On a television segment a number of years ago, there appeared a man who had suffered a terrible disfigurement. I do not recall what caused it, but I believe I shall never forget him.- He had NO FACE. I had heard of soldiers having their faces blown away in battle. It was difficult to believe at the time I saw him, and even more difficult to describe now after several years have passed.
I will not attempt too much detail, but I do remember this much: from just above his upper lip up to the bottom of his forehead, there was nothing. There was no nose. There were no eyes. There was no cheeks. I thought I could see all the way back to his spinal cord, and up to the membrane (if that is what it is called) on which the brain rests. However, he could speak, his mouth moving almost normally, and he could hear. I was so stunned and could not get the image out of my mind for a long, long time.
Other than our physical appearance who are we - REALLY? This man’s voice, the physical outline of his body, was all that identified him as a person, a personality. It was a struggle just to watch this TV presentation unfold. His wife and family were there with him, and details were given about how they all had coped with the circumstances, the stress, etc. It was shocking to realize how much of WHO WE ARE is accepted as contained within a few square inches on the front of our heads. What is really important about WHO we are? Are we ONLY the face, the eyes, the shape of our heads, the hair, the tone of voice that we and others are familiar with day in and day out?
Or, is there more...or, as the song goes, "is this all there is?"...
We all live and move in a realm of outward appearance, of the obvious - shapes and sounds, movements. The Apostle Paul said to the pagans in Athens that we ALL live, and move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:26-30). But what we "see" is what we observe of ourselves as humans and how we see other humans. But there is more...much more to us as human beings. Remembering over and over that scene from that telecast, I began to perceive others a little differently - especially those closest to me. I began to think and observe, somehow, PAST just the physical features. What if there was no face, no eyes, to look into, or other physical manifestations about my loved ones and others? I would have the faculty of memory hopefully. But what could I LOOK AT - OR WHAT COULD I LOOK TO for who they REALLY were! I began to realize that I needed to learn to SEE OTHERS AS GOD SEES THEM. And that is this: what is REALLY important is THE SPIRIT of others. The SPIRIT IN US IS WHAT COUNTS. That is who we really are - that is WHO everyone is! (Job 32:8), and they are not what they COULD be yet - as God sees them. THIS is the heart and core of the GOSPEL ("good news") that Jesus brought to the world! We are made in the image of God, having similar reasoning abilities, volitional thinking, and emotions. But none are where they were designed to be yet. None are really WHO they were created to be YET. God IS Spirit - and He gave every person a "spirit" patterned after His, and reflecting Him. This is the center of who we are created to become (Genesis 1:26-27).
Jesus' physical appearance apparently was not one we would consider desirable or atttractive by human standards.(Isaiah 53:2). When looked at this way, it changes the whole equation. Someone wrote that "when we can see ourselves as others see us, we can see others differently". Even more so, when we begin to see as God sees, we can see ourselves and others differently. It changes the equation of how we view OTHERS, as well as how God sees us, as He meets us where we are. In view of all of this, HOW should we meet others where they are?
A few weeks ago, I mentioned in an article that we are required, as God’s children, to meet others WHERE THEY ARE, even as He meets us where we are. In order to do this, we must begin to SEE them as God SEES THEM. Seeing this man without a face, I am sure his family must have learned to "see" him differently - more DEEPLY - even deep within his being. Even though he could talk, they must have struggled to see more deeply into his heart, since they could no longer see into his eyes, or see his face. This is the way God sees. God does not see as we see naturally. Outward appearance means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to God in terms of what He thinks of us, how He relates to us, or ultimately how he deals with us (1 Samuel 16:7). This will be unsettling to some of us and comforting to others - depending on where we are on God’s values scale. But we must begin to see through a different "lens", to meet others WHERE THEY ARE. This then, is about how we relate to others and how we treat others, and grow together. Meeting others where they are, means meeting others as God meets them. This is not something we are born into naturally - it is what we must grow into. Romans chapters 14-15 is an object lesson in growing in the ability to meet others where they are.
God is VERY interested in these TWO things: how we treat His Son Jesus, AND how we treat each other. Of course He is interested in how we treat other things, too - other living creatures, the environment, etc, since He gave man dominion over the entire earth. But compared to the other two, these are less important. There is an overarching umbrella principal for meeting others where they are, and that is the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). Who our neighbor is should be self evident. The parable of "the good Samaritan" illustrates this.(Luke 10:30-37) It should be self evident also as to what "as yourself" means. It also, is explained by the Parable.
The spiritual application of this command is expanded upon in the great "love chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13. Some of the richness of this chapter is lost in some translations, but notice:
"Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God's love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. LOVE bears up under anything and everything that comes. IT IS EVER READY TO BELIEVE THE BEST OF EVERY PERSON, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 AmpBible)
THIS is the ONLY way to meet others where they ARE. This is the way God meets US where we are...
