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Introduction: What? Me, Insensitive?
It Can Be Cured
Carolyn and I sat aboard an aircraft in Victoria, British Columbia, ready for departure. From our little oval window, we spotted several luggage wagons parked on the tarmac -- all piled high with magazines. Then we noticed that every one of those hundreds of magazines bore the same name: People magazine. All over America, millions of people would soon slap down three dollars a throw just to read about the goings on of other human beings! Amazing, considering that most of us get our fill of people every day.
It set us to thinking: The only real difference between People magazine and most other magazines sold today is the name! Most magazines are about people. Life magazine is about people; Sports Illustrated is about people; Time, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, even The Wall Street Journal are about people. This shouts something about human nature. We people are enormously fascinated with each other. The radio plays songs that are primarily about people; TV is mostly pictures of people. At the movies, we pay good money to sit in the dark and watch two-dimensional pictures of imaginary people. We read novels to get inside the psyches of people. Sometimes, for recreation, we go to the mall to people watch. Even daily conversation is mostly about people. We are driven by our passion for people. In fact, our fascination with people is one of the ways in which we are like God.
Since we people are so intrinsically interested in people, when we focus instead on things, ideas, tasks, status, or institutions, we do serious damage to the central matrix of our humanity -- not to mention the damage we do to people around us. A coworker drove this home to me in a very personal way a few years back.
This coworker had been in our office only a few weeks, but something wasn't working right. So I sat down to chat with her a minute, hoping to help her work through her problem. "Something seems to be bothering you. Can I help?"
I wasn't quite prepared for what I heard next.
"You are plastic!" she said for openers. "You want this church to be user-friendly and open, but you aren't. You are inaccessible and insensitive. You constantly break appointments because you're 'too busy' with what you want to do. And you are making the people in this office feel like peons. You are supposed to be a spiritual leader, but I see you as completely unapproachable."
I was stunned. Me? Unapproachable? Insensitive? Surely not me! I tried to deny her accusations, rationalize them, and blame everybody else. But...really, she was dead right. There was nothing to do but to face my insensitivity, own it, and apologize to her and one by one to the whole staff. And then I began the task of getting back on track.
Yet how had this happened? Didn't I have a reputation for being warm, approachable, and people-oriented? Hadn't I built a long and visible track record of good relationships?
But this painful moment of truth forced me to look honestly at the past many months. Everything was a blur. My pocket calendar was as cluttered as a city dump. Far too many speaking engagements. Way too much travel. Two new books. A new church. Helping launch a new journal. Teaching a graduate course. And page after page of appointments moved or canceled. The pace had gradually accelerated, reaching an all-time high over the last few weeks as I was fighting the contract deadline, ironically, on this book, The Jesus Touch: Learning the Art of Relationship from the Master! And as my internal engines exceeded the redline, I had become less and less available, more and more self-absorbed.
I am a people person, but I had allowed myself to become task-driven. For months I had not only been neglecting people, but I'd been leaving hurt and disillusioned bodies in my wake, jeopardizing the very things I really believe are most important. Because my life was not people-sensitive, it was drifting toward disaster.
God's number-one priority is people. To do his main thing, God became "a people" and moved to live among people. Jesus, who became God in a body, was out there on the people turf. For Jesus, people are job one. For authentic followers of Jesus, people become top priority as well.
The Bible says that when Jesus owns us and fills us, we see people in a whole new way. "For Christ's love compels us" and thus we "should no longer live for [ourselves], but for him....So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view." We have a new view of people because "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:14-17). The old view of people is gone! The new view of people has come. And since we are "Christ's ambassadors," God is "making his appeal through us" (v. 20). So God, who is in the people business, has also called us to people-centered living. Thus, the most godlike thing we can do is to treat people like Jesus did.
From Abstract to Concrete
When the crowds asked Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?" he answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." That raised no eyebrows and rocked no boats. It was merely the familiar ancient Shema, which ended all synagogue meetings. By the time good Jewish boys grew beards, they had quoted the Shema a thousand times.
