The Accidental Pharisee

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Borrowing a Prayer

Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight , let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight .
Exodus 33:13

I remember the first time I asked for prayer.

I was a baby-believer, attending my first couples' Bible study with my husband. I'd listened to others share their praises and prayer requests for weeks--months--but never had the nerve to speak up. It was all too new, this praying out loud to an invisible God.

But, life as a new wife/college student/working girl was demanding and I was stretched thin. So, one night I asked, "Would you pray for me? I need to have more patience."

"Oh, you should never pray for that!" one of the other wives told me.

What!? There are things you can and can't pray for? How had I missed that?

Of course, I didn't know then what I know now: Don't pray for patience because you'll get tested--or so the Christian logic goes.

27 years later--and I'm still learning about prayer. I discovered the beauty of prayer as I listened to someone else pray. Beauty has had nothing to do with the words spoken. The beauty was revealed as I saw the relationship someone had with God. I've listened to a friend talk to God and thought, "She knows God. I'm listening in on a conversation. This almost feels too private ..."

By listening, I was drawn closer to God.

Thinking Out Loud Here: I'm an Accidental Pharisee on her way to retirement, as my Wise Guy likes to encourage me. I'm going to adopt Moses' prayer from Exodus 33:13: I want to know God's ways that I might know God. That's keeping it simple, which is a challenge to Accidental Pharisees. We like to muck our relationship with God up with this and that and oh, just one more thing that might make it better! I'll try the Keep It Simple Prayer Life. This One Thing I Pray: That I might know God's ways that I might know God.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Face to Face with God

"... the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face , just as a man speaks to his friend ... " Exodus 33:11

Have you ever heard the question What is God doing today?
Well, here's another question for you: Have you ever taken a good look at what God was doing long, long ago?
I'm sorting through my relationship with God--defining the relationship, you might say. Trying to figure out where I've got it wrong and where I've got it right. (See? I'm giving myself some grace and assuming I haven't gotten it all wrong!)
I wandered all the way back to the second book in the Old Testament and found a standard for my relationship with God in chapter 33: I want to be God's friend. I want God to be my friend.
That's a bold statement for an Accidental Pharisee to make.
Friendship. That's awfully up-close-and-personal. That kind of intimacy with God is going to muck up my black-and-white self-righteousness with an awful lot of gray.
But it can be done.I can have a friendship with God. I mean, if Moses can be friends with God, can't I be friends with God?
God spoke with Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend.
I've gotta think about that for a minute.
I just came back from a visit with my forever friend, Fran. We talked and laughed and cried and prayed together ... and sometimes she listened while I talked and sometimes I listened while she talked ... and we went shopping and had lunch ... and we just loved every minute of it. It was all about being together.
Can my relationship with God be all about being together?

Thinking Out Loud here: We Accidental Pharisees make God too complicated. We throw too many dos and don'ts into the relationship. We come up with our own set of rules--and we borrow others, if those rules sound good too. We focus on doing and forget about being. There's no real face-to-face time with God if I'm all caught up in getting it right--no chance to talk together as friends.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It Either Is or It Isn't

“… My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness.
2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

There needs to be a deliberate change of focus in my life.

I need to begin to appreciate the gift of God's grace and stop focusing on my weaknesses.
Whenever I have an opportunity to write or to speak about a struggle in my life, a.k.a. a weakness, I tend to stare at the weakness.

Just look at that black hole of failure in my life.

That kind of thinking drags me down into the dregs. And then I try to cover up the weakness or I try to pretend there is no weakness. Remember my Wizard of Oz complex: Ignore that woman behind the curtain!

Instead, I need to look for how Christ's strength is moving in on my weakness. I need to believe that his grace is truly enough--and that I don't have to be.

Thinking Out Loud Here: We Accidental Pharisees can get off-focus. We see a weakness--in ourselves or someone else--and think, "Gotta fix that!" And then, even worse, we think we can!! Wouldn't it be amazing to step back, take our hands off the process, and watch how God would move in my life? In someone else's life? Wouldn't it be astounding to see the miraculous happen as God's grace proves to be sufficient for the need?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Do It

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Stayed up late.

Actually, I laid awake in my bed until midnight. Then I got up and came downstairs to worry in front of my computer. Active worrying--meaning I did things to make me feel like I had some control over the situation that had me so worried.

Do you ever do that?

I've got a big, wonderful, God-given opportunity coming up. And I'm freaking about it. Can I do this? Will I look like somebody's hand-me-down compared to everybody else? Will I perform well?

