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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My Best Friend, The Adulterous Woman

 

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She lay there in the dirt, torn from the embrace of her lover, caught in the very act that condemned her. They wanted to stone her. According to the law, they had every right to circle around and hurl small boulders, bruising, crushing, breaking her body, silencing her screams. But they waited to see what he would say, this young rabbi; they challenged his beliefs with her very life.

He didn’t say anything, just knelt down next to her and began to write with his finger in the dirt. She saw his hand out of the corner of her eye, felt his presence next to her. He ignored the clamoring crowd and was silent as he drew. Finally, he stood.

“Any of you who are without sin can be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again, he knelt next to her and wrote in the dirt with his finger. That was it. There was an awkward silence.

After a moment, she noticed that the crowd seemed smaller. Peering through her hair, she realized that the religious men were slowly leaving. Eventually, it was just her and Jesus alone on that dusty patch of dirt. He looked at her. She lifted her head.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” His voice was kind. She looked around. They were all gone.

“No one, sir.”

“Neither do I condemn you.” He smiled. “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

I LOVE this story! So unexpected, so against human nature, so full of grace.

Ah, grace. We sing worship songs about it, read verses about it, talk about it, but do we really understand it? Do we really believe it? Have we felt the overwhelming flood of God’s grace for ourselves? There is a strange conundrum when it comes to grace…the least deserving experience it the most. And, those who think they deserve it rarely find enough to scrape together.

You can’t earn something and get it for free at the same time.

“…that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:7-9

Friends, it was not the good, moral, religious people who enjoyed the grace of Jesus Christ on his first visit to planet earth. It was the rejects, the scumbags, the dirty-filthy-sinners who felt the full power of his amazing grace.

Here is where it gets sticky. Most of us would never pretend we are earning our way to heaven through good works. We would quickly say that salvation comes by faith. To us then, Paul asks this question, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Gal 3:3

Evaluate your heart with me:

  • How do you feel about personal failure?
  • Are you defensive when people correct or challenge you?
  • Do you ever think that God must be disappointed in you?
  • When was the last time you “avoided God” because you were too messed up?
  • Why do you do good things?

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I had an interesting conversation with a college student at camp this summer. She was struggling with fear and anxiety, worried she wasn’t doing enough for God, and feeling like a failure. After listening for a while, I asked her why she was concerned about doing these “good things”. She told me that it was the right thing to do. I asked why. She told me it made God happy. I asked why doing good things makes God happy. She said because He wants us to do good. I asked why.

“Because He does…”

Does He? Does God really want us to try to be good?

I think too many of us are struggling to be “good” when we should just be sitting in the dirt being sinners. Because, guess who’s sitting there in the dust next to us?

We find Jesus in the dirt.

Grace is only good news if you are broken. “Good people” find grace offensive  because it says that we have nothing to offer and that nothing we do makes any difference. It slaps our pride in the face.

Another conundrum…how can I be worth everything and nothing at the same time? My self effort at goodness is worth nothing, but my broken, sinful humanity is worth everything? Yup, that’s right. Our worthless, helpless, sinful, messed up selves are priceless in the eyes of Jesus. But our works, our efforts to clean up, our lists, our standards, our resolutions, they are just old, dirty rags, something to be thrown away. How can this be?

Welcome to the backwards, inside-out kingdom of Jesus Christ!

I’d like you to meet my new best friend, the woman caught in adultery. Can you imagine how she felt? How condemned? Judged? Guilty? Ashamed? I hate those feelings…I know them all too well… And yet, there in that painful, hard, shameful, broken place, she met Jesus. She found lavish grace. It was grace that the “good”, religious people would never taste.

I often find myself sitting in the dirt next to my sister and friend. I feel the condemnation from myself and others. It’s heavy, overwhelming. But then He is there with us, just quietly writing in the dirt. He looks at us with eyes filled with tender love and whispers, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? I shake my head; no, none of those voices matter, only His. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin.”

I can breathe again. The weight falls off. I am loved, wanted, forgiven, free. Because of grace.

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A Vision That’s Bigger than Me (Book Update)

I’m going to be honest today and just share the thoughts going through my heart and mind…give you a little glimpse into what Jesus has been doing. And, I’m begging you for prayers, lots of prayers!

My husband, who is a youth pastor, and I took some of our youth group to Chicago this past weekend for Dare 2 Share. It’s a great conference, all about teaching teens to share the gospel. I love it!

Anyway, so there I am being a youth leader, minding my own business, and suddenly God is speaking to me about my own life. Funny how that happens!

We had left the teens in the main session with our other youth leaders, and were in a special “youth leader training session”. Greg Stier, the founder of Dare 2 Share took us through six keys to being a strong leader in a shaky world. And suddenly there it was, right in front of me on the page. This quote:

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Honestly, this past year has been incredibly hard for me personally. I’ve struggled with identity. I’ve struggled with fear. Some of my “not so nice” parts have come out. I’ve felt empty. Much of the time I haven’t felt up to the challenge of writing. My book has pretty much been on hold. It’s been really humbling. (Which isn’t a bad thing.)

As I looked at this quote from Greg, I realized that I’ve basically abandoned any vision I might have had. Instead, I’ve believed the lies Satan has whispered to me: lies about not being good enough, or talented enough…lies that encouraged fear and doubt…lies that distracted me from Jesus and the power that I have in Him. I was convicted.

