Relationship instead of Rules

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

  • Matthew 12:1-14

One mustn’t make the Christian life into a punctilious system of law…Nothing gives one a more spuriously good conscience that keeping rules, even if there has been a total absence of all real charity and faith.”

  • C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady

I have written about this before, but the Lewis quote expresses it so well.  I also heard one of Dave Peever’s sermons, after I had started to put the pieces together to write this.  Rev. Peever’s sermon was about the wrong kind of covering to place on God’s house – too many rules that are not in the Bible, just as the Pharisees had done.

But I have written about being a recovering legalist, and that is a long, hard journey.  We must have rules for our children to teach them proper etiquette, manners, and self-discipline, but also to provide safety.  When the boys were growing up, essentially all their elementary school years, I worked for a company that required you to take safety home with you.  Violating a safety rule at home, and getting caught by a “well-meaning” neighbor, could get you fired.  It might take a year or two to draw up a case that the poor safety attitude that you have at home is affecting your work performance, but they would eventually get rid of you.  Yes, we had rules.  A lot of those rules had nothing to do with the Bible.

But I think back to my parents and my father’s parents, and it seemed to be nothing but rule following.  My father’s parents were strict Southern Baptists, as Mark Lowry would add King James only Southern Baptists.  We played no games at their home with dice or cards.  I have no idea what Granddaddy thought ‘casting lots’ was.  To him it was the Devil’s business.  For every occasion, Granddaddy had rules and Bible verses (often taken out of context) for each rule.  He seemed to have memorized half the Bible ,and he lived a life, as a farmer, for Christ and devoted to Christ.

But all we saw as grandchildren were the rules, and how it was so hard to have any fun when he was looking over our shoulder.  His wife, Mammy, known to everyone over fifty years old in the community as Miss Annie, their one-room schoolmarm, was also strict, but she would let us eat half the cookie dough before she ever got any of it into the oven.  We learned a bit of Grace from her.  And no, we never died of food poisoning by eating something with raw egg in it.

My mother drew my father away from his Southern Baptist roots to the Presbyterian church, and he became an elder about the age of 29 or 30, before I was born and between World War II and Korea.  He knew no different in raising children than what his parents had done, so he set the rules.  He was strict; he was often angry; and he did not hold back when punishing.  But late in life, as it was obvious that I was never going to get a promotion at the office, although I ran multiple departments, he would call me aside and say that I just needed to love Jesus.  I never saw him with tears in his eyes until he said those words.  But in typical fashion for my Dad, he never explained what he meant.

At the time, I was offended.  We had already had family fights over my conversion testimony.  My mother wanted to take credit for my acceptance of Jesus, only if I toned down the emotions to the point of boredom, true frozen chosen style.  I contended that I accepted Jesus in spite of my upbringing, although I was appreciative of reading the Bible every night as a family.  My Dad should know that I loved Jesus.

Was my Dad equating my lack of business success with the arguments that Job’s friends gave to Job?  I have sin in my life, and therefore I am not getting earthly blessings?

Until recently, I thought it was one of those two things.  My Dad either thought I was not saved, or I had sin in my life that blocked my ability to get ahead in business.

But maybe my Dad was seeing what mistakes he made of focusing the Christian life to rules that really are not rules in the Bible instead of focusing one’s life as a relationship with God.  There are atheists out there that can follow rules until the cows come home making every Christian look like a hypocrite.  Maybe my Dad was saying that a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus was the only thing in life that mattered.  I put a roof over my family, and we ate good food.  The boys wore the clothing that allowed them to look “cool” or whatever the term was at the time.

So, why did I beat myself up to achieve something that was not in God’s plan?  Answer: my mother required it, but …  I regret that it took me most of my life to realize that stopping and smelling the roses was more important than having a perfect record of project completions on time, and usually ahead of the deadline.

When I started this blogsite, I was responding to the Voice in my head that told me to write and give it away.  To go where “they” were and that was on the Internet.  But what I found was that as I tried to write something on a daily basis that was somewhat meaningful, I spent so much time with Jesus each day that the writing felt secondary.  But at times, I read what I had written and wondered where it came from.  I had not intended to write what my hands had typed – some of the time.

On the day before I wrote this and before seeing the Lewis quote randomly pop up this morning, I heard a testimony on the local Christian station, and this bubbly young lady talked about how she had basically faked being a Christian, sinking into alcohol along the way until she went to a worship event that changed her life.  She talked about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It had changed her life and her quiet time in her prayer closet (not literally a closet) was the most important time of her day.

And I was chanting, “Yes, yes, yes!”  That prayer closet is not another rule.  It represents a relationship however it must happen.  Jesus must be part of that next step that I take, or I personally have experience about that wrong step.  I know that I will, more times than I would like to admit, screw that step up.

I confess.  I am a sinner, who must keep his eyes on Jesus, or he will wander off in the wrong direction.  Maybe not with the first misstep, but soon.  And that is what I feel the Christian life is, trusting totally in Jesus.  God no longer sees my sin.  He has promised that, but I try to repent and become more like Jesus.  The most important thing is that each step, each breath, each pump of my heart muscle depends on me looking upon Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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