Rules don't matter

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Gray smokey air circled thumping speakers. Occasional bursts of strobe light bounced off white shirts, sparkling on cheap jewelry. I was on the dance floor, intoxicated, as many Friday nights before.

One of the few nights I remember distinctly was that night. Time seemed to pause, and there was momentary quiet in my mind. I squinted through the haze to the bodies pulsing around me, now frozen.

“What are you doing here?” my conscience whispered.

In an instant of shame, I could feel the grief of my parents. Sadness started in my chest and slipped back down my throat as I swallowed.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled in reply.

Then the impression was gone. The music was back and the bodies continued to dance. My head spun, as I washed down my guilt with another bitter gulp.

But I knew one thing. Nothing was going to tie me to the rules of my parents, not anymore. I was done being different, being confined. And frankly, I liked this feeling of freedom.

St. Augustine said, “It is not reason which turns the young man from God; it is the flesh. Skepticism but provides him with the excuses for the new life he is leading.”

Excuses? Yep. I made almost every excuse in the book, even toying with agnosticism. The main reasons for my emotional hostility toward religion lurked at the doors of my childhood home, churches and schools.

I was aware of the sorrow I was causing my parents, but deep down, I wanted them to know this was their fault. Indeed, I had grown up in a home of theologically conservative parents, and even though I felt lucky not being tethered to parents who took lifestyle habits to an extreme, I saw them as hypocritical.

Yes, in the area of religion, my perceptions led me to disrespect my parents. I also disliked the cliquish people in my small-town church, and I boiled when anyone even seemed to imply I was going to hell if I didn’t follow the rules. I questioned church doctrines, but instead of going to scripture for answers, I made up my own.

Thankfully my parents’ prayers never stopped on my behalf, even though I wasn’t worthy of their daily intercessions. Perhaps they heard, as St. Augustine’s mother did, “It is not possible that the [daughter] of such tears should be lost.”

Fast-forward four years to my spiritual re-beginning. When I asked, God picked up the fragments of my life and tenderly held them in His hand for repair. He nudged me back into the arms of my family, and with much weeping, as the prodigal, my troubles fell on compassionate ears.

Lamentations 3:31-33 says, “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.”

Praise the Lord for hard times! There is no better opportunity to find Jesus or draw closer to Him than when we are allowed to be miserable on the wrong path.

Blinders slowly lifted from my spiritual vision, and I began seeing the answer to the Holy Spirit’s question years before -- “What are you doing here?”

I was there because I thought rules mattered more than understanding Jesus’ love for me. I was there because I was self-centered and irresponsible. I was there because I let my judgments of my parents and church crowd my good sense. I was there because I was hurting.

If only Hebrews 12:2 had been opened to my understanding before. If I had fixed my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, it might have saved me years of stupid choices and painful experiences. Instead, I looked at imperfect human beings as my examples of Christian living, and down the road of hostility I wandered.

As many before me, I finally realized rules didn’t matter, unless I loved the rule-giver. Rules didn’t matter, until I realized how much the rule-giver loved me. I had gotten things turned around, out of order, mixed up. I didn’t know Jesus, but I was trying to keep His rules anyway.

My pastor said, “If you’ve ever doubted His love for you, take time to look at the cross.” That’s exactly what I had to do. I searched for spiritual truths at the cross and found Jesus. Finally.

I found the law is love. The law is Jesus. I had separated the letter of the law from the spirit of the law, and in doing so, destroyed its power to have a saving influence on my life. The 10 commandments were made for me, to keep me socially and spiritually safe, happy and in connection with my Creator.

True, I will be judged by the law, but when I love Jesus, appearing before His judgment seat to give an account of every deed will be a joyful experience. I will be a law-keeper not because I was forced or badgered. I will be a law-keeper because it came joyfully from my heart full of thanks to the Lawgiver who saved me when I cried for help.