Archive for the Faith Category


You would think that growing up in the United States this concept wouldn't be such an issue for me to grasp. Of course, growing up as a kid in the U.S., and in the Bible Belt South no less, I took a certain aspect of freedom for granted. Serving in the Air Force took care of most of that entitlement mentality. Actually, serving one short deployment in the Middle East took care of that though not at the time. But even still, I did not understand freedom because I didn't know what it was like to not be free. Or so I thought. I was never a slave so I couldn't understand what it's like to be a slave. I was never in jail so I couldn't understand what it's like to be a prisoner. I am predominantly European Caucasian so I couldn't relate to ethnic oppression. And I grew up as a Christian in the U.S. in the Bible Belt in the 70's and 80's where being a church-going Christian was just normative and therefore, couldn't relate to religious oppression. What I finally came to realize (thanks to some outside intervention) was that I was a slave to alcohol and a prisoner of my past. I was oppressed by a domineering father and a rigid religion as a child. I became so weighted down with guilt and shame as a child, and the only thing that was alleviating that pain was alcohol. I didn't feel the pain of not being good enough while I was drunk. I felt confident. I felt free. The freedom I thought I had while drunk was a lie. You are never free when you are spending all of your time and energy on trying to be "good enough" particularly when deep down you know you can never be perfect. Perfection as the standard will always leave you feeling inadequate. Eventually, you will realize the futility of trying and will throw your hands up in surrender because your life is unmanageable. There are 2 ways you can surrender. You can throw your hands up and say "Screw this!" or some variation of that thought, and proceed to do whatever you think is going to make you feel good. This is the path I took initially. Outwardly, it worked. I appeared to have everything together, but I was not working through my problems. I was just numbing and escaping. Therefore, life just kept becoming more unmanageable until it got to a point I couldn't cover it with a facade. The other way to surrender is to throw your hands up and say, "I can't do this anymore and I need help!" This is the point I eventually came to. My life had gotten so unmanageable that I was coming apart at the seams. It is taken a lot of therapy and a couple of 12 Step groups to sort through and work through my issues. But they couldn't really resolve my religion issues. I had God issues because of my Daddy issues. If I couldn't ever measure up to my dad's standards with my behavior, how could I ever hope to measure up to God's standard of absolute holy perfection? Plus since my dad had so many issues that he never addressed, I had contradictory information on what good behavior was. Because of his abuse, he abused, and I projected onto God's character that abuse was normal. And you know what abuse does to the abused? It makes them feel less than. Shamed. Not good enough. And it was rigid religion that allowed that abuse, because wives submit absolutely to their husbands, children cannot ever question their parents' behavior, and daddy's are the absolute boss and never wrong. This was God's way and so God must be like my daddy. Except He isn't. There wasn't really one event that opened my eyes. It was several things. Sessions with my therapist. Chats with my sponsor. Chats with friends. Blog posts. Books. Sermons. But one thing that stood out from a sermon, and I think it was one Pastor Jared preached, where he said, "Don't forget who you are, and don't forget whose you are." And it really started sinking in who I am in Jesus. What that really means. That God the Father's love for me is not contingent on my behavior. It never was. It's dependent on what Jesus did. I can quit trying to earn God's love because grace is given out of love. That's when I realized I was free. That's when I understood what freedom really is. Because that's when I finally understood what it means to rest in Christ; to "Be still and know that I am God." Jesus did all the work for me. I'm not ever going to be Mary Poppins, "perfect in every way." Freedom comes from knowing I don't have to be perfect because Jesus was perfect. As Pastor Benji said last Sunday in his sermon,
We're cleansed from the Stains of Sin & freed from the Chains of Sin!"

