February 24, 2010

Just as You Are

My husband, Anh, told me this during our family devotional. I had had that thought myself before—I just didn’t know how to express it. Now he put it into words.
As a Bible worker, Anh has the heroic yet daunting task of going out into the streets of the urban jungle, knocking on doors that slam in his face, striking up conversations with complete strangers, and discovering those who want to know God.
While staying in temporary housing when we first moved to Augusta, Georgia, when Anh took up his new responsibilities as a Bible worker here, we met two of our neighbors, Mike and Stacy.* I realized later that they were the reason the Lord had led us to that temporary housing situation.
2010 1506 31“Do you mind if I smoke?” Mike would ask while holding up his cigarette and lighter. A very nice and gentle young man, Mike would strike up conversations with my husband. A couple of times they talked outside by the porch for much of an evening while I was inside caring for the baby. Mike lived with a young woman named Stacy, his ex-girlfriend.
A couple months after we had moved into our permanent place, Anh went to visit Mike. Stacy happened to be there, too, and she told my husband that she wanted to get to know God better and was searching for a church home. She excitedly accepted an invitation to study the Bible with Anh, but confessed, “I want to study the Bible and attend church, but I drink and go to bars. Christians will judge me for drinking; that’s why I haven’t been to church. People at the bars accept me the way I am. That’s why I go there.”
Anh responded, “You know, Stacy, Christians should be more like drug addicts—they need to accept people just as they are.”
A wave of relief visibly washed over Stacy. Probably for the first time, a Christian had understood her and had put her worries and confusion into words. Anh let her know that he—as a church-attending Christian—accepted her just the way she was: as a drinker, a bar hopper, a live-in ex-girlfriend, but mostly as Stacy—God’s creation.
Jesus accepted the outcasts of society. He didn’t accept their behavior or sin, but He purposely got to know them so they would turn from their sin and follow Him. He befriended prostitutes, healed lepers, and dined with tax collectors. He called ordinary fishermen to be His disciples. And before they both breathed their last, He promised a convicted thief that he’d be in paradise with Him one day.
All those outcasts were God’s creation. And today’s outcasts are too.
I think of my baby girl. Would I quit accepting and loving her if she rebelled or sinned? Of course not! I would not accept her behavior, but I would accept her. I would love her no less in her sinful behavior than if she were a well-behaving—but still sinful—Christian. God is the same way with His creation, His children.
Jesus’ whole life, even up to the time of His death, was about reaching out to sinners. Not only did He receive them; He loved them. He came to save all of us, outcast or not, from sin.
Today Stacy is excited about going to church with us, where she can get to know God, study His Word—and be accepted just as she is by fellow believers. 
*Names have been changed.
Vanessa Sanders, a freelance writer, and her family live in Augusta, Georgia, and are involved in a growing number of Bible studies in their community. This article was published February 25, 2010.