Taming of a Pharisee

Note: This is a series of posts originally written in eight parts and scattered about. I’ve collected the whole piece here for easy reading.

Taming of a Pharisee

Part 1

This is my story. It’s not the whole story or even the biggest portion. It is, however, the most important–

It’s the sweetened- condensed version of how  I met Jesus and came to love Him like thunder.

All my life, I’ve loved Jesus. These days, I call Him Yeshua.

Why? I don’t know.

Maybe Jesus became overused—a worn-out name without meaning. Like telling someone I-love-you a thousand times a day until the words dribble on the floor unnoticed.

And I really want to notice.

A Little Backstory:

I spent most of my years wildly vacillating between living correctly and loving extravagantly. Seldom have the two intersected for long.

My father pastored tiny churches brimming over with  salt-of-the-earth kind of folks. The sort who say amen at all the right moments and play dominoes on Saturday night fueled by pots of  black coffee brewed up one right after the other. We visited a different home every Sunday and ate more fried chicken than allowed by law, even here in the South.

We did not dance. We did not swear.  We did not listen to worldly music or watch worldly movies or keep company with worldly people. Truth be told, we did not have much fun, unless you count the dominoes (which I don’t as back then, I wasn’t allowed to play.)

My older brothers decided to be hippies. They trashed  their butch-wax and grew their buzz-cuts out long and shaggy. They threw on  love beads and stopped wearing deodorant. Looking back, their lack of toiletries most likely saved me from a life of communes and love-ins,  as they seemed to be having way more fun than I was stuck back home bouncing from one chicken-fried dinner to the next.

So with the option of Flower Child off the table, I came to one conclusion.

All this correct living was boring as hell.

Tomorrow: The part where the girl is not murdered and meets Jesus for the first time.

Part 2

The Part Where the Girl Meets Jesus:

Remember the hell from yesterday? At some point, I figured out I was going there.

In first grade, my Sunday School teacher taught her room full of tiny terrors the sinners prayer and I understood mighty fast I qualified. I told lies to keep from getting in trouble. I stole pennies from my mother’s change drawer and bought secret stashes of candy from the Stop and Go. I said mean things to the other kids on purpose.

I felt icky inside from all my badness and consequently, a fear clamped around my insides that I was going to die before God got around to hearing little me, cowering in my bed every night chanting that prayer over and over. After all, He was very big and I was very small and He had more important things to do. Who knows how far down on that list my name might be?

So every night, I arranged my pillows just so, one on either side of my body. I put my hands on the sides of my  neck so burglars couldn’t strangle me. I lay face down so no one could smother me with a pillow. I scooched w-a-a-ay under the covers so I might be mistaken for an extra pillow. And every night, I prayed like crazy.

Laying there one night in my tiny little prison, Jesus showed up. Don’t  go telling a seven year old He didn’t because He surely did. My insides lit up, all the black ickiness went away and I knew I belonged to Him. I put my pillows back where they belonged, rolled over and went to sleep.

I didn’t think much about God again for five years.

That would be the point where the hippies started  looking mighty good.

Next: The part where the girl gets kicked out of church.

Part 3

The part where the girl gets kicked out of church.

At twelve, I was living life in the fast lane. I threw away my clarinet (along with the nerdy stigma is carried) for a spot on the Jackson Junior High Drill Team. I snuck out at night to dance on the corner with the cutest boy in the neighborhood. I kissed a nineteen year old that should have been arrested.

Life was good, I was plenty enough saved (thanks much) and I had an almost-boyfriend with a dirt bike.

And then, Jesus showed back up. I felt Him sneaking around the perimeter, looking for a way in  the heart He saved all those years before.

He poked it with sticks.

He sung over it in the dark.

He let me feel afraid again.

Getting french kissed by a predatory nineteen year old might have had something to do with that.

The Charismatics Are Coming…

My parents started going to prayer meetings. The Charismatic Renewal was going great guns with Full Gospel Business Men hanging out on every street corner and Women Aglowing all over the place. Three of my preacher dad’s five brothers were neck deep in all sorts of hand waving, tongue-talking maneuvers.

