Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Put Down Your List and Look Up!

Have you ever had the feeling that someone didn't quite understand you? They missed the heart of what God was doing in your life because of their commitment to rules?

In John, chapter 5, Jesus met a man who had been physically disabled for 38 years. After a short conversation, Jesus tells him to stand up, grab his bedroll that he had been laying on and walk! He does! He was instantly healed! This moment itself needs an entire book written about it, but the story keeps moving. It's as if John wants us to notice something else, bigger and more profound than just this moment. 

The next sentence says that the man walked away. I wonder, where did he go? (Where would you go if suddenly you were freed from what had held you back?) Back to family? Back to his old town? Can you imagine what he was thinking about? The possibilities . . . the new life in front of him . . . all the things he had dreamt during those years of laying on that bedroll.

And then, like a record scratch, the scene changed. Some religious folks, devout and committed to following meticulously defined rules stopped the man. They didn't see the grin on his face or how unused his sandals were or the flush of health in his cheeks and the sparkle in his eyes. They just looked at their list of rules, or remembered them, and questioned him on what was it, number 55? or 97? or 742?, the one about "not working on a Sabbath day - which includes carrying one's bedroll." 

I imagine the man just stared at them for a moment with maybe a slight shake of his head before explaining that he had just been healed (maybe paused for effect) and the one who did it, instructed him to pick up his bedroll and walk. I imagine he may have been hoping that they would put their list down and give him a high-five!

Do you know any rule keepers? People who love their lists of rights and wrongs, black and white, checklists and check boxes? They often mean well and may be very committed to what the Bible says. The rules give them security knowing that they've done right that day and maybe a little satisfaction in pointing out when someone else has not. 

The story continues that Jesus ran into the newly-healed man in the temple. (It's kinda cool that the man was there. He could have easily just gone fishing!) They had another conversation and the man understood now that it was Jesus so he went back to where the religious guys were and told them that it was Jesus who had healed him. (Apparently, this healed man was getting around fine. He was loving his new legs!)

What happens next is interesting. John writes down that Jesus gives a HUGE explanation for his actions. Jesus doesn't always do this. Sometimes he just lets silence be his response but this time, he puts it all out there. He addresses the religious folks in the later part of chapter five, and says this, "You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want." He continues, "I'm not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God's love is not on your working agenda." 

So I must ask myself this question, am I looking up for what God is doing in the lives around me or am I staring at a list of rights and wrongs? The list that these religious folks had was the old covenant that God had put in place with them as well as their own human-made list of accompanying rules that they thought should be added in. Jesus came to bring a new covenant, new 'rules' so to speak, and it rattled them. They weren't ready to let go of the old structure for the new. The new seemed too frivolous, too spontaneous and too free to track or record or check boxes. The "gospel", the "good news", the coming of the "Messiah" meant things were changing. It was no longer about outward appearances but about the heart, an internal heart change of devotion to God, rather than an outward system of rule-keeping. 

Which do you prefer? Are you struggling to love someone because their experience of knowing God doesn't match with yours? Are you trying to check a box that is uncheckable? Or what about you? Is God giving you freedom and you're afraid to embrace it because of the checkboxes that others try to put on you.

Let's put our lists down and look up to what God is doing. Let's high five those who God is healing! Let's understand that God wants our hearts to be pure, loving and devoted to Him and He is the one who makes our hearts right and when our hearts are right, our actions will follow . . . in that order.