Posted by: mikenicholsblog | May 13, 2012

a flexible heart

All of us have some rules religion issues. If you and I would take the time to reflect back over our church experiences, we would probably agree that we were shaped by some issues that are non-essential. And to this very day, the rules of our past often inhibit the joy of our present. I grew up in the south, and received a strong dose of rules religion. Good Christians in my world didn’t go to movies or dance. Spiritual guys would never grow hair over their ears, and girls shouldn’t wear shorts or pants. At church activities guys and girls would swim separately (we called it mixed bathing). When you stop laughing at my heritage, think for a moment about yours. Did the religion rules of your past focus on externals or issues of the heart?

Our Christian culture today is still wrought with Pharisee-ism (rules religion). I was once at a church party where an ice breaker game was played. One of the questions was, “have you had your quiet time (Bible reading) fourteen days in a row?” The obvious connotation was that if you had not, shame on you (I failed). If you are older, you may struggle with the church music of the younger generation, question the spirituality of anyone with a tattoo, and God forbid that anyone should sit in your seat during a church service. If you are younger, all the perceived rules of your parents make church a bit boring and non relevant. But if you would think about it, a new standard for rules religion is being established. My point is that since the days that Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees, the tendency is for all of us to look on externals and condemn those who are different from us.

On one particular Sunday, Jesus was walking through some grain fields with the disciples. Since the disciples were hungry, they started pulling off the heads of grain and having a bite to eat. But it was Sunday, and the Pharisees let Jesus know about it. Matthew gives the account…

Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”   Jesus said, “Really? Didn’t you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn’t you ever read in God’s Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it’s not held against them?    There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—’I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”
Matthew 12:2-8 (MSG)

Jesus let them know His feelings in no uncertain terms. In our 21st century world, you would be hard pressed to find anyone offended by the above scene. But as I stated before, we all have our own brands of Pharisee-ism, and focusing on rules religion is still unhealthy and offensive to our Lord. A bigger issue for all of us is this – are we growing more in love with God, and with others?  If so, we are not focusing on the externals that annoy us, but real issues such as love and grace that bind us together. Look at the words of Christ from the above passage; I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual. Shouldn’t we be men and women of flexible hearts?

You and I will always have some preferences about our faith and church experience. We should never waiver on the real essential – salvation through Christ alone. But on all those other issues that cause us to look at others with a jaundice eye, are they really important? Age has taught me that focusing on external preferences is counter-productive. I need to live with a flexible heart towards others, caring about their needs more than my particular opinions. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ll be getting a tattoo any time soon, but it should mean that I’ll show love to everyone, everywhere all the time. How about you? Live with a flexible heart, and please the Father.


  1. Mike — that was funny ( mixed bathing ??) never heard of that one — things are a little unique in North Carolina—hahahahaha just kidding funny yet a wonderful message we can all use to have a more flexible heart and more love to give
    thanks for sharing

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