The Accidental Pharisee

Friday, May 30, 2008

Children and Pharisees

"But Jesus said, 'Let the children come to me and do not forbid it; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'"
Matthew 19:14

Children can spot a fraud.
My children have forced me to be real, whether I wanted to be or not. Life as a mom is just so up-close and personal with kiddos . . . and their imperfections bump into my imperfections. My "I've got it all together" pretense is shattered.
Maybe that's why Jesus liked children. They are so real. Open. Honest.
Jesus is so real. And, when he walked this earth, he was too open and too honest for the Pharisees. His honesty trumped their fraudulent attempts to be good. And they just hated that. It set their teeth on edge.
Wise Guy talks a lot about kingdom living, having a kingdom mindset. I know I've still got things to learn about that. It's one of the reasons I hang around Wise Guy: He knows some things I need to learn.
Living in the kingdom must have something to do with being like a child. Living honestly, not fraudulently.

Just Thinking Out Loud: Just for today, God, let me live honestly. Let me put aside my Accidental Pharisee attempts to be good. Instead, let me be real. Like a child is real. And may it be pleasing to you. Not in a "Do you like me now?" way. But in a "Now you're being who I meant you to be" way.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thankful Thursday

"In everything, give thanks."

At the encouragement of my friend, Tiffany, I am taking time to be thankful.

  • I am thankful that God's love is new every morning, that I can't wear it out by making mistakes--and then making the same stupid mistake again. And again.

  • I am thankful God's love is steadfast, that it isn't a wishy-washy "maybe he does, maybe he doesn't" kind of love.

  • I am thankful God's love is unconditional, even though I struggle to comprehend a love without a lot of if-thens attached to it.

And I am thankful for the simple things that really aren't so simple.

  • My seven-year-old's smile

  • Falling asleep in my husband's arms

  • Hearing my daughters' laughter as they sit up too late at night talking

  • Seeing my son embrace his wife

  • Friends who have my back and believe in my dreams as much as I do

Thankfulness. An antidote to phariseeism.

And thank you, Iris at Sting My Heart, for hosting Thankful Thursday.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Whatever else you do this Memorial Day, please take time to remember those who sacrificed thier lives in service to America.

Here's an article about the origins of Memorial Day, with a list of 15 Simple Ways to Remember the Day.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The Simplest Things

The simplest things move me forward in my faith.
Reading a passage of Scripture at the beginning--or the end--of the day. Or both.
Playing worship music. Singing along. Or not.
Admitting to someone that I've been less-than Christ-like in my actions. I've doubted. I've been unforgiving. I've been too harsh or judgmental.
Saying "Thank you" for the blessings in my life.
Posting Scripture up on my kitchen cabinets so that I see it during the day and am reminded of the truth. Here's my newest one:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is thy faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, therefore I will hope in him."
~Lamentations 3:22-24

Just Thinking Out Loud: This Accidental Pharisee has to remember to keep it simple. Stop making faith oh-so complicated. Jesus didn't. I shouldn't.

On another note:The news about musician's Steven Curtis' Chapman's family deeply grieves me. Their youngest daughter, Maria Sue, 5, was killed in a tragic car accident. Please surround this family with your prayers.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Less Than Shining Moment--That God Redeemed

I'd rather write about something else.
A wonderfully victorious moment in my life.
A look-at-me moment.
We Accidental Pharisees thrive on those kinds of moments.
But what I experienced yesterday was a less-than-shining-moment. I got tripped up, once again, by anger. I was A-N-G-R-Y.
Seems like anger is stalling out my spiritual life quite a bit the last few days--at least since last Thursday.
It was that whole I'm-Right-and-The-Other-Person-is-Wrong scenario.
So, there I was. Stuck.
And I'm in Wal-Mart. Grabbing a few necessities, fuming as I went from aisle 5 to aisle 9 and then to the Express Checkout Lane.
The guy in front of me has five or six items. He's wearing bike shorts and a jersey and toting a backpack--and he's hot and sweaty.
I watch as he begins to search his backpack. Within seconds, he realizes he doesn't have his wallet. The checker has already rung up his groceries--but he doesn't have any money. So he tells her to cancel the sale. He doesn't get flustered. He just shrugs his shoulders and says, "Oh, well. No wallet." And gets ready to leave.
Something prompts me: Help the guy out.
And so I say, "How much is his bill? I'll pay it."
The guy offers to give me his name, but I tell him that he doesn't need to do that.
"God bless you," I said--because I knew God prompted me to pay his bill.
And I smile.
He walked out with his groceries.
I walked out less angry.
Being kind to a stranger loosened the grip of anger on my heart.
I realized that if I could be kind to a stranger--couldn't I be forgiving to someone I love?
Sure, that man went home with his groceries.
But I think I received the more valuable thing in that transaction, don't you?

