The Accidental Pharisee

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doing the math

"All a man's ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives."
Proverbs 16:2 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Just tell me what is right and what is wrong.
That seems simple enough, doesn't it?
Not if you're talking to Wise Guy.
And he has the math equation to prove it.

Now, you need to know I am the original carrier of math anxiety. So, if I can work through this equation to learn some truth, so can you.

Here we go:
2 plus 2 equals 12
2 plus 2 does not equal 12
2 plus 2 equals 4
x factor (2 plus 2) equals 12

Now for the explanation:
Think of 2 plus 2 as my behavior or a collection of actions I do or I perceive in others based on my past. So, in my world, 2 plus 2 can equal 12. While in your world, 2 plus 2 will never equal 12. It equals 4--based on your past experience.

What Wise Guy is teaching me is, rather than screaming, "That's wrong" when someone's 4 bumps up against my 12--I need to figure out why I get 12 and why they get 4. I need to look for the x factor--that hidden variable affecting their perception of life.

If you add an 8 to that equation you can get 12. Or multiply by 3. But, because it's an x factor, no one knows I'm adding or multiplying to come up with 12.

I don't know about you, but that's enough math for me.

Here's the point: I do things a certain way. I react to my husband or my friends or my family a certain way--and it seems right to me. When someone else reacts differently, I jump to the conclusion that they are wrong because they are not reacting the way I am.

All my ways seem right in my own eyes--but that means other people have to be wrong.
And that's judging.
You think about that.

And, Wise Guy, I am listening--and doing the math!

Just Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees get stuck on the first part of Proverbs 16:2. Our ways seem right to us. We need to focus on the second part of the verse: God weighs the motives of our hearts. We need to be less about being right and wrong--usually us being right and someone else being wrong--and be listening to what God is saying about our hearts.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Fiction and Faith

"Life is God's novel. Let Him write it."

My friend, Kristen, likes to redecorate for the seasons. When spring comes along, she replaces the brown picture frames with white ones. She replaces her dark bedspread with a lighter one. She puts away the pine boughs on her mantle and displays white gerbera daisies in tin buckets.

I noticed a new sign up on one of her walls that read: "Life is God's novel. Let Him write it."

I loved it--and I told her that I did. How could the writer in me not?

Kristen took the sign off the wall and said, "I saw this and thought of you. But I wasn't sure if you'd like it. So, I decided to put it up and see if you noticed it. And, if you liked it, I'd give it to you."

So now I have a new sign to put up in my den.

And it's given me a lot to mull over.

You see, right now I've wandered away from my non-fiction writing roots and I'm having fun writing fiction. Don't get me wrong--writing a novel is hard, hard work. I'm developing a plot and characters and conflict. And at some point I have to make all of this come together and make sense.

One thing I am working on is my characters' relationships with God--and I haven't even completely worked out my own relationship with God. How ironic is that?!

I'm deciding how well they know God. How well they understand grace--do they "get it" or don't they? Letting them work it out lets me work it out on paper.

Which brings me back to the gift from my friend.

If I could change one little word on the sign Kristen gave me, I would change the word "novel." Life isn't God's novel. It isn't make believe. Life is reality. And it's all the more important that I let God be part of writing my story.

Just Thinking Out Loud: This Accidental Pharisee has fun being the one in control of the beginning, middle, and the end. I like being the one who controls the conflict--and being able to make certain there is a "happily ever after" at the end of my story. But I need to remember that God is the one in charge of my life story--and be willing to submit to His will for my life. I need to accept it when life isn't all about happy endings--and still be able to trust God.

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Friday, April 25, 2008


“When the mask of self-righteousness has been torn from us and we stand stripped of all our accustomed defenses, we are candidates for God's generous grace.” -Erwin W. Lutzer (1941- )

I have never thought of self-righteousness as a mask--something I hide behind. Something that covers the real me.

But let me work with this thought for a minute because I think Lutzer has something here.

Self-righteousness--all those things I do to make myself look good. Imagine all those actions like a mask I pull across my face.

"Look at me," I say. "I look pretty good."

Sure, I may not say it out loud, but it's what I'm thinking.

But what people are really seeing is a mask. A false front.

What's that old '50s song that went, "Yes, I'm the great pretender ... "

It's only when the mask comes off that I can truly begin to receive God's grace.

Grace has been there--available to me--all along. But I've been content with the mask of my own self-righteousness. I'm thinking I look pretty good. But God sees behind my mask. And He loves me anyway. And He offers me grace. And more grace.

And He tells me it's okay to take the mask off.

It's unneccessary.

It's not the real me.

