52 Week Plan – Acceptance

Acceptance Outside the Family of God

Receiving others willingly and unconditionally (even when their behavior has been imperfect) and loving them in spite of any differences that may exist between you. Romans 15:7

Starting with the Basics:
#1:  Let’s make this clear from the beginning.  When I say that someone is “outside the family of God”, I am speaking of a person who does not have a relationship with God the Father by faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior.  In other words, I understand that not everyone follows Christ, loves Him, and receives His gift of forgiveness.
I Corinthians 15:1-7
#2:  I understand that my position is to love others regardless of whether they are inside or outside God’s family of Christ-followers. My role is to love people regardless of their position, but I am especially responsible for loving the “household of faith”.  I think I know why God put that in the scriptures.  How can we even begin to love those outside the faith if we don’t love our brothers and sisters in our own family….the family of God. (Galatians 6:10)
#3:  Perhaps the most effective strategy to help a lost and alone world come to understand and accept the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ is to accept them as valuable, loved people first.  Loving others the way Jesus does…..is not a suggestion but a commandment.  (John 13:34-35) Though a commandment and seemingly impossible to do…it is not impossible or Christ would not have commanded it.  He gives to all, who come to Him in faith, the Holy Spirit to live within us and bring us the very mind of Christ, the love of the Father, and the power to experience and exercise both in this life.
#4:  Jesus let people know they “belonged”, even when those He accepted as valuable were rejected by others or rejected His love.  How many examples can you recall of people Jesus accepted, when others rejected them?  When the “elders and teachers of the law” tried to label Jesus, He was called a “friend of sinners” (Luke 15:1-2).  They thought that would be a demeaning title, but He actually was a / is a “friend of sinners”.  He befriended many “unacceptable” people and still does.  He accepted you and me as valuable and loved us “while we were yet sinners”.
Acceptance in the Family of God
Loving God and Your Fellow Believers
Light Source #1:  Fresh Encounters with Jesus Christ
I want you to recall your experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  Was it a conversion experience or was it more of a process?  (John 6:44)  In whatever way the Father drew you to His Son Jesus, would you recall how much love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance was offered to you, as you were moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son Jesus? (Colossians 1:13)
Let Jesus’ acceptance of you soak into your mind and heart as you quiet your soul for a few minutes.  Express your gratitude to Him again.  I don’t think this will be the last time you worship Him “in spirit and truth” to acknowledge His great love and acceptance of you. Every day is not often enough to express thanks for such a gift. (Psalm 100:4)
Light Source #2:  Frequent Experiences in the Word
(Do The Book)
Let’s Do:  Matthew 10:40 “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me.
Think of someone that you definitely have a hard time accepting.  Ask the Lord Jesus to empower you with the Holy Spirit and give you His attitude and heart toward that person or those people.  Consider a person you believe to be outside the faith.
As I am writing this, a Middle-Eastern couple (actually a mother and son, I think) sat for a few minutes at a table near me.  I overheard the language being spoken.  I saw the woman’s “different” attire, and my heart began to move toward judgment …though I didn’t know them or their nationality.  I asked God to stop that process and give me His heart.  I thought about how much they need to know the love of God in Jesus and that they may already be Christians.  My role was not to judge but to love and be ready to speak truth to them if God gave me the opportunity.  They sat for only a minute or two and left.  Long enough for me to use this experience as a real-life example of accepting people who may be outside the faith and accepting others who seem quite different from me.  Truth is – we human beings aren’t really that different even if our language and appearance are foreign to one another.
Would you and your spouse, or your children, or church friends do the Matthew 10:40 verse and prayerfully ask God to love others through you and when possible help them to experience the love of Jesus in your attitude, action, words, or in sharing the Gospel or meeting other needs?  I will do the same.
Light Source #3:  Other Jesus Followers – Have Real Fellowship with Your Spouse, Children, and/or Fellow Christ-followers
As you and your spouse, children, or fellow Christ-followers address the issue of “Accepting Those Outside the Faith as Equally Valuable”, let’s believe that the Holy Spirit will open doors of service to others to demonstrate Christ’s deep, deep love.  He loves even those who may have one time made our list of “Those Most Difficult to Love”.  Whether they are in your family, in your church, in another denomination, or outside the faith altogether, I can think of no better way to take an authentic next step in our walk with Jesus than to love someone into the kingdom.
If you have time, please read the Lazarus story and discuss the obvious (I hope) applications to this month’s 52 Week Plan journey into Acceptance.
Lazarus Story
This story is a fictional account of the John 11 experience of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  If you prefer to read the John 11 account, please read verses 1-43.  My friend Dr. Marvin Bittinger wrote this fictional account of the actual scripture account.  Enjoy either or both.
Lazarus awoke with a start. He had had nightmares before but this one was especially bad. He knew it was only a dream but the fear he felt was real. Still only half awake, he shook his head chasing away the remnants of sleep that still clung to his brain. Perhaps he was in the sun too long yesterday. Maybe the dream had no cause and was just a chance occurrence. Who knows.
He rolled on his side, pushed himself up in bed and put his feet on the floor. The cool tiles felt good to the soles of his calloused feet. While he enjoyed living with his sisters he sometimes wished he had married so he wouldn’t have to sleep alone. A drop of sweat trickled down his forehead. The early rising sun had already made his room uncomfortably warm.