Fake it ’til you make it

Stairs-RavenRock-WM I hated that phrase. Because some people never seem to get to the "make it" point and just fake it. And they just fake it when it will benefit them in some way. They can talk the talk around the right people, but just don't seem to ever be able to personally apply it to their relationships with other people. You know, hypocrites. The other night, I was in a situation where I had to give a really brief version of my alcoholic story - what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now. I didn't really put any time into preparing for it even though I knew I would have to give it. I just let it largely flow spontaneously. As I listened to myself speaking (which one can do when one dissociates), I heard myself saying something that I had said before, but hadn't really heard.
"I knew how to pretend to live, but I didn't know how to live."
And that would be why "fake it 'til you make it" pissed me off so bad. I spent most of my life "faking it," but not ever "making it." From the outside it appeared I had it all together. And to an extent I did. But I was motivated by perfectionism; always striving for an unknown and/or unrealistic expectation of what success (professional, personal, and religious) really was. Then my facade - my carefully constructed bubble of control - shattered.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. - Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 59
At this point in working the steps, I was told that God might not remove all of them, and that He wouldn't necessarily do it right away. One of my character defects is impatience, so it was a given it wouldn't happen immediately. That doesn't mean He isn't capable of removing my defects. He is. But He isn't a genie that grants wishes the way we want it. He is a loving Father who knows and provides our NEEDS instead of our WANTS. I always want the easier, softer way. I have found that my greatest growth comes through "suffering" rather than being handed to me. And so, with the knowledge that that my request to have my shortcomings removed could be delayed or answered with "No," I was told to believe they would be removed regardless and until they are, "act as if they have been." Fake it 'til you make it. Finally, I realized the spirit behind it wasn't one of hypocrisy, it was one of faith and good will. Take, for instance, my insecurity. It has not been taken away yet. Left alone and allowed to "rule," my insecurity paralyzes me from making good decisions, or even any decision at all. Nothing gets done, status quo remains, and life becomes even more unmanageable. But, I can "act as if" I am not insecure, and make a decision that is at best uncomfortable or at worst downright scary. As long as I don't make a rash decision without looking at the consequences (good and bad) or take way too long to look at every thing I think might go wrong, something amazing is going to happen whether or not the decision is the correct one. I become less afraid to make a decision. I become less insecure. Sometimes the worst part of a decision is the fear of making the wrong decision. Not because you can always make the right decision, but because making a wrong decision reinforces how you think about yourself. "I'm stupid." "I can't do anything right." Those are products of false humility which is actually just an aspect of self-centered pride. And they are lies.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:5-9 ESV)
Motives matter. Motive is why "fake it 'til you make it" can actually work. Motive is where you have to be totally honest when you ask yourself why you are acting on a "good" behavior. Are you trying to fool other people into thinking you have it all together, or are you simply just trying to do the next right thing because it is the right thing regardless of your feelings? If you liked this post, would you please share it below? Thank you!

Normal can be subjective

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya Sunset-WM I've been having a recurring dream. It isn't exactly the same dream, but it is the same theme. I am sometimes in a prison camp, sometimes in a cult, and sometimes in some type of camp like a reservation. No matter which it is, I am trying to escape. These dreams have been going on for at least a couple of months. Granted, I am grateful that I am no longer having the gray-mud-vomiting zombie dreams, but those were only 3 or 4 dreams total. My escape dreams have been 3 or 4 a week for several weeks. Enough to wonder what the heck is going on in my subconscious. I wonder if maybe my brain is trying to work out how I am trying to escape the lies I have believed about myself since I was a child. Maybe that sense I had that I didn't belong or fit in was my way of coping with so much contradictory reality as such a young age. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of days ago, and couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't have a deluge of racing thoughts like I used to have, but I couldn't seem to settle my brain back down enough to get back to sleep for 2 or 3 hours. I had another thing that I hadn't ever told anyone. Funny how things like that pop up when you get repeatedly triggered over something related. In the process of revisiting, praying, unpacking, praying, peeling that freaking onion, and praying some more, the thought came to me:
Nothing was normal. Everything was distorted. I don't think I have a clear objective memory because there was so much contradictory information.
I didn't want to let that thought be lost once I went back to sleep, so I wrote it down. There is usually running involved in the dreams. Running away from somebody, some group, some zombie, some trap. The running never ends, except for that one time I was trapped in an empty cargo bay about to die from irradiation or poison. But at least the zombies weren't in there with me. Every race I've run has always had a clear end. There have been times I was sure I would never make it to the end, but I've always managed to keep going - even if I could just barely put one foot in front of the other. Because I knew there was a clearly defined end. And a couple of times because my friend Karyn either came back to get me or stayed with me vowing to drag me across the finish line if necessary. Sometimes I feel like I am chasing after "normal," when I have no idea what "normal" is. There is a conversation that takes place in Star Trek Generations between Dr. Soran and Geordi LaForge regarding Geordi's eyes.
Dr. Soran: Have you ever considered a prosthesis that would make you look a little more... how can I say... more normal? Geordi: What's normal? Dr. Soran: "What's normal?" Well, that's a good question. Normal is what everyone else is and you are not.
Geordi was blind from birth. There was no prosthesis that was going to give him sight in the same way seeing people had. The banana clip visor he wore gave him the ability to see things that sighted people could not. Soran was trying to force him to focus on the external appearance of normal - looking normal. In later movies, Geordi has prosthetic eyes rather than the banana clip visor. His eyes still didn't look "normal." Geordi's handicap did not handicap him. He couldn't see things the way other people see, but he had a unique view of things that made his lack of normal sight valuable to those who had normal sight. His biggest physical weakness was also his biggest physical strength.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Maybe the reason I never escape in my dreams is because escaping the past doesn't change it. I'm never going to have that "normal" childhood. I'm never going to have a "normal" loving relationship with my dad. And you know what? I might not ever "feel normal." But I am not alone. Even in those dreams, I am not always alone. Sometimes there is a small group with me who are also trying to escape, and we are working together to escape and/or overthrow oppressors (or zombies). Here in the real world, in my real life, I am not alone. I have a tight network of friends who know most (and some all) of my junk. And they are willing to drag me across the finish line - to help rescue me from the cult/nazi/zombies. I'm not the only person to not grow up in a "normal" environment. We generally try to appear "normal" because we want to be "normal" - to fit in. But we tend to find each other. And that's where our "abnormal" lives intertwine and become strength. We understand each other. We can help each other in ways "normal" people can't. And when "normal" people find themselves embroiled in the type of "abnormal" that was our "normal," we can be there for them in ways their "normal" friends and family can't. Thus, weakness becomes strength. And "normal" means nothing.

