Rules vs. Freedom

From my 2009 Journal. Do we have any rules we need to abide by as believers? Moses’ Law says “Don’t murder.” Jesus says it’s what’s in your heart that’s important. Is “don’t hate” a rule? I suppose you could say that. Rules generally govern actions, and hatred is not an action (unless it’s acted upon). But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).

We usually judge a person’s actions, though I have to say I’m guilty of judging a person’s heart based on their actions. I wouldn’t know what’s in their heart if I didn’t see their action.

Romans 14 refers to religious activity: eating meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Are you doing it out of obedience to your conscience or out of disobedience? Are you doing it with a grateful heart? If you do it but aren’t thankful, what good is it?

Bottom line: don’t judge someone else’s religious activities (assuming they are believers) and don’t put an obstacle or stumbling block in another person’s way. Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!

Clothespins and B.O.

Journal 2005 Visual: We all have a lot of stinky stuff inside our hearts. And we walk about with clothespins on our noses so that we won’t (or can’t) smell ourselves. But others smell us, and they’re repelled. Eventually, the clothespin pinches hard enough that we remove it, or we start to sweat and it slips off, and when we smell ourselves, we don’t like it. I think God sometimes removes the clothespin, and we blame Him or others for the stench, never realizing it comes from or own b.o.! So, we have a choice—keep the clothespin on our nose or allow ourselves to smell and get motivated to clean up with God’s help. Freedom is not having to wear a clothespin on one’s nose because the inner aroma is now sweet.

Lord, in Your sovereign timing, would You remove the clothespins I’ve been keeping on my nose? And once removed, will You help me get rid of the stench and fill me with Your fresh air instead? Lilacs and cinnamon and peppermint and guava nectar and mangos and freshly baked bread, and sweet air after a rain and roast beef and rose petals—but mostly lilacs. Amen.

2022 Update. I’ve changed my mind about the statement “I think God sometimes removes the clothespin.” He never violates our will. It is our choice to leave the clothespin on, and He waits patiently for us to remove it before He can clean up what’s inside.

The Playground

Journal 2010. Practicing the presence of Jesus is a worthy goal, but I don’t believe it means my mind must be focused 100% on Him every second of the day. I begin my day with Jesus, followed by the day’s activities where my awareness and conversation with Him ebbs and flows. Today I came to the end of a project in which I was totally focused and absorbed and then suddenly, abruptly, refocused on God. It made me think about relationships and a playground.

Watch a parent take a child to the playground. Some children let go of the parent’s hand quite readily and run off to play, totally oblivious to any potential danger—because they are keenly aware that the parent is nearby. But often throughout the morning, the child will run back to the parent for a snack, for a drink, with a skinned knee, for comfort, for delight (“Look at me! See what I can do”), for rest, for conversation.

The parent knows there is danger outside the perimeters. The child is aware of boundaries and off limits as instructed by the parent, but he has total freedom within the boundaries to choose which piece of equipment, which child to play with, how often and how long to play with each. Freedom within the boundaries. The child is conscious of the parent’s presence, even if he is not interacting with him every second.

And so I go about my day, resting, working, playing, interacting with others, but always aware of the presence of my Father. I never have to ask permission to play on a certain piece of equipment. It’s all permissible. But if I want to leave the premises, I better get His permission first, and I know He’ll accompany me if I do. My Father will always be there. And if I run away, He’ll pursue me. He loves me!

My boarding school playground in Nigeria, supervised by “Aunties” and “Uncles”