Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day Thirty: The Rules, circa 73 A.D.

What does it take to follow Jesus? Are there membership requirements--hoops one can jump through to earn the embossed leatherette Bible, WWJD wristlet, and JC is my Homeboy t-shirt we all crave?

Wait, you don't crave these things? (And yes, I'm joking)

If you've lived anywhere in the United States during the past hundred years or so, you've likely heard some sort of answer to this question. It may have been the odd suggestion that you invite Jesus to come live in your heart, or some complex secret code about how one can't swear, dance, wear fashionable jeans, watch reruns of Sex and the City, or wish someone "good luck" and maintain good standing on the Jesus Team. It's a strange world out there, when we start exploring what God ACTUALLY requires of us.

In my moments of confusion (I often feel that I'm just one stubbed toe/expletive moment away from having my Jesus bobblehead doll ordered back from headquarters) it's comforting to know that this sort of disagreement has been going on since the very first people tried to recalibrate their lives towards Jesus' suggestions. In today's section of our Bible adventure, Paul and Barnabas are caught right in the middle of this debate: the Jesus-ey folks who used to be devout Jews (and had therefore mastered the myriad laws attendant to that culture) thought that ALL new Jesus followers should be bound by those rules, also. But for the non-Jews, this seemed daunting (especially the part about circumcision...as odd as some Christian rules are today, most seem tame compared to the idea of a guy standing there with a giant knife, right?)

I love their response. Essentially, after meeting with the other apostles and praying about this, they concluded, "Let's keep this simple." They wanted it to be easy to follow Jesus, presumably so that we don't get so bogged down in rules and requirements that we miss the awesome new life Jesus offers. So they boiled it down to three things that seemed most essential:

1. Avoid food sacrificed to idols. From what I can tell, this means avoid participating in activities that promote or worship other gods. Idolatry still competes for our attention today, and it's worth considering how we might be tempted to "play along" with other things that we think might help us get from where we are to where we want to be, whether it's kissing up to people we don't like but think can help us (in which case the idol is our own capacity to manipulate people or situations), or using our money (and who DOESN'T idolize money to some extent?) or status or stuff to try and make others respect us in some way. This is something we all struggle with. Keeping it under control pays big dividends in terms of feeling a vibrant, real connection with God and where he's leading us. Totally worth the effort.

2. Avoid sexual immorality. Not much clouds our brains and muddles our thinking like sexual connection with someone. God made sex to be this awesome glue that holds husbands and wives together. But when we start connecting in this way with people outside of marriage, it's more like we get stuck in glue: it limits our ability to get away when relationships are over; the fumes fog our minds...if you've ever felt "stuck" in a relationship you wanted to end, this is part of what's going on.

3. Avoid blood and the meat of strangled animals. This is the community-relations rule. It's not so much about the meat, but about the huge rift between the eating habits of Jews and Gentiles at the time. If they were going to live together as fellow Jesus-followers, it would be helpful if the Gentiles weren't doing things that grossed out their new Jewish friends. In today's world, this is the equivalent of Emily Post saying, "If your new friend is a vegetarian, don't serve leg of lamb when you invite them to dinner..."

What strikes me about these rules is that they're hugely challenging on a personal level, but not complicated. Each one is for our good, rather than some arbitrary ordinance that makes no sense. It takes effort to follow Jesus, but the effort takes us someplace worthwhile. I like that.

Today's song describes life my before I decided that this effort was worth it. It's Stevie Nick's classic, Landslide, which still strikes me as sad, painful, and cautionary. The line, "I climbed a mountain and I turned around," is haunting; it's how I felt for the first ten years of adulthood as I struggled to find some spiritual path that would take me somewhere, rather than just on a long, winding road to the top of another hill. Opting for Jesus, with his simple rules, led me out of this song to someplace better. The right mountain, so to speak. (And I'm going to show huge restraint right now and not suggest that we all listen to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High as an alternative picture...feel free to thank me :) )

What do the rules look like for you?


Gretchen said...

Usually I am Rule Girl (maybe I should make a T-shirt). Then, a few years ago, I hit a few crises with my family, and discovered that rules for me were a way of trying to control God, life, the universe, and others. Wow. Made me look at why I was doing what I was doing, and also realizing how miserable I was in the process.