Ah, there we have it. Will I perform well? That's the unspoken mantra of many an Accidental Pharisee. How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I doing? Put that another way: Am I good enough?

Let me tell you, this kind of thinking can make you crazy. It can certainly make you lose sleep.

What's an Accidental Pharisee to do?

I wish I could ban that word--DO--from my vocabulary. It has tripped me up for too many years.

Thinking out Loud Here: Remember the Nike campaign: Just Do It? I think we Accidental Pharisees have to Just Not Do It. Okay, that's lousy grammar, but you get the point. We have to stop all the do-ing because that's Law again. We're letting Law trump grace whenever we do things to be in control, to look good-whenever we perform.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Color Blind

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous. Psalm 146:8

I realized something this weekend. I see two colors: black and white.

There's very few gray areas in my life. The law--all the dos and don'ts I've allowed in my life--leave no room for gray or any other in-between color.

It is either black or white. It either is or it isn't. It is either truth or a lie.

I'm learning grace provides a whole lot more breathing space. The color spectrum, if you will, is broader.

I experienced the "I'm right, you're wrong" scenario yet again this weekend. I knew what was supposed to happen--and it didn't happen. I did my part. Someone else didn't do her part. So, I'm right. She's wrong.

See how simple that is?

Black and white.

But I'm not living that other person's life--which I'm betting is anything but black and white. I bet there are all sorts of reasons why she didn't follow through with doing the "right" thing. Gray areas I couldn't even see from my perspective.

Thinking Out Loud Here: We Accidental Pharisees love the safety of black and white. We consign life to the familiar borders of right versus wrong, truth versus lie, me versus them. God's grace, embodied in Jesus, shatters color blindness.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's a Choice

I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ - God's righteousness.
Philippians 3:9 The Message

Seems to me there's two ways to interact with God, two ways to try obtain righteousness:
  • by knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8)
  • by practicing the Law (Philippians 3:9)

One way is the right way to obtain righteous. The other way is one of those "seems right unto a man" ways--that actually only results in self-righteousness.

Pretty simple choice there: Pursuing a relationship with Jesus where I come to understand who He is and what He offers me versus Memorizing and practicing a bunch of dos and don'ts.

Thinking out loud: We Accidental Pharisees find the dos and don'ts easier than pursuing a relationship. I've always said--and I was only half-joking--that Law is easier than grace. Just tell me what to do. Grace is this wide open space that feels scary and uncontrollable.
Ah, there's the point of it: I can't control grace. It's not about me and what I can do. It's about God and what He did.

I know these are pretty elementary truths here, but I'm going back and tearing up some shoddy foundations of my faith. Only then can I rebuild it on a firm foundation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

White Board Witticisms

And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction."
Mark 5:34

So my wise and trusted counselor--I think I'll start calling him "Wiseguy" because it'll make him laugh--has a white board in his office. Whenever we meet, the first thing I do is read the board. There's always something scrawled up there in red or blue marker that makes me go, "Huh?"

It was true yesterday--and there were only two quotes written on the board. Usually the board is filled top to bottom, side to side, with words. But, new year, clean board, I guess.

Here's one of the two:

The actions of Jesus make statements about how He sees and values people.

Jesus cared about the woman who'd been bleeding for years--so much so that He accepted her touch and healed her, even though the Law said she was unclean.

Jesus cared about the ten lepers begging to be freed of an atrocious disease that left them isolated from others. He healed them, even though the law said they were unclean.

Jesus raised people from the dead.
Jesus ate with tax collectors--the lowest of the low in that society.
Unclean. Unclean. Unclean.
Or so the Law said.

But Jesus' actions said He valued these people more than the prohibitions of the Law. The Law pushes people away. Jesus pulls people close. The Law limits relationship. Jesus is Emmanual, God with us. Up close and personal.

Thinking out loud here: We Accidental Pharisees are a bit uncomfortable with up close and personal. Our dos and don'ts limit relationships--and hinder our ability to truly value people. Or maybe it's that they reveal how much we do (or don't) value people. Which do we value more: law or people?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Here's Looking at You

Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.
Matthew 20:34

The question was: When you look at people, what do you see?
I didn't like my answer.

I've trained my eyes to see flaws--mine and others.

Ouch. That hurts.

This Accidental Pharisee's eyes tend to judge others because I need to know how I'm doing in comparison to everyone else. Am I doing okay? Am I making the grade--that imaginary, oh-so-unneccessary grade?