Triggering onions

"Can I handle the seasons of my life?" - Stevie Nicks RR-Sanford-Crop-WM I may have mentioned this before, but do you know what happens when you peel an onion? You cry. I talked about why I was going to stop taking my antidepressant, but I really had no idea how that was going to play out. Despite weaning off over 4 weeks, I still had some significant withdrawals. But the crying. What are the odds that in your first week off your meds, you are going to be triggered. Repeatedly. About something you did NOT want to deal with so soon. (Or at all.) I definitely didn't expect to be triggered at church. I knew I was going to break down this past Sunday. I had looked at the service lineup, and texted with my friend Stacey who was singing. I had no idea I would have such an ugly cry meltdown. After the sermon, we had communion. But not just communion. We had the opportunity to be anointed with oil, and prayed over with laying on of hands. I walked up to Pastor Nate a complete wreck. "I can't even word." I could barely get out more than that because of the sobbing. But I didn't really have to because he knows my story. We stood there in front of everyone, he praying over me, and me sobbing. And I was okay with that.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:13-16 ESV)
I then took the cup (because the bread ain't gluten free), and sat back down. I sobbed uncontrollably some more. And it was okay. And it is a big breakthrough. I wasn't allowed to cry when I was a kid. My crying was categorized as either "having a fit" or "showing my ass." So I learned how to hold it in, and not cry. And then I medicated/self-medicated so I wouldn't cry. But crying isn't something to be ashamed of. I've been praying for healing. Family and friends have been praying for my healing. Crying is part of that healing. All I have to do is let it happen. And it's okay.