Just Thinking Out Loud: This Accidental Pharisee is forever amazed at how God can show up in the most unexpected places--Wal-Mart, the checkout line--and redeem the less-than-shining-moments of her life.


Monday, May 19, 2008

The End of the Story

Last Friday I was angry.
By the end of the day, I was reconciled.
I like being reconciled better.
Reconciled: making an enemy your friend.
The person who made me so angry apologized.
And, reality is, the person didn't mean to make me angry. The person was never my enemy.
It's just that something this person did stepped on an wounded area of my heart and I reacted out of my past experience--not out of the truth of what was going on.
Life is tricky. I'm learning that past hurts have left land mines in my emotional make up. These land mines can get detonated by someone else's words or actions when I least expect it.
It creates a real mess, let me tell you.
I'm trying to uncover the land mines. Trying to find the trip wires, if you will. Tedious work.
But if I want to be in relationship with others, it is worth the effort.

Thinking Out Loud: A mantra for an Accidental Pharisee: Relationship before being Right. Relationship before being Right.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Black and White

I'm angry.
And I feel like I have good reason to be angry.
It makes perfect, black and white sense to me.
What This Person did is wrong.
And I am right in saying that what This Person did is wrong.
(And, Wise Guy, if you're reading this post: "This Person" is not my husband Rob!)
Now this is when I should pull out that old math equation and start telling myself that there's an x factor that I don't know about.
I don't care about This Person's x factor.
I'm angry.
This is when I should say something like, "Fascinating, isn't it?"
No, it's not fascinating. It's irritating.
I have asked myself why I'm so angry. ANGRY.
It's because what This Person did was inconsiderate. It made me feel devalued.
(Ah, there's the point, isn't it, Wise Guy?)
But the bottom line is I want to stay in the very black and white moment and not see any gray at all. I don't want to know why This Person did what they did. I don't what reasons or excuses.
I want to be right.
And I want This Person to be wrong.
I am at my Pharisaical best.
Have I never done something wrong? Have I never done something that devalued someone else? Have I never hurt someone else? Have I never made someone else ANGRY?
When I am wrong, do I want to be told how wrong I am--or do I want to be forgiven?
I know one thing: I don't want to be a pharisee. But if I looked in the mirror right now I'd see a bunch of self-righteousness clinging to me like the robes the biblical pharisees wore. No one else can see them--but God can because he looks at the heart.

Just Thinking Out Loud: I like things black and white. Then I can say with authority what is RIGHT and what is WRONG. I especially like it when I am RIGHT. God, help me be more gray. Less about RIGHT and WRONG. More about FORGIVENESS and GRACE. Help me to remember I'm an Accidental Pharisee on her way to retirement . . . one step at a time.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

True Confession

"Am I going to be so arrogant to demand more of myself than God does?"
~ Question raised by Brennan Manning

Well, yes.
I hate to admit it, but I did just that: I raised the bar on myself--higher than what God ever set for me--and then said, "Watch me, God. How am I doing?"
And, if I'd been listening, I would have heard God say, "I didn't ask you to do that. Where did you come up with that idea?"
A number of years ago, I was part of a women's Bible study teaching team. It was a delight to be involved with these women: Cheryl and Sandy and Faith and Chris and Barbara. (And yes, I know you weren't teaching, Barbara, but we couldn't have managed without you!) With them I experienced the true meaning of ministry.
But that's another blog.
One year, we taught on Covenant. I know we learned a lot of things, but this is the one thing I remember: The Israelites got it wrong.
God handed down all the laws to Moses. Then Moses told the Israelites, "This is what we've got to do--all of this."
You know what the Israelites said?
"Sure thing. We can do all that." (Beth's paraphrase)
And that's where the Israelites got it wrong.
What they should have said was, "There is no way we can do all this! There is no way we can keep the Law! Is there another option?"
They should have thrown themselves on God's mercy.
And you know what God would have said?
He would have said, "As a matter of fact, I do have another way. It's called grace. It's going to appear wrapped up in a little baby born of a virgin many years from now. Do you believe that?"
There's a reason for Law--but it's not how we come into relationship with God. Do's and don'ts never equal relationship. They equal guilt.
Just Thinking Out Loud: Being a Pharisee--accidental or intentional--is rooted in arrogance. Grace is rooted in humility. Thre's a choice there. I can make my life all about me. Or I can make my life all about God--and his grace.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

