I’m a Recovering Pharisee

You will never understand the heart of a Pharisee unless you realize that he sees the plank in his eye as belonging to others (Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?)

eye plank

From my 2016 Journal. I am a recovering Pharisee. I identify more with the law than with grace, with Martha more than Mary, with the big brother rather than the prodigal son, with self-righteousness over God’s righteousness. Had I been at the synagogue the day Jesus healed the crippled woman (Luke 13), I would have been the Pharisee condemning Jesus for working on the Sabbath. Self-righteousness is my continual default. I cringe when I read this verse:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: (Luke 18:9 NIV)

Thankfully, I’ve come a long, long way in shedding my Pharisaical robes, but I’m not there yet—and won’t be until I get to heaven. Whenever I think that I’m “better than” I’ve crossed the line into self-righteousness.

So, I explore this thought:  If I choose the God path, does that make me superior to those who choose to resist God? My inner Pharisee says yes. But I know that is arrogance.

I am responsible for my own faith, my own choices, my own reactions and responses. I don’t know another person’s heart—not really. We are each accountable to our own master—be it God or Satan or money or pain. Since I’ve chosen God as my master, then I only answer to Him. It is not my job to judge another person’s choices or motives. I might know and recognize that they’ve chosen a poor master, and I can urge them to reconsider their choice, but they may be bound in chains and may not know that freedom is available to them. Why get upset and rage at them for not opening their eyes—when they are truly blinded by the god of this world and cannot see until the God of Heaven opens their eyes.

Lord, remove all stubbornness, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and feelings of superiority from my heart. Give me the heart of the sinner who beat his breast and begged God for mercy.

 

Where two or three aren’t gathered

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20 KJV).

From my 2011 Journal. Every Monday morning I meet with a small group of ladies for Bible study and prayer. And every Sunday I join hands with my Momentum team, and we bring our requests before the throne of God. And many times I’ve begun a prayer session by quoting Matthew 18:20, reminding God of His promise to join us.

We’re all guilty of it—quoting and applying Scripture out of context—but it startles me when I discover I’m the guilty one! The actual context of this verse is regarding confronting a person who has wronged you and forgiving them and getting witnesses and declaring he’s wrong. It really has nothing to do with a prayer meeting!

Is it still true that God is “there” when two or three are gathered together? Of course! But He’s just as much “there” when there’s only ONE of us in one place! I just don’t think I should use this verse as a proof text for something it isn’t.

What verses have you been guilty of taking out of context?

clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-45842

THOUGHTS, WORDS, DEEDS

Your life is a printout of your thoughts.

From my 2011 Journal. Since childhood, I’ve been taught that deeds are important—whether good or bad. Remember that little chorus, “O be careful little hands what you do”? Within the last 10 years, as I’ve been listening to people’s memories, I’ve begun to understand how much our words might have an even greater impact. (See Derek Prince’s book Blessing or Curse—You Can Choose.)

But after reading Surviving Death by Scott Degenhardt, I became convicted about how much our thoughts can impact the universe as well. For one thing, if you think something, it has the potential to turn into words, which often morph into deeds. (Ever notice how you can think about doing something, and then you decide to ignore it, and then all of a sudden you find yourself getting up and doing that very thing?) I marvel that a thought has that much power over my body.

I could quote the verse “as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 KJV), but somehow I’d come to believe that as long as I didn’t SAY something or DO something, it was okay. But here’s where I got convicted. I have found myself critiquing and then criticizing people’s choices in my head. I would never dare say something out loud, but I indulged the thought. What if we all had the ability to read everyone else’s thoughts? Would our thought life change?

Here’s the thing . . . thoughts are not really private. The God of the universe knows my mind. And sometimes my thoughts get expressed in my triggered emotional responses.

I am He Who searches minds—the thoughts, feelings and purposes—and the [inmost] hearts.  Rev. 2:23

God, by Jesus Christ, will judge men in regard to the things which they conceal—their hidden thoughts. Rom. 2:16

How does one confess a lifetime of guilt in one’s thought life? Sigh.

Thoughts pexels-photo-1485657

I Have a Question

From my 2011 Journal. My husband says he’s going to inscribe on my tombstone my favorite question: How does this make you feel?! My skill as a counselor is often based on how effective my questions are, so I’ve started taking note of some of God’s questions in the Bible, for He is a master “questioner”! Obviously He didn’t ask them because He didn’t know the answer, but rather so His clients would examine themselves and face whatever they were feeling or believing, or trying to avoid or hide.

To Adam:

            Where are you?

            Who told you that you were naked?

            Have you eaten of the tree?

