fabienne harford

Posts Tagged ‘Series: Confessions of a prodigal pharisee’

Confessions [of a prodigal pharisee] ARE BACK!

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on February 9, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Get excited!  My confessions are back.  For those of you who don’t know the lingo, let me fill you in.

  • Prodigal/Younger Brother: These are terms used to refer to the parts of my character that identify with the younger brother in the parable of the prodigal sons.  This is the rebellious, pleasure-seeking part of me.
  • Pharisee/Older Brother: These are terms used to refer to the parts of my character that identify with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. This includes the tendency to be self-righteous believe that I am acceptable to God because I obey.

Keep reading to see how this works in my latest confession (#22)…

Confession #22 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin, Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Confession #22

Sometimes the ‘rewards’ system in the bible makes me uncomfortable

Here’s the deal: over the past year, the Pharisee part of me has been thrust back into the dark hole from whence he came.  Now, I can spot him coming a mile away and every time I affectionately take the Gospel and literally beat him over the head with it.  I have no tolerance any more for the Pharisee in me and his desire to ‘work’ for God.

So, this morning I was reading in Philippians and I found something that sounded an AWFUL lot like God saying – hey! – you do this for me and I’ll do this for you!  And that makes me REALLY uncomfortable.

Let me bring you in the loop here. In Philippians, Paul is writing to encourage unity in his peeps, and he explains to them that humility is the doorway to unity.

Before they have time to start whining about how hard it is to be humble when their coworkers are all such idiots, Paul reminds them of a guy who actually had a right to be indignant and self-righteous, but chose to wrap Himself in the humiliation of our flesh and willingly endure things He alone NEVER had to endure just to secure Heaven for us ‘idiots’ down here.  (that’s Jesus btw)

Paul says be humble.  His motivation for them is – Jesus was humble.  I’d be happy if the passage ended there.

But that’s not where this passage ends.  Paul explains how Jesus did all this crazy humiliating stuff and then says ‘therefore’.  I’ve learned to seek that word like my boss seeks out new places to eat good meat.  It’s a magical word to me that basically indicates God is about to explain what on earth Paul is talking about here.

Paul says be humble. Jesus was humble. And because He was humble HE got exalted. Is Paul trying to encourage them to pursue humility so that they get exalted?  That seems AWFULLY self-centered and VERY pharisaical/older brotherish.

I had basically dismissed that possibility when I had a couple of sneaky verses try to sneak their way into my not so sneaky mind:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Peter)

Wowzah. Well. Huh. That awkward ‘so that’ in the second example sure makes it hard to write exaltation off as a gracious byproduct rather than an incentive for humility.

So, Fabs and the HS did some good old school wrestling this morning.  I explained to Him that He needed to work on His attitude.  While someone as gracious as I might give Him the benefit of the doubt, an innocent observer might perceive Him as an older brother, and He really needed to adjust the way He was currently presenting Himself.

It occurred to me, as I was ‘correcting’ the Holy Spirit, that out of the two of us, I really wasn’t the one that could be counted on as a rock of truth.  (True story: I spent some serious time this morning wondering why God didn’t create hamster size polar bears.)  I’m probably not the best person to re-write the Bible.

So I’m stuck with this truth.

And here’s what I’ve been thinking:

God’s call to be humble so that we get exalted is not a call to work for a reward.  It is a call to rest in faith that God is working out the reward.

God isn’t saying – do this humility thing and earn some exaltation.  God is saying – stop trying to work to earn your exaltation.  Stop trying to defend your name and earn your promotion.  Stop trying to secure your earthly reputation and your heavenly glory.  Stop being your own advocate.

God is saying – I will be your advocate.  Give me room to display what a glorious advocate I am.  Make room in your heart and in your mind to see how much I will fight for you.  Let me defend your name.  Spend yourself seeking the exaltation of those around you so that I can show you how delightful the exaltation that comes from God is.

Don’t receive the glory that comes from men.  Seek the glory that comes from the only God.  Seek it through laying down your striving and resting in me as your identity.

It sounds like freedom.

And I know that ultimately it sounds like glory.  Because Paul ends his paragraph with a couple of well placed words.  Jesus is given a name above every name. Why? –to ‘the glory of God the Father’.