When I realized my greatest loss

I have a way of knowing things intellectually and even believing them intellectually, but without it fully sinking in. I suspect it is a manifestation of a coping/survival skill I picked up as a child. I've been piecing together things through my recovery. Who am I? I've been exploring that question my whole life, and never really coming up with a satisfactory answer. My Christian friends have and do tell me that my identity is found in Christ. Yes. That's kind of the Christian no-brainer. I've been adopted into the family of God because I've been redeemed by Jesus. But... Who is God? Because of my poor relationship with my dad along with a lot of hellfire and brimstone rendering of God, I had a warped view of who God is. My distorted childhood view of God (which lasted well into adulthood) was a vengeful God lacking grace. If you're not the perfect Christian, He is going to destroy you. Sure, Jesus washes your sins away, but when he does that you're not supposed to sin any more. I had to learn who God really was. Thankfully, He didn't leave me in my ignorance, and I finally grasped the concept of sanctification that occurs between justification and glorification. I slowly understood that I can't/didn't/won't earn God's love, that it is freely given through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. I had to learn who I was I learned I was a victim. I was a co-dependent, reality-escaping victim. I was afraid of everybody. It impacted every single area of my life. I felt trapped, and in all honesty, I was trapped. I was bound in a trap of my own making. A trap that was constructed with distorted truth and outright lies. Identity crisis I was at a crossroads of sorts, torn between who I've always thought I was and the reality of whose I am. I felt trapped between a cage that was at least familiar, and between fear of the unknown. I finally met that point in co-dependency where I asked myself who I would be if I dropped my victim status. How would I manage to live without it.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
My greatest loss was that of my old distorted and arbitrary identity. It was great not because it was good, but because it was heavy. It isn't going away without a fight. It still screams for attention. But I have tasted something much better. Freedom. Freedom to be who I was made to be. Freedom to have purpose and worth. Freedom to be loved by my Creator not because of what I do (or don't do). Freedom to love, as I am loved. My greatest loss is turning out to be an amazing gift.

Dumping the junk

I don't know if any other denomination holds confession like the Catholic church. A Google search could probably answer that, but it really doesn't matter. I know it is a sacrament for Catholics to go to confession and confess their sins to the priest. We Protestants don't do that because Jesus is our high priest and we can go straight and boldly to God the Father. Having grown up in a non-confessional environment, I had no concept whatsoever of the healing nature of telling my "junk" to another person.
"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs." - Step 5, page 59, Alcoholics Anonymous
That was a hard step for me. Granted Step 4 was hard enough writing all that crap down. But it was another matter to say it out loud to another person. Things that I had never ever EVER said out loud to ANYONE. Actually, there was only one thing that nobody else knew because I never told anyone. But now, both my sponsor and my therapist know about that. Since I've vomited all my secrets out (that I could remember up to that point), I don't feel such a need to keep things hidden. The saying, "You're only as sick as your secrets," is, at least for me, absolutely true. It was no wonder I turned to alcohol to numb. Of course, now I am dealing with the feelings from all that crap that I didn't deal with at the time, so I am still pretty sick. But I'm getting better as I learn that feeling the anger and the hurt feelings is actually what emotionally healthy people do. They don't stuff, suppress, and numb. They feel, work it out, let it go, and move on. I wouldn't dare suggest mandatory confession. For one thing, there is no way to enforce it that would even be remotely healthy. But I think within the context of a local church, confession to another person would be transforming because confession tears down facades, and confession frees us from darkness.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)
We don't want to indiscriminately confess our junk because there are "tares among the wheat" inside and outside of church, and you need to be able to talk to someone you can trust is not going to harm you. You need someone who will pray with you and for you without judging you from self-righteousness, but yet will lovingly call you out when you need it. We all have blind spots. I think that is part of true confession to another person - being willing to have your blind spots pointed out to you, and admitting them for what they are. It won't feel good, but it's how we grow - by humbling ourselves.

“Do you want to be healed?”

"Drop the rock. Just drop the freakin' rock, and quit picking it back up!" I had a little meltdown in church today. It started near the end of the sermon and lasted until a couple minutes after we were dismissed. It wasn't one of those meltdowns like a couple of weeks ago where I heavy sobbed for an hour in the fetal position, but it was enough that I had to grab a tissue - and soaked it. "Do you want to get well?" The sermon text was from John 5:1-5 which is the account John gives of the healing of the man at the pool at Bethesda. The man there had been ill for 38 years. That's a long time to be sick. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, but the man answered with the reason he hadn't been healed as if he had given up all hope of ever being healed. Someone always beat him into the pool. As Pastor Jared put it, the man answered the question with an excuse. Jesus still healed him. I sat there thinking, "Do I want to be healed? Do I REALLY want to be healed?" Then the tears started welling up. Pastor Jared said, "Remember who you are!" I grab a tissue because they are spilling now. I write on my teaching notes, "I am not my childhood." As Pastor Nate wrapped up after the service, I completely soaked the tissue. I remember him praying, but not really what he prayed because I was praying about that rock I keep picking up and carrying. With every meltdown, there is release of a little bit of the pain. It is part of the healing. But it's not all of it. When I first got a sponsor, I am pretty sure she asked me if I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober. I said, "Yes," having no idea what that was going to mean other than completely changing the way I think about everything. I had no idea the can of worms that would open. Last week, Pastor Nate posed a question in his sermon, "When tests come, am I willing to go the distance with Jesus to experience a miracle?" Today Pastor Jared said this: "If you've never been broken/had a need, you can't really know Jehovah Jireh - the Lord who provides. If you've never been lonely, you can't really know El Roi - the God who sees me." Am I willing to pick up my mat and walk? Can I drop that rock and walk away from it?