This was naughty. Very, very naughty.

Now our denomination didn’t believe in much of anything. We  had few doctrines, but we did have a laundry list of no-nos. Tiptop on that list? No Speaking in Tongues. Clearly of the devil. Anyone who’s been in Church World any length of time can tell you Charismatics are particularly fond of speaking in tongues.

Back then, tongues were the new gift of choice and the newly baptized went around spouting off all over the place. Of course Dad being Dad, he got curious and headed in for some investigating. To find out what his brothers were up to, you understand.

Dad brought home a whole stack of books from a back table and hid them away so as not to corrupt the youth (that would be me.) I found Dad’s stash and read every single one in the walk-in closet while the adults watched Bonanza. Somewhere about halfway through David Wilkerson’s, Cross and the Switchblade, I realized I needed to know Jesus just a tad bit better.

Laying in bed one night staring at the ceiling, I told God that if this Baptism of the Holy Spirit business was real, then fine by me. I then proceeded to speak in tongues for ten minutes or so, shrugged my skinny shoulders and fell asleep.

Doctrines don’t mean much to twelve year olds.

My World Turns Upside Down…

All shoulder shrugging aside, something did happen that night. I fell deeply, passionately in love with Jesus.

Maybe not God, mind  you. God was still big and scary, up on a throne somewhere raining down thunderbolts on sinners, me being chief amongst them. Jesus, on the other hand, came to live side by side with us and got Himself crucified in the process. He loved sinners and laid into the religious hypocrites of His day—snakes and vipers He called them. He braided His own whip and drove the money changers right out of the temple. He even washed Peter’s stinky feet when by rights, Peter should’ve been down there washing His.

But the best part? Jesus was alive. Alive! He wasn’t Storybook Jesus, hanging out by the Sea of Galilee making fish sandwiches. He was right there in 1973 hanging out in Conroe, Texas. He came in close, loved all over you and filled up the hurting places. He wanted to talk and He answered when you asked Him questions. Maybe not in words you could hear with your ears, but way inside, He spoke all quiet like.

And every time He came for a visit, He brought peace right along with Him. I was starting to really need some peace.

Oh my, I dearly loved that Man.

The End is Near…

Not long after, Mom and Dad joined the party and we started sneaking out nights to prayer meetings all over Houston. We raised our hands and sang worship songs and prayed in tongues with the best of them. We showed up an hour early just  to get a seat and basked in the glory of God, then crept home to our dried up little church in the country. We carried on this way a nice, long time until someone finally got wise.

And so, we got kicked right out  of church. Twelve year olds tend to rat out the family secrets when church snoops come calling. I told the church busybody to quit being so hung up on denominational doctrine, man,  and just love God. Why not ask Him for themselves? All that tongue talking-business was right there in the Bible, right? Having a particularly good memory, I quoted chapter and verse in case they wanted to look it up.

Turns out they didn’t.

Years later, I figured out tongues were just one of many gifts in God’s arsenal–a way to pray straight to His heart, bypassing the intellect and understanding.

I was about to need the grace bigtime.

Next: The part where the girl learns how many pieces a heart can break into.

Part 4

Sometimes a heart breaks over time, a piece falling out here and there.

I remember the day mine fell on the floor and shattered in a million micro- bits.

First Love

When I entered this world kicking and screaming, three beautiful faces smiled down on one of the ugliest babies on record.

Early on, I thought of them collectively—like a giant three headed gift of joy. Three set of arms to hold me, lots of kisses on chubby cheeks. But soon, they separated into distinct love-toys for my tiny amusement.

Milton Junior—my Moo Moo. The oldest of the tribe and most handsome male ever to walk the planet. Gentle, kind hearted.  He held me close and I still recall wrapping baby arms around his neck. When he rode away on his awesome chopper at eighteen, my nine-year-old self grieved for months. In fifty years, he’s never spoken a harsh word to me.

