Soon after I began praying this prayer, an elderly man began attending our church. My wife, always the extrovert, invited him to join our family for lunch one Sunday at a Chinese buffet. It was the end of May, so to start the conversation I asked our new friend if he was planning a vacation anywhere over the next few months.
“Yes,” he said. “In fact, I’m going to Florida next week.”
I knew he was single, so I joked, “I bet you’re going down there to find a girlfriend!”
He laughed and described at length the different ocean resorts he planned to visit. At some point he casually mentioned “clothing optional” beaches.
I smiled, waited for him to finish, then slowly put down my fork and asked, “Did you say ‘clothing optional’ beaches? We’ve been all over Florida and never saw a beach like that.” He assured me that they were everywhere and said that he could give us Web addresses for them if we wanted to know more.
Now, I’m not the sharpest person in the world, but after ten minutes of this, I put two and two together and asked, “Are you a nudist?”
He looked at me, tilted his head to the side, smiled, and said, “Yes, I am.” (In my mind flashed an image of elderly people playing nude volleyball, and I quickly lost my appetite for sesame chicken.) Then he reached in his back pocket and said, “Let me prove it.” He pulled a card out of his wallet and slid it across the table. It was an identification card (my kids were sitting with us so I was glad it wasn’t a picture ID!) that read, “American Association for Nude Recreation.”
Not knowing what to say, I handed the card to Lisa and remarked, “Well, how about that?”
Lisa grinned and said, “Yep. That proves it all right!”
Realizing that a conversation about what the Bible has to say about nude senior citizens running around on beaches was a subject better suited for another time, we graciously brought our lunch to a close. We paid for our meal and hugged our interesting new friend good-bye. Once inside our van I laughed and said, “I have got to be the only pastor in America with a card-carrying nudist in his church!”
What I remember about that conversation is not so much the details of what this man told us as the way I reacted as he spoke. I felt an incredible sense of compassion. It was as if God allowed me to see past his behavior to the inner wounds that drove the behavior. It seems strange to say this, but as I conversed with him I sensed Jesus’ heart beating inside me and reaching out to this man through me. It was as if I could actually see what Jesus saw—a wounded, broken man.
In his book I and Thou, philosopher Martin Buber says there are essentially two kinds of relationships in the world.
“I and Thou” relationships—person to person, and “I and It” relationships—person to object.
Having Jesus’ heart for people keeps us from turning people in our lives into it people. You know what I mean by it people. When we treat the bank teller no differently than we would an ATM machine, we have turned him into an it. When the cashier who takes our order at a drive-thru doesn’t even have a face, we’ve turned her into an it. Sometimes we even live in the same house with it people.
Jesus never met an it person. Jesus noticed everyone. He had an I-Thou relationship with everyone he met. Every interaction he had with another person meant something to Jesus. He didn’t eat a meal and then two minutes later forget the name of the person who served him. That’s what having Jesus’ heart does to us. It sensitizes us to people and their needs. When we have Jesus’ heart, we see what he sees as if we’re borrowing his eyes.
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