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When my youngest daughter first moved away from home and I realized I could not control her every action (not that I ever could, but I deluded myself into thinking I could when she lived with me), I had a brilliant idea.
She was home for a visit and when I brought her to the airport I said, “Let me give you a list of everything I think you should and shouldn’t do and then you can just do everything on the list and we’ll both live happily ever after, especially me.”
Without even a pause to consider my great idea she said no — not even “no thanks.”
She rolled her eyes and said no, hugged me goodbye and got on the plane back to Charlotte.
It’s not as if my list would be burdensome. Just things like: Make your bed every day and keep your room clean. Hold onto your cell phone so you don’t keep dropping it in water.
Learn to make rice and beans so you’ll never go hungry. Don’t let your emotions lead you to make foolish decisions. Learn to say “I’m sorry” quickly. Be known for your forgiveness and mercy toward others.
Love Jesus. Love the church. Call your mom so she knows you’re alive. Learn from other people’s mistakes and spare yourself some grief. I could go on, but you get the picture.
The bottom line is, while I do have control-freakish tendencies, the rules I want to give my daughter are only to keep her safe. I want her to thrive, stay out of trouble and avoid heartache.
However, there’s a problem. Giving someone a list of rules and hoping he or she will (a.) appreciate the gesture and (b.) actually follow the rules and be happy about doing so is unrealistic and an exercise in futility.
People tend to bristle at rules and being told what to do.
Last week as I walked into McDonald’s for coffee I noticed a “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch” sign taped to a freshly painted wall of golden yellow bricks.
Truly, I never would have even considered touching the bricks. I probably would never have noticed them at all if it weren’t for the sign. But just reading “Do Not Touch” made me want to touch, and I would have just to see if, indeed, the paint was wet. However, there was a man with a paint brush nearby.
I told him I wanted to touch the bricks just because the sign said not to. He said I wouldn’t be the first to do so and that he’d already seen quite a few do it — a blatant disregard for the sign.
“What if you don’t put any sign up? Then maybe no one would touch,” I suggested.
He replied, “That won’t work, because what if you lean up against the wet paint and get it all over you? I have to warn you.”
I agreed with him — and did not touch the wet paint. But I really wanted to.
Recently, I read a sermon by Guy Caley, an Assemblies of God pastor in Missouri, in which he talked about the purpose for the law of God. Paraphrasing the apostle Paul, he said that “the law required more than we could do, and incurs a curse if not rigidly followed forever. And the law itself has the ability to make us want to disobey.”
As Paul had said, he didn’t know he coveted until the law told him not to do so. That’s part of the curse of the law.
“The law is not able to work salvation, nor to change human hearts,” Caley said. “All that it is able to do is show the need for salvation.” That, however, may be one of the law’s great blessings.
It’s a paradox of the Christian faith — God gave us laws to follow, knowing that we can’t and wouldn’t even want to. But in his gracious and merciful wisdom he also gave us Jesus who did follow them and did so willingly. Not only that, God then allowed us, the law breakers, to get credit for Christ’s law keeping. That’s what “saved by grace” means.
As for the law, everything God says to do or not do is not because he’s a control freak or that he wants to keep us from enjoying life, but for our own good. Like a painter putting up a “Wet Paint” sign. Like a mom wanting to keep her daughter safe.
Nancy Kennedy is a syndicated church columnist.