On Engaging People Who Do Not Think Like You

In many ways, thanks to social media, we’re more connected than ever. But in other ways, we’re actually more disconnected. With social media, it’s possible to know more about a classmate living across the globe than our neighbor across the street. Finally, we can connect with people without becoming attached. Investing in people is messy work.

In a post-civil America, I often wonder what Jesus would post online.

Would he retweet the Fox News feed? Comment on Huffington Post articles? Repost headlines from the Drudge Report? Or would he just mind his own business and only forward the box scores for the Warriors — Jesus and Steph would be bros, for sure.

To be honest, I’m not sure how Jesus would navigate the nuances of our social media culture. But I am convinced of this: He would use social media to make friends with the very people Facebook filters from my timeline.

In Matthew 9, Jesus chooses a tax collector to be a part of his cabinet. Talk about a cultural shock wave. Can you imagine the PR nightmare? This would dominate discussions on both sides of the aisle. The unexpected, unaccepted and undeniable scandal of choosing a known traitor to be in his inner circle cannot be overstated. Tax collectors denied their heritage, sided with the oppressor, violated their faith and ripped off their countrymen for profit. And you thought our politicians were corrupt.

And yet, at the very beginning of his ministry, in the traitor Matthew, Jesus sees a future ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Simply put, Jesus feels more comfortable with those who seem far from God than we do.

If Jesus were with us today, trolls would feast on his political incorrectness and apparent contradictory lifestyle (“He says he’s the son of God, but he allows sinners in his inner circle?”) The internet would be full of rants condemning all the alt-sinners, neo-sinners and occupy-sinners that Jesus would treat like VIPs.

There’s something about Jesus, and subsequently the nature of God, that makes self-righteous people angry and broken people hopeful.

What is that something? Jesus knows the secret to breaking down walls and crossing party lines without compromising His convictions.

What is that secret?

Simple. Jesus knows that we are all tax collectors and sinners.

No matter what our party affiliation, worldview, social economic level or browser history says about us — Jesus knows the truth that we are all tax collectors and sinners.

As Christians, job one it to put faith in Christ. To trust him. Not just his forgiveness, not just his words but to have faith in how he conducted his life and who he befriended. Genuine followers of Jesus should inevitably be accused of the same outrageous friendship.

How? Here are a few thoughts on engaging people with a different perspective.

See the person first — not their problems or positions.

Matthew 9:9 makes a very profound and simple claim about Jesus. “He saw a man named Matthew.” Not a tax collector, or traitor or collaborator with the enemy — just a man. Your neighbor is a real person, not a salvation project. If your only reason for engaging your neighbor is to convert them, you will inevitably resort to manipulation or manufacturing.

God transforms people on his time in his way. You and I are instruments, not used car salesmen. You don’t need your doctrinal ducks in a row. You simply need to be willing. Place yourself in a position where God’s grace and mercy play through your life. Others will hear it, I promise.

Stop talking. Listen. Just listen.

Can you fathom the conversation between Jesus and his head PR guy?

“Alright, Jesus. You pulled one over on me with the whole Matthew thing. Here’s the deal. No more tax collectors. Go the temple and snatch a few guys from the Pharisees. Less baggage, more knowledge of the Scriptures. In the meantime, I’ll put together a New Christian 101 curriculum for Matthew. With a few months of detox, he will have his act together. Ready…break!”

“What? Jesus, where are you going? A party?…more tax collectors and sinners. Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

For some reason, Jesus cares not about lecturing. He doesn’t ask Matthew to adhere to some moral code before joining the crew. Quite the opposite. He attends a party with other people like Matthew.

We should take a cue from Jesus. Let’s be honest, Christians aren’t known for their great listening skills. Could it be Jesus attracted people on the margins because he listened more than talked? As my third grade teacher used to say, “God gives you two ears and one mouth.”

People have an instinctual desire to be heard, to know their voice matters. And we haven’t given others any reason to believe we actually care about them, aside from their salvation and stuff.

What if we listened to our gay or Muslim neighbor before labeling or trying to convert them? I think we would be far more empathetic. I think we would love with patience.

Regardless of where your stance on gay marriage or where you lean politically, let’s not forget we’re called to love people, not fix them.

Jesus didn’t preach to Matthew. He didn’t look down on sinners with ultimatums. He ate with them. We need to break away from our holy huddles, climb down from our little platform and listen.

Change your definition of unity.

Recently, I heard someone define unity as “diversity overcome by love.”

This was a light bulb moment for me.

If unity is diversity overcome by love, we have work to do. When was the last time we stepped into a different culture? When was the last time we ate with someone of a different race, political views or socio-economic status? Or what about someone with different views about God?

Jesus did this often. He didn’t protect home field. He ate at the table of tax collectors. Why? He loved them. Love doesn’t see cultural barriers or labels. Love overcomes status and cares very little about what the Joneses think.

I believe true unity, one with a beautiful array of faith expressions grow from the soil of love, is the sermon that might change our world.

I’m hopeful we can learn and grow from our past. We can change the narrative. Let’s start today. Who can you give VIP status?

Follow Curt Harlow:

Curt Harlow is one of the Senior Pastors at Bayside Church. He communicates with humor and depth, challenging people find apply truth in everyday life.

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