More Than Words

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Hollyview Family Fellowship
February 16, 2014
Adapted from Kyle Idleman
sermon five: more than rules
Kyle Idleman shares a story of a girl in high school who graduated maybe a year or two ahead of him.
She got pregnant when she was 16 or 17 years old. He writes…We lived in a pretty small town and the church we went to wasn’t that big of a church, so news of the pregnancy spread quickly.
For awhile she kept trying to come to church even though she was showing, but some of the parents had a problem with this because they didn’t want their kids to see this teenager who was pregnant.
I remember one Sunday morning sitting in the sanctuary. I think I would’ve been about fifteen at the time. There were two moms sitting in the pew right in front of me, and this girl, quite pregnant at that point, walked into the sanctuary, and one mom said to the other mom, “I can’t believe she’d come here in a condition like that.”
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I don’t remember seeing her come in after that weekend.
What brought this story to my mind is this: I recently became Facebook friends with this girl,
and on Facebook there is an information page where you can tell a little bit about yourself and list your favorite movies and favorite books—things like that.
There is one section where you
list your favorite quotes, and one of them stood out to me. It comes from Gandhi:
“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
This is sort of the picture we find in John Chapter 8.
We read about Jesus teaching in
the courtyard one morning. His teaching is interrupted by an angry mob that bursts onto the scene, but the mob is made up of the religious leaders of His day.
Being pushed along on
the crest of the mob is this woman, and perhaps she is dressed in nothing but a bed sheet as she is shoved to the dirt on the ground in front of Jesus.
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One of the religious leaders gives the accusation to Jesus and says, “We found this woman in bed with a man that was not her husband. The Law says we stone her. What do you say?”
This was a pushy move by these religious leaders. They use the rules to try to trap Jesus. Rules can do that to us; turn us into an angry mob of sorts.
We might not form together and
parade a sinner around town, but we’ll huddle in whispering circles and drop someone’s name to everyone we talk to.
Please understand: God’s Word provides both guidance and commandments. And those commandments, those laws, they are here to protect us. And, if we’re honest, none of us can follow those laws perfectly.
Every one of us has fallen short, some of us in more public settings, and others in more private ones.
But when we overemphasize following the rules, we can get people thinking we’ve got it all figured out. We can get people thinking they shouldn’t share their
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struggles with us, because we’re perfect. And that’s what I want to address this morning.
Sometimes, we Christians can be a lot more like the Pharisees and religious leaders than our Messiah, and we end up using the rules to rationalize how they treat others in the church, especially newcomers or those whose sins are more difficult to hide.
Now I think this happens oftentimes unintentionally. Christians like these mean well. They’ll say, “Well, we’re keeping the standard high. We want to make sure we maintain a certain level of excellence.”
So they make it hard for people to come to God. “If you want to come to God then you’ve got to follow all these rules that we’ve established just to make sure that only the people who are really serious get in.”
But in the end, these well-meaning believers end up creating a list of rules that wear out and frustrate new believers.
1) Rules Can Be Cumbersome
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I went to Western Baptist Bible College. Alecia is looking at that as one of her school choices for next year, although now it is called Corbin University.
When I went there they had all sorts of silly rules. They were trying to maintain a standard of Godliness, but I think they lost their way somehow.
One rule was we were not allowed to go to the movies….movies were worldly….admittedly there were and are movies that celebrate things God does not tolerate.
But they simply made a blanket policy ….No movies at all.
I have a confession….I grew up going to movies, I didn’t get it, it seemed arbitrary and nonsensical.
A few weeks ago I showed you a clip of Fiddler on the Roof….I broke the rules and went to see it…..I dragged Janet along in my rebellion.
This school also had a band on traditional playing cards. They believed all sorts of evil was associated with cards. They allowed you to play Rook, which we did with a vengeance.
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You may not know that Rook is really Baptist Poker.
One time our basketball team was traveling to an away game, and they were playing Rook in the College van.
When the dean found out about this he made a ruling they could no longer do this….wait for it…..because passing cars would not know they were used the approved Rook cards and might assume they were using regular playing cards.
Again, it’s fine for schools or families to have rules, but here is what happened for a lot
of the people: they associated those rules, not with going to school, but with being a Christian.
