One of these days, I’m going to need a really good touch-up artist. Because, one of these days, my picture is going to be in a bicycling magazine and I’ve got really ugly legs. My right leg has scars from baseball and softball and soccer and an ACL surgery. My left leg has scars from baseball and softball. Both legs have bizarre tan lines from shorts and socks and sandals. There is absolutely no way that the magazine will show my legs “as-is.”
We live in a culture of outsiders. I am convinced, especially in teenage circles, that most people feel as if they exist on the fringes of life. We have created an idealistic image of what (not who) people are supposed to be. This image is impossible for anyone to actually achieve. But this image is perpetuated from generation to generation and it leaves the vast majority of us feeling as if we’re observing life from the sidelines, missing something “more.”
We hide our skeletons, fearing that no one can love us or accept the broken parts of our lives.
We envy those who have more money or better looks. Or who are taller. Or who are older. Or who are younger. Or who are more famous. Or…
We “shop” churches looking for a place to belong “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”
We haven’t spent the time necessary to search our own souls, to know ourselves, and so we end up being pulled and tossed and distracted by every latest trend and fasion under the sun…
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We are loved by God “as-is.”
We are called to accept people and love them “as-is.”
I’ve been talking with some friends about the implications of those two words. Some people say that those two words mean that we willingly accept every sin people commit. Some people say that those two words mean that we lose our distinctiveness as followers of Jesus. Some people say that those two words are the slippery slope into relativism, universalism, and the liberal agenda of tolerance.
A couple of years ago, I was a small group leader at a youth retreat for a friend in another town. We were supposed to have five or six small group Bible studies that revolved around a central theme. On the first night, I showed the Dr. Seuss video The Sneetches. Sneetches are a bird-ish Seussian creation who live on a beach (because it rhymes). Half the population of the Sneetches have a green star on their bellies, the other half have a plain belly. The story is the tale of discrimination and learning to accept one another.
After watching the video, we read one simple verse, tucked back towards the end of Romans.
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (15.7).
I am convinced that if we as the church could live by this verse, the cultural implications would be vast.
Just how does Jesus accept me?
Jesus accepts me and calls to me in the middle of my struggles, in the middle of my doubt, even when as my back is turned to him.
There’s no condition placed on being accepted by Jesus. No warranty where he can trade me in on another model. Much like a car purchased from the impound lot, Jesus paid for me when I was the least amount of good to him. And I am definitely a “fixer-upper.” I come with a lot of wear and tear and parts that need replacing (more than just knees). But Jesus knows what I can become. With his loving touch, I am slowly transformed into a completely new creation. My life, then, becomes a witness to his transforming power.
So, just as Jesus accepts us, we are to accept others. If I correctly understand Jesus’ message, my job is to love all people. As I love, God transforms. I am not the one to judge people based on dings and paint jobs. These often reflect stories and wounds that have cumulated over a lifetime, more than I can possibly know from a cursory glance. I am not the one to point fingers, cast blame, or critique sins. Oddly enough, most of the time I only notice sins in others because they are the very same things with which I struggle (someone else’s speck is my plank).
Can I trust Jesus to work on them and in them the same way he works in me? He’s not into the business of a quick-fix patch to cover over the problem, but a deep and thorough healing. On rare occasions, this healing actually happens here on earth. More often than not, though, the healing comes as we cross the temporal bounds into the presence of the Great I Am. He will finish the work he started in me. He will finish the work he started in you.
I might be wrong, but I think that in general, people know their sins. We don’t have to be told what we’re doing is wrong. Yet there is a certain part of the evangelical population that likes to tell others what they’re doing is wrong. Maybe it’s a power trip. Maybe it’s to build themselves up (much like playground bullies). Maybe it’s from an honest intention of trying to hold one another accountable to the straight and narrow. But it is the uncommon person who responds with grace and thanks when confronted with the reality of his or her personal sins.
We extend grace and hope when we learn to accept people as-is. Acceptance removes performance traps, where we think we must succeed, pretending to be something or someone other. Acceptance is leaning into the freedom of the Spirit, allowing the light of his presence to shine through us.
So no matter what your struggle is, I want to extend the hand of friendship, because Jesus calls me a friend. And one of the biggest reasons he calls me a friend is so that you can know that he calls you a friend too.