Too often I try to win allies to my point of view rather than pointing to Jesus. I remember having lots of arguments with people of different perspectives. I exercised my tongue and my brain a lot in those situations. I fervently and (I hope) intelligently refuted arguments. I showed my mettle. I proved myself.

I proved that it was more important to me to win an argument than to be like Jesus—compassionate and loving. Kind and patient. Twelve years in Lebanon broke the spine of the things I thought were important. You can only bang your head against a concrete wall for so long before it occurs to you, It would hurt a lot less if I’d quit doing this.

I am not sad to say that I was once a proud “missionary.” I am grateful for the lessons I learned from that time of ignorance. Like many others, I learned loads when I tried to pound the square peg of Western politics/freedom/democracy/human rights into the round hole of a society a thousand (or more) years older than the one I came from.

The next time you get into an airport queue for a departure, look at the sign: You can only take one item as a carry-on. The rest goes into the storage of the aircraft.

This was the lesson I learned on the anvil of Beirut. You simply cannot change a person into your own likeness. It doesn’t work. You cannot force-feed another person your perspective and expect it to stay down. As somebody once told me, “You have to realize every person is an I.” Each individual has his/her own makeup. There is no way to download your beliefs into somebody else hoping they will take.

This reality is not exclusive to Muslims in Beirut. It is universal. No person, anywhere in the world, has a brain-port open to receive a personality change. There are only people like you and me. People with full brains and empty hearts. People who need Jesus, not a massive array of doctrine, polemics, and theology lessons. People who need a relationship. People who need to belong before they can believe.

We can only do one of two things: Give them Jesus or give them wasted sewage. We can either point the way to the Way or confuse them with a load of things that will never feed their need for God. There is a place for doctrines and dogma and science and history and apologetics, but these things are not Jesus—they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.