Rules matter, but grace matters more

I’m home. Finally. After two weeks of crazy travel and general insanity, my folks braved the construction traffic and picked me up from good old Mid-Continent airport yesterday evening. The journey home from Chicago was somewhat ridiculous, since I couldn’t get a direct flight, so I got from Chicago to Wichita by way of Minneapolis. And something happened on that first flight from Chicago to Minneapolis that’s somewhat embarrassing….

I couldn’t get my seatbelt fastened.

Like, not at all. It was like somehow the belt in my airplane seat was designed for a stick person. Now, I’m not in denial here. I know I’m not a small person, and thanks to two weeks of eating trade show food, I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose any weight, no matter how many miles I walked every day. But this has never happened to me before.

My first reaction was utter horror. How humiliating is it to be unable to buckle your seat belt on an airplane? My next reaction was terror. I’d never been on an airplane before without a buckled seat belt. What would the flight attendants do if they found out? Would they throw me off the plane? Would they make me stand up and have to explain why I couldn’t get the belt fastened?

I actually sat and prayed because I didn’t know what to do. I could tell them that I couldn’t get the belt fastened, but what good would it do? There were no empty seats. We were already getting ready to take off. And–let’s face it–if the plane crashes, is a seat belt really going to help all that much? I mean, maybe it will. I don’t know. I’ve never been in a plane crash.

In any case, I didn’t see that they would be able to do anything about it, other than just tell me to sit still and not say anything. So that’s what I did. I pulled the belt across as tightly as I could, so as far as anyone could tell, I was buckled. Even though I wasn’t.

Nobody asked me about it. Nobody gave me any trouble. Nobody threw me off the plane or made me stand up and promise to lose weight before I fly again. And as I sat there rigid as a post through the whole flight, the only thing I could think about was yesterday’s post–about following rules.

Rules are important. They’re essential. We have to know the rules so we know where the boundaries are. God gives us rules so that we know what’s right and wrong, what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. But what happens when you can’t obey the rules?

The rule on this plane was to wear your seat belt when you’re sitting down, and I couldn’t get my seat belt fastened. Maybe the belt was too short. Maybe I’d had one too many cookies at the trade shows. Either way, I was going to have to disobey a rule. So what did that make me? Willfully disobedient?

Sometimes, life happens. Sometimes you make a decision to break a rule because you don’t see that you have another choice. Nobody can obey all the rules all the time. So what happens when you break the rules when you knew better?

Aircraft_SeatbeltToday’s verses are Romans 3:20-24.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Nobody can obey the law all the time. Nobody can be perfect. God knows that. That’s why He gives us grace every day.

That doesn’t mean we’re free to run around breaking God’s rules just because we can. No, that’s not the point. The point is God wants to have a relationship with us. He loves us so much that He wants to be a part of our lives, but we are separated from Him because of our sin. We can’t be close to Him on our own merit because He’s perfect, and we’re not.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus creates that bridge between us and God so that we can walk side-by-side with God, can speak to God, can make requests of God, can call Him Daddy. That’s grace. That’s unconditional love regardless of performance. And God offers it to us free of charge.

You’ve screwed up. You know that, right? I’ve made a mess of living. I’ve wrecked relationships and friendships. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve disappointed people. But God doesn’t look at the failures and shortcomings of my past. I’ve given my life to Jesus, so all God sees when He looks at me is Christ.

That’s grace.

So when you break the rules, you don’t have to be afraid. Be sad. Recognize that you messed up. Acknowledge that you failed. But don’t forget, if you belong to Jesus, God has already freed you from the guilt of your sin. So you can pick yourself and keep on walking.

Peace with God is something only the blood of Christ can buy.

Don’t live to break the rules. They’re there to help you, to protect you, to teach you, but when life happens and you screw up anyway, God will be right there to help you stand up again. So don’t push Him away.

Sometimes obeying the rules can open doors

You’ve never seen a stranger collection of odds and ends than at a trade show. I have to admit, I’m really eager to go to a trade show in a different industry to see if they’re all the same. Plumbing and heating trade shows are full of truly interesting people, all passionate about their craft and dedicated to a job well done.

I’m in marketing, so we’re all about looks. To be honest, though, not many booths here at AHR really stood out as spectacular. Nothing really wowed me. But what I did notice is the “No Photography” signs. The signs stood out to me, mostly, beause nobody was paying attention. Members of the press, competitors, and other industry professionals were taking photos all over the place, and nobody was stopping them.

It’s one thing to have a rule. It’s something else to enforce it.

You probably realized by now that I was taking photos too, although I wasn’t going into booths and photographing products. I was looking for examples of booth design and particularly catchy headlines. But if the rules are the rules, why weren’t they being enforced? If the rules are the rules, why wasn’t anyone following them? Even I broke the rules because it suited me better than to obey.

GX8A0450Today’s verses are 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

I struggle with my attitude sometimes. I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak, and I don’t do a very good job concealing it. Sometimes I do things because I want to do them, rather than because they’re the right thing to do. Sometimes I ignore the rules because the rules are silly–or at least, I think the rules are silly.

And, yes, some rules are ridiculous. But rules are rules. Even though rules may not allow us to do the things we want to do, they exist for a reason.

We used to live in a culture that would respect rules simply because they were there. They didn’t have to be enforced. People had enough character to obey without enforcement. That sort of culture doesn’t really exist anymore. Not in the United States, at least.

I know what some folks are thinking. If the rule is stupid or harmful or ridiculous, why obey it? Because you can trust every rule that’s out there, sort of like you can’t trust the rule makers. The politicians are only out to get more power, and that’s why they make the rules they make. It’s the same with everyone else in authority, generally, isn’t it? The people in power make rules to benefit themselves at the cost of the “little people.”

Maybe that’s a jaded view, but don’t you know people who see life that way? And if you see life from that perspective, it’s easy to understand why our culture bucks the system and breaks the rules.

But what if you can trust the rule maker? What if you can trust the one who’s setting down the law? Wouldn’t you obey their laws if you know it was for your own good?

Sometimes I think we forget how good God is. It’s easy to forget because people are such narrow-minded creatures. We think because God doesn’t give us what we want that He’s not good or that He’s denying us our happiness somehow, and that’s not the case. If God ever withholds something from us, it’s because He has something better planned.

But just because God doesn’t let you have your way right now doesn’t mean He’s good. I mean, think about it. If your parents let you have everything you wanted when you were little, how would you have turned out? If you never had to struggle for anything, if you never had to work for a reward, if you never had to apply yourself, what kind of person would you grown into? Not one I’d enjoy hanging around, I’d wager.

God has rules, and because God is good, God’s rules are good. And He has gone to outrageous lengths to help us know His rules and why they’re important. So don’t fight God’s rules just because they’re rules. Not all rules are bad. And who knows? Maybe obeying a rule will open doors for you that breaking a rule might have shut.