As Lazarus dressed he thought little of the hot flushed feeling and hint of nausea he felt. Ready for the day he opened the door to his room, stepped onto the small porch and began descending the steps to the courtyard below. Awareness of his weakness dawned gradually with each step he took. Seeing through eyes blurred by fever made the already precarious stairs almost impossible to navigate. As Lazarus took the final step into the courtyard, he was overcome with dizziness. Like a drunken man, he stumbled toward the door of the main house. Half way across the courtyard his legs gave way and he collapsed in a disheveled heap.
Martha was her usual active early morning self. The meal of bread and roasted fish was almost ready. Food from Martha’s kitchen was eaten hot and on time. No one dared be late for one of her meals. She left the house and entered the courtyard to find Mary and Lazarus. No doubt Mary was cloistered in some hidden place meditating and praying for who knows what. Since Jesus’ last visit Martha was trying hard to accept Mary’s lack of help with household chores. It still irritated her. Lost in her thoughts she almost tripped over Lazarus as she crossed the courtyard. Concern crossed Martha’s face as she bent down to examine him. He wasn’t responding. While he seemed awake the words he mumbled made no sense. Bloody saliva drooled from the side of his mouth forming a puddle near her feet. Fear seized Martha. She screamed for Mary, hoping she was near enough to hear.
This was Mary’s favorite part of the day. Alone and undisturbed she could commune with God in unhurried intimacy. It also gave her time away from her workaholic sister. Sometimes her nagging made loving Martha very difficult. But she was her sister after all. Suddenly, Martha’s screams jerked her back to reality. These were not the cries of frustration she was used to hearing. Panic was driving Martha’s words. Mary jumped to her feet, gathered her robe tightly around her waist and ran toward the court yard.
Lazarus’ confusion and now labored breathing communicated a sense of urgency to both sisters. Calling Lucius, their hired servant, they carried Lazarus into the house and laid him on a pallet near the door. Martha rushed to the well to draw water to cool his fever. He made little response to their attempts to revive him. Remembering the miracles of Jesus and His love for Lazarus they dispatched Lucius to bring Him to Bethany. Perhaps Jesus would perform a miracle and save the life of their brother.
Time seemed to stand still as Mary and Martha fought to keep their brother alive. A torturous day followed by an endless night had them on the verge of collapse.
Lazarus continued to worsen. Where was Jesus? He should have been here by now. Did He forget? The life and death struggle continued through the day.
Cries of sadness and agony wafted across the courtyard filling the evening air with the sounds of death. No Jesus, no miracle, no hope. Lazarus was dead. The only thing left to do was bury their brother. Jewish custom dictated that Lazarus be buried as soon as possible. Mourning would have to wait. With the help of Lucius, they lifted Lazarus’ body from the pallet and placed it on a large table in the center of the room. Lucius stripped and washed the body while Mary and Martha retrieved aromatic ointment and a linen burial cloth from the rear of the house. Fighting back tears, they gently forced Lazarus’ eyes closed and bound his mouth shut. A sweet smell filled the room as the two sisters lovingly anointed his body with the costly ointment. After unfolding the linen cloth, they used it to tightly wrap Lazarus’ body in preparation for burial.
Lazarus awoke with a start. Although his eyes were open, they detected no light. He shivered as the damp coolness of the tomb penetrated the wrappings enveloping his body. The pungent smell of sweet ointment and decaying flesh pierced his nostrils. Breathing was difficult. Trying to move only increased the claustrophobic anxiety that accompanied his fear of smothering. Suddenly, a bright light penetrated the shroud covering his face. Lazarus’ eyelids
snapped shut in response to the stabbing pain caused by light entering his unconstricted pupils. By reflex he attempted to cover his face with his hand, but the linen wrappings held fast. Through the anxiety and pain he heard a familiar voice call his name; “Lazarus, come out.” Compelled to act, Lazarus struggled to free himself. Rocking back and forth, he turned on his side and forced his feet to the floor. He shifted his weight forward and came to an unsteady upright position. Twisting from side to side, Lazarus waddled toward the sound of the voice. After a few steps he became dizzy and almost fell. Gentle hands steadied him and began removing the linen cloth from his body and face. Soon the grave clothes lay at his feet. Lazarus was finally free. He squinted as his eyes slowly adjusted to the light outside the tomb. The human shaped form in front of him gradually came into focus. Lazarus was staring into the face of Jesus.
The story of Lazarus illustrates an important principle of the Christian life. Lazarus was dead. Christ came and gave him new life. He was born again. But even though he had new life he was still bound in his grave clothes. The grave clothes prevented him from living out the new life Jesus had given him. It was not until his friends came to his aid and removed the grave clothes that Lazarus was able to live out the new life Christ had provided.
When we became Christians, we were given new life and were spiritually born again. As a result we are now new creatures in Christ. Yet many of us are still wearing our “grave clothes”. These prevent us from living out the new life we have in Christ. Not only do grave clothes keep us from experiencing what Christ has done, it also keeps us from sharing it with others. As long as Lazarus was in his grave clothes he could not speak to or serve others. His mouth was covered and his legs and arms were bound.
In the same way, when we Christians continue to wear our “grave
clothes” our ability to speak for and serve Christ is hindered. What are “grave clothes”? “Grave clothes” are anything that keep us bound so we can’t practically experience the new life that Christ has given us. The bondage we experience can be spiritual, emotional, mental or physical.
After reading the story, would you answer these three questions and discuss them with family, small group, spouse, or others you feel would enjoy the discussion?
1.  Who were some “unacceptables” to the people of Jesus’ day but loved and changed by an encounter with Him?
2.  Of your acquaintances who may be “outside the faith”, who might God be leading you to “love into the kingdom”?
3.  What next steps would be appropriate in order to help that person understand how loved they are by Abba, and valued they are by you as a Christ-follower?
Remember John 13:34-35 still applies today.