Humble yourself.  The reward is the glory of God.

Confession #21 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on September 16, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Confession # 21

Sometimes I only turn to the Father when all my other options fall through

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need…When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father…”

That’s from the Bible.  But it sounds like it could be from my journal – just change the ‘he’ to ‘i’. I wish that my journal read a little bit more like: I never leave the Father’s side or I get to the gate and then realize that I love Him more; that at His right hand are pleasures forever more.  But the sad truth is that sometimes I exhaust all my other options before I turn back to my perfect love.  I create cisterns to hold water, but they don’t work.  Even as I see they don’t work – I don’t throw in the towel and return to the living water, I just keep plugging the holes and trying to make it work.  It’s only when I’m dying of thirst that I go home.

Since I’m both a Pharisee and a prodigal – I manage to connect to the older brother and younger brother here.  Quite an accomplishment.  You see – I judge the younger brother here.  I feel like there should be an expiration on repentance.  And I don’t feel like it counts if that repentance only comes when there’s no other option. 

But the irony is that I AM the younger brother.  I can see that clearly.  I see clearly that I only turn back to God after there are no other options, and even then – left to my own devices I would still stay at the empty and broken cistern trying to make it work.  Even when there are no other options – I don’t turn back to God.  He has to come and rescue me and overcome my desire to hang out in the pig pen. 

So it’s kind of crazy and frustrating that I judge others who are in the same position I am. 

The only hope for us?  His gift of Faith.  What ultimately leads the younger brother back to the Father is faith in future grace.  He believes that the Father can provide a better life than the pig pen.  He believes that the Father offers more hope. 

May God grant me that same faith.  May I wake up tomorrow believing that at His right hand are pleasures forever more.  May I wake up tomorrow and by His grace  believe that there is more joy by His side than on any grand adventure.

Confession #20 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on August 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Confession #20:

I sometimes feel like I’m the only one doing this wrong (or the only one who doesn’t have it all together)

There’s encouragement in the lives of the saints.  That’s what I’ve learned this week.

There are ways that both the younger prodigal brother and the Pharisee in me both want to be unique.  The younger brother enjoys the attention that comes with uniqueness and the Pharisee enjoys the unique strengths in me that bring me praise and respect.

There is a time of ‘uniqueness’ though that both the prodigal and the Pharisee abhor.  The kind of uniqueness I despise is the kind that makes me feel like I am the only one who is failing.  I hate the aloneness that comes with feeling like everyone around you is walking in perfect purity while you stumble along groping for the landmarks that will give you hope that you’re still on the path.

I spent the better part of yesterday reading about the early years of Jonathan Edwards. It was heartbreaking and beautiful.  I was reading about his early conversion and he seemed so crazily delighted in the Lord and so quick to pursue Holiness with every fiber of his being.  I read his resolutions with tears running down my cheeks.  Mainly because my journals used to be filled with the passion and intensity of his words and now I long for that desire.  I fell asleep pleading with my Father: God, stir my affections.  Make me to delight in you.

I woke up feeling…I don’t know.  Better? Closer to Jesus? More eager to stand in His Word but still disappointed that I am not what Jonathan was.  Afraid that all believers should be able to sit down with Johnny and say – I know what you mean!

I think what made me so sad is that I could recall the days when I pursued sanctification with more passion than I had ever pursued anything in my whole life- and I’m a passionate gal.  But, if I’m honest, these last few years have been…different.

And I guess I just felt like I must be doing this Christian thing wrong – and I must be the only one.

But guess what?  God is so crazy good.  Because He encourages His saints.  And He uses His Saints to encourage His Saints.  And we are not alone.  He quiets the Pharisee part of me that is freaking out that I might be behind the curve, and assures me that I haven’t missed some major memo on Christian sanctification that everyone else received.

You see – I got to the next part of my book (my biography on Jonathan Edwards).  It was actually kind of a poetic moment.  I was sitting in the kitchen and began to read the next chapter and as I turned the page it started to rain: fat and slow drops.  I watched the slate tiles in our front yard turn dark as the water left it’s stain.  And I turned the page and I read about the next part of Jonathan Edwards’ life.