What makes a whitewashed tomb? Part 2

I remember the 80s quite well. I was a teenager for most of the 80s and was completely enamored with the 80s culture of music, fashion, and television. There is still a special place in my heart for shoulder pads despite the fact that I have shoulders that do not need any padding. My favorite running shirts are neon yellow which hearken back to the florescent colors of the mid-80s. I don't miss the big hair, though. That's just too much work now. I loved Ronald Reagan. He was entertaining, and he was strong. He had a great sense of humor, but he wasn't going to back down from the Soviet threat. Being a cold war kid, and a good old southern girl, communism was the ultimate enemy, and the Soviet Union was it's preeminent face. God Bless the USA was the ultimate patriotic theme song, and I fully believed that we were the favored nation of God (second but equal to Israel) which is why we were the greatest nation on earth. There is a lot more to my hard-core conservatism, but I will attempt to sum it up since it's not particularly exciting. I dabbled in politics a bit as a kid in the 80s, escaped from reality during the early 90s & gave birth in the late 90s (and therefore have a lot of blank areas), and became a news and political junkie in the 00s when I started blogging. I went all in with conservative politics in the mid to late 00s, and looking back, I was a self-righteous ass. Something happened to me just before the 2008 presidential election that I can't explain. I knew Barack Obama was going to win the election. I had no doubt. I realized that I was okay with that, and I still am. I disagree with him politically about nearly everything, and so I didn't vote for him either time. But I have just never had this feeling of certain doom with him as president. Something changed in me. I can't take credit for it because I had no intention of changing. I was on the right side (pun mostly intentional); why would I need to change? Now that I look back on it, I can see that my focus was on the wrong thing. My patriotism defined me to a large extent and was driven by a narrowly focused mindset that understood valued freedom only as a means for my own personal prosperity and comfort. The poor and the homeless needed to stop spending their money on drugs and alcohol and get a job in order to stop leeching off the government thereby wasting my tax money. Women (and girls) just needed to keep their legs closed. Illegal aliens needed to be shipped back to their country of origin, and by God speak English! One nation under God! 'Murica! That attitude reduces individual people who are (just as I am) created in the image of God to an abstract group without faces or names broad-brushed with caricatures and absent of feelings, dreams, and purpose. It is an attitude absent of empathy. It is an attitude that does not love people. It is an attitude that thinks God needs us, and not the other way around. It is an attitude that does not believe "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." It is an attitude of fear. It is an attitude that demands treasure now because I said the sinner's prayer and was baptized and "America is a Christian nation." It's us versus them, and we are right. It's another type of whitewashed tomb. There is little compassion for the poor, and none for the addict. There are no gray areas, and no nuance. Right is right. Liberals are wrong. We are reaping what they sowed. "God hates fags!" Westboro is the visual and vocal extreme, but while many conservative Christians would never picket funerals nor say it out loud, they believe it. They will say "Sodom and Gomorrah" whenever gay marriage is passed or a ban is overturned because they are afraid of the same. But really, if you read the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, it wasn't homosexuality that was the problem, it was the rape culture.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:8-10 ESV)
Love is action, not a feeling. Real love is messy. It's so messy because it isn't self-serving. It isn't about getting paid back. It sees a need, does it's best to meet that need, and does not seek out recognition for what it's done. Whitewashed tombs cannot love because they are just rocks on the outside and dead on the inside. Raising the stars and stripes over it doesn't bring it to life. Only Jesus can raise the dead and turn a heart of stone to flesh.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 ESV)

