A Recovering Pharisee

pharisee1Jesus told the story in Luke 18 about the Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray…“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Some sins are harder to confess than others. Seldom do you hear anyone confess envy or jealously yet you and I both know that it is a major problem. Somehow we are more comfortable confessing in the third person, we can talk openly about what ‘they’ do but we don’t get very specific about our  sins. First of all, let me tell you that I don’t want to see myself as the Pharisee above. I loathe everything they stood for and the last thing in the world I want to do is be like them. With that said, I have had a life long battle with the sin ‘despising others’ or condescending. I got my terminology from Luke 18:9, NKJV…He spoke this parable [one above] to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. The word despise means to look down on. Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise your youth”. Literally Paul was saying, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”

Our conditioning always plays a part in who we are but the strange thing in my case is that I was raised in the middle, not rich but not the really dirt poor. I grew up with kids who had more but there were a lot who had less. My mother was ultra Victorian and she associated smoking with uncleanness and somehow I got the idea that a woman who smoked was immoral. There is a little poetry that goes with that thought but I am not going to share it. Mother hated tattoos and Daddy hated long hair on men. I didn’t know what a homosexual was until I was 17 but no one in our community favored them. Race was never a problem, Mother and Daddy both loved black folks and had many black friends. Some of my fondness memories come from working with black kids in the cotton fields. Hey, they were not slaves, they got paid, I didn’t. I have been in church all my life and have never lived in open rebellion to my parent or God but I was rebellious, I just tried to keep it covered.

Girl smokingYou would think with the upbringing that I had that condescending would be the last thing I would do but it has been a battle for as long as I can remember. I knew that I was a sinner when I surrendered to the ministry back in 1969 but I had no idea just how depraved I was and it has been a process in which God has gently and patiently revealed my deep dark side. I was so ignorant and naïve that I thought I was Joseph and Hosea in the bible. I could not see myself as Joseph’s outlaw brothers or Hosea’s unfaithful wife.  I really thought I was a good guy; full of love and forgiveness. Serving a church as pastor can be an eye opening experience. Just a few months in to my first place of service, a 16 year old girl came to me with an unbelievable story. Her daddy was an ordained deacon. I have no idea how that happened. He had been getting in bed with her at night since she was 14. She was overcome with guilt and shame. Her mother had been living in denial but the daughter finally created such a scene that the mother had to take a stand and she stood with her daughter, thank God. The old man was mad and withdrawn. Life in that home was tense to say the least. I had no idea such things happened but I had no problem showing compassion and giving the young lady all the help I could. Shortly after that experience, I discovered a young lady, not related, with a similar problem. She was not a professing Christian. I stayed one night after church to share Christ with her and she stopped me before I could get started. She said, “I have a bad reputation, what if someone sees you talking to me?” I swallowed hard but did not think out loud, I said something spiritual like, “I’m not worried about being seen, I am more concerned about you being saved.” Underneath, she had hit a nerve and honestly I was worried about what people thought. Driving home that night, I thought of the story of Hosea and his wife and I really thought I was being the Hosea in this case. It took a few years for the LORD to open my eyes. In tiny increments, He has been opening them since.

There is no telling how many times I have violated this prohibition not to despise or feel morally superior to another. I really believe it is the sin God convicts me of more than any other, even lust and that is saying something. A few years back I met a young lady at the place of her business, actually a family business and she was very pleasant and friendly although I was old enough to be her dad. I was not an isolated case, she was very friendly to a lot of guys and I guess you could label her flirty. There was no attraction on my part but all for the wrong reasons. She is not a bad looking girl but she has a tattoo or two and she is not my type. Now for the honest part: I would not have ask her out had I been young and single because I looked down on her. I felt morally superior to her. I did not attempt to share Christ with her, I just played the game and kept moving. I don’t think that I have ever been unkind to her or said anything condescending but the fact remains, I felt or believed that I was better than she. I don’t smoke, I have no tattoo’s, and have no desire to hang out with those who do. That is pretty self-righteous, border line Pharisee. Why couldn’t I see this girl as a helpless sheep without a shepherd? Why didn’t I have compassion on her? Good questions and the only answer I have is that basically, by nature, I am a Pharisee or a recovering Pharisee as Mark Lowry says. Unfortunately, it is my default setting.

Things have changed since I despised this young girl, she has been hurt in a relationship that she thought was a dream come true It was for a awhile but now she has a broken heart. Her dream has turned into a nightmare. I had never slowed down long enough to look into her eyes until a few days ago. She was waiting on me and I was making conversation. The LORD had convicted me and so I ask her where she lived because I wanted to visit she and her husband. My intent was really to share with him but she shocked me. I think I said, “Where do you all live, I want to come for a visit.” She said with hurt in her eyes, “There is no yall”. She was right, two days later I saw him with another woman. We talked briefly and she said, “Bro. Jack, please pray for me.” I promised her that I would and I have been praying for her almost daily which is good for me. It has taken me all this time to see her the way Jesus sees her. The grace of God and the Spirit of God have had to cut through all the flesh and masculine garbage to get me to see the real person and the real issue. Now, I don’t see her as a flirty chick or something unclean. She is a better person than I am. Paul said to Timothy, This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. I use to think that Paul was just trying to sound spiritual but I have changed my mind. He knew the secret to relating to others. If you see yourself as the chief of sinners, you have no one to look down on. Listen folks, this girls needs what I and every other human needs, the unconditional love of Jesus and some human person [in her case a man] who will demonstrate that love to her.

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