Obedience is Not My Goal

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a particular way of doing almost everything. They had taken the Old Testament laws and dissected them, working out the best methods and restrictions to ensure they obeyed those laws. Their work led to piles and piles of instructions, details, stipulations, and exceptions. They even had a formula for getting dressed in the morning. If, in your morning ministrations, you skipped one of the prayers or started with the wrong foot, you had to go back and start over. There’s a mindfulness to such deliberateness, but it would have been exhausting—always worrying about prescriptive rules and working to remember every. single. thing. Continue reading

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The Crutch: a Short Story

The muted tip of Jack’s crutch played counterpoint to the flop of his one sneaker. If the hall hadn’t been so crowded, there would have been an echo. He liked the echo. He decided to ask permission for early dismissal in his next class so he could be alone in the hall.

“When you gonna get off that thing, Jack?” Carly was the only one who seemed to dislike his crutch. The rest of his friends thought it was cool…or maybe they were jealous of the extra attention he got because of it.

“I don’t know.” Jack shrugged with the shoulder that wasn’t over the crutch. “The doctor says another week or two, but I can move pretty fast on it now, and it’s actually comfortable.”

“Looks to me like you want to keep it.” Carly’s brow furrowed and her lip turned up, like she had caught a whiff of the cafeteria dumpster. She veered toward her next class before he could drum up a suitable answer.

Jack did want to
keep his crutch.

The truth was, he did want to keep it. He felt more in control of his path with the crutch, and he didn’t stumble over his own feet like he used to. Plus, people were so encouraging. Complete strangers at the big department store applauded his maneuverability and kids on the bus moved so he could have whatever seat he wanted. If people would just try it, they would see how much better life was with a crutch.

Jack shared his thoughts with his parents over dinner. They were such good listeners. Later, his dad climbed into the attic and pulled out an old wooden crutch. He used it to walk around the garage on one foot for almost ten minutes with Jack calling out pointers and trying not to laugh when his dad bumped into things. Jack’s dad hobbled over to Jack’s perch on the workbench. “You know, Jack, I think you’re right. I’ll have to build up some strength in my arm and shoulder, but I can move around fairly well with this crutch, and I’m sure it’ll get me some attention at work.”

The next evening, Jack’s dad came home with a shiny metal crutch for his mom. There was even a pink bow on the shoulder rest. “But I’m not hurt,” she insisted. Jack and his dad worked for half an hour before they convinced her to give it a try. Jack smiled to see that his mom finally had something to lean on while she cut vegetables for dinner.

They walked with Jack’s
familiar thump-squash stride.

Later in the week, Jack rummaged through the dumpsters near the hospital and found two used crutches. After applying some Clorox and a little duct tape, he presented them to his two best friends. They laughed. They fell down. They resorted to sword-fighting at one point. But after six juice boxes and a bit of cajoling, they walked home with Jack’s familiar thump-squash stride.

When Carly saw the three classmates using a crutch, she just rolled her eyes. Two days later, however, another five students came to school with crutches. By the end of the grading period, at least twenty percent of every class walked with a crutch. This fact slowed class changes and bus loading in the afternoons. Before long, the cafeteria created special lines for those on crutches and the library recruited student volunteers to carry study materials for the same kids.

The principal tried to keep this…phenomenon…quiet, but #crutchlife exploded on social media, which led to news crews clogging the entryways and phone lines of the school. On the second day of media coverage, one of the reporters leaned on a crutch to record her story for the camera.

Carly noticed the becrutched reporter out the window of her civics class. While Mr. Lewis droned on about moral codes and the “rule of law,” Carly searched for a cast or brace on the reporter’s favored leg. There wasn’t one.

After tripping over two crutches on the way out of class, Carly sought out Jack. “What are you doing, Jack?” Carly’s hands stretched stiff at her sides, elbows tight, eyes wide. “This is crazy! None of these people actually need crutches!”

Jack lowered himself onto the cafeteria seat and laid his crutch carefully under the table. He gestured toward the vacant seat beside him without speaking to Carly. She sighed as her body cascaded into the seat. Another sigh propelled her head to face Jack’s.

“My crutch makes
me a better person.”

He smiled kindly and patted her hand. “Carly, we’ve been friends for a long time, haven’t we?” He waited until she nodded slowly before he continued. “Then I feel comfortable telling you this. I have realized this crutch helps me move around in a way that I can’t on my own. It makes me a better, stronger person because I am now in control of my movements. I always know exactly where to find it and how to use it. Don’t you see? I am more free now.”

Jack’s patronizing tone made Carly want to vomit, but it was his words that drew a flush to her cheeks. “Have you lost your mind? You have two feet. You learned how to walk from your parents. You can go anywhere…run even. Now you’ve tied yourself to this crutch. It was supposed to be temporary, but you’ve gotten so comfortable with it that you’ve made it permanent. You are not better. You are not stronger.”