Somehow many of them got the message that these are rules you’ve got to follow if you’re really a Christian. And many just walk away because they were tired of silly rules, rules that make no sense.
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Now remember there are some good rules….rules God has provided for health and life. He made us, he knows what is best for us….so don’t think we are trying to throw out all the rules.
Jesus said the path to heaven was narrow……let us not make it narrower than He does.
Now back to this woman in John 8…..she did not break a silly rule, she broke one that God had instituted…..she was being intimate with someone that was not her husband.
When she is brought to Jesus, she is looking down—humiliated, guilty, ashamed.
She’s been caught breaking the rules, and this may be the day that breaking a rule costs her everything.
Jesus kneels down and He begins to write something in the dirt. We don’t know what He was writing. Some commentators speculate that perhaps He was writing the sins of the accusers in the dirt.
Meanwhile, the religious leaders wait for an answer. They know they’ve caught Jesus by surprise, and they’re ready to hear Him submit to the letter of the
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law. They’re waiting for him to shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, those are the rules.”
Finally, Jesus looks up at these spiritual leaders and says, “If any one of you is without sin, he can cast the first stone.”
In Catholic school we had a joke associated with this story….after Jesus asks if anyone who is without sin to cast the first stone, a woman from the back of the crowd throws one….when the crowd parts Jesus recognizes her……and says……..Mom!!!!!!!……
You see the Catholics teach the immaculate conception which is the belief that Mary was without sin……I don’t believe that is true…..but we thought this story was funny.
But the point is…… one by one these bullies drop their stones and walk away; and Jesus is left alone with this woman. No one was bold enough to claim they had no sin.
And perhaps, with a little bit of a smile, He looks up at her and He says, “Is there anyone left to condemn you?”
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Maybe she thought, “There is still one. There is still one who could condemn me.” And then Jesus says with tenderness, “Neither do I condemn you. You go now and leave your life of sin.”
2) The Rules Don’t Inspire Grace
One of the first sermon series I preached here at Hollyview was a series called “Grace Awakening” by Chuck Swindoll.
About 20 to 30 years ago, the church began to wake up and realize how much we had become like the Pharisees with so many rules we added and weighed on believers.
Again, Kyle Idleman shares a story of grace…….
During my senior year at this Christian school, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Hollingworth, did something a little unusual – he wanted to teach us a lesson about God’s grace.
He handed out a test to all of us that we knew would be difficult. We had been preparing for this test for several months. When he handed out the test, he told
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us, “I want you to read through the entire test before you begin to take it.”
As we read through the test – most of us realized we were in trouble – we should have studied more. But when I got to the end of the multiple page test, I read these words at the bottom:
“You can try and get an “A” by taking this test or you can just put your name on it and automatically receive an “A.””
I immediately signed my name, walked up to the desk and walked out. I found out later, that one of the boys in the class named Patrick, didn’t read through the test – he just started taking the test – though most of the class turned their test in after a few seconds and Patrick never caught on.
It’s too bad too – because I’m sure it would have been the only “A” Patrick would have received
And then there was Makayla – and apparently she got quite upset because she had spent so much time studying – and what kind of teacher gives an “A” for nothing –
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I understand that she stayed and took the test on principle. If she was going to get an “A” she was going to earn it.
A fan says – I’m not taking any handouts – I can do this on my own. And so fans spend their lives carrying around the burden of religion.
And the grace of Jesus, that same grace that saved a woman from being stoned, calls to those who have been hauling around a long list of rules and rituals and obligations –
Jesus calls to those who are tired of pretending to be more than they are. He calls to those who have had the guilt and fear of religions wear them down and he says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Maybe you grew up in a home where you were taught all about Jesus. You went to church on the weekend and church camp in the summer. And you learned to fear Jesus…so you kept as many rules as you could, hoping you wouldn’t go to hell.
And when you would sin you
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would feel guilt wondering if you would be good enough. And you were taught to observe
different religious traditions and rule keeping.
But someone how you never really fell in love with Jesus. You became a fan. Because when you come into a situation in which rules take precedence over love and grace, it’s hard to fall in love.
We men know…. women have this list of rules that we may never see or know….they will be glad to inform us when we have transgressed.