To Eve:

            What have you done?

To Cain:

            Why are you angry?

            Why are you sad and dejected?

            If you do well, won’t you be accepted?

            Where is your brother?

            What have you done?

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

            What is this discussion you’re exchanging between you as you walk along?

To the disciples after the resurrection:

            Why are you disturbed and troubled?

            Why do such doubts and questions arise in your hearts?

To Mary at the tomb:

            Why are you crying?

To Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee:

            Peter, do you love Me?

What question is Jesus asking me today?

Question mark

Permanently Public

Dad's letterFrom my 2015 Journal. My father was a prolific letter writer, and I followed his example for many years, handwriting weekly missives to all my friends. On more than one occasion, someone has kept a letter I’ve sent and, long after I’d forgotten about it, shared it with me. It’s scary to think that something I said 40 to 50 years ago impacted someone so much that they kept it on file. Technology, meanwhile, has opened up a venue for exposing us like no other medium I know. I’m often surprised to see copies of letters or documents that were kept, photocopied, and posted online for the entire world to see. These become permanent records somewhere “out there” for future generations to mine through and discover.

Back in New Testament times, letters were carefully preserved and copied by hand, shared with several churches, and passed down through the generations. John the evangelist wrote a personal letter to “the elect lady” in II John and told her not to allow certain people into her home and not to give them encouragement or Godspeed. Typically, in the past, I’ve read the Scriptures as if every word were written to me. Thus, when I’d read this passage, I would try to figure out who in the world I shouldn’t “allow into my home.” That is an unhealthy exercise in futility! Since no husband is mentioned in this book, I assume John was giving her some advice about protecting herself and her faith.

The Word of God is inspired, and the Holy Spirit moved in men’s hearts, but sometimes men wrote out of their triggers, and most certainly out of their personalities. When I read the epistles as letters to a specific person or persons at a specific point in time, it feels like I’m peeking into someone’s private mailbag. I’m not sure I’d want some of my Facebook posts, letters, emails, or texts broadcast all over the world, published, and reprinted for future generations!

And then there’s that slanderous reference to Diotrephes.

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us (III John 1:9 NET).

Yikes! How I would blush to see my name referred to like this in a public letter! Perhaps Diotrephes was too full of pride to care. But I wonder at the time if John had any inkling how permanent his words were to become.

I once wrote an angry letter to an organization with whom I still have a relationship. I regret that now. Did my letter get permanently filed under “Difficult People”? I have since learned my lesson: never respond in writing while I’m feeling triggered. Work through my emotions first and my tone will change.

How would my communication change if I knew my words were permanent?

Mountaintop Experiences

DSCN3170 wilderness mountain

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17)

One day Peter, James, and John, closest earthly friends of Jesus, climb to the top of a high mountain. They’re dirty, tired, sweaty, hungry, and thirsty. The journey is long and arduous, and they are clueless as to why Jesus is leading them here. It’s nice to be away from the pressing crowds, though, where it’s quiet and they can feel the wind and have time to think about all that’s happened so far. It’s a high mountain, and it takes all their energy to climb, and they wonder when they’ll ever reach their destination. The privileged three might miss their families, but it’s exciting to be singled out to spend quality time with their Rabbi.

And then it happens—Jesus’ transfiguration, meeting biblical heroes Moses and Elijah, the enveloping brilliant light cloud, the very voice of God in their ears. It’s overwhelming, it’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying, it’s unique in history.

But this mountaintop experience is not meant to be the norm—in spite of Peter’s suggestion to create shelters for the three of them. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they are not permitted to share it with anyone—at least for now. This is a “between me and God” holy moment—it’s nobody’s business but theirs. And there’s a purpose for it—maybe to strengthen their faith or to give them courage or enlightenment. Maybe Jesus is bursting with excitement and wants to share His true story experientially with His best friends.

And now it’s time to come down from the mountain. They can’t live there, but it’s now part of their story that shapes how they think and feel. They are different for having experienced it. And when the time is right (after the resurrection and not before), they will be given permission to tell others—it’s a testimony—both theirs as a witness and a verification of who Jesus is.

What mountaintop experience have you had? Did you tell someone, or have you kept it between you and the Lord? Why?

 

Go, Preach, and Baptize

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19 KJV)

From my 2011 Journal. My childhood was immersed in the culture of evangelism.  My missionary dad preached in remote villages of Nigeria and established a church. My mother’s medical work and reading classes were all for the purpose of getting a foot in the door for evangelism. We MKs (Missionary Kids) could quote the Great Commission forward and backward (in King James of course). Many of our hymns and choruses reflected the missionary calling: “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “The Ninety-and-Nine,” and “Rescue the Perishing.” Preachers berated us for staying in our “holy huddle” and not reaching out to the lost. Bible school professors instructed us on how to knock on doors and “draw the net.”