James Ray—smartest boy ever  with an IQ flying off the charts and a guitar to rival Bob Dylan’s. His patience with a little sister stands uppermost in my memory. He wrote poetry, sang songs to break your heart. He didn’t mind a pesky little girl watching over his shoulder for hours on end while he worked out the chords on new song or glued little pieces together on his latest model car.

John Max—bundle of energy, always throwing a ball or racing his bike.  He sang loud and off-key. Even my baby ears knew but  how I loved his voice. He tended to break things—like fingers and arms. I worried about him constantly.

Dad was busy with the congregation, running for city council and flying airplanes. My brothers were my heroes. They stabilized my world. I learned to tell time by watching the clock, waiting for them to come home from school. I wanted to be Elvis so I could be cool like them. When they laughed and told me I was a girl, I gave up and decided to marry Milton.

Even at four,  I knew you couldn’t marry all three.

The Times, They are A-Changing…

It was the sixties. Brothers grow up and leave home, come back for awhile and leave again. Parents whisper and worry. I waited for their visits like Christmas morning.

It didn’t matter what my brothers did, I loved them like crazy.  As far as I was concerned, they could do no wrong.  I fretted over them like a tiny rat terrier. I wanted them to quit smoking so they wouldn’t die of cancer and go to hell but otherwise, whatever they wanted was fine by me.

There was lots of hand wring amongst the adults. I missed the two oldest who’d gone off to be hippies in Southern California. I fought with John, made fun of his wig and ratted him out when he smoked cigarettes and cursed.

And then, Mom said James was coming home to stay.

Some Things Just Aren’t Fun

I ran to his room, bumping over to see my gentle brother again. I found a stranger sitting on his bed, playing his guitar.

What the hell are you looking at?

I ran away.

I didn’t stop running for years.

The scene plays over and over in my mind  four decades later and I still don’t have an answer. What wasI looking at?

Back then, no one knew what mind altering drugs could do to a person. Nobody mentioned the mind might go on vacation and not come back.

He was just a kid himself, only nineteen. His mind was gone. My brilliant brother couldn’t read or write. Mom retaught him to make his bed and wash the dishes. His thoughts raced and every syllable came pouring out.

Mom said he was sick. She said I had to be patient. She said he couldn’t help it.

Nowadays, folks would say we were a family in crisis. Someone might suggest we get counseling . Someone might mention it wasn’t healthy to have an unstable manic living at home.

I don’t want to focus on my brother’s mental illness. He spent two full years fighting his way out of hell and those living with him got to play along. Even once he stabilized, he was never, ever the same and I could never reconcile the brother he was with the brother he became.

Anyone who knew my gentle brother in later years could never imagine what that time was like. I don’t think he remembered.

We never talked about it.

Me (13), James, Milton Jr. and John in 1974.

Next: The making of a Pharisee or… the girl who once loved Jesus hardens up like a rock on the religious landscape.

Part 5

So how does one become a Pharisee?

I don’t remember waking up one morning intent on hardening up over religious dogma, leaving my first love behind, developing a critical spirit…

Funny how it happened anyway.

Life on the Funny Farm

Living with mental illness stinks. When everyone sits around pretending nothing’s wrong, a girl questions her own sanity after awhile. We were a family of secrets, pretending to be okay while the world fell apart.

I learned to cope. Sleep meant escape. I slept hours and hours at a time. I developed migraines, not on purpose you understand but the effect was the same– escape into pain.

And then, for my next trick, I shut down entirely.

In the dark, I peeled off a portion of myself and backed away, leaving it behind to deal with things too big for someone so weak.  The technical term is disassociation. I locked myself up, ran all my friends off and spent days  in a fantasy world of my own creation.

I learned to run.

The smallest problem, the hint of pain and off I went– overly sensitive, unable to deal. That’s the trouble with terminal cancer—a head cold might do you in. Avoidance seemed like a mighty good idea.

I stopped crying.

One tear sneaks out and next you’re blubbering so loud they hear you in Kansas.  Crying makes others uncomfortable. Blubbering gets you committed. So at the ripe old age of fifteen,  a rock replaced a once tender heart.

I stopped feeling.

