At the end of July 2016, a couple friends invited Jim to speak at a "Bible study" that unintentionally exploded into a small church. It was that day that it became clear God wanted to do something new--something exciting, scary and definitely messy. But for those of us there, we knew we had to answer the call, because it was a call to love everyone.
That morning in the park, Jim outlined a vision of three things we were called to do in learning to love everyone we could: be accepting, be authentic, and be transformed.
We spend much of our life working hard to fit in. It starts at a young age and many of us discover that the only way to fit in is to be someone we're not. Fifteen minutes at any middle school will make this blatantly obvious. Unfortunately, it takes many of us the rest of our adult lives to unlearn the things that have been explicitly and implicitly drilled into our heads about our identity and the pursuit of "fitting in".
At Real Life, we're not about fitting in. We don't care if you're a cool kid or in the "in crowd", because many of us aren't. And we don't have a chip on our shoulder about it, either. We just simply don't care. We're about belonging, which is the opposite of fitting in. Belonging stems from a recognition of who we are and an embracing of that reality. We want every person to celebrate who God made them to be so that we can extend that celebration to every person we meet. Acceptance is more than tolerance, it is seeing people as they really are, warts and all, and saying, "You belong." This is what Jesus did for us (Gal. 3.26-29).
The interesting thing about life is that it's not about us...but it's also all about us. Everything that we direct at other people, flows from within us. That may seem like an obvious statement, but stop and think about it for a minute. The compassion we extend to others can only flow out of a heart that is compassionate. The anger and irritation that pours out at the guy who cut you off or the lady who snapped at you this morning can only come out of one place: you.
So if we want to be accepting of others, we will have to start with us. We will have to take a hard look at ourselves and instead of covering ourselves up to make us more "acceptable" in the eyes of others and ourselves (which is really just a feeble attempt at fitting in), we will have to be brave and take steps towards being vulnerable with safe people...and in turn, becoming safe people for others with whom to be vulnerable. Jesus loves us as we are and doesn't want us coming to him as anyone else
Make no mistake, acceptance and authenticity are not excuses to take the words of Jesus and Scripture lightly. If we are called to love others and ourselves as Jesus does, we cannot stop at acceptance and authenticity. We must move on to transformation--of ourselves, not others. Sometimes we use acceptance as an excuse for apathy and authenticity as an excuse for self-centeredness. But I have a feeling this would never fly with Jesus because he upheld acceptance and authenticity while simultaneously tearing down apathy and self-centeredness (Jn. 8.1-11; Lk. 19.1-10; Lk. 9.57-62).
All of this is impossible without the power of Jesus and his Holy Spirit in our lives. Do you ever feel frustrated at your inability to change or choose differently? I have, countless times. That's because if we could do it our own, we wouldn't need Jesus. God created us just as we are, but he never intended us to remain static, stagnant beings. He created us to grow, to flourish, and most of all, to become more like Jesus (1 Pet. 1.15, 16; Eph. 4.22-24). The only way to accomplish this is to surrender to Christ, live in the power of his Spirit (not our own strength) and to do life together with others on the same journey (Eph. 4.14-16).
The beauty of all this is that we are allowed to make mistakes, to be human, to be messy. But God lovingly tells us, just as I try to do with my kids: "Learn from your mistakes and clean up your messes." When we do this, with God's help, we become the people we were created to be and we become salt and light to a broken world.