The book began to tell of JE’s reflections on his walk with Jesus.  The writer was telling about the next evolution in his sanctification. Turns out Jonathan felt (when looking back on his earlier resolutions) that he had pursued his holiness ‘with greater diligence…than ever [he] pursued anything in [his] life, but yet with too great a dependence on [his] own strength, which afterwards proved a great damage to [himself].”

Oh gosh.  How much those words ring true.  How much I pursued with vigor the image of the Christian I wanted to be – but with so little understanding of God’s sovereignty and with (as a result) so little intent – or rather ability – to give Him the glory.

When I read from JE’s journal, I felt like it might be my own:

“Though it seems to me, that in some respects, I was a far greater Christian for two or three years after my first conversion, than I am now; and lived in a more constant delight and pleasure; yet, of later years I have had a more full and constant sense of the absolute sovereignty of God, and delight in that sovereignty; and have had more of a sense of the glory of christen, as a mediator revealed in the Gospel.”

Amen and amen.  And Amen for a God who is faithful to put my testimony in another persons’ life so that I could combat the lie that I am alone in this, or that the shift in my walk is an indicator that I am failing to persevere.

And JE is not God.  He’s just a man.  But the peace that floods me reminds me when I read those words, that God is going to finish the good work He began in me – and if that depends on me for a single second – it will fail.  The only hope I have of seeing this Covenant through is that He will fulfill my part as well as His.

It may not be your testimony.  But here’s what I’m starting to believe – there is a story of a saint that is so familiar that it takes your breath away.  There is a friend, or a believe who you will be having coffee with one day (whether it’s in person, or through some biography), and they will share their heart with you and before they can finish talking you will feel the hope spilling over into your face from your heart because the words resonate in places that make you feel less alone than you knew possible.

You may not relate to my testimony in this silly blog, or JE’s words, written over 200 years ago.

But maybe these words you can relate to:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.”

Confession #19 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on July 19, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Confession # 19:

I sometimes fail to expect amazing things from God

This is kind of an inverse younger brother/prodigal confession.  This is one thing that the younger brother seemed to grasp that I find myself unable to get my head around.

I was in class on Sunday and a friend of mine pointed something out about the younger brother in the Prodigal God story.  while he manages to screw everything up, in the midst of his questionable decisions, there’s one noteworthy characteristic: The prodigal approaches the Father with crazy expectation.  And his expectation reflects that he thinks his father is pretty darn gracious and generous.  At the beginning of the parable he just rolls up on his dad, expecting a fortune.  I guess he recognizes something in the Father’s character that makes him believe he will do something this generous.

Then, when everything in the brother’s life falls apart, he wonders where he can go and he remembers that his father treated the hired men kindly.  Were I to ever find myself in the prodigal’s shoes (in a pig pen in the middle of nowhere), my assumption might be that any normal middle-eastern father would never let their child set foot on their property again, but the younger brother seems to have a different expectation.  Again – he knows something about the father that leads him to believe that his home is a place where he can return to be met with grace.

I’m not trying to say that the younger brother is right to abuse grace or disobey the Father.  But when my friend pointed all this out on Sunday, I gotta admit I was challenged a little.  She commented on the level of expectation the younger brother had for the father and wondered why we – who have tasted firsthand the grace and kindness and majesty of God- expect so little of him.

While my tongue proclaims God is gracious and all powerful, my prayer life reflects that I don’t expect Him to be these things with me.  I think of my prayers as impositions.  I am worried about wording them just right so that He can tell how much I revere Him and how I humble I am (pat on the back).  My real requests are obviously too foolish to bring before the throne so I try to plan out more ‘godly’ ones.  As if it would be possible to have a request that might be worthy of our God unless it was a request of His Spirit anyway, and as if He would be displeased or disappointed if a child of His came to Him with a request from the heart.

We find ourselves unwilling to treat Him like a Father because it would require us to acknowledge that we are children; that we don’t know everything – or even anything. We are too full of pride to admit that we are helpless to help ourselves and we are unable to even know how to pray or what to pray.   I wish I could see myself as the child I am.  I wish I could go before the throne uninhibited, able to expect that I will be met with grace because He is a great and gracious God.

