We crave it, wonder if we have it, fear losing it; but the truth remains that each person has a God-given need for acceptance. We either find it in Him and glory in His unchanging grace, or we spend a lifetime looking for it in all the wrong places. However, even once we find acceptance from God, I firmly believe that we also have a God-given place in our lives for both giving and receiving acceptance from the people around us. I'd define this as community.
I love my community right now. It's full of people that build into me, encourage me, pray for me. It's full of people I can build into, love on, and serve. However, while there is some diversity in my community, there isn't much. Now, when I say "diversity," I mean any differences, whether that be in religion, socioeconomic status, education, culture, or race.
My current community is full of amazing people, but, if I were truly honest with myself, I would have to admit that most of them are people who would agree with me on most things. Our faith and our families are our first priorities, and we've all chosen to express these priorities in similar ways. Our speech reflects the fact that the Holy Spirit is transforming our hearts. Our choices are, for the most part, socially acceptable. It's so comfortable. And safe. And we all need this to be a part of our community. But how did I assemble this group of like-minded people?
Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs assessment? I'm a "J." And not just any kind of "J"... a high "J." This means I'm a judger. I am. My first reaction to any conversation is to judge whether or not it's important. To judge what the best course of action would be. To judge the efficiency of a particular method. To judge the success of someone's efforts. Sometimes being a judger is a good thing. I can make decisions quickly, but sometimes I make them too quickly. I'm a leader because I move decisively from the verdict to action, but most of the time I feel like being a judger just means that I don't spend enough time on the log in my own eye. And, trust me, there is a sequoia in mine.
And as a judger, it is incredibly stressful to be around people who are making what I would define as "not the best choices." The choices may not be wrong, but they just might not be what I would think of as best so my judgmental brain labels them as "not accepted" and I neglect to include them in my community. This is, without a doubt, sin. Ugly, rancid sin.
Another reason I think I'm surrounded my like-mindedness is just the simple fact that stay-at-home moms have similar schedules. Our kids nap at the same times and want to play at the same times so we hang out, but I live in a lost and dying world that desperately needs to know Christ's wholehearted acceptance. And He's in me. And He wants to use me to reach them. So my community must expand and diversify.
Some friends and I were talking about our judging tendencies last night, and then this morning I opened up the book of James to the second chapter, which is providentially about acceptance. While I'd hate to think that I'd ever treat someone better or worse on the basis of their financial status, I know I mentally stamp "accepted" or "not accepted" on many people simply based on whether or not I feel comfortable around them, whether I like the choices they're making, whether I agree with them on the majority of issues. This may not sound too horrible, but it just doesn't seem like Christ to me.
We all need to have friends that encourage us to love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God; but I'm talking about community. What was Jesus' community like? Well, there was that motley crew of twelve men that He kept by His side almost all the time, but even in that bunch there was a guy he knew would betray Him one day. How did He spend every day with Judas? Then, he hung out with a lot of serious sinners. The man with no sin spent hours with the crowd that made completely ungodly decisions... a lot of ungodly decisions. He gave them such a sweet gift: acceptance.
This morning Wiersbe's commentary on James gave me two reasons to accept people.
1. The person is a believer. Jesus Christ is in him. I accept him because Christ is in him.
2. The person is not a believer. Jesus Christ loves him passionately. I accept him because the Christ in me wants so desperately to be in relationship with him.
This radically throws my mental rubber stamp collection out the window. Everyone gets accepted. Everyone has a place. Everyone gets loved. No one can be excluded. The "J" in me whimpers.
This doesn't mean the next person to walk down my street will babysit my children. Or that I need to spend hours in the local bar, finding some prostitutes and tax collectors that want to hear the Sermon on the Mount. But I know I need to broaden my horizons and retire my mental stamp collection. I need to allow the Jesus in me to reach out to them.
I don't know what all the practical applications to this will be, and I'm pretty sure the first part of the journey will will be taking every thought captive to be sure the stamping ceases. Not that I fail to recognize sin, but that I look beyond the sin to love the sinner. Something in me feels like radically accepting others will bring so many Home. Think about it, prostitutes weren't running away from Jesus. They came to Him because they felt loved and (wait for it...) accepted. They felt at home with Him. And He was comfortable with them, not because He agreed with their choices, but because He had loved them before the foundations of the earth.
You know what? He loves that guy who swore in my presence in the grocery store yesterday. He loves the neighbor whose habits I don't approve. He loves the dad in the library who is yelling violently at his children. He even loves this sorry mother who has been judging those around her for years despite His command to judge not lest she be judged. Acceptance granted. Radically and unconditionally. Will they find acceptance in Him because they've seen it in me? I hope so.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Helen H. Lemmel, 1922