So there I was, minding my own business—a husband, two little girls and a life busy enough to keep thinking down to a minimum. The idea that I might be misrepresenting the love of Jesus to a hurting world didn’t bother me one stinkin’ bit.
Let them eat cake. Or figure it out for themselves. Or show up at church and peel off the top ten percent from their paychecks like the rest of us poor church slobs. Whatever.
I just wanted them off my doorstep.
Playing Pharisee Games
You may have noticed I’m not talking much about sin. There’s good reason for that. I figured out long ago sin isn’t the only thing keeping us from Jesus.
Sin is a condition, like dandruff or the heartbreak of psoriasis. Only it’s something we all share. And because it’s so common, sometimes we don’t notice anymore.
Sins are things we pick up to beat ourselves with, then turn around and beat everyone else. It’s the selfish things we do to make ourselves feel better at the expense of others. It’s the things God hates because it damages our soul and He loves us so much, He doesn’t want to see us hurt.
Pharisees, on the other hand, are very fond of sin. We catalog and sort. We point out the sins of others and feel superior in the process. We pick out the biggies and tell folks to straighten up and they’ll be fine, only we know good and well they won’t. We hand them a list of requirements for living the proper Christian life and let them drown while we come up with a new list.
Not once in the gospels does Jesus pound on sinners. He eats dinner with prostitutes. Hangs out with the longshoremen. He makes friends with the IRS. When I woman gets caught in adultery, He refuses to carry out the penalty. He says, fine. Let the one here without sin throw the first rock and when He winds up being the only one left, He tells her to just go on woman, and cut it out already. Real tough.
Jesus loves sinners.
Pharisees tend to piss Him off, bigtime.
The Wages of Sin
The biggest problem with sin, both ours and others? It seperates us from a loving Father and pays out dividends for decades. Things like pain. And shame. And anger. And fear.
We need forgiveness. We need a whole new birthday.
Pharisees want to complicate things. We strap burdens on others we can’t carry ourselves and make-pretend we’re Hercules if anyone’s looking. Instead of introducing people to the One who pardons the guilty, who can fix broken hearts, we tell them how to live the Christian Lifestyle—
- Find yourself a church (ours preferably)
- Attend every time the doors open no matter how tired you are, no matter how many hours of overtime you worked last week
- Open up your wallet and start paying out (ten percent, off the top)
- Teach Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, sing in the choir, lead worship
- Listen to the pastor ‘cause he’ll surely get around to addressing your issues… from a nice, safe distance, in a year or two.
So hurting people buy some church clothes and sit on the pew, holding their boxes and wonder what on earth they’re doing there. The Pharisees sit on the other side of the church with all their church friends and pray the messy people with their messy pain don’t ask questions they can’t answer.
It’s Not an Excuse But…
We all tend to self medicate—drugs, alcohol, relationships, shopping. Anything to fill the empty places. My drug of choice was religion.
He didn’t like it much.
He decided He wasn’t having it anymore.
What Are You Doing Here?
By this time, I’d played the game long enough and loud enough I believed my own press releases. Pain? What pain. I had a wonderful childhood. Whoever that was hiding in the closet for two years, it wasn’t me. I was Super Christian, able to attend multiple Bible studies in a single week. More powerful than a sack of wet Baptists. Able to leap hurting seekers with a single shrug.
So why was I crying on the couch every night?
Might have something to do with Jesus showing up in my living room whether I wanted Him to or not.
Put the kids down for a nap and dadgumit, there He was. The hubby heads out the door to work the late shift and I’d settle in for an entire night, all by myself with Magnum PI and BAM! There He was, sitting in the living room, ready to talk.
I didn’t want to talk.
I did the next best thing.
And became more religious. Yes, it was possible.
If He kept showing up that way, I figured I must be doing something wrong so I cranked up the juice. I read my Bible thirty minutes instead of fifteen, quit watching television altogether, starting sending an extra ten percent off to orphans and evangelists (that’s a total of twenty percent of the gross if you’re keeping count.) I quit wearing pants and wore only ugly clothes bought at Goodwill as everyone knows ugly clothes are much holier than pretty ones.
If nothing else, I’d run Him off having to look at me.
But He stayed. He would not let up. And I couldn’t quit crying.
At some point I don’t even remember anymore, I decided I had to take care of myself, only I couldn’t and didn’t get the memo. Jesus showed up like the cavalry, ready to scoop me up and kiss away all the pain. Only I was busy pretending nothing was wrong. That box was staying shut if it killed me.
So, He let me hang on awhile longer. He started pointing out all the other folks running around, holding onto their boxes.
So many boxes, so much pain, nobody getting better.
Then He had the nerve to tell me I was religious.