A nerve was struck last week as I opened up and talked about feeling and emotion.  Several people reached out and commented on how closely they related to what I shared and that they needed to hear it at that moment.  I just love how God speaks to people!  

I’ve had a few days to reflect on the responses now, and I’ve come to realize something significant, even more than I did before: anytime a person is actively pursuing relationship and community, emotions will be tested and spent.  You simply cannot gain the benefit of living close to people without being vulnerable.  A closed book doesn’t reveal its treasures, but we all know the journey that can be had once the first page is turned.  People are the same way.  All this to say, if you are going to commit to a loved one, family, or community, you have to be willing to walk along side them to the final page no matter what twists the plot takes.  Of course, there are always the exceptions when boundaries need to be in place, but the relationships I’m speaking to are safe, and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss people based solely on our differences.

Building upon my message a few weeks back, “Nathanael’s Question,” I want to go even deeper. There are parallels, but Nathanael’s Question was meant to take a look at how much time we are willing to invest in truly getting to know the people around us. The key in this message is learning to examine the opinions we form of someone based on a single interaction.  Are we “put off” by someone quickly because of a bad first impression, or do we take time to find out if there is more to their story?

As I mentioned last week, when I was working through the heightened state of feelings I was experiencing, my wife and family were affected.  I wasn’t myself, and they were on the receiving end of much of my shortness and moodiness.  In the recent days as I’ve come through that time, the thought crossed my mind: what if during that emotional week I was introduced to a new person, couple, or group that I was going to be partnering with? What would be their impression of me?  Would it have been an accurate portrayal of who I truly am?  Perhaps the question should be asked a different way: how often have you met someone only to find out down the road they were miles apart from your original first impression?  I don’t know about you, but nearly everyone I have relationship with is at least to some degree different from how I first “pegged” them.  And isn’t that what we typically do? We take a snapshot and use it to paint the full picture.  One comment, action, or behavior in a moment of weakness is all it takes for a person to be portrayed in an untrue manner.

The problem is that we didn’t start out life this way – judging people.  We learned it.  A child has a huge circle around them and everyone is allowed in that circle.  It doesn’t matter your opinion, political view, skin color, nationality, or whatever!  As we grow older and are exposed to things that hurt us or don’t quite agree with, our circle gets smaller, and fewer people are allowed in.  Pretty soon, our circle is so small, that only a select few are welcomed, and everyone else gets the stink eye until they can prove their worthiness to squeeze in.  This guardedness, or what adults like to call “wisdom,” goes for the person you just met that perhaps is not having the best week – just as I wasn’t.  They may have said something you didn’t agree with or in a way you found offensive, and now you have them all figured out, yet have no idea of who they actually are.  I shudder to think of how many people I’ve done this to.

You may have guessed by now that at some point I’m going to tell you that Jesus didn’t do this, - and you would be right.  The incredible thing about Jesus is that the development of his circle was opposite ours.  Instead of reducing the size of his circle, making himself less vulnerable to avoid being hurt, he increased his circle!  Each time someone got the wrong impression of him or pinned a lie to him, his love grew to include them.  Jesus did not do what was being done to him!  He never took a snapshot of his abusers and determined that was all that they were. Even when times called for him to correct the religious leaders opposing him, he always longed that they would know and embrace the truth of who he was.

No time in Scripture is this clearer than when Jesus was being crucified.  Perhaps in the most vulnerable state a person can be in: falsely accused, beaten, nearly naked, and physically suffering, Jesus looked at those inflicting the pain and cried out to God,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

With that sentence he drew a circle that encompassed all of mankind, and never again would anyone be outside of it.  Christ understood there was more to the picture of the men that were abusing and mocking him.  Being God, he understood there was goodness in them because he placed it there.  The reality was that they had gotten off track somewhere in life and thought this sort of abuse towards a person was warranted, justified, and even lawful.  Jesus knew they needed to be touched by his love, therefore he pleaded with his Father for their forgiveness.  We know his willingness not to judge them worked because as he gave up his spirit the earth shook and the sun stopped shining, and these same men turned their spurning to praise saying,

“Surely he was the Son of God.” Luke 23:45-47    

As remarkable as it is that Jesus could do this for the men committing evil against him, he showed this grace even towards those close to him. We all know how hard it can be to have patience, understanding, and grace for the people we know well. True to form, Christ understood that his friends were fallible, and would do things that even they themselves couldn’t believe, but he still stood by them.  Peter insisted he would never deny Jesus, yet he did – three times!  Nearly every hero of the Bible said or did something that was uncharacteristic of who they truly were, and we are no different!

Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus already knew Peter would deny him.  In order to save his own skin, Peter insisted he had no relationship with or allegiance to Christ.  But instead of pushing Simon Peter out of his circle, listen to what Jesus says to him,

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

Christ was saying to Peter that he had seen his weak moment coming yet was committed to pray for him and not judge him.  He knew Peter’s true character and had no doubt that he would go on to fulfill his God-given role as one of the main leaders in the early church.  Therefore, Jesus encouraged him to be strong for the other disciples once he came through on the other side of his denial. 

Can you imagine the feeling and emotion Peter must have been experiencing during this time in his life? A season of change doesn’t begin to describe what he was living in. He had left his livelihood to follow Jesus, seen his friend captured and falsely accused; it was likely the first time his faith had been tested when asked to profess his love for God, he was facing the next leg of his journey without a leader, and he was finally realizing that he was called to lead others.  It’s no wonder his mind was all over the map, and he made the wrong call when asked if he knew Jesus. 

I’d like to think that I would never react as Peter did, and my desire to do right would be sufficient to predict all my future actions.  We all want to think we will hold up under fire, but rarely can we predict our frame of mind when we are called upon next.  I pray the next time we shake a hand for the first time, or watch and listen to someone new from a distance, we remember they are in Christ’s circle, and there is a likelihood they’d be in ours too if given the chance.