Today the life rule we want to talk about is acceptance and let me start by saying that what I want us to focus on is learning how to accept the specific people God has placed in our lives that might make decisions or live in ways that we find unacceptable. While it might prove helpful in all situations, this rule will not cover the people we might find unacceptable around the nation or around the globe, but it is to be considered for those people God has put into our lives. It is also important for us to understand that God created us in such a way that we are drawn to people who accept us for who we are and we are drawn to environments where we feel accepted. We are acceptance magnets and because of this our hearts and lives are shaped by how we have been accepted and rejected.
Andy Stanley has said that because we are acceptance magnets we don’t really choose our friends, we simply gravitate toward environments where we will be accepted and find our friends there. As I thought about that in my life I realized he is right. I wasn’t any kind of an athlete growing up so feeling rejected in those areas meant I didn’t have any friends in those circles but instead I gravitated to those in band and those I knew through my church. When they accepted me it shaped my life and gave me a sense of sense of self esteem and self worth. Understanding how acceptance and rejection shapes us is important because it can explain a lot of things we see in the world and maybe in our own lives. For example, this might explain why many people, especially men, pour themselves into their work at the expense of their family. When we feel competent and valued by all those around us at work but at home everyone has their own opinion and we might not feel as accepted, it’s easy to spend more time and energy and invest more of ourselves at work than at home.
Many people fall in love with someone other than their spouse because when marriage gets hard and feelings aren’t always strong we will gravitate to new relationships where we feel unconditionally accepted. Instead of working through the difficulties at home, many people will just go where they feel acceptance which can lead to all kinds of unhealthy relationships.
And teens will listen to their friends who accept them over their parents who always seem to be lecturing them. Peer pressure is really the pressure we feel to be accepted and that is a powerful pull because we are acceptance magnets. Now this doesn’t mean parents still shouldn’t lecture or teach and share with their children, but how can it be done in a spirit of acceptance and unconditional love.
Acceptance and rejection shapes our self esteem and self worth which can lead to all kinds of behavior – both good and bad. Have you ever been in a situation where you were constantly trying to win the acceptance of those closest to you, maybe a parent or spouse, but always felt rejected? Those feelings can lead to all kinds of dysfunction and inappropriate behavior. One summer I worked at a camp and was the counselor for a cabin for 3rd grade boys. One week a boy came in and in about two hours had already been in trouble for fighting. He had picked a fight with a 5th grader. A few hours later he was in a fight again with the biggest third grade boy in his group. The next day he was fighting again. Because of all his fighting, he had lost his time at the pool one afternoon so he and I sat in the cabin and talked. He told me how his father put the report cards of his brothers and sisters on the refrigerator because they all got A’s but because he got a B, it didn’t go up. It wasn’t good enough and in his mind – he wasn’t good enough. This little boy was doing everything he could to earn the acceptance of his father. He was trying to be the best and the strongest to win acceptance and if that meant fighting the biggest and oldest kids around, he would do it.
So acceptance and rejection are important to who we are because it shapes our lives and if we look around we see that our culture is pretty good at rejection and yet God calls us to accept one another. Let’s look at Romans 15:5-6. God is calling us to be unified in heart, body and spirit. We are to be one and the only way that happens is if we will accept one another – Romans 15:7. In the Greek this reads, Therefore accept one another just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
What Paul is saying is that the way to keep unity and glorify God is to accept one another and he is also up front with us that it won’t be easy. Acceptance takes endurance and patience so it’s not going to come instantly and we need to remember that, but it is also difficult which is why it brings praise to God. We praise people when they complete the hard tasks and when they follow them through to the end. I wasn’t praised for watched my favorite TV show to the end, but I did get extra credit in school when during the summer before 5th grade I read the book The Hobbit. When God says that accepting one another brings Praise to God it is because he knows it’s hard – but it is not easy, but it is necessary.
So what does it mean to accept one another? What does acceptance look like? Think about catching a football, you reach out and once it’s in your grasp you draw it into your body. Or if you prefer, think of a mother with a newborn child who takes it in her hands and then draws it to her body. This is what acceptance looks like and what makes this so hard is that we need to learn how to accept people before they are acceptable to us. The truth is that when we find people in our lives doing things that we object to we don’t want to draw them in we want to tell them off. The first thing we want to do is tell them how wrong they are and how much they need to change. We want to convince people that their choices are wrong, their lifestyle is destructive and that they really need to change. When the people God has placed in our lives do things we object to we want to win an argument and prove a point but in these situations God has another life rule he wants us to apply.