Don't get me wrong. I also see other people's positive characteristics too--and I let people know what I like about them. I'm not all bad.

The person I judge the most harshly?


Jesus saw people with eyes of compassion. Kindness. Mercy. Try as I might, I can't squeeze judgement into compassion. A merciful heart has no room for judging someone else.

When I look at people, what do I see?

I thought about this question a lot yesterday. And I as I ran errands, I looked at people. And I told myself, "See them as Jesus would see them. With eyes of compassion."

Now I need to say that when I look at myself in the mirror too.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Waiting for Direction

"We are all pencils in the hand of God."
Mother Teresa

I've been practicing a new spiritual discipline: lectio divina, a combination of listening prayer and meditation.

The past few weeks, I've been a bit haphazard with it, what with the holidaze and travel and lots of family fun. But I am determined to settle back into the habit of making time to read a small segment of Scripture and then take time to meditate on it. Not because I have to but because I want to.

Being an Accidental Pharisee involved an awful lot of have-tos that wore me out--and didn't produce intimacy with God. I'd do what others told me I had to do. Then, just for good measure, I'd add a few of my own had-tos to the list of acceptable behaviors.

I'm learning why I did this. And I'm learning to discern what all those had-to behaviors are. Made-up provisions for getting it right with God.

It's like I was the student who needed to learn how to write. But, instead of allowing the Teacher to instruct me, I took the pencil and said, "I know what to do," and added a bunch of unneccessary steps to the process.

I think I'll rest in the Teacher's hands for a while.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Forward, Not Back

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1
The Living Bible

In keeping with my commitment to honesty, I have to admit I'd like to quit this blog.

As much as I say my "tagline" is Writing Honestly, this blog is pushing my panic button a bit.
I'm feeling a bit overexposed, even as I invite a few friends to peek in on my newest writing venture.

Remember the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy finally gets to meet the Wizard? He looks pretty impressive, until the curtain gets pulled back. Lo and behold--there's a pretty ordinary guy behind that curtain. He tries to hide himself again and says, "Ignore the man behind the curtain!" All the while, he keeps pulling levers and pressing buttons, trying to keep up the pretense that he is the all-powerful Wizard of Oz.

I kind of feel like I pulled back my own curtain--and now I want to say, "Ignore that woman behind that curtain," and go back to pretending I'm someone I'm not--but who I'd really like you to think I am.

We Accidental Pharisees are good at putting on a show.

But in doing so, we--I hindered relationships with both other people and with God.

It's not to say I didn't have real friends. I just didn't have completely honest friendships. I don't know about those other people, but I know I wasn't being competely honest about who I was.

And, while they may have been fooled by what I was doing behind the curtain, I know God wasn't.

But, being a God of grace, He didn't rip back the curtain and condemn me. He's waited all this time for me to be willing to get real with Him.

It's just going to take a while to be comfortable with this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Redefining the Moment

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

My life is comprised of moments.
48 years of moments.
Some of them are fairly inconsequential.
Others are defining moments.
One became the defining moment in my life--even though I spent a long time ignoring it.
The defining moment in my life? The harsh, life-stealing reality that I was sexually abused.
One of my goals is for this to become just a moment in my life.
Not the defining moment.
Not a defining moment.
Just a moment.
My trusted counselor--and yes, he'll be mentioned frequently in this blog!--is challenging me to let God be the defining moment in my life.
I'm hoping that as I redefine the moment, I can call myself "The Accidental Pharisee, Retired."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Beginning of Sorts

I've been out of step with you for a long time ... What you're after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
Psalm 51:5-6 The Message

A new year.

A new blog.

You'd think with two blogs (The Writing Road and Mommy-Come-Lately), I wouldn't need a third. I certainly wondered if I had time for another blog.

But I basically dared myself to set up this blog--and I didn't want to back down from my own dare.

You see, a few weeks ago I realized that I was a Pharisee.

I'd been talking with a trusted counselor about my relationship with God. I said something. He said something. And then I realized that I'd allowed an awful lot of let-me-do-it-my-way self-righteousness to influence my interaction with God. I looked at my friend and said, "I didn't mean to be a Pharisee."

And then I started sobbing.

Moments of truth are painful.

And my friend, wise man that he is, said nothing. He just let me be in the truth.

I've walked around with this uncomfortable truth, asking myself Where do I go from here? What now, God?

This blog is my chance to think out loud. To ask myself how did I get here--and how do I get to where I want to be with God.

Maybe along the way I'll find few friends who can point me in the right direction.