From This Former Pharisee…

I’m excited to say that last night we went to a smaller church for the second time, and I am starting to see a glimmer of hope for future relationships.

There was a time a little over two months ago that I didn’t think I could ever trust anyone in the church again. 

But the truth is I miss some of the people in our former church a lot. Many of them were encouraging and loving people who accepted us just where we were. A couple of ladies stuck by me checking on me regularly and taking me to lunch during the worst of the times.  The pastor I confessed the abusive relationship to has also reached out to us and told us if he could do  things over concerning us, he’d do things differently.  Though abuse took place in my former church that was horrible, God was still glorified through the love of His people. Therefore, though sometimes I feel like giving up on the church all together, I know I can’t.

It’s all so confusing when you’ve been through what our family has sifting through the bad and finding the good.  The tendency is to want to throw out the baby, the bath water, the tub and bathroom for me.  But I see that doing this I’m going to miss the good God wants me to see.

You know I hesitate to say there was anything good about my former abusive pastor… But that would be a lie. He really did preach well, and I saw him help some people legitimately over the years.  Some of the truths he told me about myself were true and despite the fact that there was an inappropriate relationship, God used some of those truths to heal me. Here’s the thing, truth is truth no matter where it comes from.   Yes, yes, yes what he did was totally and completely wrong and it was abuse, but God is greater than any sin we get entangled in and despite the mess His truth always shines through.  I’ve truly repented.  I don’t miss my former pastor at all, which is a miracle in itself, considering I used to panic at the thought of not being able to talk to him for a day, however when I say I forgive him and want the best for his family I mean it. 

The truth is there is so much about the church that is good.  I had to read this again.  Am I really saying this after EVERYTHING we’ve been through. YES. 

Take last night for example, this guest pastor fills the pulpit in this church we’ve been visiting and preaches from this passage:

Luke 18:10-14 ESV

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I’d heard sermons on this passage before.   I expected to hear him preach on the evils of being a Pharisee and the importance of being humble, but what I didn’t expect was his application to the church here and now and how much we sit in the church thinking we have our acts together when we really don’t.  What I also didn’t expect was for him to stand in the pulpit and apologize on behalf of the whole church for being judgmental and not representing Christ to those burdened and ashamed by their sin like this tax collector… like me.

I hadn’t really wanted to go to church last night, but I’m so glad I did now, for his message, which might not be too profound for some, brought more consolation to my desperate heart than I’d felt in a while.

You see, just a week before I’d gone to a ladies Christmas party in this new church and seen how everyone seemed to have their act together.  Don’t get me wrong these ladies were beautiful, friendly, gracious and welcoming, but inside I felt like Hester Prynne with a HUGE RED A on my blouse.  As I told those who asked that my occupation was church secretary  in my former church, I feared that someone there might have heard what had happened with my former pastor – which was probably paranoia talking, but real fear nonetheless.  I was scared to death that if they knew my story  it  would be too much and they’d shun me like the train wreck I was.   I remember thinking after that party that I just didn’t belong with nice ladies like them.

But this pastor put things in perspective for me.  The Pharisees in their time really had been the good guys and the ones people looked up to.  They were the ones who came across like they had their act together.  They were the ones I wanted to be like, rather than this Hester Prynne personality I’d adopted since my sin was discovered. And God reminded in this sermon just how faulty my own thinking was.

There was a time, however, before my train wreck that I really had things together – at least looked like I did.  We had Bible studies in our home, I helped my husband teach Sunday School, I wrote newsletters for the church, I warned people about the evils of drinking, temptation, and even Halloween in my earlier Christian days.

The truth is I was a Pharisee and a darn good one.  I didn’t drink, smoke or chew or at least lust in an obvious way after those guys that do!  I walked with my head held high for a short time thinking I really was doing it all right… Until my perfect little world began to unravel.

My mother in-law was one of those upstanding ladies in the church, too. I loved this lady, talked about the Bible with her, went on long walks with her and my friends, was proud to be in her family.  I put her on a pedestal, and she fell hard like people do when you put them up high.

We didn’t like the man she started dating.  Just knew something was wrong, and then after much investigating on my part (yes I’m very meddlesome, too) discovered he was married.  Actually, I had a dream he was married and considered it prophetic and called around until I found out from his wife that they were still married. Not only was I a Pharisee, a Prophet, but I was also CRAZY!  And boy did God humble me… And just kept on doing so.

I’ll never forget the day I pulled out my pad and pencil and my Bible determined to understand why my mother in-law had sinned and how to fix it.  How could she be so deceptive… Speaking the truth of God’s word out of one side of her mouth and sinning with the other… And with a preacher no doubt… Do you hate me yet?  Is it any wonder after all my own Phariseeism that I struggle with self-contempt.

But that day I learned and am still learning that God loves Pharisees, too.  For on that day I sought my answer for the question of why my mother in-law was sinning in Jeremiah 17.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?   “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

After reading this verse all the deceptions of my own heart bombarded my mind like a flood.  I saw myself telling people what they wanted to hear and lying through my teeth. I saw someone with impure motives trying to give people a picture of someone who had it all together, but on the inside was following a heart that was black and twisted.

Needless to say, I put that pen and paper down and stopped thinking about how to fix my mother in-law. I felt like God was in the room with me.  I felt it hard to breath. I got down on the floor face down, expecting God to give me the spanking I deserved for being such a hypocrite.

But much to my surprise in the moments that followed I was overwhelmed by more love than I knew was possible.  I still can’t explain this experience fully. All I know is I looked down at the palm of my hands and thought of Christ dying and suffering for me and I knew that day He understood and accepted me.

Even after that day, I still struggled with my mother in-laws sin, however I was no longer quick to condemn or attempt to fix her.  I began asking God to help me.

What resulted?  More turmoil. More people I’d exalted falling off pedestals and finally turmoil that led my family to the door of a church led by my abuser.

And as the truth came out about all my childhood and the things that God wanted to heal me from I turned to this man for help.

I think it was Teresa of Avila who said something to the effect of, “God if this is how you treat your friends, then I’d hate to be an enemy.” I still don’t understand why God didn’t give me a safe place to heal, why He allowed me to become so dependent on a man, and why the heck I stayed in it for ten years.

But I know where I am now, and I’ll say the words Job has said with much trembling, because believe me I don’t want anymore suffering… “Though he slay me yet I will trust Him.” 

Because He’s God. Because He has a reason for everything He gives, for everything He takes and everything He allows. I’m His creation and I’m brutiful (as Glennon Melton says) and I live in a brutiful world.  And I belong to Him and He loves me despite my brokenness, my hard headedness, and my sin. And as Peter says, there just isn’t anywhere else to go.

And with all it’s flaws –  the church is His.  And I’m part of that church and He loves us so much He died for us.  So who am I to say the church is not worth my time.

This former Pharisee was humbled and despite all the pain I thank God He didn’t leave me where I was that day fixing everyone else and missing how badly I needed Him to resurrect me from the dead.

It’s been a long journey and I’m tired, but I’ve learned and I’m still here serving Him and I’m oh so very thankful.

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