“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
Have you ever forgotten something important? I have.
“Did everyone grab their passports,” I heard someone ask their family as the bus passed the road sign for Mt. Arbel on our way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Panic struck me as I shouted, “I forgot my passport!” My face was hot and my heart pumped hard with fear. I heard people saying, “We have to turn around!” and “Thank God you remembered!” There was so much grace. Inwardly, though, my pride was crushed and what I heard in my heart was,”What a stupid little girl.”
Once again I was “that guy,” the one who inconvenienced an entire busload of people and threw off the schedule for the whole day all because I forgot to check the hotel safe. When we finally “snuck” back onto the bus everyone was very gracious, kind and loving. My husband, Marty, was struck by their reaction and looked up John 13:34-35, “Everyone will know you are My disciples by your love for one another.” Well, anyone who witnessed the grace and love that morning would have no doubt that this was a group of Jesus’ disciples. We didn’t deserve grace. We were “losers” who forgot their passports — the one thing you don’t forget when visiting a foreign country. But, what we experienced was the love of Jesus.
Ironically, before I realized my mistake I was feeling quite good about myself. We were on the bus early. I was a “good girl.” I was obedient and thoughtful. Then I wasn’t. Just like that I was the bad girl, the stupid girl and the inconsiderate one. Feelings of incompetence and humiliation overwhelmed me until God, through his people, showered us with the love of Christ…
“Others have done the same.”
“Thank you because we got to use the restroom.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Praise God! I’m thankful you realized it now.”
Through all these comments God was saying, “I love you, even when you make mistakes!” The truth is, I can be absent minded and forgetful, but that doesn’t define me. God’s love defines me and my value comes from the fact that Jesus paid a very high price for me. I am His beloved and He is my Abba, Father.
So, why am I surprised by the grace and love of fellow believers? Because I believe I deserve rejection and condemnation when I mess up. In fact, I have been programmed to expect it. But that is not God’s heart. He is a good Dad. He is a patient Father. He is love. Likewise, Jesus revealed the Father’s heart when He touched the afflicted, caring for the needs of God’s messy children. He came to save me even before I knew I needed saving.
Over the years, God has taught me to renew my mind with His word, allowing it to clear away the dirt of the past. The things done to me He calls me to forgive. The lies I believe, like “I have to be good, perfect, etc. in order to me loved and accepted,” He tells me to lay down at the cross and trust His unconditional love. Like the man He healed at the Pool of Bethesda He asks me, “Do you want to be made well.” Then He reminds me, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Go and sin no more.”
Yes, striving to make myself good is sin. Pride is a false God and one I too often trust. I am thankful that God allows us, all of us, to fail. (Even the most competent people fail.) It is an act of grace. Only then, when we recognize our sin, be it pride or shame, can we walk in the light of His forgiveness. There is no striving for God’s love. He is love and bear hugs us to death! He knows to be humbled is to be saved from ourselves. To mess up is to need Him. It is all those empty places He longs to fill in our hearts. Those places we try to stuff with pleasure and performance will never be filled apart from Him. The hole is too vast and only God’s love can fill it. In fact, He made us that way.
This Christmas let your light shine in the lives of those who are not perfect in the same way our fellow bus-mates did for us. Leave room for mistakes in all your relationships (and for yourself), allowing God to cover the offense. We are not perfect and cannot blame or hold tight an offense when we have been forgiven so much. This Christmas, don’t forget.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:8