One Sunday I sat guilt-ridden through one more passionate three-point evangelistic sermon on how each believer was required to “Go, preach, and baptize.” I may have had opportunities to share

Paul baptized

My brother’s baptism at Kent Academy

my faith, but I had never preached to or baptized anyone. Feeling triggered, I wondered how this Baptist preacher would feel if I, as a woman, actually offered to stand in his pulpit and preach . . . or asked to take his place in the baptistery. I began to push back against the notion that evangelism was the only viable gift of the Spirit. Was the Great Commission given only to men? Only to the Apostles? Was I being disobedient if I have never dipped anyone?

What if discipleship is what God has called me to rather than evangelism? Maybe I’m a Dorcas or a Ruth. Maybe I have the gift of mercy rather than exhortation. It’s time to stop our shame messages and learn to work together as a body—each with his or her own gifts.

 

Anger Water

Pour forth the overflowings of thine anger. Job 40:11 ASV

Anger is a hot topic—literally. Some people visualize their anger as white-hot or like red flames. But this verse in Job references anger as “overflowing.” It makes me think of a liquid metaphor where there are different kinds of anger:  there’s the slow, low, simmering kind and there’s the roiling, boiling kind. They’re both hot to touch.

Boiling waterDepending on the vessel (the type of soul one has), anger water can be contained (as in a pressure cooker or cooking pot) or it can cause a meltdown (if placed in a plastic container for instance—I know by experience). What difference would it make if the container were made of steel or cardboard or glass? Most of us are not capable of holding onto anger for very long before we feel its effects in our body,  and our “overflowings” spill out and burn others. Or as a Facebook meme stated, “If you don’t take the time to heal from what hurt you, then you’ll bleed all over those who didn’t hurt you.”

In contrast, God’s anger is slow, longsuffering, patient. God’s vessel is capable of withstanding the hottest heat without exploding. It’s best to siphon off our anger into His vessel because He can hold it. But eventually even His anger reaches the “overflowing” stage. (See the book of Revelation.)

God the Father

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15 NASB)

From my 2011 Journal. For a long time I’ve tried to figure out my picture of God the Father. And all I could get was seeing Him sitting on a giant throne, stern and stiff and still, sort of like Abe Lincoln’s marble statue in Washington. And seeing Him on the throne is all well and good, but that doesn’t show me the “Papa/Abba” side of Him. Sitting on the throne is His job—King, Ruler, Sovereign Judge over the Universe.

Dad 2We’re often told that our view of God looks a lot like our view of our earthly father. I adored and respected and admired my dad, but we never had a close, intimate, soul-to-soul relationship. I always felt safe and protected, and he taught me a lot, but it was never the warm and fuzzy sort of nurturing feelings. He just didn’t “get” little kids. Okay, so maybe there’s an element of truth there about my view of God the Father.

As I prayed this morning, I asked God for a new picture—one that demonstrates His love for me. And this is what I saw:  I’m snuggled under the covers, ready for bed, and God the Father is sitting beside me, bedtime story in hand, answering my most puzzling life questions that arise at the end of the day when all is quiet and still. There’s deep love in His eyes. His kiss on my cheek is gentle. His hands tucking me in are careful and kind, but most of all, full of love for me, His child. I’m safe and warm, no fear, no worries or needs. He’s taking care of me. He loves me. That’s Who my Papa is. By day? King of the Universe. At night? The reader of stories, the delight of my day and night. Thank You, Abba, that I’m your child.

What does Father look like to you?

Small Bites

 

As I read the Scriptures, I find I can only chew on one small portion at a time. When I’m studying faith in Hebrews 11, it’s hard to focus on I Corinthians 13 and love. When I’m reading the Psalms, I’m focused on praise and thanksgiving. I have to trust that whatever bite I’m chewing on at the time is what my soul needs.

Sometimes my soul needs water because I’m thirsty (“as the deer panteth for the water”). Sometimes it enjoys dessert (the mountaintop experiences in life). But other times, a sip of bitter coffee (admitting I’m wrong) offsets the sweetness of forgiveness. Meat and starch for energy. I need it all . . . but I can only take (and enjoy) one bite at a time.

And so I lay aside the guilt that says I’m not praising enough, or I’m lingering too long over the coffee. I need balance. And I can trust God to bring into my life whatever He has planned for me to help me grow in my walk with Him.

What are you chewing on today?

Small bites 2