"Good boy, Jesus. Good answer," the crowd would have nodded in agreement. It was comfortably abstract. And as long as loving God is an abstraction aimed at no target in particular, we are all OK. Ho-hum religion. Business as usual.
But then Jesus added a line. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). Oops! Things changed. Hackles went up. Now, wait a minute. Everything was fine like it was. "Love God" has a nice ring to it. Sounds religious. And it can be kept comfortably abstract.
But that added line from Jesus dispelled the vagueness and slammed the abstract down onto the concrete. Now Jesus had gone and targeted that teaching. He'd made it practical. He'd aimed it at real people.
As long as loving God is one of those vague abstractions, we are all OK. We can put on and take off our religion like we do our Sunday clothes. We can set our faith up on the shelf beside our dusty family Bible and still feel holy. But when Jesus targeted that teaching, well, things got practical and personal.
The way Jesus put it, our love for God is expressed, not in pews, pulpits, and stained-glass tones, but in relationships with people -- in the way you and I get along with him and her and them. If being with God on Sunday doesn't make us better at being with people on Monday, then we've missed the point. Real religion shines in right relationships.
The grist of Christianity is ground out in the mill of marriages, friendships, partnerships, neighborhoods, communities, property lines, and sales contracts. Or to simplify it, if we really love God, the first ones to benefit will be family, friends, and neighbors.
Hmm. That complicates things a bit, especially when you think about our neighbors! Grumpy ones. Mean ones. Lazy ones. Bosses who demand the impossible. Secretaries who can't perform the minimal. Wives who don't appreciate what wonderful husbands they have. Husbands who think they are too wonderful. Relating to people with "the Jesus touch" is easier said than done. As the old saying goes,
To live above with those we love,
O, how that will be glory.
But to live below with those we know,
Is quite a different story.
How Are Your Relationships?
We come into the world in families. Then we must fit into society, schools, and other organizations. And as Stephen Covey says, "We must interact with others for success to come to us in any personally effective way." Covey cites a study conducted by the Carnegie Institute that found that 60 to 80 percent of job dismissals in the business industry are caused by social problems, and only 20 to 40 percent are due to technical incompetence. In other words, most firings were because of relationship trouble. This study showed that in the field of engineering, only 15 percent of one's success is due to technical knowledge; the other 85 percent is due to one's ability to get along with other people.1
What does all this mean? It means that not merely your success, but also your personal fulfillment -- maybe even your survival -- depend on your ability to manage and nurture healthy relationships.
But it sure is hard for us to get along with each other. Linus, the Peanuts comic strip character, said it for all of us: "I love the world. It's people I can't stand." Doing right by people is the Christian's forte. Isn't our mission the same as Jesus'? Touching people? Didn't John say, "For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen"? (1 John 4:20).
So we come to an important personal question: How are your relationships? Think for just a minute about the people in your world. Some are in your life by choice: your mate, your best friend, perhaps a business associate. Others you inherited by chance: your relatives, your next-door neighbor, maybe your boss. But no matter how you became connected with them, they all have one thing in common: They are vulnerable and woundable people who need someone to love them unreservedly -- just like you and I do!
Could you use a little help in doing right by people? I guess we all could.
That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of this book: to coach you on how to treat the people that God has put in your world. The plan? Simple. Jesus will be our coach. We will track down the way Jesus treated people, and we'll learn the art of relationship from the Master. And no one marks the way more clearly than the apostle John.
Why John? Several reasons. First, no one in Scripture walked more intimately with Jesus. In some special way, John was "that disciple Jesus loved." And no New Testament disciple walked with Jesus longer than had the aged apostle John by the time this Gospel was written.
Second, John wrote his gospel several decades after the other gospels were written. By the time he wrote it, the church had already begun to form some of the crust of institutionalism. When movements begin, they are flexible and fluid; then they gradually form structure and tradition, which serve to stabilize them. But this structure and tradition also tend to immobilize and desensitize them.
