Do you remember back when to make Kool-Aid you had to add the flavor packet and then a massive amount of sugar?
OK, well maybe you still have to do it this way, I have no idea in part because I gave up making Kool-Aid after my first attempt.
I couldn’t have been more than five years old when I found the empty pitcher in the frig and decided to take matters into my own hands. By the way, never in my life have I witnessed that pitcher full. I’m not sure what happens, but I swear each time as soon as new Kool-Aid was mixed, like half of it instantly evaporated.
I got a Kool-Aid packet, cherry I do believe, and grabbed the container with those wonderful white crystals that had the ability to make even plain Cheerios eatable, and went to work.
I stirred, didn’t spill much, and pretty soon, had completed my magical solution and decided it was time for a nice glass of awesome.
As soon as the red liquid hit my lips, I knew something was not quite right. The delicious sensation of fake cherry was absent and something else was in its place. Suddenly my mouth turned the same type of raw it turned that time I got stuck under a breaking wave in the ocean and thought I was going to drown.
It was bad, very bad, and again, I feared my death was on the horizon.
So, it turns out salt and sugar look a lot alike to five-year-old Travis and that day I learned that just because two things may seem similar, they can be vastly different when put into practice.
There are lots of things in life that appear similar, but are actually very different. The concepts of acceptance and approval are two of them and are often mistaken for one another, especially when it comes to the church.
This confusion can lead to results almost as bitter as my nasty ocean-flavored Kool-Aid.
For example, in the church when we start to use approval in places where acceptance is needed, we often end up building unnecessary walls between us and non-Christians. Ones that we subconsciously are asking them to climb over if they’d like to see and/or experience what we’re all about.
Let’s be honest, it’s going to take a pretty good reason for me to climb over a wall, just like it’s going to take a pretty good reason for me to change something about myself or my life. It’s highly unlikely simply being accepted at your church is going to be sufficient motivation for either.
But when we mistakenly replace the work of acceptance with approval, that’s exactly what we’re asking people to do and it quickly makes us look like hypocritical bullies.
Unlike approval, I think acceptance within the church should be available completely free of any sort of merit.
It should be passed out with the liberalness of those cheesy campaign pens during election season. I mean, a lot of times I don’t even have to stick out my hand to get one of those, it’s just kind of thrust upon me.
I think we should toss out acceptance in the same fashion, well, with perhaps less thrusting.
Of course on the other hand, practicing acceptance in a place where approval belongs, can also lead to problems.
A lot of times it seems people think that because they are accepted by the church, the church should also put a stamp of approval on everything they do. This can cause some conflict because that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is, God accepts all of us where we are and with the mess we bring with us, but that doesn’t mean he approves of it or doesn’t want us to work on it.
You see, approval is something given for a reason or merit, and is sometimes something we have to work really hard for.
I’ve played for a lot of basketball coaches who accepted me and other players onto their teams just to force us to work our tails off for their approval. They didn’t do this out of menace, they did this because they wanted us to be the best possible players we could be.
The church is no different.
If we’re honest, we’ll all admit to having things we need to work on, and while the church should accept our work-in-progress states, it should also encourage us to continue grinding.
In this sense, the church should be place we show up to with a lunch-pail mentality, ready to work to become the best versions of ourselves.
The problem is when the church starts using acceptance is used in place of approval, that desire to continue bettering ourselves quickly disappears and our growth is stunted.
Using acceptance in a place where approval is needed doesn’t help us, but in fact hinders us.
Like salt and sugar, both acceptance and approval have great, but very specific uses, and when we get them mixed up, nasty situations can result.
They may appear similar at times, but truth be told, the distance between the realities of the two is often great.
But good news is, it’s in that distance where we grow into better people.