This afternoon I sent out my latest e-newsletter to update my supporters on the goings on of our ministry here in Ecuador. In every newsletter that I write, I try to include a bit about what God is teaching me. Sadly, I find that sometimes the space restraints of a newsletter often mean that I have to rush so much of what I want to say, without getting to tell the whole story. At least that's a bit of how it felt writing today's newsletter.
For the past three months I've had the privilege of skyping into the monthly women's fellowship meeting of my home church. We are studying the book of Mark together and this month there were two questions in our study that really stood out to me. The first was "Why were people with bad reputations drawn to Jesus?" and "Are they drawn to you? Why or Why not?". And the second was "Why did the Pharisees think it was a bad idea to hang out with sinners?". Now I'm not going to share my exact answers, but these two questions really began to reinforce to me just how often I act more like a Pharisee than like Jesus!
When I read so much of the Bible, especially the New Testament, I see Jesus as this God-man who was more concerned with honoring the father and loving others, than with his reputation and trying to follow man made rules of religiosity. When I look at the Pharisees, on the other hand, they seem like people who knew a lot about God and thought because of how much THEY studied, how much THEY did right, how law abiding THEY were, that God obviously would approve of them and thus other people had to respect THEM and live up to THEIR standards. And when I look at those two descriptions, I see myself as living more like a Pharisee than my Jesus. Thankfully, over the past several years, God has certainly been showing me the error of my ways. Not only have I realized just how self-centered I am and how wrong my focus has been, but I've also come to truly desire to change and be more like my God.
I shared a bit in the newsletter I wrote today, that more and more I realize just how messy I am and that it's really only by the grace of God that people are blessed by Him through my life. The truth is, I come from a background of Law, thinking I have to do everything right and be perfect and then God would accept me and others would have to accept me. And even though I could never reach that "perfect" standard, I always thought I was doing "better" than other people, so I wasn't that bad! In fact, I never use to really see my own messiness, just the messiness of others...and thus I would keep "them" (those sinners) at bay!
Now, I'm coming to see more and more of my own badness....my selfishness, my self-centeredness, the bitterness I hold onto, how I am so slow to forgive and so quick to condemn, and so much more...and I realize that I'm not good...not good at all...BUT, I AM LOVED! How amazing is that! God of all the universe, who knows every little bit about me...including all the wrong I've done, thought, felt or even intended... somehow He still sees me as His Child whom He loves! It's incredible!
And I guess this is the first step in turning away from my life as a Pharisee and turning to God and a life that more resembles Him. As I come to understand more and more the true state of my heart, I also come to understand how much I need God and how gracious He has been to me! The knowledge of His goodness is changing me and making me see people around me differently...helping me to love them more fully because I recognize just how fully loved I am even though I don't deserve it!
For years I've heard my home church Pastor preach on this and I thought I understood it....In fact I thought I was living it out....and I figured since my mind understood what He was saying that I was doing good and this gave me a great sense of pride. But, I never really got it all in my heart...not until now. And even though I know I still haven't fully understood it all, instead of feeling like I'm so far above everyone else and should be praised for my great knowledge of this Gospel message....I instead feel humbled, and grateful and completely overwhelmed by the love of God. For the first time ever I feel free to admit my failures and look at all the ways I stumble and fall, because I know it's never really been my efforts that make me acceptable to God....it's His and it's always been about HIM!
So, for those of you who get my newsletters....and even those of you who don't....here's a bit more of where I was coming from when I was sharing how God is revealing to me more and more the mess that I am, but it's in accepting that mess that I'm becoming more reliant on God and putting Him back in the place of honor and worship that He deserves in my life! I hope that makes sense...