There is a love that reaches into the mire of my life and the messiness of my heart, and it rescues me. It is a love that comes from a savior who is the basis of a redemptive story that has left me forever changed. A savior that did not allow my pain, my sin, my mistakes, or my pride to keep me from His love. He stepped into those things with me, and took them on himself so that I could experience His presence. His is a love that was willing to get messy to rescue me. Not just once, but daily. A love that doesn't require me to change in order to receive it, but invites me to change because I am blessed enough to already have it.
I have also been given that kind of love by a few people who have been willing to step into the arena of my ugliness, my sin, my struggles, and my brokenness and love me in spite of those things that make me rather unlovable. If we are Christ followers, those are the marching orders we have been given. Love. No qualifiers. No measuring sticks of who deserves it and who doesn't. No inquiry about whether or not I feel like it or agree. Love. No limit. No end. No excuses. Love, like Jesus did. That's our directive. (1 John 3:11, John 13:34, Leviticus 19:18, 1 Peter 4:8, Romans 13:8, 1 John 3:18, 1 John 4: 12-13, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Ephesians 4:2-3, 1 Peter 3:8-9.)
I have been disappointed through the years to see what happens to this love when fellow followers of Jesus disappoint us. When people who we believe know better, should do better, we are quick to limit our love, our grace, and our acceptance. When those preaching from the pulpit aren't living it on the pavement, we frequently do the opposite of what we have been asked to do. Yet, what we've been asked to do is the very thing that will set us apart. "They will know us, by our love." John 13:35 Too often, what I have seen us do is leave our own wounded on the side of the road in the name of self-righteous religion. We do not extend love well to our fellow pew sitter when we believe they have disrespected the pew they sit in. Judgment jumps in where justice and mercy are supposed to reside. Gossip quickly replaces grace as if grace was never an acquaintance of ours to begin with. We wrap ourselves in the guessing of someone else's pain, sin, crime, and difficulty by asking other stunned believers "What in the world happened?" Pettiness leaves no room for actual prayer and we get side tracked by the mess in the arena instead of rescuing the warrior who needs to be reminded that they are loved, in spite of the mess that surrounds them.
"What in the world happened?", is a great question, a natural question, and even a healing question when it is asked from the right heart to the right person. If you loved them, spoke to them, did life with them before you received the news about their falling, their failing, their mistake, their crime, their loss, etc… then you have an opportunity to be Jesus directly to them. When you have the rapport to step into the arena of someone else's tragedy and approach them with an open heart and say "What in the world happened?", while you embrace them with love, you are an agent of Jesus'. That's what He did for you. You just facilitated a process necessary for that person to return to the redemptive arms of a grace filled savior. You just provided them an opportunity to shed light on their own shame so they don't have to drown in it's darkness. You just did what we have been called to do! If you did not have this kind of rapport in the person's life before the tragedy, then now is not the time to obtain it and "what in the world happened?" is not your question to ask them. Keep in mind that asking others "what in the world happened?" will only be helpful if you do so with a prayerful heart and a grace-filled intention to help.
Have you reached out to the one who was in your Bible study who just got a DUI conviction? You know that person in your church community who was in treatement for depression and tried to take their own life, have you asked them what it's like to have those kind of thoughts? Have you sent any type of support to your friend whose mug shot was on the evening news? Have you prayed for or spoken to the pastor who had an affair? Or for the woman in the church he had it with? Have you lovingly encouraged the youth worker who is neglecting his own family? Have you had a heart to heart with the put together mom who works childcare at church and allegedly embezzled money from her employer? Have you considered ways you can be supportive to any and all of the children who might be caught in the crossfire of these situations? Have you put your arms around your friend who just can't tell their spouse that they cheated? Or are you, like many of us, lost in the audacity of the information, the details, and the scandel and unable to remember that you too have needed redemption from audacities as well?
Never once when I return to the loving arms of my Jesus after poorly representing Him have I felt that He is condoning my selfish, sinfilled choices by loving me. I am clear that He is possibly repulsed and certainly saddened when I miss the mark. Not once when I have had a Christ follower crawl into the mire with me did I believe they were okay with what I had done/said/been. When we extend that same love and grace to our fellow believers, they know we are not condoning what they have done. Chances are good they know exactly how most of us feel; we've gotten good at that message. What they might not know is that we are willing to take our marching orders from a Holy God seriously and step into the arena and love them as we have been loved.
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35