Saturday, July 2, 2016

Breaking the bondage of rules


My father sometimes said of a person, “He’s a can’t man.” He referred to that person’s excuse-making for doing undesirable work. Thinking about it, it sounds like a good description for Christians or religious people that are tangled up in rule-keeping. They say, “Oh, I can’t do that” about anything that doesn’t fit their personal creed.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27, 33)

I can think of dozens of examples. Jesus points to three. The first one is relationships that interfere with my relationship with Him. “I can’t go to church while my relatives are here — they might be offended.” I can’t talk about my faith with my family because they might not be interested.”

These are mild excuses whereas in many parts of the world, Christians might keep their faith a secret because their family is apt to murder them if they know they love Jesus.
That brings up the second one, bearing our own cross. In those days, this was not about putting up with an uncomfortable situation, as the expression is used today. Jesus leads into from the first example: disciples are to hate our own life because bearing a cross refers to dying and death.

With news reports of persecution and death for Christians, I’ve often wondered what I would do if someone pointed a gun at me and told me to renounce Christ or die. We have a young couple in our church who fled from a country in the Middle East to escape that kind of persecution. Being able to say yes to Jesus can be a life-threatening declaration.

The third example is yielding control of everything. God seems to go easy on many of us, or at least asks for submission on one thing at a time. He does not always remove each thing completely as they are yielded to Him. Often He asks that we stop holding on so tightly. God knows what I need, but He also knows where there is greed or a strong sense of “this is mine.”

Again, all of this is related to our personal set of rules. Some religious people believe that God wants them healthy, wealthy, and happy all the time. They reject all choices and circumstances that threaten any of these categories, even if Jesus is using them for His purposes. Their ‘rule’ of how faith should work does not include loss of personal comfort.

Some believe that certain activities are totally forbidden. This is not as common as it used to be, yet the rules for the “Sabbath” became rules for Sunday. Adults tell me that when they were children, they could not change from their best outfits, play, or enjoy a game after church on Sunday. Into adulthood, those ‘rules’ still interfere with living in the freedom of being a disciple.

I can say ‘freedom’ for I’ve realized that faith means trusting God with all of life. If He asks me to give away a possession, I know I can — because if I need it, He will supply another one. I can trust Him with my relationships — after all, who else can I trust? I cannot control what other people think or do. Only God can protect me from harm.

I can also trust God with my life. Again, who else has ultimate control of life? I make mistakes. Doctors make mistakes. Only God is in charge of even the next breath that I take.

Being a disciple is freedom from that inner pressure of always wanting my own way, and the messiness of trying to manipulate life so I can have it how I want it. It is also trusting Him to make better choices than I would. I might not like them at times, but considering the alternative of stumbling through life without Him, I’d rather be a disciple.

Chambers finishes his thoughts with this (paraphrased): People pour themselves into creeds, and God has to blast them out of their list of rules and prejudices before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.

I can add that the sooner I yield, the shorter and less painful the blast!



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