More often than not, I find people want to put God in a box. As if the maker of the Universe can be reduced to a concept, a few descriptive words, or worse, reduced until He doesn't exist at all.
God is God. There is no amount of poetry that will effectively tell His story. Tell who He is. That's why He said, "I am that I am." He just is.
The only way we can even try to capture His essence, is to understand the depth of the meaning of true love. The kind of love He has for us, and the kind of love He is. Because if we had to use a word to describe Him, we'd most accurately use LOVE - He is love.
We were walking as a family yesterday at a breath-taking river. Enormous rocks had fallen everywhere, creating a landscape of boulders, brush, and bursts of water streaming through. It was a vigorous hike, but worth every turn. High on a cliff I read it:
WHAT IS LOVE?
And then the tiny etched response underneath:
Jesus is love. It's just that simple. Well, it can be. It is for those who know Him.
Today our pastor spoke on this very thing, that the faith we follow is a faith of love, not a faith of 'religious' rules. I couldn't stop nodding and breathing 'amen' for the full 20 minutes. The truth is this: we are called to love and love is the highest goal. But how often we can lose sight of that goal.
He told the story found in John 5.
"Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, "Do you want to get well?" The sick man said, "Sir, when the water is stirred, I don't have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in."
Jesus said, "Get up, take your bedroll, start walking." The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.
That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, "It's the Sabbath. You can't carry your bedroll around. It's against the rules."
But he told them, "The man who made me well told me to. He said, 'Take your bedroll and start walking.'
They asked, "Who gave you the order to take it up and start walking?" But the healed man didn't know, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.
A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, "You look wonderful! You're well! Don't return to a sinning life or something worse might happen."
The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. That is why the Jews were out to get Jesus—because he did this kind of thing on the Sabbath.
But Jesus defended himself. "My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I."
That really set them off. The Jews were now not only out to expose him; they were out to kill him. Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was calling God his own Father, putting himself on a level with God." (The Message)
So, from this story I get a few things:
1. Jesus is an amazing Lord of love. He goes right in the middle of the mess, right to the center of poverty, and serves there. Heals there.
2. Jesus did not care about the religious leaders' rules and regulations. He cared first about loving the man who needed healing.
3. The religious leaders got all up in arms because the man who was healed wasn't following their rules, caught up in their self-righteousness. Blinded to the miracle of love.
4. Although the religious leaders had their rules, they had not love. They were lost.
YOU'RE CARRYING YOUR MAT! Forget that you just got up and walked for the first time in 38 years, forget that a miraculous thing just happened, forget all that - you're carrying your mat. You're breaking our religious rules.
When they found out it was Jesus who had done this on the Sabbath, and when they heard his words about God His Father, they plotted to kill Him. They had not love.
See, the amazing thing about being a follower of Jesus is - it's not about a set of rules. So often, I've had people mention to me, "Oh gosh, I could never follow all those rules!". What rules? Jesus calls us into relationship with Him. He is love. He is forgiveness. He is redemption. He is life giving water. Rules? He took care of all our failures on that cross when he bled out for us. We are only called to love Him and love others. The rules take care of themselves if you are walking in this truth.
Then, He gives us life. And life abundantly.
I quietly wonder to myself if I've ever accused someone of "carrying their mat". The tears stream down. I think of Christ's humility, His intense compassion. I wonder again - how often do we ourselves fall into the trap of worrying about the mat when there are people who need healing? People who need loving. No rules. No regulations. Love.
We are called to freedom in Christ. Complete freedom. And freedom flowing from love. This is what were called to and what we're given. Incredible that they can be one in the same.