Restoring Freedom Pt 1

It’s Monday Grace!

Get ready for a rant!

I am upset. Actually, I am upset with what I am seeing in myself. I have seen it so often in others and hated it. Now I see it in me, and I still hate it.

Where I live, all businesses are required to ask their customers to wear masks. All government offices, all gathering places, all businesses. Pretty much everywhere. So far we don’t have to wear them outside, but some communities are even requiring that.

Never mind the wide discussion surrounding effectiveness, either for myself or for others around me. Never mind what I think about the masks. Never mind how uncomfortable they are. Never mind the concerns about lack of oxygen or trapping exhaled toxins so they can be inhaled again. All that matters is that there is a rule.

Now, that doesn’t upset me. It concerns me, and I have my opinions on whether the requirement is a good idea. But, I can obey a rule—even one I don’t like. I don’t have a job where I have to wear a mask throughout the day, like so many people do. Basically, in this whole masking scene, I have it pretty easy.

No, what upsets me is what I feel when I see someone who isn’t wearing a mask. I find myself offended. I want to chastise that person. I want to report them to someone. Scold them; punish them; force them to follow the rule. And, frankly, I hate that feeling in me.

You see, I all too easily slip into the role of a moralist. I want others to do what I have to do, even though I don’t really want to do it. If I have to follow the rule, so should others. Right?

A moralist is a legalist without the religion. Outside the church, people who expect others to obey rules and feel anger when they don’t are called moralists. Inside the church, those who think that following the rules should be required of everyone who expects to be considered saved or spiritual are called legalists.

And I find those moralist feelings in myself when I go to the grocery or the post office. People who don’t wear masks offend me.

Oh, I know the arguments. I know why we are supposed to wear the masks. They are to protect others. Others may be more susceptible and more at risk from the virus. Even if my mask does nothing to protect me, it might offer a small protection for you if I have the virus. I understand that. And that goes through my mind when I see young people who care nothing about my health when they refuse to wear a mask.

The legalist always has reasons for his rules. He can argue about the effect of breaking the rules, even if he secretly wants to break them himself. He can tell you why you should be following the rules, and it doesn’t matter if he agrees with the reasoning. As long as he is stuck with this obedience, you should be.

For many years I worked with legalists who were angry. They judged others and wanted punishment for those who failed to live up to their standards. At the same time, they complained about the burden of the rules. They believed they should get some special blessing for their suffering. They expected to be honored for the obedience they didn’t even want to do. They often told me how good they were, especially when compared to others. But they were always angry.

I didn’t expect to feel that way myself, but the anger is right there on the surface. It is easy to judge those who don’t keep a rule you hate having to keep. The masks are uncomfortable, and I am not very convinced of their helpfulness. I don’t want to wear a mask in the grocery, but, if I have to, I expect you to wear one.

So, under grace, how do I handle this? First, I reject the anger and judgment that goes through my heart. I understand it as a manifestation of my flesh. Call it jealousy or superiority or whatever. And I don’t want to follow even the feelings of my flesh. So I pray against those feelings.

Second, I wear the mask for right reasons. Those in authority have made it a health rule. If there is a small chance that wearing a mask will help someone who is more vulnerable than I am, I can do that. And, those poor store clerks have enough to deal with. They shouldn’t have to argue with people about wearing a mask. If I don’t feel like wearing the mask, I just won’t go into their store. But if I go into the store, I won’t cause them grief. I’ll wear my mask.

Third, I will attempt to understand the changes in our culture. Wearing a mask on an airplane doesn’t seem like a bad idea after you have sat next to a sick person. In some countries it is considered rude and uncaring not to wear a mask when you have even the beginning of a cold or respiratory issue. We see so many people through our days. Maybe things are changing.

Finally, I will not judge those who don’t wear masks. Instead, I will set my mind on Jesus and follow Him. He is my Master and Guide. What others do is not my concern. I trust that He will keep me safe. I trust that others have their own relationships with Him (or not). Their morality has little or nothing to do with me.

And, as I walk with Jesus, I will walk in peace. I will not allow the actions or attitudes of others to take away that peace. I am not going to pray for the offenders as though they were stupid or wicked or broken. I am just going to keep on my path and enjoy my walk with my Lord. I restore my freedom when I set others free from my judgment.

