The Acceptance Paradox [All In]
All In - Discovering & Following a God Who Goes All In With Us - The Acceptance Paradox
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 17, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here today. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Last week as we continued our conversation about what means to discover and follow God who goes all in with us, I shared our church’s five-year strategic plan during the sermon. I have a link in sermon handout for you, if you missed accessing the plan, I would also recommend that you listen to the sermon from last week as well. I was really blown away that so many people participated in our open board meeting on the strategic plan. We are still processing your feedback and suggestions and will continue to update the planning documents and will notify you of any major changes.
In the sermon last week, I discussed the unique position I believe that our church occupies trying to be what I call, “a progressive evangelical church” in a culture that wants us to lean either left or right. I labeled those leanings using the liberal and conservative positions and I noted that most church fall on either one side or the other. Either we are all accepted as we are and we never have to change, or we are all totally depraved and unredeemable and everything about us must change. Of course this description is like painting with a really wide and broad brush, let me acknowledge there’s a lot of nuance within both the liberal and conservative positions. As a way forward, I suggested that we reject the call to either the left or the right and recommended that we accept the tension and strive instead to carve our a new space in the radical middle that acknowledges, and accepts that we are both accepted as we are AND are called to transformation. This call to the radical middle isn’t a peace-making attempt, instead this radical middle fully accepts the tension of being fully accepted while also being called to transformation. This is a paradox and since no one likes paradoxes, I tried to down play this by skirting the issue and referring to the tension not as a paradox, but instead as a dilemma.
I would like to correct that this morning.
I’ve been hearing from you this week about how the sermon last week was helpful, impactful, and challenging, and this morning I want to push into the paradox of us being both accepted and called to transformation.
Restoring Peace By Employing a Warlord
After the first humans took what didn’t belong to them, starting the rebellion by rejecting God’s love, care, and provision for them. They unleashed onto the humanity violence, injustice, unrighteousness, and misery. God disappointed, but determined, turned his face in love towards the humanity that had rejected him by launching a rescue mission to recover the humanity and restore what was broken. He launches this rescue mission by partnering with the very participants of the rebellion.
From among the people God calls Abram, a wandering, nomadic, son of Ur. Abram’s a pantheistic moon worshipper. Let’s not forget, he’s also a warlord.
God is going to resolve the disastrous results of the rebellion – the sin that separates us (from ourselves, from God, and from each other), the evil that destroys our peace, and the death that robs us of life by partnering with a warlord.
God’s going to restore peace by employing a warlord.
I Just Want Fit In
Many of us spend our entire lives trying, while often failing, to earn acceptance. We want acceptance from our parents, family, friends, partners in life, and from people we respect as well as those we envy. When we think about it, the drive to be accepted is at the core of who we are and becomes a significant motivator for much of what we do. Our desire for acceptance influences almost every aspect of our lives including how we order and structure our lives, determining the clothes we wear, the friends we have, the job we have, and most importantly, the stories we tell about ourselves to ourself and others.
King Solomon writing in the wisdom writings notes this is a core identity issue for us in Proverbs 19:22a,
22 What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.
“I just want to fit in,” the third grader pleads to her parents over the dinner table. Shocked, her parents look at each other confused. What now? What do we say? Her parents love their daughter, they want the best for her. They know that fitting in isn’t what she really wants. She really wants to just belong. She wants to know that she is accepted and loved. She wants what we all want.
I remember arriving at the College of Wooster as a wide-eyed 17 year old. While I had graduated in top 10% of my class, I discovered quickly I was out of my league. I remember walking to dinner my first week of class with my hall mates listening as they regaled me with their stories of their recent internships, European back-packing trips, or books they recently read. And all I was thinking, was, “If I just keep my mouth closed they won’t discover that I don’t belong here with them.” There was a very present temptation to play along and pretend I had some of the same experiences they did. But I’m glad I stayed silent. I didn’t have an impressive internship. Instead, I had just spent my entire summer working 14 hours a day at two summer jobs because unlike my hall mates, I didn’t have a safety net to support my decision to go it on my own at the College of Wooster. I didn’t want them to know that I wasn’t like them, I was a poor inner-city kid from a public school, who could only afford the College of Wooster because of my pell grants and work-study. I didn’t want their pity, just like that third grader, I just wanted to belong, I just wanted to fit in.
And here’s the deal: God accepts us just as we are and at the same time he doesn’t leave us where he find us.
When we see God partnering with Abram, who later becomes Abraham, we may have objections to this partnership, how could God sully his name by partnering with a warlord to bring about God’s peace and restoration? When we later see Abraham pass off his wife, Sarah, as his sister to save his hide, we may feel justified in our distaste for God’s partnership with this unscrupulous person.
As we continue to follow the story of the descendants of Abraham, whether it’s his son Isaac who lies about his wife too, or his grandson Jacob who steals his brother’s birthright, or his great-grandson Joseph who is deceitful, prideful, and conceited, we will quickly discover that this pattern of brokenness continues. Descendant after descendant continues to buy into the lie that we are in competition with each other and God, fighting for scare resources, forcing us to be our lesser selves, as we lie, steal, cheat, and obfuscate to protect ourselves, our stuff, and our image of ourselves.
In accepting Abraham and his descendants as they were, maybe God was pointing to something. You can almost think of this acceptance as “a shadow and a type” of something that will come into sharper focus later. The idea of grace–the free and unearned favor of God, demonstrated in God’s salvation, forgiveness, and blessings towards us. The idea that we don’t get what we deserve.