Women’s Rules for Men
1. The female always makes The Rules.
2. The Rules are subject to change without prior notification.
3. No male can possibly know all The Rules.
4. If the female suspects the male knows all The Rules, she must immediately change some or all of The Rules.
5. The female is never wrong.
6. If the female is wrong, it is due to a misunderstanding which was the direct result of something the male did or said wrong.
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If Rule 6 applies, the male must apologize immediately for causing the misunderstanding.
7. The female may change her mind at any time.
8. The male must never change his mind without the expressed written consent of the female.
….Any attempt to document The Rules could result in bodily harm.
We have fun with this…but we know good relationships are not based on rules but grace…….
In the end, the grace and the love of God frees us and inspires us to live for him.
Augustine said, “Who can be good, if not made so by loving?…Love God and do as you please.”
He could say that because he knew that when you love God, you will want to please God. But your priority, your emphasis, your focus has to be on loving God. It has to be about a relationship with Jesus, otherwise it won’t work.
3) The Rules Don’t Keep Us Around
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I want to say this very carefully and clearly. When our kids grow up and they define Christianity as keeping a moral code instead of defining Christianity as being a follower of Jesus Christ, then they will walk away from both.
We think, “Well, I’ve got to make sure that they understand these rules and these moral obligations of being a Christian.”
And while that’s true, I’m telling you, if they define Christianity that way instead of defining Christianity as following Jesus, they will walk away from both. They will walk away from Jesus and the moral code.
We must define Christianity, first and foremost, as the following of Jesus Christ.
We cannot expect to recruit the world to a set of standards that we would never live by or follow if it wasn’t for a love relationship with Jesus Christ. They’re not going to get on board with that—unless it’s because they know Jesus. So it must, first and foremost, be about following Christ.
One final story from Kyle….
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I received a note from one of our volunteers recently. She volunteers in the Welcome Center and she wrote about her encounter with a visitor. It was her first time at Southeast, and here is what the volunteer wrote to me:
“It was about five minutes until the service started and a young woman, probably in her late twenties/early thirties, walked in with her fifth grade son and approached me with kind of a “deer in the headlights” look. She had never been here and was nervous.
I took her to the check-in counter for her son’s class and on the way there she told me that she had gotten divorced six years ago and after that she was no longer welcome at the church that she had gone to.
She hadn’t been to church since then and you could just hear the guilt in her voice and she was terribly nervous. I shared with her that I had been divorced and a single mom and I knew how tough that was.
Once her son was in class I asked her if she wanted to sit with me in the worship service. Upon hearing my invitation she asked, “Am I allowed to go in the sanctuary since I’m not a member?” I told her she was.
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When we got to our seats the service had already started and everyone was standing and singing, and after the song the young man leading worship prayed and the first words out of his mouth were, “God, thank you that no matter where our path has taken us in life you can redeem us and forgive us.”
With that her tears started to flow and really didn’t stop throughout the entire service. I could just see the fear and the guilt melt away. Her body language went from tense and frightened to calm but excited.
As we were standing for a few worship songs at the end of the service she appeared a bit antsy. I assumed that she was probably ready to leave and go pick up her son, so I turned to ask her if she was ready to leave.
But before I had a chance she opened her mouth and she said, “Do I need to walk down there and talk to him if I want to join your church?” I said, “Yes, you do.” She said, “I want to do that.” I asked her if she wanted me to walk with her and she said, “Yes,” so we walked down front.”
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And I can tell you the rest of the story because I greeted her right down front. She leaned forward and she whispered in my ear, “I went through a divorce a few years ago and my other church wouldn’t have me.” It was really more of a question than a statement. And I said, “I am…I am sorry. We would love to have you.”
And we would. We would love to have you. I don’t know what your story is. I don’t know if there is a Christian who bullied you, misrepresented Jesus Christ, who wasn’t at all like Christ.
I don’t know if it was a church that taught you a lot of traditions and rules and regulations, but you never really got around to studying the Gospel of Jesus or the Scripture.
I don’t know if maybe you grew up in some kind of religious affiliation where nobody seemed to make a big deal out of grace but sure made you feel really guilty every weekend. We would love to have you come and experience the freedom that is found in knowing and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
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28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

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