Just Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees almost treat our relationship with God like a masquerade ball--masks required. God says No Masks Allowed. Are we brave enough to let His grace replace our masks or self-righteousness?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Glimpse of Grace

My friend, Tiffany, has an inspiring blog over at Tea With Tiffany. She even has music playing in the background for your enjoyment while you're reading her latest post. (Sorry, this tech-challenge gal hasn't figured that out yet!)

Tiffany's last post is an interview with one of my favorite authors, Liz Curtis Higgs. In the interview, Higgs said:

Grace is the underlying theme of every book I’ve written—fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. My heart’s desire is to share the good news of God’s loving-kindness with a hurting world. Without his mercy, we would all be lost. I especially long to reach women who aren’t aware of how much God loves them, so I look for ways to express the truth of the gospel in non-threatening ways. As Madeleine L’Engle wisely said, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe…but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Tiffany's offering a copy of Higgs' latest book, Embrace Grace, over at her blog. Anyone who posts a comment through April 30th has a chance to win. So, drop by Tea with Tiffany, read the interview, and enjoy the music!

Thinking Out Loud: This Accidental Pharisee is so glad she can catch glimpses of God's grace from others!

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Searching for significance in all the wrong places

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands ... " Isaiah 49:16a

I've always been intrigued by that verse in Isaiah. God has engraved me on the palms of his hands.
Imagine that.
There's something extremely personal about being engraved on God's hands. It makes me feel as if I am being held by him every minute of every day.
There's something purposeful about engraving someone on your hands too. God didn't write my name on his hands in ball point pen. He didn't sketch a picture of me with a Sharpie. The Hebrew word for "engrave" means to cut or to inscribe or to set.
For God to engrave me on the palms of his hands, he had to be intentional--and it sounds painful too. It cost God something.
The verse is in a chapter in Isaiah where Israel is feeling forgotten and forsaken by God. And God answers by saying he cannot forget his people. He proves it by holding out his hands.

Just Thinking Out Loud: The next time I'm struggling with feeling insignificant, maybe I should stop looking at all the things I'm doing to prove I'm worth something to somebody--anybody. Maybe this Accidental Pharisee should look at the palms of her God's hands.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Augustine's 11 Little Words

"Love God with all your heart--then do as you please." ~Augustine

Read this quote again recently. It wasn't the first time I'd seen or heard it. My reaction to it was the same:
Is a relationship with God that simple?
Love God--and do as I please?
While I was googling (great verb, eh?) the quote to make certain who said it, I found links to people arguing about this quote.
It isn't that easy, says they. You can't just love God and do as you please. "You can't just love God with all your heart," said one writer. "You have to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." (Mark 12:30-31.)
With all due respect, I think that writer is quibbling. He's muddying the simplicity of Augustine's thought--stealing its beauty.
Love God.
Focus on that.
Not Love God and something else.
I've always thought if I focused on loving God, I wouldn't have a lot of time left to do those things I shouldn't do--like focusing on "doing the right thing" or "being the right kind of Christian." I'd be too busy loving God. Worshipping Him. Praising Him. Honoring Him with my life.
You know, the more I read Augustine's 11 little words, the more profound I find them.

Just Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees would do well to focus on one thing--loving God--and letting go of all the other things we drag into our relationship with God. What would that look like today? How could I, how could you, love God today?
Do that--and then do as you please.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fascinating, Isn't It?

"Try looking at something with fascination instead of judgement."
~ Wise Guy

Now there's a thought that will turn your life upside down.
Fascination--Isn't that interesting?
Judgement--In my opinion, this is right, wrong, good, bad, whatever. (Fill in the blank.)
Fascination gives me a lot of breathing space, a lot of room to move around. I don't have to figure out why God allowed something to happen the way He did. I don't have to explain it. I don't even have to like it.
As a matter of fact, I don't even have to understand God.
Imagine that.
What a fascinating thought!
But fascination is a bit scary. No, it's a lot scary. If I step away from judgement--right, wrong--then I step into a life that has a bit more gray in it. I can't be so certain about everything.

God wants me to be certain about some things, sure. Certain that He loves me. Certain that He is trustworthy.
But does God want me to be certain about everything?
I don't think so.

Just Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees need to stop with the judging and try to get caught up with how fascinating life is. How fascinating God is. Of course, that means we have to be willing to be uncomfortable. I don't think rules and regulations survive in an atmosphere of fascination.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Hanging Out With Pharisees

" ... He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God ... "
Micah 6:8

I spent some time this weekend researching some buddies of mine--the Pharisees.

You probably know a few of them too, you just don't realize it.

If we're going to be talking about grace, we're going to run into the Pharisees. That's what happened to Jesus. Whenever he talked about grace, the Pharisees were right there, asking, "But what about the Law?"

I like Charles Swindoll's labels for the Pharisees. He calls them "the original grace-killers" and "the brain trust of legalism."