The problem with not feeling anything is you don’t feel anything. The Jesus I knew and loved brought an entire boatload of those pesky feelings with Him on every visit. Hardening up meant I no longer felt His presence but I could live with that.

I backed away from Him too.

Religion is Easier than Relationship.

The next fifteen years, I pretended to be okay.

This was the plan. It seemed like a mighty fine plan at the time.

  • Grit teeth.
  • Barrel through.
  • Find all the right answers through intensive Bible study and/or sitting under the teaching of others.
  • Spout said answers without thinking.
  • Commit to a rigid life of correctness. Quiet time in the morning, Bible study at night. Attend church with ardent enthusiasm.
  • Mumble canned religious rhetoric until others puke with joy.
  • Pray desperate prayers occasionally, then snap back into hiding.
  • Hope for a slow death to give time for any last minute repentance just in case.
  • Don’t let anyone close enough to notice anything amiss.

After all, what more was there? I was saved by grace, filled with the Holy Ghost. Now I just needed to hang on tight and coast along a few dozen years until I got hit by a bus.

Easy.

Only one problem. Other people hurt. My stellar acting skillz and religious pedigree gave people the silly idea I had it all together. After all, my father was a pastor, I was a nurse with an intact family and a couple of well-behaved children (Pharisee-ism is taught you know, but that’s another story entirely.)

A steady stream of the wounded arrived on my doorstep and bled all over the bricks. Not one. Not two or three.

Dozens.

I murmured religious answers, twice dead, plucked up by the roots and scooted them off as quick as possible. I had nothing to give them. No bread. No water. No deliverance. No healing.

No Jesus.

I could  hear God snickering as they paraded through my door.

From way inside my hard little heart, I raged against their weakness. I fussed and fumed, waved my arms and told them to buck up. Ignore that pain woman! Move on already!

But like the Grinch, something deep inside started to wiggle.

I was about to get hit by another sort of bus entirely.

Next: The part where the woman learns that Jesus has His commercial license.

Part 6

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 separates 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.

Simple really.

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 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.

I avoided.

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.

Next: The woman learns Jesus is very, very sneaky.

Part 7

Jesus does not play fair.

I’m not bitter mind you—just stating facts.

The Buttering Up Phase

First, He shows up and hangs around, looking good, not saying much. Pretty soon, you get accustom to having Him there so you engage in a little conversation. It usually goes something like this:

You’re hanging around an awful lot.

I am.

You want something, don’t You?

No, just enjoying this nice comfy couch.

That couch died ten years ago. Even deity can’t be comfortable on that thing.

(bounces a little) Mighty nice… you could sit next to Me if you want.

I’m good over here.

Missing a real treat (bounce, bounce, grin)

At which point, Jesus gets ignored for the rest of the evening.

This goes on for some time until finally one night, He doesn’t show. You refold the towels a dozen times, scrub the sink until the porcelain flakes off, then head over to the couch to pout.

And BAM! there He is.

You missed me.

Not really.

I saw.

Maybe a little.

Want a hug?

Yes please.

Now hugging takes getting use to. You’re not accustomed to His touch, you’re still half expecting Him to bring up that weekend in Aruba or ask you to go off and be a missionary in some country without indoor plumbing.

So He waits.

What you can’t see is Him rubbing His hands in glee behind your back, or front, or something because you are this close to being right where He wants you.

Want to hug me again tonight?

What I’m here for. I was thinking we might throw in a little something extra.

Oh my! What was that.

Unconditional love. Haven’t felt that before, have you?

Mmmmm…

Like it?

Mmmmm…

How about a little peace? Maybe a touch of joy?

By this time, you are slobbering over with all sorts of good feelings.

Shame really.

The Set Up

(Shows up thirty minutes later than usual)

Where have You been? I’m dying over here.

You’re not dying, you just love Me. (Commences loving-up maneuvers)

Hmmm… You’re right, I love You.

Feels nice doesn’t it? Haven’t had much peace these last fifteen years.

Very nice.

Not much joy either.

Not much. (drool)

I can do something about that, you know.

Okay.

How about you let me handle things from now on?

Okay.