Until We Know We Are Accepted We Will Never Change
Is it possible that the paradox of acceptance exists because until we are able to know that we are really accepted that we will never change?
What if we repented of the false narratives about God we have received or inherited, maybe like this one, “God will accept and love me when I...” and you fill in the blank. Here’s a quick exercise to check yourself, as you imagine God, “Is God is in a good mood? Or is God frustrated, angry, upset, or disappointed with you?”
Here’s the truth, God through Jesus has already accepted you. Do you believe it?
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (Psalms 27:10).
Do you believe it?
“Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God” (Romans 15:7 GWT).
Is it possible that acceptance is the first step of our transformation?
4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Think of it this way: we start by realizing that we are accepted by God, which allows us to enter a relationship with him, which allows him to speak to us about who we are, or better yet, who we think we are, all of which can lead us to believe something different and powerful about ourselves–that we aren’t who we think we are. Maybe we are accepted first because this gives God an opportunity to present and offer us a new way forward: there’s no need to live by the fruits of the rebellion: we don’t have to cheat, lie, steal in order to survive, instead we can learn to trust and surrender to God’s love, care for, and provision for us, which frees us to live as we were intended to be, image-bearers reflecting the king who created us.
Those Who Love Their Life Will Lost It
And here’s the other side of the acceptance paradox, we are also called to transformation. While I am accepted, I cannot enter the kingdom of God if I stay where I am. It’s a process, an unfolding, and it starts with being born again.
I really like the interaction that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John, chapter. When Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a keeper of the traditions of Israel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness hoping to broker a deal. I think of the scene that plays out in John 3:1-4 like this:
At night Nicodemus, representing the Jewish ruling council, goes to Jesus with a question, maybe, a request. “Can we figure out how to make this work together? Clearly, you are a man of God, but the things you are doing and calling for are upsetting the apple cart. We are the keepers of the traditions of Israel, and we love what you’re doing, but you are moving a bit outside of the norm. So, maybe the two of us can broker a deal, a solution, maybe we can create a new alliance, a way forward for Israel, Rome, and the rest of the world. What do you think, Jesus?”
Replying Jesus said,
3 “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” (John 3:3)
Jesus replies to Nicodemus that in order to experience the fullness of the kingdom of God, he had to start by start over, he had to be born again. He had to reset his expectations, his understanding, and his experiences of God. Put another way, Jesus is telling Nicodemus you have to change your vision, intention, and means. Here, I’m going to lean on Dallas Willard for insight.
Vision: We have to imagine our life in the kingdom of God, living under God’s rule and reign. As we attempt to follow Jesus through the narrow gate into life, the way we see God, ourselves, each other, our stuff, and the creation is impacted. It’s as if we take on a God-vision of the world.
Intention: This leads immediately to a change in our intention to become a kingdom person. Our beliefs start to change, our understanding starts to change. Our decisions are impacted and they begin to change as well. Now, this is where it gets tricky because I don’t want to impose my will on your life, I want you to allow God to impose his will on you. Our decisions are affected by our intention to become kingdom people, James, the brother Jesus is most helpful here. In James 2:14-17, he instructs us:
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Means: As we obtain a clear vision, and intention to follow Jesus through the narrow gate, which is long-hand for obeying Jesus, will lead to us seeking out and applying the means to become the kingdom people we are supposed to be. This happens through our application and use of spiritual disciplines which help with the renovation of our heart. The spiritual disciplines help shape and form us into kingdom people. And they include practices like silence, rest, solitude, scripture memorization and meditation, fellowship and accountability to others, and so forth.
When Jesus encounters someone in the New Testament, there’s a consistent pattern, he invites them to consider that he has a better way for them to live their lives. You see this in call of the disciples, in the lives of major characters like Zacchaeus, The Rich Young Ruler, the Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus. In every encounter, he has something to offer. If you go back and revisit their stories you might see how their vision, intention, and means are affected by their encounters with Jesus.
Jesus was simply explaining that in order to enter the kingdom of God you had to die and be reborn.
Take what Jesus says in Luke 9:23-25 for example:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:23-25)
“Those who love their life will lose it.” In order to discover life within the Kingdom of God, requires a death. A daily dying to our “false self,” so that our “vulnerable self” might emerge.
This is the power of the passage in Luke 9:23-25, Jesus is inviting us to live within the Kingdom of God, which requires a daily dying. Dying daily to the effects of the rebellion– the anger, fear, lust, pride, greed, envy, and apathy that robs us of life. Coming alive to the fruits of the spirit, the gift of the kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Saint Paul, the new testament church planter and follower of Jesus continues the theme of dying daily when he writes to the church in Rome:
12Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
If you want to live within the kingdom of God, it starts by recognizing that you are both accepted by God as you are and called to radical transformation by learning to die daily to the pattern of this world.
Are you here this morning and believe you have gone too far?
Are you here this morning and believe that you don’t deserve love?
Are you here this morning and believe that you don’t deserve forgiveness?
Are you a thief?
Are you a cheat?
Are you a liar?
Are you a failure?
Then the kingdom is available for you today. Do you want it?
Join me in this prayer, our surrender to Jesus isn’t a once and done, it’s a daily dying, a daily surrender:
Jesus of Nazareth, I acknowledge my thirst for what you have to give. I surrender myself to you, whole and entire - what was, and is, and is to come. Plunge the wrongs I have done and the wrongs done to me into your fathomless mercy. Receive me as I am today. Make me what I am meant to be, and let me walk in the path of your new creation. Amen.