Acceptance is a powerful thing…

I visited another church Sunday and the pastor delivered an excellent sermon built around the calling of Levi in Matthew 9. Levi, of course, is Matthew, the writer of the gospel. He was tax collector when Jesus encountered him on the road at his “toll booth.” The pastor pointed out that Matthew, as a tax collector, was hated by his own people, the Jews, not only because he was working for the IRS, but in those days, he was seen as a traitor because he was working for the Romans who occupied the region at the time. He also cheated and extorted money to make his living. He charged an exorbitant amount at his toll booth, and, most likely, was wealthy (and despised) because of it.

He was no doubt a loner. He had “friends”, if you want to call them that, but they were fellow tax collectors and other riff-raff who couldn’t be trusted. I’m not sure Matthew would call them real friends. So when Jesus comes along, and invites Matthew to come along with him, Matthew had to be looking around behind him and saying, “Who? Me?!?” You’d think there was more interaction between Matthew and Jesus during this encounter, but if there is, it doesn’t show up in Matthew’s gospel, nor the two other gospels where this story also appears. Matthew simply gets up, leaves his toll booth behind, and joins Jesus.

As the pastor shared, acceptance is a powerful thing. It pulled Matthew from his toll booth. It pulled him away from his old life in an instant, without any reasoning or convincing. Acceptance is a powerful thing. As the pastor continued, he said it’s acceptance that convinces youngsters to join gangs. It’s acceptance that makes peer pressure so powerful. Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Levi the (former) tax collector.

Knowing that God accepts you no matter where you are in life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’re doing in your journey with God… if you’re riding high or down in the depths… on the mountaintop or weeping bitterly… knowing that God accepts you and loves you… well, it has the power to transform you. It did me.

When I discovered in my heart what I knew in my head: that God loved me and accepted me when I succeeded and when I failed… when I prayed a lot or when I prayed very little… when I go to church every single week and say “yes” to every invitation to serve or help or when I skip church, spend time home alone with family… that no matter what, He loves and accepts me, it brought new freedom into my life. As I’ve said before, not freedom to live my life selfishly or lazily, but freedom to trust God with every fabric of my being. It is a freedom from performancism (is that even a word?) that makes me so grateful, I naturally want to seek more of God.

All God wants is for us to come. He invited Matthew that day along the roadside. And he invites you and me.

Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Matthew… or me.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

I was meeting with a guy some time ago who said he wanted his spiritual life to grow. He wanted to get serious about his spirituality but felt stuck in neutral, so to speak. He was frustrated by his apathy and wanted to take following Jesus to the next level.

My mind immediately began to go into action as he was talking, thinking of ways he could increase the intensity of his devoutness (is that even a word??). I thought of ways he could pray more. I thought of ways he could dig into God’s Word. Maybe a Bible-reading plan would help? I thought that sometimes the best way to break out of a funk is to serve others… how could he do that? Thankfully, in that flurry of thought, I caught myself.

I told him first, “Cut yourself some slack. I’ll bet you are very hard on yourself.” He said he was. It stemmed from his early years in his childhood church and how he learned to follow Jesus growing up. I continued, “God knows your heart. He knows right now that you’re talking to me about knowing Him more deeply. He knows you have that desire. I know He is smiling about that right now. You are not as apathetic as you think or you wouldn’t be having these desires. Cut yourself some slack.”

All of us so easily fall into a trap of measuring our own righteousness. We measure it by how much we pray. We measure it by how much we read our Bibles. We measure it by our behavior day-by-day. We measure how we talk, what we drink, and even by how much or what we eat. We measure ourselves against others. But when we measure, by definition, we are self-righteous. We become legalists. We become like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

Our righteousness is found only in Christ. It is not found in what we do, it is found in what He has already done. As God’s Word says:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17, NLT)

That is why we need a Savior.

As our meeting ended, I asked my friend to read a book that set me free from this trap. It’s by Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. It’s called “One Way Love”. It has been eye-opening and life-changing. I highly recommend it.

The Gospel has come to set us free from the trap of performance-ism. We don’t have to work to please God. When we think upon Him, even just desiring to know Him more, I know it pleases Him.

I know He smiles.

(To find out more about this transforming encounter with God’s grace, read “One Way Love”, available at your favorite bookstore or at HERE.)