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.

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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.

 

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Obeying God’s rules sets you free

I like doing my own thing. I don’t like to be bossed around. I’d much rather be on my own and accomplish my own goals and make my own mistakes and get credit for my own victories. Not to say I like the spotlight. I don’t. At all. But when it comes to living, my default is to follow my gut.

But the longer I live and the more I get to know the Lord, the better I understand that my gut–my own reasoning and my heart–aren’t always right. That is to say, my default isn’t to make choices that glorify God. My default is to make choices that make life easier for me.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not unique to me or to you or to anyone else on Earth. It’s not even unique to this culture or this period of time. It’s born into us, and it’s something God has been dealing with since Mankind decided to take life into their own hands.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Seagull flying – Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Psalm 81:8-14.

“Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.
O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
You must never have a foreign god;
you must not bow down before a false god.
For it was I, the Lord your God,
who rescued you from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.
“But no, my people wouldn’t listen.
Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires,
living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me!
Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths!
How quickly I would then subdue their enemies!
How soon my hands would be upon their foes!

It’s really easy to see God as this big fun-squasher in the sky. The eternal babysitter who’s only interested in reinforcing our bedtime or making sure we eat all our vegetables. But that’s a childish way to see God.

I mean, after all, as a grown up, you learn to recognize the benefits of a bedtime and eating your vegetables, don’t you? As children, they seemed like unfair rules, but as adults we recognize that those rules were for our good.

Christians, don’t you think it’s time we grew up?

The history of Israel and its relationship with God is written down in the Bible so that we could see just how faithful God is. If He hasn’t given up on Israel after all this time, He won’t give up on anyone. But the story is also there for us to understand what happens when we try to live life on our own terms.

You may be smart and respected and moral and kind. You can be all those things and still not know what’s good for you. You can be the best person in the world and still make choices that go against what God says is right.

God’s been very plain with us. He’s gone out of His way to help us understand what He says is right and what He says is wrong. It’s written down in plain language for everyone to see and read. And if you’re a Christ-follower, if you say you follow Jesus, then surely you’ve read the Bible. Surely you’ve made an attempt to understand what God says is right. And so surely when the moments come for you to obey, you obey. Right?

I can’t say I always have. I wish I could, but I’d be lying. It’s so much easier to just do what I want to do. That’s what I tell myself. That’s how I rationalize it. I tell myself that I’m not hurting anyone or that my choices won’t affect anybody else but me. But that’s not true. I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s coming. My choices today could have a huge impact on my future and anyone else I know. I can’t know that. But God does. So when God tells me to do something–or when He tells me not to do something–I should listen.

God won’t bless me if I live a life opposed to what He says is right. He won’t rush to my rescue when I’ve fallen into the pit I’ve dug for myself. Yes, He’ll hear me, and if I turn back to Him, He’ll come for me.

My own ideas and my stubborn desires have gotten me into more trouble than I care to admit, and it’s only in turning away from them and turning to God and to God’s rules that I’ve found true freedom. Funny how obeying the rules can set you free, while following your gut leaves you in chains to the consequences of your choices.

God hasn’t given us rules to keep us from having fun. He’s laid down His expectations so that we can live free.

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

This world has nothing for me

God created this world for us to enjoy, and some days I really do love it. Like yesterday. Yesterday was beautiful. Spring is finally deciding to show up here in Kansas, and yesterday was almost picture perfect (except for the 30 mph winds). On days like yesterday, it can be difficult to remember that the world is broken.

The world has so many beautiful things in it, and it’s so tempting to want to live for those things. But we need to remember that everything we see is temporary and it’s the invisible things that will last forever.

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:14.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the world has no power over us. We have a choice. We don’t have to live for the world. We can live for Him instead. After you meet Christ, what can the world offer you to compare to Him?

But if that’s the case, why do so many Christ-followers end up stuck back in the world again?

I can’t speak for any of them, but I find myself being drawn back to the world’s way of doing things when I get too busy. When I’m so busy I can’t keep track of anything, I forget the things that matter. I have to focus on what’s right in front of me, and most of the times that’s something temporary.

This is what I need to remember. Even when I’m busy, I can still make my decisions based on God’s eternal principles instead of the world’s temporary guidelines. What God says is right is right all the time. It doesn’t change, just like Him. And if I live my life according to what He says is right, my life will be more consistent than if I tried to follow what the world says is right.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I don’t have to listen to the world. I have another option. The world has nothing in it for me. I don’t care about anything the world says is important because the world doesn’t understand what really matters.

It’s just up to me to keep my focus where it needs to be. It’s up to me to make choices based on God’s truth rather than the world’s convenience. It’s easier to go with the flow, especially when you’re busy, but in the long run, you’ll find the road is a lot less bumpy if you follow God’s directions instead of the world’s.