or discouraged (that’s really pride). Or I could start making excuses and try to ignore my mess (pride again). But, I want Jesus!

I want to embrace my sinful state (yup, that’s who I am) and fling myself at Jesus.

One day Jesus was talking with some religious leaders who thought there were pretty good. An obviously sinful woman came in and was scandalously loving on Jesus, crying over his feet and anointing him with expensive ointment. The religious leaders were horrified, but Jesus had this to say, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

It’s not like any of us only “sins a little”, but sometimes we think that’s true. And as a result, our love for Jesus is small. Seeing our sin, the very depths of the yuck in our heart, the secret things we struggle with, the thoughts, motives, etc…and realizing how lost we are…accepting and embracing that as truth…well, that makes us love Jesus MORE! I don’t know about you, but I want MORE!!!

I am going to stop pretending, stop making rules, stop justifying, stop making excuses, and just ask the Holy Spirit to show me the truth about my sin. And then when I see it, and am horrified, I am going to run to Jesus: to the cross where He died in my place, and to the empty grave proving His power over sin and death. I’m going to throw myself on Him and His mercy, believing that I am forgiven, that despite what I see, God seems me blameless through Jesus. I am going to LOVE Him, and keep getting to know Him because I CAN!!!