Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. [Philippians 2:3-4 (VOICE)]
One week after Hurricane Irma, our Florida church met where they usually do in the city park. As the service began, an irate city official arrived. Afraid of unsafe conditions and liability issues, he insisted that the service be stopped immediately. While the senior pastor continued the service, our associate pastor tried to calm him down. He started by asking the bureaucrat how he was doing. The overwrought man’s response was a recitation of all of the challenges he’d dealt with in a city without power, working sewers or safe water. “No,” our pastor said, “I know the city is a mess, how are you doing?” He went on to ask about the man’s family, his house, and whether he was in need of anything. Instead of seeing him as a problem to be solved, our Pastor saw him as a person under a great deal of stress. As the two men talked and shared their personal hurricane stories, the official calmed. He finally took a good look at the park and decided the service could continue. This didn’t happen because our pastor won an argument; it happened because he saw the city employee as a person with problems of his own and showed that he (and our church) cared.
I heard the story of another minister, one who kept asking his new neighbor to church but was always rebuffed. When the minister stopped seeing his neighbor as a potential convert and actually spoke with him, he learned that the fellow liked barbecue. When he extended an invitation for a rib dinner rather than church, the invitation wasn’t declined. As the men got to know one another, a friendship resulted and that church invitation was eventually accepted. This didn’t happen because the new neighbor liked barbecue ribs; it happened because the minister took the time to look at his neighbor as a person and not a prospect.
I think of Jesus and his first encounters with the two tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus. He didn’t confront the men about being cheats or traitors to their people. Instead, Jesus went home to dinner with them. They didn’t become believers just because Jesus was a good dinner guest. They believed because Jesus saw them (and their friends) as people and not just the sinners they were.
We must never see people merely as foes, problems to be solved, prospective church members, causes, sinners, or troubled souls that need saving. Before we can change people’s minds or lives, we need to show that we care about who they are, what they believe, what made them the way they are, and the challenges they are facing today. We are told to love our neighbors but, before we can love our neighbors, we must truly see them—not just their faces but the person and circumstances behind that face.
Christianity is not a religion or a philosophy, but a relationship and a lifestyle. The core of that lifestyle is thinking of others, as Jesus did, instead of ourselves. [Rick Warren]