This I Know

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases ... "
~Lamentations 3:22

I spent yesterday afternoon with the kiddos and Rob's mom. It being Mother's Day, Rob's mom and I were instructed to relax. It was odd--in a very nice way--to do just that. My daughters and daughter-in-love and my son prepared a wonderful lunch. Rob grilled steaks and chicken. Josh made his specialty: angel food cake from scratch. Afterwards, I received some wonderful gifts. My children certainly know what their mom likes.

But I gotta' tell you, the cards they gave me--and the words they wrote inside those cards--mean more to me than their oh-so-wonderful gifts.

Later that evening, Rob and I went for a walk. It was so, so nice to look back on the day. You know what I realized? I know that my four children love me. I mean, deep down in my heart, I know that I know that I am loved by them.

Sure, we've had our ups and downs and times when they didn't like me and I didn't like them ... that's just real life. Although, looking back, it wasn't them I didn't like. It was usually something they'd done or not done. (You'll have to check with them about whether they really didn't like me or not.)

And right on the heels of that wonderful realization--that I know my kiddos love me--I thought: Why is it that I struggle with knowing God loves me?

God and I've talked a lot about that in the past couple of years. I've asked him to let me know he loves me. Not head knowledge--heart knowledge. I want to feel like God loves me. I don't want to say it just because it's true. (I mean, I do know the right answer!)

And he's answered that prayer. I have felt deep down in my heart God's love for me.
And then I lose that feeling.


Because I think God's love is conditional.

He loves me.
He loves me not.
He loves me.
He loves me not.

God would change that refrain:

He loves me.
He loves me.
He loves me.

He loves me.

Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees would do well to meditate on Lamentations 3:22 and remember that God's love is steadfast. Firmly fixed in place. Not subject to change.
Sure, he may not like something I do. But he loves me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Consider This

"If you're afraid of God, you don't know him." ~ Brennan Manning

That quote is one of the first ones I wrote down during the retreat I attended last weekend.
Brennan Manning said it--but is it true? What about all those "Fear God" Scriptures? Deuteronomy 10:12 says,"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God . . ."
A Pharisee--Accidental or otherwise--will jump on that "Thou Shalt" and do it--waiting for God's approval. Fear God? I can do that!
But does fearing God mean I am afraid of him?
Brennan Manning said, in this context, fear means silent wonder, affectionate awe, a radical amazement at the infinite God.
If you take the time to do a little word study on the Hebrew word for fear, you'll find out Brennan Manning is right.
God doesn't want me to be afraid of him.
He wants me to be amazed by him.
Only by knowing God can I be amazed by him. Only by understanding who he is can I be overcome by awe.
If I'm keeping my distance because I'm thinking God's out to get me--then I don't know God.
And I confess: There have been too many years when I didn't know God. I settled for fear rather than amazement.

Just Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees often have a fear-based relationship with God. We're afraid that if we don't do things right enough, God will not be pleased with us. We're trying to build a bridge to God--a bridge made up of all our right actions. It spans a chasm filled with all our mistakes. If I'm so caught up being scared of God, I don't know him--and I'm missing out on all the opportunities to stand before him and be amazed by who he is and what he has done in my life.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wise Guy Trumps Brennan Manning

I know I said I'd be sharing more about my recent retreat, the one featuring Brennan Manning and Michael Card.
And I will.
But I spent some time with Wise Guy today ... and it always does my heart good. So, Wise Guy trumps Brennan Manning.
The first thing I do when I get to Wise Guy's office is to check out his white board. What words, phrases, math equations are written up there in red or blue or green marker? I try to decipher the hidden meanings on my own. When I can't, I cry, "Uncle!" and Wise Guy steps in to help unravel the mysteries of the white board.
Today there was 2 plus 2 equals 12 written on the board. Wise Guy said he'd left it up there from the last time I'd visited just to see if it caught anyone's attention. If you read this blog post you know the significance of that math equation. (If you haven't, go ahead and read it now. I'll wait.)
All done?
The whole thing about 2 plus 2 equals 12 (in my world) while 2 plus 2 equals 4 ( in your world) depends on the x factor--that unknown variable that makes me come up with 12 and you come up with 4.
But Wise Guy made an important observation today. It's so simple I almost overlooked it: It's not about math.
I was sorta', kinda' boasting about how I managed to do a blog post with math in it--and get it right. This is a major accomplishment for me. But this is also so not the point.
I need to take the concept and apply it to my personal relationships. It's not about math, Beth. It's about people--the people I love and care about and want to be in relationship with. But sometimes that's hard because their 4-mindset irritates my 12-mindset. (And vice-versa, I'm sure.)
Wise Guy isn't about helping me do the math.
He's about helping me do life.