With that, Carly jumped up and ran away freely, on her own two feet.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? -Galatians 3:3

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God [to Abraham] and thus do away with the promise. -Galatians 3:17

I’d love it if you shared this with some friends…

The Crutch: A short story and allegory via @Carole_Sparks. #NotAboutMe #legalism (click to tweet)

Can you see the allegory? Have you found yourself leaning on something that was originally helpful but eventually harmful? Want to share an example (doesn’t have to be personal)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Guilt in Freedom

or Freedom in Guilt . . . I’m not sure which fits better . . .

I recently watched a TV show called Elementary (S2e2) in which the lead character said, “There is nothing on this planet quite so toxic as guilt.”  It’s true, isn’t it?  Sometimes we let guilt over something in our pasts infest our hearts until we are powerless to live as God directs us.  This is not what God wants for any of us.  He also doesn’t want us to live in fear of present-day guilt, which is what I’ve been thinking about recently.

This guilt thing is not just a 20th/21st-century problem.  In Luke 11, Jesus criticized the Pharisees and so-called law experts for how they made faith . . . actually all of life . . . more difficult rather than easier.  They obscured Truth.  They blocked the “regular folk” from understanding, and they focused on the minutia of the law without seeing the spirit of it, which is justice and love.  He said, You give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42).  In other words, they laid the guilt on like hot tar:  thick and sticky.

Religion—any religion—makes life difficult, complicated, even onerous.  The Law declares us guilty, and justifiably so.  Religion places the burden of that guilt directly on our shoulders.  But Jesus makes men free (Jn 8:36, Gal 5:1).*  Eric Metaxas (in Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 424-5) observes, “God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake.  . . .  To act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt.  . . .  But if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so.”**  When we fully trust the Holy Spirit, we find incredible freedom as we come out from under the toxic burden of religion, but we risk two types of guilt being applied to us.

First, we may misinterpret His direction and thus fall outside His will.  This is what Metaxas was talking about.  It’s ‘guilt’ in the legal sense, as opposed to innocence.  When we, as believers, think of emotion or our relationship to the Holy Spirit, the better term is probably conviction, rather than guilt because these days, ‘guilt’ carries the connotation of condemnation.  Nevertheless, a right motive doesn’t actually excuse a wrong action.  Everything outside His will is sin, for which we would be judged if we hadn’t already been forgiven.***  But wouldn’t you rather over-respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?  I would.  This is a ‘guilt’ I’m willing to risk, expecting it to come less and less frequently as I mature in Christ.

Second, we may be misunderstood (that’s a nice way to say “judged”) by those who cling to religious rules.****  We all know that we shouldn’t let other’s opinions deter us, but we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  Sometimes we still worry about what our mothers or our pastors or our Believing friends will think of our behavior when it falls outside the church culture norms.  Stop for a second and consider a part of the story that’s missing from that favorite Sunday School song:  Zacchaeus.  When Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house, all the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  Did you catch that?  They judged Jesus—JESUS!—for breaking social mores . . . for doing something that the other religious leaders would never dream of doing . . . for heeding God rather than man.  Kyle Idleman, author of not a fan, said, “If you follow Jesus, expect to find yourself being criticized by some of the religious people in your life.”  Yep.  There are worse things than being labeled a rebel.

I feel like this lifestyle leaves me plowing through ten-foot-high snow drifts with a Tonka truck.  Perhaps this is because I’m only beginning to understand it.  I’m so bound by culture and social opinion that freedom from guilt doesn’t feel so freeing just yet.  But I know this:  the reward resulting from this life of freedom is eternal life in the fullest sense of the term.  It’s eternal life now.  It’s the Kingdom lived out on earth.  And it’s worth it.

So let’s throw our arms open wide and embrace obedience, heedless of what others may think!

I had rather be among them who, in the actings of their love and affection unto Christ, do fall into some irregularities and excesses in the manner of expressing it…than among those who, professing themselves to be Christians, do almost disavow their having any thoughts of or affection unto the person of Christ.  -John Owen, quoted in Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Digressions I left out for clarity’s sake:

*This is not a contradiction with the Slavery post I wrote earlier.  Our enslavement releases us to fully become what He has designed us to be . . . and you can’t get that any other way.

** This principle affects our parenting.  A child who thinks and really tries to do the right thing but misses it should not be punished like the child who acts carelessly. Metaxas’ book is GREAT, by the way!

***THIS is the answer to those who say they have the “freedom to sin”.  Ready-forgiveness releases us from inadvertent sins that may arise because we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  So for this reason, motive is important.

****Part of the beauty of this freedom is that we don’t have to remember a bunch of laws . . . and details of the laws . . . and exceptions to the laws . . . and interpretations of the laws . . . Need I go on?  Instead, the Holy Spirit leads us in a way that is always in sync with the Law—the spirit of the law, that is—and never outside the Law.  The Beatitudes are a good example of how this began.  Bonhoeffer (quoted in Metaxas’ book, pg. 83) said, “The Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, paradoxical as that may sound.”  If Bonhoeffer’s statement intrigues you, I recommend Sacrilege, by Hugh Halter.