I was born a Pharisee. My natural inclination is to think that I'm better than others. This is how I justify myself. To compound the problem, I was raised in a church that taught that Christians are better than others. Oh sure, the pastor paid "lip service" to our being sinners, but there was always this idea that, once we "accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior," we would lead good, moral lives--become pillars of the community. This teaching just made me worse. Of course, based upon what most of my friends from that time tell me, I covered it up pretty well. But then, I got married. You can't hide it from your wife. The problem with thinking that you are better than others is that you have to keep proving it to yourself. You lie to yourself, over and over again. The anxiety of performance is a death sentence. I was headed to suicide. We were headed to divorce after about 10 years.
BUT THEN GOD, WHO IS RICH IN MERCY...I got invited to a Bible Study of Paul Zahl in January, 1998. Zahl said that we were inveterate sinners, full of libidinal urges, and that we had no "free will." He said that God met our inveterate sinfulness with boundless, confounding grace. I didn't get it at first, but as I fell on hard times in my life, I finally came to hear with new ears, to see with new eyes--I was a Pharisee. My efforts to be good (Deacon, SS teacher, generally moral person), were SIN. I was WITHOUT HOPE IN MYSELF. I HAD NO CONTROL WHATSOEVER OVER MY LIFE. BEING A SUCCESSFUL LAWYER WHO GAVE MONEY TO BAPTIST FOREIGN MISSIONS WAS NEVER GOING TO SET ME RIGHT WITH GOD.
As I write this, you must think I'm crazy--I certainly do. To think that Christianity was about being a good Southern Baptist (primarily giving to foreign missions) is so facile, so dishonoring to the God of the universe. I'm not alone in my view of Bible Belt pulpits. I have friends from the Florida panhandle who tell me that there's not a church there that they can attend.
BUT THEN GOD, WHO IS RICH IN MERCY...put Tullian Tchividjian in the pulpit at Coral Ridge Pres. Tullian, like Zahl, has returned to that old, old religion that was so brilliantly described by St. Paul, Augustine, and Luther. Their message is impacting tens of thousands of people in the Bible Belt. There are preachers stretching from Texas to Alabama to Virginia to Kentucky to New York to Florida who have been influenced and blessed by Zahl and Tchividjian.
Thank you Jesus for saving me. Thank you Jesus for breathing fresh life into the pulpits of the Bible Belt.