March 30, 2007

The ministry of acceptance
by Jon Walker

«So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified. (Romans 15:7 NLT)

Ministry/Mission — When I was growing up, I considered my older brother the embodiment of cool. Cole was funny, handsome, athletic, and popular. He married the homecoming queen and then became an Air Force pilot, where he exhibited courage and grace at war in Vietnam.

He’d quite literally been all around the world, and he always returned with fascinating stories about the places he’d been and the people he’d met.

Because I grew up feeling like an outsider, I often wished I could be like my brother, who seemed accepted and liked by just about everyone. One summer, while I was in college, I stayed a few weeks with my brother, and while we were at a restaurant with his many pilot friends and their wives, Cole said, «I think Jon would fit in well with our group.»

Those words count among the most meaningful every said to me. My cool brother was telling me I was accepted, and his cool friends agreed with him.

The need for acceptance is universal; all of us have felt the sting of rejection. Perhaps you were the last one picked on the ball field, or maybe one of your parents let you know you’d never «measure up.» And the problem isn’t limited to adolescence. Perhaps you struggled through an unrequited love, or maybe the company you’ve poured your life into for the last 17 years let you go with all the flourish and finesse of a guillotine.

The Good News is, Jesus accepts «rejects.» We can see throughout the dispatches of the New Testament that Jesus didn’t care who you were or where you’d been. He accepted thieves, prostitutes, sleazy bill collectors, lepers, and the poor.

And, yes, my dear brothers and sisters, even now he accepts nerds, geeks, and freaks, people with zits, split ends, flat chests, or beer bellies. He accepts people who don’t have any friends, and he accepts those who have an abundance of friends. He accepts people who’ve made mistakes and those who will never admit they make mistakes. He accepts you, knowing you will make more mistakes.

Our lesson from Jesus is that he saw every person as an individual – valuable, important, a being created by God. Jesus looks past the surface, deep into our very souls, and yet he still loves us and accepts us.

Once, when Jesus was eating with a bunch of «rejects,» the teachers of religious law asked his disciples, «Why do you eat and drink with such scum?» Jesus responded: «Healthy people don't need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.» (Luke 5:30-32 NLT paraphrased)

Inherent in Jesus’ approach is his core belief that each individual is a unique creation of God. Your bad behavior is temporary, and through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, it will quickly change to good.

That means Jesus accepts you and loves you, even while you’re still stuck in your sin: «But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!» (Romans 5:8 HCSB)

What does this have to do with missionsí When you learn to accept the love of Jesus, you’ll be able to accept those who need Jesus. But before you rush into the remotest regions of the globe to share this ministry of acceptance, would you do me a favor and look across the dinner table and accept the ones you see there?

So what?

· Do what Jesus did – «So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!» (Romans 15:7 MSG)

· See people as God’s creation – «So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!» (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT)

· Practice non-judgmental listening – Listening is a powerful way to show acceptance. Ask God to help you hear the other person. Ask him to give you such grace that you won’t rush to judgment or push to immediately «fix» the other person.

© 2007 Jon Walker. All rights reserved.

Jon Walker is a pastor-advocate living in Southern California and the former pastor of communications at Saddleback Church.

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© 2007 Purpose Driven Life. All rights reserved.


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