As I was scribbling notes from the Encyclopedia Judaica--a great resource that my friend, Scoti, recommended to me--I discovered that the Pharisees weren't all bad. They weren't all wrong about God.

Did you know the Pharisees believed God was an omnipotent (all powerful), all knowing spiritual being, all wise, all just, all merciful? They believed God loved his creatures and asked man to walk in His ways and to act justly and to love kindness. (Hhhmm. I've heard that before in Micah 6:8.) God gave man the ability to choose between good and evil--and wanted him to choose good.
I'm not going to argue with any of that, are you?

Here's where the Pharisees went wrong--way, way wrong.

They believed a spirit of holiness was obtained through a scrupulous observance of the Torah and by spreading traditional religious teaching.

Ooops! Wrong answer!
Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees get it wrong too. We don't mean too. We're looking right at Jesus--and we're forgetting that He's all about grace. We want to talk to Him about how much time we've spent in Bible study, and then ask Him, "How am I doing?" He wants to tell us that's not the point. We keep holding up our little check lists of what we've done right and saying, "Look at this! Look at this!" And Jesus says," Will you just look at me?"

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Do You Validate?

Photo from

"Instead of striving for a manmade ticket to heaven based on high achievement and hard work (for which we get all the credit), I suggest we declare our own spiritual bankruptcy and accept God's free gift of grace."
~ Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening

I spent some time talking with Wise Guy yesterday. At one point, we even tried to figure out how long we've been talking things out--me, looking for answers, Wise Guy, knowing the answers but letting me keep on looking so I can figure it out for myself.

We've been at this a long time, folks.

I always take notes during our talks. Here's one from yesterday:

I keep taking my ticket to the wrong counter to get validated.

Now if the "ticket" represents me, what I'm realizing is I am looking to the wrong things, the wrong people, for validation.

Do you ever do that?

Just A Thought: I keep wanting certain people to validate my ticket and thereby say I have worth. I need to tear up that ticket--or at least turn it over to God so He can write "Grace" across it in big red letters. We Accidental Pharisees--we're trying to pay our way to heaven or we want someone else to validate our "ticket" for us. We forget about grace.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Wouldn't You Know It?

"Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live." ~ Jackie Windspear

I'm in a Bible study with some friends. We've decided to study the topic of grace.
Timely, isn't it?
As an Accidental Pharisee On Her Way to Retirement, I have a lot to say about grace.
I have a lot to learn about grace.
I noticed one thing tonight as we discussed grace: Whenever you talk about grace, you end up talking about Pharisees. You really can't talk about one without talking about the other. The Pharisees "got" the Law--but they didn't get grace. And that's why Jesus made them so angry. Jesus was all about grace.
Being a good do-er, i.e. tell me what I need to do to be a good Christian--I learned the approved definition of grace: unmerited favor. Knowing the definition and living a life of grace are two very different things. I'm just beginning to learn that.
I discovered a new definition of grace, and I like this one better.
"Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace." (Donald Barnhouse, Bible scholar.)
Love that stoops is grace.

Just a Thought: We Accidental Pharisees get so caught up in what we're supposed to do and not do--and making sure somebody is noticing what we're doing or not doing--that we totally miss what God did for us. He offers us grace. The Bible says He lavishes us with grace (Ephesians 1:8). He loves us enought to stoop down and to offer us grace.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Mountain Top

"Never allow God to show you a truth which you do not instantly begin to live up to, applying to your life. Always work through it, staying in the light."
~ My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Ran away to the mountains last week. Of course, I took my husband and my youngest daughter with me--and a few of our closest friends. And their dog.
We had a great time, relaxing and snowshoeing and watching the snow fall and watching the kiddos play.
And, without the television on and the To Do list staring me in the face and the phone ringing, I had time to dive into God's Word. It was wonderful. I know, I know. I should make time to be in God's word. But, true confession, I don't. I just haven't been making it a priority like I want to.
It was so, so, so refreshing to be reading because I wanted to--and not because I had to. It was so good to have the time--not to have to make the time.
You know what I mean?
I stayed in the light.
I was intentional about my relationship with God. I spent time with him because I wanted to. And, as I drew closer to him, I didn't hear him saying, "Where have you been?" in a condeming sort of way. I heard him say, "Where have you been?" in a welcoming sort of way. It made me want to come closer to him.
Thinking Out Loud: It's all about tone. We Accidental Pharisees have got God's voice set on the wrong tone. We think God sounds legalistic and demanding and condemning--even when Scripture clearly says, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" (Romans 8:1)
I once asked Wise Guy to record the Bible for me because I like the sound of his voice. I would want God to sound like him. Who is the most inviting, loving, welcoming person you know? I bet God sounds like that person.

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