>Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7

A while back my folks were in town, so we decided to go out for lunch. Someone had told use that kids could eat for 99 cents at the S&S Cafeteria on North Pleasantburg, so we decided to give it a try. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. A realtor would say that it has “historic charm” (read: old). Guy Fieri might feature it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives or not.

When we walked into the building, we didn’t see a dining room. There was just a long hallway. We walked down the hallway, turned the corner, then walked down another hallway. This was the line. We finally reached the trays. Then, seven of us tried to figure out what to eat. I chose what I wanted to eat, but then was told that it would be extra and it wasn’t part of the deal. Apparently, some items were the “loss leader” and others were the “premium” items (using the broadest sense of the word).

After much conversation, we were met by the angry stares of the regular patrons, who probably hoped that we were at McDonalds rather than blocking their path. They were on the inside track of this place. We were outsiders, and it was obvious.

The experience was awkward. It was frustrating. It was a little intimidating (and I don’t get intimidated by much). And, we’ve never been back. After all, there are easier places to order fried chicken, and the kids eat free.

Walking out of that restaurant, I wondered if this is how people feel the first time they go to church. They don’t know the system. They feel like they have to figure it out on their own. And, they are met with the angry stares of the regular patrons. Will they come back?

Acceptance is a basic human need. Often we relegate the need for acceptance to the awkward junior higher trying to fit in with their peers. We give them lectures on biblical self-esteem and finding their identity in Christ. That’s all great, but how does that help with the bullies on the school bus?

Acceptance is everyone’s need. It’s not like we decided in our teen years to identify with the jocks, the nerds, the debs, the freaks, or the geeks, and then it stuck for the rest of our lives. (The nerds, by the way, ended up making the most money.) As soon as we figure out where we belong in junior high, there’s high school. Then, we graduate and face finding our place in college or in the workforce, then it’s finding our place as a young adult, a spouse, a parent, an empty nester, and then an active senior. Life is a constant game changer.

Acceptance in and of itself is a good thing, a desired thing. Acceptance’s partner in crime, however, is the fear of rejection. Every person longs for community, yet the fear of rejection often overcomes the desire to connect. We can find ourselves surrounded by people, yet feel lonely and disconnected.

Now, before I launch into a rant on overcoming fear, because perfect love casts it out (1 John 4:18), let’s look at the other side of the coin. How well do you accept others? Do you connect with people who were different than you? Do you make an effort to befriend that person in the concourse with that deer in the headlights look on Sunday morning? Do you make an effort to welcome the newcomer in your group or do you just hang out with your friends?

We can be very cliquish. It’s not because we’re bad people. It’s because we’re comfortable. Our reluctance to welcome the newcomer stems from our fear of rejection by them.

Here’s the deal: while it’s great to have friends, the goal of your life and mine is not to be comfortable. It’s not about me. (A famous pastor said that). Our goal is to become like Christ, and Jesus accepted everyone, including you and me.

Think about the last awkward social situation you faced. When was the last time you were the new guy? How did it feel? Who helped you? Who opened their arms to you the first time at church?

In your workplace, your neighborhood, your small group, your sports club and your church, who is that new person that needs to be accepted? You don’t have to make them your new best friend. But, how can you make them feel welcome? Your effort could make the difference between life and death for someone.

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