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Monday, November 2, 2015

Bending the rules, are you?

We depend upon a lot of things to be exactly as we expect them to be, don't we?  We go to the car each morning, depending on the battery to have sufficient "juice" to crank the engine into action.  We add detergent to our clothes washer, depending on the "power" of the detergent to wash away those grimy stains we left on them when last we wore them.  We put the sprinkler system on a timer, depending on all the various components of the system to operate at peak performance exactly as scheduled.  We DON'T expect the dead battery, unremoved stains, or broken sprinkler head allowing water to spew everywhere.  We come to depend upon what we consider to be "routine" in our lives - when the routine is broken somehow, we have to "adjust" to it.  Sin was once "routine" in our lives - we came to depend on that way of making independent choices as our way of living.  It was routine to us.  As we said "Yes" to Jesus, those dependencies required some "adjustments" as grace began to reveal there was a different way of living now.

The law has provided the means to end my dependence on it for righteousness, and so I died to the law. Now I have found the freedom to truly live for God. I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. I can’t dismiss God’s grace, and I won’t. If being right with God depends on how we measure up to the law, then the Anointed’s sacrifice on the cross was the most tragic waste in all of history! (Galatians 2:19-21 VOICE Bible)

As long as we are content with the routine, we don't see any need for adjustment.  This is a fact of nature.  Plants depend upon the sun to come up each day, the water to make it to the roots, and the soil to support their growth.  The plant grows up and up until it encounters an obstacle.  The obstacle presents a barrier to that upward growth it so desperately desires to pursue.  In order to continue to grow in the direction it desires, it adjusts the direction of the growth.  Instead of growing upward, it changes the path to a more sideways pattern in order to bypass the barrier in the way.  We are kind of like that when our lives are lived by our own control.  We have a determined pattern of movement we have come to accept as routine for our lives.  As soon as any type of barrier gets in the way of what we want to do, we resist that barrier and try to find another way to get at whatever it is we want to be in pursuit of in our path.  The issue with sin isn't that it is hard to reach, it sometimes changes course in our lives because when it gets tough to find satisfaction with it at one level, we find another course to pursue which will give us some satisfaction.  This is how some habits turn from occasional "dabblings" into full-fledged habits with all their addicting power over us.

Scripture points out the inability of rule-keeping to keep us safe and on-course in our lives. At best, we become pretty "good" people because we keep a set of rules which present a good "face" to our actions, but at the core of our being, we don't really change because of the rule, we simply conform.  Rules don't change who we are.  I was in the military and let me just assure you - there are lots of rules!  Get up when told, go to bed when told, wear this uniform of the day as told, and the list goes on.  In fact, I remember being told repeatedly in Basic Training that my means of thinking was no longer to be counted upon - I was to count upon those in authority over my life (my drill sergeant, my commanding officer, etc.).  My independent thought was no longer considered to be the means by which I was to conduct my life because I was now a member of a larger group of men and women counting on me to take orders and do what I was told.  Keeping the rules was designed to keep me safe.  Why? I didn't understand the strategies of warfare - I needed the ones who did to guide my actions. So, those in command were the ones who guided the actions of those under them - simply because they understood the rules of engagement.

This is where rule-keeping gets us - not living by any means of liberty, but being bound to the authority of someone or something.  This is why it is futile to think we can somehow bridge this gap between righteousness and sinfulness by just keeping the rules.  Rules don't produce righteousness - they produce conformity.  As I fell into line as a soldier, what was the result?  I did what everyone else was doing!  I took a step forward, always beginning with my left foot, perfecting a stride which kept me in step with the cadence being called.  When the leader of my unit said to stop, we stopped.  When we were instructed to pick up our gear and move on, we did so.  We all did as we were instructed - but most of us had the hardest time with it.  Why?  Rules hold us in bondage to their limits.  We want freedom - it is something our hearts crave for like our bodies crave water.  We want to be able to make choices - it is how we were created - with a mind and will all our own.  This is why simply keeping the rules doesn't change who we are at the core of our being - only grace has the power to transform us at the core!

Grace bridges the gap between righteousness and sin.  Grace actually breaks the hold of sin in our lives, allowing us to use the talents and gifts we were given to begin to live as we were designed to live - as living, breathing creatures in love with Jesus and worshiping God with all our hearts, minds, and purpose.  Rules don't produce worship - they produce actions. Grace changes the heart, sets at peace the mind, and reveals purpose and design.  In turn, it sets the heart free to worship the one who created it!  Rules only help us realize what we expected in the first place.  Grace helps us realize the unexpected, delighting in the discovery of what we could not have imagined as long as we were held tightly in the box of rule-keeping!  Just sayin!