I remember this story about Alexander the Great.  He had this guy in his military who he favored as his own son.  The young general was getting married and so Alexander the Great said he would throw the wedding and foot the bill for all the expenses.  When the wedding planning was complete, the general came to Alexander’s financial advisor with the bill.  The financial advisor was appalled (maybe he had some Pharisee tendencies).  He couldn’t believe high outrageously high the bill was.  As it seemed to him the young general had taken complete advantage of Alexander the Great and needed to be penalized publicly for the insult of assuming this amount of debt.  The advisor went before Alexander the Great and showed him the bill and asked what kind of punishment he would like to inflict on the young general.

Alexander the Great simply replied that the young general paid him a huge compliment.  The financial advisor was thrown, and asked the King to clarify.  A to the G explained that the young general obviously thought very highly of his King.  He found Alexander to be either exceptionally wealthy or extravagantly generous – and both of those assumptions were filled with praise.

I guess what I’m wrestling with today is that my prayer life reveals what I believe about my Father.  And if I’m honest, my prayers reflect that I think my Father is powerless or stingy.  I’m afraid to ask him for what I want in case He finds it offensive, which robs me of the opportunity to point to His faithfulness and wisdom.  Is He not wise enough to trust my requests with?  Is He not faithful enough to do what is best for me?  Is He not generous enough to bless me beyond my limited ideas of blessing?  Is He not powerful enough to do more than I could ask or imagine?

Is He not a good Father who delights in His children and delights to give good gifts?

Today I pray I would approach the Father as if He is the Father I know He is: perfect, kind, gracious, Holy and good.  And even that prayer – which is riddled with wrong motives and twisted intent – I trust to a Father who knows my heart and knows my good – and will act on my behalf for His glory.

Confession #18 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on July 17, 2009 at 1:21 am

Confession #18:

I sometimes try to repay my debt

I’ve been reading the parable of the prodigal son a lot lately.  And I’m seeing more and more of the younger brother/prodigal in myself.  A lot of times we think that the younger brother is the one who gets grace.  Atleast he seems to be the one who understands that he has no hope but the father’s mercy.  But this week – looking closer I saw that even that crazy prodigal can’t get his head around the one thing he needs so desperatley: free grace.

In the parable, after the younger brother decides to return to the Father’s house he has a plan.  He doesn’t just intend to fling himself upon his father’s mercy.  I mean – he plans to do that – but he plans to do it in the form of a repentance speech that includes a strategic initative: repaying the money to his father.  He figures he can work as a hired servant until he can pay off his debt.

Annnndd….conviction. right to the heart.  Of me.  Because this is all too familiar.  I know the pig pen all too well.  And I know when I’m there –the only hope I have is the mercy and grace of the Father.  And over the past year or so He has taught me to fling myself at His feet when I fail – and for that I’m grateful.  There is a lot more hope there than I find in myself.

As a younger brother – I love the Cross, I cling to it, but like the younger brother, I also find myself sometimes trying to pay God back.  For me – this is where the act of repentance comes in.  I reduce repentance to this ‘work’ that I do to show God how truly sorry I am and how willing I am to make amends.

Repentance – which is the most glorious gift of God – the joy of returning to the Father, has become less about the welcoming hug I receive from God, and more about the offer to work off my sin.

There are a couple of problems with this.  Problem One: It is laced with the implication that my sin could be repaid.  The very reason I need Christ is because I cannot make up the debt I have incurred, and when I try, I reduce the Cross to a transaction and I imply my Sin is small enough for me to ‘make it better’ with some good deeds.

Problem Two: I once again make the Gospel about myself and not Jesus.  Somewhere in the middle of this prodigal son’s desire to return, even he reveals the Pharisee way of thinking that his acceptance by the Father is based on what he can do. The Gospel is not just what saved me – it’s what sustains me.  It’s not just the grace I needed to be forgiven for the life in the pig pen, it’s the grace I need for the heart that longs daily to return to the mud in spite of it’s regeneration. The Gospel – the life and blood of Jesus – don’t just cover my past, but my future.  And I get a chance to preach the Gospel to myself each time I fail and feel tempted to turn prayer, quiet times, even repentance into ‘deeds’ to repay God a debt that cannot be repaid.

