Accepting All Sinners–Especially You!

Recently I heard a lecture from a research psychologist who asked the question, “What is the number one cause of human misery?”  The answer offered: avoidance; specifically, the avoidance of feelings that prompt anxiety or fear.  Consider for a moment that we are hardwired to physically avoid pain and seek out pleasure.  Our physiological nervous system protects us by warning us even before we are fully conscious of an impending danger.  We pull our hand back quickly from say a hot fire that is burning our hand.  We certainly would not want to have a hand burn for three to four seconds while we become consciously aware of our burning flesh!

Now an unconscious act to avoid being burned is beneficial, but what happens when we exercise avoidance when feeling emotional pain?  For instance, we see someone who has hurt us relationally or whom we have hurt and so seeing this person prompts a bad feeling.  We do not want to feel bad, so what do we do? We avoid that person, and most importantly, we avoid how we feel.  Avoidance, in other words, is a defense against emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. 

Avoidance can be expressed in multiple ways.  We can just walk away. We can bury ourselves in various forms of electronic media (television, movies, internet, etc.).  We can seek out mind altering substances like drugs or alcohol.  We can avoid these feelings by being workaholics, playing sports, listen to music, or any activity that “takes our minds off” of being mindful of what we feel.  When these avoidance tactics seem to fail us we might just go numb with depression.  Or we may even use aggressive defenses such as anger and even physical violence toward others as a way of avoiding our own hurt. 

But what is at the root of this avoidance?  Is fear and anxiety prompting these avoidance maneuvers alone?  The research psychologist could only offer up techniques on how not to practice avoidance, or more directly, how to be mindful and regulate feelings so as to not have our avoidance choices lead to unhealthy practices and mental conditions.   While regulation is good, Christ offers us something far greater: Redemption.  Our gospel declares we can transform.  In other words, Christ does not simply teach us how to regulate our anxiety so we can feel better, but transforms our hearts and minds so that we are free from having to regulate in the first place. 

Behind our avoidance is the fear that we will not be accepted and thus we are not valuable or worthy of life.  Let me offer up one tragic illustration.  This past week a pastor committed suicide. Why?—because his name was revealed in the leaked list of clients who signed up for the adultery website, Ashley Madison.  A Christian man who was a pastor as well as a seminary professor took the ultimate step of avoidance by taking his own life.  In an interview I saw with his wife and two children, the daughter said, “He wrongly believed that the exposing of this sin would be my rejection of him.”  What happens when all avoidance choices no longer work? What happens when you cannot avoid being seen for what you do and what you feel?  What if that feeling and image is sinful, then what?

I say we need to hear these words, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  God sees us for who we fully are, what we fully think, and what we fully feel.  And He loves us anyway!  “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). 

Brothers and sisters, we can come to God confessing our sin knowing fully we will be accepted and embraced in God’s love.  Confession is better than avoidance!  Confession frees us and enables us to live fully and transformed.  The Cross of Christ is God’s word to you that He sees us as sin and embraces us.  As Scripture declares: “For our sake [The Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).  Will God who is Love reject you because of sin? No! He became what we are so that we could become what He is: Righteous!  The fact that Jesus commands that we pick up the cross daily and follow him demonstrates that the acceptance of God is a daily necessity for we sin daily.  Each day is filled with sin we seek to avoid that creates anxiety and fear.  But what happens when your avoidance due to fear of being rejected cannot hide you, as all human avoidance eventually will do?  Step out of the dark and into the light of God’s acceptance in Jesus Christ. You have been loved and accepted before time even began (Eph 1:4). 

There is no reason to hide or avoid God because we are sinners!  God knows what we are before we even know what we are!  The Church of Jesus Christ needs to be the fellowship that is the social and institutional expression of this love and acceptance. The Church is where sinners who can no longer avoid and hide come to be seen and embraced in love!  May we not avoid sinners but embrace them all for we are also sinners! Especially, you!

–Terry


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