You see, grace allows me to look at the feelings of my own heart and understand them. I recognize what I am feeling and why. If I don’t like what I see in me, I know where to go. To Jesus. I am not in charge of others, nor do I set the rules. I just want to follow Jesus.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Restoring Freedom Pt 1

  1. YES!!! You nailed it. GREAT post, Pastor Dave!

    I lost a long time blogging friend because she didn’t like it when I disagreed with her judgement — which she had posted as a comment on my blog — that everyone who refuses to wear a mask is a narcissist. I replied that, as both a former nurse and as a Christian, law-abiding citizen, I believe it’s right to wear masks in public during this pandemic, per the recommendations of top doctors and scientists. However, I said that the people who don’t wear masks can have a number of valid reasons not to. Some of them may, indeed, be narcissists who simply don’t care about the life and health of others. But not all. And that was it, she informed me that our friendship was over and never to contact her in any way again.

    Which hurt, a lot. We had each others phone numbers and had talked and prayed together over the phone a number of times, going back several years.

    Stupid me for daring to disagree with her opinion. I guess everyone that disagrees with her wise judgments is a narcissist? I don’t know. It’s too easy to fall into the all too human trap of judging others, when only God knows the heart.

    • Tammy

      I know that must have hurt. I’m so sorry. Sending hugs and understanding from Florida!

      There are thousands of things that all of us could disagree about. Our sinful hearts cause us to treat each other with such disdain when we disagree and it is sad and hurtful. Your response was reasonable. I’m sorry that she treated you in that manner!

      • Awww. Thank you so much, Tammy.

        In defense of my friend, she had a couple of mini strokes several months before this happened, and I had noticed a deterioration in her writing. I like to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe that if it weren’t for that, she would not have reacted the way she did. But I miss her. Of all the people I have met online, she and I have the most in common, by far. Our very weird life histories are almost identical.

        I miss talking with her. But… I can still pray for her, can’t I?

  2. Jadyn

    It saddens me that for the first time your post is highly disappointing to me, Pastor Dave. You seem to be an absolute expert on the topic of narcissism and have wonderful teachings on grace, but it might be wise not to opine on medical issues without getting your facts straight.
    Your post does more harm than good, falsely stating that masks might offer some small protection for others. There’s a mountain of EVIDENCE proving the effectiveness of mask for both the wearer and those in their presence. Check what the EXPERTS have to say.
    The head of the CDC says masks will save more lives than a vaccine. Mask mandates are not universal and those existing are often not enforced, so your minimizing the benefits encourages people to selfishly go maskless.

    The mask averse can find supportIng misinformation as anyone operating out of confirmation bias searches for what backs their position; don’t confuse them with the facts!
    Highly educated physicians, epidemiologists, virologists, immunologists, and Emergency workers plead with the masses daily to wear masks and social distance, or better yet, to stay at home. Then our so-called friends mock us for listening to the wisdom of those who know what they’re talking about.
    If masks prevented oxygen flow surgeons would routinely be passing out in OR’s. If masks are ineffective, why are medical staff so desperate to get their hands on them! They are risking their lives daily and being utterly disrespected by those who increase their burden exponentially by not following the guidelines proven to prevent spread. Also, infecting the masses does not establish “herd immunity “. Vaccines establish herd protection.

    Like Linda stated in her comment, I have lost friends over this. It takes petty and shallow people to be so fickle that a friend must agree with them on everything.
    This is not a political issue. It’s about saving lives. As the governor of New Jersey so aptly stated, “You know what’s really uncomfortable and annoying, when you die!”

    • Thank you! I have approved your whole comment so everyone can see it. It misses the point of the post, but I think you know that. I am not against the masks, and I wear one whenever I am supposed to. Nor do I wish to fuel either discussion or practice on either side. I do have my doubts, as do many people. But I acknowledged that the small doubts are not enough to not wear them. I have no desire to make this into a mask discussion, except to say that I also have no desire to shame others into conforming. I will probably block comments on both sides if the focus goes there.

      The problem with using a “hot” topic like this is the risk of losing the intended message.

      I do appreciate your comment!

  3. Tammy

    Thanks for posting this Pastor Dave. Sharing your personal experience in transparency helps others see that we are all human and susceptible to these feelings. I can identify with your heart. I understand and appreciate you!

    The process that you went through regarding the masks applies to so many other things. On one hand, the church is called to help each other walk in Righteousness so we humbly and with love should call our brothers to repentance as we pray for them.

    On the other hand, God sees our hearts and knows when we cross that line to righteous indignation. I can identify with the way that you said you felt. I have several close family members that claim to be Christians but their behavior doesn’t come close to bearing fruit.