Confession # 17 [ of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on July 14, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Confession # 17:

Sometimes I only turn to the Father when all my other options fall through

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need…When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father…”

That’s from the Bible.  But it sounds like it could be from my journal – just change the ‘he’ to ‘i’. I wish that my journal read a little bit more like: I never leave the Father’s side or I get to the gate and then realize that I love Him more; that at His right hand are pleasures forever more.  But the sad truth is that sometimes I exhaust all my other options before I turn back to my perfect love.  I create cisterns to hold water, but they don’t work.  Even as I see they don’t work – I can’t seem to just throw in the towel and return to the living water. I just keep plugging the holes and trying to make it work.  It’s only when I’m dying of thirst that I finally get brought home.

Since I’m both a Pharisee and a prodigal, I manage to connect to the older brother and younger brother with this confession.  Quite an accomplishment.  You see – I experience this like the younger brother, but I judge other younger brothers as if I were an older brother.  My pharisee self demands some sort of expiration on repentance.  And I don’t feel like it counts if that repentance only comes when there’s no other option.

But the irony is that I AM the younger brother.  I can see that clearly.  I see clearly that I only turn back to God after there are no other options, and even then – left to my own devices I would still stay at the empty and broken cistern trying to make it work.  Even when there are no other options, I don’t turn back to God.  He has to come and rescue me and overcome my desire to hang out in the pig pen.

So it’s kind of crazy and frustrating that I judge others who are in the same position I am.

The only hope for us?  His gift of Faith.  What ultimately leads the younger brother back to the Father is faith in future grace.  He believes that the Father can provide a better life than the pig pen.  He believes that the Father offers more hope.

May God grant me that same faith.  May I wake up tomorrow believing that at His right hand are pleasures forever more.  May I wake up tomorrow and by His grace  believe that there is more joy by His side than on any grand adventure.

Call me home.

Confession #16 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on June 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Confession #16: I am sometimes afraid of grace

I’m currently drinking a non-fact white choc macadamian nut mocha.  My hunch is that it’s not non-fat at all because it tastes so delicious.  You can taste the fat.

I wasn’t sure what confession to write on next.  I had coffee with a friend this weekend, and she kind of confessed something to me.  I wanted to use hers, because I could see so clearly the pieces of pharisee or prodigal floating in her words, but I felt weird about confessing something that isn’t mine.  I tried to categorize what the struggle might be and I came up with ‘fear of grace’.

I was sitting on the couch later, trying to think of a way to confess on her behalf when I stumbled across a document I created several months ago to help me keep track of all my unwritten confessions: those things I wanted to blog about some day.  At the top of the list was ‘I’m afraid of grace’.  Ironically, I am such a pharisee that I even managed to point out someone else’s struggle while conveniently forgetting that I struggle with the same thing.

The way my friend expressed this struggle is that she sometimes feels guilty enjoying or resting in grace.  She’s worried that she’s supposed to be looking at her sin, and that feeling the peace of grace is too good for a sinner like her. She’s right.  And wrong.

For us Pharisees, there’s this really weird thing time line we walk through.  Tim Keller describes it as a pendulum swing.  We find ourselves absolutely confident when we are doing well.  But in this confidence we are a little lacking in humility; we don’t rest on Christ but on ourselves.  As we stumble, we find ourselves totally getting the humility thing, but suddenly terrified for our salvation: no confidence or assurance at all.   We are either confident but not humble, or humble but not confident.

We feel guilty enjoying grace for the same reason we feel so despairing when we fail and for the same reason we feel so confident when we are doing ‘well’.  Because our righteousness is based on nothing less than our own righteousness.  Grace makes us uncomfortable because it would mean owning the truth that we cannot earn God’s approval or blessings. And if that’s the case, then all our works – all our ‘prayers’ and ‘quiet times’ don’t guarantee us anything.  Grace means we are no longer in control.

When we look at our failures we feel so guilty.  As pharisees, our solution is to find someone who will tell us it’s not as bad as we think.  Our solution is that we shouldn’t look at our sin so much.  Our solution is that we should forget how bad we really are.  However, that’s not the solution I see in Scripture.  In Scripture the solution seems to be pressing into the truth that we are in fact a lot worse than we think.  Weird.  How could Jesus think that is helpful?

