This past Christmas, in celebrating Helen’s 50th birthday, she and the kids and I spent a little more than two weeks in Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Poland. All were places we had never spent much time. It was a wonderful family time together, at the Christmas markets, eating great food, meeting people from some new cultures, enjoying a truly white Christmas, and just having good family time together. I was so glad Helen had suggested that as our way of celebrating her special milestone birthday.
The main reason we included Poland on the itinerary is that we had always wanted to visit Auschwitz. Perhaps it is because of our love of history, and especially for Jared and me World War II history though I’d hardly call us connoisseurs of knowledge. Without question, part of the attraction to Auschwitz is our family’s love of Jewish history and culture, not because we’re Jewish, but because of the indelible connection of Jewish history to Christian history (really, to ALL history) and Jewish culture to our Christian heritage. And if you’re going to delve into Jewish history and culture you truly can’t neglect the impact of the Holocaust.
But one aspect of the draw to Poland that I did not anticipate in large part until we got there was my own heritage. My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Italian and Polish. I emphasize that because, my sense is the Polish portion of our heritage has received less emphasis over my lifetime. That’s not to say that anyone has denigrated or disregarded it, but the Italian portion on my mom’s side was just less of the focus. Perhaps that’s why the visit to Poland felt somewhat cathartic but also empowering. It opened up some windows of awareness into my full heritage and identity, and certainly did that for our kids. In a way, it’s almost as though I had a bit of mistaken identity of my background, or at least an incomplete identity.
I think the same thing can happen to all of us in a spiritual sense. That is, just as I had a less-full perspective on the entirety of my heritage and identity (the Polish part), I think we can tend to have a less-full perspective of who we are in God’s eyes. If we’re honest with ourselves, a less-full perspective is … by definition … an erroneous one.
As a younger guy I struggled with an attitude of essentially, “I don’t need God. Pretty much everything I set my mind to, I can do.” Perhaps many of us are familiar with this belief. It’s one that has corollaries that say such things as, “I’m a good person. I don’t need to be saved,” and “the whole God thing is good for people who need to believe in a crutch like that.” Like my attitude, these beliefs – while common – give us a dangerously inaccurate portrayal of ourselves. A case of mistaken identity. Romans 3:10-12 …
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
Now it should go without saying, me pointing this out is not intended to denigrate anyone, but to give a full perspective of our identity as humans. Bottom line, we might be good people, but on the authority of the Bible we are not good enough. Compared to the standard of sinless holiness that God possesses and therefore which is required for us to be in His presence, our best actions are like “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6). Recognizing this truth is necessary to have a clear picture of our true spiritual identity.
And there are some of us who realize that truth … perhaps to an unhealthy extent. That is, we have done things in the past of which we’re understandably ashamed. In a way, all of us have backgrounds that we are glad are in the background. There are things we’ve done that no one knows about, or that are so bad that God could never forgive us, so we think. We could never right the wrongs we’ve done. When you weigh things out, there are so many errors of judgment, mistakes, hurt that we’ve created for others or ourselves, etc., that we could never atone for it. Well, it’s true. We can’t repay any of it. But God knows that too, and out of the immensity of His love for us, He wants us to not have a mistaken identity. Romans 5:8-9 …
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
And, of course, John 3:16-17 …
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
The great thing is, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter that we could never make up for it, never repay God, and never do enough good stuff to outweigh the bad, God our Father, our Creator, our Savior knew that in advance and still sent His Son to die for us and to pay the price. Literally, it doesn’t matter what you or I have done in the past, if we bring God a repentant heart, an earnest desire to turn the other way, and a commitment to follow Him, He promises us that He will wipe the slate clean. That is our identity.
Finally, there are some of us who sadly have been led to believe that we are nothing, will never amount to anything, are unloved, are unlovable. It’s so unfortunate that anyone would be told those things, and I don’t have any knowledge or expertise to even fathom what would warrant someone saying that to a child or letting another human believe those things. All are lies. All are mistaken identities, and it pains me – and no doubt pains our God that those lies would cause one of His creation the very understandable hurt such things portend. Psalm 139:14 (NKJV) …
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
No matter what someone has told you before, no matter how they may have berated and belittled you, no matter how they tried to make themselves bigger by making you smaller, God … the Creator of the universe and of all things on Earth … says YOU ARE FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE. The Almighty, all-powerful, all-loving Lord, says YOU WERE AND ARE WORTH DYING FOR. I have said it before, and I have to admit it might not be theologically solid, but I believe if YOU were the only person on earth that Jesus would still have gone to the cross. For YOU … for me … for us. That is our true … unmistaken … identity!
Soli Deo gloria!