And, worst of all, institutionalized religion tends to become less people-sensitive. In fact, religious institutions can end up crushing people, even those people who are most Christian. This kind of institutional immobility was already slowing the Christian movement before John died. Some bishops were becoming dictatorial. Organizational structures were growing more complex. Mini-denominations were taking shape. Policies, creeds, and doctrinal statements loomed on the horizon.
The Christ-follower movement was losing people-sensitivity too. And in the midst of all this sat sensitive Saint John, now nearly a century old. Perhaps John's hair shone silver and his health was dwindling to frail. All his fellow apostles had long since gone on. Peter, James, and Andrew had been called home. No doubt he felt alone as he faced the changing times.
The aged apostle had witnessed the launching of this movement. Now he saw it languishing.
As John watched the Christian movement institutionalize and lose freshness and people-focus, his mind may have wandered back to the way things were in the beginning. So spontaneous. So flexible. So full of energy, so relationship-oriented and people-sensitive. Why, the very core of Jesus' work had been a three-year relationship with twelve close friends.
Surely John remembered the Messiah at the wedding who solved the wine problem and got the host off the hook. John thought of the blind beggar whom no one noticed except Jesus. He pondered Jesus' tender teaching of the Samaritan woman and his tough, direct encounter with Nicodemus. He saw Jesus' tears as he embraced Mary and Martha, consoling them in the loss of their brother Lazarus.
Third, the old apostle also knew that just as institutions become desensitized, so a crust could form around the heart of an individual believer. Relationships can give way to religion, and a Christian can lose his or her "first love."
One can almost hear John thinking aloud. "Jesus was so tender with people, yet so tough with issues. Jesus and people. That is it!" And John remembered.
So John wrote it down. "These [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). In other words, "I want to build your faith!" In the Gospel of John, "faith" is always a verb; it is never a noun. Faith is about how you live, not just about what you think is true. Mostly, "verb-faith" in Jesus is about touching and building people the way Jesus touched them. So John packaged his high-powered, faith-building theology in human-interest stories. Stories about people. Stories about relationships. Ordinary encounter after ordinary encounter. Each vignette carefully selected to weave a tapestry of ageless wisdom. Heaven reaching down to humanity, Immanuel among earthlings, the Christ amidst the commoners, Jesus touching people.
With graphic detail and penetrating insight, John takes us on a storybook journey through Jesus' encounters with human beings. All kinds of people:
religious people like Nicodemus
self-righteous people like some Pharisees
abandoned people like the woman at the well
frightened people like the woman caught in adultery
despairing people like Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus
lonely people like the handicapped man by the pool
mistreated people like the blind beggar by the road
They could have been your neighbors or your relatives. That cranky old coot who lives around the corner? He is in John's story. That group of church officials who can't see God? Jesus ran into a few of those. Your mother-in-law? The pregnant teenager? The grief-stricken widow? You'll see their faces in the pages of John's writings. And what's more, Jesus is one of them; yet in him you'll see God act out his own commandment: You'll watch him love them as he loved himself, and you'll want to love like that!
Foreword by Max Lucado
Introduction: What? me, insensitive?
It can be cured
1. Street-level Messiah
Of lovers and users
2. The wine of kindness
Helping a host off the hook
3. Insiders and outsiders
About talking to who is listening
4. A tale of two cities
Speaking the right language
5. The abandoned water jar
Stirring slumbering hope
6. Places in the heart
Looking beneath life's surface
7. Kicking the habit
Lifeguarding at the pity pool
8. Do you want to get well?
From patronizing to personizing
9. Different strokes
When one size won't fit all
10. The Jesus style
Finding power where you least expect it
11. Restoring personhood
Balancing law and love
12. Repairing brokenness
When heaven's finger touches human earthiness
13. Beware of pigeonholes
Of labels and libels