Because if we rest in the true Gospel, looking at our sin will only help us see grace.  We will not see guilt or pain we will see love in the face of all our failures.

When looking at our sin produces helplessness or despair or guilt, it should not be an catalyst to look away – it should be an indicator that we do not believe in the truth of the Gospel.  These emotions should become red flags that we are finding our hope in our own behavior.  Which is why it feels like our hope is lacking when we fail, and is why our hope feels secure when we succeed.  We are actually our hope.

We will always fear grace as long as we believe that we have something to bring to the table.  We will always hate the truth of grace for as long as we want God to work for us; for as long as we need Him to be in our debt.  Grace means that nothing is on our terms.  Grace means that He is fully in control of us – we have been bought.  He doesn’t work for us.  He doesn’t owe us.  Instead – He freely gives – in the way that He wants.

This would be frightening if we didn’t believe that He alone is just and good.  But we do.  We forget that we do, but we do.  There is no one better to be in control; there is none better to give me what I need.

By your grace – I will trust in you.

Confession #15 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on June 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Confession # 15:

I sin because it seems to taste better than Jesus

Blargh.  I hate this confession. I feel bad even writing it.  This one is all prodigal (or younger brother), and I can tell because the pharisee (or older brother) in me is like ‘shhhh!  you don’t need to type all this!!’.  But it’s a kicker.  An obvious confession for many of you – but for me – a new realization.

I always try to intellectualize my sin.  Give me a cup of coffee and a couple of minutes and I can trace my lack of faith back to a twenty second conversation with my sister in 1987.    Do I covet because of that yellow dress that I wanted so badly and was forced to watch as it was given to my friend on the day after I didn’t get to go to Disneyland?  Seriously, time is all it takes for me to find a way to somehow blame my parents for pretty much anything in my life. (good luck parents)

Here’s the horrible and horrific and shameful reality:  The prodigal in me sins because I just straight up like it.  I just like the pig pen.  I really do.  I don’t return to the mud out of some deep psychological experience or scarring.  I think it’s just that sin tastes good to me.  And in the moment I choose to sin I do so because it seems to taste better than Jesus.

I can hear you freaking out.  How could anything taste better than JESUS?!?! Yes. I know.  I know you’re judging me. The pharisee in me judges myself too, so if you want to jump on the bandwagon i’ll sell some rocks that you can throw at me on Sunday.  At least I’ll make some cash out of the deal.

I know Jesus is better.  So it’s been a mystery to me for some time that sin could taste better than Jesus.

Track with me here.  I indulge my thoughts in a certain way and honestly – it feels better than having a quiet time.  blick.  I eat more food than I should because – it feels good. ugly i know.  But here’s what I realized this past week.  There’s a reason sin sometimes feels better than sitting at my desk reading my bible.  Because my feelings are this amazing indicator of what I truely value.

My pharisee talks all day about how I value Jesus above all.  And all the time I’m using grand words to tell you how amazing I am at loving Jesus, I hide my heart with it’s treacherous sin behind my back, like the wayward child that it is.  For some reason my heart won’t act like I value Jesus above all!

So, this week I had to have an intervention with my heart.  I got together with my thoughts and my actions and I sat that heart with all it’s crazy emotions down to try to get to the bottom of why it won’t just behave as if I value Jesus most?  Heart, why can’t you just pursue what I value most?  Why do you pursue things I don’t really value. And sad news.  My heart answered back: I only pursue what you truly value.  I am nothing but a lackey of the mind.  You tell me what you treasure, and I find myself running towards whatever you desire.

Where my treasure is, my heart will be.  My heart is the true indicator of what I value.  My mouth can confess all day that I love Jesus more than the approval of man, but my heart calls me a liar every time it finds more joy in a gold star than time in the Word.

When we get our true treasure we always are filled with this weird sense of happiness and fullness.  I sin in worship of approval and power because I find my value more in the respect of my peers than in the words of Jesus Christ.  I don’t have to work at feeling joy in their praise.  That flicker of happiness comes naturally when I get what I want.  And my heart testifies to where my value truly lies.

Why is it that I have to work to have joy in the Lord, when a date has a 100% success rate of making me happy?  ugh.

What we value will always bring us joy.

Blick.  What this means is that I may not find as much of myself in Jesus as my pharisee self might like to pretend.

