If time allows, take a brief pause and head back to a previous blog post I did on August 18th, 2015 called “I See You.” I’m going to springboard a bit from that train of thought as we continue to look at ways to build a better community. I’ve said a few times now that building a healthy community begins with the individual first. “I See You” reminds us that God is absolutely willing and able to go to the ends of the earth just to let us know He recognizes us. As we learn to understand that His love will move mountains to be with us, the awareness of our self-worth increases. He is a master at building people up. The words “I see you,” or “I saw you,” are actually answers to a question. It’s a question that we all long to have answered and will unlock the doors to a more unified community than we’ve ever imagined. This question is: “How do you know me?”
There are two periods in the New Testament that are specifically helpful in understanding God’s design for building a community that works together. First, when Jesus called his disciples, and second, when the disciples started the early church (refer to Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:14:20, 2:13-17, 3:13-19, Luke 5:1-11 & 27-31, 6:12-16, John 1:35-51, Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37). During both periods, few people understood who Jesus was and why he came. There was speculation, misunderstanding, rumors, and lies surrounding his birth and existence as the Son of God. There was very little unity. Jesus, along with the disciples who started the early church, began to demonstrate God’s love and not just talk about it. We have to take note and do the same. In the quickly changing post-Christian country in which we find ourselves, this must be the primary way that people encounter God. Less talk and more walk.
Our people are screaming out from the top of their lungs “How do you know me?” Every picket sign, protest, agenda, and cause has people behind it that want to be understood. They want to know that their life matters. Our response to their cry must mirror what Jesus said and did, because his life was lived for us to model, and, because it worked! The disciple John writes of one such occasion:
“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’” (John 1:43-49)
Let’s look at a few things regarding Nathanael. We know he was honest because Jesus said there was nothing false in him. But let’s make no mistake, he wasn’t perfect. Honesty and trust take a long time to cultivate, and I have no doubt that Nathanael spent most of his life working honest jobs and treating people fairly. Jesus would have never pointed it out if he hadn’t. However, in a momentary lapse of judgment he makes a snide remark about Jesus’ home town. Has that ever happened to you? You work your entire lifetime to build a reputation of integrity and in a flash it can be jeopardized because of something you or someone else said. Whether it’s true or not, the damage has been done. If Jesus had just been a normal person and that remark had gotten back to him, he could have easily been offended and never given Nathanael the time of day. Sound familiar? Sound like the country we live in, or community we work in? How often do we reject someone and put our palms in their face because of something they’ve said or maybe even done? All the while we have no idea who they actually are. We know nothing about where they’ve come from, their future plans, dreams, amazing ideas, strengths, family.
Jesus called out the gold in Nathanael and when it rang true in his spirit, he leapt forth in amazement because he felt understood. When Nathanael asked how he was able to know this, Jesus simply replied, “I saw you…” He saw him before the off-color comment, in his quiet moments when no one was looking and recognized the pure heart at the core of who Nathanael was.
I wonder how much progress could be gained in our relationships if we began to get honest. On one hand, we should get comfortable asking people “How do you know me?” On the other hand, if asked the question, we should be prepared to take an honest look at how well we actually see the people around us.
I heard a great quote recently from Jen Hatmaker in her book For the Love. She writes, “We needn’t mistake unity with uniformity; we can have the first without the second.” It makes me wonder if we refuse to enter relationship with people because they haven’t prescribed to our way of life. I’m afraid I actually know the answer to that question.
Jesus found each of his disciples in a completely different place. Each had lived full lives up until the point he said, “Follow me.” They had plenty of time to form opinions, develop a world view, make a choice where to live and what to do for work, who to hang out with, and even who to shun. Yet Christ chose to call them first and then know them intimately. As we know, people develop over many years and understanding them usually doesn’t happen overnight. Christ had been watching his friends since they were conceived in their mother’s womb, and the same can be said of you and me. Building a genuine relationship with someone is something we must work hard and long at, always seeking to know and understand the people around us more.
I feel strongly that each of us has a responsibility to contribute to our community. I have spent a lot of hours thinking of how to make that happen for myself and for Mended. Ultimately, it’s quite simple, and begins by taking a moment to look outside of ourselves. Is there someone in your life that you’ve struggled being in relationship with? Who could you never see yourself getting along with? Are you having any strife within your family? Now picture that person asking you, “How do you know me?” If you can’t answer that question, then your better community starts right there.