The rules are there for the sinner in each of us
When was the last time you played a game of Monopoly? If you are like me, you played it a lot as a kid, but as you have "aged" a little, you just don't have the time to play, or perhaps your social circle just isn't "into" the game any longer. As kids we all loved to play it - some more competitively than others - but we'd drag it out, appoint the banker and realtor, and count the monies out, dropping a couple hundred in the free parking spot to "seed" the booty to be gained for landing on the spot. That last part may not have been in the rule book, but it kept us excited about landing on free parking and we liked doing it, so we did it. As kids, we took a little latitude because we didn't really think too much about the rules - if it made sense to us, we just did it. As we got older, some of those we played with seemed to like to stick closer to the rules - as though they were some "deterrent" to something "bad" happening in the course of the game. Now, I don't really think it matters a whole lot if there is "seed money" put on the free parking space or you agree to pay everyone double for their rent from the beginning of the game, or you reduce the cost of hotels by half. If everyone agrees to the rules before we start, it is fine to proceed. It is a board game - there is no real exchange of real money, no investment into real property, and we are all gathered just to have fun, passing the time with other people who are kind of fun to hang with. In life, there are far less opportunities to "make up our own rules" and just proceed! In fact, when we do this, someone will usually get hurt in the process - if not us, then someone else in the scheme of things will realize the bending of the rules impacting their life. We are just expected to be a little more concerned with keeping those rules, aren't we?
Please, Lord, remember, you have always been patient and kind. Forget each wrong I did when I was young. Show how truly kind you are and remember me. You are honest and merciful, and you teach sinners how to follow your path. (Psalm 25:6-8 CEV)
As kids, we didn't have to be as concerned with "following the rules" in the things we considered to be "play", but as we got older there was an exchange of play for the "real deal". We are now dealing with real matters which require our responsible responses and adherence to the "rules", right? Every now and again, we need to refresh ourselves on the "rules" because we have a tendency to drift from them whenever we just count on our ability to "remember" them with accuracy. I think this may be why God tells us to frequently spend time in his Word and to allow it to sink deeply into our minds. He doesn't come right down to telling us to "memorize" it, but he tells us to bind it to our minds - something pretty close to memorizing something. I need to admit - I don't spend a great deal of time "memorizing" the Word. I DO spend a consistent amount of time IN the Word and then allowing it to speak to my heart. I think that matters just as much. I don't have a daily memory box, nor do I write scripture out on index cards, placing them on my dashboard or bathroom mirror. It just isn't how I personally allow God's Word to get "into" me. If you do it that way, there is nothing wrong with that method - if it works, then do it. My way works for me. There are no "rules" about how we get to know what God has to say to us - it is as different for all of us as we are different from each other!
As we look into our passage today, let's go back to the Monopoly game. As a kid, we didn't see anything wrong with "bending the rules" in the game because no one was hurt with our subtle changes in the rules. Now that we are more "mature" adults, bending the rules may not be that "socially acceptable", even when we gather to play a game of Monopoly. What changed? I think it may be our understanding of why the rules were made in the first place. If we consider why the manufacturer created the rules, it was in order to create a "framework" by which we could conduct the course of the game. If we know how to start, how each move is to progress, and the means by which the game is declared to be over, then we can begin playing the game with a "mission" in mind. The rules give us that guidance - even though they don't determine who will land on someone else's property, who will buy up each piece of the property, and who will build houses and hotels on the property, they give us the guidance to know the "steps" toward the end result - declaring you have a "monopoly".
God teaches us how to follow his path - even though he doesn't "make us" make decisions in a certain way. He allows us the autonomy to make decisions "within" the rules he establishes for our well-being. Just like in the game of Monopoly, he lays out the rules, but we determine to buy, build, or sell - our decisions being based on the "rules" he establishes for our lives. There are times when we get a little too over-exuberant in our actions - crossing the line a little like when we put the seed money on the free parking. We don't see the harm in "bending the rule" a little, since it doesn't appear anyone will get hurt. We may not see the effect of our "bending" the rule, but somewhere down the line, that subtle compromise is observed by someone and that someone will begin to form an idea of their own which somehow "allows" for the bending of the rule to the same (or even a greater) degree. Therein is the danger in walking outside of the rules God establishes for our safety and security in life. The rules aren't put there to keep us from experiencing life, but to expand our life into places where we can truly be free and enjoy life within his care and protection.
Our psalmist speaks of times when he "crossed the line" into areas he may not have been directed to go. Some of us refer to these as "youthful indiscretions". Whatever we refer to them as, we must never forget we are not free to "re-write" the "rule book"! God's Word stands true today, just as it did thousands of years ago - nothing changes there! We may not be in the same time period as when those words were penned, but the truth remains spot-on in providing for the protection of our course. God is always honest with us - he doesn't mask his intent or hide his purpose. If we examine his Word, we become familiar with both. Don't miss what our psalmist says - God hasn't laid out the rules contained within his Word to guide the angels - he put them there to guide us sinners! The rules aren't as important to the ones who have adopted them as a regular part of their lives as much as they are to the ones who need their correction to the course they are traveling or about to embark upon! Just sayin!