The good news is that Jesus is better.  That’s the reality.  He does actually taste better than sin.  It’s just that my tongue has been so badly burned by the world that I don’t taste very well anymore.  So, I think Wendy’s fries taste better than Fogo de Chao.  The pattern of this world has taught me that.  But in Jesus, I don’t have to conform to that pattern anymore.

And even though my pharisee self thinks that I should have gotten perfect tasting skills the moment I was regenerated, Jesus doesn’t seem to be shocked that I struggle with this kind of stuff post salvation.  In fact – Paul tells me that even though I’m a new creation, it may take my flesh awhile to get the memo.  My life this side of Heaven might be a process of putting to death – through the Spirit – those deeds and calling out the places I find my treasure other than Jesus. My life this side of Heaven might be the restoration of one taste bud at a time until I can finally taste correctly and savor the glorious sweetness of my Jesus.

phew. good times.

Confession #14 [of a prodigal pharisee]

In Bible, Endurance, Sin on June 10, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Confession #14:

I sometimes get super anxious about personal criticism

I’m not quite sure how to phrase this confession.  ‘Pesonal critisism’ seems like a very formal way to say that I sometimes have a hard time getting over mean people pointing out things I do wrong.

Disclaimer: I’m not talking about the loving rebuke from the people near and dear to me in my life; I can coach myself into receiving that.  But, I have a hard time with the pointed critic telling me what is wrong with me.  I hear them and I grit my teeth and smile and nod.  This fake smile is obviously a problem, caused by my inner pharisee not wanting to appear angry and thinking that somehow the outward calm conceals from God the sin in my heart.  And trust me, there is sin in my heart.  I know because I spend hours feeling anxious and replaying and writing amazing rebuttal speeches in my head – never to be delivered of course.  sigh. 

So, this morning I read this quote about Martin Luther.  And, it was kind of like heart surgery.  Sitting in my cold office, without an audience I had an audible response (a sort of gasp and ‘amen’ combo if you’re interested).  

The quote was about personal criticism, and how frequently it’s accompanied by this defensive indignation in our hearts.  

Luther pointed out that regardless of the inaccuracy of the criticism, regardless of how cutting toward the character, the reality is that anyone who condemns me falls short in their view of my sin.  No words they could use could accurately describe the true depths of evil and sin within me.  “No matter how bad the personal criticisms—no matter how accurate, or inaccurate, the accusations—there is more sin in each of our hearts than a critic could ever discover”.  ouch.  

So, I always patted myself on the back for identifying and combatting the pharisee in me that keeps me silent and smiling when I am actually indignant over accusation.  But it turns out that is not the largest crime my pharisee commits in this case. I think I might have been missing the forest for the trees.  Because the real pharisee issue isn’t my outward smile but the inward indignation. oops. 

See, the Gospel says that I have no idea how deep my sin really goes.  The Gospel brings the truth that I am way worse than I could ever imagine.  And while someone may level a charge at me that isn’t ‘accurate’, I surely shoudn’t protest inwardly as if I’m innocent.  

So – they accused me of stealing and I didn’t. But hey – I murdered someone this morning, so I’m not sure I need to die on the hill that I didn’t steal.  Know what I’m saying?

And the good news of course is that I would be free to accept this truth without indignation if I actually found my righteousness in Christ and not my own good deeds.  Because, if Jesus is my worth, then I am not threatened by someone pointing a finger at me.  I will be free to agree that ‘I sure am a mess’ and point at Jesus.   

The only source of this indignation that I can think of, has to be found in the pharisee.  You call me a liar?  Well, whether or not I lied today, you are right: I am.  But as a pharisee –  whose value is based on my own actions – I could never confess that.  As a pharisee, I have to cling to the areas I am succeeding and fight for people to acknowledge all the things I did right.    

In the Gospel, I can let go of the fight to prove how great I am.  In the Gospel I can look into my failures without fear and cling to Jesus.

Oh gosh.  This is a big realization for me.  Because, I’m indignant about once a day.  pout.

Blast.  I think I wrote a confession once about how I sometimes get frustrated with sanctification.  Refer to that bad boy right now.  

Keep up the good work Jesus.  And ignore my Israelite grumbling.