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Rules No Longer Rule

Normally, he liked boundaries. Boundaries were the safety net. Boundaries kept people on the right path. But right now, he felt like rules were made to be broken… —Heather Burch

A dozen kids were playing street hockey. I could hear the coarse language flying faster than the puck, but didn’t think it was bad enough to ask my kids to come indoors. Then, Whap! I heard the front door slam.

“The kids outside won’t listen to me. I told them we don’t say those words, but they said it’s a free country and they don’t have to follow my rules!”

“They’re right,” I told him. “Our rules are for our family.”

“But I don’t like it when they say that stuff.”

“Yeah, me either. But do you like playing street hockey with them?” He nodded. “Then relationship trumps vocabulary,” I told him.

Every group of people has “tribal rules” that those in the group are expected to abide by. My child knew our family’s standards of behavior—our tribal rules. What my boy didn’t realize is that he can’t enforce our rules on people outside our tribe—that isolates everybody from everybody. Our rules aren’t intended to keep others out, but to keep our tribe aligned.

The early church debated over tribal rules during their time of expansion. Persecution had intensified and early Christ-followers fled Jerusalem. They settled in new towns where Gentiles—outsiders—were being exposed to the Gospel. These outsiders didn’t share the Jewish roots of the first believers, and cultural clashes arose concerning food laws and circumcision. Some thought Jewish tribal rules applied to all:

“Unless you are circumcised… you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

Think about it! This was a big deal. The core message of grace was at stake. I love the way Jesus’ brother James chimed in:

“It is my judgment… that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)

And neither should we. Coming to faith in Jesus is hard enough for some people. Why would we make it more difficult for them by requiring our tribal rules about language, dress, music, food, etc.? Isn’t it time that we drop the role of enforcer and become champions of grace outside our tribe?

Lord, as I dive into these tribal rules, show me which ones I expect others to live by. Show me which rules I’ve slung around the neck of a fellow human, a weight that keeps us from dancing together. Amen.

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