Life Rule #3 – win a heart, not an argument. Instead of trying to win an argument with others, we need to work at winning their heart. Instead of making a point, we need to build a bridge. Instead of convicting people to change we need to accept them for who they are and allow God’s love flowing through us to lead them to change. What all of this means is that we need to draw them close while we still find their actions and lives unacceptable and the reason is because that is how God has accepted us. Over the last few weeks we have seen that because we have entered into a relationship with Jesus we are to love others as God loves us and we are to forgive others as God forgives us, so now we are accept others just as God has accepted us and the truth is that God accepted us before we got our act together and before we overcame all or any of our sin. God accepted us while we were still considered unacceptable to Him and He drew us in before we changed.
A few weeks ago we looked a the story of the Prodigal son and the Father drew his son in while he was still unacceptable. In fact he was literally unclean after feeding the pigs and the father didn’t insist on him getting cleaned up spiritual or physically before he embraced him. And that’s how it is with God. He accepts us before He even suggests that we need to be cleaned up. Think about the life of Jesus. Jesus did not come to win an argument, make a point, convict everyone of their sin and tell everyone they were wrong. If Jesus wanted to do that he could have, but for the most part, Jesus didn’t live this way. Yes, he taught about what actions and attitudes were right and wrong, but Jesus didn’t spend his time simply telling people they were wrong and trying to win arguments, instead Jesus won people’s hearts.
One day a woman was brought to Jesus because she had been caught in adultery. Now the law was pretty clear about this, her actions were unacceptable and she was to be stoned for her behavior. Jesus could have convicted her on the spot and told her how wrong she was, but instead of winning an argument Jesus accepted her and won her heart. He called her a daughter, a term of relationship and love. He forgave her and then after he accepted her there was the call to go forward and live a new life. The acceptance came before the change. That’s how Jesus wants us to live, accepting people and allowing our love for them and God’s love for them to bring about a change of heart. Sometimes people need to change, but the change won’t come because we lecture them, it comes because we love them and accept them. God wants us to win a heart and not an argument.
Now let me be clear and say that this does not mean we accept everyone’s behavior and lifestyle and it doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth, Jesus did. Jesus knelt down in the sand and wrote down the sins of all the people who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, but he didn’t bash them with it, he used the truth to point out that they needed to forgive and accept others because was being patient and forgiving and accepting of them. So we can speak the truth but we need to do it in ways that build bridges or lead to acceptance.
A friend of mine, who is a pastor, has a daughter who is gay and when PA legalized same sex marriage her daughter said she and her partner were going to get married. My friend and her husband were against the marriage and they believe the lifestyle is not in line with the will of God and so they were trying to decide if they should attend the wedding or reception. They believed strongly that they shouldn’t attend because they wanted their daughter to know how much they disagreed with it all, but I could see my friend struggled with this. She knew that by not attending she was putting the final nail in the coffin of the relationship she had with her daughter. It was already pretty fragile and this rejection would end it forever. I suggested that instead of trying to prove her point and win an argument that she instead try to win her daughters heart. It is only by accepting people that relationships can strengthen, truth can be shared and lives can be changed.
It won’t happen quickly and it may not happen at all, which makes this rule a difficult one to follow, but it is how God works in our lives. God draws us into a relationship and then is able to speak to our hearts and lives and it’s after we hear God’s truth that we are able to act on it and in time begin to experience transformation and change. This is a long, involved and messy journey. We know that by looking at our lives. It’s messy when God accepts us and we don’t change quickly or easily so we should be prepared for this to be a messy process with others. Again, this is why Paul reminds us that God gives us endurance and patience because those two things are needed if we are going to accept others.
God has been patient with us and God continues to endure much in our lives. We aren’t perfect and there are times our attitudes, words and actions are unacceptable to God, but because he knows we are acceptance magnets – he draws us in where we can hear his voice and receive his grace which works to change our lives. God has accepted us and calls us today to accept one another. God wants us to win a heart not an argument because every time we do we give God the opportunity to be at work in the hearts and lives of those around us.
Life Rules ~ Acceptance
1. What people or groups have accepted you during your life and how has their acceptance shaped who you are today?
2. Do you see God as primarily one who accepts or rejects? What stories from the Bible back up your views? Is this how you learned of God as a child?
3. In what ways did God accept you when you were still unacceptable? How did God’s acceptance lead to change?
4. How has your acceptance of others shaped their lives and yours?
5. Are their people in your life that you struggle to accept? Who are they and what attitudes or actions do you find unacceptable? What argument in their life do you want to win?
6. What would it look like for you to win their hearts? What would you have to let go of to do this? What might be the result?
7. What’s step can you take this week to in win their hearts?