You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:34 (ESV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35 (ESV)
I got my first tattoo in my early twenties. It changed me. I don’t mean the obvious transformation – the permanent markings on my skin. I mean the revolution going on beneath the surface, deeper than any needle could reach.
The tattoo studio had a very punk rock vibe – everything from the art on the walls to the music blasting from the speakers was a rejection of pop culture. Unfortunately, I’m less punk rock, more Mr. Rogers-meets-Dave-Matthews-Band. When I walked through the door, I was worried that everyone would take one look at me and know I didn’t belong. What surprised me most is just how little anyone cared about me.
This wasn’t apathy. No one ignored me. The other clients and artists in the shop came around to chat about concerts they had been to, or to show off their artwork. They didn’t care that I was a stranger. I didn’t have to meet any special requirements to fit in. They treated me as an old friend simply because I walked through the door.
Heavenly Father, I come to you just as I am. I praise you for Your goodness and faithfulness. I am in awe of how You love me regardless of my triumphs or failures. As I sit here in Your presence, prepare my soul to love everyone I meet today as freely as You do.
If you’re wondering what this has to do with Jesus, He never required anyone to change to approach Him either. Jesus sat with sinner and saint alike and few people who spent time with Him ever left the same.
Sadly, some people are taught they have to change before God could love them. But that’s completely backwards. Instead, it’s God’s love that changes us. It’s not perfection that allows us entry into His presence, but rather it’s by sitting in His presence He perfects us. And it’s by encountering His love we learn how to love.
As our souls are liberated by God’s love from the prison of comparison and perfection, when we embrace the standard of grace God holds us to, we can create space for people who don’t look like us, act like us, or think like us to simply walk into our lives and find a (new) old friend. While tattoos certainly leave a mark on the surface, the impression this kind of acceptance makes on someone runs deeper than any ink ever could.
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