What makes a whitewashed tomb? Part 1

Matthew 23:27-28 ESV “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
I love exploring cemeteries. If you follow me on Instagram you can see on my profile that I am a member of the Instagram group Graveyard_Dead. I have no qualms about going out into a cemetery and snapping a shot of a headstone, marker, or statue that I think looks cool. It's an artistic appreciation, but it does not often go beyond the marble. In the movie Galaxy Quest, the "Captain", Jason, gets stranded on an alien planet where he ends up fighting a rock monster. Actually, he's running from it while talking to the crew members on the ship trying to find a way to get out of his dire predicament. Alexander, the serious actor, asks Jason what is the creature's motivation. Jason replies, "It's a rock monster! It doesn't have motivation!" A Christian who is just a whitewashed tomb has motivation, but it's the wrong kind. He or she will look good on the outside, and even serve in various ministries, but the ultimate goal is to look the part so as to not have their character questioned or to have others tell them what a good Christian they are. You probably won't be able to recognize it unless you get close enough to them to get to know them. For instance, you might have someone who has seen a need in the community and started a ministry to meet that need. From the outside everything about it looks good and you even help with it. But then you walk up on a conversation by one of that ministry's leaders. The conversation does not stop but continues in a diatribe about how that ministry was not mentioned during announcements along with attribution of malicious intent rather than giving the benefit of the doubt that it was not intentional. Before long the leader surprises the entire congregation with a diatribe of his own during what was supposed to be a children's sermon. While both ministries are good ministries and the leaders appeared to be committed to serving, the self-aggrandizing showed their hearts to be more committed to their own recognition and honor from other people than to humbly serve. In another case, you have a deacon. He's very intelligent, and an excellent handyman. He's a good teacher. He takes care of several widows in the community in addition to his sisters. He has a beautiful wife who is also a gifted teacher. They are active in the local church and even in the association. But at home, he is domineering and abusive. He rules his household through fear and shame. Grace is absent. No one really knows because there are no physical marks - only deep emotional wounds. He has become convinced he is always right. Eventually he crosses the line and cannot justify and rationalize his actions to others which now extend beyond his family. But he can't see his part. Even as he sits in prison, he is a victim and not the perpetrator.
Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Take out the sex, sorcery, and drunkenness, and you will see many of the other traits in a whitewashed tomb. They don't drink, do drugs, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, or cuss. At least you'll never see it. But they will point out any little infraction they find in you. They lack compassion, grace, and humility. Just like the Pharisees.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
It's all about your motivation. Either you are working for the sake of performance to show that you are worthy of man's praise (or seeking personal comfort), or you are working according to the fruit the Holy Spirit is producing in you. Our motives probably aren't ever completely pure, but if we can keep our mouths in check and don't sound a trumpet every time we do a good deed, we are most likely using our love for Jesus and compassion for other people as our primary motivation.
Matthew 6:19-21 ESV “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Real freedom

I've been a cultural christian. It's a miserable life because it is all about worldly benefits in the here and now. It's about what I think I deserve in this life based on my performance. It's a modern blueprint for becoming a whitewashed tomb because it's all about my glory and comfort. I don't want self-centered religion. I don't want politically labeled religion. I don't want to fight a culture war. I don't want a religion centered on an unbiblical notion of saving this country for my personal comfort. The American church has embraced a national salvation by works by assuming the promises to Israel also apply to our nation. We have traded the kingdom of Jesus for kneeling at the alter of the United States. We wrapped our bibles in the American flag so tightly we believe whatever we are told it says by our pastors who seem to be living in the same fear we are of losing the culture war and therefore our "favored" status.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12 ESV)
We have gotten so accustomed to parenting and preaching based on fear and shame that we've hidden grace as if it's of little importance when grace is the whole point. Fear and shame do not bring about heart change. Only grace can change hearts. Following Jesus Christ is not about going to church on Sunday, watching Fox News, listening to conservative/Christian talk radio, and listening to K-Love. It's about serving. It's about loving others as you are loved by the creator of the universe. It's about telling others about the freedom found in Jesus which is so much greater and more beautiful than the American Dream. It's about peace and joy in the midst of devastating illness, loss, and disappointments. It's about knowing that we are treasured beyond comprehension and our lives have purpose and meaning by and for the glory of God. It's not about checklists and rules and appearances. It's about Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. He kept all the rules. He paid the price. He alone gives us the only real freedom there is. Freedom from our self-centered natures. Freedom to love. Freedom to really live regardless of circumstances. I don't want to be a whitewashed tomb.