Just wait, it gets better! I love when Jesus shows up. 🙂

On Sunday, our pastor “just happened” to be speaking about every believer using their gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. It was a powerful sermon and I was filling in the second point (Using our Gifts is a Matter of Stewardship) when all of the sudden I felt the Holy Spirit poke me. I wrote down the words I sensed in my heart. “You have been gifted to speak truth. I want you to speak for MY glory. Expose the lies of religion. This is what I have called you to do. Stop being afraid. Catch the vision and obey Me.”

It sounds kind of crazy, but I knew that what I had written was from God. Ironically the next point was Using our Gifts is All for the Glory of God. I wrote it down.

“What do you want, Christy?” The Holy Spirit was talking again… What did I want? If I let go of my fear and doubt, if I chose to live with a vision that required an act of God to accomplish, what would it be?

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“I just want the world to know You, Jesus.” I wrote on my sermon note paper. “I want people to reject religion but search for You. I want a genuine revival in the church…a revival that happens because people actually experience grace and salvation through You. I want to speak truth. I want to destroy the Enemy’s lies.”

Friends, I’m tearing up writing this! Because, I feel the passion in my soul, but I know the terror in my heart. I can’t do this…I can’t make this happen. It would take an act of God to accomplish this vision. I think that’s what I’ve been missing.

I write about grace, and the Holy Spirit, and the power we have because of Jesus. But I’ve lived in fear thinking that I have to DO life on my own. Not any more.

By the grace of God, I am grabbing hold of this new vision. Not because I am anything special…but because I serve a God who is!

I need your prayers! 

  • My sister-in-law “just happened” to get two copies of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017 and gave me one of them. This book is full of publishers, agents, editors, writing conferences, etc. I know that if I am going to “be published” then I need an agent. I read through the descriptions and found a handful that seem to be interested in my type of writing. Pray that I send it to the right person/people.
  • In order to get my book proposal ready to send, I need to write one more chapter. The chapter is on lies we believe about the Bible. I’m struggling to get my thoughts organized. I have a lot that I want to say, but I need wisdom in how to put it together. Please pray that God will sort out my thoughts and help me to connect the dots.
  • I’m thinking that God might be asking me to do a “Bible study” walking through the lies I want to expose in my book Impostor Jesus…lies like God being disappointed in us, feeling like we need to perform and be good, etc. Just pray that I would listen to God’s voice and not to fear and doubt.
  • There is a highly recommended writers conference in North Carolina in May that I would love to attend, but financially it’s impossible. Please pray that if it’s God’s will for me He would provide the money.

Thanks, friends! For your support, encouragement, and prayers… And for letting me be honest today and loving me anyway!

A War Between

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Working at summer camp is like being under a microscope inside an incubator.Everything seems like a bigger deal than it really is: all the issues are magnified, and problems between people heat up. Personality differences surface, stress creates conflict, and I get the opportunity to clearly see my ugly sin-nature every day. Yay me…

Camp tends to show you who you really are, and sometimes it’s not pretty. So far I’ve learned that I am an emotional control freak. But, I would rather rant about an issue than actually try to solve it, particularly if it involves confrontation. (Sound familiar to any of you?) I’m not very good at giving things to God and resting. Minding my own business is hard.

But, there are moments when I am a loving, generous, caring woman with a true servant’s heart. Moments when I feel God’s Presence and listen to His voice, when I get to pray with people and share Jesus’ love. It’s like two versions of myself are at war in my heart. Wait, didn’t Paul talk about that? Yes, he did, in Romans 7.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:15-25

I can totally identify with Paul right now. When life is smooth and things are going my way, it’s easier to think that I’ve got it together, that I’m not that bad, and that I can do it on my own. But when life gets bumpy, and I lose control, I see a side off myself that shocks and horrifies me. The other night I could literally feel the battle. I was in the middle of an emotional rant to my “safe person” and the Holy Spirit started poking me and telling me to stop, but my angry sin nature was telling me it’s fine. Agh!! So hard!!

How can there be these two Christy’s living inside of me? Who am I really?

I know that I’m a sinner, a wretched mess, but I am also a forgiven child of the King, blameless because of Jesus and filled with a power that is not my own. How is this possible?

Welcome to the backwards, inside-out, impossible Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

There really is a war happening inside of us every day. Working at camp just happens to magnify it for me. And you know what? That war isn’t going to stop until we see Jesus face to face and He gives us new sinless bodies. It’s a process, friends, and it’s not easy. But there is good news: we do not have to fight alone!

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Which brings me to this question: what if it’s not actually about fighting our sin nature? What if it’s about surrender? If we surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit, He will fight for us! But that’s the hard part. Surrender is hard!

Ranting feels good. Those people are wrong. Where is the justice? Someone needs to do something! And I’m supposed to let go and surrender?

And like that, we are back to the battle, the war waged in our own hearts…holding on or letting go. Will we let go of control and allow the Holy Spirit to take over? Allow Him to change us? To give us power to live like Jesus?

It’s a constant battle for me right now. A battle that is in my face thanks to an awesome place called summer camp. 🙂 If I stop and think, I know what I desperately want. I want peace and joy despite my circumstances. I want to laugh and live and love with a passion bigger than me. That kind of life is only found in Jesus…and it’s worth every fight to surrender!