In the previous post, I talked about the importance of serving others in order to build a bridge for sharing the gospel. In this post, I want to talk about what it means to “see” people.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul wrote: “…I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized--whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view…” (1 Cor. 9:19-22 The Message*)
Paul had empathy for people. He saw them first and foremost as sinners in need of a savior. Yet he also recognized the fact that every person was an individual with differing perspectives, lifestyles and experiences. He thought of them first and how he might enter into their world in order to reach them with the gospel.
Recently I was in a conference for evangelists in Portland, OR where Donald Miller was speaking. I know some people get their pants in a bunch about Donald -- one of my friends thinks he ought to be roasted at the stake like a heretic of old -- but I really believe he has something to say to us about reaching this generation if we will stop stereotyping him.
He talked about the going into a local convenience store one day to buy something – for the life of me, I don’t remember what. He began to talk to the man behind the counter who was from another country – or rather; he begins listening to this man pour out his life story. When he paused to hear this guy, he came to the startling revelation that “other people exist.”
Don’t tune out yet…Donald explained that so many times we view life as a movie about us. Our eyes are the camera, our ears, the microphones. We are the stars. Everybody else is the supporting cast. Pathetic!
Paul was saying that life was not about him, but it was about other people and getting them to Jesus at all costs. Religious people, irreligious people…Moral and Immoral…The defeated and demoralized…they all need Jesus.
The world hasn’t changed much in two thousand years. People still need Jesus. The key for us is to really see them with the eyes of Christ. God knows, I don’t always like the way they look or how they live. But, I must love them because Jesus loves me and he loves them too.
I walked into a local coffee shop the other day. The guy behind the counter had lots of body piercing including those big round quarter sized hoops inserted into both of his earlobes. They reminded me of the pictures of natives I saw in National Geographic Magazines as a child. I am almost sure he had lots of dark tattoos to go along with his fancy ear wear.
In an instant of seeing him, I could already feel my holier-than-thou conservative suit-wearing Baptistness creeping up to judge him. I felt equally repulsed by the teenage kids who came in the shop and plopped down in the chairs in front of me spewing out the f-words and so forth. Jesus had to do a little work on my heart right then; He reminded me that He died for them too. Ouch!
Jesus met people where they were. He was a friend to tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the unclean and the unwanted. He didn’t take on their way of life by any stretch of the imagination. He did however take their sin in his own body on the tree. He didn’t meet them in church either. He met them in the day to day places of life.
In the book, Why Christians Sin by J.K. Johnston we read that “Christ met unbelievers where they were. He realized what many Christians today still don't seem to understand. Cultivators have to get out in the field. According to one count, the gospels record 132 contacts that Jesus had with people. Six were in the Temple, four in the synagogues and 122 were out with the people in the mainstream of life.” (J.K. Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 142.)
Do you see people when you walk around your little world? Or, are you the star of the show?
*I chose to use the Message paraphrase instead of a traditional translation because of the clarity of this passage.