    I have long grown weary of their faults… laziness, rudeness, taking advantage of my parents generosity to an extreme, irresponsibility and attacks if you say anything to them. Another is a self-righteous “Christian” narcissist. (My ex is a toxic narcissist)

    God gently spoke to me about my attitude, that I was aggressive in complaining about and judging them. I slowed but did not stop my tongue. I was overheard saying something about my ex. While true, I should not have said it. God immediately brought this verse to my mind:

    Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)

    The tongue belies what is in the heart, and God sees all. I am much more aware now of what I say, and more importantly I am reminded to look at others and think “If it weren’t for the Grace of God, there go I”

    From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:10, ESV)

    Praise God for the body of Christ as we walk together in our journey of sanctification!

  4. Mark

    Hi, I really struggle with this. There is a good talk on Grace and Truth (aka Invitation and Challenge) by Dr. Townsend of Boundaries. I feel that coming from a legalistic environment I can be lacking grace when it comes to confrontation – I generally avoid confrontation, and when I do confront it is generally unhealthy confrontation.

    I think there has to be a balance. Part of being light in this world is speaking the truth in love. Not sound bites or snark or criticism, but trying to cut through to the heart of the matter.

    I’m trying to find my voice in it all, and I struggle with messages like this that say the gracious approach is to be silent about something that is bringing so much harm to the community. I don’t think it’s narcissism. I was raised to believe that the government was always looking for ways to expand power through seemingly innocuous requirements, and I can see why people of a certain bent are going to assume that mask mandates are the tip of some proverbial iceberg of governmental health intrusion.

    Jesus was not silent, and I want to find the path he demonstrated – conflict bathed in grace, love, and sometimes pulling out the whips.

  5. I’m not sure how I should proceed with this. I guess I stepped in it and have to deal with the consequences. If I allow one side, even gentle agreements, should I also allow those who disagree?

    When I was in seminary, a wise teacher told us to avoid the illustration that was too good. When the illustration takes on a life of its own, pulling people’s thoughts away from the message, the preacher loses the connection. I probably did that with this post. The fact that even the comments continue to illustrate my point about moralism is interesting. But it is also very distracting. Maybe the issue of masks is just too current and too pointed, but it does bring out the problem I felt in my heart and wrote about in the post.

    So, I have approved Jaydn’s comment as a balance to an inadvertent bias which I must have promoted in my post. I really don’t mind people disagreeing with me or correcting an error. But I am already holding back a couple of good comments on both sides and will try to do that with future “pro or con” mask comments. Please understand: these are not fiery debate-oriented comments. With very few exceptions, the folks that read and comment here are kind and gentle. I just don’t want to go there. I pray that you will understand.

    The problem with moralism is that we really do have reasons for what we feel. Some people wouldn’t see the mask issue as a moralist thing at all. Their perspective is bolstered by information they find so persuasive that they cannot imagine others disagreeing. But that’s true for almost all such issues. My point is just that I have neither the position nor the heart desire to judge others for their perspectives. And I still hate the anger I feel when I see someone breaking the “rules.”

    Under grace, I may not like what I see in others, but I will let Jesus guide them. At least that’s what I want.

  6. Mark

    What you’ve pointed to is the heart, which I think is the right way to navigate, but we can be righteously angry in a gracious way. I don’t believe I’m sinning if I wake up in the middle of the night angry because someone left their dog out to bark incessantly.

    It’s also a heart matter that we pick and choose which rules we ignore and which we care about. When I’m walking, it bothers me when drivers speed by, obviously breaking the speed limit, but when I’m driving, I’m self-gracious when I’m going a “few miles over” especially on a road that looks safe, and I don’t consider whether pedestrians feel safe as I pass.

    I would say that the sinful heart of moralism and legalism isn’t anger at breaking the rules as much as it is a hypocritical graciousness towards our own failings combined with indignant anger towards others for many of the same things. The thing that pierces my heart is when I get righteously angry at someone else’s actions only to realize that I do the exact same things and try to rationalize it away.

    • Mark, you make some good points. Working through things that actually affect me (barking dog or unsafe driver) does not involve moralism in my opinion. It taps into a certain sense of self-preservation, which I may also have to work through.

      Moralism and legalism are systems that give us support for the judgment and anger we may already feel toward others. When I am hypocritical (more often than I would like to admit) I use moralism and legalism to make myself feel superior even if I do the same wrong things. In fact, a good case could be made that one of the reasons I tap into moralism is because I feel bad about being hypocritical. I know I fail, but at least I am doing something good when I point out your failures. Nasty stuff!

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