One particular facet of love is that it is WILLING TO BELIEVE THE BEST of others. This is rare almost to the point of becoming nonexistent. But what a wonderful quality it is when we experience it FROM others! How does it make us feel when someone is ALWAYS willing to believe the BEST about us, and accepting us "where we are"? These attributes are exactly how God feels toward us! The more we allow the Holy Spirit to write this into our spirit, the more we become like Him - and the more we are able to meet others "where they are" It is very near an impossibility to meet others where they are, and not believe the best of them. Otherwise, something is almost always missed. Wrong opinions will be expressed and believed.. False conclusion will be drawn. Injustice, unfairness, and abuses - and much worse - can result (James 4:1). The path to understanding who and where they are is effectively blocked...
There have been many objections to meeting others, and approaching life, on this basis. Perhaps the most universally expressed is that it is absurdly NAIVE. In the vernacular it means GULLIBLE... or outright foolish. Unworkable. Impractical, etc., etc. These are some of the more polite words for it. However, JESUS always LOOKED FOR the best in everyone he encountered. But He was utterly void of naive’ness! He could know everyone’s heart - EXACTLY where they were (John 2:24). Yet He could look for and hope for the best. And we, also, are to become " WISE as serpents and GENTLE as doves"...
However, we are daily conditioned to believe the WORST of others. Many feel they must enter into the "games people play", the "one-upmanships", competitiveness, imputing of motives, double agendas. We learn raw pragmatism -" assume the WORST and hope for the BEST!" Life becomes set in a defensive position. It is VERY difficult to look deep down into the spirits of others, and know where they ARE in such a frame of mind. What and who they are is not just what we SEE at first. Following the way of "believing the best" of others necessarily implies WAITING! (1 Corinthians 4:5) and being patient - the way God ALWAYS deals with us. What if God met us in the same way we have often met others! We cannot meet others where they are by setting up a standard in OUR minds, and then expect them to meet an expectation that THEY NO NOTHING ABOUT! This is a common, although subconscious, behavior today. We must not set rigid, preconceived expectations for others. If we do, we will probably never know where they really are. "Great expectations produce great disappointments"!
As we grow in these attributes of love, we will eventually enter into a period of proper DISCERNMENT. We become increasingly aware of where others really are. Some have erred in the matter of discernment, considering all observation, evaluation as "judgmental", and therefore condemned by Jesus in Matthew 7:1. By reading the context, later in the chapter it becomes evident that some things must be "judged", and conclusions reached. The key here is context, and the multiple possible meanings of the Greek word for "judge". It can also mean "condemn". This is the correct meaning in the first few verses of Matthew 7. We must NOT make a negative comparison of others by COMPARING them to ourselves. The problem is hypocrisy. We are commanded over and over in the scriptures to DISCERN good from evil, right from wrong, etc. In order to do this, we must discern, and then often make a judgment - but NEVER A CONDEMNATION! But wilthout discernment, we are lost in a sea of stormy and valueless turmoil and uncertainly, without a rudder and without a sail, and without a compass. There is no way to know where we really are, or which way, to go...
As our spiritual discernment developes, Jesus says that we can begin to genuinely, caringly and lovingly KNOW others - see them where they are, and meet them where they are - "by their FRUITS".(Matthew 7:16-20) This is the same chapter mentioned above where Jesus said we should not "judge". As can be seen, there is no way to DISCERN the "fruits" without making some form of "judgment". Also notice that Jesus says we would eventually "know" others by their FRUITS on THEIR "tree". Not by the blooms, buds, the twigs out on the end of the limb, the leaves, the type of tree, whether it is pretty or ugly, whether it popular or unpopular, known or unknown, or all alone. FRUIT indicates the end of a growing season. If there is NO FRUIT on their tree, or if there IS fruit, this is how we are all "KNOWN" eventually. But most of us are given LOTS OF TIME TO BEAR FRUIT! - good or bad. The tree is THEN KNOWN BY its fruit. What are the fruits that God is looking for in all of us? (Galatians 5:22). All of us are at different stages of ripening in our fruit bearing. In all of our efforts to meet others where they are, there is always the element of TIME - for blooming, budding, developing, and maturing - bearing fruit. We must be patient, with ourselves, and others.
As we meet others where they are, looking not at appearances, but "seeing" them more and more as Jesus sees them, the circle begins to come together. By being more and more conscious of the real spirit deep inside of others, looking past the outward appearances, God also is discerning US, as we grown in love, patience, and understanding of others. In this process, we become more and more "known" to others - and to Jesus - as to where we are also. In all things, LOVE RULES - as the HOLY SPIRIT works in our spirit that God made in us. The Holy Spirit is working in our spirit that which is pleasing to HIM. How true are Jesus’ words - the "flesh profits nothing". The spirit is everything (John 6:63). The state and destiny of the spirit in man is the most important question for all humanity (1 Corinthians 5:5).
When our lives are over, our SPIRIT will be preserved and PERFECTED with God (Hebrews 12:23) - ready to be clothed with an IMMORTAL body at the return of Jesus (Acts 7:59-60;1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)). Becoming perfect like God while in a physical body is not possible (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). God must finish our perfection because only HE IS perfect! No more faceless bodies. No more twisted, tormented minds. No more strife ridden lives and relationships.
God having met all of us where we are, and we having met others where they are, we will all join Him WHERE HE IS - in joy, peace, and perfection unto endless ages to come! (Revelation 21:1-4)).
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