Monday, October 6, 2008

Living Life "Heart to Heart"

"We have to love people 'heart to heart'" was the mantra of Pastor Jorge, my former pastor under whom I served for sixteen years in Miami. I learned a lot under his leadership, and much of the way I do ministry today and what I think ministry should look like has been greatly influenced by his 'heart to heart' attitude. Yet, learning to love people by tangibly trying to establish a relationship with them is not always easy to do.

Years ago I met a Brazilian pastor/missionary, Jerry De Oliveira. Jerry was a people person, but he had not always been so openly friendly. One day he told me, "Roger, I used to be the most introvert person ever. But, one day I told myself, 'I'm going to change. I'm going to strike up conversations with people and I'm going to learn to build relationships with them.'" You would never have imagined from looking at Jerry that he had been a very private individual earlier in life. It was probably difficult for Jerry at the begining to break out of his usual pattern but in time he conquered his timidity and developed an outgoing personality.

I'm not sure everyone can change to the same degree that Jerry did. But I do think that many of us can learn to be more sociable, and learn to risk reaching out to others. Any one of us can say hi to a neighbor, introduce ourselves, and be open to share a few comments. Recently I exchanged a few words with a neighbor who was walking his dog. I knew that he had been in Kuwait because months earlier his wife had told me about it when my daughter was collecting money from neighbors for a school fund raiser. I told him about his wife's generous donation. He shared a few things about his experience in Kuwait and extended an open invitation for me to go to his house to view pictures he had taken while abroad. The point is that I could have easily gone my own way as he walked past my house, but I chose to make eye contact and say 'hello'.

Jesus was an expert in engaging people. One example of this was the woman at the well described for us in John 4. Cultural taboo should have steered him away from talking to any woman, and in particular, to this one. But that was not the way of Jesus. He took time to reach out to her and the results were amazing. There are other examples as well from the life of Jesus, such as being willing to talk to some Greeks who came looking for him (they were Gentiles), spending time with people of ill reputation with whom he visited, a tax collector who was hated by the Jews with whom he ate, and many more examples found in the Gospels.

I want to encourage you to seek out people by simply opening your eyes to those God brings your way. Ask God to give you a big heart and a big smile. Reaching out to folks will go a long way in communicating to them that they matter and that you care. Building relationships will take time. But, over time, it might just help us earn the right to share our faith with them.

Whether or not people respond to the gospel message is God's business and theirs. We can, however, be on the look out to take small steps through the doors to relationships that God seems to open for us. Let's enter through those doors and learn to love people 'heart to heart'. If we do, some people may just find the love of God through our heart.

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