At this point, you are toast. Go ahead and sign over the farm Louise, you are a goner.

The Trap is Sprung

Only Jesus doesn’t just take it all right then, He drags things out awhile. One night, He shows up and the conversation goes something like this:

You know how much I love you, right?

Hmmmm… I love you too.

And if I asked for something, you’d give it to Me, wouldn’t you?

Dadgum right.

Anything?

Anything at all, You can have everything.

How about that box over there?

What box? I don’t have any boxes.

That raggedy old box in the corner. I’m needing me a box for manna and stuff.

(raises head, looks around, can’t see straight.)

(love, love, love)

Anything—You can have all my boxes. (slobber, drool)

Sure about that?

Yes, positive.

(secret grin over head)

You want anything else? I could crawl over broken glass or something.

No, I’m good.

How about some flagellation? Whip my back raw, just for You…

(whispers) You wish you were getting off so easy…

And that, my friends, is how you get hit by the Jesus Bus and lose your box in the process. Because the next thing that happens, the very next thing,  He shows up and you don’t get a hug and He’s got your box on His lap.

Hey! You’ve got my box!

No, actually this is my box.

Looks like mine.

You gave it to me, remember?

No way!

(runs  hands over box, rattles lid a few times) You gave it to me last night.

I wasn’t in my right mind.

Looked okay to me. Sounded fine too. A little slobbery maybe but given the circumstances…

I want it back.

No takebacks. Besides, I like it.

This is so not fair.

You love Me remember?

I’m pretty sure You cheated.

It’s mine now and once I get it all cleaned up, I’ll fill it with all sorts of nice things. For now, you’re going to have to trust me.

Lovely.

Now come on over here and we’ll look inside together.

(crosses arms)

I can’t give you peace from that far across the room.

You can, You just won’t.

(wiggles eyebrows, pats couch, looks cute)

But here’s the thing. The woman learns she can trust Him. Yes it hurts but she doesn’t die which is what she secretly suspected. He doesn’t take everything out all at once and He doesn’t smush her face in the refuse.

Sometimes He shows up without the box and talks about world peace. Sometimes He shows up with the box and leaves it sitting in the corner. He asks her what she remembers, takes her heart all gentle-like in His big hands and heals all the broken places. Sometimes, He opens it just a crack—and shows her that He was right there, all the time.

He gives her back her smile and her feelings and her tears and her sense of humor.

He redeems her box.

And now, twenty years later, the box is finally empty.

Not sure what He’s using it for.

Maybe I should ask tonight.

Next: The heart-rending last gasp of a Pharisee or, if you take a fish out of water…

Part Last

This is my apology.

I wish I’d done this sooner.

No, I’m not being too hard on myself. You see, it’s one thing to make mistakes, bump into others and hurt them in the process. It happens. It’s called being human.

It’s another  entirely to say you represent Jesus, especially  in leadership and point folks the wrong way. For years, I pointed everywhere in the world except to the source of Life and Peace and Joy.

If someone said they were hurting, I invited them to church.

If someone said they couldn’t pay the bills, I told them to tithe.

If someone said they were lonely, I invited them to women’s Bible study.

You see, I really didn’t believe He could heal a broken heart.

I didn’t actually believe that if You called on His name, He would answer.

I didn’t really know Him at all.

Oh,  I said I did.  I stood right there flat footed and acted like I had all the answers when inside, I was bleeding out and too proud to ask for help. That’s why I need forgiveness.

The Proud Need Breaking

After dealing with the hidden things, my Lord had to go after my Pharisee heart. He had to break that stubborn streak, the one that wanted to organized and list and avoid with rules and bondage. He had to teach me to obey, no matter what.

He needed to show me His face. To reignite that first love. To cleanse and heal and set me free. To teach me to hear His voice, to recognize His touch.

So what did He do first?

He told me to quit going to church.

He said I’d lose most of my friends in the process. He said if I wanted more of Him, I had to follow wherever He led. He said I didn’t get to take it to committee for permission.

So I jumped right up and obeyed.

Gotcha.

