When my family made the celebratory trek to Stephenville, TX last month for my brother-in-law Jeff’s graduation (yes, there are two of us in the family, but I was here first), we stayed in the Texas Inn there. It was relatively inexpensive and clean – fine for our purposes. I was rather surprised to find out it also had free WIFI, so that more than made up for the signs.
Plastered on every space spot of wall and door were various signs instructing us what not to do. Ranging from the improper disposal of feminine hygiene products to the banning of hair color, these laminated sheets of no-no’s were a bit disconcerting. For some reason, they reminded me of a cafeteria worker in a bad mood. I don’t know why. Before we checked out -on time, because we didn’t want to break one of the posted notices – I took a few shots of our banning banners. I also made sure that one of the kids hadn’t hidden a lamp in their luggage. These folks apparently love their lamps.
The strange thing is that as we enjoyed a comfortable and convenient and clean stay, I couldn’t help but form an impression of the owners. They were certainly not people, I wouldn’t think, that enjoyed spontaneity or levity. Rather, I imagined them to be rather stern and generally un-fun. It’s a completely unfair assessment, I realize, but the plethora of signs painted an impressionistic montage that shaped my perception.
Perhaps the thing that was most unusual was not that there were rules but that there were so many of them – and that they were unusual. I could certainly understand the point behind them all, but some of them seemed like some of the inane modern health warnings on products we see today like:
- “Do not use if you cannot see clearly to read the information in the information booklet.” — In the information booklet.
- “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” — On a bottle of shampoo for dogs.
- “For external use only!” — On a curling iron.
- “Warning: This product can burn eyes.” — On a curling iron.
- “Do not use in shower.” — On a hair dryer.
- “Do not use while sleeping.” — On a hair dryer.
- “Do not use while sleeping or unconscious.” — On a hand-held massaging device.
- “Do not place this product into any electronic equipment.” — On the case of a chocolate CD in a gift basket.
- “Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking.” — On a toilet at a public sports facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.” — On a pair of shin guards made for bicyclists.
- “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.” — On an electric rotary tool.
- “Caution: Do not spray in eyes.” — On a container of underarm deodorant.
- “Do not drive with sunshield in place.” — On a cardboard sunshield that keeps the sun off the dashboard.
- “Caution: This is not a safety protective device.” — On a plastic toy helmet used as a container for popcorn.
- “Do not use near fire, flame, or sparks.” — On an “Aim-n-Flame” fireplace lighter.
These and others were taken from this site.
There was a group of people in the Bible who seemed to cause a negative impression on others due to their preponderance of rules. They were called the Pharisees. In one of Jesus’ renown run-ins with them, He said,
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see…” (Matthew 23.2-5)
It’s not that rules are wrong, but needless rules create a hindrance in the spirit of men and women. It’s what Jesus described as a “heavy load.” Jesus redefined the heart of the law when He told the gathered crowd, “You have heard it said…. but I say to you.” He was able to do this because He was the author of the law. He knew perfectly the intent of the rule, or the law, which is why the crowds responded in astonishment – “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7.29)
If we’re not careful, we ourselves will become practicing Pharisees. We’ll set up needless traditions and regulations that hinder people from approaching God. The important thing is what Jesus described as the greatest commandment in Matthew 22.37 – loving God. The way He said it makes it plain that if we love God with all that we are, we will want to be obedient to His Word. If we love our neighbor as ourself, then we will voluntarily and joyfully limit our own freedoms for the benefit of others, if need be.
Whenever rules run amok, it turns folks off – whether in a hotel room or a church.