I was smart - I was good at school and was a grade ahead of my age group until I experienced health issues that caused me to miss a year of school. I could read before all of my friends, and I read at a higher reading level than my age.
I was also gifted in writing. I taught myself how to type and began writing my own stories when I was seven. New ideas continuously came to me, and I was very imaginative and creative. I was homeschooled and also enjoyed art, piano, and singing.
People thought of me as a "good" girl, too. I grew up in a typical American evangelical family, attended a non-denominational church, tithed 10%, and participated in AWANA.
I was known as many things - a child prodigy, a gifted young lady, a typical Christian child from a Christian home. Sure, I had my problems - I had a temper, and I was very emotional. But no one saw me for who I really was - a perfect pharisee.
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It wasn't until my early years of high school that I glimpsed who I really was on the inside. Up until this time, I still believed myself to be a good church girl. I knew I wasn't morally good, but I thought I was doing a pretty decent job of living my life the right way by volunteering with children's programs, reading my Bible, and spending time with other Christians. I didn't cuss, listen to secular music, wear immodest clothing, or read romance novels.
One day I was talking to my friend who had bought a pair of short shorts. I thought I was being helpful by trying to convince her that wearing this particular clothing item was bad. When she ended up crying, I realized that I had approached the situation in a completely wrong way.
Prior to this point, I had looked down on so many people because their choices were different than mine. I judged people who had tattoos. I judged people who had piercings other than in their ears. I judged people who smoked. I judged people who wore short skirts. I judged kids and teens who went to public school. I judged young women who went to college instead of staying home. I judged people who "dated" instead of "courted." I judged people who read certain books or watched certain movies.
You see, I had gotten caught up in the rules that I had had growing up. I had made these rules my own as I grew older, but I didn't stop and examine who I really was inside. I thought that by following the rules, it meant that it was "all good" between me and God. I hadn't stopped to look at the most important part of myself - my heart.
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What is the first and greatest commandment? Any church kid will tell you. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." It wasn't until studied this passage to teach upon it that I realized the significance of this statement.
I think that rules are important. I think that parents should make rules for their children and that adults should make rules for themselves. But I think, especially as church kids growing up in twenty-first century America, it is very tempting to think solely of the rules and not of the heart.
The religious leaders were probably expecting that Jesus to name one of the laws in his reply - perhaps one of the ten commandments. But instead, Jesus' answer concerned the heart.
To truly please God, following the rules is simply not enough. Our hearts have to be right, too.
Growing up, I had followed all the rules my parents had made for me. I had everyone fooled - my family, my friends, my parents' friends - but I couldn't fool God. God saw me for who I really was - mean, judgmental, and more like a Pharisee than anything else. I held the rules to such a high importance that I forgot who made the rules in the first place and why they were important. I was trying to pluck specks out of other people's eyes while there was a glaring plank in my own eye.
To truly please God, I must love Him with my heart. And to truly love my neighbor, I cannot stand back and point fingers at them for what they have done wrong.
I understand that there is a time for exhortation and rebuke, and that is not what I am referring to here. I am simply referring to the legalism that many Christians seem to get caught up. In the do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, they miss the heart of what God is trying to show us. I know that was how I was as a child and as a teenager. My judgmental attitudes hurt many people.
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I think rules are important. After all, when Jesus came to earth He did not discard the law; He came to fulfill it. In the same way, I do not write this in an attempt to negate the rules or to cause you to think less of them. But I think more important than the rules are the heart behind them - I think the key to keeping the rules, but not being legalistic is this: looking at the heart of the matter.
Like any parent, I hope that one day my children are smart. I want to see them succeed in school. I hope they are talented. I hope they are gifted.
But even more important than that, I hope that they chase after God with all their hearts. I hope the rules that they have growing up will help them form their own convictions and boundaries when they are older. I hope that they will understand that different families have different rules, and that it doesn't make one family worse than another. I hope they will understand that it's not enough just to follow the rules - your heart has to be in it, too. I hope they know that God makes His rules because He wants them to live His way, for His glory and also their own benefit.
If they know these things, I think that is much more important than whether my son chooses to drink alcohol when he turns 21, my daughter decides to wear a strapless dress, my kids read Harry Potter, or go to college when they're older. I hope that they will have formed their own convictions and will decide not to do some of these things on their own. I also hope their convictions are not made in order to simply follow my rules, but because they understand God's heart.