No, it took awhile. I heard what He said, I just couldn’t believe He said it. Everyone knows good Christians go to church even if church stinks. They give to missions and listen to Christian radio and put their kids in the Cheerleaders for Jesus program.

I argued up a blue streak. What about fellowship? What about the kids? What about our reputation?

What about obedience?

I knew what was coming. More than that, I knew I had it coming. I knew what friends and family would say, to our face, behind our back because I spent so many years judging  others for just this sort of thing. My weak and spineless self  did not want to be on the receiving end.

He told me to stay quiet, not to defend myself. He said to let people think whatever they wanted.

Fish Out of Water

Jesus was out to break me.

Take a Pharisee out of church and watch them sputter. All sorts of things start dying inside. Things like… pride maybe.

The phone rings and yet another friend calls with a word of correction. They say you’ve been deceived. You’re out of God’s will.  They quote Hebrews 10:25 as if you never heard the dang thing before.

You thank them nicely, tell them you’ll pray about it, hang up the phone and scream for three days.

Why are You doing this to me? Can’t I at least say this wasn’t my idea? That I love church? That every Sunday morning I get up and whine on the couch like a big baby? That You’ve taken away my entire identity? That I’m not bitter or disillusioned or mad at the leadership?

Another well meaning friend shows up with a book written by their pastor outlining all the reasons you’re now cursed instead of blessed—because you don’t attend church. They hint this may be the reason you just spent a week in the hospital. They say, maybe now that you’ve suffered, you’re ready to listen.

It dadgum hurts.

It’s suppose to.

Radical obedience means living the cross. We give up our way, our plans, our agenda and follow Jesus—not a pastor or teacher or denomination. Jesus—the one who left heaven for us, who came and died and overcame death. The one who loves us. We risk being misunderstood, misused, mistaken to go wherever He leads. He didn’t ask us to join a social club. He said, pick your cross up and follow Me.

Crosses are for dying, my friend.

To all my former and current Pharisee friends let me say, I understand. You’re doing what you’ve been taught since the day you stepped into Church World. But there’s another world of hurting folks who will never darken the door because of people just like you and me.

So cut it out. If you want to play church, that’s fine. It’s your business.

Just leave the lambs alone.

And In Conclusion…

Sometimes He takes the foolish things of this world—a former Pharisee, a pastor’s daughter, a wild-eyed Bible thumping, hard-hearted fool—and takes them outside the comfortable limits of our understanding of His grace so they can testify to a hurting world—

If you don’t want to go to church, you don’t have to.

If you don’t want to vote Republican, it isn’t necessary.

Forget all the stumbling blocks, all the stupid things people throw in your way, all the dumb things they say because they don’t know any better and just call on Jesus.

If  you’re hurting, call on Jesus.

If you have questions, call on Jesus.

If you don’t believe in Jesus, call on Jesus.

If you’re in  bondage and you’re ready to be free, call on Jesus.

If you need a hug, call on Jesus.

He’s pretty good at that, even if He is a little sneaky.

He promises if you seek, you’ll find Him. I sought at the  age of seven and He’s been following me, loving me, taking care of me ever since.  And while He loves me plenty, I know too many other folks out there with stories of His love and protection and care. I am not an exception.

With Jesus, I’m the rule.

He loves His lambs. He takes care of them. He gets seriously pissed off at anyone who hurts them, anyone who stands in their way and keeps them from His arms.

Thanks for sticking with me through this opus. I’m crying now with these last few lines, an indication of how things have changed over the last twenty years.

For those who prayed for me, loved me, sent sweet notes and emails of encouragement, thank you. You know how much I love you and if you don’t, we’ll see what we can do about that in the near future.

For those who read this because you  remember that girl from back-in-the-day, please know you’re the reason I spent days praying and crying and deleting and begging Jesus to help me get this down without compromise, without waffling, without shifting blame. I’m just sorry it took so many years to write.

For a closed off, private person, writing  this feels like standing naked on the playground—a little scary, kind of liberating. I’m ready to dance around a little and traumatize the neighbors. Maybe I’ll get really crazy and write about something fun next time.

My kids may be in therapy for decades.

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