I love the summary of what rules in 73AD were about; I've since reworked my understanding of rules and have come to see them as ways of me connecting better with God and others and navigating life better. I have to do gut checks from time to time, because I both love the gold star that comes from doing something "according to the rules" and I still out of fear want to control God (Forty Days is a HUGE gut check, because I want the gold star of results at the end and forget that in part it's about getting to know God better), but I'm recovering.

I was going to invent some rule about John Denver, but, ehhhhh...

Suzanne said...

I like that the Apostles made a point of saying that rules can limit who comes to Jesus, that they can exclusive rather than inclusive. Jesus, to me, seemed focused on the big picture items, like loving God, loving your neighbor as yourself, helping us to forgive ourselves as well as our neighbors.


We have only 10 days left and I still have a question that I've mentioned before, but still don't know the answer to, which I hope we can address?

I pray all the time: 'Lord please direct my steps', or 'You've shut that door, so please show me what You want me to do.' But the problem is: I don't feel God directing my steps, opening new doors when another has been shut, answering prayers in ways that I can see.

This is really important to me right now as I am working towards a big geographical move, which has a lot of implications because it's been a dream of mine to move out west, but at the same time, I have to think of my mother's needs. I've prayed for direction, but feel like I'm getting no answers. This is compounded by questions I have about the direction of my career, etc. Bascially, I've got some really big prayers going, but I can't see any progress.....which really undercuts my faith, as my frustration grows.

So my question is: how do you know if God is directing your steps? And if you can't tell, how do you get Him to show you????

ForstRose said...

I tend to want to know what the results will be and be "in control". As such I also am prone to trying to do everything by the book even if that undermines being the unique person God designed me to be and using who I am to being glory to Him.

Rules and doing it all by the book are great but like the Pharisees we can take it beyond practicality to legalisticness and by so doing keep ourselves and others from being the person God designed and created because we won't trust and be flexible enough to let Him redirect things outside the box we think is "safe", "comfortable", "the right way" or whatever other terminology we choose to saddle it with.

So for me it's not so much about rules as it is about trusting my Lord and allowing Him to reveal to me the person He designed me to be and as I discover to use those gifts, talents and abilities for His glory and to find the tasks and work that I enjoy because it fits the way I was designed to function rather than exhausting myself trying to be a square peg in a round hole.


Larramie said...

I keep it simple with the Golden Rule and faith that God will let me know if I'm getting Life wrong.

the teacher said...

first of all...suzanne...i SOOO feel ya on the whole "not understanding where God wants you to go" thing. i would love to hear trish's input on that.

about the rules...i am a big rule follower too. however, i would follow rules, not knowing why i did them, just knowing that i was supposed to. i remember a day at bible study when my priest was explaining things to us and i stopped and said, "wait! don't tell me anymore...you are making this harder and harder to find a husband" i guess at some point i figured ignorance WAS bliss. but when i realized that God made particular rules for us to follow, so that life would be easier, i wanted to follow them more. many people either look at rules as a punishment or use rules to the extreme and exclude others from religion. once you see the purpose of them and develop a trust that the Lord has something in store for you, life is much more satisfying.

heiress said...

I believe that it is important to have Rules to follow especially when you are following the word of God. However, I like the fact that God kept the rules to only three important, (yet big) rules so that the non-Jews could also follow them.

Having a set a rules to follow keeps me from following something that is not from God, and even if I make a mistake and break one of the rules I can always repent and ask for forgiveness.

Kwana said...

Great post, tough question. I guess I always go with the go with your gut rule. It always tells the truth no matter if I want to hear it. And treat others as I want to be treated.

I wanted to post a victory. One of my faith wishes came true. My daughter did make it through and does not have to go to summer school. She had a really bad year and was in jeopardy of failing quite a few classes if she did not pull it through on her finals. But with tutoring and some major pushing/ fights and prayers she did. God is awesome!

Liza said...

I'm a pretty big rule girl too. I try to treat others as I would want to be treated.

Suzanne said...

Kwana, congrats on your daughter's accomplishment, that's terrific for both of you!!!!

Sarakastic said...

Kwana congrats to your daughter! I just try & remember the golden rule & just be nice to people.

Kim said...

Congratulations, Kwana.
Nothing harder than watching your child struggle. I am glad God helped her and you pull successfully through this trying time. He is great,