Just Thinking Out Loud Here: We Accidental Pharisees can get so caught up in conquering the process that we overlook people. I can be so concerned about every jot and tittle--that's Old Testament-speak for dotting my i's and crossing my t's--that I miss how I'm doing with my husband, my children, my friends, my family.
Wrong answer.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Refreshed and renewed--and thinking about many things

"God is consistently overgenerous with His grace."
~ Brennan Manning, author/speaker

That's just a glimpse of where I was this past weekend--Glen Eyrie, a retreat center near my home.

My husband and I gave ourselves an early anniversary gift of a retreat featuring Brennan Manning, who spoke on grace. Hhhhmm. Wonder why the topic intrigued me? Michael Card led worship. And worship we did. I'm listening to his music as I type this post.

I took scads of notes--many of which are seeds for future installments of The Accidental Pharisee blog. So stay tuned.

The quote that I led off with was one of the first I scribbled down: God is consistently overgenerous with His grace.

Now, if I was in my true Pharisee-mindset--accidental or otherwise--I'd hear that and say, "Oh, really? Says who? Show me in the Word where it says God is overgenerous with His grace." We Accidental Pharisees, we're a prove-it-to-me bunch.

Well, I can!

Ephesians 1:8 says that God lavishes His grace on us. Lavishes. That sounds amazingly generous to me.

And you know what happens when you get all Pharisee-like and focus on the Law, on all the dos an don'ts? The Law squelches grace. It diminishes what God lavishes on us.

Thinking Out Loud Here: It's good for an Accidental Pharisee to get away from it all and come face to face with God. It's good to hang around with people who live in grace. It's good to immerse myself in a counter-culture--and to realize it's what I truly want.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

God isn't safe--but he's good

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king, I tell you."

~ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

My husband and I finished watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last night with our seven-year-old daughter. Before she could watch the movie, I read the story out loud to her at dinnertimes. That's a Vogt family rule: Read the book first, then watch the movie. Any book, any movie.

Reading Lewis' book and watching the movie makes me want to shake off my oh-so-safe dealings with God and let him be anything but safe in my life. I want to believe that God is good--and not at all safe. I want to embrace that in a way that says I can trust a God that big, that unfathomable. I want to be safe with a God who isn't safe--but is good.

And then I put the book back on the shelf. And I put the DVD back in its case.

And where does this oh-so-unsafe-but-oh-so-good God go?

I lose sight of him.

To use today's venacular, I downsize God. He's not safe. He's neutralized. He's ineffective. And he's not good. He's just ... okay. He's not a lion. He's a domesticated housecat.

Shame on me.

(And if my friend, Tiffany, is reading this post--bear with me for a moment. I need to feel the weight of this for just a moment. Then I'll take it to God and ask him to lift it off my shoulders.)

I wish I was brave enough to pray that God would show up in large, outlandish, living colors in my life. I wish I would open my arms wide and let God be God. Not who I think he is. Not who I'm comfortable with. Not what others tell me he has to be/must be/should be.

I'd like to experience the paradox of not safe and good.

I think you can only find those two opposites in God.

Thinking Out Loud: We Accidental Pharisees play it safe. We want to be good and we want God to be safe. We're limiting God--and thinking we can be more than we are.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

National Day of Prayer

May 1st--today--is the National Day of Prayer.

2008 Prayer for Our Nation
Dr. Ravi Zacharias
2008 Honorary Chairman, National Day of Prayer Task Force

Holy Father,
in a world where so many are hungry,
You have given us food in abundance;
In a world where so many are hurting,
You offer to bind up our wounds;
In a world where so many are lonely,You offer friendship to every heart;
In a world longing for peace,
You offer hope.
Yet, we are so stubborn and resistant.
Have mercy upon us, Lord.
Our nation is at a crossroads this year;
we look to you to be our strength and shield.
Please give us the guidance to elect one who will honor you
and to respond to the wisdom from above
so that our hope may be renewed and our blessings be treasured.
In God's holy name.

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